The Last Day

Tomorrow is my final day at work.

I feel a little sick just typing that sentence.

It has been a rollercoaster journey, long winding road of ups and downs, twists and turns. No one ever expected our centre to be shut down, as it’s been a sort of flagship for others around the UK.

It would be easy to be bitter about how things have turned out, but instead I want to choose to  be grateful for everything that is good. I’ve met and worked with some amazing people. I’ve got to try out my skills at events planning and am quite proud of the network that my colleague in Dundee and I built up around Scotland and the conferences we ran each year with minimal resources. At least 700 women have been helped while I’ve been volunteering then working then managing that place.

I’ve learned a lot about counselling, a great deal about compassion and boundaries, a great deal about other spiritual beliefs, politics (ugh), grief and faced the challenges of coordinating a team of voluntary staff which is very different to how I coordinated a team of paid staff when I was a Community Learning Worker.

It has taken me to some interesting places too. I never would have dreamt that I’d have been speaking at conferences or youth events. But I did.

I’ve had to have a good team of support around me as I faced attack from both the Christian world and the secular world. Oh the stories I could tell of rudeness, naivete and just well…pigheadedness…

I’m so grateful to the friends that stuck by me through everything. I think what I’ve learned most is that you can’t rely on a church to support you or encourage you. I wish it had not taken me so long to stop trying to change this, and just let the people who were passionate and saw the value in our work be enough for me. I would have saved myself a lot of hurt and heartache.

And lastly, I’m grateful that my values and beliefs have evolved and been constantly challenged, reflected on and adapted as I’ve questioned, listened and learned.

Tuesday begins a new era of life and I have no clue what that is going to look like.

I just hope that I’m ready for it. :)

From being too busy to a totally empty diary…

A few months ago, I sent this picture to my friend when I realised that I couldn’t squeeze in a coffee and baby cuddle date with her before I went to Germany to do an Erasmus programme at the University of Würzburg. At that point life had got so ridiculously busy that I was ready to just skip the Germany trip altogether because I felt like I was missing out. I didn’t even look forward to it as the reality of classes, work, Girlguiding and long cold winter days hit and there I was throwing in extra stuff into the mix. IMG_2012

 

I think my quoting line was ‘Who needs to go to Germany anyway?’. Of course, had I not, I really would have missed out on a great learning experience both in terms of researching and understanding more about the politics of Lifelong learning, making new friendships, discovering the Children’s Literature course at Glasgow and getting to travel in Bavaria. Oh. And käsespätzle. My roommate and I really loved the käsespätzle. And strawberry yoghurt milka chocolate. I came home with every last oodle of space in my rucksack taken up by German chocolate. Which I shared with my friends when I got home.

When I came back my work was in crisis. I had my final presentation and assignment to do for my Educational theories course. My friends insisted that in spite of all stress and busyness that I had to have a party on my 30th birthday. Preferably with a bouncy castle.

It’s my final week in my job this week. I’ve been applying for new jobs, but still haven’t had so much as an interview. Next Tuesday I will be officially unemployed. It’s a little daunting now. I’ve never been unemployed before – even during the majority of my undergraduate studies I had a paid work at the same time. Pretty much every job I applied for, I got.

This week I have Girlguiding, Spanish class and my job.

Next week all three of those things won’t be there.

I have no idea what I’ll do with all that free time because I’m so used to being busy. I mean looking for jobs is an obvious one. And I will probably  read the massive pile of books that I’ve been working through any spare moment at home since I handed in my final assignment for the year. I will write. I will investigate opportunities for Girlguiding next year.

But usually I’m trying to squeeze it in. What happens when you’re not running in the door to run back out again with different bags of stuff 15 minutes later?

I guess I’m about to find out.

But I don’t really want to. I love working. :)

Answering the FAQs of the moment…

Hi Everyone,

Since the charity I work for broke the news about the closure I’ve been inundated with e-mails asking if I’m ok, how sorry they are, how angry they are (in some cases) and what I’m going to do next. It’s really lovely to know that so many people care, but also overwhelming and I haven’t managed to get through all those messages to be able to reply to each one individually as I want to.

I know many of my friends read this blog so I’ll answer some of the ‘Frequently Asked Questions’.

It’s not a question, but usually the first thing people say is ‘OMG! I’m so sorry. :( ‘ Yes. I’m sorry too. It’s really sad, and it honestly feels like a death in the family. We are as a team grieving and with that comes the stress, the dread of telling people, and our heads not being quite fully screwed on (like on Monday, my colleague passed the phone to me and I answered “Hello, I’m Laura Anne, can I ask who I am phoning to…oh wait, no. I mean speaking to” thankfully the person on the other end of the phone laughed with me! And my colleagues who overheard were giggling too.)

