Over the past year, these are some of the things that I’ve told my friends: ‘We are going to adopt a dog’, ‘we’ve applied to become foster carers’, ‘we are getting an allotment’, ‘we’re planning to rescue some chickens’, ‘we’re going to Canada to see my brother’, ‘we’re not going to do any more long-haul flights’, ‘I’m going gluten free’ and ‘I’m applying for a job at a nursery’. There are probably dozens more and frankly I’d be amazed if anybody believes anything I say.
When I say the plans, I mean every word of it. But when life changes so completely and at such a fast pace, it’s almost impossible to make sensible and realistic plans. Over the last few years, we’ve gone from owning three different houses (long story) to owning and living in one, to our own vast relief (although there’s enough stuff in this house for three, and that’s another post). I’ve paid off a mortgage. Our youngest sons have both become independent. I left my teaching job after fifteen years and am now a supply special needs teacher for my local council. I can work whatever hours I like, as long as I do a minimum of ten hours a week. This new life is a big experiment as I calculate my new earnings at my new hourly rate, with no holiday or sick pay. I’m also training to be a counsellor, through evening classes at a college in Lincoln. For years I was restricted by school hours, timetables, planning and marking, and now, although still working, there’s more freedom.
First, there was the fostering idea. Through my years as a teacher, I’ve always loved the troubled kids with their pain manifesting itself in a million difficult ways. I’ve had children in my classes who shout, scream, walk out in a temper, try to ingratiate themselves with me whilst ignoring instructions or distracting the class at every opportunity. I’ve had students with challenging behaviour put into my class from elsewhere because I could keep them in the room. The secret to this is, surprisingly, to treat them with kindness and unconditional positive regard (a great counselling term). Helping these children to have a go, to trust that they won’t be in trouble, to see them realise that they will always and only be met with kindness, has always been incredibly rewarding.
When I got increasingly tired and frustrated with teaching in schools, and could finally afford to take a pay cut, I was delighted to accept this special needs work. But I can’t afford not to work at all, so fostering is out of the question. I discovered that the ideal foster carer is around for visits, pickups, school meetings and problems during the day. There’s also the indisputable fact that my husband would be unlikely to react very well to potential police visits, destruction, mess or rudeness. Nothing wrong with that; it’s better to be honest. It’s no secret that I have fewer boundaries than most people, am rarely shocked and have pretty endless patience. These qualities are ideal in the job that I’m in and I get to work with kids who need me. So that’s all sorted for now!
Adopting a dog. See above. Not going to happen. I can’t help but wonder how people DO have dogs! All I’ve read makes it clear that they shouldn’t be left for more than four hours. Does everybody get a dog sitter or a walker? Really? It’s pretty expensive to do so. As a perfectionist, I would want to be the perfect dog mum and leaving it all day wouldn’t work for me! I did go gluten free because I read that it can help with Graves disease, which I am undergoing tests for. However, the bread is the worst thing I have ever eaten and it’s not vegan, so that’s on the back burner for now. I’m sorry for people who have coeliac disease and I hope they make you better bread, soon.
Supply teachers don’t get paid in the holidays, so I have applied to work as bank staff at my local nursery. I’m quite looking forward to working with littluns again to be honest. This one was a decision that I definitely made well. Another one was planning to go to Canada to see my family over there and, other than that, no long-haul flights. In fact, no flights at all.
Having time, space and fewer financial commitments presents so many choices that it’s overwhelming sometimes! But the one thing I’m really glad I decided to do was to get an allotment and rescue some battery hens. The allotment is now ours. It’s a mess. I’ll need to take considerable time clearing and rotivating the overgrown plot. It’s right next to a field and I’ve already met the resident Mr Robin, who hangs about hopefully waiting for worms. There are inspirational plots around me for all the good ideas. I’m excited about the future raspberries, strawberries and gooseberries. Tim is excited about sprouts, cabbage and potatoes. We are both waiting for our first rhubarb moment. Being allotment and chicken parents will be a new high.
Younger me would have scoffed at this sedate life of allotment plans and part-time work. It’s not what I dreamed of as a young woman, although even back then my dreams were mostly to do with raising a family and earning enough to afford the odd holiday. I never longed for a life of glamour. Success is about being happy with a life of our choosing, not making a load of dough and wafting about in overpriced clothes in a house with a gym and a pool. I would like a gym in the house, to be fair.
Making big decisions is difficult and making these sorts of ‘how shall I curate my life now’ decisions is also a challenge. But trying them out for size, speaking them to friends and then carefully sifting through the possibilities is possibly the most fun opportunity I’ve ever had the privilege to engage in. Hurrah for midlife, allotments and rescue battery hens!
Every day is declutter day around here. I’ve married a man who has accumulated a vast array of everything just in case it fits again or might be used again. There is a bewildering amount of stuff that surrounds him; too much, in fact, for the house. We have a lock box on the outskirts of town which is bursting at the seams. It’s full of boxes, weights, fridge freezers, tables, chairs, pictures, clothes horses, hairdryers, torches, books, elephants. cars, worlds and entire planets. I am on a mission to get rid of most of the stuff that we own but it’s a long, arduous and time-consuming affair. As for why there is so much of it, it’s one of life’s mysteries. I’m a would-be minimalist, on the other hand, and love the idea of only owning things that are useful or bring me joy. But how many of us could actually achieve this?
Starting with my own stuff seems like a better way of approaching decluttering than trying to throw out the endless galaxies that belong to my other half. So I went through some boxes today. Dressing up stuff. So many memories in there! There’s a green felt hat that must have been worn for a Peter Pan day. Also a burlesque outfit from a Christmas party with the Leicester Road Hoggs running club where we all did the can-can and then threw ourselves at the ground and rolled around in hysterics. A superhero costume that my son Will wore for Halloween one night. And finally, two 1980s floral Bo Peep bridesmaids dresses that have been in the box ever since my first wedding day 30 odd years ago. There were others but these are the two I’ve still got. It’s hard to part with the memories more than anything else. That August day with the warm sun, green grass, colourful guests laughing and joking on the New Bradwell green, my face aching from the endless smiling for photographs and so much happiness and hope. Obviously we got divorced in the end but let’s not ruin a good memory by going over all that.
Nobody needs this stuff but who throws away dressing up stuff? You really never know when you might need it again. A burlesque outfit is a good shout – I don’t know what for but it’s staying. The superhero outfit can go. Will might want it and if not it’s going to the tip. But the Bo Peep dresses will need to go. They’re massive, bouffy items that, despite the fond memories they evoke, are a drain on the brain. Even knowing, now, that they’re there, in an enormous box, is tiring.
