Monday, 30 May 2016

Dear Alcohol

Dear Alcohol,

We need to have a talk. You're one of those things in life that I feel was wrongly left out of my education. I mean, I'm not saying that my knowledge of photosynthesis, trigonometry and parts of a volcano are not all incredibly useful but I could really have done with a lesson on drinking: How? What? When? Why did I have that fourth glass of vodka coke when I was clearly already pretty drunk? So many questions and ones that neither my geography, biology or psychology classes ever taught me.

I was never a party animal. It never really interested me and it still doesn't. I'd rather keep my senses and memory of the night in tact thank you very much. That's why I never really got into the party scene. I didn't understand the excitement that seemed to revolve around getting so drunk you can no longer remember how your legs work or where you are. Choosing something to do for my 21st is going to be a nightmare! A tea party maybe? Movie Marathon? A good nights sleep? That was a joke...I swear...

Mum persuaded Felix to invite me to his parties, to broaden my social circles and to go wild a bit more. Starting with the blue beauty of WKD, I was then introduced to vodka and the many things you can mix with it to mask the fact that the drink itself is the most vile thing to pass your lips. Friends would hand me a glass of something orange, or a glass that resembled coke but with a slight kick to its fizz. I'd empty that but somehow it would fill in my hands. The party would go on and I would lose more and more of myself. Confidence up. Sense of personal boundaries, how close is too close, down. Attempts at flirting up. Embarrassment at my behavior non-existent.

About mid-way through a 6th form party...fancy dress...obviously
Years of the occasional partying later and WKD's are no longer there and I'm bringing my own Smirnoff to the party. An occasional fruity cider and wine if it's the only choice. The thing is, and I saw something on Facebook the other day that worded this exactly how I feel, but sometimes I think I've been left out of some big inside joke where everyone else knows how disgusting basically all alcoholic beverages are, but they're not telling me. They just stand there and laugh inwardly as I take another disgusting sip from my wine glass or my tumbler of less enjoyable coca cola and see the grimace as the liquid goes down. They wonder what is making me continue drinking it when it clearly all tastes so completely and utterly...yuck.

It's the confidence. When it comes to a party of people I either vaguely know or don't know at all, I'm going to clam shut unless something else takes over and encourages me to talk. That thing is you, alcohol. I'm a socially awkward drinker. Someone who drinks to break her own ice and allow participation in conversation to begin. Who allows a drink to become her excuse to tell ridiculously embarrassing stories and to go up to that guy across the room and tell him he's got pretty eyes because 'it's ok, I'm drunk, he realizes that, he knows I'm not weird or crazy, and anyway, it's a compliment.'...

...Ellie and I went for a summer/winter you can see
So it goes on. Party starts. Drinks flow. Shy Ellie exits. May I introduce.......ELLIE!

This version of myself appeared only a couple of days ago when, what started with an attempt at football, some fruity ciders and chocolate cake slowly slid into topping myself up, on a pretty empty stomach, with my go to friend: vodka lemonade. Drinking each glass far too quickly, not enjoying the flavour but encouraged by the way in which I was slowly gaining confidence. My voice was becoming louder and laughter was bubbling out. Glass empty? No problem, I bought a whole bottle to myself. A top up. Another. And another. Ok, last one....

A lovely dinner...before the alcohol set it...
Confusion. What's this?...A loo, someone talking sweetly and understandably in my ear. Me incomprehensibly apologizing for being an embarrassment and trying to get reassurance that, no one, particularly the host of the party, was judging me for my current state. Exclamations that I plan never to drink again. I don't even like alcohol. More back rubbing, hair holding, water giving and a slow movement up and out towards a lovely comfy bed. Shoes removed, I lie down.

Amy...the definition of elegance and style
Morning. Opening my eyes and the sun is up. The room is flooded with light and I am very, very confused. I turn and find Edd asleep next to me, my shoes on the floor, party outfit still on. Then the night comes flooding back. That moment was the worst. The part where I went from vaguely baffled to suddenly remembering exactly what happened to bring me to this point. The point where the embarrassment kicks in. Something that was encouraged away (as much as physically possible) by Edd reassuring me that 'it happens to everyone', 'it's funny' and 'you didn't ruin my 22nd birthday if that's what you think'. Ignoring the fact he then went on to tease me about it at every opportunity, the weird things I said and the passion with which I declared my hatred for drink, for the entire morning, his reassurances did help. He even helped with his own description of the time he got 'socially awkward drunk' at a party. In his tale, it was the kitchen that had to suffer. At least I had better aim.

