my cat Natalie Portman

I’m Not Confident So Much As A Control Freak

“Be courteous to all, but intimate with few, and let those few be well tried before you give them your confidence.” ~ George Washington

I’ve been trying to counsel quite a few people lately whose problems fundamentally stem from the fact that they have crippling low self-esteem. This tends to make them obsess about what other people think about them to the point it’s almost impossible to ascertain what think, what they want, or how they feel. It’s also led them to put up with some pretty appalling behaviour from other people.

As insecurity and lack of confidence are said to be common to those suffering trauma and/or severe depression I started wondering why I’m not similarly afflicted. I’ve experienced abuse, and judgment, and stigma but I haven’t particularly internalised any of it.

And the explanation appears to have less to do with the fact that I have a high level of confidence or self-esteem – I struggle with those things as much as anyone else I think – and more to do with the fact that I’m very unwilling to allow the locus of control of my self-image to exist externally to myself.

I don’t, as a general rule, care what other people think of the way I look, who I am, how ill I am, or the way I choose to live my life because I don’t have enough influence over their opinion to feel comfortable affording it any significant amount of weight in my decisions.

I absolutely hate to feel like I’m not in complete control of myself and my life in any waywhich is unhelpful for someone with a stress disorder.

This can be useful.

  • It means that my self-confidence is based on things that I know I’m good at and qualities about myself that I’ve decided that I like.
  • It keeps me from feeling self-conscious about the way I look or pressurised by media images.
  • It makes it difficult for other people to undermine me because they’re being competitive or trying to project their own insecurities on to me.
  • And I’m comfortable taking on responsibilities and owning my decisions.

But it also means that I’m never entirely comfortable either delegating or in accepting help; I’ve avoided going on proper dates because the point of the other person being there is for them to assess you against a whole bunch of criteria and decide whether they think you measure up; and I’ve had a tendency to view any feelings I might have for other people as unwelcome weaknesses.

I was, and still am, very proud of my independence, and used to get annoyed when people would occasionally mention it like it was a bad thing; but it took me a long time to realise that I was also hiding behind it. I was hiding because the thought of caring about anybody, getting close to anybody, needing anybody – used to terrify me.

I wasn’t willing to entertain the possibility that any degree of emotional vulnerability could ever be a desirable thing.

Vulnerability meant giving up some control – control over the relationship, control over how the other person saw me, control over my own feelings and the risk of getting hurt – and I needed to be in control.

I’ve had to learn very slowly and very painfully that creating healthier relationships is the only way to heal.

That letting someone see how broken I am and having them try to help me rather than reject me has been the only way to lessen the feeling that there’s an invisible barrier between me and the rest of the human race.

Ironically, softening that steely self-reliance and trusting other people has helped me to regain some stability and a sense of security. For the first time - possibly, (probably?), more because of myself than other people - I feel like somebody has my back, which makes life feel a little bit easier.

Although I still won’t be going on any rollercoasters any time soon.

 

 *the picture of Natalie Portman isn’t really relevant to the post, I just liked it.

I’ve Forgotten How To Pretend That This Was Ever What I Wanted

“There comes a time when you look into the mirror and you realize that what you see is all that you will ever be. And then you accept it. Or you kill yourself. Or you stop looking in mirrors.” ~ Tennessee Williams

I was five years old when I first decided that I wanted to die.

It was during school assembly on Children in Need day.

The teacher taking the assembly was explaining to us that one of the reasons for Children in Need day was to raise money for other children just like us who had leukemia. leukemia was making them very sick and sometimes some of them died because the doctors couldn’t make them better.

I didn’t understand why that meant that I’d had to come to school wearing my clothes inside out. I did know that I liked the sound of leukemia; I’d spend the next five years hoping that I’d get it, and being desperately jealous when I heard of anyone that did.

It’s the first time I remember having really understood the idea that it was possible for someone who was alive to at some point stop being alive. Not being alive sounded like something I would much prefer to being alive.

