“Can I be safe from this sudden fear of change. This sudden fear is strange”

It was my 25th birthday on Sunday. I wanted to write about it, as I have many thoughts about turning 25, but my thoughts wouldn’t come together. Still, they won’t. I am writing and deleting, writing and deleting. So here goes, a random thought dump about being 25 and where my life is now and all my random thoughts about it.

(This is going to be very all over the place, I’m sorry, I just don’t know how to pull this all together.)

25 feels like a milestone age, in a quiet way – the way 16 is to 18. I am, as always, amazed as to how far I’ve come. 25. It feels like I should really know what I’m doing by now. I don’t. And actually, I think that its likely that a lot of twenty somethings feel these same feelings, the weight of the world’s expectations versus our own feelings of loss and confusion. But I suppose I tell myself that because I want things to be coming together now. And I don’t quite want to admit it, that I think about settling down quite often. Not in the traditional sense, like getting married, or having kids. But I think about owning my own place, having a stable job, having some savings, buying nice furniture and adopting a kitty. I think about these things which I feel are some of the markers of adulthood and I see that I have none of them and I feel a little lacking.

I’m 25. I’ve come so far and I have so much, but I’m caught up in feelings of wondering if it’s the ‘right’ things or if it’s enough and I look at others my age and feel a little, fine a lot inadequate. (I guess I’m also caught up in watching my sister, who is older than me so I should accept is ahead of me, but I look at her stable job, the house she has bought and the kitty she has adopted and I ache. Will that be me in three years? Can that be me? It doesn’t feel like my life is heading in that direction yet and again, I ache.)

I’m still settling in to this new stage of adult hood – being a working professional. I know, still. I feel so frustrated with myself too, I keep telling myself to hurry up about it all, but I can’t seem to. My anxious brain takes a long time to process things. So now, almost two years of working gone past and I’m still processing, trying to come up with working professional Catherine, and get rid of student Catherine. For such a long time my life was dictated by academic timetables, coursework and exams that it is incredibly difficult to get out of that mind-set. Work is so difficult. It’s at once incredibly structured and incredibly free. Instead of working to a curriculum, memorising the right things and putting them on a paper and measuring your life’s progress by the grades you get, it’s a lot more abstract. You have to take your own initiative, and then you get judged on how you take initiative and what you come up with, yourself. It’s weird getting used to creating your own curriculum to study and managing your own schedules, and don’t even get me started on also dealing with office life and culture. I still feel like a complete fish out of water at work. There is so much to learn, so many interesting but difficult things to take in and try not to mess up. Being at work, working, can be incredibly rewarding, but also extremely embarrassing sometimes. It’s so awesome getting things right, but on the flipside it’s so awful getting them wrong. You want to impress! And make a good impression! Then you make a typo in a mail to a client, or can’t explain a key concept without getting tongue tied and it’s like damn, self. Come on. I get so frustrated with myself. I need to think about becoming a chartered engineer at some point, but I have no confidence for it. Am I worthy of it? Do I know enough for it? No way can I be that clever and competent.

I still can’t quite believe I have an engineering degree, to be honest. That I am an engineer. Like, what. Even now, 7 years after school, I still sit with the teacher’s words telling me I was never going to get anywhere. Some days I’m crippled by imposter syndrome, clinging on to average GCSEs and poor A level grades, and ignoring the masters in engineering I have, or the nearly two years of actual engineering experience I have.

Then there’s home management. I have been making a lot of changes to my flat, trying to settle in, while terrified of settling in, because it’s a rental and I don’t know when or if I’ll have to move, I just feel like I’m going to have to move and I don’t want to enjoy this flat too much, or buy too much furniture, because moving is painful enough without owning so many things. But I’m trying to settle into the now, enjoy my environment now without worrying about later. (After all, no matter what I’ll be packing crap tonnes of stuff into boxes, and I’ve probably long past the point where I could avoid paying for a moving service.) I’m trying to be good about chores and keeping things clean too. At first I struggled with that – I was so tired from work and commuting. Now I’m driving and my commute is easier and I get home sooner it’s a bit easier. I am incredibly lucky with the place I am living in and I try to tell myself that often, remind myself that even I don’t own my place and I can’t paint the walls or put up shelves, at least I have a warm roof over my head, lots of space all to myself, and none of the problems with scrupulous landlords, dodgy roommates, weird moulds or maintenance issues that some people suffer. I am safe and comfortable. It’s enough. More than enough. I am very lucky.

I am not so good about managing my diet or exercise. I still eat like a student and struggle to exercise – I got to week four of couch to 5k then gave up, I dip in and out of Yoga, but I can’t make anything work. I’m very lazy outside of work.

