Tag Archives: anxiety

Taking Back the Streets

IMG_0007.JPG

 

I was walking to work the other day when just in front of me I saw a woman handing out flyers to people who crossed her path. I wasn’t in the market for a flyer that day as I already know everywhere and everything I like so there isn’t any point in showing me a new thing or place because if it was that good I’d already know about it.

The thing was she wasn’t stationary like flyer people normally are. Instead she was sauntering up the street and then pausing to give a flyer to a person who was too mentally weak to say no.

Not me! I thought. I’m taking control. There is no way on earth I will take one of these bloody flyers because if I do I will have to hold it all the way to work and I don’t need that kind of responsibility.

I was catching up to her. Every time she stopped I got a little closer, and because I was walking quickly and she was walking relatively slowly I was making gains all the time. My heart was beating faster in anticipation of turning down the flyer. I practised my lines in my head, No thank you! Not today thank you!

For a while I walked not far behind her. She seemed to speed up and I thought I would be waiting for ages until I got to turn her down. She veered into my path and in order to pass her I had to step onto the grassy verge at the side of the pavement but finally I found myself walking next to her.

This is it! I thought. This is my moment.

I turned to her, NO THANK YOU! I said to the back of her head. She stopped and turned, a confused look on her face. I paused and looked her in the eye, No thank you! I said again, pointing to her flyers.

I started walking, faster than before, leaving her in my dust. Well we sure told her! I said to myself inside my brain. Yes but…my brain started. What? I asked it. Well, you kind of messed up the timing and it made us look like idiots.

I had to admit my brain had a point. But I found the whole experience very exhilarating none the less and with practice I am becoming an expert at saying, No thank you! to all those street people asking for things.

Spare a moment to talk about our saviour- NO THANK YOU!

Hello madam, would you like to try- NO THANK YOU!

Would you like to help children with cancer? – NO THANK YOU! Although you’ve phrased that in a way specifically to make me feel bad and I think that is a bit unfair.

This is a Step Forward for me. Until recently I have wrestled with these people endlessly. It has wasted their time and mine. Rhys once came home to find a strange charity man taking my bank details, drying out from the rain with one of our towels draped over his shoulders. Now I have found the power. NO THANK YOU! I can say. NO THANK YOU!


Assertiveness Training – Part 1

IMG_8246

Write on indeed. Yes, I am holding a pen.

It is the other week now and a rainy morning and I am on the eleventh floor of a building that is eleven floors high. I am holding a flat white and I am feeling grumpy because I have been made to go on an all day assertiveness training course. This is because when I am on the desk and people ask for things that they are not allowed to do, I say, No, and if they ask again I say, Oh go on then, because it easier than arguing with them.
The view out of the window is quite good and in the distance I can see the building where I used to work and I think about how I miss it but also how I am glad I don’t work there any more because it was a Nightmare. There are already six other people in the room but no one is talking and it is eerily quiet. At the front a woman who looks like she should be the Sexy One on The Apprentice is writing things in felt pen on a flipchart.

In order to get to a seat I have to scooch behind people and as I do this I say, Sorry, and they say, Sorry, and I say, Sorry, and they say, Sorry and I think, Ugh, a whole day with people like me. This will be unbearable.

Like me, everyone has brought their own pens and notebooks. In the quiet we all smile sheepishly at one another, and slowly more people start to enter the room, apologising as they scooch, and sit in silence.
Eventually the quiet becomes too much for me and I say, Isn’t this weather awful? And this makes everyone giggle in relief because someone has finally spoken and a woman (we are almost all women in here) starts to reply when The Apprentice lady says, Right! And we know it is about to begin.

At this point I get a few butterflies because I have been on other training courses and this is when the trainer asks us all to introduce ourselves. This is my opportunity to say, Hello, I am Amy and I work part-time here and outside of work I am a writer and my book is coming out in January. People are impressed at this point and so they will ask me what it’s called or how I ‘got in to that’ and I will tell them, It’s called Red River and I won the Daily Mail First Novel Competition. This is great because it means that I am the Centre of Attention and that’s the best part of the day.