When I wasn’t secretly hoping that I would get sick and die soon I decided that I wanted to be a shepherd when I grew up. I thought shepherds still shepherded the way they did in the stories they told us, like The Boy Who Cried Wolf, all alone up a mountain with no-one but their sheep for company. A shepherd or an explorer – I pictured myself heading of alone to get lost in places where nobody had ever been before. I still think it’s unfortunate that by the time I was born everywhere had already been discovered.

I think I was eleven the first time it hit me that if I wasn’t lucky enough to get cancer or hit by car I might end up having wait until I died of old age. And that could take a very, very long time.

The thought of having to live for another thirty, forty, maybe even fifty years made me cry myself to sleep. I’ve done the same thing on at least a semi regular basis ever since.

When I was fourteen they started talking to us about choosing careers. They gave us a book to look at with information about lots of jobs in it, about what they involved and what you needed to be good at to be able to them. I thought I was good at everything but maths. I scoured the book looking for a job where you didn’t have to be good at maths and that didn’t involve spending time around other people.

I pictured myself as a grown up living in a little two up two down cottage in the middle of nowhere with a cat, a dog, and lots and lots of books, going to work somewhere alone every day.

It occurs to me now that the underlying theme of these dreams I had for my life was avoiding it as much as possible. It had never felt like something I was supposed to be a part of – having friends, families – being accepted – was something other people did.

And yet for some reason the thought that it was possible to simply end my life never entered my head.

When I was seventeen I started college. For the first time in my life I met some nice, civilised human beings. I stopped hating life quite so much and decided I wanted to be a social worker. My parents refused to accept this idea and it was decided that I would become a lawyer.

I moved away to study law – for the most part I hated it.

When I graduated I found myself a good job with that international finance company that sponsors Formula One. I travelled a lot and I thought my life was glamorous. I cried any and every time I was alone because my soul hurt so much that I genuinely expected it to kill me. I didn’t know how to tell anybody what I was feeling so I texted the Samaritans a couple of dozen times a day.

Things didn’t work out.

I moved back home and started temping.

My soul carried on hurting until one day I was suddenly so happy that I thought I might burst. Happier than I had ever thought it possible for one person to feel.

I quit my job on a whim and went travelling round Africa. The day after I got back I moved across the country, into a house with three girls I’d never met, and started a job giving legal advice to homeless people.

I believed I’d finally found the life that I wanted.

For six months. Until I stopped being hypo-manic.

Then the bad thing happened.

I moved again.

I hated everything about my life until the following year when I moved into the flat. It was the first time I’d had my own living space. I loved it.

I felt independent and for another six months I thought I might be happy – or at the very least content. Then my soul started hurting again and resumed crying myself in despair at the natural life span of a human being.

I seriously injured my back and while I was whacked out on pain medication for the next eight months I gradually lost touch with people I’d know from other places. The pane of glass I’d always felt existed between me and everyone else seemed to thicken.

As my back got better I got sadder. And started voraciously reading about serial killers. Voraciously. Seriously, I’m pretty much a serial killer expect.

Someone suggested I go and see a doctor.

The doctor referred me to a psychiatrist, who diagnosed me with complex post traumatic stress disorder and major depressive disorder. And told me that my obsession with serial killers is tied up with my obsession with death, that I’m looking for someone to identify with. She believed that I was trying to find what it was that gave serial killers such an apparently casual approach to the ending of lives; so that I could take it and use it on myself.

I started taking medication.

It didn’t keep me from the realisation that life is optional.

I became suicidal.

After taking an overdose I had several months off work.

When I went back to work my employer attempted to drive me out of my job. The stress on top of my illness led to several more months off work.

The legal wrangling over that issue finalised I decided I needed a change. I was eventually offered what I thought would be a perfect job working for No Second Night Out in London; in the mean time I started temping at a stockbrokers.

The job at the stockbrokers was surprisingly interesting and the people were fantastic.

And I started going out again. I went out dancing every single night for weeks on end.

The stockbrokers office was fifty miles away and in order to make it to work on time every day I had to ditch the medication. I didn’t think I needed it.