Saturday was spent recovering. After throwing up twice before leaving, a lot of staying as horizontal as possible in bed, and eventually finding some food, I managed to feel stable enough to go to another gathering that evening. An evening where no alcohol was touched, let alone consumed and I managed to keep the contents of my stomach in tact.

Me and Daniella...At a point in the evening I still remember
What did I learn? I hear you ask. That I'm very impatient. That I can't stand the idea of feeling awkward and quiet in a room full of people and I will do whatever it takes to avoid that. That I am very aware of how confident alcohol makes me and that I do not have the patience to drink slowly and wait for it to take effect. So I just gulp it down until it all hits a wrecking ball. I learnt that when I feel drunk, I should probably stop drinking and the effect won't rapidly wear off just because I'm not keeping my body topped up. Most importantly though, I learnt, that even when I'm being a complete embarrassment, I am very good at getting my timing right. I managed to wait until my brother had gone home and the party was dispersing. I waited until I was left with a handful of friends who looked after me. Who reassured me, held my hair, fed me water and put me to bed and one whom, despite my behaviour, still spent the first 5 or so hours of his birthday with me.

I learnt that I never want to throw up because of alcohol again. That shall be the first (Dammit...ignoring that one night during freshers...) and last time. I won't let you take control of me as much as you did, to wipe my sanity away or make me throw up in Edd's bathroom sink and hopefully, oh so tipsily, I'll feel just that little bit less terrible the morning after.

And the fancy dress comes out because why be me, when I can be a viking?
I'm sorry alcohol, but you've had your fun. I like you and all, and I think we should be friends but there's only so much of you I can take. I hope you understand.

Best wishes,

Thursday, 19 May 2016

Dear Mindfulness...Again

Dear Mindfulness...Again,

It's been a couple of weeks since I've written to you so I thought I'd give you an update on how it's all going.

Last time I wrote, I told you about my experience of eating mindfully and listening to the gentle sounds of my tummy rumbling as I did so. I described the sensation of concentrating on my toes and then falling asleep for a 30 minute nap only to be woken (rather rudely) by a gong bringing me to my senses. I even explained about the pleasant experiences task we had to do, making sure to focus on at least one point in the day when something good was happening and to write down everything we felt in that moment before it was time to realise that saucepan containing lunch was still on the hob and most likely charcoal by now...time to order a takeaway I guess.

Since then, more has been added to my mindfulness repertoire. Last week, I added the ability to sit mindfully for only 3 minutes and still manage to nod off (I was pretty impressed if I don't say so myself...and I do) as well as a range of yoga type exercises to carry out every other day during the week. This involved lying on our backs and moving into positions such as 'The Cat and Cow', bridge and one where we had to go on all fours and alternate lifting the left leg, right arm and visa versa...mindfully acknowledging (kindly!) that I have no balance and that my arm is wobbling more than a tray of jelly on the head of a deer being chased (with his herd) by a dog called Fenton.

We exercised like no yogi has done before and then were sent home to practice. My home achievements included managing to sit down and start my 3 minute breathing practice approximately 1 minute before mum decided to get up and come into the kitchen discussing tea, falling asleep doing the yoga exercises (yes, it is possible) and not write down a single unpleasant experience...whoops.

All is ok though because, when seated, 8 of us halved to 4 for the session this week, and asked how we did with our home practices, I did actually manage to contribute. Despite having failed to write anything down, I realised I had a very good unpleasant experience that I could describe with accompanying feelings, sensations and all. Something that happens to me daily and is just another of my annoying side effects of being a walking, talking (frequently found singing) ball of anxiety. I described how every time I send a message to someone on social media, or technology in general - Facebook, text, Whatsapp, I end up spending the next few hours or so (sometimes longer) kicking myself for wording things the way I did, putting the smiley face instead of the grin one, imagining them laughing at me while they read it and deciding I'm too weird to speak to again, reading it in all the possible ways someone might and imagining the worst and, finally, watching for that little 'seen 16:03' or those two little ticks that tell me my message has been read but, as feared, I'm not getting a response. I've done something wrong, used the wrong words, I've embarrassed myself and now I need some chocolate or a large cup of tea....

