So I’m Back…From Outer Space…

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…Or more accurately, from Namibia (a country in south-west Africa), where I spent 5 weeks at a wildlife sanctuary, including one week at a research site. Overall, it was an absolutely amazing experience and one that I thoroughly enjoyed. I kind of wish I’d had the courage to do something like that sooner, but it doesn’t matter – I’m just so glad to have been able to do it in spite of my anxiety. I saw, and learned about, so many different animals – both in captivity at the sanctuary, and in the wild – and met so many different people, from all around the world. I feel that it really helped me to grow as a person, and although I’m still a very unconfident person by typical standards, it has helped with my confidence immensely. People at work have actually commented on this, telling me that travelling has brought me out of my shell, and that I seem like a more confident young woman. No, my anxiety didn’t magically cease to exist while I was away, and it was really tough at times, but I have fond memories of my time away, and again, other people have noticed that my face lights up whenever I talk about my trip. I’m so lucky to have been able to travel so far afield and have had so many new and pleasant experiences. I think my social skills have improved a bit, and while I still don’t particularly enjoy small talk, I can see now that it does serve a very important purpose. Also, this probably sounds quite trivial, but something that I struggled with before travelling was making eye contact when talking to more than one person. I used to only be able to make eye contact with one person in the group, but while away, I managed to make adequate eye contact with everyone, and I’ve been able to do so since returning from Namibia as well. I’ve noticed lots of small but important things like that. I’ll write about my trip in much more detail later, either as posts on this blog, or in a private blog.

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Like I said in my last post, I have really missed my blog. You’ll have to forgive me for being quite rusty at blogging (I’m already being hard on myself for the low quality of this post), seeing as how I haven’t regularly written posts in over a year now. I’m also feeling a little bit stupefied, as I often do at this time of year (more on this later), particularly when it comes to forgetting words, so please bear with me. I have so many updates to write, and so many other things that I want to write about that I’m actually feeling a little bit overwhelmed, but I’ll take it one post at a time. Thank you so much to everyone who has emailed me and commented on this blog over the last year and a bit. It’s so nice to know that my blog has made some fellow social anxiety sufferers feel understood and less alone. Many of your comments/ emails have made my day, so thank you!

I did mean to write an update weeks ago, but a combination of work and coming down with some kind of viral illness got in the way. The doctor actually said that my symptoms (cycles of high body temperature followed by chills) meant that I had to have blood tests done for malaria, which (despite the fact that I didn’t visit a malarial area of Namibia, and didn’t visit during the malaria season) was quite disconcerting. I also had to take my own bloods all the way to the blood lab at the hospital, while I was feeling very unwell and flu-like, which wasn’t much fun. Thankfully (and as expected), it wasn’t malaria.

In other news, I’m still working away at my supermarket job. For the most part, I have felt much happier and less stressed since leaving university. I still don’t have a clue what I want to do with my life (and the fact that one of my course mates described the job market for biological sciences graduates as “a shambling corpse” doesn’t exactly provide much optimism), but I’m thinking that for now, I will just take a year or so to try and figure my life out, and hopefully save up money to do more travelling, while I’m still young and don’t have any major commitments. Perhaps I am burying my head in the sand a little bit with the career situation (and I have already had many people depress the hell out of me by telling me not to leave looking for a graduate job too late or I’ll be working at the supermarket forever/ they have X, Y and Z postgraduate qualification yet still work in an entry level job), but travelling is currently the only thing I know that I want to do. I know that it’s something that makes me feel happy and that has also helped my confidence, so I’m keen to do more of it if I can. I may do some voluntary work as well.

Social life? What social life?

 I’ve been feeling pretty depressed about the likelihood of making friends post-university, as I don’t really have a way of doing that other than meetup.com, and the vast majority of meet ups take place at the weekend, when I’m working. However, after speaking with my manager, it looks like I may finally be able to have Sundays off. Saturdays would have been better (about 70% of the events I’ve seen seem to take place on Saturdays), but I’m not complaining. I really hope that I can go along to more meetups and make new acquaintances (perhaps even friends, if I’m extremely lucky), though to be honest, I don’t hold out much hope.

I went to a meetup on Tuesday night, to have a meal and see a film with a group, but I was the youngest person attending the meal by about 3 decades. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I don’t like talking to older people, it’s just that the whole point of me going along to these meetups is in an attempt to make friends/ acquaintances, and I’m much more likely to be able to do that with people my own age. Everyone was very friendly but I felt very awkward being by far the youngest in the group, and they also kept mentioning things that were clearly before my time, so I just sat there saying nothing, not having a clue what they were talking about. Ah well…at least I was still working on my social skills, I suppose. A couple of people closer to my age joined us for the film (Fantastic Beasts, which, despite being quite tired of the Harry Potter films, I enjoyed), including a woman that I went to high school with. Like me, she was also quite unpopular and got picked on a lot, though unlike me, she still managed to have a group of friends at the time. I sat next to her in standard grade English for 2 years. One day we had to write a poem, and I chose to write one about people who are “different” in some way. I remember that the first line of the poem was “The world is cruel to those who are different, those who don’t belong”, and it was about being strong enough to ignore the bullies and be your own person in a world that tries to coerce everyone to fit into a very narrow and restrictive definition of normality. I remember her saying that she related to the poem and that it was everything that she had wanted to say with her own. I’ve always wondered – given certain mannerisms that she has – if she might have Asperger’s or something. She has always been a little unusual, but also very genuine and a pleasant person. She actually gave me a lift home from the film, which was really nice of her. It would be nice if I could see her at another meetup, but that group doesn’t have many meetups that I can actually attend, and the thought of being the only young person amongst a bunch of older people again puts me off.

