Sunday, 31 March 2013

The Daily Mash

We're now back to normal service here at QE, so I am going to do a quick 'cheat' post to round off March's entries in order that we can neatly trot over to April and get back to the regular monthly posting schedule for 2013.

In order to be super efficient, I've decided to combine the Week 3 'website recommendation' post with the Week 4 'UK news' post and bring you... a recommendation for a website that satirises (you guessed it!) British news.

Most of my friends back home will know this site, as it's an old favourite and always very well-maintained, so there's always something fresh to share. My US friends will more likely be familiar with 'The Onion', which does a similar thing this side of the pond. The Daily Mash is written in the style of a real (albeit less detailed) online newspaper, smothered in sarcasm and with a typically British, self-deprecating overtone. Articles are written and uploaded every day, most of which pertain to actual national and international news. There are also random pieces of either totally made-up or entirely irrelevant 'news', opinion columns and 'reader offers', as well as the weekly, brilliant and mildly terrifying horoscopes by Psychic Bob.

I'll not say much more about specifics, so that you can explore further to see what you think. I will say that you do need to a) check into what's been happening in the UK recently in order to find it funny in a relevant way; b) put your British-thinking hat on; and c) not be too offended by swear words or clearly exaggerated, prejudicial viewpoints. Finally, you should definitely start with one of my favourite ever articles of theirs which relates to concerns over falling education standards in teaching for national examinations. I give you: "What's a Physics? Ask GCSE pupils".

The relative importance of family, vulnerability, and having skin on your tongue

Since last writing a pretty worrying post about feeling rather down (and if it wasn't pretty worrying, I did a good job of hiding how utterly broken I was feeling, so yay! But suffice it to say I was not myself), I am very glad to report that I'm doing a lot better, and things are a lot better. As I mentioned in my penultimate post, I try very hard to focus on the positive in any situation and also to not be too personal when writing about things that a) don't just concern me and b) are actually quite personal. This is the Internet, after all.

Thank you, Cassie.
Aside from my blog though, apparently it was glaringly obvious to anyone that knew me that I wasn't okay, even if I didn't directly say anything. Physiologically, my body responded as it always has to anxiety: heart palpitations, nausea, insomnia, loss of appetite, panic attacks and (a new one for me) such horrific dry mouth that the whole top layer of my tongue peeled off. Seriously. I also haven't been the easiest person to be around of late, and at times I have been downright horrible. For this I can only apologise and try to be a better friend from here on out. There are no excuses, even when going through your own personal crisis, and my wonderful friends and family deserve better.

I do not have this
taxidermied alligator's confidence
So, in light of that, and because I want to heal, I'm going to write in a little more reflective detail than I usually would. Surrendering to vulnerability and tenderness is a big part of me (in the 'real world'), and while it makes me anxious and a little crazy at times, it is who I am, and that's okay. I've been telling myself over the last two or so years that I am actually being rather than seeming at last, and I want to persevere with that attitude. I do not wish to numb the girl I have been growing into. I want to be courageous, to be truly seen, and to continue to love whole-heartedly.

I care a lot about what other people think of me. Probably too much. I even care (disproportionately) what people who don't really know me think. I often imagine that people are thinking the worst of me - which is of course something daft in itself, because people are generally thinking about themselves and their existence in the world, as that's what being human mostly is - and I can magnify even the tiniest interaction into a potential disaster. My difficulty stems from a combination of personal insecurity, and a genuine belief that everyone has a valid point or a right to their view (blame my inner psychologist), and that their view comes from a reasonable place to them. Because opinions like that are subjective, a person's dislike of you cannot be considered unreasonable as such, even if born of a misunderstanding. Feelings are what they are. So if they don't like me or think ill of me, then perhaps they might be right and I (cue catastrophising thought pattern) am thus unlovable and forgettable and unworthy.

