If we could stop it, we would

Yesterday was hard. I did my best to keep my head above water, but found myself drowning in tears at bedtime. Anxiety had done a number on me from early in the day and I found the rest of the hours till bed moved in slow motion. Everything took longer. I couldn’t be interrupted without feeling completely adrift. The effort it took me to do mundane, simple tasks was equal in difficulty to climbing a snowy mountain. We’re talking very simple tasks: grating cheese, answering a harmless email, changing from normal to studio work clothes. Today, I have a mental illness hangover. I’m slow, timid, and trying to get on track. I’m exhausted.

I wish I could give people answers when asked, “what triggered the anxiety? Why are you depressed?” but the truth is, I don’t know. If you experience these things yourself, you know too, we don’t know. This doesn’t make the feelings imaginary or less powerful, quite the opposite. They are monsters with blood on their teeth or cold, dark boxes you can’t escape. They are the walls of the world pressing in on you, or the panic that the phone rings and you can’t face answering it. In mental illness, helplessness is a common feeling. So is worthlessness, fear, bottomless sadness. If we could stop it, we would.

I took a photo of myself wearing my hood up, my eyes hidden. I didn’t explain it, but I wanted to stay in there all day, to disappear, to shut away the sight of the world’s demands in my periphery. In truth, I didn’t stay in there long. I tied my hair back tightly, took an unreasonably long time changing into my studio work clothes, and sat still a lot. My housemate was out, so I was alone and under no pressure to answer questions, do his well-intentioned suggestions for activity, or keep up appearances. I needed that slow time. I eventually made it to the studio. [For clarity, Pete never pressures me, but when you’re in the midst of a mental crisis, everything feels like pressure.]

Pete came back just as I had sat down to answer an email. I was very close, I told him, to texting him that ‘I can’t be who you want me to be today’ and he was so very supportive. We – slowly – made a simple dinner together. I had a can of strong cider. He had another appointment to attend and so I assured him I’d be ok and he left for the evening. I put a large sheet of paper onto my easel and a favourite album on my iPod. It was Jane’s Addiction – Nothing’s Shocking, which always takes me right back to Richmond, Indiana, late 80s, and so I let memories guide scrawls of line.

I churned out four, large drawings within one and a half plays of the album. It helped. I went somewhere else – somewhere awkward but familiar – for awhile and translated biographical moments in time into art. They helped me escape the anxiety of the day. I am grateful. My housemate came home, I walked him through my drawings, and then I sat and played Borderlands 2 on my Playstation for a bit while he finished some computer tasks.
I escaped the evening without self-harm or getting drunk.

Bedtime was hard. There’s something about the dark, quiet end of a day that puts my anxieties and depression into overdrive. I’m not sure how many hours I cried, how long my housemate held me, or when I finished a cup of sleep-enhancing tea, but I remember the low volume of radio (Late Junction programme on BBC 3) went quiet at midnight. I did sleep. After three or more days of insomnia, and despite my sinuses swollen from tearful despair, I slept hard.

That brings us to today. The sun is shining, but I’m hiding. The mental illness hangover is keeping me careful, and I’ve borrowed Jasper (the dog I share with Neil) to keep me company. Pete is out on appointments. I have a fire going in the studio fireplace and a coffee. It’s after noon already, and I’m feeling a slow build of strength. With any luck, I’ll return a phone call I missed earlier (read: could not answer because I just couldn’t) and get a nice chunk of work done. I’m not pressuring myself, and I can take the time and work into the evening.

Mostly, I’m going to try to do better than yesterday, however small others might judge my progress. We have a saying in this house, one I think I adopted from a book called Things the Grandchildren Should Know, and that is “Tomorrow is new.” That’s what I focus on when the walls cave in on me; tomorrow is new.

Believe me, the surgeon doesn’t want complications

This is more or less a post about my best friend. It’s perhaps a post he’ll never write, so I’m taking it on as the observer. He doesn’t know I’m writing it.
I’ll start with: Pete Cooper is one of the smartest people I’ve ever met.

