Monday, December 31, 2007

The nine days of Christmas

On the first day of Christmas I arrive at my parent’s home three days earlier than usual in anticipation of spending some quality time with my nephew before he goes to the in-laws. I arrive to an empty house because unbeknown to me they have changed their plans and now arriving later in the week. This extends my family celebrations from five days to nine if I want to see my nephew and sister! Oh well, I’m here now so I may as well enjoy the log fire, festive decorations and a fridge full of delicious food.

On the second day of Christmas I decided to pay my first boyfriend a visit. Yes, during my teens I went out with guys, yet to realise that my admiration of the PE teacher, my fascination with female tennis players and the Jodie Foster movie and poster collection were the beginnings of my love affair with women. I have been reluctant to visit for several years, as each time I see him it is like jumping back to being fifteen. His life had not changed and in his thirties he was still at home living with his parents, unemployed, watching football and playing online poker.

Recently he got in touch and it sounded like his life had turned around, so when he asked to see me I accepted the invitation. On arrival I wanted to turn and run when he answered the door in what looked like the same Arsenal t-shirt he wore in school. He had not changed; he had just gone slightly bald. Desperately blocking out the necking sessions we had on the same sofa, I stayed for a while then made my excuses and hurriedly left feeling relieved I had moved away and left the small town mentality behind. Sadly I think if he ever left I feel sure be would come out as gay in a matter of weeks; it seems seventeen years ago we had more in common than we thought.

On the third day of Christmas; PMT, nicotine withdrawals and the arrival of Aunty Pat brought with it a childish performance that only surfaces in my parents’ home. I sulked, whinged and had urges to snort ‘bovvered’ at anything my Mum said. My adolescent behaviour culminated in an argument between myself and Aunty Pat about the psychological influence of nature verses nurture. Neither had a clue about the subject or why we were arguing so it ended with Pat walking off and me bursting into tears.

On the fourth and fifth day of Christmas I had a lovely time opening presents, visiting family friends and eating as if my life depended on it. Every waking hour was spent chewing turkey, chocolates, fish platters and the obligatory brussel sprout. I was on a food fest mission and masticated to my hearts content. Everyone was well-behaved and no further arguments occurred even when the Trivial Pursuit was brought out. Juvenility did rear its ugly head when my parents gave me a detox book, elastic muscle toning contraption, cleaning cloth and a fizzy drinks top that preserves the all important half left cans until the next day. I sulkily thought this an unsubtle hint to diet, tone up, clean more and not drink all the lager from the can in one go! All was forgiven when I realised how ungrateful and spoilt I can be as I unwrapped a digital camera!

On the sixth day of Christmas I bought an entire new sale reduced wardrobe and enough, unnecessary but discounted, soft furnishings to fill my flat. After two days of obsessive eating and drinking sparkling wine at eleven in the morning I began to panic that my extra large thighs would not fit into the new wardrobe. To not get depressed about the increasing waistband there was only one thing to do, loosen my belt and eat a turkey sandwich!

With the festive celebrations out of the way my thoughts turned to ‘oh shit I have no plans for New Years Eve’. I need to say goodbye to 2007, fall asleep on the 30th and fast forward to the 1st. Waking, relieved a new and prosperous year is ahead. After several frantic phone calls my housemate comes to the rescue and now the plans are set for new years and I can now relax and wait for my nephew to arrive later for more present opening.

On the seventh and eighth day of Christmas I think certain family members decided I should be straight. With constant references to what a perfect partner my single, yet gay, male housemate would be and when I appeared broody on hearing the news my sister is pregnant again, Aunty Pat smiled knowingly thinking perhaps this means my biological clock has put me back in the closet. It crossed my mind I could be being hyper sensitive and a little jealous of my sister who does not have another failed relationship under her size eight pregnant belt. But if Aunty Pat mentions my housemate again I may move my first boyfriend in with her and see how long it takes before she drags me to the Candy Bar.

