Thursday, 17 May 2012

The "Sticky Employment Situation" Resolved... so, now what?

(advanced warning - I'm typing this on my phone again!)

I have been a little remiss with the gap between this and my last post - hopefully, my readers will already know through Facebook/Twitter, as I think that's where most of you come from, that the situation has now been resolved, in my favour. Following my husband's slightly less polite email to my former boss that I mentioned last time, we got a reply by letter from the other partner in the firm - the one that, I have to say, I had more dealings with while I was employed there, and that I feel I got on better with personally. I sat on the stairs nervously while my husband read the letter. It started off not sounding overly promising, but as the last paragraph drew to a close, his face started to light up as he read the words "I confirm that (we) will not pursue you for the return of the money paid to you in error". We both shouted "YES!" and broke into dancing, hugging and celebratory fist-pumping. The whole letter was quite long and went on to clarify a few points where they conceded that there had clearly been some unfortunate misunderstandings, and very kindly had a personal message of regret at the way things had deteriorated. We wrote a fairly brief response with similar sentiments, expressing our relief and gratitude that this messy little chapter was finally over.

At this point, I have to mention my, frankly, awesome ex-colleague who got me that job in the first place, as my main reason for not blogging about what was happening in the first place was so as not to put her in any sort of difficult situation. She read my last post and sent me a great message of support, and after I let her know it was all sorted, said that she had spoken to the management team about my blog and hoped she had had some positive input on the outcome. I know she had to pick up an awful lot of slack when I started to be ill and, as the person who had recommended me for the job in the first place, I felt terrible for letting her down like that. I can't begin to express how thankful I am for her continued friendship.

As I'm sure you can imagine, I was on a bit of a high for a few days after that. I had a wonderful feeling of closure, and felt ready to start trying to live my life once more. It gave me enough of a push to start being able to think about working again, without feeling quite so vulnerable. My mother-in-law had come up with a fabulous suggestion of applying for a temporary job at the local Airshow this summer (which is a MASSIVE hint to anyone in the know as to exactly where I live...) - I know a few people who've done it in the past and it sounded like brilliant fun, with the added bonus of having a defined time span, so I'd have the reassurance of knowing it was a fairly short term thing if I started to have difficulties. I found the agency in charge of recruiting for the event, emailed them a copy of my CV with a covering note and was asked to come along to one of their group sign-ups for the event the following week. Which I did, and I feel quite positive about how it went. It was a little weird, as (without wishing to appear hideously snobbish) I was clearly the only one there from a "professional" background. As far as I could tell, they were mostly students. I should find out at the end of the month whether they want me for anything, so fingers crossed on that one.

The only slight hiccup I encountered was that they needed some sort of evidence of my illness to show why I've been unemployed for the last few months. I thought that seemed a bit off, but as I'm trying to be open and honest about my mental health issues these days, I figured it was best to go along with it. They initially suggested something showing I was receiving benefits, which led to me having to explain I haven't claimed any, largely because the mere thought of the process I'd have to go through sent me into a panic attack every time. I could go off on one about how ridiculously over complicated and unfair the benefits system currently is, and how it seems to be designed to keep it out of reach of the most vulnerable, of those that really need it, but I feel that's best left to the swathes of others I've read about who argue it with more experience & eloquence than I ever could. Put it this way, having seen some of what my mum & dad went through to try and get enough assistance for our family to live on when he first went through chemotherapy, I will do everything I possibly can to avoid having to go through that same anguish myself. I'm just bloody lucky I have a husband who is willing to exhaust himself working as many hours as he can to support us, and a family that are in the fortunate position to be able to give us a hand when that's not quite enough. I've strayed from my point somewhat here, but that needed to be said. Not having a benefits letter threw the agency a little, as this obviously put me into the position of not neatly fitting the little tick boxes on their forms. I suggested I could provide a doctors letter, which they seemed happy enough to accept. I duly scanned & emailed over a copy of the letter referring me to the local counselling service for CBT. After that, I can't help but think that if I am unsuccessful in getting a position at the show, it will be down to my health history. I know that's supposed to be illegal, as a form of discrimination, but would I really have any way of proving that was why I had been turned away if if happened?

