Visual creativity

Today I’m in one of those moods where I just want to create. I want to make something beautiful and be proud of what I’ve created.

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(Photos all taken with my phone camera – sorry).

It’s a long time since I’ve felt like that. Photography, design, and all my usual creative outlets have been put on hold for so long…I don’t think I’ve had this much time away from them since university. I’ve still been baking a lot, but it’s not the same thing, and doesn’t give me the same feeling of using arty skills (unless I’m painting on cakes for a course or doing sugar work, which is very rare).

This week has been quite busy. As well as work, I had a work friend over Friday night, then one of my old college friends came to stay on Saturday and Sunday. Monday afternoon I went to a city farm and soft play (I’m such a child) with two of my university friends and their son, last night a few of us went to see Divergent (amazing, definitely worth watching), and tonight it’s Second Wednesday. Tomorrow night I’m planning to stay in because I have a shitload of Coke Zero/Cherry Coke Zero being delivered. I have a doctor’s appointment on Friday, and then it’s the weekend. I need to exchange a top I bought last week for a smaller size, and do my share of house cleaning, but other than that I’m free. Assuming nothing else comes up, I’m going to spend some time designing, taking photos, and uploading all the photos I’ve neglected.

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More importantly, I’m doing this for me. I’m going to create things purely for the pleasure of creating, and not because I’m paid to or I feel like I should. I’m looking forward to creating a playlist of my favourite songs and staying up till I can hear the birds. Even more importantly, I no longer dread weekends. I’m learning to live for myself and do things that make me happy. And despite the endless repetition of ‘You need to find out who you are’ from my psychiatrists (now pretty much non-plural, which is definite progress), it turns out I’m actually really happy with who I am and what I do generally. Things just needed some balancing, tweaking and refining. I’m still working on the whole balancing thing, but even stepping back to be more conscious of it helps.

Normally after I publish a blog post that goes on about how happy I am, it’s followed by a crash within a couple of days. This time it hasn’t been like that at all, and I’m grateful. I’m enjoying being happy, I’m enjoying smiling more, and I’m relieved I don’t have to make drastic life changes to get to that point. It’s amazing being able to enjoy things, feeling calm and stable, and having ‘normal’ reactions to things. Yes, I still get grumpy when I’m tired. I’m mildly aggravated when I’ve asked someone to do something multiple times and it still hasn’t happened. I’m not expecting rainbows and unicorns 24/7…that’s just unrealistic. But calm and consistent human being? I’ll have that every time please :)

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Fighter

I want to say that I feel like my old self again. But I don’t.

I feel a million times better.

My moods are stable and calm, I look forward to things with the childish delight I used to have, and I’m actually happy.

Happier than I can ever remember, actually. I still have the occasional short bout of anxiety, but each day gets better and better, and in a manageable way rather than a high > low kind of way. It’s definitely not days or weeks of feeling constantly depressed. At one point I was taking a herbal supplement from Holland & Barrett that is commonly used by ecstasy users after a comedown, and it was working – that’s how bad I felt.

What’s changed? Well, my body has finally adapted to my medication and it seems to have kicked in. All the side effects have just about worn off (fingers crossed), and although I’m generally more tired and my immune system has taken a hit, it’s completely worth it. However, I think the thing that’s made the bigger difference is ketosis.

I’ve always hated the idea of a low-carb diet, because I love nothing more than pizza and potatoes and ice cream…and thousands of other things. But I started looking at low calorie diets a while back and they are all low-carb. After trying one out for a while, the inevitable happened and I had a weekend binge on hot cross buns, pizza and various other things. I was irritable, had mood swings, felt depressed, and hated the way my body felt physically. So I started again with a different company and returning to a low-carb diet has made a massive difference. Yes, I could probably do it without meal replacement stuff, and that’s my long-term plan, but right now it’s nice to not have to think too much or feel like I’m missing something from my meals.

Back in ketosis, I’m much calmer and more relaxed. I think it’s probably because my blood sugar stays very stable rather than spiking, but who knows what other chemical things are going on inside my brain. Yes, it’s tough when people are always around me eating the foods I love, and when I’ve been baking every week, and going out and only being able to drink water, but it’s 100% worth it. I’ve always said I’d sell my soul to the devil to stop feeling so depressed and anxious, and really the sacrifices I’ve made are tiny in comparison to the returns – being happy with the life I have. Because at the end of the day, I’m incredibly lucky and I want to be able to enjoy the things I’ve worked so hard for.