I do also get why some are feeling anger, especially when they know how much the charity I worked for has helped so many people and still very much needed. But for reasons I won’t go into here, I think it’s right that it is ending. I just hope that something else provides for the need.

Why don’t you start your own charity? It has crossed my mind, but I’m also very aware of how exhausted I am from the battles that I’ve faced working for this one. It is hard work, it requires long term financial support and also I think I need time to get used to the idea that my workplace won’t be there when I leave. I never imagined leaving without handing my work over to someone. I can see myself possibly starting a charity similar to the one I’ve worked for these last 7 years in the future, but I don’t think the time is right to do it this summer!

Are you ok? I’m not going to lie and say that this process is easy and fun. It is not. But I do have peace that there is a reason for this, and there are opportunities that are going to come from this chapter of my life coming to a close. There are a few things in the back of my mind, well, one in particular that I’ll not mention here at the moment as it’s just an idea and I don’t know whether it’s possible that it could happen. I’m waiting for some direction from the universe for that!*

*If by some chance a random thought pops into your head that you think you need to share with me, then no matter how ‘out there’ it may seem, do share it. If I think it’s totally unrelated I’ll just tell you. After all, I’m the girl who told her friends that they needed to go find a blue camper van when the only one for sale seemed to be green. It turned out the green camper van was actually  blue.

What am I going to do? Well there is still work to do in my job before this month ends and my notice period has ended. I have 3 more Spanish classes to go at Edinburgh uni. There are two campfires to plan for and badges to be awarded. I have some gymnastics tickets that will be used this July. And my friend has just booked us tickets for Shakespeare for Breakfast on one of the first days at the Fringe because we enjoyed it so much last year. There is a lot to look forward to. I’m hoping that when my last day at work arrives it is going to give me time to skype with my friend to brainstorm about the children’s book we are hoping to write together. And I’ve applied for a few jobs that I think I’d be a good fit for (let’s hope the prospective employers think so too!) In between I’m trying to make time to do internet searches for jobs and apply for them, and willing my little MacBook to please stay alive until I get another job (it’s about to turn 4 which seems to be the magic number that each of my laptops always die on. This MacBook is already showing signs of following this particular trend). Oh yes. And one more year of university….I need to decide if I want to upgrade my diploma to a Masters. Eek!

I hope that settles some burning questions. I know I’m super lucky to have been blessed with a sense of humour and have been able to laugh at some of the ironic moments that have been occurring and the days where we get overwhelmed by the unknowns and the sadness of farewelling something that has been a huge part of our lives. I’ve always been a laugher more than a crier, and I plan to keep it that way. :) The great thing about times of upheaval is that they force you to reflect, reassess and affirm you are on the right path, still holding integrity to your values and beliefs and make you realise who your true friends are. I’ve been blessed with oh so many incredible people to call my friends and I know exactly how lucky I am in that regard.

I’ll be keeping you posted!

LA x

 

 

Smoky hair in the midst of transitions…

My hair smells of campfire smoke as I sat with the Soul Surfers crew last night toasting marshmallows (marshmallows may be my downfall to ever becoming a vegetarian). I’m wrapped in my duvet listening to BBC 6 Music (my favourite radio station). I’ve been thinking of my friends who are grieving or worried they are about to be grieving the loss of a loved one.

Yesterday for the first time I was able to admit something to fellow humans I haven’t wanted to admit but knew I’d eventually have to. Thank you peers and friends who sat and listened and empathised with me. I don’t know if you’re reading, but if you are, I really appreciate it.

Today I enter with some trepidation. There is an important meeting tonight at work, and I suspect it’s going to end with me coming home relieved, uneasy or in tears. If you are the praying type, please pray I’ll have the right responses!

My friends introduced me to a book of Common Prayer put together by Shane Claiborne and Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove. This morning I’m meditating on this prayer:

Lord, help me now to unclutter my life, to organise myself in the direction of simplicity. Lord, teach me to listen to my heart; teach me to welcome change, instead of fearing it. Lord, I give you these stirrings inside me. I give you my discontent. I give you my restlessness. I give you my doubt. I give you my despair. I give you all the longings I hold inside. Help me to listen to these signs of change, of growth; help me to listen seriously and follow where they lead through the breathtaking empty space of an open door.