For the last several years, by best buddy was trying to get a technical services company off the ground. Through no fault of his own, the rural area he services can’t support this as a full time business in pay, though the time it costs is well into unpaid overtime. He’s actively wound down the business, but has a few clients that need projects wrapping up. There are at least three computers in our home that are not ours, in various stages of set up or data recovery.

You may or may not know Pete, but I do. One thing you may not know (because he doesn’t brag) is that he used to be a kinda big deal for a major security software company. They sent him around the world to train groups of people, individuals, public speaking, and to offer consultancy. He managed a team too. He left the job to start his own business and follow some dreams. In that, he was also very successful (read: worked hard, made a lot of money). Then his marriage became unviable and he moved to Crackington Haven (where I live) to make a better life and new start.

I’ve watched him repair, rebuild, replace and resuscitate every make of laptop and desktop PC you can mention, and a few MacBooks too. He has fixed the internal bits of iPhones, and has always had a confidence that he can do what needs doing, or at least give his best try to fix a thing. I am in awe of the things he can do and the decades it has taken to learn and practice his skills.
Not unlike a surgeon. Bet you were wondering about the title. Let me elaborate.

You see, most of you probably don’t back up your computer data to an external hard drive, or even the cloud. I’m here to tell you SHAME ON YOU. You need to fix that situation right now. Stop reading this and go buy a terabyte or so drive on Amazon, then come back and I hope you’ll finish this post.

Right this minute, Pete is on plan C or D or worse in trying to recover data from a client’s failing hard drive. This person, like so many he has helped over the years, wants their data saved from the digital void of nothingness. Now, I don’t know what this person is trying to save, but think of your own computer right now. Baby photos? Doctorate research? Financial records? A particularly impressive porn stash? Doesn’t matter. I guarantee you have stuff you don’t want to lose. So here’s the thing: you will lose these files if you don’t back them up. Hard drives fail, and recovery software and the incredibly smart guys who use it to help you are only able to do so much. And surprises happen along the way. Like bad sectors. Those are duff bits in your hard drive that pop up without warning and cannot be recovered, and may prevent the rest of stuff being transferred to a new drive altogether. This is not Pete’s fault. It’s yours for not having a backup.

Pete has been working on a recovery process for upwards of 24 hours. Bad sectors popped up. The client is being unpleasant about it to Pete, and is making Pete feel horrible. What most people don’t understand is that if you have a loved one in surgery, you don’t get mad at the surgeon for the procedure taking longer than expected or complications arise- you worry and hope for the best possible outcome. But people don’t do that with their computers. We trust these machines to hold our precious, irreplaceable memories, movies, music, half-written novels, and statements, yet take no responsibility for preventable data destruction. Pete is not at fault; he is the surgeon trying to stop the bleeding.

So, as his housemate and best friend, I see the things he goes through trying to make his clients happy and doing his best to the point of tears and pounding fists to save data that means nothing to him, but everything to the client. He’s giving up the business because it kills him a little every time a client gets snarky with him for their own laziness and arrogance. He’s leaving the tech support business because it’s a constant uphill battle with the amount people are willing to invest in their data. People buy cheap laptops and no backup and then get mad when they get a bill for the hours it has taken to revive a born bad machine. In most cases with consumer goods, you get what you pay for; when it comes to my best friend’s experience and effort, you can’t possibly pay him enough.

The moral of the story is to back up your data, and the message is to treat experts well and know that they don’t want complications any more than you do, so be grateful and let them do their jobs as best as they can, because I promise, they want you to be satisfied.
Now, if you didn’t already order a back up disk, for the love of god(s), go do it now.

On asking and adventure

Amanda Palmer is to blame, and I’m so thankful.
Allow me to explain…
Her book, The Art of Asking (which is subtitled: “or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Let People Help” – based in part on her TED talk) is on my nightstand. I’m half through it, and will read the rest when my focus allows, but the book has had a profound impact on me. You see, I’m a giver – to a fault. I volunteer, I take on projects I shouldn’t, I donate, I put others first nearly every chance I get. This sounds like the makings of a good person, but it’s damaging when done as I do.