Since then, I've been back in the position of feeling I'm drifting somewhat aimlessly while I wait for someone else to decide my fate. Last week my husband took a couple of days off to help my father overhaul our kitchen, which was a nice, distracting project to keep me occupied for a few days. I have to say getting it done has given me a wonderful sense of accomplishment, but the mass of tidying & cleaning it entailed did start to drive me a bit bonkers. I'm actually looking forward to the dentist appointment I have booked tomorrow as an excuse to get me out of the house and my dull routine for a bit. I think the near-constant rain over the last few weeks has led to me going out less than I should - I like to go for a bit of a stroll round the neighbourhood every day, but it's difficult to make yourself do it when it's tipping it down. Over the last few days, the rain has eased off a bit, and the moisture has been replaced by pollen, but at least I can dose myself up with nasal spray to try and protect myself from the worst of that. I think I'll be trying to get out more again next week.

I did have one more topic I wanted to cover briefly, but on second thoughts, I think I need to dedicate more time and thought to it, and I've waffled on quite enough for today. Here's to next time!

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

The "Sticky Employment Situation" Revealed

First of all, I’m going to stop apologising for the large gaps between posts.  As mentioned in my previous posts, I’m currently dealing with an issue with my previous employer, and I’ve largely been trying to keep schtum in hopes of reaching an amicable solution.  However, it’s becoming increasingly apparent that this is not going to be possible, so I now feel getting it off my chest is going to be the best thing for me.  I’m still going to try and be discrete about it and not name names, etc, but I really can’t see how I can keep blogging at the moment without getting this out in the open.

Where to start?  I briefly covered my employment situation in my first blog post, but to recap, I was made redundant from the job I had been in for several years in May 2011, due to company downsizing.  I’d already avoided the chop a few months earlier by moving from my local office, which was closing, to the company’s office up in London.  I started having anxiety problems with the London commute, so really, redundancy was the best thing that could happen to me at that point.  Luckily, one of my former colleagues who hadn’t made it through the cull when my local office was closed had found a lovely job with a small IFA firm, and they had a vacancy going which sounded perfect for me, so I pretty much walked straight into a new job.  I felt I fit in immediately, and couldn’t believe my luck.  However, a couple of months in, I started to have some health problems – constant stomach cramps, frequent vomiting, with a nice side of dry retching to keep me busy when I wasn’t vomiting.  I’d had similar problems before, which went away with the help of antacids and anti-emetics, although a cause was never found, so I went to the doctor and started the same treatment.  I tried to keep going in to work as much as I could, but as I was being sick so much, it was a hell of a task just to make it through the 40 minute drive to the office.  It got to the point that I was making less than half of my hours.  December came, and I was thoroughly gloomy by then.  My husband decided to take a little time out of work so he could come with me to one of my GPs appointments – I forget if I actually asked him to, or whether his near-infallible intuition told him I needed him there.  Either way, I ended up in floods of tears in the GP’s office, my doctor had a look through my notes and noticed my previous bouts of depression, and the dots were connected, and back onto anti-depressants I went.

