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…

IMGP0724
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!

Things I learned in Fraserburgh…

I got back from Fraserburgh this evening. Flip me, I’m tired, but what a lovely time! I think my favourite part of my job is getting to visit different places , encouraging the teams in centres and sharing stories. I’m kinda fed up hearing my own story, but I forget that the story of how I got into this work is new to other people. I forget the power of going first and allowing others to be liberated from their own stories of loss and the people that squashed their right to grieve. Or allowing others to realise how much their words of judgment can have a negative and paralysing affect on people.

At the end of last night, the two ladies who’d organised for us to come up said their thank yous to us, and they almost had me crying.

But the main thing I learned in Fraserburgh is this…

They mak fancy pieces, and they are affy fine!

The night before heading up to Fraserburgh, I was panicking that I’d forgotten my Doric (cue a question from a South African friend who asked me ‘Who’s Doric?‘ when I was expressing my concern regarding this which made me crack up with the giggles). Just so you know, Doric is not a person, but a dialect of Scots-English unique to the North East of Scotland. Thankfully, it came back to me quickly (and the ladies all spoke to us slowly so we could keep up)!

Fancy piece‘ is basically a phrase used to describe some scrumptious home baking – whether it’s a slice of chocolate caramel shortbread, a great slab of lemon and blueberry drizzle cake or a cupcake slathered in butter icing.

Well, the Brochers (people from Fraserburgh) are as I said great makers of fabulous cakes and bakes! And no sooner had you finished one ‘fancy piece‘ but you’d be offered another one because they are indeed, ‘affy fine‘.

I’ve seriously lost count of the number of cakes and tray bakes I’ve eaten in the last 24 hours, but I think my wardrobe could be at risk of me outgrowing it again as a result!

Until next time Fraserburgh – keep peckin awa’.

:)

The woes of Cassie the Corsa

 

Earlier this summer, my friend and I talked about doing something we’ve wanted to do for years. Go to the Q conference. Our friends have gone every year since it started, and always came back so enthused with new ideas and buzzing with creativity. I always kinda said ‘next year I’m going to save and go’.

This time, it actually seemed like a genuine possibility. Next April, I have no commitments. No weddings. No study. No partners day scheduled yet. I finally have tenants in my flat. For the first time, my finances have been in a steady place. My Mum said she would like to come with me, and we talked of hiring a car and driving the Pacific Coast Highway. A dream of mine for a long time. Sharing the cost would make it plausible for me to go.

Then I discovered that the same week as Q, the NCAA women’s gymnastics championships would be at Pauley Pavilion (where the gymnasts at 1984 Summer Olympics competed) as it’s UCLA is hosting them next April.

It seemed like the stars were in alignment.

And then on Wednesday I went to the gym. I went across the evil speed bump (which I swear is gradually wrecking my already suffering car). Afterwards my friend and I got a sunbed, and as I parked my car I thought I could hear a really odd clunking noise. Today I realised there really is a clunking noise. Rattling every time I go through Edinburgh’s many potholes. I realise my car needs to go to the garage.

Actually, my car desperately needs to be replaced for a newer more reliable one.

And most likely, my dream of California is over before it’s even begun.

Now I’m real mad that I bothered to order my Lonely Planet guide that’s on its way to me from Amazon. I’m mad that I spent a summer having fun. I have those doubts creeping in about quitting my part-time job and getting a better paid full-time one (that pays me in a way to improve my credit rating!!)

As much as Cassie the Corsa and I have been on many adventures, this time I’m not upset at the thought of saying goodbye because I know that she can’t do the job I need her to be able to do anymore.

Next month I need to travel to Glasgow, Fraserburgh and Durham – I don’t think she’ll be getting me to any of these places.

If you’re the praying type – I’d love if you could send a few up for me. That travel would somehow be provided, and that I’d find a way to get money for a new car. :(

July is here

…and that means THE OLYMPICS ARE THIS MONTH.

Over the weekend, there have been Olympic trials all over the world, and I’ve been trying to keep up to date as I get some tasks done.

I have a tenants for my flat in Aberdeen, so I’ve been trying to get the paperwork sorted for that as well as getting the repairs needed in the bathroom there. Thankfully a guy I grew up with is a decorator so he’s going to do what is needed which is fabulous (and means I get to help him by giving him some work – a win-win situation). However, I had no idea the amount of legislation that has come in recent years in Scotland re: to housing and renting. It’s actually quite terrifying and makes me very worried about how vulnerable it makes me as a Landlord. All the legislation is in favour of tenants, and I get that they need protection for crappy landlords, but Landlords also need protection from crappy tenants. A few years ago, my Mum rented out a flat and the tenants disappeared without paying bills and even changed the locks on her. Yet, tenants can now refuse to let Landlords keep a set of keys to the flat?!! I have never set out to make money from renting – I only ever charge what is absolutely necessary to cover costs of interest on mortgage, factoring and insurance. It came to my attention a few weeks ago that previous tenants seem to have wrecked an expensive office desk and either stolen or and chucked out 2 chest of drawers and a handheld vacuum ‘dustbuster’ in my own flat. I cannot afford to replace them right now, and I remember how hard I saved to get them in the first place. So frustrating.

