Sunday, 13 January 2013

A Tardy Beginning

Well howdy, my Project Authenticity blog, and welcome to a time that is definitely not August 2012.

I meant to begin this blog pretty much immediately I returned from my year in Canada, cleverly utilising the time between coming home and finding employment. But, well, you know how sometimes, shit just happens? Uh-huh. Shit Happened.

Two weeks before my flight home, my mother passed away. She had been seriously ill for a few months, and was expected to continue in poor but stable health for some years. Then, over the course of forty-eight hours, her health unexpectedly deteriorated and she passed away early in the morning, while I was tucked up peacefully asleep in a log cabin on Cape Breton Island. The loss of my mother is a headfuck with which I have not yet really begun to deal, and my feelings about it remain in no apparent hurry to come forth and present themselves. More than six months on, I’m still rather blank on the issue, which I suspect is probably not healthy. But, The Feels: they will do as they please, on their own damn schedule, and it’s no use trying to tell them what business they should be about; a life lesson I am finally beginning to learn.

A month or so after coming home, I went through some kind of post-traumatic stress episode triggered by memories of a deeply unpleasant incident that happened to me many years ago, and I pretty much stopped coping with life for a few weeks. That, at least, is shit I am Dealing With now, and I will be talking about it on this blog in posts to come. Culture shock, and fallout from spending a year being incredibly solitary, probably played into the problems I was having at the time – I had panic attacks about being alone, and every day that I was at home by myself I would deep-clean the kitchen obsessively with loud music playing, so I wouldn’t have to think, or feel. I couldn’t stand the quiet. There were a couple of occasions when I went to a friend’s house in tears in the middle of the night because I was too upset to sleep and I was having a meltdown at the prospect of spending the next eight hours just sitting by myself in my bedroom, being suffocated by the silence and my own despair. I was a mess.

And then, my savings ran out, and I had to pull it together and find a job while simultaneously sorting out complicated benefit claims, involving residency tests (because of my year in Canada) that took a long time to osmose through the bureaucracy. I was flat broke, still a god damn mess, paying my rent with my credit card, and trying to convince interviewers I would be awesome at jobs that I felt seriously mentally incompetent to hold down. I went to a doctor to explain the problems I was having with my mental health, citing the death of my mother and my anxiety attacks and my feelings that I couldn’t cope with day-to-day life. My doctor gave me a ten-point tick-box questionnaire about depression to fill out, and when I was done, she looked it over and told me I wasn’t depressed enough to be referred to a counsellor, but she would prescribe me some anti-depressants if I wanted. I told her that I didn‘t think my problem was depression, exactly; that I wanted to process my feelings, not medicate them away; and that anyway anti-depressants were something I would only ever consider under the recommendation of a mental health professional that I was seeing regularly. She said she thought that sensible and gave me a number I could call for a private counselling service that might offer me a small discount for being on benefits. My still-pending benefits were not enough to cover my cost of living as it was; they would certainly not stretch to counselling sessions, whatever the discount. So I thanked the doctor and left her office and went back out into a world where the only thing that had changed was my faith that there were professionals who could help me.

There followed an emotionally intense fortnight of jobseeking-on-steroids, during which I took a boatload of phone calls from recruitment consultants and attended interviews almost daily. I felt so stressed from trying to force myself through this that it seemed like the world might end at any moment, even during the last couple of days when I’d already gotten one job offer but was holding off on acceptance to see if I would get a second. Everyone was telling me how well I was doing and how great the news was and how happy I should be, and I knew they were right, and I wanted more than anything to be as happy for myself as other people were; but all I could feel was a paralysing fear that everything might blow up in my face at any moment.

And then, in the middle of October, I accepted a position and began working, and money started coming in. Slowly, life began to seem less ridiculously impossible to manage than it had before. It was very stop-start. I would have an afternoon of feeling that things might actually be turning out okay, and then I would throw that emotional energy into trying to fix other people’s problems and spiral back down into overwhelming anxiety, taking a week or more to work out where I’d gone wrong. Some evenings I would come home and just go directly to bed and to sleep so I wouldn’t have to feel anything more that day, without even having a reason why everything seemed so awful. Things were still not at a net positive by any means; my commute was ninety minutes in either direction, leaving me just four hours between getting home and needing to be asleep, and I found myself in a catch twenty-two where being sociable with that time would leave me feeling burned-out and emotionally exhausted, but spending it quietly by myself would make me feel like an empty drone that did nothing but work and sleep. But still, things were nowhere near as bad as they had been before, and they were gradually, gradually improving.

With the time-eating vortex of Christmas now behind me, the end of my employment contract coming up on January 31st, and enough salary squirrelled away in savings to support myself while I look for my next position, things are finally beginning to look actually ‘up’, as opposed to simply ‘less down’. I have acquired a shiny slimline PS3 and I’ve been spending most of my spare time just playing Tomb Raider and watching old episodes of Doctor Who online, in bed, which has been GLORIOUS. I expect to be able to take February as a much-needed month of holiday before firing up the old mumbojumbotron again for my resume, and if I keep a weather eye on my spending I should be able to narrow my search field to jobs only in Bristol city centre, which will reduce my daily commute to zero miles. I also plan to start renting a studio flat sometime after that, and I am looking forward to having a little place all my own again.

In short, I have finally reached the point of feeling ready to begin Project Authenticity.

This will be a blog about my current life, aspirations, delights, tribulations, and thoughts on understanding myself and humanity in general. It will also be a place to reveal and explore aspects of my character that have shaped my development as a human being, and to ruminate on how these personas may influence my present and my future. It is about examining and understanding the worst states I have been in, so that instead of repeating those mistakes I can learn, and forgive myself, and evolve into the best Kate I can be.

Some of the things you read here, should you choose to, may shock and upset you. At the risk of being dramatic, some of it will be very dark indeed, and I will post a trigger warning at the head of any post that warrants one. You will discover things about me that you may feel it’s not appropriate for me to share in a public venue; but I have spent too long being afraid that the world will end if I’m less than perfect and this is the road I am choosing to face that fear. Readers should be warned that this is not a blog about being jolly, or cute, or fun. It is a blog about being authentic.

Welcome to Project Authenticity.


  1. I think this is a fantastic idea, Kate. Bloody great. Learning to cope with who you are IS the big one. Without in ANY WAY wanting to sound patronising or cosy, can I take this opportunity to say I really admire you for this, for 'going public' (so you have to deal with it all in a sense), and for trusting us and yourself enough to realise that this work really matters. Sometimes I think it's the only real battle left in the west to fight: self-knowledge for a better life - for you and for those who are lucky enough to know you. It's always been a privilege. You've just ratcheted that privilege up a few notches today. I love and admire you, Kate. Always have, always will. Moira xxxxxxx

  2. You're a marvel Kate, an honest, wise and beautiful person that I feel truly privileged to know.