But instead, this lady asks us to write down our first impressions of the person opposite us.

Well, this is terrible. I may not get to mention my book AT ALL today!
I glare at the nice man opposite me and I write down:

Friendly
Smartly dressed
Brought own pen

Then I wait while everyone else finishes their own lists. There is some confusion as to who is opposite whom because of the way the desks are laid out and so it is some time before everyone has put their pens down.

The Apprentice woman introduces herself as Sunita. She tells us she is a Business Psychologist and I think that is pretty much perfect. As she talks she paces back and forth and I am distracted by how well her hair stays where it is supposed to. She says, Now when we got in here you were all very quiet and I was waiting to see who would speak first and I believe it was you, (here she points at me and I feel like the person being chosen to assist a magician at a children’s birthday party), who said something about the weather? Well, she continues, I stopped you there and had you all do this exercise because I didn’t want you to get too comfortable with each other.

What is this Derren Brown nonsense? I think to myself. I will be on edge for the whole of the day now, wondering what is a test and what isn’t.

Sunita tells us about the day ahead and promises us that if we only take half an hour for lunch instead of one hour then we can leave half an hour earlier. I cling to this as I write my name in colourful felt tip pen on a white label and stick it to my chest.

Then she asks who would like to be the first to read out their first impressions of the person opposite. Predictably, not one of us raises our hands and I think again of what a long day this will be. Eventually, Sunita resorts to picking people and when they read out their first impressions I realise that I have done it wrong. They are saying things like, Her body language suggests that she’s an introvert but I can tell from her eyes that she’s kind.
I cross out ‘Smartly dressed’ and ‘Brought own pen’ and write, Looks approachable but not as though he would readily approach people. Seems well organised (has his own pen). Why am I so obsessed with him having a pen? I wonder. I have sweat on my brow. I decide it would be better to get this over with and so I raise my hand to speak next. I find myself babbling a little because I feel like I haven’t said enough and need to fill the silence. People laugh when I say things that are supposed to be funny and so I only act up more and then I am overexcited and find it hard to listen to other people when they speak.

It comes to the person opposite me, Asif, who says, When I first saw Amy I put down that she seemed friendly and shy but now that she’s spoken-

He thinks I’m horrible! I say and everyone laughs.

No, he says, Now I don’t think you’re shy.

I am a terrible show off, I think to myself, but it is too late because now I am everybody’s favourite and I cannot let them down.

The morning continues with various exercises. We are asked to rate ourselves on a scale of 0 – 10, 0 being passive and 10 being aggressive. Most of us have written ‘3’. We are asked what we believe ‘being confident’ is and everyone has a very hard time describing it including me. The best I can come up with is, Not being nervous and sweaty all the time.

At break I look at my phone and out of the window and I think about what freedom feels like and I feel strung out as the adrenaline from being Centre of Attention wears off.
Now, Sunita says, We are going to do some role playing. Everyone in the room goes red and tries to turn invisible. She continues, I know you’re all introverts and this will be like drawing blood from a stone but these exercises are fantastic for building your confidence.

I wonder if I would die instantly if I jumped from the eleventh floor or if it would be slow and painful.

Sunita tells us all what an Elevator Pitch is and then says we will be Speed Networking

FullSizeRender

Picture of an elevator with words ‘elevator pitch’.

for five minutes at a time. Then she becomes distracted and asks us all if we’ve ever seen the Amy Cuddy TED Talk. No, we say. Or rather we all shake our heads and silently mouth the word No because none of us want to commit to anything unless we know the whole group is saying the same thing. Stand up, Sunita says. She explains the concept, about body language and influencing the way we feel by using poses. How does Wonder Woman stand? She asks so I cross my arms like it’s the X-Factor until I realise everyone else is standing with their hands on their hips and apparently that is the right answer so I quickly change my position.
She makes us hold this for a long time until we feel sufficiently powerful enough to start our role playing exercises. I am still DREADING this and have noted the windows do not open just in case people throw themselves out. Touche, architect.
What I’m going to ask you to do, she says, Is talk to the person opposite you for three minutes about what your greatest strength is and give us examples of how you’ve used this strength, how you’ve succeeded with it.

