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Moved my fish to their new tank yesterday. Thus far, they are alive and seem to be happy. I have spotted several small snail like creatures since, sliding across the glass and on plants and ornaments, which is worrying. Apparently, snails can hitch a ride from the pet shop on live plants. I wish I knew that before I moved my fish. Do you know how hard it was to catch these fish? It was honestly stressful. They sure can swim fast. I guess when you are designed to exist at the bottom of the food chain, speed and the ability to hide yourself somewhere awkward is all you’ve got. It took at least half an hour to move five fish to a new tank right next door. I had to take out all the ornaments, filter and drain about 40% of the water, and when that failed, herd them with two nets.

There is no end to the way running an aquarium can surprise a person. That fish can. I perpetually feel like I’m doing something wrong and that’s there’s some problem to be fixed. So often, there is. All my Google terms on my phone are now fish related – what is this thing in my aquarium? Why is my fish behaving a certain way, how do fish get sick? If anything, I am developing a greater appreciation for our rivers and seas.

I spend too much time a) at the pet store and b) fretting over my fish.

“Back where I collected him, the landscape shimmered with color, the sky fizzed with fireworks, and he stood open mouthed in wonder”

It was my birthday on Saturday. 24 years old and definitely feeling it- although I think my anxiety over my age is actually more anxiety over the fact that it drives home the age of my family. My sister bought a house recently, my cousin had a baby, and on Saturday it was a year (exactly) since my own graduation. I think about where I’m at in life, and whether it’s at the right place, and feel anxious that I’m not. I don’t feel particularly adult. I feel a mess. I am lost and overwhelmed and trying to come to terms with my reality, but it’s hard.

On Saturday I went to the pet store to buy some plants and yet more fish tank accessories (it’s never ending) I got to see adorable axolotls, kittens and bunnies whilst there at least. (I nearly took home one of all, of course) I came home and planted and cleaned the new tank, and then prepared and fed peas to my fish, who actually seemed to enjoy them. I then had to clean the house- My parents were coming round for my birthday and I was nervous for their opinions on my flat. I shouldn’t have bothered. My mom started muttering about my flat as soon as she arrived- it feels like no matter what I do, it’s not good enough. My sister curled my hair and reassured me.and then thankfully we could leave/get out the house.

We went to a Mediterranean restaurant for an early supper. The restaurant was quiet at 5.30pm, which was nice. The food was divine- we ended up with starters, mains and dessert. The staff were lovely, and helpful. I asked the waiter about cream in my main meal, and he remembered it enough to come to our table after we’d order dessert and ask if the butter in the dessert was ok. (I felt a bit guilty saying yes. I probably shouldn’t have, but I love pastry too much) afterwards we drove into the city centre to watch let it be, a Beatles tribute. It was amazing. They’d obviously put a lot of effort into it and were likely mimicking specific performances to the smallest details. In between performances they showed clips, of Beatlemania (kpop fans have nothing over that, i thought to myself) and they even had an ad break with some old adverts that would definitely not be considered pc today. It was adorable watching my parents, especially my shy father, get into the show- cheering, dancing and singing along. For a time, not speaking to each other and absorbed in a common interest, we all got on, were even affectionate to each other. Afterwards we were happy and relaxed enough to get ice creams and chat pleasantly whilst eating them on the walk back to the car.

Sunday wasn’t as good. Everyone was a little tired. My mom in particular was in a bad mood. We went for a walk at a local park / botanic gardens and it was ok, at times. My mom was a dog with a bone: she wouldn’t stop nagging me, about the tiniest, most insignificant things. My mom holds my flat to standards she herself doesn’t apply to our family home and I don’t understand it.

I felt a little relieved when they all left. Which is terrible, but I was starting to feel smothered and way too criticised. Since then, work as usual. The days bleed into each other, always doing the same things. Keeping the same routine. I am tired, a little depressed.

“The four letter word got stuck in my head, the dirtiest word that I’ve ever said”

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I finally have a 120L (!) Fish tank. My fish have no idea what is in store for them.

The fish are still in their old tank, as I still need to get hold of some live plants for the new tank. But by next week my poor little fish in their hopelessly undersized tank will have a relative ocean available to them. As my mom pointed out, the old fish tank looks like a toy next to the proper tank, and it really hits home how bad it is to think of a 19L as anything more than a starter tank for a community of fish. Of course I’ll get more fish at some point, but I’m happy to make up for the months spent trapped in the tiny tank by leaving them to have all that space for themselves for a bit (Not to mention, I need to cycle the tank again!)

It’s taking ages to sort out this new tank.