I moved out of the flat which by this point only reminded me of being ill. I was incredibly excited about the prospect of eventually moving to London.

I was ridiculously happy again. I thought I’d finally cracked it.

Then the London move fell through.

The job offer was withdrawn because my previous employer wouldn’t fill in a four page form for a reference. They wouldn’t fill in the form because to resolve my disability discrimination claim they’d signed compromise agreement that only allowed them to give a pre-agreed reference.

No Second Night Out were expecting this. I’d told them about it in my application form and my interview. They’d told me it would be fine. They said that my previous employer never agreed to fill in their forms anyway and we’d be able to work around it.

Then they changed their mind.

The depression gradually began to creep back in. I went and stood on the roof of my building and almost jumped.

I got sicker and sicker and in November I stopped working again.

I took another overdose at Christmas.

I’m back on the medication and I’ve been trying to get better. I’ve tried and tried but it just isn’t happening. The only thing that I can manage to want to come next is the end. I want to die the same way people who are so tired that it’s making them grumpy want to go home from a dreadful party they never wanted to go to in the first place.

The only thing stopping me is not wanting to hurt the person I live with.

Now a friend I’ve met recently keeps telling me that this feeling will pass, that I’ll get better. That my wish to die is new, fleeting; that for most of my life I was happy and I’ll be happy again; that I really want a whole bunch of things.

I don’t believe him. I don’t believe that this will ever end. He offers no evidence or reasoning. In fact he ignores all evidence and reasoning in favour of bald assertion.

So I’m trying instead to remember how to pretend.

I’m trying to remember how I used to pretend that a life was ever something that I really wanted.

I’m not doing very well.

 

a bacon sandwich

The Fancy-Pants Way To Make A (Totally Awesome) Bacon Sandwich – 20SB Cooking Contest

“I had rather be shut up in a very modest cottage with my books, my family and a few old friends, dining on simple bacon, and letting the world roll on as it liked, than to occupy the most splendid post, which any human power can give.” ~ Thomas Jefferson

This week’s 20SB Cooking Challenge was set by last week’s winner, Ellie, who gave us the task of turning our favourite meal into a sandwich. The rules were that the sandwich must contain two ingredients from the original meal plus an extra new ingredient.

I decided that my response to this would be to cook my current favourite pasta recipe – minus the pasta – and stick it on a sandwich. I thought this meal would be ideal to adapt into a sandwich since the key ingredient is bacon – and who doesn’t love a good bacon sandwich?

I imagined it tasting excellent on a nice, fresh, crusty baguette – with some garlic butter as my additional ingredient.

Unfortunately, as you can see, my actual creation didn’t quite live up to my vision – I didn’t get out of bed until embarrassingly late this afternoon/early evening and so when I went to the shop all the best bread had gone and these white bread cakes were the nearest alternative – but the sandwich I ended up with was still pretty darned awesome.

Here’s how I made it.

This recipe takes about twenty-five minutes to cook and as long to prepare as it takes you to dice an onion.

Ingredients:

  • four tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
  • 250g Danish bacon lardons
  • a small white onion
  • 390g chopped tomatoes
  • a large glug of white wine
  • two teaspoons of crushed chillies - or more, or less, depending how hot you like your sandwiches
  • a warm, crispy baguette
  • a generous amount of garlic butter

When I have pasta to accompany this meal instead of bread I usually make spaghetti or linguine.

Method:

Step 1. Set the olive oil to heat in a pan while you dice the onion into tiny pieces.

Step 2. Add the onion, and the bacon, and the chillies to the pan and fry for a few minutes until the onion starts to brown.

Step 3. Pour in the wine and add the tomatoes.

Step 4. Cook for another twenty minutes, or failing that at least as long as your impatience for the bacon will allow.

Step 5. Slice your bread, butter it with some garlic butter, and then encase it around some of your delicious bacon mixture.