Therapy has provided a little additional help. It’s still irregular in terms of actual sessions, but I’ve been doing a lot of reading around psychology, emotional abuse, moods etc. and it kickstarted the road to recovery for me. I’ve always felt there were certain jigsaw pieces I was missing, and it turns out there were. Even being made conscious of them was a huge weight off my shoulders and has helped me learn how to cope with situations that used to floor me. I’m still working on giving myself more respect and less of a hard time, and undoing the damage of many years, but I’ll get there.

I’m feeling much better about leaving chores undone, going out with friends, travelling, going to work/industry events and everything else. Which is fantastic timing because I have a lot on this month, and it can only get better as the daylight hours increase :) I’m not beating myself up about doing nothing, I’m spending a lot more time away from work, thinking about work a lot less, and I’m concentrating on me. I’m genuinely enjoying the things I do instead of using them as distractions to stop me feeling so bad. I frequently still stop myself and think, “Am I doing this because I want to or because someone else wants me to?” I can’t do everything and be everything to all people all the time. I’ve noticed that the slightly more selfish people in my life tend to be the more contented ones.

For once, my doctor’s advice – ‘it gets worse before it gets better – was spot on. It’s been a completely insane journey, but if it was necessary to get to where I am now then what’s done is done. Don’t get me wrong, I would still have changed a few things, but I’m concentrating on looking forwards now, not back. I hope to be blogging more frequently and going back to some web stuff, but if I don’t then it’s because I just don’t feel like it at that time. And that’s okay.

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Two steps back

I’m sitting in my living room with a hot water bottle, soft Christmas slipper boots and a fleecy throw. It’s so cold I can see my breath; the downstairs heating needs fixing.

It’s eerily quiet other than the sound of two ticking clocks, not in sync, and the crunching of dry cat food (Ginger, a potential stray, has come in for second third breakfast).

This week has been very mixed. I’ve experienced most types of human emotion, from radiating happiness to intense depression. It’s been an odd week and I’m not comfortable with so many extremes.

I tried to cope with it productively, using every thing I’ve learned and been taught over the past year. Berocca – check. 5-HTP – check. Protein and balanced eating – check. A small amount of chocolate – check. Being kind and patient with myself – check. Completing small achievable goals – check. Going for a brisk walk – check. Gym – check.


I wrote the above paragraphs more than two weeks ago. My depression seems to be worsening over time (my anxiety is, apparently, worse than I think it is but tends to fluctuate rather than get progressively better or worse over time). I got to the stage where I couldn’t cope and nothing worked. It’s kind of hard to describe, but it’s like that sick feeling you get when something horrendous has happened….but you don’t know why you’re feeling like that and it’s constant.

I’ve spent the past couple of weeks basically in my house, declining all social requests and only venturing out to go to the gym. The rest of the time I’ve spent in sweatpants and oversized t-shirts, watching re-runs of CSI and Toddlers & Tiaras and playing Candy Crush. This is not me at all. Normal me is running around making lists and doing twenty things at once and starting every other sentence with ‘Have you…?’ ‘Did you get a chance to…?’ (regardless of whether I’m at work or home) and stressing about how there isn’t enough time.

I completely and utterly burned out. Normally I can’t sit still, and for a fortnight I’ve barely done antyhing but. I even uninstalled Facebook from my phone. That’s when you know something is seriously wrong.

I went to the doctor’s and answered all the usual questions. No, I’m not bulimic or an alcoholic or a drug user or a self-harmer or having work problems. I’m just incredibly sick of my life and my general existence and I have no reason to be whatsoever considering I’ve spent the last 27 years working bloody hard to have a near-perfect life. The problem is that I don’t enjoy it, it continually gets harder to be happy, and as it turns out, getting more of everything than you could ever possibly need doesn’t make you happy.

It just makes you want to throw it all away.

The end result is that I’m on proper grown-up messed-up person antidepressants, and pretty strong ones at that. The doctor seems to think I have major depression and generalised anxiety disorder. It’s hard to tell, considering it seems to be mostly brain chemicals to blame. The side effects of my medication are awful – I spent almost a week feeling permanently sick. My sleeping’s changed, I’m exhausted, I veer between ‘ok’ and ‘grumpy’, and I still don’t want to really do anything. But I’m at at work for the first time in two and a half weeks anyway, and it’s a good thing I am because my manager is off this week and I’m running the show. Fifty million emails and cake and chocolate later, I actually felt quite good. My mood is still up and down though, and I just want to sleep. I’ve also had to give up an awful lot – I can’t even take ibuprofen, or drink, or anything really.

