Friday, January 4, 2013

Where I've been and where I'm at

I love this photo. I took it on a sea wall in Lahinch in Ireland just before the clouds unleashed a torrent of hail on us. For a good comedic sketch-worthy 25 minutes, The Irishman, me, and his parents jumped in and out of the car in an attempt to go for a walk on the beach; every time we thought the rain had stopped and there was a break in the clouds, we would get about 10 feet before some sort of precipitation came clattering back down on our heads. We ended up soaked, annoyed, and ultimately gave up and drove to drier climes.

This anecdote pretty much perfectly encapsulates where my head has been for the last 4 months or so. I promised you yesterday that I would explain why I haven't been blogging as much and I want to prepare you for a really big dose of negativity and frustration and a few side dishes of jealousy, bitterness, and despair. It's not great reading, nor writing if I'm honest, but hey, where else can you be honest except on the internet?

I tried writing this post a few times before Christmas, and always ended up abandoning it because I just couldn't go all the way there yet. But a few good conversations with good friends, my mom, and a few others in the real world have helped me see that the only way through it all is to be honest with myself and the rest of the world and just do it. Like the photo, there are tons of dark clouds in my head at the moment but hopefully there is a break coming and brightness to follow. I was also inspired by Emily at From China Village who wrote a post that really spoke to me about not blogging about what's really eating at you, and how isolating it feels, and related so much that I felt like I could come clean too.

So what's up, sugarplum?

Well, sometimes it feels like WHAT ISN'T. And other times, it feels like WHAT IS? But I can't really sugarcoat it more simply than this:

I'm just not happy.

It's been a long time coming to be able to admit this in public. Sometimes, when you have a blog and you're an expat, you don't realize that you're unconsciously holding back, pretending your fabulous foreign life is full of excitement and glamour, hiding the lack of fulfilment, the frustration, the pain. Sometimes you even feel guilty that you feel those negative thoughts because you think, well, I mean, at least I am here in London and doing wonderful things like eating in Michelin-starred restaurants and traveling to cool cities so of course I must just be ridiculous because look how lucky I am! But lucky doesn't come with a side effect of being miserable.

I'm conscious that this post can really quickly devolve into navel gazing (and probably already has) so let's really quickly recap on the positives that I've got going for me:

1. I have a house
2. I have a secure job in an interesting industry
3. I have a fabulously supportive boyfriend
4. I have a fabulously supportive family
5. I have a great network of close friends near and far

So, you know, with regards to Maszlow and all of his needs, I should be fairly well-placed to be seek enlightenment. And maybe that's what I'm missing? Because despite all of the above, I'm finding that each day I struggle to wake up with any motivation for achieving anything. I don't have much excitement. I'm bored with my routine, but lack any desire to change it. I'm tired. I'm frustrated. That frustration is making me see the things I have as burdens, rather than joys. 

For example:

1. I have a house
With walls that have holes in them, waiting for plumbers to come remove pipes.
With windows that are constantly covered in condensation (Editor's note: I never ever thought in 1 million years that I would be worried about condensation but there you go!)
With a loft full of boxes, instead of the craft/design room of my dreams.
With a guest room where the freshly applied wallpaper is already peeling.
With cosmetic fixes that cost more than any pair of shoes.
With so many other things to fix in it that I feel like I'll never have a weekend to myself or spare cash to buy a handbag again.

2. I have a secure job in an interesting industry
That causes me untold anxiety.
That I constantly measure my success in against my peers.
That I am always worried I'm doing well enough at.
That I don't really know where I'm headed in.
That sometimes I'm not sure why I'm doing it.
That I can't see a future in 10 years down the road that appeals to me.

3. I have a fabulously supportive boyfriend
Well, he's pretty much great. I'm not airing my issues with him here, but suffice to say it's little things like "will he ever close all of the drawers and doors ALL OF THE WAY instead of leaving them open 1 inch".

4. I have a fabulously supportive family
Who I never see.
Who live in the US and it costs me £500 at least to go back and see them.
Who I constantly feel guilty about never seeing.

5. I have a great network of close friends near and far
See #4.
Add worry that their lives are fast-forwarding through marriages and babies and moves and etc, and I'm not there to share it... so where does that leave me?