I’m not sure what’s going on with this blog. I don’t want to give up blogging, but there’s such a large part of my life (work!) that I have to keep private and its awkward working around that elephant in the room (work!).

Everything is messy and awkward right now. While my heart longs for stability and settling down, my life has had other ideas. There’s been so much going on these past few years. But I’m still here, 25 years old, trying to deal with it all and sometimes succeeding, sometimes failing. Just like everyone else, I imagine.

“All I feel is emptiness here, searching for what you want me to say. I’m terrified…”

Something I’ve found difficult to adjust to in the 9-5 life is definitely where the lines exist in interactions with coworkers. They aren’t friends, but you see them daily, and it’s confusing as hell trying to thus figure out how to interact with them.

When I first started work I admit, I shared too much. I’m always like that when I’m trying to integrate in a group – I’ll say anything, if I think it will make someone like me or find me interesting. It’s a terrible habit picked up from being an immigrant child trying to fit into a school where the only other foreigner was my own sister. I wanted to impress, I wanted to be interesting, I wanted to be liked. I would do anything, even lie, to try and fit in. So, I always do this. But I realised I was doing that and I tried to back track, to withdraw and become more careful. But I was embarrassed and I felt awkward. I am aware of the lines I have crossed, the mistakes I initially made as I tried to settle into this working thing.

I worry about what my co-workers think of me, what they might say about me over their cups of tea on their coffee breaks or worse, to my line manager.

I know the world doesn’t revolve around me, but people do tend to chatter amongst themselves in offices don’t they? People talk, whatever their intentions for it. It’s the worst thing about office life for an introvert – a big open plan space, lots of people, and the unsettling feeling of constantly being watched that comes with that.

It is awkward and confusing. You spend more time with these people than your own family, you have to be nice to them, you need to make a good impression and appear a good team worker, but at the same time you need to be on your guard because you’re the graduate/junior, and you don’t know what they will report to your line manager about you. You need them to trust you to do your work more than you need them to like you, but how much does liking you come into play with trusting you to deliver?

I have taken to keeping my head down and working as quietly as I can, and only asking work questions and brushing off personal enquiries as best I can, or giving light, featureless answers. I do try to show interest in my co-workers, but carefully, generically – sticking to the safest topics I can think of. I think this is the right way forward. I don’t want to become friends and I don’t want to develop those kind of emotions in my work – I want a separation between work and my personal life. I am scared about getting too attached to this one job and getting attached to the people around me would, I imagine, feed such an attachment.

Of course, sometimes I go to site, and this often involves long drives. Stuck in a car for hours with a single coworker. It’s terrifying and I find myself rambling sometimes, and I don’t like that. It’s hard to know how to navigate travelling with coworkers.

Recently, I attended a team dinner and that was another level of confusing. I have another team dinner invite sitting in my inbox and I’m not sure if I should accept. It feels like I need to draw lines. If I start engaging like this, I am scared that line between work and personal will get blurred, but only for me who doesn’t have the experience or the worldliness to know how to navigate work social events without getting attached or saying the wrong things, or blurting out something awkwardly personal….

Cathedral

The bank holiday weekend couldn’t have come soon enough – it was wonderful to have four days off work without having to use up my leave. I gave the flat a good clean and then went home to my parents for Easter. Both my sister and I came home that Sunday so we could have lunch together as a family. My parents hid our eggs in the garden, just as they used to do as we were kids. This was random, but amusing. After a good lunch, we sat around and talked…well, bickered, and ate chocolate, and it was a nice chill day. On Monday I went with my dad to Liverpool; there was an organ concert being held at the Liverpool Cathedral which we wanted to see. We did see it, and it was nice, though perhaps not as dramatic as I would have liked.

Afterwards we looked around the cathedral (and I learned that the phrase “pull out all the stops” is to do with the function of an organ, which fascinated me) and then we decided to pay to go to the top of the Cathedral. It turned out to be quite an adventure to get the top! We had to take two lifts and then climb some terrifyingly exposed stairs (I should not have looked down) before we reached the top. The views were amazing up there though. Although it had, of course, been raining the entire bank holiday weekend the sun was trying to come out on Monday. We could see clearly to the Mersey and could spot a few recognizable landmarks such as the Radio Tower and the Metropolitan Cathedral.

Afterwards, we took the lift to another set of viewpoints – to some of the balconies at the top of the inside of the cathedral. This was the coolest. I have always wondered about the hidden stairways and balconies in a cathedral and we actually got to see some of that. Looking down from the balconies was so cool: the people below were tiny and busy, like in a Lowry painting.