I also kind of feel like I’m missing out on life, since I’ve had to skip several events over the past few weeks, and I’ll be missing out on a few upcoming ones too. I feel like I’m re-learning who I am, and that I’ve been out of the human race for months rather than weeks. It made me smile this morning to see the same people I always see on my way to work…I’m not sure why I thought they would have disappeared or things would be different, because everything is mostly still just the same.

I don’t really have a meaningful thought or handy summary to finish this blog post off with. It’s a bit of a jumbly loose end, like me right now. I guess the important thing is that I’m still trying, although it does feel that I’m mostly trying to please other people rather than because I’m choosing to fight for myself. I’m tired, that’s all. And tired of being tired.

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New year’s resolutions

This post is a little on the late side, but it’s still January so it’s ok, right? I did actually start writing it at the end of December, but then life did one of those mad rushy things and it got put aside for a while. But here it is, in all its scary glory…

1. Reach my goal weight.

My weightloss has plateaued recently due to a combination of Christmas, short evenings, too much work, the new work cafe (which serves ridiculously delicious food), and the loss of my Fibit (which I then replaced with the new model which promptly failed in the middle of a firmware update and passed out permanently. So I’m waiting on another replacement). Last year I lost 22lb, which is less than I would’ve liked but a good result overall. Anything down is good, right?

Sub resolutions: have a wardrobe full of lovely clothes, do the couch to 5k plan). Time to get back on it.

2. Learn JavaScript.

This is my scary resolution, because I’m not a coder. Coding is definitely my weakest (and laziest) area when it comes to anything web, and that’s mostly because I rely too much on other people. This is going to change this year.

Sub resolution: learn jQuery. I love it. I hate it. I want to love it more.

3. Experiment with a new creative outlet

I live to create. A new expression is always a good thing. Last year my focus was on baking, and that will probably take a backseat in some ways this year. I have a couple of ideas of things I want to try, and they’re completely non-computer related. Although if they end up anything like my baking, they’ll turn into a web-related thing somehow…

4. Get the new website done

It’s time for a new domain and a new look. I have plans, I’ve started building, but it’s going to be an incredibly long job. But worth it. Fingers crossed it all works out, because it’s going to be very different from how it is now.

5. Read 50 books.

This is my GoodReads resolution, and it should be easily achievable. It’s nice to increase the likelihood I’ll achieve at least one resolution ;)

6. Have fun.

This is by far the most important resolution. Although it had its ups and downs and started off terribly, 2013 was actually a pretty good year. It’s time to build on the fun, relax, stop trying to control things, and just let the good times roll.

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Yesterday, in photos

I’m being all hipster in Starbucks with some healthy juice and my Mac, so I thought I’d make it even more hipster and write a blog post.

I slept in this morning (very unusual for me), and then spent a good few hours cleaning the house with Joe’s help. It’s almost all done – with the exception of the living room table, a slightly broken washing machine, and three loads of laundry – and I feel a lot happier for it.

Everyone else seems to be ill, getting ill, or just getting over being ill, but I’m so jacked up on vitamins I’ve not even had any symptoms of a cold, even though I’ve spent a lot of time travelling and being around children and various plague-y people. And I’m quite enjoying having my life back, and being able to do things (and, more importantly, enjoy them) without being crippled by anxiety and depression :D I’m using 5-HTP as my absolute fall back ‘emergency button’. A couple of my friends have expressed concerns that it’s not been tested for long-term use, and I’ve found that dosing up on B vitamins instead (at around 500%-1000% of the RDA) weirdly helps me manage pretty well. I don’t know if my body’s just really inefficient at processing/using vitamins or I just need more generally, but it finally seems to be getting what it needs and it’s happy. It hasn’t hurt that December, traditionally one of the most difficult months for me, has been one of the best times ever. I’ve spent a lot of time with people I care about and I feel pretty loved right now. And that’s all I’m saying :)

Another reason why I’m in a good mood is because of yesterday. If I had the freedom to do what I wanted all the time, yesterday would have been a fairly standard day I think. Nothing massively exciting, but a lot of little happy moments.

The gym I normally go to is closed until after new year, so I made the 2 mile semi-uphill trek to the big modern one. I felt like I was the only person in the whole world for most of the walk there and back, and it was liberating. And a beautiful walk.

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(The photos are all awful quality because camera phone. Sorry).