Tim and I went to watch Derren Brown yesterday in Leicester and, despite the majority of the audience being maskless dickheads, had a great time. Derren wrote the show in celebration of his Dad, who died of Covid in March, and a recurring theme was authenticity. One of the regrets of the dying is, apparently, ‘I wish I’d lived the life that was my choice, and not the life that others chose for me’. The only life I want for myself and my kids is the one we choose for ourselves.
Now, an empty nester, in a quiet house and only two people to cook for and clean up after, life has changed. It’s a wide open space of opportunity. It’s time to ask the question: ‘what do I want?’ The question itself can be scary. I am with a life partner who I love, which is great, and not everybody is in such a happy position, but what do we do to be happy and enjoy life? I suppose the thing to consider is how to avoid sleepwalking through it all.
Sleepwalkers often buy lots of stuff. Our house is full of stuff that accumulated during years and years of life with other partners for both of us. Boxes of books, weights, paperwork, magazines, photographs, tins of paint, rucksacks, weird spiky rollers that nobody ever uses, plugs, mugs, odd earrings, Feliway, screws, tat, tack and pointless rubbish. I think the first thing to do in the pursuit of happiness is to jettison, jettison and jettison some more. Keep the things that actually bring enjoyment and chuck the rest. Ebay is my friend. Freecycle is my second best friend. The tip is next, and the shops are only to be approached with care, and a thought out list.
Sleepwalkers keep busy all the time. It’s tempting to fill the spaces and silence of an empty nest with projects, work and social occasions. Nothing wrong with any of them but one of the things I’ve learned over lockdowns is to sit with myself. It was hard at first, all that quietness. But I came to the fortunate realisation that I am my own best friend and a very good one at that. Reading, playing the piano, looking at the sky and stroking the cat whilst listening to some music are all very worthwhile ways to spend an afternoon. When I changed jobs I deliberately sought something with more flexibility, so that I can have afternoons off, to see my poor old parents, or rest. I could fill up my time and earn more money but I feel that money is only useful as a means to an end. It’s not necessary to get as much as possible, which links to point 1 – getting fewer things.
Sleepwalkers get really involved in social media. I am addicted to social media just as much as the next person even though I don’t post all that often as a way of curbing the craving. I can still occasionally lose the last ounce of sense in my brain and spend hours scrolling through and looking at the lives of people I barely know. It doesn’t lead anywhere good. I either get FOMO or a massive inferiority complex. I keep Facebook off my phone and somehow I’ve weaned off Instagram, only going on now and again and looking at a heavily curated feed, full of people who I find inspirational and who actually teach me something.
So, what to do? How do we live purposefully? I think it’s important to carry out experimental activities and if they make you feel good, do them again and make them happen regularly. Since I’ve had all this gift of time, I’ve played netball (can’t at the moment due to counselling course taking place on the same night), gone for a million walks, discovered beautiful local places, learned the first part of ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ on the piano, read some great books, written a blog because I enjoy writing, laid in bed for whole mornings, listened to new music, chatted to friends, gone for coffee and cake, or wine and crisps, camped, watched the sun rise over the ocean and watched it set over a mountain. Life is for living. The fact is that it’s never perfect. Our wittering minds get in the way. But it’s definitely got enough potential for joy to stay awake for.
I was out on a run on the 4th August, my last run before the Belper Rover, an 18 miles trail run that I’d had planned for a while. This was my last long run and I’d planned a 15 mile route around the beautiful Stapleford area of Nottinghamshire. From the very get go I felt horrible: hot, out of breath and heavy. It was a muggy, warm day and I put it down to the heat, sipping at the water from my carry pack and persevering doggedly through country lanes and footpaths until, on mile 7, I realised that it was not going to get any better. Deciding to significantly slow my pace, I shuffled along for another few miles and realised that my heart rate was up to 200, which panicked me. At 50 that’s way over my maximum heart rate and I stopped to walk. The last 5 miles were a nightmare of heat, exhaustion and confusion as I wondered what the hell was wrong. Arriving home, I put it down to a virus as my stomach was churned up and painful. I rested for the remainder of the day and went to bed.
The next day my resting heart rate was ten beats a minute higher than usual at 65 and once again I thought that this confirmed a virus. The next evening I had a 7 miles race booked in the Peak District with my stepdaughter Jess. It would be hilly and hot and I knew I shouldn’t do it. But I messaged Jess and told them I’d be there but may have to stop and walk if I felt unwell. Next night I started the Saltcellar race and made it three miles before feeling sick, exhausted and anxious. I was already running at the back and I stopped to let the two women behind me past and then told the next marshall I was heading back. He kindly accompanied me back and I decided not to run again until I felt much better.
Through the month of August I did no running but lots of walking. After a holiday in Whitby where I ate all the chips, chocolate and cakes physically possible to get in my belly, I got home and found I’d lost weight. The heart rate was still ten beats a minute higher than usual and I was going to the loo a lot more (putting it politely). Googling my symptoms led to my suspicion that my thyroid had gone overactive and finally, beginning of September, I had a blood test which revealed this to be true.
What it’s like
Having this condition for me has been manic. Up until yesterday, when I started betablockers, I was hyper all the time. I would try to go to sleep but my heart would be banging in my chest so loudly that I could actually hear the swooshing sound of the blood. Needless to say, this is not the most relaxing feeling I’ve ever had. My husband even said he could hear my heart one night, which made me feel even worse. The hunger for carbs was overwhelming until I started on carbimazole, which dulled the appetite. I couldn’t even get all the food I wanted, because I’d get full and then be hungry an hour later. Nothing was able to keep me energised and I was bored of eating the same things but trying to avoid filling up on sugary foods (which I did occasionally do). My anxiety was the worst thing. I’d be going about my daily life and then, apropos of nothing, get a feeling that I was about to die. My stomach would churn, I’d get sweaty, and feel complete panic, with nothing triggering it and no way of knowing when it was going to happen. I also couldn’t stop my mind from racing and worrying, in a pointlessly circular track that said, ‘I can’t teach, I can’t teach, I can’t teach’, or ‘I can’t plan, I can’t plan, I can’t plan’, and, occasionally, for a little respite from the shit talk about work, ‘I might die of cancer’. It was a laugh a minute in my head. Thank goodness that the betablockers have stopped most of this incessant self-imposed verbal abuse.
What to do
GP will refer to an endocrinologist for further testing. Ask for an antibody test to see if it’s Graves disease. This is the most common cause and is an autoimmune condition. It can lead to eye disease and needs to be managed. If, as in my case, the antibody test comes back negative, it’ll need further testing. It could still be Graves as some people don’t show antibodies even though they have it. You need an ultrasound or a thyroid uptake test to see if it’s nodules, most of which are benign. The treatment is similar in any case. It might be an anti-thyroid drug like carbimazole, which makes you knackered for a bit but eventually works. After a while you might be offered radioactive iodine, which kills the thyroid and then you have to take thyroxine for the rest of your life. This is called ‘block and replace’. Whatever the treatment, you need regular blood tests for ever after to make sure the thyroid levels are right.
