Sunday, 31 December 2017

Dear 2017 (in your final few moments)

Dear 2017 (in your final few moments)

You’ve been quite a year. You brought me good times and not so good times, smiles and laughter as well as tears and frustration. You introduced me to new people and new places, brought me confidence and a feeling of comfort in my own skin. You showed me that I could be happy in my studies but also that it’s ok to cry. You’ve been a rollercoaster, and I can’t predict what is coming over the hill or around the next bend but I wanted to write to you, to remember the journey I went on with you and with the many people, friends and family that joined me along the way.

First on my list: I dated…I’d been doing that before and at some point I’ll get back into it again but you were the year that I decided to really close my eyes, swipe right and see what happened. I met some nice people: some who I shared a hot beverage with while we discussed books, some who I ate nice food with between some minorly awkward silences. I met some strange people, people who seemed chatty and intriguing over text communication yet in person were unable to think of a word to say. I discovered, from these experiences, something about myself: I need someone to bounce off, someone with confidence who can bring me out of my shell and then regret it when I don’t shut up. Then in April, I met the loveliest, kindest, sweetest Hughman (with beautiful eyes...always a bonus). A man who made me smile and laugh and put up with my weird quirks. He introduced me to the life of ‘dating a gamer’ (said with affection) and having no clue who or what our conversations were about half the time – was he even speaking English? If I’d tried, I could have perhaps learnt the lingo…The language of virtual realities and lands or creatures who required magical, mystical names and where, or to whom, magical and mystical things happened. I spent 8 months with someone who really cared about me and for whom I really cared (and still do care) for. Someone who, through the rest of the year, was by my side, along for the ride. A man to whom I'd like to say: Thank you x

It may be one of the photos we have of both of us together
but it's super cute so...
In July, after 10 months of trying the whole “studying” thing again, after all the assignments had been handed in, I took my Montessori Practical Assessment and passed, finding out a few months later that I had completed the year with a 1st. I celebrated, grinning from ear to ear, confident, in that moment that I could achieve anything and that I would be fine. I had done it. 3 years behind all of my school friends but at last I had begun to achieve something. Something academic and study related. Something that the last time I had tried it, had sent my anxiety sky-rocketing and resulted in me being medicated and not knowing where I was headed anymore. I now have a certificate that states I have a Level 4 Montessori qualification. If I wanted, I could stop there, go to any nursery and get a job. But why not go further? I had another year, or two if I wished, to go, and this certificate simply reassured me that I can do anything. So, I thought, I will. You just watch.

Over the summer, I took a leap of faith…or, as it turned out, an optimistic, yet inaccurate, judgement: I reduced my medication. With my doctors and family behind me, I looked back at the previous year or so and decided that I was on the up. I may even have thought: I’m better. I’m fine. I can handle anything. Over the summer I started slowly, bit by bit, week by week, to reduce my dosage until, as September rolled around, I was essentially not on medication, or not at a level that was affecting my body or my brain. How had it been? Great. Fine. No problems at all. My summer had been busy and bustling with adventures, old and new, friends, family and a lovely boyfriend. No studying. All relaxation and time and space to breathe. 2017, you’re doing well. Ellie: things are looking good!

Time to sit in a bookshop cafe
with a free chocolate cookie and some tea and read
I went to Bulgaria with friends and family, a new adventure for us all. Two weeks of discovering delicious salads, beautiful waterfalls and intriguing old towns. Of reading, sunbathing, sunsets and the occasional hail storm. We discovered the confusion that accompanies the cultural difference around nodding and shaking heads…the number of times we almost didn’t get our necessary milk supplies because the lady at the counter responded to the query “do you have any milk?” (with accompanying mimes and poorly pronounced Bulgarian on our end) with a confident shake of the head…before producing some moments later. The panicked WhatsApps back and forth during the ‘Great Marmite Famine of 2017’ trying to ensure that marmite supplies arrived after Heathrow confiscated ours at the airport. A holiday of many a drive up winding hillsides, sharing reading supplies and doing whatever we felt like. A holiday to remember.

I was pretty proud of this sunset silhouette

Forgot to mention the many daffodils!
My return to blighty involved a quick turnaround before a new adventure commenced. This time, an adventure revolving around driving and towards a place where nodding and shaking of the head resumed it’s understood meaning but where the weather was just as indecisive as the recently returned from holiday destination. Shropshire. The furthest I had driven since passing my test in December 2014. A big event for me for reasons I won’t go into here but which you, my dear reader, can discover for yourself by looking into my letter archives…those to driving or even one I wrote to the not so dear young man who took any confidence I had in driving and set it alight, quite literally, with a bang, 3 years ago. My point being, this adventure, albeit to Shropshire, was important and it wouldn’t have happened, or gone nearly as smoothly as it did, without the Hughman who accompanied me. The man who reassured me as every driver in the county overtook me at every straight stretch of road and who, on our return, was willing to accompany me for my first drive to London. Once again, I say thank you.

Rest time after my first big drive!