I really wish it wasn’t so incredibly difficult to make new friends. I feel like a middle-aged person in that sense already. I’m so grateful for the few friends I have, but it’s not like I see them on a regular basis. We hear a lot about loneliness in older people, but people don’t seem to understand that young people can be very lonely and have no close friends too. I realised yesterday that barring my one online friend, I’ve only had one close friend in my entire life, while I was still a child, and I think that’s quite sad. All subsequent friends have only been casual friends. I’m left wondering if I will always be as lonely (if not more so) as I am now. The future, regarding friendships, doesn’t exactly look promising.

Graduation

 My graduation ceremony was at the end of last month. I was absolutely dreading it, and was in a terrible state of anxiety the night before, but I actually ended up really enjoying it. I even managed to smile in photographs! I had been dreading walking up on stage in front of everyone most of all, but it really wasn’t that bad. I also managed to cope with certain things – for example, collecting my ceremony and reception tickets, finding out where to collect my robes from, finding out where to get my photo taken, having it taken, and making conversation with the photographer (all on my own, as my parents went for a coffee while I was sorting all this out) – a lot better than I would have previously. And while this probably sounds really childish, I used to rely on my parents a lot more with this sort of thing, but I think I’ve become quite a bit more independent since my solo travels. I think my parents were/ are really proud to have a university graduate in the family, and my mum kept saying how proud she was of me for getting through it all and getting great results in spite of everything. I have fond memories of the day.

Online Dating

Meanwhile, in my (non-existent) love life, I FINALLY managed to actually post a picture of my face on online dating sites. That probably seems like nothing to most people but it’s a huge thing to me (and I’m especially surprised that some men have seemed interested in me despite seeing my face), though I’m still terrified that someone I know will find my profile and mock me for it. I just keep telling myself that the possibility of finally being able to be in a relationship and experience love will be worth any amount of teasing. I’m not going to be miserable for the rest of my life (or at least, I will give it one hell of a fight) just to avoid teasing by people who have nothing better to do with their time. I will admit though, joining a site that requires you to pay for membership does make me feel like a bit of a loser. I feel like I’m broadcasting the fact that I’m a socially inept freak who can’t meet/ talk to men any other way. In a lot of ways, I worry that I’m still not cut out for a relationship, and may never be, and would make a terrible girlfriend – I really need to read a book or two on emotional intelligence and on healthy attachment styles. However, despite trying not to get my hopes up, I have been chatting to a couple of guys and may actually be meeting one of them soon (a thought that absolutely terrifies me). I managed to video chat with him over skype the other day (though I wasn’t actually able to say all that much) and he said he felt bad for asking me to do something that made me so visibly anxious and uncomfortable. But I was actually surprised at how quickly my anxiety (which was initially sky-high) reduced. Even if nothing comes of it, I think just actually meeting someone from an online dating site (even if it’s not a proper date) would certainly be a step in the right direction. I think if I ever want to be in a relationship, it’s something that I really need to start working on before I get much older. However, dating and relationships are also definitely the area where my anxiety is most intense and where I definitely have the most issues. I will try to take it one small step at a time and see what (if anything) comes of it.

I’m sorry for dumping yet another essay here. A plethora of updates to come, when I can find the time.

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Hi and Bye

Hello! Long time no blog. Just a VERY brief update to let you know that, yes, I am still alive, and university is finally over! I got my results a couple of weeks ago and managed to get a first class degree! I absolutely HATED my last year of uni, given how bad uni in general  was for my mental health (MASSIVE “mega-rant” coming about this in the future), and I’m still feeling very pessimistic about my future job prospects with a biological sciences degree, but at least all my hard work and stressing and all-nighters have paid off to an extent.

I had intended to write a few blog posts over the last two or three weeks but I’ve unfortunately been so busy that it hasn’t happened. The reason I’ve been so busy is that I’ve been preparing for a 5-week adventure abroad, on my own, which I leave for today. This is WAAAY out of my comfort zone and I’ve felt so anxious over the last few days that I have a constant sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. I honestly think I must be crazy for signing up to this. It will challenge my anxiety like never before, and I just hope that I will be able to cope.  At the same time, though, I am really looking forward to this. Hopefully it will really help to boost my confidence. 

I’m sorry that I’ve been so terrible at responding to emails over the past year. Thank you to everyone who has emailed me or commented on my blog, and I’m really sorry if I haven’t messaged you back yet – it’s nothing personal. I’ll try and get caught up on all of that when I return from my trip. I really have missed my blog all these months, and the cathartic/ therapeutic effect of blogging. I have A LOT of updates to write, and a lot of other things I want to write about when I get back. Anyway, I’ve rambled on long enough, and I’d better get a move on – I have a plane to catch! Thanks for reading and speak to you all in 5 weeks!

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Stressed oot ma nut! (Update)

Long time no blog! My final year of university has so far kept me extremely busy (and stressed out), and the Christmas holidays have been the last time I will get a break until May, so naturally, I haven’t been in much of a writing mood. I have really missed my blog though. I still have loads of things that I want to write about, but unfortunately – as I will have to start work on my honours in just a couple of days (eeeeeeeek!) – most of those future blog posts will have to be postponed by a few months.