Some GPs are crap and some are great. I had a crap one first and then asked for another one because the crap one said he couldn’t prescribe anything and I’d have to wait for the endocrinologist. This was a lie and downright dangerous as my free T4 was rising rapidly and had doubled in two weeks. A GP can prescribe carbimazole and also betablockers for the palpitations and high heart rate. The worst symptom for me was anxiety and I’m so happy to be able to say that in the past tense as just one day on betablockers has knocked it out. So far my 10mg a day of carbimazole is doing nothing so that’s under review at the next blood test.
Our poor NHS is gasping for air and a hair’s breadth away from irretrievable decline. I was told 18 weeks for an endocrinologist and, in the event, it was 12. With the small possibility that it might be something malignant I have decided to see a private endocrinologist for £200 a pop plus the cost of any tests. I realise that I’m privileged to have some savings and not everybody does. But if you do, or if you can shove £2000 on a credit card and pay it back over a few months, I’d recommend getting it sorted asap.
Recommendations for living with an overactive thyroid
Go to bed early and nap during the day even if you only have time for 10 mins.
Get on a beta blocker
Eat as many carbs as you can fit in your belly
Do some yoga (I can’t be bothered but I know I should)
Walk every day and get some fresh air. Don’t try and run unless you’re a nutter like me
Lift some weights as this disease wastes your muscles and can cause osteoporisis
Eat a ton of calcium foods. For me it’s enriched plant milks. Bones will need it.
Get a journal and write down all the worries. There will be loads. Writing them helps.
Talk to anybody who will listen. This is a time when friends are needed.
Making things better is the mission that drives me. In every aspect of life, I try to make things better for myself.
Making things better is the mission that drives me. In every aspect of life, I try to make things better for myself. Relationships, nutrition, work life, home environment, fitness and strength, education and understanding of the world. It’s not just myself that I try to better: other people and animals are a part of my mission. In my teaching career, I have strived to provide children with a better understanding of literature and the worlds within the texts that we read. As a mum, I worked relentlessly to give my children a better childhood than mine, and better opportunities as they grew up. As a friend and acquaintance, I try to support others to achieve better states of mind and happier lives. As a vegan, I want to improve animal rights and the environment.
Alongside these worthy thoughts and dreams, I have become aware of a subtext, born directly from my inner ‘truth’ that I must always get better. I regularly find myself pestered by thoughts and ruminations about all the times in my life that I have got things wrong, and I haven’t known how to handle the sense of failure. The list is long and goes back to incidents at school where I made up stories for attention. ‘My cat has had kittens’, I told the class one afternoon, in circle time. When a friend turned up at the house, with her mum, to buy one, the truth was revealed. I’d made it up because I wanted the class to look at me with the ‘oohs’ and ‘aaaahs’ that other children received, with their exciting lives. I can still feel the shame of that doorstep conversation, with my mortified mum denying the existence of any kittens, and my friend’s accusatory voice. ‘But Ruth told the whole class!’ she persisted, disappointed and shocked.
I don’t intend to write a list of my failures here. The kitten story is difficult enough to confess, even now, although it happened when I was five. There are many more. I’ve been bitchy, two-faced, untruthful, cruel, weak and immature. I have a failed marriage, which still bothers me. He wasn’t the only one who messed up. I did, too. Many, many times. It’s true that we were never compatible, and something was always off from the get-go, but there were times that I behaved badly and it’s difficult to live with that.
Why is it so difficult to know that I haven’t always been ‘good’? I guess in my case there is a lot of conditioning behind that. A Christian girl should be (insert a list of self-sacrificing bullshit). Raised in a small sect of conservative Christianity, wearing a headscarf in church and being taught that men are leaders and women should submit to their leadership, I knew that I wasn’t supposed to feel, or express, anything challenging. Taught that self-denial is a virtue, I learned to keep my true self hidden, and I simply behaved ‘well’ and mimicked the words and actions of others, to ensure my own acceptance and safety. It has always felt like a terrible thing to say, ‘I failed’. Getting things wrong is not acceptable. I have tied myself in knots, time after time, trying to convince myself that what I did was understandable, and what I said was actually alright. Given the circumstances, I couldn’t have done different etc etc. ‘I failed’ has never been a phrase that I could live with. It has seemed like a pointing finger – pointing to damnation and self-loathing. In trying to forgive and accept myself, I have exhausted my frazzled mind attempting to justify and explain away my mistakes and wrongdoings. When asking myself, ‘Am I a good person?’, I find that the failures make the answer a firm ‘no’.
Until this morning. As I bumbled about, getting my breakfast and cogitating on the previous few days, analysing everything and anything as usual, something changed in my thinking. I considered a recent failure, and instead of trying to justify it to myself, I said aloud, ‘I failed’. The world did not change. I said it again, with a growing smile: ‘I failed’. It was strangely freeing and acceptable as I found myself accepting that failure is human. We can be glorious and we can be diabolical. I have been glorious and I have been diabolical. We all fail. Instead of justifying and explaining, I accepted, this morning, that I sometimes fail, and that’s not great but neither is it a disaster. It is a fact. If I wish to forgive myself, I must first acknowledge that I was wrong. It wasn’t OK. It was crap. But that doesn’t make me any worse than the next person. I’m no better and I’m no worse. The average person gets many things wrong. Even the most saintly type has a bad day. So today I see my failures. They make me human. ‘I failed’. And what? It would be impossible to stop trying to get things right, to take the better path and to be the kindest version of myself possible every day. But when I fail, I fail – and from now on, those are the times that I will put my arms around my fragile, failing self and remind myself that forgiveness and compassion are the most important qualities of human kindness, even and especially when it comes to ourselves.
In order to raise sponsorship money for my sixteen year old son’s school trip to Peru with Camps International, we decided to attempt the Yorkshire Three Peaks challenge. Our initial idea, to complete the National Three Peaks attempt, was a logistical headache for a full-time teacher and single mum with limited date options, no time to organise a group effort, and a summer house move. The Yorkshire option takes less time, is straightforward in terms of driving and accommodation and is allegedly manageable for anyone with a decent level of fitness. I duly looked up the official challenge website, ordered a pack of information and maps, booked a date, told Billy to keep it free and got round to thinking about planning the finer details a few days before going.