After realising 19L is way, way too small to keep most fish I knew I had to get something bigger. The pet shop had recommended me 64L, but I figured I may as well get the biggest a) I could afford and b) would fit in my house. 120L matched both. The big challenge would be to find a nice, stable table to hold 120kg of water. I had been told that the stands that were made for the tanks were fine, but I didn’t like the narrow base- although reinforced with steel, I couldn’t see how such a narrow base could provide a stable surface. I looked at sideboards, cabinets, chest of drawers, desks and tables and finally, I stumbled upon workbenches and knew I’d found what I was looking for. I fell hard for the beautiful, solid wood workbenches sold by gardenlarch. The only problem was all their products were too long for my room. They did however mention that custom sizes were possible. I contacted them about a smaller desk and received a positive reply quickly. I was told to order the standard 1.45m and they’d then confirm the custom measurements with me. I happily did what I was told, emailed them back and received no response. Alarm bells should have gone off at this point and I should have enquired. Unfortunately, I was excited and this was making me impatient and trusting. The bench turned up – promptly and beautifully packed and most certainly 1.45m long. I was not quite sure what to do- I wanted the table already so I could get my tank. I wasn’t sure about returning something so large. My father said the table was beautiful, that the overhang would not be drastic and to just accept it. I accepted it. I wasn’t happy, but I was still too excited about the fish tank to care about much else.

My father came round to mine to set up the workbench and it was a stunning piece – very good quality wood, strong construction. I could even sit on it without any trouble, it was that strong. It was still too long. But now it really was too late. My dad said he could cut it down but he didn’t want to incase the wood became damaged and lost its strength. I was stuck with it. I tried to think of ways to get it to fit – to get it to look less dominating – but it would take quite a lot of reshuffling and I just didn’t have the energy for it. So in the end, the oversized table is where the smaller table should be and its looks way too big, and just not the right size for the tank, but hell, its strong and sturdy and beautiful. I really love it, despite its size. For the price I paid, I am quite shocked by the fact I got such high quality solid wood. Just look at that oak top! Honestly, I took a picture of just the oak top and I’m tempted to post it because its just stunning. They sanded it perfectly too so there’s no rough edges and the top surface feels so smooth. A good piece of oak furniture is usually hundreds of pounds, but this was under £200. I am now thinking of setting up some kind of canvas curtain to hide the amazing amount of fish keeping tools I have gathered over the months (and all those buckets) which I think will really complete it.

The bench was solid, untreated wood so I spent a couple of weeks oiling it with tung oil (a complete pain, but saved me £15) whilst I sorted out buying the fish tank. I already knew I wanted the Interpet Fish Pod – the curved design was wonderful, the price was right, and it came with all the bits I needed, even a whole lot of bits I don’t need – such as a heater. I had the tank delivered to my parents home because I knew I wouldn’t be in to receive it, and I wouldn’t be able to get the tank up the stairs to my apartment anyway.

Finally – last weekend my dad came to deliver the tank to myself. We went to the pet store first, where my father and I looked at all the fish, and I chattered away excitedly about what I wanted to get, and I must have sounded like I knew what I was on about as someone asked me for advice. That made me feel proud, especially for it to happen when my dad was there. I hope I gave good advice. I hope my dad was proud of me. Anyway, we bought gravel. Then we went back to mine to get started on setting the tank up. With my father around to help I could get the tank unwrapped and up on the bench, and my father helped me wash the new gravel and ornaments and get them into the tank. He also put in the lights for me, set up the filter, and attached the background. That makes it sound like I did nothing, but I was the one lugging bucket after bucket of water to fill the tank as he set up these things. 120L is a lot of tiny buckets of water. I am so glad I know that you don’t have to change all the water. Ever. Even changing 20% of this every week, initially, and every two weeks after that is going to be a challenge. I’m excited though. I can’t wait to get my fish in there and to see them finally with the set up they deserve. I can’t wait to get more fish! I am becoming slightly obsessed.

A week later the tank is still intact, I have gotten more marimo and I even managed to get hold of the beautiful red Torii gate- just what I needed to complete my Japanese theme! Although I am nervous about such bright red paint in the water (please don’t start flaking off or melting off.) I want some real plants for right in the back – some really long ones to create a nice, dense forest for the fish to go hide in to sleep in, or just if they want a breather from the open water. I have decided to do my tank in layers – tall ‘trees’ in the back, then smaller ‘trees’ in front, then a scattering of buildings and a cave partially tucked away in the ‘trees’, and finally the marimo and rocks scattered around the Torii gate in the front. Hopefully my fish will like it.