Things aren’t great at the moment. I now have no close friends as my online friend has stopped talking to me. He was very depressed and made some nasty comments towards me despite me doing all I could to try and help/ support him, and stopped talking to me not long after that. I know that none of it was really my fault, but I can’t help but feel bad about myself for all of the times that friends have abandoned me throughout my life. It certainly doesn’t help my self-esteem or my mood. But if someone wants to treat me badly when I’m going out of my way to help them, they aren’t really my friend. I’m quite used to giving more than I get back in return from close friendships, but if someone wants to be ungrateful and rude towards me, I’ll try to find people who will treat me with the respect I deserve. I have no idea how to do this though. I always seem to make the mistake of only making one close friend, so it hurts a lot when they abandon me. This probably has a lot to do with my social anxiety, but when I look back on the friendships I’ve had throughout my life, I valued the friendship far more than the other person did in the vast majority of cases. I imagine that this is a common thing in people with severe SA. Most people without SA usually don’t have too much trouble making friends, and usually have multiple friendships, but those of us with severe SA may only have one close friend (if we are lucky). Therefore, each friendship is much more precious to us than to people who are not socially anxious.

I do still have three non-close friends, but I only see two of them every few months (and I’m not even sure that one of those people is really even my friend, given the way she treats me sometimes). I haven’t seen my other friend since July, and she won’t be back in Edinburgh until May, so I’ve been communicating with her exclusively through email.

I started talking to someone from an online dating site back in September. He seemed understanding when it came to my mental health issues (as he had to deal with the same things himself). We had a lot in common, seemed to be getting on really well, and both wanted to make a relationship work. Then a lot of really difficult things in his life happened in a very short space of time. I wanted to do whatever I could to support him, but he dealt with the difficult things he was going through by shutting me out/ not communicating with me at all for a fortnight. Given my issues around rejection, it was difficult for me to be completely ignored for 2 weeks by someone who claimed that they wanted to be in a relationship with me. He then stopped talking to me altogether. We didn’t even meet up with each other. I still feel bad about the way I left things with him, because there were so many difficult things that he was going through and (despite not taking kindly to being completely ignored/ shut out for two weeks) I really did just want to help and support him. Ultimately though, I think both of us were/ are too unstable and not in the right state of mind to have a healthy relationship. I’ve recently thought about trying online dating again, but I probably won’t have the time/ energy to dedicate to a relationship until university is over. Or maybe I’m just making excuses. Perhaps I’m wrong, but I don’t think it’s possible to have a healthy relationship if you don’t have any friends that you see on a somewhat regular basis/ are close to. What does everyone else think? The trouble with that view, however, is that I can’t be in a relationship until I make some close friends, and it seems that friends are usually a prerequisite for making new friends. Given this, and given my social ineptitude, it seems like a bit of a Catch-22 situation.

What scares me is that when I was talking to that guy from the online dating site, I was the happiest that I have been in a very long time. I can’t rely on another person for my happiness because it’ll destroy me when things end. Am I too reliant on other people? Or not enough? Why give another person the power to destroy me?

I mentioned a few posts ago that I’d hardly seen my befriender, despite the fact that we were supposed to meet up with each other about once every two weeks. I actually met up with her again earlier today. I hadn’t seen her since September, and before that, the last time I met up with her was back in May. To be fair to her, she has had a lot of very difficult/ stressful things going on in her life this past year, so I don’t blame her. When the woman in charge of befriending at the mental health charity found out that we’d been meeting so infrequently, she looked into getting me a second befriender who would be able to meet up with me more often. I’ve met up with my new befriender a couple of times, and she seems really nice. Ideally, my new befriender will be able to go along to meet up groups with me and support me with meeting/ attempting to befriend new people. I don’t really hold out much hope though. I find it so, so difficult to open up to people, and I don’t know how to tell her about my anxiety and lack of close friendships. I also struggle to make friends face-to-face, and would have to somehow overcome the negative “voice” in my head that tells me I won’t be able to make friends because I’m so socially inept and weird that no one would like me. There’s also the fact that I may not have the time to go along to many meet up groups, given the hellish onslaught of university coursework that awaits me. We’ll see how it goes. I’m feeling really hopeless and miserable about my lack of close friendships and of a relationship but I’m doing the best I can to distract myself from thinking about it too much. I can bury myself in university work soon. My old befriender and I have finally arranged to go to a meet up together later this week, and my new befriender and I may be meeting up again next week, so at least I do have a couple of (hopefully) positive things to look forward to.

Random picture of a capuchin monkey that I took, just to break up the wall of text a bit

Random picture of a capuchin monkey that I took, just to break up the wall of text a bit

Work is probably the thing that has helped me the most in recent times, despite the near-fainting, awful insomnia, and other ailments that my anxiety around work has caused me (SA is such a lovely condition!) The insomnia is probably the worst of these. In the week leading up to Christmas, work started at 4am. I averaged only about 3 hours of sleep per night for the whole week. This definitely didn’t help my mental health, and I was very stressed out and irritable. Strangely though, I seemed to function better socially for much of that week. Maybe I was so tired that I didn’t care as much about what other people thought of me, or perhaps it was just the long shifts and the fact that I was working every day that helped me. I still suffer from pre-work insomnia, even though we’re back to 6am starts now. Some nights I don’t get any sleep at all before work, which, again, definitely doesn’t help with my mental state. I really hate all the side-effects of anxiety, but I am so lucky to have gotten this job, and it has helped me so much, so I will keep on soldiering on through it all. I’ve learned that it’s better to just be with the anxiety rather than trying to control it. I usually find that the more I try to control my anxiety, the more it controls me.