(First: don’t leave planning until the last minute)
Planning the trip so late in the day was risky but luckily I managed to find accommodation at The Station Inn for £12.50 per person per night. The Inn is only eight miles away from the start at Horton-in-Ribblesdale and is a friendly, traditional country pub with hearty food and a bunkhouse for walkers or bed and breakfast in the inn. We wanted to spend as little as possible as the trip was a fundraiser. It was a last minute panic, though, as several places were fully booked and I had underestimated the enormous popularity of the Yorkshire Dales as late as October. The day before leaving, we hurriedly checked the map, thinking it would be easy to map out the suggested route. The pack from the Yorkshire Three Peaks challenge website includes three Ordnance Survey maps, one for each peak and surrounding areas, as well as a little plastic card per peak. The cards are helpful as little pocket-sized reminders but aren’t detailed enough for use as standalone directions. No doubt the maps are accurate and up to date but we have no experience of reading them and the symbols and lines left me befuddled. However, we weren’t too concerned as some friends had assured us that the paths are really easy to find and that the route is well signed.
(Second: Don’t believe people who say the route is obvious)
If you don’t know how to map read with a compass, learn. Or take somebody who knows how. Just don’t try starting in the half-darkness at 6.50am in October, armed with a map that you can’t read very well and no idea which direction to take. We arrived at Horton-in-Ribblesdale at 6am in the pitch black and waited in the car until it was light enough to start. The night before, in the pub, we’d chatted to the group at the next table, who had paid for a guide and were starting at 6.30am. With no idea how long we’d take to walk round, we got up at 5 next morning, grabbed a roll and a cereal bar each, glugged some water and left for the Horton car park, which took about 20 minutes. A guy who had arrived even earlier, and was parked near us, was walking about with his head torch on (oh yes, taking a head torch would have helped at this point) and, when we met at the ticket machine, I discovered that he was the other group’s paid guide, had driven up from his home in the Peak District, and was just waiting for his clients.
(Third: Research the hours of daylight in advance)
It would have made more sense for us to check the time of sunrise and sleep a bit longer at the inn, as we ended up dozing with our seats tipped back until we began to see the light seeping through the trees and decided to make a start. We knew, from various websites, that walkers can officially check in at the Pen-y-ghent café, which is next to the village car park, in order to receive an official time, but figured that the café would be closed at that time in the morning, so we made a note of the time and left. Later, we discovered from other walkers that we could have signed a slip of paper with our names and start times and put it through the door, doing the same on our return.
We left before the other group arrived, full of confidence that there would be a clear sign, hopefully with ‘Yorkshire Three Peaks’ written in large letters for all to see. Our little card told us to start at Horton train station and take the footpath to Brackenbottom and then on up to Pen-y-ghent. There was no sign for Brackenbottom anywhere and no sign of a footpath. It was so cold that thinking was difficult and so foggy that seeing further than a few metres was impossible. We felt ill-equipped and scared of going the wrong way and wasting time, so decided to wait for the group and see where they went. When they saw us loitering with our teeth chattering it was obvious that we had no idea what we were doing and we accompanied them over the railway crossing, onto a footpath, and into the surrounding fields in the swirling mist. I confessed to the oldest man in the party that we were struggling to make sense of our map and offered to pay something towards the cost of their guide if we continued to tag along with them. He was very gracious about it and said not to worry, the guide had already been paid, but agreed that I would buy them all a drink later in the pub and maybe give the guide a tip. All very good, but clearly we shouldn’t have been so blasé about finding the way.
Filled with determination and anticipation, we strode along for a few miles. After around an hour, we started to climb. Periodically, I was checking the OS map for Pen-y-ghent, trying to figure out where to go if we ended up going ahead or falling behind. It made absolutely no sense. We didn’t appear to be heading towards Pen-y-ghent, according to my reckoning, but I trusted their guide and we stayed with them until we reached the craggy ascent. The pleasant, wide field path became paved, narrow, slippy and steep, winding its way around the mountainside. Billy and I walked ahead and resolutely ploughed on until we reached a plateau near the top. As I headed around the last sharp bend, Billy was standing on the ridge with the sun almost breaking through the white, opaque mist and the ethereal light lent a mystical quality to the scene. We stopped and played around with our phones, taking pictures for a while, both entranced.
Approaching a looming, stone-built monument, we figured we must be at or near the summit, and managed, with freezing fingers, to hook out our first rolls and cereal bars from our rucksacks, painstakingly and clumsily unwrapping them and rewarding our efforts with some high-energy snacks. We did get the food right! We had made up five rolls and five bagels, filled with peanut butter, wrapped them in cling film and packed them into plastic bags the day before. We had also packed about ten cereal bars and ten bananas, as well as six or seven 330ml bottles of water each. Towards the end, a couple more water bottles would have been welcome, but what we took felt ok. Replenished, we looked at the direction card and the map again and found it of no help whatsoever. There didn’t appear to be any path apart from the one on which we had ascended, yet according to the OS map, there should be another that would begin our long haul to Whernside via the Ribblehead viaduct. We wandered the ridge for a while, found nothing, got a little concerned about falling over the edge, circled back to the monument, heard voices and reunited with the other group. When one of them asked if we had a compass, and we replied in the negative, he looked pityingly at us and I admitted that we evidently didn’t have a brain between us. This didn’t appear to impress him. We followed them back down the way we had come, which completely baffled me, forking off to the left and down a very steep, slippery and treacherous route all the way down to flatter ground, where we took a paved, well-maintained path through very boggy land for an hour or so, eventually reaching a road. Assuming that we’d want to go ahead again, the guide pointed towards a distant zigzagging trail up the side of a ridge and said that this was the way up to Whernside.
‘Whernside?’ I queried. According to my route, that should have been a ten mile hike, and we must have only done a couple. I was still utterly confused and asked the guide to show me our current location on the map. He looked at it and pointed out that it was the map of Pen-y-ghent.
‘Yes’, I replied.
‘We’ve just done Ingleborough. Your route is taking you anti-clockwise. I’m taking them clockwise’, he informed me.
It took a few seconds for this stunning piece of information to sink in. It was slightly weird to realise that we had climbed a different mountain to the one we thought we had climbed, but at least the map now made sense. Not wishing to go on about it, as our ineptitude was becoming a glaringly apparent embarrassment, Billy and I walked steadily ahead all the way to the top of Whernside, determined to manage independently now we knew which direction we were going in. The climb up this way was tough. Really steep and intense and near the top my asthma kicked in and I wheezed like a steam train for about three minutes, wishing I’d brought my inhaler.