You look like you’re working…

…is what my stepfather said to me with a slightly puzzled tone about an hour ago as he walked past me sitting on a sofa, laptop on lap, with chequebooks, notepads, filofax, cards all around me.

That’s because I am working” I replied.

It’s funny how our society often perceives work as somewhere you go to, a title you obtain and something you get paid for. None of the work I was doing tonight do I get ‘paid’ for.

Sending receipts to my new tenants and paying the factoring bill for a flat I don’t live in (or look to make a profit on).

Updating medical details for a new member of a unit on the Girlguiding database.

Going onto the online shop to order badges and resources for Guides and Senior Section.

E-mailing documents and responding to e-mails from professors in Glasgow and Würzburg after a lot of confusion about which research group I’m actually going to be in come next month.

Updating programmes and registers for Guides and Senior Section.

E-mailing builders with shopping lists.

…and so on!

Of course, I have one of those so-called ‘real’ jobs too, that I was at today. But even then they were giggling as me ‘the manager’ was on my hands and knees hammering nails to fix a cupboard that had been broken from some over-zealous stuffing of donated clothes. Apparently that’s not what managers do. Neither do they burst into giggles when the computer suddenly switches itself off (?) or high five colleagues when the new gadget in the office finally does what we’ve spent 15 minutes trying to command it to do: photocopy something (darn the invention of the touchscreen – real push buttons were definitely the way forward).

Ah well.

I guess I just don’t fit well into those boxes built by Western culture… ;)

CFS in a new era of koala life…

A friend contacted me recently asking me about Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. It isn’t something I talk about so much anymore, and it got me thinking. Do I still have CFS? What does it mean for my life now?

Part of the problem is, I don’t think many doctors know how to help patients with CFS other than diagnose them. I loved my GP in Aberdeen. After GPs diagnosing me with everything from arthritis to PMS to asthma and none of it working, it was a relief to finally have a label for this thing that made me full of energy one day and waking up paralysed the next. However diagnosis was the only thing they gave me – they just kinda shrugged their shoulders at me when I asked what to do about it!

What it seemed to mean was that I became unreliable, because I never knew when it would suddenly rear its ugly head and stop me living my life on a particularly day (or few). It seemed to mean that all of a sudden I caught every snotty cold under the sun. By 2007, I learned that working full-time was not something I was able to do for extended periods of time. What I’ve tried to do over the last few years is manage my time better, and build up my stamina in the hope that one day I’ll be able to have a normal life with a full-time job and live in my own home again.

Something I’m struggling with now, is the discovery that I’m not a part-time student. I’m a full-time student but only for half the year. And that’s not quite the same thing.

I do a lot of things with my life. I work. I volunteer with Girlguiding. I’m involved with Soul Surfers. I’m blessed with lots of friends.

But all of those things were part-time. It did mean there were occasional mental weeks (which usually involved me having a good week to recover afterward). But usually I had days in between to recover. The flexibility of my job for the last 6 years has meant that I’ve been able to switch around my days accordingly. I would have my ‘manic monday’ but it usually meant I’d be off on Tuesday, giving me time to sleep in, catch up on housework and so on. Then I’d be ready for working on Wednesday and Thursday. On Friday I’d do guiding admin or my counselling course or catch up with a friend or other work.

I am beginning to realise that the battle is beginning as I try to work out this new life. For the first three weeks I’ve gone to work, guides and uni…and nothing else. In fact the first week, I had a lot of takeaway meals because I didn’t get to the supermarket and had no energy to do that, cook and eat. One day I did organise to meet up with friends and they turned up 30 minutes late. I won’t lie – I had some ungracious thoughts because I was so tired and it had been so much effort to do that.

Last Tuesday, I had a migraine when I came home from uni.

This Tuesday, I came home with a very upset stomach when I came home from uni.

A lot of that, I think, is tiredness and having to fight through on university days. Not having a  day to recover before going into work makes it tougher. This morning, it took me 2 hours before I could get out of bed. I kept having to sit down and take a rest as I got dressed, showered etc.

Many of my friends have young children, and I know they get very sleep deprived, so I feel very guilty if I complain a about not getting enough sleep. Sleep deprivation for me though, usually means I’ll get sick very quickly.

For example, in South Africa, I didn’t get enough sleep the whole time we were there. We got to bed around midnight, and were up about 6 hours later. Every second day I was running to and from the bathroom. Part of this was eating the beta-carotene dyed food, but it was also likely due to not having enough rest.