It’s amazing how high-functioning I can be at times. I don’t know if any of my colleagues would guess that I’m a nervous wreck on the inside (though I’m sure they’ve realised that I’m very awkward and weird, and that my behaviour can be a bit odd at times). I think my social skills have improved slightly but people attempting to converse with me probably still find it very awkward and stilted. Some days are better than others. I’m definitely less anxious when it comes to talking to/ helping customers. As soon as a customer approached me, my initial thoughts used to be something along the lines of: “Oh shit. SHIT! They’re talking to me! What do I do? Why can’t the ground swallow me up?” Obviously, I still get anxious, but it’s somewhat more manageable now. I’m also a bit better at actually getting my words out/ responding to people, rather than my anxiety causing me to completely freeze up. It’s amazing to think that less than 4 years ago, my anxiety in supermarkets was so bad that I struggled to be in one on my own for any more than about 10 minutes. Now I can stay in one for 8 hours or more, with relative ease, even during the week leading up to Christmas. I could quite easily do a full supermarket shop now.

I feel that I have matured somewhat in some areas, even if I am still well behind most people my age in many areas. I still don’t have any friends at work (again, the main reason for this is probably my fear of opening up to people/ letting others get close to me). Despite knowing full well that no matter who you are, you are always going to have people who dislike you, and despite knowing that this may be more to do with the other person than a reflection on me, and that what other people think about me is none of my business, I still see being disliked in any way by another person as a failure on my part, even if they only dislike a part of me, such as my awkwardness, or how quiet I am at work. (Sorry, that one should’ve had a “long sentence warning” on it. Hope no one fell asleep half-way through it). Perhaps this is why I am so reluctant to open up to others.

Sleepy squirrel monkey

Sleepy squirrel monkey

Something that worries me is that lately, I’ve been having intrusive thoughts, which mostly centre on bad things happening to me or to family members. I mentioned earlier that my anxiety around work often prevents me from sleeping when I have work the next day. The intrusive thoughts always seem to be worse/ more frequent when I’m sleep-deprived, and my brain also seems able to make just about anything disturbing (re: intrusive thoughts) when I’m in a sleep-deprived state. In the past, I’ve had occasional intrusive thoughts during times of stress, but not quite as bad as this. I feel awful about having such thoughts, even though I know I shouldn’t. I’m hoping that this is just a temporary thing and not something that will become more of a permanent feature in my mental landscape. Thankfully, I’ve slept reasonably well for the last few nights and the intrusive thoughts have been less frequent. I am so, so grateful that OCD is not something I have to deal with, because even the relatively infrequent and mild intrusive thoughts that I’ve had to deal with recently are disturbing and upsetting to me.

Last term at university was horrendous but I’ll cover that in another post, seeing as how I’ve already typed up an essay for this post. One positive thing that happened not long after my last post on this blog is that I went along to a women’s cycling group. At the time, I was feeling quite hopeless, as I had gone along to a nature meet up group not long before that, and felt miserable/ like an outcast the whole time that I was there, and spent the entire meet up wishing that I could go home. I was really nervous about going along to the cycling group, especially as I seemed to be the youngest person there. Things didn’t seem to be going well at first, as everyone else already knew each other and I wasn’t able to join in on the conversation. I once again started to wish that I hadn’t bothered going along, but as soon as we actually started cycling, I began to enjoy it. At one point, we all stopped at a café, and I managed to talk to a few of the women in the group. I also managed to eat in front of them without too much trouble. Overall, I really enjoyed the experience. I haven’t been along to the group since (mostly due to being busy with university and work), but hope to go along to the group somewhat regularly once university is over.

Another (supposed) positive is that I FINALLY started Interpersonal Therapy last week. As I had been on the waiting list since June, the psychologist who referred me has sent me information on how to make a complaint against the NHS. I’m still undecided as to whether or not I will make a complaint. It seems like more trouble than it’s worth, and I doubt it will do anything whatsoever to change the deeply flawed and failing public mental health services. Has anyone reading this blog ever gotten any positive results from making a complaint about mental health services?

It’s always difficult for me to start seeing a new psychologist/ psychiatrist. I’ve grown to somewhat dislike/ distrust the profession due to my previous experiences of the mental health services. The psychologist I saw seemed nice enough, though she recorded the wrong scores for the PHQ-9 questionnaire that I filled out (always encouraging!) She said that unlike with CBT, I could have up to 20 sessions of IPT. I feel that I probably do need more long-term therapy if I’m going to make any significant progress, so that’s good to know. I want to eventually do group CBT once university is over as well. (Have you noticed the common factor in terms of what is currently impeding my recovery/ generally ruining my life at the moment?)

I am absolutely dreading my honours project. As is typical of the (complete lack of) organisation at my university, we have only two weeks to write the proposal for our dissertation, and many people don’t even know what topic they’re doing yet. The deadline for the proposal is on my birthday, so this should be fun. We had an introductory session earlier today and I am freaking out at how much work needs to be done between now and May. As I said earlier, it’s annoying, because I have so much I want to write about, but it’ll just have to wait. Anyway, I’ve nattered on for more than long enough. Thanks for reading if you’ve made it this far without falling asleep like that squirrel monkey.

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All I Ever Wanted, All I Ever Needed

I want to write about about a dream that I had a while ago. Now I’m not usually one for analysing my dreams, but in this case, I think it’s obvious what the different aspects of the dream symbolise.