It must have been less than a week later that I was called in for a meeting with my bosses.  Basically, they wanted to have a more formal meeting to discuss my health and my future, and suggested I may want a friend to accompany me.  I instantly knew what that was likely to mean, so once again, my husband was there to hold my hand for that meeting.  My boss was very apologetic, but he explained that they were basically in the position of a start up company and could not cope with continuing to pay me sick pay, and being a member down on their small admin team.  It was never explicitly said, but I was essentially offered to option of resigning or being dismissed.  I dimly remembered some old career advice someone had given me, that in that situation, it is always best to resign.  I wasn’t exactly in the best place mentally to try and put up much of a fight.  They had given me the option of staying on if I showed a marked improvement before they found a replacement for me, which was something, at least.  My husband, as always, was incredibly supportive, and agreed he would start working extra hours to try and keep our cash flow going.  We agreed that it probably was for the best that I took a couple of months to recover before looking for work again, in order to try and ensure I was in the best shape possible.  It took me about another week before I managed to tell them that I was also being treated for depression.  They were sympathetic, insistent that I still join them for their Christmas meal, etc, but the prospect of being unemployed within the next month had damaged my psyche more than I’d like to admit.  My condition worsened, so there really was no hope of being kept on.

Skip ahead a couple of weeks, and it got to the end of January, with no replacement having yet been found.  I got my payslip, and was a bit puzzled that I’d been paid for a whole month, despite only having worked about a week in January.  I gave the boss in charge of payroll a call to query it; as it would be going out to pay my bills in a few days time, I wanted to make sure that I was not left with money to pay back once I was without any income.  I was assured this was correct, as it was my pay for December, and I was paid in arrears.  I remembered having a conversation about this when I first started, and that I’d had to hold back some of my redundancy payment from my previous employment, so I was happy that this was the case.  I was going through a really low patch at that point, pretty much resigned to the fact I wouldn’t be going back to that job, so that’s about when I started blogging.  It helped me feel some sense of achievement and empowerment again.  I kept in touch by phone and email, but I never did get into the office again.

It got towards the end of February, by which time they had a replacement lined up, so I gave them a call to check if there was anything outstanding that needed to be dealt with before I officially left.  This is when they dropped the bombshell that I did, in fact, owe them money, although they weren’t yet in a position to tell me how much.  I essentially blacked out at this point through sheer panic – evidently, I managed to complete the phone call, with them agreeing to calculate the overpayment and email the figure to me.  I let my husband know.  He was absolutely furious, as this was exactly the situation I was trying to avoid by calling them in January, and we were in no position to pay the money back.  He took up the slack at this point, as I just fell to pieces, and he checked into employment law and came to the conclusion that, as I had made contact to query the payment and was assured it was correct, we had then spent the money in good faith, and had no liability to repay the money.  I went to visit the local Citizen’s Advice Bureau to back that up, and was referred to my local free Employment Rights advice service, run by a local law school.  This is the phone appointment I was referring to last time I posted.  I kept my former employer up to date with what was going on, letting them know I was seeking legal advice, and I let them know when my appointment was.  I requested a copy of my contract to double-check a couple of points, which they obligingly provided.  They had, however, started to claim that my recollection of the phone call at the end of January was incorrect, and that they had told me it was an overpayment and that I had agreed to work it off through February.  Now, this particularly upset me, as I’d already been off for three consecutive weeks at that point, and as I’ve said, I was resigned to the fact I was unlikely to be up to working again anytime soon.  I tried to keep my communication brief and civil from this point, as I didn’t want to say anything rash before I’d confirmed my legal position.

I just want to take a second to reiterate how difficult I’m finding this to write.  Trying to recall all of this and recount it coherently is wearing me down something chronic, and I’m painfully aware I’m not writing it as well as I would like, but I’m doing my best.  I just hope I will have some sort of feeling of catharsis once I’ve got it all out.  So.  It got to my phone appointment with the employment rights people last Wednesday evening.  They backed up my husband’s initial research, and gave me a rough wording for my response, stating that, as I had queried the payment, been assured it was OK, then used the money to pay bills in good faith, I had a defence of estoppel.  I had received my P45 in the meantime, which gave a date of termination of my employment as 6th January, which the adviser pointed out gave me an extra point of contention – I had handed in my notice on 12th December, but my contract stated I was entitled to 8 weeks’ notice, so this had clearly been incorrectly handled.  I sent my response off to my former employer, feeling quite secure in my position, confident this would be an end to the matter.  I started to feel like I might be able to leave this whole crappy chapter of my life behind me and start to move on.  That is, until I received their response yesterday morning – that non-repayment was unacceptable, that they awaited my agreement to a repayment schedule, and if it wasn’t forthcoming in the next two weeks they would have to start legal proceedings.  I’d managed to go the last few weeks without being sick once, but that had be crouched over the toilet bowl crying hysterically again.  My husband once again stepped up to the plate to compose a slightly more comprehensive and assertive reply, including screenshots of my reports of the conversations I ‘d had that I had texted to him, shocked at the sudden aggressive tone my previously amiable former employer had taken.