When it comes to people who are important to me, or important to the people I love, I am even more concerned if there seems to be any kind of misunderstanding. Ben has pointed out that whatever anyone thinks of me, he would and will always want to be with me. Equally, if someone in my life did not like him, he would be able to live with it. If one of my family, for example, did not like Ben, however, I would have an issue. While I would still choose to be with him every single time (plus, as I said back in my first ever v-log, no one actually expressed any negative opinions about that choice, including the transatlantic move aspect) and there's no person I would fight harder for, I would want to resolve any negative feelings. I cannot stand conflict, and I cannot bear the idea of someone I love being hurt by me in a direct or indirect way. I am a peaceful creature who does not enjoy rocking the boat, to the point that I will almost always stay quiet - unless I'm standing up for someone else. I'm kind of a wimp (but I like to see it more as always assuming the best of people).

Esse quam videri
However, I have to learn (and am learning) that valuing myself is actually not a weakness or some form of arrogance. It's not only reasonable to allow yourself to just be who you are, but it's also true that just because someone else - whoever they may be - may think badly of you, it doesn't follow that they're right, and it doesn't follow that you have a duty to change their mind, or that everyone will jump on the bandwagon and leave you for your ostensible, possible, psychologically-constructed awfulness. It is also true that if someone mistreats you or doesn't take care of you, that doesn't mean that you deserved it or somehow caused that to happen.

Finally, being blessed enough to have a partner and friends who do love me for me, and couldn't give a monkey's about how anyone else might feel; to be around people who show unconditional, sensitive, thoughtful, attentive, supportive, joyful love and always think the best of others; and people who continue to be courageous, loving, and vulnerable in the face of their own struggles and pain is what I should be focusing on. This is both humbling and inspiring. The fact that there are - or may be - people I encounter who don't do that isn't important, and it doesn't actually have any real consequences for who I actually am.

I will leave you with this wonderful TEDTalk, in which the concept and importance of vulnerability is explored (and from which some of the phrasing in this blog post has been borrowed). It's one of the most pleasingly concise, deeply resonating, and simultaneously comforting and discomforting monologues I've ever heard. In order to be connected, you have to be who you are rather than who you think you should be, which means opening yourself up to possibly being hurt. But it also means opening yourself up to really loving, and really being loved - and that is always worth the risk of really being.

"And so these folks had, very simply, the courage to be imperfect. They had the compassion to be kind to themselves first and then to others, because, as it turns out, we can't practice compassion with other people if we can't treat ourselves kindly. And the last was they had connection, and -- this was the hard part -- as a result of authenticity, they were willing to let go of who they thought they should be in order to be who they were, which you have to absolutely do that for connection."

 "And I know that vulnerability is the core of shame and fear and our struggle for worthiness, but it appears that it's also the birthplace of joy, of creativity, of belonging, of love."

"You cannot selectively numb emotion. ... When we numb [the bad stuff], we numb joy, we numb gratitude, we numb happiness. And then we are miserable."

" let ourselves be seen, deeply seen, vulnerably seen; to love with our whole hearts, even though there's no guarantee; to practice gratitude and joy in those moments of terror, when we're wondering, "Can I love you this much? Can I believe in this this passionately? Can I be this fierce about this?" just to be able to stop and, instead of catastrophizing what might happen, to say, "I'm just so grateful, because to feel this vulnerable means I'm alive." And the last, which I think is probably the most important, is to believe that we're enough. Because when we work from a place, I believe, that says, "I'm enough," then we stop screaming and start listening, we're kinder and gentler to the people around us, and we're kinder and gentler to ourselves."

Sunday, 24 March 2013

Blonder, beers, and baring all

More blonde; more bangs.
This weekend has been a pleasant one. I'm currently sat in bed (at 1:24PM!) listening to the snuffling snores of my little black dog, the slow sleepy breathing of my bigger brindle pup, and the sound of the incessant rain outside. Both cats are curled up with us too; Taboo on my legs, and Wash at the end of the bed. Ben is, sadly, at work all day (although we got the morning together), but other than that, I think it's going to be a perfect lazy day.