I dreamt that I had been imprisoned by a totalitarian government (again, I read too many dystopian novels), for being ‘different’ to other people (in terms of being unable to behave like a socially ‘normal’ human being). There was a viewing area on the other side of the bars of my cell, which people could get into by going down a staircase. People looked right through me, and didn’t even seem to see me as a person. It was as if they were viewing something like a slug or a snail, and not another human being. It was as if these people had been told “Come and see the socially awkward freak!” I looked at their faces but there were no signs of compassion or recognition of another human being, simply an unwavering stare and dull, vacant expression. Then, suddenly, a guy walked into the viewing area  and held my hand through the bars of my cell. He looked at me like a person, rather than like some kind of alien specimen. It was…nice. I wanted to keep holding his hand, but he pulled away after a few moments. It speaks volumes for my loneliness/ lack of a love life. Even in the dream, I realised I would soon have to wake up and go back to my lonely day-to-day life, deprived of human contact/ love/ close friends.

I don’t think a relationship is something that I truly NEED (after all, I’ve made it 21 years and counting without one), but it is something that I intensely want. I don’t think that it will magically solve all my problems. But loneliness is the worst and I would love to have a special someone in my life. Social anxiety makes everything concerning relationships an impossibility for me though. And I’m convinced that no one would ever want to be in a relationship with me, especially if they knew everything about me. I can’t bear the thought of being alone and unloved for the rest of my life. I can’t bear the thought of having no real connection with anyone for the rest of my life.

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“But first, let me take a selfie”

During my 3 weeks of work experience, my cousin invited my 2 sisters and I to her birthday dinner. It was at a restaurant in central Edinburgh, and she’d invited about 20 people. My youngest sister couldn’t go because she was working. I initially didn’t want to go as I didn’t know anyone who was going except my middle sister and my two cousins, and I DEFINITELY didn’t want to go out clubbing (which is what was planned for after the meal). However, I decided that I would go along to the restaurant in an attempt to face my fears.

Unfortunately, the entire evening, and the conversation going on around me, reminded me of the song (if one can even call it a song) that I took the title from (I definitely wouldn’t choose to listen to it, but I was subjected to it). I was really anxious throughout much of the evening, but my sister is the only person who knows about my anxiety (my cousins know absolutely nothing about my mental health problems), and isn’t usually particularly helpful/ supportive. I didn’t want to mention that I was anxious in front of everyone, so I texted her. She looked at her phone, gave me a couple of (probably condescending) pats on the shoulder, and then went back to talking/ boasting to our cousin’s friends. My two cousins were also obviously busy talking to other people, so I was pretty much sat twiddling my thumbs, wanting to leave, and trying not to have a panic attack, for most of the evening. My cousin’s boyfriend’s sister sat next to me at one point and attempted to have a conversation with me, but I was obviously too awkward for her, as she soon moved her chair over to a group of other people. So on one side, I had no one sitting next to me (which made me feel even worse about myself, and like an extremely weird and unlikeable person), and on the other, I had my sister constantly boasting to my cousin’s friends about university life, her boyfriend/ sex life, clubbing/ drinking, and so on. The weird thing is that my sister told me before we got there that she didn’t really like that particular group of people, yet she spent the entire evening trying to one-up them.

Maybe this is just me being really bitter and grumpy/ weird, but all the conversations going on around me seemed to be very superficial and vapid. Like I said, it seemed that most people were talking/ boasting about their social lives/ nights out, and about various things they did while drunk. Now obviously, as someone who has a virtually non-existent social life, perhaps I just interpreted it this way. But with my sister at least, she certainly did seem to be trying to make herself/ her life appear better than the lives of the other people she was talking to. I just found it all rather odd. Then there was the guy who kept loudly boasting about the fact that he’d once managed to take over a hundred selfies on another person’s phone without them noticing. I felt like saying to him: “What do you want, a medal?”  I felt like a complete alien, being there.

At the end of the evening, people were trying to convince me to go out clubbing with them, but by then, I had had more than enough anxiety for one evening, and just wanted to go home. Thankfully, I had work experience the next day, so used that as an excuse for leaving early. I didn’t enjoy the evening at all, and spent most of it just waiting until I could go home. I can’t tell if I wouldn’t be able to get on with most people my age, or if I would be able to get on with more like-minded individuals. What I quickly realised is that I didn’t have much in common with those people. I feel so alienated when it comes to most people my age. And I think that most of them see me as being very weird/ antisocial. Oh well…at least I’ve learned (I think) not to force myself to go along to social events if I feel that I probably won’t enjoy them, and don’t have much in common with the other people there.

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Work experience round 2

At the beginning of last summer, I did another 3 weeks of work experience at the same veterinary practice as before. My anxiety made things quite difficult but I did mostly enjoy it. In some ways, though, it did put me off becoming a vet nurse/ vet. My memory isn’t good enough to write a really detailed post about it, but I will write about what I remember. It’s probably best not to read this post if it’s very difficult for you to hear about animals dying/ suffering.

Like before, I spent most of my time there watching operations and cleaning, though unfortunately, a lot of the time, I was simply just standing around in the atrium of the building, as there was nothing to do. I would go and clean anything I could, just for something to do, but even though I’d take it upon myself to clean all the doors, skirting boards, cupboard doors, radiators, desk tops, and so on, with disinfectant, there were still some really quiet days when I’d just be standing there for hours, which was mind-numbingly boring. On the bright side though, one of the vets commented that I had a really good work ethic, as I’d often stay past 5pm on busy days to help with cleaning/ mopping/ vacuuming.

