Random Musings: Remote living

How quickly so many in our country accepted the need for lockdown. Having been frightened into believing that proximity to other people can lead to death, will an eventual return to being part of a crowd be welcomed or cause further stress?

I have enjoyed living in the Wiltshire countryside since I moved here close to thirty years ago. In the past few weeks it has proved even more of a boon. I am surrounded by fields and woodland with their sparsely populated network of footpaths and trails to explore. The quiet lanes that meander between small towns and villages are ideal for bike rides. When people were still mostly staying home even the major roads were pleasant to cycle along. Blessed by many days of dry weather I have been able to make the most of my daily exercise and thereby keep my mental health in balance.

One thing that can be a challenge in rural living is the internet access. My home is on the far edge of a village and on the edge of its digital connectivity. We regularly find ourselves cut off, even if only for short periods of time. Mobile reception can also be sporadic.

With husband working from home – when work has been available – and our two students trying to continue their courses remotely, we are pushing our available internet access to its limit. Add to this the gaming my sons enjoy and we are regularly frustrated by lack of bandwidth. My own use is largely browsing so I am affected less than the rest of my family. I have long avoided activities that require a better connection.

I have no wish to: Skype, Facetime, Zoom, WattsApp video call. I don’t even enjoy voice calls as I too often find myself talking over the person on the other end of the line. Real time communications remove my ability to consider and edit. I have in the past regretted words written. They have caused me less anxiety than my regret at words spoken clumsily.

Social media, carefully managed, is my friend. I choose not to watch the small video clips posted or even play attached GIFs. I do not click on YouTube links and have no interest in vlogs. Podcasts are rarely listened to despite what could be interesting content. I enjoyed certain podcasts when in the gym going nowhere on cardio machines. With that option currently removed, the podcasts I subscribe to are piling up unheard. What I want is to read – articles, interviews, book reviews. And, of course, my books.

When exercising outside over the past few weeks I have been listening to: birdsong, the wind in the trees, lambs bleating, the sounds of my surrounds. I watch the changing view as I pass – nature unfolding. I feel no need of further distraction. Unlike many I don’t  listen to music when I run. In these changed times I have found I am rarely in the mood for music even when at home. It would seem I require an element of mental relaxation – not currently available – to enjoy such a soundtrack.

So forgive me if I do not get excited by the measures being taken to put people live on line. I know many are enjoying this content – a good thing but not for me. My glitchy connectivity adds a layer of irritation I choose to avoid despite missing out on many interesting conversations. I am storing away links to those who put an audio recording of their videos in a podcast (thank you Influx Press) for future days when we are granted access to gyms.

I do wonder, when the option is returned to us, how many will choose to: move their exercise regime indoors, attend events with strangers, travel on crowded transport if not necessary for work. Will the process of going on holiday feel too much of a risk for some? Will cinema and theatre find audiences willing to sit for long periods in enclosed spaces? For those comfortable with digital communication and with access to a reliable internet connection, will they still choose to work from home?

Some are missing the camaraderie of their working environment. I read on social media that many are missing contact with wider family. Perhaps the move to freedom will be as swift as the move to lockdown proved. Such a thought seems to anger a vociferous and frustrated online community.

I will miss: the lightly traffic’d roads, the sight of families out walking together locally, other runners pounding tarmac as we pass at a distance, the deep blue skies due to lack of contrails. I will not miss: the growing concern over ongoing income, the challenges young people are facing as they cope with online learning and exams, the fracture in society as views on necessary steps differ.

Let me just park here that, of course, I recognise and acknowledge my many privileges, including: a garden, food in my fridge, unpopulated space to roam. I have though been personally affected by the deaths of close family members. It is not my intention to downplay what is happening.

Although worried by many aspects of our situation – including the increased police powers – I can manage remote living and poor connectivity as it has long been my normal. Social events are a rarity in my calendar.

For those whose lives have been radically altered by recent diktats and whose income – current and potential – has been decimated, the scars they will carry forward are as much a concern as this plague.

There now follows a short intermission

I am taking a hiatus from writing. Not for long, just enough to recharge my batteries. This year has felt full on with books, events and family commitments. My capacity to cope is jittering so I am taking a short time out in an attempt to ground myself.