And that’s where I stand at the moment.  I’ve done my best not to fall to pieces again, and have thankfully been more angry than miserable over it – hopefully the anger will help me to focus on getting this resolved in my favour, as it should be.  I can’t help but feel that they are trying to take advantage of my weakened, vulnerable mental state at the moment to bully me into paying them back, even though the simple fact of the matter is that I can’t, and they can’t admit they simply made a mistake in that first phone call back in January.  The stupid thing is, in pursuing this, it is likely to cost them more in legal expenses than what they could possibly hope to reclaim from me.  I’m deliberately not checking my emails again until my husband is home, as I just don’t feel capable of dealing with it in my own at the moment.  Now, I know it’s generally my policy to not end my blog posts on a downer, but it’s difficult to see the light at the end of the tunnel right now.  I’m just looking forward to a nice meal with my parents tonight, much as I’m not looking forward to filling them in on the latest developments with my situation.  I’d like to thank all my readers, Twitter followers, and friends and family in general for your support of late, it has made this whole nasty cesspool of a situation a little easier to bear.  I’ve just got to try to stay strong and get through this!

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Trapped in Limbo

First, a quick warning - I'm typing this on my phone for the first time, so it might get a little messy in places! I'm sure the inability to format things properly will drive me up the wall, but I thought I'd give it a go as I'm currently glued to my phone most of the time, rather than using my laptop. This also means returning to my more natural, stream of consciousness technique, rather than the more reviewed & edited way I've been trying to go, largely for the sake of coherence.

Over the last couple of days I've felt like my progress has stalled somewhat. To bring you up to speed quickly, I did indeed get my call back from my local employment rights people shortly after publishing my last post. As I'd expected, however, being a free, voluntary service they are swamped at the minute, so my initial appointment to actually speak to someone is not for a couple of weeks yet. Last week I was fine with that, mainly aided by the unexpected glorious sunshine. I tidied the lounge & cleaned the bathroom - both tasks I tend to view very much as chores, but with the windows open and some tunes to wail along to, I actually found myself enjoying it, and was delighted with how much better my house looked for it. I went out and enjoyed the sun, despite my hayfever kicking in with a bit of a vengeance. I had a cracking afternoon out with my friend Jamie, who I'd offered to drive over to our favourite drum shop, Drumwright, in Woodley, as he needed a few bits and bobs. I'll admit I was a little nervous beforehand, for various reasons; mainly that I was going to have to drive very close to my old office, and I was terrified of bumping into any of my former colleagues and of the squirmy conversation that would no doubt ensue. There's also the fact that I'm something of a lapsed percussionist myself, having not really played properly since college, which is something I feel quite guilty about, letting the previous years of practice, including a stint in my local youth orchestra, effectively go to waste. Then there was the more social side - I haven't really had any prolonged interaction with anyone other than my husband & my family in months, at least not without my husband/family being there to act as a "buffer" of sorts. They automatically pick up the slack in any conversation if it becomes clear I'm starting to struggle a bit. I suspect my husband even preps our friends before we see them as to what sort of mood I'm in and how best to handle me at that given time. I also know that Jamie is quite a keen reader of this blog, having had similar problems to mine over the years. He's probably one of the first people I felt comfortable discussing my mental health with, having spotted he was on the same meds as me in the early days. I was a little concerned we might end up bogged down in some depressing conversation, but we fortunately both seemed to be in upbeat mode. The iPod shuffle gods looked down on us favourably, pulling up a nice selection of cheery songs on the journey. It was great to be able to spend some time together and reminisce a bit, have a shared dribble over some of the stock in the drum shop, and a good laugh. I was knackered by the time I got home, but happy, as I felt we both got the bit of recharge time we needed.