On the ninth day of Christmas I arrive home in London. Feeling cosy and warm in my flat; blissfully surrounded by peace and quiet. A bottle of wine, cigarette and time to have a catch up on the internet with no need to table set, socialise with family friends amidst shouts from the kitchen summoning the unpaid hired help. On reflection and sitting alone I realise how much I miss them all and what a great Christmas I have had.

So that’s my nine days of Christmas. No partridges, pear trees or five gold rings but I did get to put some of what I have learnt through therapy into practice. Not successfully at all times but I have grown up and see Mum is only, if sometimes irritatingly, trying her hardest to please everyone. Aunty Pat is OK, she is just from the ‘good old days’ generation of one job, one partner and relationship with women means you have a close friend to talk about cooking and men with. Most importantly, I am going to be an Aunt again which is fantastic and there is nothing to be jealous of. For the moment I can be cool Aunt FT and give them back at the end of the day; until I’m with Miss Right and thinking of having a family of my own. 2008 is going to be a good year and I can not wait to live it!

Monday, December 24, 2007

Christmas Cheer

Twas the Friday before Christmas, when all through the house, not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse; this includes me! I have woken on my own accord, fully clothed, facedown and laying diagonally on top of the duvet. In the time it takes me to lift my head off the pillow I realise one; I am very late for my last day at work and two; my mouth disturbingly tastes like a stale ashtray doused in corked wine. Judging from my fuzzy head and complete lack of memory it can mean only one thing, this is the morning after the ‘Works Christmas Do’.

Gingerly and using energy I do not have, I stumble towards the bathroom considering putting on my jacket and leaving the house as I am....well I am dressed. This idea is soon abandoned when a hybrid of Worzel Gummidge and Aunt Sally stares back at me from the mirror. Prioritisation is critical during these moments and not to be too crude but a toilet trip is pointless as dehydration has left little moisture, so teeth cleaning and drinking copious amounts of tap water are top of my list. In the shower I begin to reflect on the evening’s events and panic swiftly embraces. My last memory is slurring ‘taxi’ as a life saving black cab appeared outside the pub; prior to that the evening can only be described as hazy.

It takes time and my performance would be painful to watch to even the most patient, but I am finally dressed and on my way to work. In a desperate bid to sober up the first port of call is to the local newsagent to buy any type of hydrating fluids and stomach lining carbohydrates. Arms stacked high with bottles of tomato juice, energy drinks, water and a cheese and ham croissant I open my purse to find nothing. I can deal with the embarrassment of leaving the goods and muttering excuses to the shop keeper, I am more concerned about the lack of £50 that was in my purse yesterday.

Leaving the shop I notice the newspaper headline ‘Seventeen million will wake today with a hangover’, this does not make me feel better and I realise I need to find out what happened last night before I dare face work colleagues and a potential disciplinary action. I remember talking to the boss but have no recollection of what we talked about. He is not my favourite person and did I tell him this in a moment of drunken honesty?

Clyde, she was there, she’ll fill in the gaps. I remember leaving the pub toilets and she was gone. I find a secluded step, seat myself and send a text message ‘not sure who lost who last night, you ok?’. Within a minute Clyde responds ‘I said goodbye, you hugged me, necked some champagne and told me how drunk you were’. Oh dear, maybe my housemate can help, a quick phone call established he has never seen me that drunk and he was proud I had managed to get up, presuming I would be dying in bed… Oh God this does not bode well!

OK think, what do you remember? Keith from Accounts was boring the troops with his tales of rock and roll mishaps in a Holiday Inn piano bar and mentioned something about my boyfriend and I should come listen to his Britney medley. To my response, ‘three years Keith, three years you’ve known me and you still don’t know I’m gay?’ This was exclaimed loudly between juke box songs so silence appropriately took over and a couple of tumbleweeds drifted past. Hearing this news the rather attractive ‘Girl on Top’ smiled seductively then began flirting outrageously with me. For those with a sewer mind ‘Girl on Top’ only got her name because she works in the office above me! Against my instincts I shied away from her attention and I confusingly began flirting with the rather unattractive ‘Man Down Below’ – he works in the office below me! Keith was last seen staggering towards the underground serenading Girl on Top to the tune of ‘Oops I did it again’.

