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special topics in calamity physics or: how i learned to stop worrying and leave the law

I said in November I’d be back. I didn’t realise it was going to be quite this long.

I had planned a big long re-introductory post but I feel like I both have too much distance and not enough from what happened to give it the quality of insight that something like a nervous breakdown requires. The short version is this: from the age of sixteen I’ve suffered from panic attacks.  These increased in severity and frequency after my dad died.  They increased in severity and frequency again when I obtained my legal traineeship.  And from the beginning of last year, I was in a constant state of anxiety, having multiple panic attacks each week.  I began my legal traineeship and was having multiple panic attacks every day.  I was being sick at least once a day. I was sleeping perhaps three hours a night. I was crying all the time.  I was trembling and feeling like I was about to faint.  All the time.

On 14 September, a Monday, I left the office as I had booked 2.5 days off.  I didn’t sleep the whole time.  I read a lot during those three nights, because it was the only way I could stop myself from sobbing.  On the Thursday, I went straight to my doctor in the morning and cried for about ten minutes in her office.  She signed me off from work. I walked home, stopping for a break to cry on the way.  I got into bed.  I slept.

I didn’t go back.

At first, I was convinced it would just be a week.  Then two weeks. The Prozac would kick in and I would be fine.  The Prozac did kick in.  And I did feel better.  Better than I had in years.  Except when I thought about going back to work. And as the third week rolled round, I knew what I had to do. I had to leave.  I had to stop trying to be someone I wasn’t. I’m not knocking my workplace or my job at all – they made every effort to support me.  But when I thought about the 8, 9, 10 hours I’d be spending there every day, tracking my every second as billable or non-billable, staring at my computer screen, worrying about other people’s money, conducting myself with deference at all times – I felt smaller, and smaller, and less, and less. I don’t know how or why I convinced myself that I was the sort of person that could fit into that mould, into that role. My trouble is, and always has been, that I’ve never been anything other than exactly what I am. I’m not saying that I don’t know how to put a professional face on, but what I do find hard is to be constantly pushing the things that I feel in my heart and know in my head to be true aside. Money and prestige aren’t an incentive for me in that sense.  I know how to be poor.  I’ve hardly ever had much money. What I wish I didn’t know and what I’m trying to unlearn is how to make myself unhappy for something that simply isn’t worth it.

I am so much happier, so much more content at the moment. I am working in a job where I am not using my degree. My contract finishes at the end of the week and I do not have anything lined up for the future.  I am facing uncertainty for the first time in twenty years. This is exactly what I have always feared.

And yet I am happier, more content, and, most importantly, less worried, than I have been in longer than I can remember. Being truthful to what and who I am has been such an amazingly revelatory experience. I feel whole in a way that no career success, no academic success, no relationship has ever made me feel.  It’s not a straight upward progression.  The first few weeks after I made my decision I could barely leave the house, couldn’t be anywhere in public without my earphones in, and was sleeping only intermittently and mostly during the day. Once I was well enough to go back to work in an administrative role, I had good days and bad days. I still wake up trembling and nauseated sometimes feeling the heaviness of things on my heart. The guilt still floods me – how dare you leave a secure career; how dare you put down the yoke of being the most successful person in your family; how dare you how dare you how dare you. But these things happen less frequently. When this happens, I call to mind and concentrate on the advice that Cheryl Strayed gives: go, because you want to.  Because wanting to leave is enough.  What I want and need is a good enough reason and to hell with what anyone else thinks.

My head is clearer. My heart is lighter.

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Compounding my feelings of being a terrible blogger, I came back on WordPress a week or so ago and discovered this comment that I must have seen at some point, but completely forgot about.