The same vet also said that I obviously had the stomach for working in a veterinary practice, as I coped just fine with all of the operations I watched, even though some of them were a bit gory. Probably the most major operation I watched this time round was the amputation of a rabbit’s leg. I’d already watched a dog have its leg amputated on my previous work experience, so I knew I could handle it, but it’s still far from pleasant to watch. I also discovered what a morbid sense of humour vets/ vet nurses have, during that operation. Everyone always seemed to get anxious when operating on a rabbit, as from what I gather, they tend not to do very well under anaesthetic, can easily be injured, and there’s a higher risk of fatality under anaesthetic than with a cat or dog. And the vet who was operating on the rabbit had never done a rabbit amputation before.So I suppose it’s understandable that they’d use morbid humour to cope with the stress of operating on a rabbit. What I found really odd was that, at the end of the operation, the vet took the rabbit’s leg through to the prep room – holding it almost as if it was a trophy – to show the other vets/ vet nurses that the operation had been a success. Obviously, they’re used to this sort of thing and didn’t seem at all bothered by the sight of a rabbit’s detached leg. They all congratulated him. But unfortunately the cleaner (who wasn’t used to seeing such things and seemed a bit squeamish) was also in the prep room at the time, and she looked absolutely horrified. Thankfully, there were no complications during surgery, and the rabbit went home a couple of days later.

One of the other things that stands out in my memory from work experience is that there was unfortunately a vet there (who I thankfully only saw once a week because she was from a different practice) who seemed very rude to anyone who wasn’t a vet/ vet student. I stood in on a couple of her operations and she never said a single word to me but would happily chat away to the vet student who was at the practice during my last week of work experience (I don’t mean about about veterinary stuff, I just mean general conversation). When I stood in on one of her dental operations, she laughed and said that it was really stupid of me to want to become a vet nurse, when I told her I was thinking about it. She also said, in a really condescending way: “Really? You want to clean up poo for a living?”, and kept going on about how I should do something else instead. One of the vet nurses was there helping her with the operation, and I felt that it was extremely rude and disrespectful of her to say a thing like that while he was in the room. He probably had to bite his tongue quite a bit. Does that vet honestly think that cleaning up excrement is all that vet nurses do? Unfortunately, I think that some vets have a bit of a superiority complex when it comes to the vet nurses (though thankfully, she was the only rude vet that I met during work experience). She also berated me and called me stupid because I still haven’t figured out what I want to do with my life (probably without realising that she’s one of the very few people who have always known what they wanted to do as a career). She might be intelligent enough to be a vet, but she came across as very ignorant/ an idiot.

The worst thing that happened during this round of work experience was probably when a 13-year-old border terrier died in the prep room after having collapsed in the waiting room of the practice. I was cleaning the examination tables in the prep room one morning, when all of a sudden, two vets and two vet nurses came bursting in, and asked me to move out of the way. They did everything they could to try and revive her, but unfortunately it was too late, and she died on the examination table. Apparently the dog’s owner had died only three days before her dog. The owner’s daughter was at the vet practice to see about getting the dog euthanised (due to a number of health problems) anyway, so perhaps it was best that the dog died then, instead of having to continue suffering for any longer, not just physically but psychologically (I think it’s probably a lot tougher for a dog when its owner dies than it is for an owner when their dog dies, as in most cases, the owner is all the dog has ever known).

Another case that sticks out in my memory is the case of a Chihuahua puppy whose blood sugar levels were extremely unstable. One minute, it would be like a typical puppy – full of life. The next, it would crash and appear very sleepy and unresponsive. The vet nurses allowed me to hold it for a little while, which was one of the highlights of my work experience. It was such a tiny little thing. Later on, one of the vets had the puppy on his lap while he was phoning the dog’s owner, and it started to urinate on him. He had to carry on talking to the owner as if nothing had happened, while trying to hold the dog away from himself. Everyone else in the prep room was laughing their heads off, especially as it happened right after the vet had commented on “What a lovely little dog” the Chihuahua puppy was. He joked afterwards that he had actually wet himself and just used the puppy as a cover story. He promptly went off to get changed. The last thing I heard about the puppy was that it was going to be taken to the vet school for 24-hour monitoring. Unfortunately, I don’t know whether it pulled through or not.

The last day of my work experience was unusually busy, and extremely chaotic. Everyone seemed very stressed out, and I tried to help in whatever way I could. Unfortunately, everyone was still so busy when I left that I didn’t really have a chance to say a proper goodbye to anyone, which I really regret.

I did enjoy the work experience overall though, but it helped me to realise that being a vet is definitely not for me. I still don’t know about vet nursing, though at this point, it unfortunately seems unlikely, given that it would mean that doing this degree would have been a complete waste of time. The pay is also very low, and though I don’t desire to make loads of money, I’d be struggling to pay the bills on that salary. My friend who is studying veterinary medicine tells me that many vet nurses still have to flat share well into their thirties, and I would obviously much prefer it if I could afford my own place, as flat sharing would probably make me very anxious. In addition to this, while I coped with everything during work experience, I think it would be very difficult to deal with seeing animals suffer on a daily basis, especially when an animal dies in a particularly awful way and you are the one who has to deal with the animal’s dead body, and clean up the mess. (I witnessed something particularly awful during this round of work experience. Thankfully, I didn’t see the dog’s body, but I saw the aftermath. I felt so sorry for the vet nurse who had to deal with it. I love animals and I honestly don’t think I could deal with that sort of thing on a regular basis). It would also be very difficult to have to put animals to sleep/ assist in putting them to sleep, and to deal with the owners’ grief. (I also witnessed a dog being prepared for euthanasia while I was there. I was struck by how professional and compassionate the head vet – the vet who was putting the dog to sleep – was while preparing the dog and putting the catheter in. He did everything he could to make sure that the dog was as calm as possible). Like I said before, I think I would find it really difficult to deal with seeing animals die, and dealing with the grief of their owners, on a daily basis. I suppose it’s back to the drawing board in terms of career ideas.