Walking into work and security has not yet escorted me from the premises, which is good sign. Stopping at the cash point I have a sudden flash back to drunkenly shoving a handful of notes at the taxi driver saying ‘keep the change mate’. At least someone’s getting a bonus this year! Some spend twelve months impressing their peers; with strong work ethics they consistently demonstrate integrity, intelligence and initiative. So why, once a year, does an entire office go mental and work ethics are drowned with large quantities of alcohol? I believe the excuse of a works credit card behind the bar may support the debauchery.

A quick stop at the canteen and finally laden with a water, family size bottle of lucozade, healthy smoothie and a cheese and ham toasted bagel, I have given up remembering, there is nothing I can do now! I am embracing my restructuring failure and saying sod off to sobriety. I am prepared for whatever the office will throw at me! Stepping out of the lift and walking towards my desk I look around. There are only three maybe four people there, all sickly grey in complexion and some holding their heads only inches from the desk. Luxozade intravenous drips are stacked by the keyboards and the realisation overwhelms me; I want to sink to my knees, outstretch my arms and point towards the heavens, exclaiming gleefully ‘They don’t remember either!’

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Personality Disorders

Following my Government Health Warning regarding a recent internet stalking incident, I needed to work out why days later I still felt suffocated by negative and opposing emotions all directed at my ex? Ranging from love to hate with sporadic ‘what ifs’ and ‘if only’. During a conversation with a therapist and some internet research, I had an ‘Arh Ha’ moment of clarity which I hope you can not relate to.

Do you ever feel the failures in your relationship are your fault and if you changed, your partner would finally be happy? Has your partner twisted your words and actions and used them against you? Do you ever feel emotionally bullied in the relationship but keep making excuses for their behaviour? Have you stopped planning any social engagements because of your partner’s unpredictability? Are you beginning to feel desperate, angry and isolated? Are you doubting your own sanity and flicking through the phone book looking for the nearest therapist?

Does your partner suffer from low self esteem, find it hard to deal with their emotions and have a fear of abandonment? Do they over analyse every conversation and talk obsessively about their day? Do they shy away from all responsibility believing nothing is their fault? Are their moods unpredictable and do they pick fights without any logical cause? Do they intensely love you one moment and hate you the next? Do they deny they are in need of any professional help even in the depths of depression?

If you can relate to any of the above; it could be possible your partner, friend or family member has Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). ‘The diagnosis of BPD is based upon signs of emotional instability, feelings of depression and emptiness, identity and behavioural issues’

When researching BPD, I found described in less than 500 words my life for the last few years and the psychological profile of someone close to me. I believe one in twenty people suffer from BPD and it is most common in women. Although the disorder sounds extreme it can be diagnosed in varying degrees of severity, from erratic mood swings, depression to self harming and suicide. Please do not think for one minute I am an expert on psychoanalysis. A few months in therapy does not give me the right to make a diagnosis on another’s mental state and BPD is just a label used to describe a common state of mind. Through research this label has helped me gain a better understanding of my past relationship and my conflicting feelings towards my ex.

There are a variety of personality disorders all under the headline of mental instability, ranging from the antisocial to the schizoid. I can recognise a part of myself in all these disorders; but fundamentally I know who I am, how to act, what I like and how I choose to live my life. My identity is of course unique; it is a symptom of my childhood, upbringing, experiences and my genes. I can be childish and needy one minute and a confident leader the next. I can be outspoken, destructive and fiery followed by healthy and sporty. My favourite persona is a partying, flirty socialite and sometimes, but rarely, I have a desire for perfection. Put this all together and I become one, actually I become a synopsis of the Spice Girls. This reminds me!

