Wobbling backward and forward, as the train bumps along, I watch the world bathed in the light of a late summer evening passes by outside. Illicit tents hidden among trees, people and cows alike entirely nonplussed by our passage, and advertising in garish colours pitched for train users such as myself emblazon slogans across the inside of my skull.
I travel up the West Coast Mainline to Scotland on a fairly regular basis, but there is always a gasp – sometimes internal, sometimes external – that emerges, as the towns subside and make way for the hills and mountains of the Lake District.
The landscape, filled with (almost) every shade of green, grey and brown stretches in every direction, filled with patterns, texture, and shadow as gullies cut into mountains or rocks are exposed. Countless paths entice me to take them, meandering along a river (my preferred direction is upstream – we always know where rivers eventually end up), or hiking up mountains – the upper reaches hidden behind a cloud veil; endless opportunities to explore collapsing shacks, historic buildings, rock formations, and copses.
Standing in the middle of this – surrounded by crickets, stones and sheep (there are always sheep), you are freed from observation, from the constraints of time, from the busy-ness of others. The silence and space to think, feel and observe pull you away from the mundane or day to day, and give you space to work through the big thoughts and focus on what is really important – before returning to daily life refreshed and anew.
Even the act of remembering previous adventures and explorations, while staring from a brightly lit tube out on to these hills, is enough to refresh. It’s enough to make me wonder, every time, how I can return to living in properly rural communities again, in all their breath-taking beauty, isolation, and harshness.
(Part inspired by the train journey up, in part inspired by playful comments made in this article – which part reminded me that while I love exploring cities, it has absolutely nothing on walking in the countryside)
I hate this quote. In fact, I dislike a lot of ‘ inspirational’ quotes, and especially those which are found paired with pretentious photos of sunsets, beaches, or people jumping around in odd poses. But this quote in particular seems to be one of those that pops up all over the place, on top of pictures of mountains and difficult terrain.
A lot of my (possibly slightly irrational) hatred for this phrase goes back to a former partner of mine. A fair few years ago I was struggling with some bad mental health problems – the type of anxiety where you can’t even work out what to wear in morning, without melting into a crying wreck and where after trying 5 or 6 different outfits, you’d finally make your way out of the door, 20 minutes late, trying hard to hold your shit together while being certain that what you were wearing was wildly inappropriate, made you look horrendously fat and/or looked terrible. It was bad times to be fair. However, it didn’t seem like anything that new – for as long as I could remember I had been really rather scared of things: being thought of as weird at school, people finding out my family were a bit messed up, and not having enough money to live on when I moved out as a teenager.
My partner at the time was a fan of inspirational quotes. Quotes like “do something every day that scares you”. There were others – one about acceptance, one about letting go – but this is the one that stuck with me, as I lived so much of my life in fear and panic – and it frustrated me that he couldn’t see or quite grasp this, and told me fairly regularly instead that I needed to do things that scared me. He didn’t seem to see that even getting out of bed, and choosing what to eat for breakfast scared me.
Looking back it’s a) really odd to think how long ago that all was now and b) fascinating how far I’ve come, and how much has changed
There was a sudden realisation a few years ago that I had beaten the worst of the anxiety – that I could mostly handle the times I felt panicked, and not let it get the better of me (how this happened is probably a topic for another blog post). Then came a tremendously busy period in my life – a few years containing lots of house moves (including one from Cambridge to Manchester), a move away from freelance work, and then getting engaged.
I’m just settling back down after that intensely busy period, and I’ve just has the realisation of *quite* how far I’ve come and how much things have changed. The goals I’ve set myself for 2017 are things that I could never have imagined myself doing before at all. Fear would have crippled me on even one of them – let alone all. The current list stands at:
Completing a triathlon
Running a half marathon
Taking control of my finances
Starting to learn to play the violin
Curing my arachnophobia
Learning how to record a podcast
These may not sound scary to most people but they very much are scary things for me. I was terrible at P.E at school, and that had basically been the pinnacle of my exercise career. Added to which, during my 20s I started having joint problems – problems that left me reliant on a walking stick at times, and even now can leave me for a week barely able to get up stairs. As for anything to do with money? Well I grew up having none, so adopted an ostrich like approach to anything related to finance.