(Fourth: don’t tell yourself you won’t need your meds)
After feeling faint and almost vomiting, I thankfully recovered my breathing and carried on. Following the ridge up to the peak was less challenging – a nice, steady climb – and the midday sun infused the shades of auburn, brown and green with a vibrant, iridescent quality. The undulating moors swept away epically towards the surrounding horizon where distant peaks formed a dramatic frame for this massive panorama. It was warm now and we walked comfortably, stopping briefly at the peak and chatting to a seventy year old lady who had been climbing these dales since she was a lass and looked as solid and indestructible as any of them.
Billy wasn’t keen on stopping for too long. He isn’t competitive, he reminded me, along with his opinion that I was the one who would be gutted to fail the twelve hour time limit. The path down to the Ribblehead Viaduct and beyond, to the foothills of Pen-y-ghent, was easy to follow, clearly signed and for me the most enjoyable section of our walk. The viaduct was impressive at 3pm, its geometric shapes in sharp relief against the pure, blue sky and its light grey stonework stark in the afternoon light. Billy was intrigued by caterpillars, stopping a couple of times to watch hairy specimens inching across the path, and later finding a newly emerged butterfly with dark, folded wings that opened into a burst of kaleidoscope patterns. Otherwise, he found this part tedious as it really was a trek and, at sixteen, he is built for short bursts of energy and challenge, not ten mile hikes on flat ground.
We were caught up just before the viaduct by a young walker, flying along at a speed just short of a run. We walked together for a while, which picked our pace up considerably. After telling us about his and his wife’s adoption plans and having a deep, philosophical discussion of the type that can only happen between strangers on trains, walks or holidays, he pointed us in the direction of the best route towards Pen-y-ghent (which wasn’t even on our OS map) and headed back to his car. He was training to run the entire three peaks route next summer and was just cooling down when we met him. Crazy but brilliant; I have to admire the fitness and training commitment of anyone who can do that.
(Fourth: don’t forget to chat to other walkers)
Our day was enriched by our brief encounters with others. We asked some for directions, with helpful outcomes, and were asked for tips by others, which was generally pretty pointless for them, but were consistently met with friendliness, humour and genuine kindness. There is something about the scenery and the exercise that brings out the best in people (or walkers are just great people). The path to Pen-y-ghent was a bit confusing. We evidently followed the Pennine Way for a bit too long, observing the many surprising similarities between the Yorkshire Dales and Tolkien’s middle earth, then sort of doubled back on ourselves in the end, only a couple of miles from Horton-in-Ribblesdale. It was mildly tempting to give up. By this time, our legs were leaden, our shoulders ached from our rucksacks and we had little left to give. But a fleeting glimpse of a little red squirrel daintily skimming a garden gate and streaking up into the trees made us smile again.
We braced ourselves for the final push, ate another roll, banana and cereal bar each and took a left turn that took us, flagging now, over two or three little hills and then steadily and relentlessly up and around the shoulder of the mountain, higher and higher along the ridge and finally straight up a shale path to the peak. That final two or three hundred metres was the killer for both of us. Billy found it demoralising to walk at my pace so ploughed straight up and waited for almost half an hour at the top. I had to stop a couple of times for extra layers. My hands had swollen to a ridiculous size and looked and felt weird. The sun was cooling, the wind chill was biting, I had a runny nose and chapped lips and an inner voice that persisted in querying my judgment in undertaking this enterprise.
(Fifth: don’t leave your gloves in the cupboard)
No need to dwell on that one. Just take some. As I grimly shuffled up this last steep climb, I experienced the kind of jelly legs and heavy exhaustion only previously felt during the last leg of the London Marathon. Granted, I’m not as fit as I was, but can still run ten miles with relative ease and this was crazy hard. At the top, I was emotional with relief and enormous pride. Billy was equally knackered but summoned up his last ounce of strength and managed to climb up onto the tor to pose for a photo. He took a picture of me in return that went straight into the recycle bin. I looked slumped and haggard and beyond the effort of expressing any emotion. Within minutes, the original group arrived. Clearly, we had taken a longer route than was necessary, given that we had been at least an hour ahead of them all the way from Whernside. Three of their seven had dropped out with injury or exhaustion and the remaining four looked exactly how we felt. Billy and I started our descent, waving goodbye, only to see the guide pointing in the opposite direction and shouting through the wind that his way was quicker.
(Ref the second point about route planning skills)
We descended to Horton-in-Ribbesdale with the sun treating us by anointing our surroundings and ourselves with a fantastical tangerine-tinted transcendence. Inspired by the imminent finish, we were renewed with a sense of wonder, so I took some photographs and sent them to my boyfriend, while Billy informed me that I’d done this too many times already and exhorted me to hurry up because the group were catching us up and that couldn’t happen because it would be stupid (along with a reminder of my competitive streak and his own disinterest in our time). So we shuffled faster with strange, distorted movements, comparing notes about sore toes, tight calves, dodgy kneecaps and shortened hip flexors, all the way back to the picturesque country lane that meandered back to the little car park where we started. We offered the guide a tip but he opted for a beer in the nearby pub instead. Once in there, warmed and refreshed, in a perfectly fitting finale to our epic day, he congratulated us both on our mother-son team effort and tactfully suggested that we meet up with him in the Peaks for a course that he teaches in navigation skills.
I’ve recently started actively trying to unlearn the weight bias and eating choices foisted upon me by diet culture, by following the anti-diet, ‘health at every size’ nutritionist @laurathomasphd, and by listening to a number of her podcasts, including one recently with guest Fiona Willer. She acerbically referred to her ‘phase’ of being a ‘vegetarian’ and how ‘we all go through it’. As a vegan of 12 years standing who is highly unlikely to ever go back to being an omnivore, I was a little concerned to hear vegetarianism labelled as part of a phase that everybody goes through, and I have seen advice on a number of body positive blogs to eating what you like and ‘screwing’ diet culture, which seems to include any diet that cuts out whole food groups.
As it is for many people, food is a complex issue for me. Since my first diet at the age of 13, which resulted in significant weight loss, a slimmer silhouette and a ton of compliments, I have weight cycled my anxiety-riddled way through life and, just when I thought I’d finally beaten my binge-eating disorder, and achieved four years of highly socially acceptable thinness and fitness, I was forced by a number of difficult family circumstances to acknowledge that I was FAR from well, and was indeed living my life under the tyrannical laws of numbers, scales, calories and prescribed doses of excessive exercise. I was diagnosed with bulimia, and realised that my exercise was almost exclusively compensatory and completed with weight management in mind. There was little joy in it, and I felt compelled to burn hundreds of calories per day even when exhausted and stressed. I lost my periods and am still a little confused as to why a doctor didn’t pick up on the link between my disordered eating and the menstrual problem. They said it could be menopause but it wasn’t, as once I embarked upon a course of most excellent counselling and regained some eating normality, I returned to full health in that respect.