I perk up. Until now, there hasn’t been an organic way to mention my book and how great it is but now…yes. Yes this might work very well for me.

When the time starts I say, Hello, I’m Amy and my greatest strength is my creativity. In 2016 I won the Daily Mail First Novel Competition…

My monologue continues for three blissful uninterrupted minutes. The person opposite me makes impressed noises and their face does all the things I want it to. At the end they are allowed to give me feedback on my pitch and they say they want to know more and they can’t believe how great it all is.

I have perfectly masked my extreme narcissism with enough modesty that they tell me I should be MORE PROUD of my achievements and not diminish them. Ha-ha, I think, but I am proud! In fact I think I am SO great and even more great because you fell for the fact I don’t think I’m totally great!

The best part of this is that after our time is up and I have listened to their pitch (we will skip that bit here as it’s not as fun for me to recall) I get to do it ALL OVER AGAIN. I get to do it about 5 times but at the end of the exercise there are still 9 people in the room who do not know about me and Red River and this bothers me until Sunita says, Now did you all hear what Amy said? And asks me to repeat it for the whole class. I pretend like this is slightly embarrassing but that I am rising to the challenge in spite of my great humility. People gasp and say how wonderful it is. I say, It is a dream come true.

FullSizeRender-1

Evolution in three simple images. Man expressing my thoughts exactly.


Part 2. Of Hamster Parties, Robot Cars and Tony bloody Blair.

Yes. I have decided to Beyonce this blog. My phone has been ringing off the hook with people wanting to know what’s about to happen next! Well stop harassing me, this is the conclusion.

For those who can’t remember as far back as Tuesday I will recap.

When we last saw each other it was 1991 and Tony Blair had just done me over by awarding the poetry competition to someone else. I insinuated this was someone VERY BAD because that was a good cliffhanger and that makes people want to read the next bit.

Let us see what that’s all about…

 

REWIND.

Once, I had a hamster called Jerry. He was a good guy. He went bald. We were firm friends. I even attended a hamster party, and he came with me in his little ball and met the hamsters who were friends with my friends.

hanster

Me with Jerry (far left) at a hamster party. I am looking deep in thought, probably about another brilliant story.

One day, after a long and stressful life and several months of ailing health, Jerry died unexpectedly.

I was very saddened. This was even worse than when PJ and Duncan, my fish, died. (I do not remember the timescales. Perhaps Tony Blair and PJ and Duncan did not exist until later, or maybe this all happened earlier, I just don’t know. These are artistic choices, please stop being fussy).

There was a girl at school. We will call her Blonna to protect her identity as what she did was very mean and I wouldn’t want her to get hate mail for it now many years later. Blonna told me she was glad Jerry died.

This was the culmination of some long running feud. We had both said things, done things, we didn’t mean. But this? This was a step too far. My friends with hamsters understood and they told Blonna she was mean and she shouldn’t say things like this, and we all said we would not talk to her any more. At this point we all simultaneously flicked our hair and walked off.

The next morning, long before our daily assembly, a woman I did not recognise came into the classroom. She asked me if I was Amy. I said, Um, yes? because she was so scary I wasn’t sure if I was me. She had a glass eye (this is not an artistic choice, it is the truth) it was fixed and scary and her eyelid didn’t blink. Her other eye narrowed in anger, she pointed a finger in my face. She said, If you’re ever mean to Blonna again! Don’t you dare talk to my daughter again! I don’t remember her real words, I only remember the eye and the loudness and being very confused. My teacher was furious, she told her to go away, she hugged me all the way through assembly and even then I didn’t stop crying.

FAST FORWARD.

Tony Blair is handing Blonna the little chair. She has done an acrostic using the word DAFFODIL. There is a massive daffodil drawn in the empty bit of the page. It is very pedestrian. Not her, I think, my eyes filling with tears. She is smiling, she holds the little chair above her head, my heart is a concrete block.