Yesterday morning was spent at Vervé getting my hair sorted out. I try to leave it as long as possible between cuts/colours simply to save money, but it was getting very long and very, err, rooty (which is now a word), so it had to be done. It's always a pleasure going to see Johnny, not least because he is what I have decided to call 'Hair Jesus' being as talented as he is (miraculous, one might say), but also because he's just so much fun to be around. That certainly makes the 3+ hours it takes to colour and condition my hair pass very quickly, and with lots of giggling.  This time we kept the blonde but changed the style up a bit, adding some more body/levels at the back and some gentle bangs (a fringe, Brits) at the front. I love it, and it made me feel really great to spoil myself a little!
One we bought earlier

I then went to meet my lovely friend Nico at a pub just down the street from Vervé, called Tyber Creek. It's what I would call a 'proper' pub (not a pretend English pub, or just a bar that uses the word 'pub' when it quite clearly has too many windows and not enough draught beer), and it's got a great atmosphere and a fantastic menu. We spent about four hours putting the world to rights, laughing, and generally catching up. It was one of the best afternoons I've had in a while, and it's always a pleasure to spend time with her. Queso also happened, which is never a problem for me, and we had a few beers. My current beer of choice is Copper, a delicious 'Altbier' made by Olde Mecklenburg Brewery. It's a myth that America doesn't do good beer: it's entirely true that the internationally sold brands like Bud, Bud Light, Coors and so on are pretty terrible to a British palate, but locally brewed lagers and beers are delicious, varied and plentiful.

One interesting thing that did happen while we were there (related to beer) is something that has never happened to me before. We were quite happily nattering away when the barman came back over to us and told us the the gentlemen at the end of the bar (a good 6 or 8 stools away and with people in between us) wanted to buy us another round, and asked us if that was okay. Now, don't get me wrong, I have had people ask to buy me a drink in the past, but they usually ask me, and we've usually been talking for a while beforehand. It just threw me a bit, as I didn't know whether to consider it as a Brit or an American, so I was momentarily lost as to how to act! I was thoroughly impressed by the barman's civil and respectful way of dealing with the request (checking that we were okay with it and acting as a go-between of sorts) and, after discussing with the barman and Nico whether it would be the appropriate thing to do to accept such an offer with no intent of following it up with anything else, and because I am married (not that Ben would have been/was bothered; he was just pleased by the idea of a free pint!), we said 'yes' and toasted to the guys at the end of the bar with our next round. And that was it. They didn't come over, they didn't bother us, and they just smiled and toasted us back when we said thank you. I'm not sure if that was just because they were nice gentlemen or that they thought we would go over to them after we'd finished our drinks, but I don't suppose it matters. It was quite lovely!

The last thing I did before crashing for the day was to visit my beautiful friends Cassie and Lesley in their new home. They've been moving all week, and have got to a point in the new place where they have the ability to cook food, sit down, and sleep on various things made for such purposes. They've also had the fun of moving while coping with two dogs: one funny, handsome older man Beagle mix Copper, and one tiny puppy Husky mix Finlay - so they've really had their work cut out for them! I was a tad useless and simply crashed on one of their comfy new chairs, drank coffee, and cuddled the pups rather than actually helping with anything important (although even I would say I was pretty damn beefy when it came to moving the foosball table), but it was a delight to see them together in their new place and spend some time with them there.

Finally, a proper night's sleep!
So that's two personal posts in one week, and a distinct absence of any kind of 'week 2' or 'week 3' post as per my 2013 schedule, which so far I've been pretty good at sticking to. Not this month, though. I have to admit to not feeling like myself right now, and so I think writing is one outlet that helps. Trying to stay focused on the positive rather than dwell on or get lost in the (possible) negative is currently a conscious effort, and it's hard not to want to just hide all the time. I don't think this is so much an expat thing, though, just a funny time in my head at the moment. I am aware that there are so many positives in life, and in my life in particular, and that when it comes to contextual happiness and comparative fortune, my cup overflows.