So far, so good. I am so over diet culture and am now angry at the way that it messed up my relationship with food, my body and my ability to set a healthy example to my children. I am angry that a white, thin body is the only type to be actively admired by the vast majority of our population. I am even angrier that the vast majority of our population spend so much bloody time thinking about the appearance of our bodies when there are so many more important things to do than to focus on how much people weigh and the size of their thighs. Why is it all about being ‘sexy’? For heaven’s sake, we don’t all have sex twenty-four-seven and I’m sure people don’t think about it anywhere near as much as the advertising industry would have us believe. I say ‘people’ loosely as it’s still primarily women who are constantly objectified in this demeaning way, but I am aware that many of our young men are developing ‘bigorexia’ and muscle dysmorphia in response to the objectification and rampant sexualisation of the male body also.
I really admire @bodyposipanda and I love what many of the #bopo community are doing on social media. However, the narrative is still ‘beauty’ and what constitutes ‘beauty’. Whilst I am completely in agreement that thin white bodies are far from the only ‘beautiful’ body type, I cannot help but feel sad and sorry that we are apparently reduced to whether we are ‘beautiful’ or not. Do we have to be? Are we simply here for our aesthetic or our fuckability? I really think the world would be a better place if we could simply be ourselves with all our flaws, and ugly bits, and just get on with our relationships with each other, and talk, and listen, and try to fix important things like, for example, the pressing concerns of global warming, social inequality, the iron tight hold of big corporations on our economy and this self-absorbed and corrupt government that is literally throwing people from our most vulnerable demographic out to the coldness of our city’s streets.
As for veganism, I’d like to point out to the body positive and health inclusive community that it is far, far more important than a diet. Many vegans are indeed unhealthily obsessed with kale smoothies, avocado and sourdough and protein smoothies for their post-gym refuel, and doubtless many middle-class white women are vegan for the alleged magic of vegan detox mumbo jumbo peddled by the likes of Simply Ella. I’m not denying that this exists and is an extension of diet culture rubbish, marketed under the guise of ‘health’. But for the vast majority of us, we have become irrevocably convinced that the meat industry is cruel, unsustainable and immoral. We do not want to contribute to the suffering of dairy cows who are separated from their calves. We don’t want to contribute to an industry that sends young, helpless male calves on a 3 day trip to Spain to be sold for veal. It’s obscene. We also want to make a difference to global warming and veganism is the single biggest thing we can do to achieve this.
Veganism isn’t perfect. Soya products are grown in cleared rainforest, and orangutangs and other wildlife are affected by this, but the vast majority of soy is grown to feed cattle. Stop the demand for cattle rearing and a tiny fraction of that soy would feed the same number of humans. We can’t be perfect and none of us are, but veganism really makes sense. I wouldn’t change my lifestyle for the world, and am now body positive, anti-diet and more and more ‘woke’ by the day (stupid word but relevant). So don’t take a genuinely moral stance, one that will change the world, and dismiss it as a diet or a fad. You can be a vegan whatever your size, shape, ethnicity, sexuality or socio-economic status (although the government needs to make fresh foods more affordable, to be honest, but that’s a different post). And I hope that the vegan trend will continue to grow. Now off to browse @thevegankind for some very anti-diet Christmas treats.
This is a ramble about breaking up for Christmas and the mental space that accompanies that. Every time a term ends, I feel weird for the first few days of the holidays. Often, the weirdness is accompanied by illness. Everybody likes to mock teachers for our apparently pathetic moanings, holiday ailments and constant tiredness. But it’s an experience common to most, if not all of us. And the reason is that we go from fast and furious, bustling busyness to mental silence, overnight. The adrenaline continues to pump, the cortisol levels are up, and the only thing to stress about is, in my case, vegan Christmas dinner. So the adrenals are pumped and primed for constant fight or flight, and there’s a shopping list and some wrapping. That’s it. The body then decides to get ill, just so that it has something to do with itself. Orange juice, vegetable smoothies, little walks and plenty of sleep don’t seem to do anything to help. Fingers crossed this year might be a healthy first.
Now I’ve got a day to reflect, though, I’ve decided to acknowledge the facts, in writing, to remember every year, in order to respect my 47 year old, understandably tired end of term self. I started a new job in September, in a very different school, with kids who are more defiant and a lot tougher than those in my previous job. I stepped back from having additional responsibility to being ‘just a teacher’, which means more lesson planning and more marking and more time in the classroom for less money. I’ll be applying for a TLR again asap! These kids rubbed their hands together in glee when I stepped into the classroom. Year 10s who had had four different teachers over the past two years, had developed a self-appointed reputation as being a tough class and saw a kind, smiley new teacher, older than their parents, with a ‘posh voice’, thought that they’d have a ball. They did. There was paper throwing, loud singing, noise so loud that I couldn’t speak over them, a perpetually husky voice on my part and four hours a week of hell in a classroom. The same, to a lesser extent, with two year 9 groups.
I had to ask for support from my HoD. I felt ashamed of this. The class were rude, obnoxious, loud and manipulative. They’d behave impeccably when the HoD stepped into the room. They behaved beautifully when I was inspected by Ofsted. But the minute it was just them and me, they went wild. Blue slips, detentions, arguments and about a hundred confrontations in the corridor later, they now like me. At least that’s something. But the reality is that they’ll never be a well-behaved class. And I had to decide whether to up sticks and leave the school in despair or stick the bugger out. It’s a very good school, outstanding in fact. But the teachers are tough and I’m having to get tougher. I’m from a council estate in Margate but I’ve become middle class and I’ve got used to teaching ‘nice’ kids. This is a journey into the rougher-edged side of teaching. I’m not going to leave. These kids are little shits but I was one, too, and still am, deep within, and I’ve stopped being ‘posh’ and started shouting back, louder and stronger. I hear myself yelling ‘WHAT ARE YOU SMILING AT?’, ‘HAVE YOU FINISHED?’ or ‘GET OUT OF MY CLASSROOM UNTIL YOU CAN BEHAVE’ in a way that I’ve never done before. It’s strangely liberating and the children seem to like it. Very bizarre. But my lessons are still a circus. It’s like being an NQT again.
Every morning, we wake up in the dark and try to dress in a professional manner. We get to school and have to lead a tutor time and 4 or 5 hour long lessons with children who will do anything and everything not to complete any work. The lessons have to be planned to the enth degree so as not to give any opportunity for unstructured talking time, which can get rapidly out of control. There is no time in between except for a 20 minutes break, 5 of which is taken up with behaviour talks and another 5 taken up with setting up the next lesson ready to go the minute they stroll through that door, shouting and hollering like hooligans. Lunchtime often comprises of sitting with a defiant detention completer, or even worse, a chatty one who just wants to be mates, when all we really want is a cuppa soup and some quiet. Admin, planning and marking has to be completed outside of school time and we are never up to date.
