30 November 2023

A Thank You To My Former Self

I talked recently about how many different versions of you there are and will be in your life.  A Thousand Different Women.

Of all the women I have been, there is one that I look back on with awe.  With gratitude.  She saved me.

When I am scared, when I think I don't have the guts, when I am sad, or lonely or lost; I think of her.  I am so far away from the girl I used to be, we are practically polar opposites, but our core remains the same.  I owe my life to her.  I have to honour the gift that she gave me.  That gift was my future.

I do not exaggerate when I say that my early twenties almost killed me.  I was falling down a deep hole of depression that I did not understand.  I wanted a reason for it, but in truth there was none.  At least not one that I could recognise back then.

I cried every day.  The pain I felt nearly consumed me and it felt like my soul was splitting in two.  I could see no way out and many times, I thought that it would be better if I were dead.  Nothing could be worse than this pain.

I would go out with friends at weekend and drink to escape it.  It worked, for a few hours at least, until I drank too much and the pain came back.

I never spoke to anyone about how I was feeling.  I was too lost.  Too afraid of telling my best friend, the only real friend I had back then.  What if she couldn't handle it?  What if my problems were too much?  Instead though, she got to see the times when the pain crept back in and I drank too much.  I should have told her.  I should have told someone.  But I didn't.  I suffered alone.

Sometimes I went out driving to try and clear my head.  It was on one of these drives that I passed a cliff road, not too far away from where I lived.  That night was the first night that I really thought about suicide.  Whether I should drive off that cliff.

I cannot remember how many times I went back to that place.  Three times, maybe four.  There was a sort of car park there.  I presume for people who went walking.  I would park up and sit in my car and sob.  I knew that this could not go on much longer.  I could not go on much longer.  The walls around me were crumbling.

My sadness had consumed me.  Nearly whole.  All that was left of me was a fragment, held together with pretense, sticky tape and a strong stubbornness to not to let anyone else see my pain.  

The last time that I drove to that car park, I had a plan.  I couldn't do this anymore.  I could not take the never ending pain.  I just wanted it gone.  Me, gone.  

I clearly remember driving faster as I got nearer to the cliff.   I had made my decision.  But then, as I neared the place, something deep inside me fought back.  A strength, a voice that seemed to surge from nowhere.    

No.  Don't you fucking do it.  I am not dying today.  No.  Pull the fuck over.

It was the strongest feeling that I had ever had, both then and since.  I knew that I had to live.  I did actually want to live.  I just didn't know how.

The black dog of depression had had me for so long, pinned down under its feet that I could not see a way out.  That day, I had felt that there was nothing left of me.  I was consumed.  Yet from nowhere, a tiny fragment of what was left of me, won the battle that day.  A new woman was arising out of my ashes.  She was strong.  She would fight for me.  And she did.  

I cannot say that my life became easier after that, or for many years after.  I still hid the worse parts of me in the shadows.  Still hid the pain.  But something had changed.  I knew that there was a strength in me.   A strength so powerful that it stopped me dead (pardon the pun) in my path of destruction.

Over the years I had fought many battles with the black dog, sometimes taking many steps forward, sometimes a stagger or two to the side.  But I had never stepped back again.

Perhaps this is why that I always refer to myself as being different versions, different women throughout my adult life.  Because there have been many versions of me, many that I could not identify with now, or even understand.  But each version of me has been important.  Another step to the person I am today.  Someone who is whole.  Someone who is happy.  I am no longer lost.  I am found.  Found by myself and found by the man in my life who loves me.  All of me.  It is the “all” part that was the final healing peace of my soul.

I have already fought the battle for my life.  I won.  The sadness and pain that consumed me back then will never do so again.  Because I have built the foundations of my soul back together.  I have healed.  I have grown.

It is stems back and is thanks to the part of me, that version of myself that stepped up and said no.  Not today.  Don't you dare.  She is still in me.  I will never forget her.  I am live today because of her.

29 October 2023

Navigating Grief

Grief is a strange bedfellow.

One minute you are overcome.  The loss of the person taken from you seems overwhelming and you don't know how you will get through it.  The next, you have to rally, organise, be strong and somehow; you manage it.

Grief ebbs and flows.  There is no constant.  It a wave that you have to ride until you can find a calm again, some peace.  Whenever that may be.  There is no timeframe.

Death, whether expected or not, is always a shock.   You can, as we all can, only hope for the kind of death that is the best that you can hope for.  No suffering.  Your family around you.  Given a chance to say goodbye.  A quick death, not long and drawn out.  While you still have dignity.

There is no one way to deal with grief.  But the most important thing to do is allow yourself to feel when you need to.  Do not bottle it up.  Do not busy yourself in an attempt to hide from it.  Because it will find you.

That is the thing about grief and loss.  It hurts.  A lot.  But running away from that hurt will only ensure that it finds you at the worst time, the worst moment.  Or will manifest in other destructive ways.