Hi there, I enjoy reading your blog and would like to nominate you for a Liebster award. You can find the details here: http://spiralspun.com/2015/02/04/liebster-award/
(I completely understand if you don’t want to take part and I will not feel offended in any way if you choose not to) 🙂

From the lovely Kim at Spiral Spun.  Sorry Kim, I know you said you won’t be offended, but I didn’t even mean not to answer your questions!  I’m just super forgetful.  I won’t pass the award on now as I think that moment has long since gone, but the least I can do is answer the questions you set:

  1. What do you do to cheer yourself up? I’d been having a rough time up til last month – I’ve been struggling with anxiety.  At the worst points, the best thing I could do was every time I had a pernicious, negative thought, to try and concentrate on one related positive thought.  It works a little just to get my mind out of a bad space.  Otherwise, listening to upbeat music like Taylor Swift really has a strong positive influence over my mood.
  2. Which book would you like to have written? That’s a hard one.  From the things I’ve read semi-recently, perhaps The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson.
  3. Which character from a book would you most like to be? I’ve never identified with a fictional character the way I identified with Ruby Oliver, but I think I might be aging out of that, somewhat.  I’m not sure what adult character I would say.
  4. Name something unusual about yourself. 
  5. What is your favourite thing about blogging? Definitely connecting with other like-minded readers, even thought I’ve been severely rubbish about it recently. But yeah, I love chatting with people on here! I don’t have a whole lot of bookish conversation that runs the gamut of the things I like in “real life” so I do enjoy the variety of conversation you can get in the blogging world.
  6. What did you want to be when you grew up? I went through several phases of both wanting to be a teacher and an author.  I think I’d still want to be a teacher if the job was better, but my parents both put me off (they were both teachers).  I still harbour ambitions of writing something, someday.
  7. Name 3 people you would most like to have dinner with? ohhh, I’m struggling!  I’m always scared to meet famous people in case either a. I don’t like them, or b. they don’t like me!  Probably JK Rowling, Jenny Lawson, and Donna Tartt – I think that would be interesting!
  8. What is your favourite quote? 
    “When the stars threw down their spears 
    And water’d heaven with their tears: 
    Did he smile his work to see?
    Did he who made the Lamb make thee?” (There are others, this was the first one that popped into my head!)
  9. What would you like to learn to do? I would love to properly learn another language (either more Spanish or German) and I would love to learn to run my own business.
  10. What scares you? What doesn’t scare me?! Nah, seriously – I’m extremely claustrophobic and I’m very, very afraid of wasps.  I also get very specific social anxieties – I’m not socially anxious as a rule but I get anxious about, for example, having to spend a lot of time with more than one new person, even if I’m not really required to speak or do anything more than be pleasant.  I’m working on it though!
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I aten’t dead, part 2: still aten’t dead

So, some of you may have noticed that I haven’t been around in nearly three months.  There’s a couple of reasons for this.  I started work at a new job in the office where I’ll eventually begin the last stage of my legal training.  I’ll be working there until mid-June.  I also had a rather bad relapse of my anxiety.  This hasn’t finished – in fact, part of what is keeping me going is coming to accept that this is something I have to actively work to guard against as opposed to keeping saying in my head “la la la la everything will be fine and this will never happen again!!!”

So there’s that.

I also had a bit of a reading slump in February as you’ll see from my list on my Read in 2015 page.  I couldn’t get into any of the stuff I was reading, and I dnf-ed a couple of books that I had really expected to like, or even love.  After reading All the Bright Places I was in a pretty stinking mood.  Between all of that, and Terry Pratchett’s passing, there were about six really bad weeks from mid-February onwards, and I wasn’t in any mood to be blogging.

However, I’m now feeling a lot better and ready to be at least somewhat creative again!

I have draft reviews written for the three Official TBR Challenge books I’ve read, as well as the two Back to the Classics challenge books I’ve read on top of Emma.  I’m also 100 pages away from the end of Madame Bovary and should finish it tonight.  I’m on target with both of those challenges despite not posting! I’ll have those full reviews up over the course of this week and next week.

In terms of the Shelf Love challenge, I’m doing reasonably well.  I’ve only bought 4 paper books, and I’m (just) under my ebook spending challenge too! I’ve read 19/20 paper books (depending on how you count Gormenghast, as I’m not finished Titus Alone yet) and I’m on a good roll of reading through my unread paper books at the moment.  My plan is to only read paper books until I go on holiday on 15 June (to Berlin!).  I’ve also split this challenge down a bit, and have divided my paper books down in to those which belong to series, and those which don’t.  I’m reading through the non-series ones first, and it’s working really well.  I’ve been picking out five books at a time, and not picking the next five until I’ve either finished those or decided I can’t finish them.