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Two INFJs and Alan Watts

I finally have some free time, so this will be the first of a few update posts that I want to write. Last spring, towards the end of my third year of university, my school’s disability advisor put me in touch with a study skills advisor, to work on presentation skills. However, we got talking, and it turned out that she was also a counsellor, and was fairly understanding of my SA. She even went and did some research on it, and printed out a couple of journal articles about it, even though she wasn’t in any way required to do that as part of her job as a study skills advisor. We actually spent very little time talking about presentation skills, but spent most of our sessions having deep conversations about things, or acting as counsellor to one another. She actually said, after our first meeting, that it was the deepest conversation she’d had in a long time, and that the conversation would stay with her for quite some time. I don’t even feel that my words were particularly deep, just genuine. And genuine conversations (where both people can remove the “mask” that they are so used to presenting to other people) are so rare in this world. She seemed to “get” me, to an extent.

We spoke about a whole bunch of things, really. There was our mutual dislike of small talk and how fake it is, such as when people ask “How are you?” in a disinterested and scripted tone, and you know that they couldn’t care less about how you or other people are actually feeling or getting on in life. Of course, you’re just supposed to politely say “I’m fine, thanks. How are you?”, and they’re supposed to say that they’re equally fine, so it becomes an utterly pointless interchange, devoid of sincerity. It’s really bizarre, when you step back and look at it. If you were to tell them how you were REALLY doing, most people would look at you as if you had three heads. I know that people just do this to be polite, and out of habit, but it makes me wonder…why are we all so afraid of showing who we really are? We compare our “behind the scenes” to the “mask” and grand performance that others present to us, especially in modern times, with social media, which turns life into a popularity contest. I think this only serves to make us feel even more alienated and alone. People may have hundreds of “friends” on facebook, but the truth is that most people only have one or two true friends – who truly care for them and would stick by them if everything felt apart – if they’re lucky. When it comes to friendships, we seem to, as a society, favour quantity over quality. I remember around the time I was being assessed for autism, a couple of people said that it’s strange to not like small talk, and implied that I must be autistic if I dislike small talk. I don’t think it’s that I don’t understand small talk, it’s just that I have no interest in it and don’t really see the point. I will partake in it out of politeness, for the sake of others, and to hopefully get to the stage where I get to know someone better and the conversation becomes more genuine (though I never really seem to get to that stage), but I find no enjoyment in it. Who truly likes to say an awful lot about nothing at all? Anyway…sorry for my little rant there. I still wonder sometimes if I do have Asperger’s. Is it really that unusual to not enjoy small talk? Maybe I just don’t fully understand it. There are a couple of things about small talk that confuse me, but I don’t that’s to the same extent as it would be if I was autistic. Maybe it’s just lack of social experience/ social skills? Still…in spite of how much I hate it, I know that I’m going to have to become good at it if I ever want to make offline friends.

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There was also our vehement dislike of job interviews and how phony and pretentious they are. (It’s essentially a bullshitting session where whoever can bullshit the most convincingly is employed by an even better bullshitter). The study skills advisor/ counsellor actually told me about a time when she’d picked her (then 10-year-old) daughter and her friend up from school after they’d been doing something about careers. Her daughter and her daughter’s friend were discussing job interviews and her daughter said “So what they’re really asking us to do is to lie”. My thoughts about interviews exactly. It’s as if interviewers abhor anyone who can think for themselves or actually be genuine. However, the study skills advisor went over some interview questions with me (and essentially helped me become slightly better at bullshitting), which I think did help a lot, and is one thing that helped me to finally get a job. There was our mutual love of dystopian novels, and the genius of Orwell and Huxley in so accurately forecasting the future. (I think ‘1984’ was definitely the most accurate during, and immediately after, World War II, but ‘Brave New World’ is definitely the most accurate with regards to modern times).

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I felt like I could be myself around her. And she obviously felt that she could be herself around me. I discovered that she was going through a tough time as she had recently split up with her husband. I also found out that she didn’t have a very good relationship with her mother, and barely knew her father because he left her mother when she was very young. This then led on to one of the few things that we disagreed about: her hatred of men. In her eyes, even the most wicked of women had some redeeming feature, but men were all evil, selfish, and uncaring creatures. Of course, it’s understandable that she had this viewpoint, given her recent separation, and lack of relationship with her father. Despite not having the best experiences with men myself, I definitely don’t share her views. I think some men match that description, but the same is true for some women. I generally distrust and fear men due to my experiences, but I definitely don’t hate them. The study skills advisor said that this was probably because I have/ have had male friends, whereas she never had. I tried to explain to her the preposterousness of her belief that all men were evil, selfish and callous, given that she had probably met less than 0.000001% of the world’s current population of men. She didn’t seem to listen or change her mind though.