This term my anxiety got out of hand again and I got diagnosed with severe Generalised Anxiety Disorder and moderate depression. I’m back on meds, Citalopram this time. It works a dream and I’m much calmer now. Lots of teachers are on anti depressants but we rarely discuss it, because there’s little tolerance for mental illness in schools. This is still the case, ironically, because my GP said that her most stressed patients are teachers. She offered me time off but understood that, as a teacher, this is often a career killer. Self-help sounds like a great option but it takes time and attention, neither of which we can afford in term time. We either change our circumstances or change our brain chemistry. In my case, the former isn’t an option and the latter is practical and works.
In my opinion, the only thing that will make teaching a feasible and enjoyable job again is another curriculum reform and a re-visit of teachers’ employment conditions. The kids are bored of Shakespeare and Dickens and trying to teach this in a low ability 11 plus fail school with some kids barely being able to spell or punctuate properly is utterly pointless and frustrating for all concerned. They love writing stories, creating characters and settings, reading relateable stories and sharing their own experiences. Not reading about Victorian England in language that they cannot access. I feel sorry for them and was delighted when said Year 10s announced that Pip is a ‘wasteman’ and a ‘melt’, because at least it showed some engagement.
Most of us love teaching and are good at it, given the right curriculum, support and time. But teachers are leaving in their droves, feeling like failures, when it’s the system that is failing, not them.
This term has been challenging. There have been some good moments with lower school: Year 7 and 8 are fantastic fun to teach and my Year 12 language class are equally lovely. But the daily reality and the Sunday anxiety has been quite crippling at times and I fully understand why young teachers leave in their droves. What should be a wonderful career is blighted by the stupidity of education ministers who know nothing about a classroom, and by expectations of achievement that are beyond all possibility, given that socio-economic status and home circumstances are far more influential in a child’s life than anything a school or an individual teacher can do.
This has turned into a rant about teaching, but sadly this term has been very much about coming to terms with a new job, and that has taken precedence over setting up a new home with my new husband. When we need the steady income and the personal sense of efficacy that a job brings, it becomes a pressing priority, and I can but hope that the work-life balance rights itself as the new year progresses.
And to all struggling, tired, anxious and disheartened teachers out there, have a bloody good break, do whatever you have to do to get some quality time and don’t give up unless you have to. Things will eventually get better. They always do.
I started running, age 31 or thereabouts, to help with weight loss. I’d gained a couple of stone during three pregnancies, breastfeeding and several years of being a stay at home Mum. I ate for comfort, to relieve boredom and to reward myself for the hours of cleaning, cooking, wiping up, tidying, entertaining, comforting, teaching and training. When Billy was 3 I went to university to do an English degree and after that, to become a teacher. It was then that I lost weight, through healthy eating and exercise, and began a regular jogging practice. My love of the peace and quiet of a solitary run through fields and lanes developed during this time. The calming sound of my footsteps, the steady breathing pattern, the gentle sounds of wildlife and the rustling of grass became necessary me-time. This really helped me to tone up and maintain the weight loss, and I built up to half marathon distance and ran my first Leicester half in 2 hours and 4 minutes (I think). But my speed didn’t really pick up until we moved to Stoneygate and I decided that some running buddies would be nice and joined the Leicester Roadhoggs (with Jackie and Clare below).
2. Friendly Competition
My first training run, on a Wednesday night, was with the now legendary Jackie Brown, who is a regular winner or in the top 5 in her age category in league races and other events across the country. She is a brilliant runner now, but then, on our first Roadhoggs run, we were well matched. She pushed me on, being slightly quicker and much more determined, and I came away feeling exhausted but happy. Regular training runs with other people made me quicker.
I began running league races and my first Glooston 10k I did in around 48 minutes. I was very competitive with others of similar ability, and really enjoyed xc. My fastest time was on the Boxing Day handicap at Barrow-upon-Soar, where I achieved a 46 minute 10k with a slight hangover. I began to experience a runner’s high, which I only got when I pushed myself to the max. Like a drug, it made me feel exhilarated and, when it happened, I felt as though I was floating around the course, all pain gone, no effort, totally in this wonderful, bubble-like zone. I’d be aware that I was overtaking other runners and was smiling as I glided along. It was incredible. I began to chase the high and relish it when it came.
I started doing some speed work with Roadhoggs at Saffron Lane and built up to my first London marathon, which I ran for YMCA. I trained up to 39 miles a week and achieved a sub 4 (just). But a chest infection kicked in about a month before the marathon and my asthma flared up badly. I had to take a couple of weeks off and began to consider that doing that mileage as well as being a full time teacher was a bit much. I know people who run 100 miles a week and can only admire their incredible stamina and commitment. My problem might have stemmed from the sudden increase, due to following a training plan, and a more consistent pattern would have been better. I also became obsessive about maintaining a low body fat percentage, counted calories religiously and worked out every day, always worried about loss of performance or weight gain.
Shortly after this, my daughter became ill and many troubles began at home. She developed an eating disorder and ran to shed excess calories. There were two awful years and I undertook the steepest learning curve of my life. Supporting her through the ED was the most difficult thing for a parent to do, and I tried to do it well. There were many failures and difficulties on my part but she persevered in her recovery and she taught me how to help her. She got good help eventually and, in turn, I began to recognise my own problems with food and exercise. During this time, albeit for negative reasons, she got very good at running and, as she recovered, she used this ability to set herself the goal of completing a half marathon. Running over the finishing line with her was one of the proudest moments of my life. She’d experienced rock bottom at such a young age, had achieved so much recovery, ran her half in just under 2 hours and, most importantly, raised several hundred pounds for BEAT, an eating disorders charity.
During these difficult years, several good friends forced me to go out running, and it served as a kind of therapy. But three years after the marathon, my marriage was over and I was a single parent on anti-depressants. I completely lost the urge to run beyond a jog. The pills made me calm, relaxed and clear-headed. They were definitely worth it for the benefit to my mental health, and helped me to benefit from counselling, but I gained over a stone in weight as I addressed my obsession with dieting and found ways to manage my now very different life. My metabolism seemed to have slowed and I felt bloated every time I ate. On the plus side, I went from crying for hours on the sofa every night to feeling normal.