So that’s where I’m at!  I’m going to go through my newsfeed now and also queue a couple of posts.  I’m hoping to be all caught up by the end of next week.  If anyone’s still reading this, thanks for sticking around.  I’m looking forward to book blogging hopefully from here on out!

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2014 End of Year Book Survey

Many thanks to The Perpetual Page Turner for hosting this wonderful survey!  It really got me thinking about what I’d read in 2014.

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Number Of Books You Read: 110 (a new record for me!)
Number of Re-Reads: 12
Genre You Read The Most From:  I haven’t kept track, but most likely Young Adult.
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1. Best Book You Read In 2014?

Ugh, this question… let me see:

Best general fiction: The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay with The Golden Notebook and Behind the Scenes at the Museum a close second.

Best genre fiction:  Oryx and Crake

Best classic:  Howards End

Best young adult: A Complicated Kindness.

2. Book You Were Excited About & Thought You Were Going To Love More But Didn’t?

Ugh, quite a few, especially towards the end of the year.  I’ll pick three.  Labyrinths was just a headache – I wanted to love it, especially because of the influence on Marquez, Calvino, and others, but I just didn’t “get” it and it made me feel a bit stupid and caused a reading slump.  Certainly not a bad book and one I will revisit, but one I didn’t love like I expected.    We Were Liars was only okay – I’m starting to think that E. Lockhart hit a fluke with her Ruby Oliver books (even though those are all so so good) because nothing else she’s written has done it for me.  Finally The Stand – I’d been super-hyped up about this but no one told me about the weird spiritualism, the racism, the misogyny, or the “disabilities give you superpowers” aspects of this novel.  I still somewhat enjoyed it, but nothing like as much as I expected to, especially after 11/22/63.

 3. Most surprising (in a good way or bad way) book you read in 2014?

I expected The Color Purple to be much closer to a misery memoir atmosphere than it actually was – I loved it.  I expected to like The Casual Vacancy and it was just plain bad in parts.  I didn’t expect Oryx and Crake to be so mindblowingly good.

 4. Book You “Pushed” The Most People To Read (And They Did) In 2014?

I pretty much forced my friend to read Divergent and The Fault in our Stars so I’d have someone to talk to about them.

 5. Best series you started in 2014? Best Sequel of 2014? Best Series Ender of 2014?

I’ve been trying to avoid starting series because of my book hoarding problems.   I loved the Divergent series, even though it was utterly ridiculous.  For best starter, The Knife of Never Letting Go – oh.  My.  God.  This was so, so amazing, and I didn’t expect it at all.  It’s largely categorised as young adult but I’d be wary of giving it to a young teenager as it’s quite violent (totally depends on the kid, of course).  Best sequel has to be The Silkworm – it had a lot to live up to, as I loved The Cuckoo’s Calling, but the quality has been kept up.  How much I enjoy the follow-up that I’m sure is coming will depend on how the main characters progress across a follow-up though – I don’t want them to remain static for too long.  Best series ender is a bit of a cheat but I didn’t have much to choose from – I Shall Wear Midnight.  I know it’s not actually the end of Tiff’s story, but I really thought it was at the time of reading and I’m pleased to say my girl went out on a high.

 6. Favorite new author you discovered in 2014?

New to me, or new generally?  To me:  Kate Atkinson.  I was mindblown by Behind the Scenes at the Museum.  I can’t wait to read more of her.  New generally I can’t really answer because I don’t think I read a single first-time-author in 2014.

7. Best book from a genre you don’t typically read/was out of your comfort zone?

Hmm. I am extremely wary of middle-grade (what I would tended to have thought of as young adult until recently) titles, as I can find them a bit painful in the way that they are written.  I read a few this year, and while most of them were borderline execrable, When HItler Stole Pink Rabbit was light-years ahead in terms of EVERYTHING.  I love Judith Kerr, though, she’s like ultimate grandma.

 8. Most action-packed/thrilling/unputdownable book of the year?

The Divergent series, hand down.  Yeah, the world-building is insane and the motivations of the characters obscure to the point of insanity, but I don’t even care.  I JUST HAD TO KNOW WHAT HAPPENED OKAY?