To some degree – the activities I’m doing this year still scare me. But I can’t get over the difference about how they would have felt a decade ago. And that’s for two key reasons.
Firstly, I’ve dealt with the anxiety. I no longer get the completely crippling, panic inducing anxiety of my past. I’m no longer sobbing about the idea of working out what to do in an evening – not wanting people to hate me for saying no – or completely incapable of dressing myself.
And secondly, life has changed. I’m in a (relatively) stable job that I enjoy, and living with a partner who can help me on the days when my joints decide they aren’t going to work, and who is willing to stand next to me while I try to get close to a spider (that in my mind is obviously going to jump up and kill me).
As such I’m now in place where I can try things that are harder. Like trying to run 20-odd km, or trying to cycle on the road (where else am I going to get the triathlon practice?), or turn up at my new violin teachers house and accept that I know nothing and will look and sound like an idiot at first (and yes, if I had told 16 year old me that in a decade and a bit I was going to be trying to do a triathlon and learning to play the violin I’d have laughed at how middle class I was going to become).
And the thing I find most interesting? The realisation that what I feel now is much more aligned with the ideas of ‘feeling the fear’ that many comfortable and well-to-do types have – often those who tell you to ‘do something every day that scares you’, or to ‘feel the fear and do it anyway’.
There really are many different ‘levels’ of feeling terrified of doing a thing, and you still are scared trying new things – but the fear is different. For instance, I still get a bit concerned before a long and difficult run – because I don’t know what will happen the other side. My body may seize up and I may struggle for a few days. But I no longer work in bars or as a shelf stacker, so if I’m physically less able for a few days, it’s not the end of the world, and it’s not going to risk impacting my ability to earn enough money for rent or food. If I mess up when I try to make a podcast – its not going to be the end of the world. People (for the most part) won’t suddenly think far less of me.
Feeling this different type of fear –the type of scared where you force yourself into doing things that are hard for fun or for a challenge is something that comes with comfort. You have to not be draining yourself emotionally with worry about whether you’ll have enough money to make your next rent payment, knowing that your health is in reasonable shape – be that mental or physical – is hugely helpful (or in my case, knowing I don’t have to rely upon my body for my job any more), and knowing that partners, friends, family, and bosses will be understanding if there are any problems is beneficial also.
I feel very lucky to now be able to do things that I considered impossible years ago. I’m just mind blown to find myself in a place where they are far easier to do than even the basics were a few years ago.
(I wish I had a list of good resources for anyone who comes to this blog post and who is experiencing anxiety or struggling, but sadly I never found any. It would be great if people could post any good resources they know about in the comments section)
Well, it turns out quite far. A few weeks ago @TillyWrites and I had a disagreement about the colour of household refuse bins. I think they are usually black, and Tilly thinks they are usually green.
Edit: This is about non-recyclable waste bins.Sorry for not making that quite clear!
So, on and off since then, I’ve been searching online for every authority in the UK with responsibility for waste collection, and capturing information about the colour of their bin, producing a glorious spreadsheet. (I like spreadsheets – spreadsheets are fun).
Suffice to say I’m winning. There are more authorities that provide black bins than green bins. And there are more people who use black bins than green bins as their main household waste bins across the whole of the UK (using ONS population estimates).
However, I’ve gotten a little obsessed. I now want to make a map to put on my wall – and I currently can’t find information online about bins in 34 authorities. I don’t want to have ‘unknown’ as a category in my final map if I can help it!
Can you help me make a complete data set and thus a pretty map?
If you live in one of the 34 authorities that is currently marked as ‘unknown’, could you add the colour of the bin to the spreadsheet? The rules are:
I’m looking for data on household waste collections only – not business waste.
If bins might be one of two colours, add both
If the bin lid is a different colour to the body, add both colours
The ‘black’ and ‘dark grey’ boundary is hard to differentiate – and I’m not sure authorities are using them distinctly. Add both if you aren’t sure!
When I’ve completed the dataset, I’ll publish a full list online, under an open license, with other data like population data, just in case anyone is geeky enough to want to use it for some reason. I can’t think why someone might want it, but who knows?!?