My children were all home for an extended Easter holiday which was a delight. I also determined to take more walks, more swims, and to return the the gym. These activities felt right for me but were demanding of time. My reviewing rate took the hit.

A number of friends and associates, some longstanding, cut ties with me for reasons they did not explain. Social media is a boon for keeping in touch when face to face socialising is regarded as a challenge; it can be damaging when armed as rejection.

No matter how often I remind myself that other’s reactions and opinions shouldn’t matter, they have an impact.

These are the books on my TBR pile being published in May. I am eager to read them all and will endeavour to post my reviews around publication. Books remain my solace and I am working on not feeling pressurised by self-imposed commitments and deadlines.

All being well I will continue with my walks, swims and the gym. I also have trips away planned with family – there is much to look forward to. Perhaps I will write about some of these activities. Writing is my way of processing the turbulence of life although I do not always publish such musings.

I want in this post to thank the generous community of writers, especially book bloggers, who share my posts on social media. I rarely thank you personally but please know that your support is always very much appreciated. I have needed the warm fuzzies such kindness generates recently.

For now, I am not going far. I am not cutting ties. Back soon xx

Thoughts are the shadows of our feelings

I_Think_Alone_by_Gordorca

I am coping with life as best I can, because that is all any of us can do. And some days are fun and funny, sunshine and roses, smiles and warmth. Other days I struggle to see beyond the clouds, even when I know that they shall pass. Most days I drift, the hours pass by as I try to make them count. I clean, I cook, I am there when required, and I write.

My role is one of support, my lack would be noticed more than my presence. The friends I meet up with for walks, my wider family, they have their own lives to lead. Would they miss me if I was gone? Perhaps there would be moments of sadness, but I am a shadow, appearing briefly before they move on into a different light.

I have yet to experience the loss of a close family member, a death. My mother once called me a cold fish for my lack of feeling and I carry that thought, untested for now. I see grief in others and wonder how I shall cope when the time comes.

I have lived through the passing away of grandparents, aunts and uncles, even a few cousins over the years. I cried for some, but not with the passion I felt at the death of my daughter’s teenage friend. The depth of her family’s loss touched me to the core. I felt that deeply, yet moved on.

I rarely cry over films, getting more upset at animal cruelty than that involving people. Animals trust and love unconditionally, whereas people can be so selfish. Is my lack of feeling selfish and cold? Is it a result of the armour I have built to survive?

I wonder sometimes who would miss me if I were gone. My absence would inconvenience; the jobs that I do must be done and would fall to others, who would likely find them mind numbing too. The one thing that I and I alone give is a mother’s love. Nobody could care for my children as I do.

I wonder if I am as cold and uncaring as some may think. Am I reflecting back my own experience or is it an innate part of me? Have I buried the warmth and love that I once felt so deeply to protect it, or to protect myself? I wonder how I feel; I wonder if I feel.

Do not criticise me for my perceived lack of emotion, if I do not act as you would. Too often I feel almost more than I can bear and struggle to cope. I bury, gloss over, make light of what is happening. I may not see life as you do, but I have not lived your life. And you have not lived mine.

 

Guilt

I feel the pressure of so much guilt weighing me down. I am unsure if there has ever been a time when I have been able to live my life without feeling guilty. I wonder if this guilt is a result of the successful imposition of other’s will upon my psyche, or if it is an alarm system that I have developed to ensure that I function as an acceptable citizen in the community in which I am required to exist. I suspect it is more the former, but fear there may be a little of both at play. I sometimes wonder if I would find more contentment with a hermit’s lifestyle. The guilt I feel can, at times, overwhelm me.

It is my own response to other’s perceived expectations that can floor me; I so desperately want to please those I care for. Some days I will pour the time and effort required into being the good wife, mother, daughter, friend; but it is never sustainable at the levels demanded. I cannot be the person that other’s appear to want me to be.