Here’s the problem: I love helping people. I love teaching, doing, giving, and all that warm fuzzy stuff that goes along with it. I say yes too often. I’m not proud, but I will nearly always do what I can to avoid asking for help. And yet, I’ll always give to the point of making myself ill, physically or mentally. This is something I’m working to correct, or to at least achieve a healthier balance.

So, Amanda… I plucked up the courage and asked for something I wanted, just for me, that seemed so unattainable in my current situation. What happened next was nothing short of extraordinary…

I contacted Origin Paddleboards about their Ugly Duckling boards. I had already researched paddle boards and knew that this was the company and product I wanted. They are ethical, UK produced, and everything about their website made them stand out in a crowded iSUP space. I contacted them knowing that I would love to have one of their boards one day, but why not tell them my story now and see what happens. (Thank you, Amanda!)

Origin emailed me back, and in a flurry of words back and forth, I was offered and accepted the last place on their micro-adventure for that very weekend. I had around 24 hours to gather equipment and join the group. And so I did.

One – really dumb – reason I haven’t been camping in a very long time is down to my hair. I am trying really hard to get over the fact that I have a large, bald patch on top that never grew back after I beat cancer. I have never been a girly-girl, and I love mud, dirt, adventure, but for some reason this hair thing makes me feel terrible. Even when I bodyboard, I have a buff attached to my head with barrettes, or use a neoprene hood. I don’t know why I feel so ashamed or self-concious, but I’m working to get over it. I hate that it prevents me from doing things I enjoy because of the anxiety it causes.
One neat thing about this past weekend is that although I still kept a bandana on the whole time, I got over my issue with camping. The only person who holds me back is me, so I’m trying to do that less.

Gosh, this is turning out to be a long post. Hang in there. Photos soon.

So, Friday evening arrived and I was meeting new people and setting up a tent for our first night together. There was laughter, a pub meal by the sea, campfire, and the buzz of anticipation from a group of mostly newcomers to stand up paddleboarding. Everyone I met is awesome.

We headed off the next morning to inflate our boards and learn to paddle. Starting at St Anthony, the journey eventually took us from the sea to up the Helford River, and a bit back again to finish at The Ferry Boat Inn. According to the plotting on Google Maps, we paddled about 12km during the weekend. Not bad for newbies!
SUP Adventure
SUP Adventure

I have now paddled in wind, rain, sun, harbours, shorelines, and some of the most stunning scenery I’ve seen in awhile. And you know what? I have a bit of a knack for paddleboarding. All my years of skateboarding and yoga have given me balance confidence, and that translated perfectly to being on the water. I didn’t fall off once. I will soon, I’m sure, but I was shocked how well I managed during my first time on a SUP. (It helps tremendously to have excellent instruction and quality gear. Thank you Dave, Rita, Neil, and Ian.)

The majority of my thoughts since returning from the adventure have been about and processing the events of the weekend. I slept beneath the stars in a tent. Made new friends. Learned a new skill or two. Built confidence. Laughed a lot. Cried a little (thank you for listening and hugging, Dave). There was wonderful silliness and there was pure wonderfulness. I miss it already.

I could easily write about the activities of each hour of the weekend and fill numerous blog posts about it all, but I’m already struggling to gain traction in my work tasks, so I need to focus on that. There are fifteen, beautiful people who know what happened over the weekend, and so I’ll leave it to live in those hearts and minds.
I am not the only person who experienced something magical – and for me, life-changing – during 3 – 5 July 2015.
I am so very grateful.

What’s next? Well, I have an Ugly Duckling now, thanks to a trade with Origin. I’ve got plans to paddleboard next week – showing a friend how to do it! – but I think I may get out and get wet before this week is done. I’ve been itching to get back on the water for days…

If you ever get a chance to go on one of these mini-adventures with Dave Cornthwaite and/or Origin, don’t hesitate. Do it. Dave has a motto: Say Yes More, and although I’m learning to say yes less, it’s all about what you say yes to that matters.
Experience more. Adventure more.
My best friend and I have tattoos on our arms that say “cicatrices et fabulis” which is Latin for “Scars and Stories.” It’s about time we say yes to more of that.
SUP Adventure

sharing too much since 2003