This week, however, as the weather has turned somewhat gloomy again, I feel like I'm drifting aimlessly, trapped in limbo until I can close the door on the whole situation with my previous employer. I'd like to start trying to venture into the job market again, as it really is the only way I can see myself making a proper recovery. As I've explained before, I find work really is integral to my sense of self esteem. However, I don't think I will feel psychologically ready to take the plunge until that chapter of my life is over and done with. Put it this way; I don't want to put myself out there when I'm still feeling quite fragile, just to get hurt again. It's a tricky juggling act, deciding just how far I can push myself so as to regain some sense of normality, but trying not to push myself too far so that I stress myself out, and the whole exercise becomes counterproductive. I have a tendency to err toward the side of trying to do too much, and beating myself up about it when I don't live up to my own ridiculously high standards, so I've been trying to take things more slowly with my recovery this time, in the hope it will last a bit longer - to be honest, much as I know it's unlikely and that I will always have to deal with this to a certain degree, I do still live in hope of being "cured". A girl can dream, eh?

I have a bit of a blogging rule that I should never end on a downer. Even if the entire post ends up being a relentless tide of misery, I have to remind myself and anyone else out there that every cloud has a silver lining. So, with that in mind, I'd like to tell you about a little victory I had yesterday - for the first time in... ooh, about a year(?), I accompanied my husband to one of the local open mic/jam sessions he goes to. They tend to go on quite late, so while I was working I didn't like to go, as it would leave me tired for days. Since I've been at a loose end, so to speak, I've been trying to work up to going to one, as I do love the music and the company. The aspects that put me off we're the usual suspects; they're always in pubs, usually quite overcrowded, cramped ones. I feel incredibly vulnerable when my husband plays a set, as I get left alone without my protective buffer. Plus there's the lapsed musician's guilt I mentioned earlier. I kind of felt I had to prove I actually existed to some of the crowd, as they must have thought I was a figment of my husband's imagination, having never actually met me. My feminist side hates this, but I love to feel like an asset to my husband - to make a good impression on his behalf. I don't want people to think less of him because of me. I want people to think "wow! He must really be something, because look at that fantastic bird he's snaffled". Don't get me wrong, it's not just a looks thing, it's important to me that I express my intellectual side. He's always joked that I'm his "posh totty", but really, I always think I'm the one who married out of their league. Anyway, I'm going soppy & drifting from my point. I went with him to a jam night last night, and ended up staying later than we'd intended without even realising as we were both having fun. So I'm counting that as a win.

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Driving WINs

Once again, I start off with apologies for my recent silence!  I’m still trying to get this employment issue sorted, which is taxing my somewhat reduced brainpower of late and leaving me mentally exhausted.  The words really don’t come so easily when I’m drained and I find it counter-productive to try and force it.  The local Citizens Advice Bureau have been fantastic, but at the end of the day, I have to gather the paperwork and figures myself, and make some long-winded phone calls, which is all a bit of a strain.  I’m currently sat here waiting for a call back from a local employment rights advice service, who will call me back on my landline, “within 72 hours” (I called them on Tuesday afternoon).  I would love to be out and about appreciating some of the signs of Spring that have started appearing, but no, I’m tied to my house.  Oh well, it’s given me the opportunity and inclination to do some blogging, at least!