At home I tell my mother. Tony Blair! she says, missing the point. She’s talking about the parents who gathered at the gates, Why do they care, they’re all Tories anyway. I do not know what this means but my mum is clever and she is a good person so I know she is right. Whatever it means, it helps me feel better, they really are tories. Ha ha ha.

It would be many, many years before I entered another competition. It would be 2016, in fact. Welcome to 2016! This is a dark future. All the celebrities are dying, it turns out Tony Blair was a baddie all along and we are trying to teach robot cars to make complex ethical choices, like if they should sacrifice themselves to avoid hitting a group of orphans. Phew, it’s all so heavy these days, so as you’d expect the stakes for my own writing also much higher.

I have written nearly a whole book. On this particular day, sometime in late March, I am feeling okay about it. Better than okay, today I think it is brilliant and probably one of the most fun books ever. It is on this day that my boyfriend Rhys sends me a text. (He often send me texts but I mean he sends me a specific one). It is a Daily Mail competition for a first time novelist. The prize is really good, it’s way better than the play set and the little chair combined! But even better, something like this would prove for sure that I am good at writing.

The deadline for the competition is April 16th and I have a lot of work to do so [montage] I knuckle down, editing day and night, I print it off and read it aloud while I walk around the living room with a pencil tucked behind my ear (I don’t but it looks good for the purposes of this montage, otherwise it’d just be me sitting there typing on my lap much as I am now) I shake my head and I throw it all away and start again. I show it to Rhys, he gives me a double thumbs up! (We can’t use dialogue, there’s music playing, so we need visual cues.) I put it all in a large brown envelope and I hold it to my chest and close my eyes for a moment before putting it in the post box. [end montage]

Not much happens for a while that is relevant to this story. I had a really good time in Disney World and we can maybe put in another montage of me enjoying rollercoasters but then we might have too many montages in a row.

writing

The mouse in the spaceship story, met with critical acclaim.

Wow, time has gone so fast! Much like a rollercoaster (you see what I did) there have been ups and downs but now, finally, I am answering a telephone call. My hand is shaking because I have been waiting for this call since I have been told I was shortlisted. I am in work, in the corridor, pacing. The person does not waste any time, they are telling me, You won!

Take that Tony Blair, I think. I am happy. This is everything I have ever wanted. I am thinking I won’t ever be sad ever again probably and then

Ugh

I am thinking they’ve probably made a mistake picking me because I am actually not a very good writer at all.

 

Perhaps this is not a very inspiring end to this story but it is the truth, and it is important to tell the truth because then other people will know that a lot of us are like this. We never think we are very good at anything and we think we need other people to tell us we are good but we don’t. It isn’t Blonna or Brother word processors or Tony Blair standing in the way of our happiness, it is only ourselves. Silly us.

So maybe from now on, when we are feeling worried that we aren’t good after all, we shouldn’t look out there for support, but in here (I am pointing to my heart).

 


Of Nuns, Time Travel and Tony Blair

squirrel

A squirrel eating a really big mushroom.

Hi. I haven’t seen you in a while. This is because I have been busy. For the past year I have been writing my book, which takes most of my time and especially my thoughts. I don’t know if you know this but writing a book takes even longer than reading one. But it is worth it because sometimes you will look at the book and you will think, This is exactly the type of book I wanted to read and I am the one who wrote it. That feeling is the best one I think I’ve ever had in the whole of my life. It is weird though, because other days you will look at it and you will think, Oh dear. This is not a very good book at all. How embarrassing.
I can’t explain why you will feel both these things but you will and this is okay because after looking into it, it seems everyone who ever wrote a book also felt like that.
Now someone else is looking at my book and so I have a little time while they work out how to help me mend its broken bits.It has given me some time to think of how I got here, to where I have written an actual book, because it has not been a straight path for me.
Take my hand and travel with me. We are going back. The year is 1990 or something. It is definitely around that time. Perhaps even earlier. I can’t remember. It is the scenery that is important. We are in a Roman Catholic primary school, the teachers are nuns, like Whoopi Goldberg. They have organised a writing competition. First prize is something, I don’t know what, because it isn’t important. It is more important that I am told I am a good writer.
I dictate the story to my mother, who types it on our Brother word processor. Here we can take a moment to smile and shake our heads, What were we like! Huh! We thought this was the height of technology and now it looks so dumb. Yes, we have come very far since then (hey, 1990 Amy, we have new five pound notes now and they are so weird) but this isn’t the point of the story, please try not to get distracted. No, the point is a young mind is being let loose creatively and it is as close to magical as we will ever know! Let us not worry that the young girl is infringing on many of the artistic properties of the St. Trinian’s series. This is not important either. No, she is having fun and she thinks this is possibly the most fun thing she’s ever done.