 9. Book You Read In 2014 That You Are Most Likely To Re-Read Next Year?

Eh, I’m trying really hard not to reread for a while and just keep a list of things I want to reread in the future when I’ve got my TBR under control (some hope!) but things I’d definitely be into rereading would be super-soon would be The Long Earth (in prep for the rest of the series), Oryx and Crake (same), Knife of Never Letting Go (SAME) and Anna and the French Kiss again because it’s like my kryptonite (though I probably wouldn’t bother rereading the rest of the series again for a while).

10. Favorite cover of a book you read in 2014?

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11. Most memorable character of 2014?

I’m going to pick Nomi from A Complicated Kindness.  She’s just perfect.  The charting of her loss of faith and the story of her family are just perfectly pitched but they wouldn’t work without her voice, her wonderful, funny, fresh voice.  I can’t say any more than that without spoiling, except to say READ THIS BOOK.

 12. Most beautifully written book read in 2014?

If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler. Stunning.  Also One Hundred Years of Solitude.

13. Most Thought-Provoking/ Life-Changing Book of 2014?

Probably The Golden Notebook. That was a reading… experience.

 14. Book you can’t believe you waited UNTIL 2014 to finally read? 

Lots, but The Casual Vacancy stood out as something that I was saving for a rainy day and, er, shouldn’t have been.

 15. Favorite Passage/Quote From A Book You Read In 2014?

“I want a proper school, sir, to teach reading and writing, and most of all thinking, sir, so people can find out what they are good at, because someone doing what they really like is always an asset to any country, and too often people never find out until it is too late. There have been times, lately, when I dearly wished that I could change the past. Well, I can’t, but I can change the present, so that when it becomes the past it will turn out to be a past worth having….Learning is about finding out who you are, what you are, where you are and what you are standing on and what you are good at and what’s over the horizon and, well, everything. Its about finding the place where you fit. I found the place where I fit, and I would like everybody else to find theirs.” – Tiffany Aching (I Shall Wear Midnight)

16.Shortest & Longest Book You Read In 2013?

Longest: 11/22/63 (740 pages)

Shortest: A Streetcar Named Desire (111 pages)

 17. Book That Shocked You The Most

I’m going to go with The Manchurian Candidate because (spoiler in rot13) bs gur vaprfg – jgs? (If you’ve never used rot13 before, go to rot13.com and copy and paste the nonsense letters into that to see what I’m talking about.)

18. OTP OF THE YEAR (you will go down with this ship!)

I had a lot of unexpected feelings about Malek and Yelena from Poison Study. Oh! And Julie and Matt from Flat-Out Love.

19. Favorite Non-Romantic Relationship Of The Year

Nomi and her dad in A Complicated Kindness. Definitely.

20. Favorite Book You Read in 2014 From An Author You’ve Read Previously

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay (I’d only read Wonder Boys previously.)

21. Best Book You Read In 2014 That You Read Based SOLELY On A Recommendation From Somebody Else/Peer Pressure:

The Maze Runner and Labyrinths.  Two very different books!

22. Newest fictional crush from a book you read in 2014?

Definitnely Malek from Poison Study.

23. Best 2014 debut you read?

The only thing that comes close to a 2014 debut that I read this year was The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennet – I don’t tend to read a lot of things that come out in the same year, and even more seldom would I read a debut in the same year!

24. Best Worldbuilding/Most Vivid Setting You Read This Year?

The Fall of Hyperion – I was right there with them.  It was so evocative, and real – and I often have a hard time picturing settings in science fiction.

25. Book That Put A Smile On Your Face/Was The Most FUN To Read?

Divergent.

26. Book That Made You Cry Or Nearly Cry in 2014?

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay at so many places but particularly jura lbh svaq bhg gung gur obng jvgu Wbr’f oebgure ba vg fnax AND nyy gur fghss qrnyvat jvgu Fnzzl’f frkhnyvgl .

27. Hidden Gem Of The Year?

I was not expecting to get so much out of Gentlemen and Players by Joanne Harris, far better known for Chocolat.

28. Book That Crushed Your Soul?

I nearly fell apart reading Columbine at work.