Sadly, my fish are now suffering from constipation which is making me very worried. It’s like, just two more weeks, fish. That’s all I need. Just endure a tiny bit longer. (Although. I do need to feed them more vegetables. I um…did not know fish needed vegetables.)

(It’s a good thing my fish are hardy: I am 100% learning as I go along here.)

Nothing sponsored here – bought everything myself and all opinions are my own :)

“Life is a hell of a thing to happen to a person.”

Today, I cut off all my hair. Waist length to shoulder length. I expected to be nervous about it, to feel sad for the loss, but I just feel relieved. I feel like I’ve set myself free of something.

Eighteen years old, I cut off my hair after finishing school. 21 years old, I tried to cut off my hair after moving abroad, but couldn’t quite go through with it. 24 years old, I cut off my hair one year after graduating from university. Its a little belated, but today I could finally go through with it.

Today I was finally ready to let go.

“There’s a niche in his chest where a heart would fit perfectly and he thinks if he could just maneuver one into place –well then, game over”

Counselling has been going very well. Sometimes I struggle with CBT- I worry I’m not doing it correctly, or I don’t understand where its all going. I think I get what’s going on in my current sessions though, and I think I can see where I’m heading, and I like where I think I’m going to end up.

I think its safe to say that I’ve got the classic combo: generalised anxiety disorder (GAD) and social anxiety. Over the last few weeks my counsellor has been helping me a lot with addressing my thoughts- being aware of when I’m- a) “mind reading” during a conversation “they must think I’m such an idiot” , b) what if thinking “what if something bad happens” and c) catastrophizing “well of course something bad will happen”. And of course, negative thought patterns and trying to have more balanced thoughts. We also addressed “self focus” and bringing my attention away from myself to the other person and to the world at large. It’s so easy to get caught up in my thoughts and my feelings and to become lost in them. There have been lots of work sheets and some terrifying behavioral experiments. Its kinda amazing how distorted my view of the world is and the impossibily high standards I hold myself to. Just myself. I would never hold someone else to such standards, and I’m willing to forgive other people for their own mistakes far more easily than my own. I am my own judge and critic, and I am selfish and wrapped up snugly in my broken thoughts and self loathing. I am trying hard to soften up, to recognise the thoughts and rationalise them. I am trying to bring my attention and focus outwards.

We have reached the heart of the problem now, my counsellor and I, and that is that I worry. Too much. Mostly about uncertainty. And I then try to control that uncertainty in ways that would only make sense to myself, and maybe someone else with GAD. After working on the thoughts we are now directly addressing these behaviours that feed the thoughts. We are taking a step back to go forward- this is purposefully anxiety inducing. Like a vaccine- I need to be feeding myself a tiny bit of my sickness in order to build resilience of it. There is no talk about getting better in any of our sessions- its all about building up resilience. My illness does not have to control my life. Worry and anxiety are even normal, holding onto it and never letting it go…not so much.

Anyway, I had one of the most embarrassing sessions on Tuesday when I had to tell my counsellor all about the ways I try and control uncertainty, to help me feel like I’m preparing, to easy my worry and satisfy my anxiety. Take for example, leaving the house. The first stage- waking up and getting out of bed. Waking up is usually not hard, getting out of bed is. I have to go to work, but I’m worried about it, I may have a scary deadline, or a meeting, I may just feel simply overwhelmed at the thought of work, so I don’t want to move from the safety of my bed. I want to avoid the problem. Ok, now let’s say I’ve managed to get out of bed. I get ready and now I’ve got to leave the house. First I have to check I’ve packed everything, then check the windows are locked, then check the oven is off, the lights off, the fish are ok, did I forget to check that one window? Better check again. Did I pack a certain item? Better check. Eventually, I’m out the door. I lock the door. Check its locked. But is it really? I check again. I check I’ve got my keys. I turn to walk down the stairs towards the street but, is it really locked? And do I have my keys? I check both again. Only then can I leave the house.

I have a whole evening routine too. And things I do throughout the day.

My life is a series of avoidances and checks and excuses and worries. My counsellor says its classic GAD, I frankly just feel ridiculous, embarrassed and crazy. We made a list of all the things I do on a scale of how anxious it would make me feel to not do it. I’ve got a little chart where I can write down my tasks to address these tasks – that involve very purposefully not engaging in the behaviours that make me feel safe- and some metallic stars to reward myself. According to my counsellor, treatment is about being like a child again: I need to relearn many things. So I treat myself like a child in my rewards.

I want to do this, I want to change, I’m exhausted living this way, but recovery is pretty exhausting too. Well, I’m not quite in recovery, more hovering around that point. Getting there. But slowly.