pen

A pen (you can write with these).

It is days until we are gathered in the assembly hall to find out the results of the competition. Because we are artists we have experienced a lot of self doubt in those days, we have said, Maybe I shouldn’t have entered! What if that bit with the frog isn’t as funny as I thought? But because we are artists we also daydream of winning the prize. Right now I think the prize might have been a colourful play set, simple block-like figures with permanent smiles and clip-on hats, but stop distracting me because the prize wasn’t what mattered most. I wanted to know, Am I good at this?
They call third prize, it isn’t me. Phew, I think. Second prize isn’t me either. I think, Oh good, I have come first. First prize is called…it is not me. We are clapping but we are confused, This isn’t a nice story at all! This is not cheering me up. This is very sad. What if this little person never writes again?
The nun – not Whoopi Goldberg – now she is saying something else. Something about a story that was so good it deserves a special mention. It is my name. I am given a colouring book. The nun explains, If this had been a competition for writing stories this would have done very well, but this was a handwriting competition.
Oh.
I was ahead of my time. I would never use a Brother word processing computer ever again! (No, 1990 Amy, you won’t, because soon every home will have a Windows computer and something called The Internet, I will explain when we meet again.)
This incident was a confusing blow to my confidence as a young writer. It would be a long time until I felt able to enter another competition. And next time, I swore, I would read the terms and conditions very carefully.
The year is 1994, I have changed schools as the Roman Catholic primary school went bust. It is a shame but we are settling nicely in the new school now. I am reading my story to the headmistress, it is a story about a mouse who falls asleep in a space suit and ends up going to space. There is some minor peril but otherwise it is a very positive story and the mouse has a lovely time. They give me a sticker because they think it’s such a wonderful story.
On the way back to the classroom I pass a poster on the wall. POETRY COMPETITION. It is for the Eisteddfod. Whoever wins gets a small wooden chair. Well, I think, I don’t know about the chair but I would like to officially be the best writer in this school. (Note: this is an artistic choice. I did not actually see a poster at this time. I think entrance in the competition was compulsory. But it is better if I tell you it happened like this because it is a better story.)
So I set to work. Traditionally I was a writer of prose, so this was outside my comfort zone. I tried many times, I screwed up the pieces of paper and threw them over my shoulder. My pencil was blunt from effort.
Finally, I knew it was done. I drew a massive leek on the empty side of the page, as it looked a little sparse, and I entered it in the competition.
The school was abuzz. There would be a special guest presenting the prize. A young and new politician by the name of Tony Blair. We do not know who he is, so don’t start going, Yeah yeah, he is a war criminal because no one knows this, in fact we don’t understand politics at all right now because we are about 9 or something.
All we know is that on that day lots of parents gather at the school gates and they clap and shake his hand as he comes in. It is like he’s a pop star but not that good looking. It doesn’t matter. Our motivation is not the politician, nor the tiny chair, but the recognition we crave for our efforts, even if it is poetry and we don’t really see what the fuss is about there.
Anyway. It is Tony Blair holding a tiny chair and we are unable to sit still. Come on Tony Blair, get on with it! Say who won! But he is smiling and he has loads of teeth and he won’t stop talking.
Eventually he says that he is going to say who has won. We are nervous because we hate standing in front of lots of people. We are shaking. We feel sick. It will be hard to collect the prize and the tiny chair will shake in our hands but we- what? Who?
Oh no.
Not her. Anybody but her.