And you should end up with something that looks a bit like this:

a fancy bacon sandwich

 And it will taste heavenly.

whispering couple

Dating Advice For The Willfully Stupid

“There are three possible parts to a date, of which at least two must be offered: entertainment, food, and affection. It is customary to begin a series of dates with a great deal of entertainment, a moderate amount of food, and the merest suggestion of affection. As the amount of affection increases, the entertainment can be reduced proportionately. When the affection IS the entertainment, we no longer call it dating. Under no circumstances can the food be omitted.” ~ Judith Martin

This post is a sort of follow-up to one I wrote last year called Dating Advice For The Diffident

Some commentators, particularly on Reddit where they somehow mistook me for a heterosexual male ‘stud’*, felt that the advice I gave back then – which essentially boils down to ‘if you find somebody attractive you’ll need to actually talk to them if you want things to go any further’ – was too complicated to put into practice.

With that in mind I have decided to share with you the single greatest piece of dating advice that you will ever receive.

Which is this: Women are not a homogenous group. Neither are men.

‘Men’ and ‘Women’ are collective nouns for billions of disparate individuals with a myriad of different interests, desires, thoughts, and feelings.

And no-one can tell you something that will make any man and/or woman fall for you – anyone who says they can is selling you snake oil.

Dating isn’t like a computer game or Scientology; there are no cheat codes or levels.

Instead you have to put in the difficult and time-consuming work of first deciding what it is you actually want out of a relationship – as this can differ wildly from person to person.

Some people want a partner to travel and go on adventures with, others want someone they can stay home and settle down with.

Some people want to create a nuclear family in suburbia, with a dog, a white picket fence and enough rugrats to start their own soccer team; while others would prefer to be part of a glamorous, child-free power couple like House of Cards’ Frank and Claire Underwood.

And far more than either of these are seeking a happy medium between their relationship, work, and family life. 

Some people want the freedom to pursue more than one relationship, many more are only open to strict monogamy.

It’s important that you take the time to work out what sort of relationship you’re looking for because then you’re going to have to go out and find someone who thinks they might be after a similar sort of thing.

And there’s no easy way to identify them – you will only find out whether the person you think you might fancy is looking for the same things in a relationship as you are by talking with them and getting to know them.

But, y’know what? This is supposed to be the fun part – not something you look for ways to speed through or skip over.

If you don’t enjoying spending as much time with another person as it takes to learn such basic information as their name, where they went on their last vacation, and their favourite type of cake, having an entire relationship with them would only feel like purgatory.

You owe it to yourself, to your prospective partner, and to every single other person who’s going to have listen to you both complaining not to plough blindly into relationship purgatory because you think you need to level up to being in a relationship with somebody, anybody.

A lot of people seem to forget that at this stage it’s as important to focus on whether you’re into them as it is to worry about how appealing they might be finding you. If not more so. After all we already know how awesome you are.

Only once you’ve established that we’re talking about somebody you could enjoy spending a lot of time with and are feeling some chemistry around do you need to even consider the best approach to take to wooing them.

And the closest anyone has ever come to a valid universally applicable piece of advice on that matter has been to suggest that you learn how to make people laugh.

Most people claim to be attracted to people who can make them laugh.

But how to succeed in doing so can differ hugely from person to person – think of how Roy Chubby Brown, Michael McIntyre, and Eddie Izzard all manage to have lucrative careers.

And even if you can pull it off this advice bears no cast iron guarantee. I find some of the things Russell Brand says absolutely hilarious – but I wouldn’t touch the skeazy mother-fucker with someone else’s ten-foot barge pole.

In which case you’ll have to think of something else.

Something based on all those things you’ve just learned about them while you were getting to know them as an individual human being rather than a generic ‘man’ or ‘woman’.

And if that doesn’t work, well, that’s sometimes how it goes. In fact it’s what’s supposed to happen. It’s doesn’t mean that you weren’t doing it right.

Because finding somebody you can love and who will love you back isn’t something you should approach hurriedly or flippantly.

Nor is it something that I can teach you in an online article.

There are no shortcuts – you just have to give the task the care and consideration that it deserves.

____________

* which was only marginally less confusing than the time BlogHer mistook me for a born-again Christian virgin who’s saving sex for her wedding day.

 

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