Thoughts? Why did I say that? I'm so stupid. I'm so weird, no one writes like that. I sound so dumb. Now they'll definitely decide I'm a freak and not talk to me again. What if they tell their friends, or worse, my friends? Everyone will think I'm strange! Feelings? Embarrassment, worry, anxiety, fear. Sensations? Nauseous, butterflies, fidgety.

Response in the room? My friend, the German girl...I believe her name is Elizabeth, excitedly exclaims that this is exactly how she feels! All the time! Sending emails at work, texts, everything! Particularly work. Having to sound professional and not embarrass herself. She sends that email and if there's no response quickly the thoughts fly in: 'They're reading it wondering what I'm on about?' 'What is that lady talking about!' 'She's wrong!' etc. etc. This then leads to another lady in the room leaping in with her own tale of unpleasant feelings. Getting home on Friday to an email from a colleague. Someone she already doesn't have a great relationship with, saying she'd got something wrong, that something made no sense, something she'd done earlier in the day. A document? Another email? I can't remember but the point is, it wasn't right and this lady decided to email just as her exhausted colleague was sitting down and taking off her shoes at the end of a difficult week lawyering. Thoughts? God, I hate her! She's so annoying! Why did she have to send that now? It definitely could have waited until Monday! Feelings? Frustration, anger and irritation. Sensations? Clenched fists, tightness all over...

The conclusion? Technology is such a stress! I mean, what happened to the good ol' days of letter writing or walking all the way to the phone box to make a call. I'd much rather that then this instant communication lark. I mean what with everyone having smart phones and laptops by the age of 8 now it basically makes it impossible to believe someone when they say they didn't see your message or they were too busy to reply after they read it. It makes everyone a little less trusting of those around them as they see those little symbols appear telling them the message has got across but 2 hours later and there's still no reply. I mean, didn't you even need to pop to the loo in that time? Or go and grab a coffee? Have even 30 seconds to even type out some reasonably incomprehensible reply....?!

Apologies, sort of went off on a tangent there! The point is, this week was the first time that I felt my contribution actually helped to get something going in the group. A whole group discussion began and everyone started opening up about their feeling and we all just had a bit of a laugh. It was much more enjoyable than the start of the session...

I was tired. I'd had a few late nights and a busy day and what I really needed was sleep. But the course was paid for, a ridiculous amount of money had been lost to the cause. I couldn't just not go. So there we sat, we 4 and Hagen in rainbow socks. Time for a sitting practice. Approximately 30 minutes long. Within 3, my head was dropping and I was struggling to keep that necessary straight backed posture. I tried wiggling, moving into a different position, feet slightly crossed. Off I dozed again. I tried opening my eyes and staring straight ahead...they shut. Too heavy for this concentration thing. I fiddled with my nails, picked at my fingers, anything to keep me awake. I even tried pinching myself. On and on the exercise went. Hagen's voice drifting in and out of my consciousness. Long pauses giving me a brief glimmer of hope that the minutes were drawing to a close...more words. More talking. More silences. Until, after what felt like forever...................................................................................................more words.........more silence..............(ha! Now you know how I felt..........................................................) and finally.................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................
*Ding Ding Ding*

Discussion time. What did we think? How did we feel? One girl spoke of not wanting it to end. Feeling so relaxed and calm that she didn't want to come back into the room. My German friend however: 'I just couldn't wait for you to ring the kept pausing and I thought it was going to end but it didn't...'

HALLELUJAH! I agree! I agree! I agree!

Tell me more Ellie, how did you feel? What were your sensations? How was your body responding? I'm just tired and I couldn't stay awake. I needed to open my eyes, to do something and I just wanted it to end. You kept going quiet. I thought it was over. Seconds pass and it kept going on. Now I just want to sleep. I'm. So. Tired.