But I recognise that, for now, I am not feeling joy in the usual way I feel it: fully, daily, and without doubt. (Although I know this is unusual for most people, I know what my norm is, and it's currently not right.) I feel as though I am watching my life happen to someone else, or that I am playing at being me when on the inside I am somewhat numb and disengaged. Ten or so days of acute terminal insomnia have, of course, not been helpful to my perspective or my health, and last night was the first night I slept through a whole night without waking at 2, 3, or 4AM. I am also making sure that I continue to run five times a week and eat well, in addition to taking time for myself and things that are important to me (Ben, family, friends, and pets), and tackling any anxiety-antagonising issues promptly and explicitly. But any efforts I make to 'take care' or to proactively improve still feel halfhearted and a little futile.

I am (mostly) sure it will pass quickly enough, but I've learned from past experiences with this kind of dull, lost feeling that it's best to get it out there, to admit it and work through it, rather than be afraid of it and hide from it. So there it is. There is one black dog that I love with all my heart, but this one I need to chase away.

Thursday, 21 March 2013

On pain at (a) distance

I often start my blog posts either apologising or at the very least explaining that I probably don't have much, much of interest, or anything useful to say on a topic.

This is a post where I fear I may say too much, so I am going to attempt to be generic and simply approach an expat issue that I imagine a lot of spousal immigrants have experienced, and that I (perhaps naively) did not think I would face, in a way that focuses on resolution.

When you leave your home, your family, your friends, and your country for love, it's safe to say that you probably didn't do it lightly. You have thought through what and why you are leaving; you are confident and exuberant about the love you feel; you have made both practical and more emotional preparations for your departure. Your investment in your new home and life is enormous. And because of that change, I imagine most of us who emigrate (quite rightly and necessarily) don't think twice after making the decision itself - not through lack of consideration but because of conviction and happiness, and because of the need for momentum to get through the immigration journey.

Whether you fell in love for the first time, or for 'real' for the first time, I suppose you always imagine that you are invincible. Your confidence in a relationship so fitting, so crazily simple and yet so unimaginably complex, skyrockets. In this particular situation, it's also important to invest and to believe, whether consciously or otherwise, because of that being the [main] reason for such a life-changing move. Of course you give it your all, because no one else would make you want to move countries and, conversely, because you are moving countries, you give it your all.

So what happens, one, two, three, ten years down the line, when an event shakes your relationship in a way that makes you wonder if you need to adjust your viewpoint? When the anchor that keeps you on these new shores seemingly loosens a little? Having psychological distance between you and the person who is not only your closest companion emotionally, but quite literally the closest person at all, in a country that is still not fully your home - what then?

Being so removed from long term friends; from family; hell, from what's just normal for you means that minor issues, like navigating supermarkets and the inability of an entire state to indicate when making a turn, can cause exaggerated frustration and sometimes misunderstanding. Major issues can trigger severe loneliness, depression, and even agony. But I don't think being far away from home should actually make a significant difference when it comes to dealing with the latter, believe it or not.

My advice is this: realise that you are the same person as before, and that you are capable of finding solutions regardless of your location. Take a practical, pro-active approach. Speak to people. Speak to friends. Friends in your new home that you can trust. Friends back home-home who know you. Parents if you can. Find solace and strength in their encouragement. And take that to your partner, who you moved for, who you wanted to be with above all else, and remind both them and yourself of that. Trust your partner. Because it's actually not that different to having relationship difficulties at home (even though you may feel a greater sense of displacement than you might otherwise have): such difficulties hurt, and you need to work through them, and you need to find common ground - like any couple, anywhere. Don't let being abroad overwhelm you. You are here because you choose to be. Keep making that choice, and move forward. Close the distance.