I’d say I’m in a weird middle-phase at the moment.  The good days have started to become more frequent – it’s probably about a 50:50 split.  Even the bad days aren’t so bad, as I’m learning to take a step back and try to put a positive spin on things before I allow myself to be engulfed by despair.  I’ve actually now finished my course of CBT that I was referred to by my GP, and feel it’s really helped me start to change my attitude toward myself.  The next few weeks will be the acid test of whether I can keep it up without that weekly appointment to help push it forward in my mind.  I’ve had a few “little wins”, as I call them, that have helped to encourage me.  Getting down the Citizens Advice Bureau in the first place was definitely one.  I decided that visiting in person would be a lot less daunting for me, as I get very nervous on the phone, plus my chances of getting through were remote with how busy they are.  A reason to get out of the house is always good, anyway.  I arrived, filled in my details on their little form, then steeled myself for the wait.  There were only three people there before me, but they only had one volunteer in that afternoon, so it was going to be about an hour.  I find that kind of hanging around, with no real idea of how long it will be, to be a real danger time for me, as I start to overthink things and drift into the darker parts of my mind.  I managed to hold it together until I was seen, and only got a little emotional when pouring out my problems to the adviser.  When I got back out to my car I had a good old cry with the sheer relief that there was some light at the end of the tunnel!  I drove the scenic route back home as my reward for getting it done.

I find the act of driving quite empowering, still – I passed my test about a year and a half ago, but the memory of how dependent and powerless I felt before I could drive is very strong.  I think my choice of car has a lot to do with it... for those not in the know, I’m the very proud owner of a 1970 Morris Minor 4-door saloon.  My husband and I always say that the real thrill of driving a classic car is that every journey feels like an adventure – it is not simply a vehicle to get you from A to B.  I can’t help but smile when I get behind the wheel.  I feel so damn cool and classy in that car.  It’s the ultimate conversation-starter when I first meet new people, which is a massive help to me as I can find social situations like that quite intimidating.  I had a great driving-related victory a few weekends ago – my husband was providing the wedding car for a friend’s wedding, and I tailed him as a back up car, in case of any major problems with the main one, his mother’s utterly gorgeous Triumph Renown.  It was 35 miles of A roads through Surrey, with the wedding and reception taking place in Horsham, a place I had never been before.  We left a good two and a half hours to make the journey in, with me following him on the way there, both because the Renown is slower, plus he had a vague idea of where we were going and was able to run our sat nav as that car has a cigarette lighter, whereas mine doesn’t at the moment.  I’ve been dreading following that car somewhere, as it pulls away at junctions so slowly, I was terrified of accidentally going up the back of it, so I gave him plenty of space.  Lo and behold we did have some mechanical problems en route, but with assistance over the phone from his father, who is something of a mechanical god, we got going again in time to get to the church in order to take the bride & groom to the reception.  For those who don’t know Horsham, it’s one of those places with a pain in the backside one way system, so thankfully I had navigational assistance for that leg of the journey from our friend Nick, the groom’s brother.  The reception was probably the bit I was most nervous about, as I only knew a couple of people there, but I managed to make some polite conversation, aided by an excellent spread of food – I do love to talk about food!

My Morris Minor, "Faye"

Me with my mother-in-law's Triumph Renown at the wedding
What actually turned out to be the most nervy bit for me was the journey home again.  My husband was driving the bride and groom onto their hotel just out of town.  I left the reception slightly before him, as I’d had to park a little way away in a multi-storey car park.  I then had to find my way out of the multi-storey, back to the road we’d come into town on, then follow that in the opposite direction until I saw signs for the hotel.  Being a Saturday night, of course, the minute I came out of the multi-storey in my car, a group of pissheads run up to me and start banging on the car, so I panicked a little and hot-footed it out of there, and ended up taking the wrong exit at a roundabout in my haste to get away.  Fortunately, even in the dark my error was soon pretty obvious, so I backtracked and eventually found my way onto the right road.  I met up with my husband at the hotel, where he was good enough to signal me in with a torch from the roadside.  The plan from there was for me to lead us back home, as my car’s headlights are a bit brighter than the Renown’s.  Me, without sat nav assistance, in the dark, leading us through some unlit twisty A roads, trying not to leave my husband behind – phew, it still makes my stomach tense thinking about it!  Despite me thinking “I don’t recognise anything, we’re hopelessly lost, oh crap!” in 15-minute cycles, we did, somehow, make it home in one piece.  I was so tense for the whole drive that I ached more than I ever have before as I pulled up into our driveway.  It was hard work, but I am so pleased with myself for managing to cope with that!