Growing up I was taught how I was expected to behave. I should eat my food and be grateful because there were hungry children around the world. I should follow the rules set out in the bible and preached at church because God and my neighbours were watching me all the time. Bad people went to hell to burn and suffer for eternity; they also embarrassed their families. In my head each was as bad as the other. I should be kind to my parents, obey them and make them proud, because they had done so much for me in so many ways. I picked up a subliminal subtext here, that they could have led a better life if I hadn’t been me. I knew that I was loved, but could never quite live up to that which was expected of me.

Sometimes the demands were clear and vociferous, more often they were passed on through the anger or sadness that my wicked actions created. As a child I was desperate to please and impress. It felt impossible.

My mother would voice her admiration of other children and I would hate them with a fierce jealousy. I would offer up my own tokens of achievement that rarely generated more than a ripple of praise. Whatever reaction I expected, it never felt enough. My accomplishments, looks and behaviour fell short; the disappointments I generated in those I cared for washed over me in huge waves of resentment and guilt.

How does a child live with such negative emotion? I rebelled. When I realised that I did not want to be the girl that my mother was bringing me up to be I changed direction. I could not leave the guilt behind though. The feeling that I was letting her down, that I was an embarrassment and a disappointment, bubbled on below the surface. She would express fear that other’s she knew would notice my behaviour and that I would bring shame on us all. I did not care what those other’s thought, but I did still care about fostering her good opinion. Not enough though, not enough to change the way I was. The guilt gnawed away at me but I fought it, suppressed it, rejected what it was telling me.

I changed my view of the church. I discovered a loving God who forgave and accepted. I could not believe that he would send me to hell for rejecting a rhetoric that inspired so much hatred. I lived in a country full of hate and violence, perpetrated in the name of the God who threatened pain and suffering. I rejected that deity and found my own; a loving and supportive being who would accept me as I was and then help me to be a kinder and better person. Knowing my bible became less important than knowing how to support a friend in need. No longer would I reject people for their wickedness; I would hold their hands and show love and practical support as Jesus would have done.

My guilt is a construct of the muddle of thoughts that developed in my formative years, but that has been built upon since. It worries me that I have the same desperation to please my husband that I once felt towards my father. Both men are quiet, kind and supportive; neither demonstrate emotion unless sorely displeased. I fear that displeasure.

I skirt around my mother warily, trying to offer her contact that will please whilst holding back that which may not. I do not wish to hear her judgement; I do not want her to worry about me. I am not a good daughter because I do not give her my time. How can I spend time with her when it may allow her to see me as I am and then open up the floodgates of her efforts to mould me into the person she has always wanted me to be? I am not that person; I do not want to be that person. Neither do I want to let her down.

I live with the guilt of my failure to fit the moulds that others place before me. The hardest to climb into is the one that I have created for myself.

Inner Demon

Pride

Many years ago I was sent on a training course by my employers, where attendees were asked by the lady running the course to think of one thing that they had done and were proud of. I could think of nothing; not a single thing. I had worked my socks off to achieve many of the things that I had been aiming for: exam results, landing a decent job, buying my first flat. None of these filled me with pride. I could have done better in the exams, I was still in a very junior position at work, I was up to my ears in debt after buying my own home.

Of all the challenges that I had undertaken up to that moment, the one that had been the most important to me at the time, and which I had been most nervous about, was sitting my driving test. Passing that gave me my first taste of freedom, but I couldn’t say that I was proud of it. Most people of my age that I knew had managed to pass their driving test.

When I look at each of my achievements I cannot help but see how they are simply milestones along the way. There have always been people in my life who have done better than me at each stage.

Some of the ladies on the course cited a child as a source of pride. I am certainly immensely proud of my children, but they are individuals; their achievements belong to them. Of course, I can look on and feel happy and proud for them, but I cannot claim credit. I know plenty of people who have done their very best to be good parents, whose children have struggled more than mine. I am simply lucky.

This feeling of luck is one that I consider regularly as there is such a high risk of transience.

When my husband asked me to marry him, we set a date for the wedding a little over eight months away. I felt so incredibly blessed to be marrying the man I loved, and was terrified that something would happen to him before we could get married. Even at the time I knew that this fear was bizarre; I placed such value on this momentous event it seemed too much to hope that it would actually happen. A number of my friends were surprised that I was getting married; they had never imagined it happening to me.