I never thought that what would take me out was what was hiding down below.
Lost the battle; win the war;
Bringing my sinking ship back to the shore.
... There's a time and a place to die, but this ain't it.
If there's a future, we want it.

Sunday, 10 March 2013

Marching on

Yes, it's the March update, but I suppose it's actually a review of February, so my title isn't actually that fitting. Ah, well. This update is going to be entirely photos, which means my Facebook friends and family will already know most of this. But it's been a lovely month, and the photos show it best!

First things first: February means Valentine's Day. My friend Leah organised a lady-date (a tradition started last year), involving drinking bubbly in a park overlooking the city, and a delicious meal in the NoDa neighbourhood at the new Korean restaurant Miyagi's.

One very important thing to note: it snowed! Admittedly only a few inches, and it lasted less than 48 hours, but this made it feel like a proper winter.

The dogs absolutely loved it. I was less keen on the white stuff when driving on the interstate, as it seems NC was somewhat unprepared for the sudden "blizzard" (see above), but all in all it was so lovely to have some snow before spring arrives.

I've now started running at least five times a week, and doing 1.2 miles minimum each time. I'm loving it, and am so grateful to Bertie for starting this whole thing. I even bought new running gear, including leggings (yep - sexy!) and a running pack for my keys, iPod, and phone. On cold mornings I also wear my owl hat, which adds a certain something to the whole look, I think.

Running is helping me to sleep and rise more effectively. I've started using an app called Sleep Cycle, to track how I'm resting, and to wake me up during lighter phases of sleep so I don't feel groggy when I get up to run.

There have been some lovely dates over the last month, including a trip to Stony Mountain Vineyards (thanks to Chris for the thoughtful gift of a visit there!), and to my favourite place to eat, Good Food on Montford.

I've also been dressing up for a couple of other events. I shot at the HRC Gala for NFocus magazine, which of course meant a cocktail dress to go with my D3! On top of that, I'm trying to make more of an effort to dress up when going out, simply because I spend most of my days in scrubs, running clothes, or PJs. Which is fine, but I have a lot of nice dresses that deserve to be worn. 

I am also celebrating the amazing news that my MOL photos are now on display and for sale at Smelly Cat Coffeehouse (thanks to Leah's connections!). It's so exciting to see my work up in such a popular, fun place.

Bertie turned one! I can't believe this little darling is already a year old. We've not had her a year of course, but it's still flown by. She had her own party hat and a brand new Nylabone to celebrate. Not so sure she liked the hat, but the toy went down well! She's a wonderful little lady and I'm so happy and fortunate to have her as my pup. 

Taboo is much more settled with us now, and is exploring the house and dealing with the dogs far more. It's a joy to see him come out of himself.

I've had some exciting mail over this month, including a letter from a dear friend, a relief parcel from home, and a CD from Mum and Dad. The power of music is so wonderful. Being given music feels like a person is there with you listening to it, presumably because of the intention they had when thinking of you hearing it, or just because they wanted to share something of beauty with you. They sent me 'Cold Fact' by Rodriguez, and I am absolutely in love with it. I strongly encourage anyone to give it a listen, and to follow up on the story behind the artist if you are so inclined.

Oh, and I also got my mitts on some real baked beans. So, on toast they went with a good pile of cheese on top! 

Parcel from Steve - thank you so much!

It's also incredibly exciting to know that the last of my stuff from home - my books, childhood toys, photo albums, paintings and so on - are on their way to me as I write. I am going to save how I feel about this until after opening the boxes when they arrive, but it's going to mean that my whole life, in terms of stuff and physical memories, is over here now. It's a big step.

Being here is made even happier by the wonderful friends I have. Whether it be dropping in on each other at work, meeting up for drinks, having girly sleepovers, or what seems to have become weekly coffee mornings, I couldn't be luckier when it comes to lady loves.

Overall, I'm still in love with Charlotte. The city, the life, the living.

Ha ha! This is just down the road from my house.

And now it's spring! So onward we go with 2013 in the Queen City.