Sorry, I didn’t really mean to have such a rant…

The financial strain of having to live with my mother, be worried about Landlord responsibilities and knowing that my beloved Cassie the Corsa is disintegrating at an alarming rate is hard to take at times. For sure, I’m in a better place at the moment than I’ve been for a long time – the fact that I’m managing to get to Cornwall for a holiday next week is testament to that – but I’m not in a good place overall. 5 years is a long time to live hand-to-mouth knowing you have a mortgage and student loan waiting to be paid off, and your car repairs are draining your funds. I’m extremely reluctant to so much as take out a loan to pay for a new car because I just do not want to be in debt again. I will have to take a payment plan out for my new lenses but there’s a big difference between £183 and £5000.

Gulp.

Always at this time of year, I think about whether to ditch the jobs I love to get a full-time ‘properly paid’ job. One where I got paid by BACS at the same time every month, would automatically start paying back my student loan, could get a decent credit rating to be able to sell my flat and maybe buy one I could actually live in! Maybe if I’m lucky I’d even be able to save up money to travel out the country once a year. Or start going to dance classes again.

Sunnnnssshiiinnnnneee!

And then the other part of me wants to slap me across the back of the head for thinking so ‘worldly’ and being so materialistic. And remind myself that I still have to take afternoon naps on the days I have to get up before 9 a.m. and that my health has never been so good since I decided not to try and continue being a full-time Community Education worker.

On that note, me and my thoughts should start tapering off so I can get some sleep for the next 3 days of work and ‘tasks to complete before I go on holiday’.

And pray to God that both parts of my swimsuit arrive by Wednesday. (yes, can you believe I had to get the top half on one online store, and the bottom half in another because no store could give me both halves?! Crazy.)

Bawling to the top…

How did life go from this

to this

in the space of 24 hours?

To say this weekend was a tough one would be a wee bit of an understatement. A few weeks ago, I wrote an ‘ode to a normal week‘. I realised later that building a campfire twice in 7 days and arriving at my friends’ house at 11 p.m covered in melted slug, mud and charcoal stinking of campfire smoke so we could get up at the crack of dawn to watch people running through the streets carrying a flaming torch is not particularly ‘normal’. Or restful!

I said this to two of our volunteers last week as we painted things and waited for carpet fitters and furniture deliveries.

Sounds like a normal week in the world of Laura Anne though‘ they said.

I realise that not an awful lot of things in my life are particularly average or ‘normal’. It’s maybe why I find it difficult to fit in with other people and often struggle with feeling really isolated and alone in this crazy world.

I had a fabulous time on Saturday night in ‘Hawaii’ celebrating a friend’s birthday. There were lots of people I hadn’t seen in a while there, many from my old church. A lot of them asked about my work – was I still there? How was it going? Was I getting support from people in my new church for what I do?

Maybe it was what began to set me off. All I know is one minor thing at church on Sunday morning and I felt the tears welling up. I got up and walked out, went to my car and just started bawling my eyes out.

Turns out, it would be a theme for the day.

I went to work, knowing that things in our refurbishment project hadn’t quite gone to plan on the day I wasn’t there. I was in no way prepared for what I walked into and it induced a great deal more tears. Oh, and a flare up of my old RSI injury. I was upset, frustrated, angry and feeling a bit hopeless. Truthfully, I was exhausted and feeling really oversensitive and I had no idea why!

Eventually I came home, getting some food from my favourite Italian takeaway en route, and then found out the news about Sheree. (More tears). Curled up in my duvet feeling drained, sad and in a small bit of pain and discomfort I wondered what I was doing with my life.

Today though, seeing all the pain and stress as the hard work came together and saw how encouraged people were to see the massive difference in the look and feel of our centre…made it all worth it.

And I remembered why on the nights I was packing our centre into boxes at 8.30 p.m. with Sarah, or the Saturday I was getting high on paint fumes thinking how I’d have to do a 5 hour round trip to fulfil my property owner responsibilities the next day, the bank holiday where we were clearing paint off the floor and trying to make everything functional…I had to keep saying to myself ‘It’s all going to be worth it in the end‘.

What I told myself was right.

My job isn’t just a job because I love what I do. I’ve had to sacrifice a lot of comforts to continue doing it, but seeing the culmination of 4 years of dreaming…is incredible.

And thank you – because honestly without my online friends who have encouraged me, cheered me up, prayed for us and even given financially to us, I think I’d have thrown myself into the Water of Leith by now! It’s meant so much to know that there are people who have my back and ‘get it’ and accept me for the slightly crazy person I am! ;)