Once my wedding day passed (it was a very happy day) my life continued to be filled with blessings. We found our fabulous home, enjoyed the novelty of married life and, in time, created our family. So much good fortune that I could never quite believe was being granted to me. When I say that I try to live life each day, enjoying the here and now, it is because I still harbour a fear that it cannot continue forever. Some disaster could take it all away, and I value this life I lead so much.

I still do not feel pride in achievements. Somehow I can always see the reasons why it is not just down to me that milestones have been successfully reached. Others put in the same effort, yet are not granted the same blessings. I can see that I have made some good choices along the way, but it is only with hindsight that I can be sure those choices were so right for me.

I have no idea if this way of thinking is unusual; it certainly helps me to appreciate what I have got. My fear of losing those things that I value, that make my life so good, bubbles uncomfortably below the surface but it does not spoil my enjoyment.

Perhaps if I had managed to reach the dizzy heights of achievement that I watched good friends reach when I was younger then I would have felt that I had done well in something. When I entered sport or dance competitions, the best I could manage would be the occasional runner up prize; at school I was given one progress prize but never a cup or commendation. I do not remember ever being first in anything of significance.

My dogged determination to succeed in something, anything, drove me through many challenges. I needed to find the drive and the energy to keep going to avoid the feeling that had been so prevalent growing up, that I had failed in the goals I set myself. As an adult I do not aim for success, but rather to avoid that empty feeling of failure.

Accepting what we are can be such a challenge at times, especially when those around us are critical. I suspect that I would not be where I am today if I had not demanded so much of myself. I cannot feel any pride in that though; the emotions that I experience when I consider my achievements feel too negative. I have the wonderful life that I lead, shared with the people I love and value, because I have been granted the blessing of good luck. I may not deserve what I have, but I thank God for it every day.

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My world

It can be a challenge at times to take my own advice. I went for a lovely walk this week with a friend. I really enjoy this lady’s company, especially as I feel I can talk to her without having to watch what I say. We have known each other for a number of years and have many mutual friends. It is not that we are particularly close, more that she is accepting of other’s idiosyncrasies and, even when she does not agree with or understand behaviours, will listen and offer support. I value that she has stuck by me, even when I have been backing away from others and the prospect of company.

It is how I am dealing with those others that has made me realise how difficult I am finding it to act as I know I should. I have a suspicion that I have offended a few people with my behaviour over the past year. As I have been avoiding social gatherings there have not been occasions to observe how I am now treated; my suspicions are based on nuance and whispers picked up through unrelated discussion. When I raised the topic with my friend I felt that she did not wish to become involved and I backed down. This is not her problem.

I would always say that it is foolish to become concerned with how others see me. Those who care about me will accept me as I am; those who do not are best avoided anyway. How hard that advice is to follow in practice. I do not like to think that some of those I once socialised with regularly would now choose to avoid me, even though I am choosing not to socialise. There is little sense to the way my mind is scratching away at this conundrum.

It seems that I am allowing myself to fall into the trap that I have seen in others; that I am acting as though I am the fulcrum of events that affect me. In reality I am a slight breeze passing by other’s lives, whose effect decreases as my absence extends. Whatever others may think of me, I very much doubt that they think of me often.

It does distress me though that others have taken my backing away personally. I want to let them know that my choice not to join in was all about me, not them. I couldn’t cope with company and, for my own wellbeing, had to take time out. Yet how can I barge in and try to make things right when there may not even be a wrong to be considered? This entire concern could be in my head, a figment of over analysis.

Does any of this make sense? Sometimes I think that I am nursing a kind of madness; other times I feel so selfish. The one thing that I do know is that I can no longer cope with large, social gatherings and I have no idea why. If my actions have offended my friends then I do not know how to put that right.

Human relationships can be so complex and difficult to navigate. I am immensely grateful that, through all of the things that have changed in the past year or so, my little family have remained constant and there for me. I have not had to suffer rejection or unhappiness because I can still have a lot of fun with the people who matter most to me. I love and I am loved. With that base I have the strength to face the rest.