As I’m currently not drinking alcohol due to my medication, I’ve found that being designated driver on nights out makes it a little easier not to be tempted.  I’ve never been a heavy drinker or anything, but I appreciate a good ale or a bit of a quality dark rum or whiskey, so I’ve found not drinking to be very difficult, especially when everyone else around me is.  Fortunately, the self-sacrifice of being designated driver usually earns a fair amount of kudos amongst my friends.  In particular, I like being able to give my husband a bit of a reward after the years of ferrying me around he’s done, all the extra hard work he’s been putting in over the last few months to keep us going financially, and all of his efforts to help me to feel better, by letting him have a night off to let his hair down and not have to worry so much about me for a few hours.  It was my brother-in-law’s birthday last week and we all went out together on the Friday, so I took that opportunity to do my wifely duty and play chauffeur for the evening.  I’ve found pubs are a difficult place to be for me at the moment, but thankfully there were enough of us in the group that we took over the room with the pool table, and it felt a bit more like a house party to me.

There were a couple more things I wanted to fit in this week, but I think I’ve rambled on enough already!  I do just want to say that if anyone has any suggestions for topics they’d like me to try and cover in this blog, please do let me know.  I sometimes worry that I’m repeating the same points too much, but they tend to be the areas I have most difficulty with myself – the stuff that comes more easily doesn’t tend to be at the forefront of my thoughts.  My main reason for writing this is to help other people with similar problems, so input on how I can better achieve my aim is always welcome.

Thursday, 1 March 2012

My Birthday - celebrating making it through another year!

First of all, my apologies for the lack of posting last week.  I’m dealing with a bit of a sticky employment situation that I’m afraid I’m not quite ready to talk about yet – I promise I will fill you in once things are a bit more sorted, as I think it’s an important area to discuss.  Anyway, the long and short of it is that I am currently out of work, which has put me on something of a downer.  I have not felt well enough to work for a while, but knowing I don’t have a job to go to once I’ve recovered a bit is a hard thought to deal with.  As it is, my husband is already practically killing himself working overtime to try and keep our heads above water, so I have an overwhelming feeling of guilt that I am not contributing financially.  I also derive an awful lot of my self-esteem from my work.  I take pride in doing the best I possibly can and get a great deal of satisfaction from knowing I’ve helped someone in whatever small way by doing my job well.

As I said, I’m not really ready to talk about that right now.  It’s making it rather difficult to write this, as that has been my most preoccupying thought this week.  A week that contained my 25th birthday, no less!  Despite that cloud hanging over me, I did manage to enjoy celebrating making it through another year.  I’ve taken the plunge and had a drastic haircut, which is something I like to do to sort of “reinvent myself” every now and then.  Having a fresh new look puts a bit of a spring in my step and helps me to feel like a new person, although I’m not exactly a “girly-girl” or anything.