TO BE CONTINUED NEXT WEEK…

…Unless the reaction to this blog post is very positive, in which case I will Beyoncé it and drop it unannounced in the meantime.


Hi-Ho

Lovely canteen in the workplace

Lovely canteen in the workplace

You can stop your incessant emails and comments, a new blog has arrived. It isn’t that I have forgotten about this but rather because I have recently re-entered the workforce and have been very busy.

Sometimes I stop and I think, This is absurd. I think this because of times like five-thirty a.m on a Saturday, which seems like such an unfair and unnatural time to be active. Also, moments where I catch my eye in the reflection of the computer screen and stop to consider for a while that I am in a place I do not want to be, where I can’t read a book or have something to eat until I’m told I am allowed.

There are good bits, like when I get paid and I can buy things. I’ve bought a lot of great things and also some great stuff so far and I look forward to buying more.

But it is still weird. In work, I had to have an unflattering photograph taken and now I have to wear it around my neck all day when I am there. If I was to do this outside of work I would be labelled eccentric or even a narcissist, but in work it is just normal.

This isn’t one of those jobs where you have to wear smart lady trousers with no pockets. Here you can wear whatever you want so long as it is appropriate. If you’re confused about what is appropriate and what is not I have an anecdote which will serve to illustrate the difference. So here is the anecdote then. (Please skip ahead if you feel confident with appropriate casual work attire.)

A woman who works with my mother once arrived at the office wearing a t-shirt that said, simply, DYKE, in rhinestone lettering. Though this sounds like a very nice t-shirt and shows she is comfortable with who she is (right on, sister!), it is actually inappropriate. It is not the rhinestones that are inappropriate – they may seem more suited to evening wear but it is actually acceptable to wear them on a casual t-shirt in the daytime – but the word DYKE. There are many other words you can have on your t-shirt if you want to make a statement, perhaps test these on friends and family if you are unsure.

Because of the loose guidelines I start every morning wondering if I am dressed too casually. See, it is important to me to feel as though I am wearing pyjamas, as this reminds me of being at home and watching TV. That is where I am happiest.

I miss this at work. I sit back and think of my cats, lying in rays of light on the carpet, half asleep. I miss them so much. After work I buy them gold tins of cat food with fancy names, Ocean Fish in a White Sauce with Spinach, because I love them and I can afford to now. At home I serve it to them like a waiter, saying the full title of the dish before placing it down. They do not leave a tip.

After a long period of unemployment, it is normal to become accustomed to your own company. Also, it is normal to become unaccustomed to other people’s company. You spend so many days talking only to yourself and your cats, doing a fart whenever you have to, that it can be difficult to re-assimilate with society.

A heron, free to spend his days however he wants.

A heron, free to spend his days however he wants.

It is strange to suddenly spend up to nine hours a day surrounded by people who are forced to be in your company. In many ways this is a good thing and you realise that despite our differences we are really All the Same. Except for people who are Just Awful, and you must spend time with these people too. You must smile and talk to them even if they have just slagged off all cats.

You must be nice because we are all a team and we are working toward a common goal. You may not care about the goal, it probably isn’t what you planned for in life. Your own personal goals might include being a best selling author and marrying Ryan Gosling when he stars in the adaptation, but while in work you must pretend you care about Their goal.

This is a good starting-off point for any working relationships, knowing and accepting you are all pretending to care about the same thing, you will always have this in common. If you need to engage with someone while you are waiting for your sports bottle to refill at the water cooler, try asking them about themselves. If they reciprocate, respond enthusiastically about their life! Not too enthusiastically because this can be frightening to more timid colleagues.

Several times a day you may ask yourself, Am I weird? because often you will say something and you will notice that your conversational partner has pinched their eyebrows together in a quizzical manner. Most of the time this will be about nothing and you will determine that you are not weird but everyone else is. But once in a while you will think you are weird and you will have to tell yourself to tone it down until you get home and you can fully be you again, talking to your cats and farting, happy in your DYKE t-shirt.