The last time we saw each other, she gave me a copy of ‘The Book: On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are’ by Alan Watts, which I thought was a slightly odd thing for her to do. I’m not at all a religious or spiritual person, and wondered if she was trying to convert me. Some of the book was maybe a bit too “right-brained” for me/ not based on science, and so I took it with a fairly large pinch of salt (though I don’t think that much of the book is to be taken literally). And some of it was complete nonsense, such as Watts’ belief that women can be conditioned for painless childbirth. Perhaps women can be conditioned for a slightly less painful childbirth/ to better cope with the pain, but as a species which has its pelvis size constrained by bipedalism, and which possesses a large cranium, I see no way that childbirth is not going to be excruciating. Would he believe the same about men being repeatedly kicked in the testicles? Parts of the book were quite misogynistic, though it was difficult to tell if those parts were Watts’ own views or simply the views of the religious texts that he was discussing. Nonetheless, I did find the book a fascinating and enjoyable read, and I’m glad that the study skills advisor was nice enough to give me the book. I very much enjoyed thinking about the metaphors/ parables that Watts provides the reader with throughout the book. The rest of this post is simply going to be about my own thoughts after reading the book, and I don’t think I’m going to be very good at expressing my thoughts, so if you’re not interested, then stop reading here.

The main idea of the book is that there is no such thing as a separate individual, but that we are all simply pieces of the universe becoming aware of itself, and everything is part of the same whole: “God” (as Watts sometimes refers to it), or the universe. Watts states that we came out of this world rather than into it, which (as someone who studies biology), I agree with. He also states that the universe and existence are like a Möbius strip, without beginning or end, and death is simply the freeing of oneself from the illusion of separateness. While I take this with a pinch of salt, it did get me thinking a lot about death, religion, and what exactly an individual is. I’m not a religious person, but all religions have metaphors and parables, and I think that if you step back and look at them as metaphors, all religions have kernels of truth. I find it fascinating that it seems that what separates humans from other animals is our need for meaning in life and an understanding of the universe and our place in it. Even today, there is still so much we don’t know about the universe, and maybe there are many things that we will never know. And I think that’s the reason that religion is so widespread throughout the human species: it gives people an explanation for how everything came into being, their place in the universe, and gives them a sense of hope and of unity. I don’t think religion is for me, though, even if simply for the fact that I have never been able to believe in any of it. I imagine that religion, and the promise of an afterlife, brings great comfort for religious people during tough times, and also when loved ones die. However, (and I mean no offense or disrespect to religious people when I say this) for me, it’s like trying to believe in Santa Claus. And I don’t believe in Heaven or Hell except as states of mind/ being. Without trying to sound like the beginning of ‘The Lion King’, I do take some comfort in the fact that, much like Watts discusses, we don’t truly die, but cease to be the individual that we were. Energy cannot be created or destroyed, but is simply transformed from one form to another.

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In addition to this (again, without trying to sound like ‘The Lion King’), I think little bits of our relatives and friends live on in us. Whether that’s in the particular opinions and beliefs we have, our mannerisms, our taste in music/ films/ books, and so on, skills and knowledge that was imparted on us, or simply just in the memories that we have of them. ‘Cultural evolution’ (in which the “meme” rather than the “gene” is the unit of selection) would appear to support this, at least on the larger scale. I might do another post about this in the future but I will not say any more about it at the moment, or I will never get this post finished. Watts also briefly alludes to this, as he states that we cannot be separated from the society that we were born in/ grew up in.

“There’s no such thing as an individual, we’re just all a collection of each other’s influence on each other. Everyone says things to each other, the television, your parents, your friends, that’s all we are, is a collection of intermingling ideas as a collective.”

– Matt Bellamy

I also very much agreed with the part of the book in which Watts mentions that the western world is considered to have become very materialistic, but he disagrees, in the sense that we aren’t even particularly good at getting great enjoyment out of material goods. Everything nowadays is designed to become obsolete, and so as soon as we’ve tried a new object, we want something even better. In that case, is one of the answers to having a more enjoyable life to learn to be happy with what we have, and to be more thankful for it? I also agree with his view that wealth is unfortunately seen as the most important thing/ as the biggest sign of success in life, in the western world. I think it’s very sad that we value monetary gain over our own happiness and wellbeing. We even value money above the health of our own planet. We are destroying our planet and ourselves in our greed.  It’s ridiculously stupid (or at least, to me it is) when you step back and look at it. Everything is about making more money. And as a society, we are constantly sacrificing our own health and happiness for It. Furthermore, like Watts says, most people don’t even get to truly enjoy the fruits of their labour. We are always thinking about the future, and never actually living in/ enjoying the present.

“Man is the most insane species. He worships an invisible God and destroys a visible nature. Unaware that this nature he’s destroying is this God he’s worshipping.”

-Hubert Reeves

This is why I have never been interested in becoming rich. Of course I want to make enough money to pay the bills, but I have absolutely no desire to join the rat race. As Watts states in the book, we can’t gain or lose anything from life, so to me, it seems ridiculous to value wealth over the enjoyment of life. Those are the key things that I took away from the book. Life is voyage of discovery. Life is a game meant to be lived and enjoyed as much as one can, given one’s circumstances. And being ourselves – an ephemeral but unique and unimaginably complex expression of the universe – instead of trying to be a copy, is one way of making the most of life, and a way of keeping the universe interesting.

“Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming “Wow! What a Ride!”

– Hunter S. Thompson

Wow…I fairly nattered on there. I’ve spent the best part of two days off writing this post. I imagine that after reading this post, you’re all probably sat there wondering “Gemma, what the hell have you been smoking?”, and have been staring at your screens with this expression on your face for the entirety of this post (or maybe every post I write on this blog?):

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I’m sorry if I made no sense at all in much of this post. Like I said, I found it quite difficult to express my thoughts for much of this post. Or maybe I just need to stop being such a perfectionist. More updates/ other posts coming soon.

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