My husband also took me down to the National Motor Museum at Beaulieu on Saturday (at my request, I hasten to point out – I love my classic cars just as much as he does!  Plus they have an exhibition of Bond cars throughout this year, and I do so love my Bond films).  The day started rather chaotically, as I had neglected to print our e-tickets off until then, only to find my printer was out of ink.  Cue a hurried trip out for printer cartridges, which led to us leaving later than originally intended.  The stress was then further compounded by a massive queue at the McDonalds drive through when we went to get breakfast, and taking a wrong turning that led to us ending up hopelessly lost in Southampton.  We were just about at the point of giving up and going home when I managed to get my phone to show us where we were so we could work out how to at least get to the right side of Southampton, and then we were able to pick up signs for Beaulieu.  I came damn close to a full blown panic attack in the car, but I managed to keep it under enough control that I just got a bit teary.  We finally made it in one piece, and had a lovely day wandering around and having a bit of a dribble at some of the exhibits.  We then had a couple of friends over for the evening, which, to be honest, was the bit I was most nervous about.  In my circle of friends, birthday celebrations normally turn into mass drinking, with shots and cocktails and all sorts of crazy concoctions.  I’d made it clear from the off I wanted it to be quite low-key, and everyone is aware now that I’m currently not drinking at all due to being on the fluoxetine, but it still felt a little weird.  It turned out to be a nice, chilled evening and I felt very little pressure to liven things up a bit, which was a relief.  It was nice to just spend some time with friends in comfortable surroundings (and, as usual, got some funky, inspired pressies!  I don’t know how they do it).

On Sunday, I went to my grandparents’ house for our traditional birthday tea and cakes.  I think it’s probably my favourite bit of birthdays in my family.  We all get on really well, have a laugh and reminisce, along with some good-natured ribbing.  My husband was far too knackered from the week’s work to join us, which was a little awkward at first as I know my family really enjoy his company too, but thankfully they are very understanding of how hard he’s been working recently.  After all, they understand better than anyone just how tricky looking after me can be – I think they’re more concerned about his wellbeing than anything else, as it can be a real drain propping me up all the time.  I think, actually, that I enjoyed myself more than I would have done had I dragged him along, as I didn’t have to worry about him, and I knew that he was getting some valuable time to himself, which he gets very little of these days.  I felt recharged by some quality family time, and he got some well-deserved rest.

Tuesday was my actual birthday, and I spent the morning shopping in Guildford with my mum.  Being able to spend more one-to-one time with my mum is possibly the best thing about not working at the moment.  She has always been brilliant at listening to me and giving me just enough of a push when I need it.  She has been quite stretched of late between looking after my dad and my grandparents, so I do sometimes feel like it’s asking a lot of her to look after me as well, so I have a tendency to try not to burden her with too much of what’s going on in my life.  However, she knows when something is bothering me and gives me just enough gentle encouragement to share it.  We had a nice, relaxed day wandering round the shops – we didn’t actually do much shopping, but we had a good old natter and did our usual thing of laughing at some of the more ridiculous items of clothing in the shops.  We did have to cut things off a little promptly as I had to be back for my CBT session at three, but it worked out just about OK.  A few people have queried why I scheduled my CBT to take place on my birthday, but, to be honest, I’ve started seeing it as my weekly treat – a bit of time to take stock and talk about myself without worrying about being judged.  I find it a lot easier if I view my treatment this way, rather than as a chore.  After all, if the idea is to help me feel better, so what better definition is there?

Birthday celebrations continued last night with a meal out with my in-laws.  My father-in-law and I actually share the same birthday, so we always do some sort of joint celebration.  Fortunately, my appetite seems to have started to come back this week, so I could do the all-you-can-eat Chinese buffet justice!  Actually, that’s reminded me of something I meant to mention, that I am now no longer taking the omeprazole (antacid) that I had previously been on.  I discussed it with my GP as I was getting a lot of stomach pain, and she agreed that it could be related.  Now that the fluoxetine seems to have kicked in, she was happy for me to try coming off of it, and I’ve barely had any pain since.  I think this might be why my appetite is returning as well.  I’ll be keeping an eye on it as one of the more helpful side effects of my reduced eating has been that I’ve shifted a fair bit of the extra weight I’ve been carrying around, and it has been a real help being able to look in the mirror and not see a wobbly mass of blubber staring back at me.

This week I will need to be a bit careful, as I often experience a bit of a “post-birthday slump”.  I’m hoping to resolve the situation with my previous employment over the next couple of days, which would give me a welcome boost, and would mean I’ll be able to talk about it!  Please keep watching this space.