Luckily, the next exercise was better. It was time to get physical. Time to...walk. Mindfully of course. Standing in a circle, eyes closed. Feeling the sensations of our feet on the floor. The pressure of the sole of our feet on the ground. Bend one leg while the other foot is pointed on the toes. Bring up one leg and move it in front of the other, feeling it touch the ground, the pressure move. Then the next foot. Keep going. Moving round in a circle. Paying attention. Change direction. Speed up, slow down. Attention remaining. Acknowledge thoughts and let them go, bringing the attention back to the feet.
Me being active...therefore not sleeping while trying to be mindful
Homework: Practice this. At home, at work, with shoes, without. Go to the photocopier, make those copies, then carry them, oh so mindfully, back to your desk. Keep your attention on the movement of your feet. Pay attention. Pay attention. Dammit! There go the files! Sorry, I wasn't looking at you, I had to pay attention to my toes...

Then we packed up our stuff, said goodbye and, oh so mindfully, walked out of the door.

See you next week.

Friday, 6 May 2016

Life is Soupy...

It's true...and when life is soupy, what do I do? Why! Make soup, of course! Or I do that anyway because I go home for the weekend and a meal is produced that I know would put me in hospital...or at least in a lot of discomfort (silly fibre!!). I also felt creative, I'd had chicken thighs for lunch and the only thing available in the fridge for me to be creative with, were chicken I had to change it up. Do something different. So I did. Here ya go:

Life is Soupy
2 Chicken Thighs
Olive Oil
Salt + Pepper
1 Large Onion (white or...whatever other colour you want...brown, purple, pink with polkadots...)
1 Large Garlic Clove (2 Medium Cloves, 3 Small Cloves....etc. etc.)
1 Large Carrot (see above 'Garlic Clove' for variations on quantity)
1 Celery Stick
A Large Handful of Shitake Mushrooms
A Slightly Smaller Handful of Chestnut Mushrooms...
2 Chicken Stock Cubes

1. So, first you've got to flavour that chicken...or marinade as some like to say. Just tip a generous quantity of olive oil, salt and pepper and some herbs (I used Oregano and Thyme) into a bowl and give it a stir. Chop/cut the thighs up into whatever size you like your meat...and bung them in the bowl. Give them all a mix around using a spoon, your hand, a fork, your brother's fork...cover with a tea towel or similar and leave while you prep everything else. 
2. Preparing the vegetables is next. Peel and chop the onion into small cubes, the garlic into thin slices, and the carrot, celery and mushrooms into smallish chunks but based off your own preference of vegetable chunkiness...
3. Once all the veg is chopped and looks all pretty and healthy and colourful, place a deep pan on the heat with the temperature quite low. Pour in a splash of olive oil and wait a little for it to heat up (do not test it with your finger...silly muppet). 
4. Start with the Chicken. You can add a bit of the marinade to the pan too (if you like) before tipping all the pieces in. Leave them until they properly start sizzling then start rotating them with a spoon...spatula...whatever floats your boat...or kitchen. Keep moving them and allowing all pieces and all sides of each piece to reach the heat and colour. To check if they're cooked, take one of the larger pieces and cut it in half checking the middle to see if it is still pink. If it is, keep the chicken going for a little while longer. Once they're ready, remove them from the pan and leave on a plate at the side while you deal with the vegetable bit. 
5. First, the onion. Tip all the pieces into the pan and give them a stir so that they're covered in oil and none of them are burning. After a minute or two, add the garlic. Once these have both softened, add the other vegetables in this order: carrot, celery, mushrooms (not a specific type first...just mushrooms). Give the carrots and celery a good 5-10 minutes though before adding the mushrooms as these take longer to soften and no-one wants a an unexpected crunch in their soup now do they!
5. You can use a wooden spoon to test your veggy mix and see how they're getting on. Test the seasoning and add salt and pepper to taste. 

Oooh, vegetabley soupy thing!
6. With the veg ready to go, you can throw the chicken back in and pop the kettle I've said in other recipes, this is not for a cuppa, we are professionals, dammit! Find a jug and place two chicken stock cubes in it. Add boiling water and give them a stir encouraging the cubes to break down and produce a delicious chickeny...herby...soupy.....liquid?
7. With the stock done and the solid ingredients all cooked through, add the liquid to the pan until it's at a soupy enough level for your liking. You can then give it another stir, a taste (you can even add noodles, tiny pasta pieces or some Parmesan cheese to the mix) and....