We each live our lives looking out from inside the vessel that is all others can perceive. The world may not revolve around us, but our world does. For now I am sailing on choppy waters, buffeted by my waves of concern over how my behaviour is being seen by others. I need to listen to my own counsel and accept that this should not be a major issue. I need to find the calm waters of self acceptance and relax.

Just in case my post has been a bit too serious, allow this dalek to help you relax. We like Doctor Who in this house. 

Numbers

Some people go to parties to socialise, or to organised groups, both formal and informal. They make music or things, exercise or discuss books; they get together with like minded people to enjoy their company, chat and hang out. They meet up with friends, get to know new faces, catch up on gossip and each other’s lives. Man is a sociable creature who thrives when welcomed and accepted by others.

For much of my adult life I did not question that this was the way I should live. I agonised over my inability to gain acceptance into any close friendship group. I had friends but we were not open with each other, not in the way I had been conditioned to think we should be.

And then, when I finally found my way into a clique, I discovered that I still struggled. I could go through the motions of attending and hosting the small and larger events as expected, but would worry afterwards about the detail of the things that I had said or done. I would do my best to cover my growing anxiety, but enjoyment was marred by the after effects as I suffered increasing bouts of mental self-flagellation.

Withdrawing from this way of life was not a concious decision but an act of self preservation. I could no longer cope with the days spent trying to deal with the growing anguish that followed each social encounter. No matter how often I told myself that my reaction was foolish and unnecessary, it was still all too real to me. The turmoil had become more than I could bear; I needed to allow myself space to be calm and peaceful.

I still very much enjoy getting together with a friend. I can cope with a walk or a meal out when it is with one or two people. Although I will still feel concern about what I have said and how I have come across at times, I do not wish to avoid society entirely.

I find it interesting that, given my anxiety when dealing with people face to face, the space in which I am most comfortable socially is on line. I know many people who feel that social networks are too public to allow them to relax; I know a few who are appalled that I share so much.

There are aspects of my on line presence, however, that give me cause to question my acceptance in this community. None of my many accounts are followed by large numbers of people; does this mean that I am lacking in some way? I do not agonise over the numbers but rather mull over what they may mean.

I do not know how one gains a following in cyber space. My Twitter, Tumblr and Pinterest accounts are all as public as this blog, yet attract little attention. It is only on my Facebook account that I actively manage the privacy settings. Even there the numbers tell a tale; I know all who I have befriended on the site but am not accepted as a friend by all I know.

There are many little homilies and sayings that pop up from time to time entreating us to take notice only of those who offer acceptance of what we are and to avoid those who bring us down. I wonder what it says about me that I am of interest to so few. I am wondering if the numbers matter.

It is not good for my mental health to dwell too much on what others may think of me. I wish to grow as a person; to be kind, understanding and accepting of others. When I look to improve my knowledge and to question why I think as I do I value input. For this I need interaction, yet I struggle to cope with that which is offered; to attract attention from the like minded individuals who must be out there.

Yesterday evening I was trying to discuss a book I am reading with my husband. He was nodding and making all the appropriate noises in response to my enthusiastic comments but, as I continued, I could see his interest wane. He had not read the book and had no views to impart. When I converse with others it too often feels like this; I am eagerly trying to share but am choosing the wrong audience. It is not that I am disliked, but that I struggle to tailor my interactions in a mutually satisfying way.

And that is my lack. Others seem to slip so naturally into discourse with whoever they are with. Perhaps that is why I struggle face to face when I can read the body language and worry about how I am being perceived, or when I know that I will torment myself afterwards with anxiety over whatever verbal diarrhea my nervousness caused me to impart.

On line there is just as much scope to appear foolish but it is the reader’s choice to follow or friend; to interact or ignore. And so we are back to those numbers. I love that I can use my social networks to keep in touch with my family and friends in far flung places; those who I would choose to see more of if distance were not an issue. Perhaps I ask too much in expecting to use cyber space in any other way. Perhaps I am asking more of myself than I am capable of being.

An example of a social network diagram.

