Episode 28: If you could choose, would you choose this?

In which our protagonist recognises she has chosen fear way too much

You might’ve noticed a pattern in these episodes, Dear Reader. At least, it feels like there’s a pattern, one that’s plagued me for most of my life. In general, I seem to take two steps forward and one step back. Last week’s missive was all about coming out of my cage; this week, I’m back in the fog. The quagmire. The quicksand. I am Artax once more.

Why such a quick spiral down? That’s just kinda how it happens - one minute fine; the next, splat. Also, I recently spent days and nights totally alone for the first time since early 2020. The other half dashed down to Devon to see his mum, leaving me on my own from Friday morning until Monday afternoon. Three whole nights and almost four whole days. Time to party?

Was it f*ck.

I had loads of plans for what I was going to get done. Obviously, there was writing to do. Study to catch up on. A bit of business planning, maybe, without interruption? Some un-flat-packing a flat pack garden setting. Reading - oh, the reading. So much stuff, and I thought I might even sneak in some tidying and going through papers and generally sorting out the mess that has emerged during the various bits of plague life where we turned into hermits and hoarders. 

What did I actually get done? 

You guessed it: A lot of Netflix, and a lot of staring into space. 

It turns out I can’t be trusted to be on my own, not yet anyway. It wasn’t immediate, but as the physical distance grew between my constant plague-times companion and I, it was like my brain began to shut down. The fog moved in. Those old thinking patterns started shouting at me, telling me I was useless, telling me I should just give up and sit down and do nothing. Because, what’s the point anyway, right? What is the damn point? 

Just like that, I was cowering in my familiar corner, hiding away from the world and from all that’s wrong with me. Refusing to acknowledge it; bingeing on bad food and bad TV.

Hello darkness, my old friend

I’ve come to the conclusion that the ol’ burnout issue is far from sorted. If a single night alone can do this to me, then I clearly need more time. I need more patience. I need to learn to ride the waves of good and bad that are destined to come at me like a tsunami. Slowly slowly the tide creeps up and then suddenly you’re trapped. Doomed. This is my brain on burnout. 

With himself on his way home this morning, I decided I needed to snap out of it and figure things out. Maybe the mud is a result of a lack of routine and schedule? Of days spent floating around under the guise of “self-care” and “rest”? This morning, I devised a schedule. A routine baggy enough to live in, as Matt Haig recently said. A loose schedule to gently reintroduce my battered brain to the idea of Getting Sh*t Done. Yet… I’m already losing faith. Self-sabotage has historically been my favourite game. Intellectually I know the steps, I know the things I need to do to move on from the quagmire - but I can’t seem to muster the courage and the heart. There is some part of me that refuses to take any action. 

It’s not even monkey mind - it’s ostrich-head-in-sand mind. It’s a total absence of any desire to make a move. The desire to be on the other side is there, but the ability to take the necessary steps is absent. I guess I’m just afraid of everything. My brain goes into shutdown whenever I try to make a move towards the future. But why? What am I scared of? Letting myself actually achieve something meaningful? Letting myself be happy, content? These are totally normal things - do I think I don’t deserve them? Why would that be? I am not a shitty person. Why can’t I give myself the same level of support I happily thrust into others’ laps? 

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FEAR: For Everything, A Reason

Do I not deserve it? What have I done that says I don’t deserve it? In coaching training, we’re told to ask: Where is the evidence? So, where is the evidence I don’t deserve to be happy? 

There is none, that’s where. There is no evidence, just a gut instinct and a learned behaviour. I’ve been bullied and battered mentally for so long that I just can’t remember any other way. So when I start to have some wins, the switch kicks in - the one that says hang on, don’t get too big for your britches. Don’t put your head above the parapet. It tells me that sticking out and standing up will get you noticed in the wrong way. And you know what happens then? Bad stuff. Indeterminate bad stuff, but you really won’t like it. So best to just hide away and let things be. Stay comfortable, don’t rock the boat. 