How could I link mental instability with the Spice Girls? That’s easy, you probably think I’m nuts for just going to the concert! I did though, and to lighten the mood I’m going to spice it up! Contrary to recent media speculation, the O2 arena this Sunday was not half full, Baby was not on crutches and the girls did not have a full blown argument and storm off stage. The arena was packed mainly with women of all ages and the Spice Girls; they were not good, they were bloody fantastic. I read recently ‘Who wants to watch five middle age women gyrate badly on a stage?’ If our life expectancy is now 60 and gyrating badly means superb choreography from five sexy talented performers, then the answer is ‘I DO!’

The Spice Girls were a manufactured group based on personalities, unlike Girls Aloud! What they lacked in talent they made up for tenfold with character. With so many strong personalities it’s no wonder the group had trouble reconciling and became a little unstable. But they are back, Geri and all. They performed as a tight knit unit, thriving off the support they gave each other. They had fun, laughed and at no point took themselves too seriously. They were everything a good relationship should be and I love them.

As performers, the joining of the contrasting identities creates a successful whole. The human mind is not so different, just a little more fragile. If someone you love has personality difficulties, has become disjointed and is unsure who they are from one moment to the next they may have BPD and be unaware. The internet advice for those in a relationship with a BPD sufferer is; learn all you can about the disorder, get some support, look after yourself and remember you are not alone. I wish I had known months ago what I do now. I may have been able to deal with my relationship more effectively and not doubted my sanity to the degree I did.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Government Health Warnings

Does anyone remember in the early eighties, around the time of the Falklands war, there was a government pamphlet distributed on what to do in the event of a nuclear attack? I had it all figured out. In the case of an emergency I knew if I turned the dining room table over, painted the windows white and had a store of tinned food I may survive. My parents had to keep a keen eye on me over the months in fear that I would create my own bomb shelter in the lounge, paint and all!

The eighties seemed to have a string of government health warnings from AIDS awareness to the danger of toppling prams by hanging bags on handles. In today’s media the advertisements use shock tactics to highlight the dangers of crossing the road and keeping to the speed limit. The most common health warning seems to be aimed at young adults and the consequences of drinking too much. Regardless of the adverts, I knew I drank too much so I thought I’d research the effects of alcohol and see what the government advice is. Within minutes I find out I am a binge drinking alcoholic!

Following a sharp intake of breath I investigated the basic facts; the Government recommended weekly alcohol intake for a woman is fourteen units, twenty-one for a man. Is it only a surprise to me or does everyone know that one bottle of wine is ten units and a pint of lager is approximately three? Without a calculator I realise it is not uncommon during a week to not only drink my recommended alcohol intake but my housemates, the neighbours and Cousin Angela’s as well.

How and when did I become an alcoholic? A couple of large glasses of wine on return from work; do that for three nights totalling fifteen units. The weekend arrives and a few friends come over for a double vodka and Mojito extravaganza, at three units each drink. Let’s not do the maths I’ll get depressed and want a glass of wine! The good news is a large glass of Sherry is only one unit! I do not think I am drowning my sorrows or cracking under the pressure of work, excessive drinking just crept up on me.

After discovering these frightening facts I made a conscious effort to not drink and I was enjoying sobriety. I felt better, my head less foggy and my restructuring plan was working. There is a theory, I believe initiated by Freud, that the mind is in a state of war between two opposing emotions; the self harmony against the self destruction. So in true Freudian fashion the week was going too well and I needed to self-destruct, using Facebook as my weapon of choice.

When I decided to do a search for my ex girlfriend I had no idea how I would react. I was genuinely shocked to see her photo and within seconds I saw visions of myself sitting under a table with white-washed windows as a bomb exploded in my head. Following the hyperventilating and an overwhelming urge to throw up, there was only on thing left to do, cry.

What happened? Why was I so shocked and why did my mind implode? When my relationship ended we have had no contact. The person I once loved is no longer about but she selfishly still has a life without me! She will of course have new relationships, nights out and an internet social network. I just do not want to know about it because all the hurt, guilt and pain surfaces and suffocates.

We have had government health warnings for nuclear attacks, farmyard accidents and the consequences of binge drinking, but none for Facebook and the dangers of internet stalking. How do we prepare for that first punch in the stomach from the ex? The following day my self destruction disguised itself as curiosity and I looked again. There were no surprises when I had the same reaction. How did I deal with the surge of negative emotions, I had a drink!