Changing seasons

I was cold in bed last night for the first time in several months. Today I have donned a favourite, comfy, shapeless hoodie in an attempt to stay warm. It is raining outside so I am not inclined to venture out on my planned walk. Instead I have been catching up on housework and entertaining myself scrolling through my dashboard on Tumblr. That site is a time machine; I log on and the hours vanish.

There are so many things that I could and probably should do, but none of them are urgent or appealing. I will allow myself some down time; a chance to rest and snuggle after an active few days. Summer is ending and I must look out my warmer clothes; swap sandals for boots and add layers when I venture outside. I enjoy the changing seasons, the shift in outlook and expectation.

The long, sunny summer allowed me to open up the house for fresh air to circulate through windows and doorways. Home life merged between inside and out as we enjoyed meals on our patio and played games in the garden. Long, light evenings allowed family time and relaxation to gravitate around airy, outdoor living.

Now the evenings are drawing in and the temperature has dropped. Windows are closed and curtains drawn against the encroaching dark at an ever earlier hour each day. Evening entertainment revolves around screens and books and music. We become more solitary in our thoughts and pursuits, even when sharing the same space.

Yet I enjoy this time of year. There is change and hope and growth. Soon I will have a multitude of ripe apples and blackberries to make into cakes and crumbles; I will swap eggs from my hens for the fresh, home grown vegetables that my talented friends can coax out of their little plots of earth. We will feast on this bounty and walk off the energy given through woodland that is wondrous to behold with it’s kaleidoscope of colour.

I feel blessed to live where I do. I am surrounded by beautiful countryside and friendly people. However socially awkward I have become I am still accepted and greeted by those around me. I need only walk a short way to escape the trepidation that I feel when I venture out; to be surrounded by fields or woodland; to experience the beauty of a fabulous view.

After the long, summer break my family are settling back into a new academic year and I can spread my wings and wander at will through whatever challenges I have set myself. Or, as today, I can snuggle up with my thoughts and live my own life as I please, at least until evening when my duties return.

I will read my books, watch new films and allow my thoughts to wander. How dull must be the lives of those who do not create fictional worlds in their heads and then live out the lives of their characters. As I walk through the real and imaginary paths that I explore each day I am filling out the lives of so many who do not exist. As I create and develop my characters it feels as though I am getting to know new friends, even though the real me is never introduced to their worlds.

There are so many things that I want to do and see and be; most are within my grasp and close to home, all demand time and commitment. As I apply myself to making them happen (as only I can) I will do my best to make the most of this season of mists and mellow fruitfulness. I will also allow myself time to snuggle, although perhaps not too often.

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“Follow no path, make your own.”

New term

My children returned to school last week after the long summer break. The start of a new academic year is always a time of re-evaluation for me. So far I have been fairly successful in my attempts to establish a routine of exercise, sensible eating and catching up on sleep. Although I am feeling good about this early success, I am all too aware that maintaining such behaviour will be the real challenge.

Yesterday I had a visit from an old friend who I hadn’t seen in nearly twenty five years. I collected him from our local train station and, as he emerged from the building and looked around for me, I did not detect recognition. Obviously I have changed in that considerable time.

We had only a couple of hours to chat before he was required to leave for a conference he is attending nearby; not nearly long enough for a proper catch up, but sufficient to get a feel for where we are in our lives. I love getting together with old friends; chatting to them seems so easy and natural. Whatever changes have occurred on the outside, the people we are inside remains. Life’s battle scars may have jaded our youthful exuberance, but we are still the individuals we were drawn to befriend all those years ago.

I wonder why it is that I feel so much more relaxed with those I got to know in my formative years than with those I have met since. It could be that I am now seen as wife and mother; I am judged on that as much as on myself. It could be that I have lost the ability to present myself as an independent being. I am required to play so many roles it can be hard to know how I am perceived by others.

After my friend had left we settled down to enjoy a lovely, family night in. Pizzas were cooked and a salad made; after dinner we watched a newly purchased and entertaining film. I love evenings like this. I am aware that, as we each move on in our lives, such togetherness will become more of a rarity.

