Independence

My sister came to visit me on the weekend. On Saturday we went out for lunch and to see a show, and of course to shop, and then we spent the evening chilling out at home. On Sunday we went to IKEA – and I drove.

I recently got back in touch with my driving instructor and arranged two lessons. The first was to help me with hill starts and teach me how to reverse park into a bay, and the second was motorways (which you may also know as freeway, highway…expressway? ). The former was just brushing up on things I already sort of knew, but the latter was completely new. I was terrified that lesson, so afraid I would do something wrong and get hooted at or cause an accident. Ever since I got my licence people have been telling me that motorway driving was easier than normal driving but I couldn’t believe them. I was scared and then the longer I put it off the more scared I became. Then I spent a week driving my coworker home as his car was out of service and at the end of it he said my driving was ok. Having that reassurance from someone who has no motive to compliment me was the boost I needed. I contacted my instructor and I went out on the motorway. And it was fine, it went well even. It helped that it was a Sunday and very quiet, probably, but it turned out to be nowhere near as awful as I expected. It was mostly tiring – there was so much to concentrate on and a lot to take in.

But since then I hadn’t had the courage to go out again. So I asked my sister to help me out since she was at mine. Thankfully she agreed. And, she was a patient instructor with me. There was more traffic, but it was still fine. We made it without incident. (Sadly I couldn’t show off my new ability to reverse into a bay as it was too busy but oh well. One thing at a time is enough!)

I think, and I say this very tentatively, I’m really doing ok with this driving thing. My confidence is growing all the time. I’ve even been able to go out and learn new skills. And I’m actually kind of loving it. Like, I still dislike driving but I just love the independence it gives me. Like I feel about plane travel- the process isn’t fun, but it’s incredible the ability to get from A to B like that. Someone once told me I needed to hurry up and get my licence because nothing beats being able to get in your car and go wherever you like and they were SO RIGHT. Public transport has some benefits, sure, but I can’t bring myself to miss it. I feel my world expanding beyond bus routes and timetables and it’s amazing. I can go anywhere, I can choose when I leave, I can control my environment within my car (no more being stuck on smelly, humid yet cold buses !) I can take luggage! As much luggage as I want, not just as much as I can carry/reasonably fit on the bus without making other people hate me. It’s exhilarating. I couldn’t believe it when I got to IKEA. I’d always have to wait for someone to be available to take me to IKEA, but now I can go myself . Now I can use the motorway I’m hoping to finally free myself of public transport for good. I actually can’t afford it anymore now that I’m 25 and therefore no longer eligible for young person’s discounts (sniff) so I honestly couldn’t have gotten my licence and my car at a better time. I couldn’t have finally gotten on the motorway at a better time.

I feel a little bad sometimes, a little lazy perhaps, but mostly a bit guilty because of how un-eco friendly cars are and I want to care about that. But it’s amazing to have this kind of independence, to gain so much time back, to save so much money. I just love having a car and I am so glad I finally got my licence and said car.

My sister’s cat

It’s coming up to the one year anniversary since my cat died. It doesn’t feel like it’s been that long. It’s embarrassing to admit that I’m still really sad about it. I went home this weekend and I brought some roses with me to place on her grave. I thought maybe it would provide some comfort. But it didn’t. I still ache. I still can’t accept it. I look at her grave and it just doesn’t make sense.

My parents are looking after my sister’s cat right now. So she was there when I was. My father kept calling my sister’s cat by our old cats name and it’s hard to say anything when he does it, because it’s awkward, and it’s sad.

My sister’s cat is a delight. She was a little wary of me on Saturday, but then on Sunday she crawled into my lap and passed out there. Several hours passed and my legs went numb but it was perfect, to feel her warmth and her weight. I kept following her around all weekend, pestering her to allow me to cuddle her and pet her, because I miss it. I miss my cat. I miss having a cat.

For a time the neighbours cat was here, but he did move away. And I know it’s for the best, he was getting too clingy, but I do miss his presence. He was a good substitute. It was good to have his company, his warmth.

I tell myself she was just a cat, but it doesn’t quite work.

I’ve felt lonely since she died.

Today I was in Tesco (supermarket) when I discovered something I’ve never seen before – a South African section. Not just a part of the world foods, which would have been unique enough, but an actual labeled section. There were biscuits. Chips. Biltong and wors. Guava fruit roll. Beer and cream soda and rooibos tea. And of course, big jars of Mrs Balls chutney and large bags of mealie meal. There must be a community of us! I thought excitedly. An actual community of us, here, in this random northern city, in order for us to get our own section. (Our own section! In the nearly two decades of being here I’ve never seen anything like it. We don’t usually even demand a corner of the world foods. We’ve never had any space in the supermarket that I’ve ever seen…) Alot of the stuff was sold out too, with the dates of restock noted, which must also mean there is a lot of us. To have that kind of demand. I wonder where these South Africans are, how long they’ve been here, why they’ve come. I jokingly thought to myself I should stake out this corner of the supermarket, just to see who turns up.

Honestly, don’t think I’ve been so excited and surprised since my dad managed to find gem squash in our local supermarket (several years ago, and sadly it only happened the once. I wonder if this section will soon disappear too? If the demand is temporary for whatever reason…)

I recently booked flight tickets to go home. To Cape Town. And it’s been on my mind. Home. How long it’s been since I’ve been back. How much it must have changed. How much I’ve changed. I’m excited and terrified and I just cannot wait. I want to go home right now.

“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….