When I was in Cornwall for the CS UK gathering, I came down with a cold within a couple of days of arriving home.

For me, I have short bursts of energy. I usually can’t spend more than a couple of hours walking around before I feel like I  need a wee nap or stop being able to properly engage in conversation. My friends who have been to London with me, will notice that we’ll do something for a few hours and then I’ll suddenly start sitting down at every opportunity. I often struggle at work or uni staying awake, because my body just wants a nap by about 2 p.m.!

I’m now try to work out how to manage things in this new era. Do I try to read on the train because it’s a good opportunity, or do I use that time to nap so perhaps I’ll not feel so unwell when I get home? Do I continue trying to get to Soul Surfers when in reality, I haven’t made a single week from feeling so unwell by the time it gets to about 7.30 p.m. on a Tuesday night? How much do I try to study when I’m feeling so exhausted? And should I have put this down as some kind of ‘disability’ when I enrolled at university?

These are all questions that I cannot yet answer – because I simply do not know.

This wasn’t how I planned next week to go…

elmo

 

This photo sums up how me and the elmos are feeling at work today.

Every year, I organise a conference for all the pregnancy centre teams across Scotland. I love doing it but the fortnight leading up to it is stressFUL. This year, we have a team from our head office coming (usually only two of them come, this year four are visiting) and they are staying for 2 days longer than usual so we can visit some of the centres on Friday and Monday.

This year, it just so happens that the week leading up to the conference I’m helping with another Guide Unit on Wednesday (one adult leader left and another broke her ankle a few weeks ago) in addition to my usual unit which meets on Mondays. It’s the week of the monthly Common Good Edinburgh meal and one of the groups I visited have applied for funding so I may need to present their application. And my colleague is away on holiday next week. Plus it’s another week, and assignments for my online college course.

However, suffice to say this wasn’t how I had carefully planned my diary months ago (yes, I plan things term by term).

Apparently that wasn’t enough to be going on with next week so we added my mother going to visit best friend in tornado devastated city (though the silver lining is that I no longer have to hire a car for next weekend) and last night my paternal grandfather died. So I may have to squeeze in a trip to Inverness for a funeral into next week’s madness.

I do always say that God never gives us more than we can handle without His help, and of course I have a fabulous bunch of people who encourage me and understand that me going on random rants and being a little bit loopy is par for the course during crazy times such as these. Maybe a few dramatic tweets of despair.

Prayers appreciated, and hoping that anyone coming into contact with me over the next week or so will have lots of grace and patience with me.

So long summer holiday…

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Sunset from the London Eye on my birthday last month…
…and yes that is the reflection of my camera on the capsule glass.

I was in Southern England this week. I’d had a stressful day on Monday, as a ton of forms came in from delegates for the conference I organise every year. I was super thankful that I was able to leave work a bit earlier so I could pick up my train tickets for the next morning and still have time to get to Guides without being too stressed. Realising that I would have to pack a suitcase when I got home.

Only to discover that the key for the church hall, which only comes out my bag to open and lock the church hall, was not in my bag. Cue frantic texting, phoning, turning my Mum’s car and our house upside down. No key. Me and the Guides stood outside when it of course began to rain while our Unit leader went down the list of keyholders to find no one in. Eventually someone at the other church hall gave us a key.

And if you wanted to make that 24 hours anymore stressful, there’s nothing worse than getting to your seat on the train – you know with the super-advance can only be used with that particular reservation ticket – to discover that the label on it says it’s reserved for passenger travelling from Newcastle. Confused, you look at your ticket and booking confirmation print out and realise that yes, you are the dumb person who has clicked for a ticket for Monday not Tuesday.

Somehow, I made it to my friend’s house in East London that evening, and very early on Wednesday morning we travelled to Hampshire for the first day of the college course I’m doing. The course has been created by a charity I have worked with as a volunteer for a few years now and accredited through the Open College Network. I didn’t realise though, what was going to be involved. I thought I was training to be a tutor. In fact, I’m doing the course I might one day be tutoring. They want to make the course available to other practitioners who support people trying to make decisions in the face of an unintended pregnancy – and soon. And so I’m now learning about moodle. I’m trying to wrap my head around the news that I’m going to be doing assignments every single week for the whole of this summer.