I am feeling positive about where I am at the moment; I am also feeling my age. The mirror presents me with a reflection that does not tally with the person I see myself as inside. My children do not treat me as someone who can understand their teenage lives.

The old friends I have managed to get together with in recent months knew me when I was in my teens. The escapades we reminisce about, the thoughts and feelings that I had back then, are all still clear in my mind. I remember what it was like to be that age.

I also remember how I saw my parents at the time. I cannot expect my children to perceive me as anything other than old and out of touch. I must not make the mistake of trying to match my experiences with theirs. They are individuals living their own lives and, if I am to understand them, must get to know the people they have become as I would anyone else. I would rather like it if they would grant me the same courtesy.

It can be hard to bridge the generational divide, particularly with our own children. I would be interested in getting to know my parents better. When I talk to older people I do not want advice or to be told what to do; I want to chat as equals. I am sometimes surprised by my parent’s views as I have built up so many preconceptions over the years. We have shared thoughts and feelings so selectively as we seek to protect and minimise concern it sometimes feels as if we barely know each other as people.

I do so hope that I can be close to my children as they grow into adulthood. I believe this can only happen if I can let them be themselves and develop a life beyond parenthood for myself. The person I was is still there. I wonder would my children like her if they could bring themselves to see beyond the wrinkles.

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Challenges and change

Today I have been mostly sorting and packing and tidying; worrying about important things that I might forget, about the amount of stuff that I seem to be taking for just a few days away.

Despite the fact that I am hugely excited about my forthcoming trip, I feel stressed by the preparation. I am nervous and concerned at the same time as being eager to set off. I am used to having to pack for family holidays, yet do not have the confidence of a seasoned traveller.

It made sense for me to take time out this afternoon for a swim; a sure fire method of calming me down. Having gently propelled myself through the water for just a short half hour, the demands of preparation seem much less arduous; I have come home and allowed myself a little time to relax.

The last few times I have been swimming I have run into friends and acquaintances. I use my swims to unwind in my chosen solitary state, yet it feels good to catch up, however briefly, with people I see infrequently. In so many ways social interaction worries me, but these brief conversations have lifted my mood.

How can it be that I should look forward to an exciting trip yet suffer stress because of it; that I should avoid social occasions yet enjoy meeting up with friends? I am comfortable leading the life that I do and have grown accustomed to avoiding situations that cause me discomfort, yet when I allow my comfort zone to be challenged I remind myself that I am capable of so much more. I wonder if I need to recalibrate the balance of my life.

In many ways this trip away is doing just that. It is a challenge to the conformity in which I normally exist. I know that I would not have dared to travel without my husband to an unknown country and city if it were not for the prize of a chance to spend time with an old friend whose company I enjoy. I am defying my normal conventions in order to attain a goal that would otherwise be unavailable.

Yet even with this clear sighted desire I am nervous and worried. I do not understand why my reflex is to crawl away and hide when any challenge to my invisible existence is presented. When did I become so insular? How did this happen?

I want to open my mind to new ideas; to question the assumptions that those around me accept; to challenge the preconceptions that others have of me. To do this I need to experience change. Living in conservative, southern, rural England I do not come into contact with many liberal influences. I do not often get the chance to debate issues with those who are willing to voice thoughts that run counter to an accepted conformity.

I can and do read widely and question orthodoxies, but my thinking and reasoning are muffled and woolly. When challenged I capitulate too easily because I have not acquired the detailed knowledge to back up my instinct for tolerance and diversity. My approach is simplistic. I am not convinced by complex and convoluted arguments that run counter to my intuitive beliefs, but cannot back up my thoughts with a cogent rejoinder. I have grown too used to submission.

I want to allow my mind to soar on the thermals of new ways of thinking; to shake off the shackles of commonly accepted behaviour that leads to a perpetuation of the wrongs that blight our society. If I cannot change the world I can at least change myself and that will be a start. It will allow me to live more contentedly with myself.

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‘It is the greatest of all mistakes to do nothing because you can only do little – do what you can.’

‘Never forget, no matter how overwhelming life’s challenges and problems seem to be, that one person can make a difference in the world. In fact, it is always because of one person that all the changes that matter in the world come about.’