The thing is, that way of living has got me nowhere. Nothing but heartache and staring at the walls for three days straight berating myself over and over. There must be another way, surely?

So I went to consult the oracles this morning, and it seems the universe has a message for me: “I recognise that I have chosen fear, and I choose again,” it told me. “I choose love.”

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Until next time, Dear Reader, may you also recognise that when you have chosen fear, and may you choose again. And always choose love. 

Choose life.

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The week ahead 🗓

  • Writing/Work/Health: Heck, I’m just focusing on coming out of the fog and taking back control. Of choosing love rather than fear.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              

  • Routine: I think I have one now. I’m going to try it out this week. Plus,join me and hundreds of others at the LWS Writers’ Hour every weekday: 8am London, New York, California and NZ.


On the stereo 🎧

Hello, by Role Model

It’s been really f***ing hot in London these last few days, and I am melting. Thankfully, the Spotify-made “Good Energy” playlist is throwing up quirky ditties like this one. In fact, just listen to the whole playlist and pretend your life is actually an indie coming of age movie.  


Off the shelf 📚

The Mesmerist, by Wendy Moore

As a friend said to me last week, this book is a bit of a departure from my usual. For starters, it’s a historical non-fiction, heavily research-based, narrative account of Victorian medicine - so, yeah, not really my usual fare. And I’ll admit, I didn’t quite expect it to be this way when I ordered it. I heard about the doctor in question during a lecture on Spiritualism at Treadwells, so I thought this account would be a bit more on the esoteric side… 

It’s taking me a while to get through it, but it’s still a fascinating look at how mesmerism spread across early Victorian medicine in this country, and how one London doctor of note got completely swept up in it. More than that, though, it’s the story of the Okey sisters, two teenagers who were patients at the newly-founded University College Hospital, and who may have seized upon a rare opportunity to exert influence as young women in English society. 

This is why the tales of Spiritualism and Mediumship so fascinate me: quite often at this time, it was the only way for a woman to make her own way in the world, earn her own money, and have respect. The Okey sisters are arguably precursors to the American Fox sisters, who started the Spiritualism movement with their tales of knockings and rappings. This particular account is more on the medical side than the women’s empowerment side, but it’s scratching an itch for sure. Perhaps not quite the same itch featured in an early chapter, as Moore looks at how Monsieur Mesmer himself made his name...

“Settling in Paris in 1778, Mesmer had attracted large numbers of followers as well as many detractors. ... In order to treat more people at once, he introduced a magnetic tub or “baquet” - an oval bath packed with bottles filled with water and iron filings covered with an iron lid. The vessel was supposed to concentrate the magnetic force. His clients, many of them wealthy ladies, would sit around the tub with their knees touching to form a human circuit and grasp one of the iron rods that protruded at intervals from the lid. Then handsome young male assistants would sit behind the patients and clasp them between their knees while rubbing their spines and applying ‘gentle pressure upon the breasts of the ladies’. It was scarcely surprising that, before long, ‘the cheeks of the ladies began to glow, their imaginations to become inflamed; and off they went, one after the other, in convulsive fits.’... Eventually Mesmer’s erotic exhibitions brought down the scorn of the French medical establishment who persuaded Louis XVI to set up a royal commission in 1784 to investigate the phenomenon.”

Ahem. Indeed.

Bonus read: Mad Men. Furious Women, by Zoe Scaman

Speaking of questionable behaviour and women’s empowerment… The advertising and marketing industry thought it had escaped #MeToo relatively unscathed. It was wrong. This blog post is sparking a revolution. Read it, here.

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Visual confirmation 📷

It wasn’t all doom and gloom for me this weekend; I got to attend a gig. Yes, actual live music. Here is the aftermath (or shall I say the afterglow) as I walked home alone on a Saturday night feeling like old times were returning. Note the smirk and the twinkling eyes. I really, really miss live music - it sets my soul on fire. Now I just need the plague to settle down so I can get to the big venues and the festivals again and have a giant sing-and-dance-along and forget my troubles just for a few hours. 

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