As I get older, I understand more of how I work and what makes me tick. I know that I’m an extravert and so I need to talk a lot of nonsense to process my thoughts, and unless I’m around people I don’t always get a lot of work done. I go a bit loopy if left in the office on my own (I hate being in the office on my own). It took me a whole year to realise that studying alone in my room doesn’t work – I need to be in a library surrounded by other people also studying with fixed social breaks to keep me going (my grades improved drastically as a result). I know that I need to have several projects on the go, because if there’s only one to focus on I don’t have enough stress to stop me procrastinating. Since having CFS, I’ve become a person that needs to plan in advance. Spontaneous stuff doesn’t always work for me, I like to know what’s going to happen, and when so I can plan ahead and prepare for a plan B just in case it doesn’t work out that way. I get lots done on Mondays because they are stressful, busy and I have that routine down now.

In my head, my summer was going to be pretty chilled out. School holidays. No Guides. A time to finally catch up with friends and take days off work to do some fun things. So the sudden discovery that 10 hours of each week is now going to be filled with this course was a shock to my system. I didn’t plan for that. HELP!

I know that I can do it, but I also know it’s going to take me a while to get my head around this new plan for the summer. A little bit of grieving time may be required, and perhaps it’s a good thing because in term time I might not be able to manage 10 hours a week (though granted, I’ve got very busy weeks ahead until the end of term, sooo um, nothing like being thrown in the deep end with no warning).

Come September, I’ll have another trip to London under my belt and I *hopefully* will have completed a A Level standard Open College Network course in Pregnancy Choices Practice. And passed. And then, perhaps it will be time to start my Adult Education tutoring qualification.

So if my blog goes quiet over the next few months, or you wonder why I’m writing non-sensical rubbish that no one really cares about…know that it’s probably because all my brain cells are getting a work out for the first time in many years!

An excited in anticipation koala…

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Man alive! I can’t believe all that is going on right now. After months of fighting SAD and numerous bugs in the last few days I’ve felt a real turn around. I’m waking up in the morning not feeling so horrible as I have done for months. I have a bit of energy. I’m feeling happy.

And now the busyness REALLY begins.

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve had some really exciting messages. Firstly, from the girl I shared a room with on my South Africa trip. My friend has been living in Nigeria for the last few years, and I hadn’t heard from her for ages. I actually worried that maybe she’d fallen out with me. I was totally praying about her, and like 2 weeks later I got a message on facebook from her saying she was going to be in Scotland in June and did I want to meet up? YES! We haven’t seen each other since we said goodbye to each other in Durban almost 4 years ago. I’m so excited to have the chance to catch up with her in person.

The next exciting message was that I had been chosen to be part of the first batch of people to be trained as tutors for a new pregnancy counselling qualification being written by an organisation I’ve worked with in the past. At first I thought it wasn’t going to be possible because it involved a trip to Basingstoke in a few weeks time. My work have agreed to help fund my travel, someone has given me a bed in London (no planes or 4 a.m. starts!) and it mercifully fell on a Wednesday which is NOT a Senior Section night. I do have to do another qualification which I’ll likely do through the local college (community college to my friends in USA) in the Autumn. I had thought I’d be able to get funding for the fees through the Scottish ILA (Individual Learning Account) scheme as I’m on such a low income. It turns out the rules have changed, and because I have a university degree I cannot get ILA funding. :(  So now I’m looking for another solution, but as everything has fallen into place so far, I’m hoping the rest of it will too. I’m also concerned that last year they did the evening classes on Wednesday evenings – which is a guiding night for me.

And the third exciting message was that I have the opportunity to attend the Christian Surfers Conference in Polzeath, Cornwall. Another thing I hope will fall into place, as my flat in Aberdeen is sucking a lot of money out my bank account this month, plus I’m booked on a counselling training day on the Thursday. And the last night of Guides is on the Monday we’d get back. The Edinburgh Soul Surfers crew look set to all be going and I’d hate to be the only one to miss out.

I’ve also been getting to meet some really cool people through something called Common Good Edinburgh. I was invited to be part of the group before Christmas, and met everyone for the first time in January. Part of my role is discovering stories of people who are finding creative solutions to the challenges of life for people in our city and its surrounding region. I’m not sure what I’m allowed to say and not say about everything, but you’ll know how much I love meeting new people, getting inspired and helping good things to happen! I’m learning loads being a part of it, and meeting people I wouldn’t meet in my usual walk of life.

And so that’s me. It’s so nice to be able to share this and not be moaning about being ill. I realise my blog has been quite neglected, but I guess I’ve been either in my sick bed or running about living life without having much time to sit down, reflect and write about it. I imagine come summer, I’ll have lots more to share too!