So I have banned myself from Facebook, blocked her from finding me and am staying away from alcohol. Alternatively I could paint the windows white, become a recluse and live my life internet stalking. At least I can binge drink on sherry two or three times a week and stay within the limit!

Monday, December 3, 2007


My place of work is currently undergoing another restructure, an inoffensive word used to disguise the actual meaning – redundancies. Five year plans are put in place to claw back loses. Long service staffs humiliatingly reapply for their jobs, the newcomers worry about the 25 year mortgage and the contractors start clearing out their desks. The threat of streamlining results in extreme paranoia and the atmosphere at work is not exactly festive.

Some senior leaders appear to have forgotten the good management skills they were taught during the week long excursions to Sussex five star manor houses. If I mirrored certain management behaviours I would be justified in snapping, bullying and using the innocent and less paid as scapegoats. Actually, that’s not a bad idea judging by my recent work disasters… now who can I blame?

The papers report more redundancies - sorry I mean restructuring - and business failures each day. House prices are dropping; interest rates are rising, queues of panicked public wait to withdraw their savings from Northern Rock and that’s only the beginning. Let’s not forget the so called ‘Acts of God’; tsunami’s, earthquakes and extreme flooding in Gloucestershire, to name a few. If we don’t get cancer from eating smoked bacon, or blown up by extremists on the underground, the effects of Global Warming will surely finish us off? The dramatic again talk of Armageddon, whilst the rest optimistically get on with life.

With the imminent possibility of having a desk clearing day and a large mortgage - thankfully not with Northern Rock - I need to ignore the headlines and do some restructuring of my own. Where do I want to be in five years time and how am I going to get there? After much deliberation I have several constantly changing variations of a twelve month ideal, then nothing, my mind goes blank.

Judging from my rant about the end of the world, it’s no wonder I am stuck at a twelve month plan. Fear of an approaching future without sunlight and run by Terminators could make any five year plan too unrealistic a concept, but that is not why I’m stuck. I do not overly worry about scenarios out of my control or unbelievable…. it will take at least 10 years before machines rule the world!

What is stopping me make a five year plan? That is easy to answer; if I carry on living the way I do, I will not be alive in five years to live out my plan. An epidemic is spreading and many suffer from this wide ranging condition. The syndrome can creep up with little warning and can affect all areas of life. It debilitates individuals in different ways and some may not even know they suffer from it. It is called Self Destruction. In summary, I go out with the wrong people, I drink too much, smoke too much and I do not look after myself the way I should.

On too many occasions I wake early morning and punish myself for abusing my body. Telling myself ‘I’m worth more than this’ and pray I can spend the day doing menial jobs so I do not have to acknowledge my brain ache. Finally I slip back to sleep to nightmares of Dr Gillian McKieth screaming eat pulses and nuts whilst examining my poo in a Tupperware box!

Ignoring my brain ache, I believe today will be different. Today I’ll be kind to myself. I strap my pedometer to my ankle and set off on the recommended 12,000 pace hike to work. With the good intentions of a healthy liquid diet drinking only smoothies and water. On-route to work my body screams for carbs, so I build up my pedometer count on detour to the greasy spoon to pick up a bacon sandwich before jumping in a taxi. Twelve espresso’s later and an impromptu invitation out, I continue my liquid diet in the pub.

Are you like me and self destructive? 2008 is stampeding towards us. Armageddon is not around the corner but liver failure might be. Advice to myself is break the daily routine and turn good intentions into a reality. I need to think ahead by creating a realistic month, 12 month then five year plan and decide what changes do I need to do to ensure I get there in one piece?

Where do you ideally see yourself in five years and what do you need to do in order to get there? If you have a mental block past the Christmas holidays, then maybe spend some time to figure out what is stopping you visualise your future? Why not accept ‘you really are worth more than this’ and put self-destruction into hibernation with Gillian.