I was so glad I had brought my camera. My father meanwhile had not, and without a strap on his phone, was left to take pictures whilst clinging on to his phone for dear life (can you imagine dropping something from that height…)

After the Cathedral we went to get lunch at a terribly overcrowded Pizza Express, and then did some light shopping before going to the World Museum. I loved the World Museum when I was a student in Liverpool; it’s free to enter with a small aquarium which I remembered had some beautiful tanks. I would pop in after or between lectures and sit and watch the fish to cheer myself up/relax. Sadly, the aquarium was undergoing a lot of work when we went in and it wasn’t like I remembered at all. We wandered around some of the other sections and it was nice, but I was disappointed about the fish. I guess nostalgia may have tinted my memories a little, made them better than they were? I know that does happen. It’s funny how familiar Liverpool feels to me, but also how distant now. It’s been a long time since I was a student there. Still, it was a fun day.

I’m not able to travel abroad this year for various reasons, and my UK Railcard which gives me discounts on rail travel is expiring, so I really do need to get out and explore around me like this as much as I can to keep myself from getting restless and to make the most of my discounted travel whilst I still have it.

It was such a long, exhausting journey back to my city from Liverpool though. I slept like the dead and woke up late on Tuesday. I was not particularly looking forward to going back to work after such a nice break either which did not help my motivation. But the week flew by in the end, and was mostly uneventful. I did drive to work every day and back which I am super proud of. As implied, I had taken the train to see my parents and to go to Liverpool, as I couldn’t face such long journeys by car. And I am still a very…all over the place driver. I have good days and bad days, but I am doing my best to gain experience. Today I also put petrol in my car for the first time which I am also proud of myself for (I even managed to figure out how to reset my trip meter!) then I drove down to my local park/nature reserve for a walk in the nice sunshine (of course the weather would turn brilliant when it’s not a four day weekend. :| ) and to check out the status of the spring flowers – the snowdrops have gone, the daffodils are ending, and now finally the bluebells are here. There were also many birds out, and I could see some baby ones too. It’s lovely to see the world come alive after the cold, dark winter. I love how long the days are now. I really got my driver’s licence at the ideal time – not having to worry about driving in the ice, snow or heavy rain just yet (fingers crossed). I drive to work in the light and leave in the light and it’s just wonderful. My days feel so much longer now.

I’m not looking forward to this upcoming week at all: I have my annual performance review and some scary training course coming up. I also have a few doctors’ appointments coming up, for nothing major, just investigation, but it’s a little worrying. The last post was kind of freeing to write though. Sometimes just admitting I’m not OK is enough to feel just a little better. I’m not OK, so I may as well not be OK and getting on with the things I need to be doing!

“When we were together, we were like kids. Now, where I’m going, where I am, I don’t know. I am roaming about. After sending you off it’s all dark.”

I recently read a blog post about how major changes can divide life into a before and a after. This resonated with me. I think about my befores and afters. Before my family immigrated to the UK, and after. Before my grandmother died, and after. Before my cat died, and after. A thing happens, and afterwards you are left with a new and terrible reality. But not all befores and after have to go like that, do they? Sometimes the after is better than what came before. Before being accepted to university, after being accepted to university. Before I was employed, and after.

And recently, before I could drive, and after.

I have a car now.

No more waiting around for buses, followed by an excruciatingly long and claustrophobic journey- funny smells, loud noises, packed tightly on overcrowded services. No more lugging my things around with me. Just me, my little car. I am in control of my environment and my journey. I do not have to carry heavy loads anymore. It is terrifying, every time I struggle with the clutch, when I stall, when there are no speed sign limits and I’m unsure how fast to go, when someone drives too close behind me… I have so much to learn still. But I can drive to work, in 40 minutes flat I can get there, 30 minutes when the traffic is good. (A two hour commute more than halved and much more reliable!) The world is shifting again. My world opens up, new and exciting, and also very scary. Another step towards an independence I want but don’t feel truly capable of.

A before and after that I think about a lot: Before I wanted to live, and after. The scars on my body remind me every day that I am alive, but that I once set a time limit to my life.

I sometimes find myself tracing the scars on my wrist with my fingertips, thinking about all that has been, amazed to have made it so far, but also wondering if I have the strength to go further. I doubt myself sometimes. I feel pressure and I know it’s coming mostly from me but I can’t seem to find the ‘off’ switch for my thoughts. I’ve had so much going on lately, most of it I can’t go into here, and I’m stressed out. My life has felt very all over the place, my anxious brain has been going at 110% with worry. Nights spent lying awake, thinking about this and that. Tired, so tired. Everything keeps changing and I am only just keeping up with it. Some days my chest feels tight, like I can’t breathe, it’s all too much.