I lost a close family member to me this week.  Having lost my dad and my step already, he became like a father figure to me.  He was always there.  Ready to help.  Always showed love to my mum and I.  Someone that you could always turn to.  I loved him very much.

Having already lost two major people in my life, I know how this grief thing works now, sadly.  Which I why I share my thoughts and words with you today.

I find myself committing the sins of what you should not do and had to check myself.  Because self care when you are grieving is extremely important.  Especially when you have others who you need to be strong for.

I found myself asking for more time.  The thing is, you are always going to wish for that.  Because there is never enough time.  You can always think of things you wished that you had said or things that you had done.  

While at the hospital I chose to give my time to those that needed to see him more than I.  His sons, my mother.  By the time it was my turn to see him, things had turned for the worse and my time was missed.  So no, I did not get to say goodbye, but I did the right thing and importantly, he knew that I was there.  I wonder if he understood that. 

I also found myself wondering if he knew how much I cared, how much I loved him.  It only struck me after he died, I had never thought about it previously, that if I had ever got married to my partner, it would have been him that I would have asked to walk me down the aisle.  He was proud of me and I think that he would have loved to do it.    

All of these go round in my head and by doing so, they make the grief worse.  Questions that can never be answered.  Actions that can never be carried out.  They torment you.

As I said however, I have been down the winding path of grief before.  So when I start to question, when I start to worry about what ifs and what could have been, then I know I need to go back and remember the important things.  

I know that he loved me and he knew that I loved him.   He, my mum and I went through some tough times together and it created a bond with the three of us.  We were family.  We would always be there for each other.

I am currently writing something to say at his funeral.  I want to celebrate the man that he was.  A good man.  A kind man.  There will be many there to say goodbye to him and I confess that I am nervous to stand up and speak.  Public speaking is not my forte.  

But I will do this and hopefully do him proud and do him justice.  My wonderful Uncle Jack.

Year Round Ways to Save for Christmas

We have reached the middle of October now so it is perhaps safe to start to use the C word?
  Combing the C word and the P word often strikes fear and terror into the eyes of people you talk to at this time of year, but I am going to say the words.  Christmas presents.

Christmas is a time of year that I love.  Finding the right gift for people is something that I enjoy and I take as much pleasure in locating the perfect gift (hopefully) as when it is received.  But presents take planning, not just the planning of what to buy for your loved ones, but also making sure that you can afford them and not break your budget.

With food costs and energy prices soaring in the last year(s), it is more important that ever to plan ahead for Christmas.  There are various ways that I plan for Christmas presents and making sure that I can afford to buy what I want.  So here are my tips for things that I do throughout the year:

Getting Your Cash, Back

It is something that can be easy to forget, but one thing that I do year round is use a cashback site.  As this is not a sponsored post, I won’t give you a link, but the one that I use is Topcashback.

I use this site as much as possible for my spending as well as searching out the best deals for home insurance, car insurance, vehicle insurance, travel insurance etc etc.  You can easy use it for things like food delivery, Ebay, there is much more on there that you realise and even the smaller amounts add up.  By doing this I usually manage to get £200 in my account by the end of the year.

It should be noted that you need to do this intelligently.  If you are using a discount code on the website you are buying from, then you generally will not also be given cashback.   So clothes shopping etc will generally not track for me as I usually only buy when I have a discount code that I can use.  

Keep Your Receipts

I also use a receipt scanning app where you scan in your receipts for points.  It only takes a couple of minutes to scan your receipts in for the day and by the end of the year I usually have £40-45 which can be transferred to my bank account, used as an Amazon voucher to buy gifts with etc.

Save Your Points 

One thing that most people have is a Boots card.  But there are definitely ways that you can use your Boots card intelligently in order to stack up points.  I keep an eye on the offers and try to buy in bulk when there are offers on for a few hundred points when you spend X amount.  I also buy my lunch there and all my beauty and hair products.  By the end of the year I usually have around £50 - £60 worth of points, which comes in handy for gifts and stocking fillers.

Double up on Rewards

Although this one only applies for people who are with EE, not many people seem to know about this (or use it), but EE have a rewards programme.

I have linked my current account and my credit card to the Rewards programme which gives you a percentage of what you spend.  Greggs at the moment for example gives you 10% back on what you spend there, places like Boots generally gives you 5%.

So by using this programme, I not only gain Boots points and points back on uploading my receipt (as discussed), but I also get cashback which turns into money that I can knock off my phone bill.

I have been using the rewards programme since January and I have been knocking £10 from my bill every other money, which equates to £50 - £60 per year which I save towards my Christmas shopping.

 By using the above and integratiing them into my daily life, overall by the end of the year, I have managed to save around £350, simply by making some small changes to the way that I shop and scanning receipts.

What ways do you save for Christmas throughout the year?