A beautiful view after a walk...and before a twisted ankle
A few weeks after all these adventures had concluded, I was back in London for the start of my second year. Medication at its lowest, practically nil, and a sense of the next academic year ahead being something to look forward to, and that, from experience of the previous year, could only go well. Only a week or so later and how I could have laughed at the optimism of post-summer-relaxed Ellie and her confidence that nothing could stand in her way. Her confidence that her brain was better and could function perfectly well now, thank you. No need for any pills. That first induction week, meeting new people and hearing all about the assignments to come, instantly released a new swarm of butterflies to fly free throughout my body. My heart rate sky-rocketed and the panic set in. A week of crying most days commenced and the feeling that a weight, one I hadn’t felt for almost 18 months, was on its return…

The term was a week in and I needed a break. One full of singing, good food and smiling faces. A Forte weekend away. This year, set in the beautiful home of one of Forte’s own family. A maze of a place with so many rooms that I can’t help feeling we missed out on a first-rate game of hide and seek…oh well, maybe next time, eh Tom? It was only 2 nights but it was greatly needed and provided me with the reassurance that I wasn’t alone. I have friends and lots of them at that. Friends who will stand round the piano with me singing musical theatre, dress up in crazy outfits for a quiz over dinner and all chip into the kitchen duties. Days of game playing, napping, eating, swimming, walking and pub-lunching and evenings of madness that only a family of enthusiastic, cocktail-filled, performers could create. A weekend to remember.

I was Luna Lovegood...See if you can spot me!

My glamorous country companions!

Back to reality. To uni, reading, placements, lots of tears and my good old friend Anxiety. To the visits to my doctor and the frustrating conclusion that, as useful as experimenting is, and as good as it may be to try and come off medication, I simply am not a girl who’s brain can function (currently, at least) without it. Back came the prescriptions and, with every doctors visit, up the dosage went. With every appointment, the tears would flow as would the crippling fear that this was how it would always be. I retreated back into my anti-social corner, facing the wall, covering my eyes and my ears and wishing it would all just go away. Bursting into tears every week on one, or all, of my tutors, frustrated that I couldn’t just get on with it all as I had successfully done this time last year. Crying even more as everyone, friends and tutors alike gave me hugs and reassurances that things will get better and that, before I know it, I’ll be back to where I was. I didn’t believe it, and I can’t say it’s happened fully yet, but as the medication went up, I began to focus on not putting so much pressure on myself. On not working more than I need to and understanding that passing, no more, is all that I needed to do. Things began to look up. I began to get through each day’s to-do list and to listen to my mum, and my tutors, when they told me to do enough, no more, just enough and to rest. In December, the day before the last day of term, I handed in my last piece of work for the term and breathed out. Finally. A breath I’d been holding for the last three months was finally released and the darkness before me suddenly showed just a tiny glimmer of light.

Bring on the best time of the year!
A lack of mention of the Hughman seems to have occurred in these last few sections…and I guess that’s because, as the autumn progressed and blended into winter, the realisation dawned that things weren’t quite right. My struggles over the months hadn’t been helping and I realised that I couldn’t put in what I felt was needed to keep the spark alive…all very cheesy and all but in the words of the Hughman himself (a chemistry technician I should mention before repeating his shameless pun): “the chemistry has gone”. So, as my birthday and Christmas approached and the essay toils of the term were drawing to a close, another chapter ended. I like to think, however, that the characters continue and although the storyline may have changed slightly, the Hughman and I will still be friends. We have talked over the Christmas period, exchanged gifts and thank you’s and as I welcome 2018, I hope to see his smiling face again soon.

More than anything this year, alongside, despite of and sometimes because of, the ups and the downs, I realised I am not alone. For the first time in a long time, I realised that I have friends and quite a lot of them. They’re a mixed bag of singing, dancing, volunteering, 20-year old, 30-year old, food-loving, tea-loving, brunch-loving, pub-loving, Montessori-loving, smiling, kind, loving, understanding, occasionally anxious, occasionally sad, occasionally in need of a hug, and always there to give one, friends. After an evening of pizza and several glasses of prosecco to kick-start my birthday week, I cried mid-text message. Crashing in the room next door for the night, one friend got a text from me that told her I hadn’t really realised, properly, until that moment, how many friends I had, who cared about me and would traipse to my flat to sing me Happy Birthday while I blow out the flames on Colin the Caterpillar’s back.

I mean, I knew I had friends and every Tuesday at Forte, weekend at GOSH and day at uni was evidence of that, but I’d always told myself differently. I’ve always kept to myself, choosing a night in to a night out and putting off organising to meet people because it’s simply easier to be alone. But over the last few months, that changed. Not helped by my generally low mood, my anxiety and general sadness, I found myself coming home to an empty flat and wishing there was someone there to come out of a bedroom and say hello, to gossip about our days with and to use up the remaining water in the just-boiled kettle for our cups of tea or hot water bottles. I’d always thought that I was ok being alone before I realised that being alone was making me feel lonely, despite all the people who surrounded me and clearly really did give a damn. Now I know though and I’m determined to do something about it. To spend more time with the people I care about and who care about me, maybe to find one or two, or even three of those people to share a place with in the next year and to always make time. Yesterday, my friend Fizz and I met for brunch, for a date outside of our GOSH volunteering time for the first time since meeting each other an entire year ago. We’d been saying we should all year and yet, only this week as the curtains close on 2017, did we get round to it. A few weeks ago, again, for the first time since meeting this time last year, I met another friend outside of our routine and dragged her to watch me sing. And for my birthday, I kept it simple, with 3 of my school friends, all off most of the year being smart, doing masters, working hard, busy bees, taking the opportunity to catch up before the next year dances around and life continues to roll speedily along on it’s tracks. As 2018 enters from stage right, I am determined to take the time I need to see all those people that matter. The characters in the drama of my life who share all the different but exciting scenes that are to come in the next act.

I'm feeling 22 and It's good to have the old gang back together
Because it was almost New Years Eve
and we'll use any excuse to wear our onesies
...we wore them home on the tube too

A pre-pub Forte photo!
So this is the end of something, 2017, and that something has been an adventure; a relationship I look back on with a mix of emotions. The last few weeks have been a lovely interval, a pause for some ice cream and a stretch of the legs but bring on next week and the show continues.

2018: As the curtain rises, show me what you’ve got.

In 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2,1

Happy new year!