Part of a Balanced Lifestyle
My full recovery to pill-free mental health took a year, and during that time I ran my second London marathon. But it was a different animal this time. My training consisted of one long run every Sunday, up to 20 miles, as I ambled along from Stoneygate to Billesden and back again, thoroughly enjoying the view and the experience. My weeks were too busy to run. I struggled to find time between working full time, running around as chauffeur to my youngest, and conducting a long distance relationship. I ran the marathon in 4 hours and 16 minutes, with my partner cheering me on in his rugby coach voice that boomed out across the crowds and made me feel like a champion.
Since then, I’ve maintained a commitment to running but it’s very different. The competitive streak has disappeared and I’m genuinely happy for other people to overtake me and improve beyond what I’m prepared to commit to. I always aim to run for 2.5 hours a week and often manage 2. My last half marathon took 2 hours and 4 minutes (back to the early days) and the only way I’d get quicker again would be to lose the stone and train more. The thought of doing that fills me with gloom. My latest health check revealed that I’m in excellent shape. My diet is good and I’m happy and healthy. I no longer count calories and I eat to nourish my body and mind. Nowadays, it seems unnecessary to get all worked up about improving my speed.
So I run a few times a week, because it’s enjoyable to explore the lanes and fields, to hear my breathing, to feel the mind-body connection and to enjoy my physicality. My long runs are slow ambles for 6-7 miles, more if there’s a half or a big event coming up. I enjoy doing 5k fundraisers, like the Louth Run for Life, with Tim. I do yoga most days, which would have bored me to tears previously. Meditation has become part of my overall self-care, and I’m much better at acknowledging how I feel, what I need and where to find support as well as when to give it. And when I occasionally feel energised enough to push myself, like I did at the Hungarton 7 2017, I still get the runner’s high. It’s great when it happens, but I don’t chase it, because life is sweet enough to go without.
Packing up my house contents for the second time in two years means re-visiting the memory box. It’s more interesting than Ebaying vintage die cast cars. In my memory box, I found things I’ve kept since the age of 10. My school projects (that my Mum did), cards and letters, and my signed Clarendon House Grammar School for girls blouse, covered in scribbles containing advice such as ‘watch out for the boys’ from when I was 14 and about to move to Milton Keynes. I did watch out for the boys. I bloody loved them.
Some excerpts from my diary age 14-16. I feel they show my development:
Maths – ah oh! More algebra – I HATE the stuff!
Pete’s got his eyes bandaged ‘coz of welding with no wotsit.
I’ll write out the Greatest Love of All now OK? (and did)
PS I’m badly in love. I’m only 14 but I swear to heaven that this is love. Sorry, I don’t swear, but I’m positive that I’m IN LOVE. AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!
(in mirror writing) I’m going out with a boy called Jason. He’s black.
Last night Mum, Dad and I had a massive WAR over Shaun.
I love Wig more than I did Shaun, and if I love someone, I’m not just gonna give up. It really isn’t so unreasonable at 16 to want a boyfriend.
In 10 mins I’m going! Breaking out at long last – I can’t quite believe it but I think it’s gonna happen! I’ll write back later. I’ve written Mum a note. She’s playing with Jonathan – I’ll slip out soon. Man am I scared!! Hi. It’s 11.10pm and I’m back. Wow I did it!!
Dad blah blah blah mum moan dad wants to meet Wig to tell him off dad don’t respect Wig cos he won’t finish with me no pocket money and they’re selling the piano. Wow that did hurt. The piano goes and my main life goes. I’m not joking I’ll be depressed without that piano I need it it’s part of my life.
Hi. All I’ve done today is talk to teachers. First, Mrs Lawrence was persuading me to stay on the 6th form because she said I’m too intelligent HAHA and I’d be bored doing typing. Thing is I really want to earn money and be independent. I think in my situation that would be good. Later on Mr Andrews said the same thing and we had a really long talk about Mum and Dad and Wig etc. He said he’d come across very religious people in a Christian guest house who based their whole lives on the bible and so he could understand Mum and Dad. I didn’t slag them down at all and Mr Andrews noticed that. He said he’d heard me talking to Ceilidh and she’d said ‘Oh you just oughta tell them to ____ _______’ and I said ‘yeah but they mean a lot to me’. So he said he wouldn’t know what to do.
Every day I’m gonna say whether or not I stuck to my diet. I did today. Had 952 calories. Exercise – walked in woods for ages and did some exercises to my fave songs for half an hour. Cor Richard is nice. I’m getting badly behind with the Bible and prayers and it is showing. I am HARD and COLD again and at the mo I’ll fall in lust and be besotted and GIVE IN if anyone pays me any attention so I MUST pray hard and read the bible even when I don’t feel like it. See I’m eyeing Richard up and I’m neglecting bible and those two factors make things very dangerous indeed.
I’m in a bit of a mood. Mr Mawer called me to this office in Maths. Said about my denim jacket and I argued a bit and he arranged for us both to count how many people in leather or denim jackets. He won the argument but he’s ok he was really nice and I like him now. Then after that he asked me about the time Nicole offered me crack. I didn’t know how he knew. Paul takes drugs too and I say it’s up to him if he wants to.
So it seems I liked my teachers and talked to them. I don’t remember any of that. I was kicked out of school half way through sixth form due to doing no work and spending most of the time skiving. I hung out at people’s houses or on the field mainly. I didn’t see the point of school any more and I started drug taking. I think I was depressed. I never knew it at the time, or for years later, or that I had a significant eating disorder. It’s so obvious looking back. I was troubled and anxious, eager to please and attention-seeking, upbeat and positive, and I wish I could talk to her, the girl in the diaries, whenever I read them.
I realise now that that’s what I do when I teach.
My latest set of cards, on leaving my current teaching job, will probably always move me. I have so many cards from vulnerable kids. This letter is a couple of years old and already getting tatty from being in my memory box. So I’m going to write it out as for me it proves that my life has become meaningful and my early experiences have formed my understànding.
I’ve been seeing a counsellor for my diagnosis of what experts call “Being a miserable fucker” for going on 5 years. When I finally mentioned it to Mr P, he was nothing but understanding and reassuring. He told the rest of my teachers, and a few of them even went out of their way to awkwardly ask me if I was okay. I appreciate their good intentions, but you were the only person who managed to say it and sound like a human being at the same time, and as you regrettably may know from your own experience, that goes an incredibly long way. You were always a great teacher, but I can’t thank you enough for being able to show empathy to somebody that at the time, desperately needed it. As it stands now, I’m both improving of my own accord and seeing a clinical psychologist, so fingers crossed for the future not being quite so grim. If I told you that you made learning fun I’d be a liar, but you were and are still a real inspiration, if not in English or Critical Thinking, then as a person. For a school that seems so full, it sometimes feels hard to find other human beings – for offering support, mercy and kindness when I needed it, you easily count for ten in my books. I hope this letter can convey at least a fraction of my appreciation, and I wish you all the best in future.