But then I look at the scars sometimes and I stop at that amazement. I know I have survived, and that I can get through whatever life throws at me. I am reminded that I am still, despite everything, alive.

My brain can’t quite settle on a state of mind. I feel stuck in a bad place, wanting change, making some half-hearted efforts towards it, but dreading it all at once, and procrastinating and putting off the things I know I should do.

When I encounter something new, I begin to feel that familiar pressure to succeed at it. I can’t just do something without worrying about doing it well enough. Whatever ‘well enough’ means. I apply unreasonably high standards to even the smallest things, in ways that don’t make much sense. This is my perfectionism. I strive towards unrealistic goals and naturally never reach them, so I become disheartened and demotivated. Sometimes, before I even get going on my way towards my goals, I get so overwhelmed with worry that I won’t carry out my task properly that I can’t even start it. I procrastinate, put it off, and try to pretend it doesn’t exist.

I worry about driving, too. It’s hard to discuss when I can’t go into details about certain things, but I basically have gotten into bad habits, haven’t gotten much of a routine right now. I used my commute as an excuse for my disorganisation, and now with that stripped away, I am left vulnerable. I can look at having my licence and my car as a chance to press reset, as the good sort of change I’ve been waiting for. It becomes my hope that I can fix it all now; I can get my routine sorted and become more in control. But the reality is- I wanted a convenient excuse for why I am struggling (a bad commute!) and an easy fix (driving!) when there is definitely something more to it. I am overwhelmed by all the changes in my life, and I am retreating from it. I have set myself standards that are impossibly high and become demotivated because I cannot reach them. I am so caught up in worry for what may become, that I become detached from the now. I tell myself to take each day as it comes, but in the morning, when I have just woken up, my tired brain can’t quite be that strong, and I struggle to begin my day properly, and then struggle to get through the rest of it once I’ve failed at that. (Again perfectionism – if you’ve already failed there’s just no point is there. The world becomes very black and white.)

I am caught up in my befores and afters, tracing the scars too often, too afraid. This pressure to keep going, to keep succeeding. I don’t know what version of success I am chasing, or why I can’t be happy where things are now. I don’t know why I cannot accept the present, but am always looking ahead to what’s coming next. I can’t settle into a happy after without worrying about that shift again, something else changing again, turning bad.

“He puts himself in the box and there’s nothing in the box but him, him and maybe hope.”

Various images from/of Filey Bay. Dog not my own.

The weather was absolutely stunning over the weekend, so I decided to go to the beach. I was ridiculously excited to go, even got up super early, although the clocks changing made me a little disoriented and I didn’t end up heading off until ridiculously late. This would become important.

I got the train to Scarborough, which was long and uneventful, and then I got the bus to Filey which was also pretty dull. I really just wanted to be there already. I was filled with anticipation every time I saw that strip of blue sparkling on the horizon. Once at Filey, I headed down to the beach. I took off my shoes and socks and waded into the water. Then I started walking southwards, following the coastline. And I walked, and walked, and walked, until my feet were numb from the cold water and tingling from the sand. I gathered rocks and observed whatever else I could find, took pictures and generally went slowly, enjoying the sunshine, the stunning scenery and the waves rushing over my feet.
I have been so sad lately. Well, not sad. But rather unhappy. There are a lot of stressful things going on right now and I’m not coping and becoming increasingly frustrated with myself for not coping. I wanted to escape from it for a bit, and maybe I did for a while, but then I discovered that I was on the wrong path for where I wanted to end up, and maybe something broke inside me. It was too late to do anything except accept that I had failed. And so, I ended up sat on a quiet beach at dusk, feeling even more sad. I had wanted to escape my feelings of uselessness, instead I had given myself another chance to berate myself- why can’t you do something as simple as read a map right. why can’t you do something so simple as be on time. you should have left earlier. you should have gone a different way. you should have gone faster. I felt so useless. I feel so useless.

I got the bus back to Scarborough, and then I got the train home.

On the positive – I went to the beach, the weather was beautiful, I gathered some nice rocks for my aquarium (just a few small ones!) and I didn’t spend too much money on this trip.

On the negative – my mood didn’t improve. This little black cloud followed me there. Won’t go away. I’m determined to be positive, no matter what, but positivity can only get you so far when everything you try, all the things you do to break that low mood cycle, don’t do it, won’t do it. It wasn’t meant to be like this at all.