Phew. All of that and more has been rattling around and stuffing up my brain for a while now. It feels good to get it out. And even better to read it because I know that it is LUDICROUS. Most of it, at least.

But it gets worse.

Because I've been torturing myself over the above, and more, I've really taken a negative turn for the worse in terms of my general attitude. I've given up exercise, and started comfort eating, and find myself back at the weight I hated 2 years ago. I'm not spending as much time out, socially, because I don't really feel like I have anything positive to say, and I don't have anything cute to wear (because it doesn't fit, and I don't have the spare cash to buy anything new). Social media terrifies me because every new announcement of a vacation, engagement, baby, etc, reinforces my lack of fulfilment. 

It's easy to say "I'm jealous" but it's more than jealousy over achievements or possessions; I'm jealous of people knowing what they want, knowing their dreams, and striving to them. My besties are on a career-break trip in Asia right now, something they scrimped and saved and fought to do, and are having the time of their lives – meanwhile, I'm sitting on the sofa staring at cobwebs and trying to find the energy to dust the house, let alone try to figure out what my dreams and life goals are. Before Christmas, it took me 4 days of saying "I'm going to clean the bathroom" until I finally did – after we got back from Ireland. This negativity is eating away at me, and starting to affect my relationship with The Irishman too. He is nothing but supportive but my life state is exhausting him too. 

Overall, it's a bad scene over here.

So what am I going to do about it? 

Well I've been doing a lot to fix it up to this confession. I've a lovely therapist named Wendy who I pay over the odds for; she can't make it all go away but she has taught me ways to recognize the pattern of thinking that leads me to a place where I feel paralyzed. So at least I can avoid getting to a point of no return. I'm taking a small break from her because she's helped me through the emotional aspect of all of this, and now I need to start the fixing part. I've also been working with two ladies I know, one of whom is a close friend, who are becoming life coaches. They've both agreed to take me on as a test case to help me suss out where I am, what I am, who I am, and how to sync up my values with my work and my goals. I'm terrified by this process because I hate change, but it's necessary. I've gone too far stop now.

Personally, though, I'm starting the following (call them resolutions if you like, but they're more like life shifts):

I'm reading a book called The Element that people have told me really helps you understand what is unique to you – and how to use it to make you happy. I've just started it, so, you know, I'll let you know what I think.  

I am recommitting to yoga and pilates. But in a different way than in the past; I used to go to the hardest class, really push myself, really force myself to get into the hardest poses and hold them the longest and generally be super competitive. This time, it's all about me just doing it. Getting up on the weekend mornings and going to class and celebrating that I'm doing it will be enough. I'm hoping the toning and leanness will follow from the centeredness.

I'm also recommitting to running. Short runs to start and hopefully a half marathon in the spring. A goal to work towards with the side benefit of clearing my head. 

I'm doing a mini January detox. I'm cutting out refined carbohydrates and sugar, and restricting alcohol and red meat (only on the weekends, in moderation). I'm tracking my calories on My Fitness Pal and hoping to hit my goal weight in May.

With a lot of help and encouragement from The Irishman, I'm working on getting up earlier. Ideally to run before work, but this is baby step territory. I am not naturally a morning person, but I do know that when I get up earlier and don't have to rush around, I am more at peace and feel more accomplished – it's just that I really like to sleep. A lot. So the goal is to get to a place where I can get up at 7 every morning easily and hopefully add in a 30 minute run. Let's see.

Also with The Irishman, we're doing a lot of budgeting and financial tracking. Since buying the house, our finances are ever more intertwined and it's helpful to understand what we can afford to do in terms of renovations. But also, I constantly feel like I'm broke. I need to stop dreading the credit card bill and ransacking the sofa for £1 in the days leading up to payday (they're probably The Irishman's anyway).

Finally, I've given myself a deadline of June to work out what I want and need in life. It's not going to be a full life plan, but some things like location might be things that fall out of it; realistically, it's going to be an honest assessment of the things that I need in place to feel at peace and, dare I say, happy again. It's going to be a hard road, and very intense, so I probably won't actively blog about it. But from time to time, I'll update you on how I'm doing. I'm sure you'll sense when changes are amiss, anyways.