29. Most Unique Book You Read In 2014?

Definitely If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler.  No question.

30. Book That Made You The Most Mad (doesn’t necessarily mean you didn’t like it)?

Girlfriend in a Coma.  I fucking HATED that book and I couldn’t stop thinking about how annoyed I was about the whole concept for days and days afterwards.

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1. New favorite book blog you discovered in 2014? 

Definitely Bibliophibian, Inc.  Her reviews are awesome and I really trust her opinion.

2. Favorite review that you wrote in 2014? 

Not on my blog but on Goodreads – my review of Divergent.  I haven’t written as many reviews as I would have liked this year.

3. Best discussion/non-review post you had on your blog?

Haven’t really been posting enough to answer this, to be honest.

4. Best event that you participated in (author signings, festivals, virtual events, memes, etc.)?

Again, I haven’t really been participating in many things – that’s something I aim to change this year.  I signed up for a few readathons and challenges, but I never followed through with them.

5. Best moment of bookish/blogging life in 2014?

Definitely starting this blog.  Also filling out this meme!  It’s been really helpful in getting me to think about the way I read and so on.

7. Most Popular Post This Year On Your Blog (whether it be by comments or views)?

The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennet  review.

8. Post You Wished Got A Little More Love?

Eh, all of them 😛 just kidding.  I’m not really sure.

9. Best bookish discover (book related sites, book stores, etc.)?

The Literary Gift Company is definitely one that I plan to take advantage of in coming months.

10.  Did you complete any reading challenges or goals that you had set for yourself at the beginning of this year?

Yes! I had the goal of reading 100 books and I’ve read 110.  I also aimed to read 40,000 pages and I’m 475 pages off reaching that goal, so I might reach it – though I’ve come near enough to satisfy me.  Of the others… I aimed to half my collection of unread paper books and instead I’ve increased it by twenty.  I also aimed to read for an hour a day.   That was a “soft” goal in that I knew I wouldn’t manage it every single day – it was just something to aim for. I’d say I’ve managed it at least three-quarters of the time, so it’s been fairly successful.

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1. One Book You Didn’t Get To In 2014 But Will Be Your Number 1 Priority in 2015?

Ooh, definitely Gormenghast… I’m starting that after I finish Unseen Academicals and I’ve been waiting to read it for, like, three years.

2. Book You Are Most Anticipating For 2015 (non-debut)?

In a weird way Carry On by Rainbow Rowell, assuming it comes out next year.  I really, really hated Fangirl (ask me why if you want, but be prepared for a rant!)  but I’m interested to see how she carries this off.  She’s one of the authors I’ve had the most varied feelings about (loved Attachments, really liked Eleanor and Park, was ambivalent about Landlines and raged, RAGED against Fangirl).

3. 2015 Debut You Are Most Anticipating?

 I’m… not?  See my comments about debuts above.

 4. Series Ending/A Sequel You Are Most Anticipating in 2015?

Lair of Dreams, the second Diviners book, should FINALLY be coming out this year and I am so, so excited.  I loved the first one and everything it chose to be.

5. One Thing You Hope To Accomplish Or Do In Your Reading/Blogging Life In 2015?

To actually have a consistent blogging schedule and to keep up with my challenges, which I think will be a little more varied this year, as I won’t have as much time to read in bulk from August onward.

6. A 2015 Release You’ve Already Read & Recommend To Everyone:

Haha, I should be so lucky…

Hope this was interesting to you guys!
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It’s been a while

I just wanted to apologise for the stunning lack of upkeep on this blog.  I got really, really busy during November/December and had much less downtime to work on the blog.  I’m going to be adding a few new posts over the next couple of days – an overview of my reading in 2014 and my goals for the upcoming year with regard to reducing my TBR nightmare – and I’ll be updating the Master List to reflect where I am with progress/purchases and so on.  I hope to get into a regular posting schedule in 2015 as one of my resolutions to be more committed to the things I enjoy and that are good for me (such as writing and taking care of myself, generally – I have a habit of running myself into the ground!) so I should be around a lot more.  Hope you’re all having a lovely festive period and to get to know my followers a lot better in the coming year!