If you've stuck with me through this post, thank you. Hopefully you won't abandon the blog but it's okay if you do. If you're going through something similar, feel free to reach out – I've been reading a lot of books, some might be of use to you so message me privately. And if you've a friend like me, well, just go give her a hug and a cup of tea because really that's all she (and I) really need. 

Wherever you are in life, with your resolutions this new year, I wish you nothing but success and satisfaction, happiness and love.


  1. First, thanks for sharing. It takes a lot of guts to lay it out there. Someone once told me something a long time ago that has helped me when I get into the destructive cycle of 1) feeling bad about myself and then 2) feeling bad about feeling bad b/c I have it so much better off than other people.
    Basically, your perception is your reality. No one else's. So, if you feel like your life is unfulfilled, than it is, regardless if it would appear so to someone else.

    Anyway, that aside, we're in a weird time of our life. We're beyond our 20s when it was "ok" to be a little lost or upended. We've started building lives (house, jobs, spouses) that secure us a place at the adult table. But that doesn't always come with fulfillment. It's not to say that you have to give up any of those things, but finding purpose beyond them is the challenge.

  2. Oh, and watch this 10 minute clip from Dan Pink. It's a synopsis of his second book, Drive about what really motivates people. it's career-centric, but I find myself referencing it all the time.

  3. I think Anne's advice is spot on, and I also thank you for sharing, it isn't easy. I commend you for the steps you are taking and wish you the best!

  4. Thank you both for being so supportive and kind, especially on such a delicate and intense topic. I really appreciate it xx

  5. Thank you for this! I have his book Drive - I started it about a year ago and never really finished it. I know it's in one of those boxes in the loft so I'll pull it out and give it a go next. Thank you!

  6. I admit that I never got past the first 20 pages of the book either. But the video won't disappoint.

  7. Haha, fair enough! I remember it being fairly technical. But don't worry, the video is going on later tonight. Thank you :)

  8. with Andrea and AT, thank you for sharing. obviously this sort of thing is difficult regardless of where you are in the world, but I think that is is harder as an expat because, as you say, people who aren't themselves expats can't understand that the adventures of living abroad don't mean that the crap of real life doesn't sometimes take over. and then you feel like you shouldn't let the crap take over because you're so lucky to be living somewhere so great and then it just cycles down and it's bad. anyway. the point is, I'm SO sorry you're dealing with all of this and I think it takes enormous courage to face it and to write about it. I'm not going anywhere :) and please let us know how we can help!

  9. Thank you for such an honest post. I really connected with what you are describing, and I think there's something about this season that brings out these negative or difficult feelings in us. It's always good to share. From one expat to another, best wishes for a sincerely happy new year xoxo

  10. I think honest posts like this make others invest more in a blog rather than stop reading. First, thank you for sharing. Anne has hit the nail on the head. It is your life and we can always be grateful for something but sometimes the negative does take over. I've given myself until the summer to make some big decisions as well. Good luck with everything.

  11. Like everyone else, I'm rooting for you Danielle! It's brave of you to post about this part of your journey, but know that most everyone has experienced the same types of feelings at one time or another. You are not alone! One thing that's worth mentioning: Have you had your Thyroid and Vitamin D levels checked? Both, especially thyroid, can really blunt you physically and emotionally when they are low. And the effects can creep up on you very gradually and insidiously. It's not like, one day, you're feeling fine... and the next day you're not. Best of all, both are easy to check and treat if there are problems. Wishing you all the best!!!

  12. Thanks Zoe! I think you're right, at the end of the year when the nights are long and everyone is supposed to be HAPPY, it's hard when you don't feel it. I hope you have a happy new year to! xx

  13. Thanks Melissa! Thanks for your support and good luck yourself! xx

  14. Hi! Thanks for the tips! I have had them checked previously but not recently so a good reminder to go back to the doctor. I hope you're well too! xx

  15. I second Promok and thyroid and Vit D bit. Unless it is a thyroid problem, it won't solve what hurts you but something like a sunlamp can help you while you fix whatever hurts your heart. Ireland and England in the winter--more sunshine certainly won't hurt.