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The gym was pretty dead too, and for some reason I was really energised when I started working out and ended up doing around two hours of cardio. I burned about 1000 calories in total, including the walk, which is quite extreme considering I’m trying to stick to 1280 calories a day in total anyway. I ate most of them back later on though ;)

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Normally my gym sessions are squeezed in between other things – work and socialising, or work and dinner – so it was amazing to just be able to have as much time in there as I wanted without having to rush to the next thing to cram everything in.

After the gym, I went to the pub with Joe for lunch and had chicken fajitas. We came back from Christmas in Sussex with no food in the house, and we haven’t done a particularly good job at improving that situation. Which means more excuses to eat out.

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We got back to the cats having a lazy day, and decided to do the same. So we caught up on Downton Abbey and MasterChef on the sofa.

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I did intend to do some work and cleaning, but it never actually happened. Oops. But it’s fine, because I caught up a lot today, and I was pretty tired after the gym.

The day ended peacefully with a book I’m quite enjoying at the moment.

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A pretty laid back day, but a good way to spend a holiday day between Christmas and New Year, I feel. This evening I need to write another blog post, clear the living room table, try to fish out some vegetables to go with chicken and either noodles or rice for dinner, and have a lovely hot chocolate in front of some trashy TV. Bliss :)

How have your holidays been?

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How to keep motivated over the holidays

Every Christmas and New Year I plan to do loads of blog posts, site updates, new designs and general tidying up. And every Christmas and New Year, I make an excuse not to do any more than a blog post or two.

This year, I’ve removed the excuses I usually make and made sure that I’ve balanced work time and downtime reasonably well. It’s especially hard for us people who work full time anyway and then have lots of websites and side projects on the go as well as all the social stuff, travel, house chores and relaxation time…!

‘I’ll just have a couple of days off, and then I’ll start…’

This is always my first excuse. Then before I know it, it’s Christmas and I haven’t done anything. Then I say I’ll do some after Christmas, and yeah…it just doesn’t happen.

This year I nipped it in the bud by making a quick list on Wunderlist in advance. Having an idea of how much work I want to do is the first step to planning how much time I need for it.

‘I want to do ALL THE THINGS!’

Another problem I have is being totally unrealistic about what I can achieve over the holidays. Instead of making a reasonable list and prioritising, I make a list of everything in the world I want to do and then feel deflated when I look at it. And even less likely to come back to it in the new year when I see how much I didn’t get done.

This year I made a very short list of easily achievable tasks, broken down into individual elements so I had the psychological satisfaction of being able to check mini-tasks off and feel like I made a dent.

‘I have so many other things I need to do…’

My websites come last. With everything else going on in my life (and some things demanding insane amounts of attention), that can quickly mean they’re neglected altogether. Planning ahead definitely helps here along with scheduling. I knew I was going to be away for certain days, travelling for so many hours, needing to clean the house etc. It definitely helps to break the free time up into blocks – I tend to opt for morning, afternoon and evening – and assign areas (e.g. websites, friends, house) to them.

‘I’m too tired.’

This is a big one for me because I feel lazy unless I’m doing something productive, but I end up burning out and getting frustrated with my body for being tired when my brain wants to be creating. Although upping my vitamin intake has helped a lot, I do so much stuff that I get very tired and want to crash around the holidays.

To get round this, I combine some of the previous points – planning, not taking on too much, and scheduling. If I tell myself something has to be done be a certain time, I’m much more likely to get it done than if I think, ‘I’ll do it after one more episode of MasterChef’. Because let’s face it, it’s never going to be just one episode.

‘Just one more distraction, and then I’ll do some work.’

For me, these distractions tend to be things around the house that are still productive and need doing, but aren’t related to the work I need to do. Sometimes I’ll combine work with something distracting online, like a game of Settlers of Catan, which can slow my productivity considerably.

This year I’m getting around that by hanging out at Joe’s office, where there are no offline distractions and I’m automatically in work mode. Online distractions are harder to avoid, but I usually sternly tell myself that the sooner I finish, the sooner I can leave. Having a separate workspace outside the house is invaluable.

Like everything else, it’s all about balance and making use of the time available…which is much easier said than done :D If you’ve got any tips for staying motivated over the holidays, I’d love to hear them – drop me a comment!

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Failing more in 2014

I’ve been reading a fantastic book called The Extra One Per Cent recently. In it, the author references a study that found that 75% of people regret something they haven’t done, and only 25% regret something they have done. That’s a pretty convincing stat. And it’s why my new year’s resolution for 2014 is to fail more.

Like most people, failing is something I naturally shy away from. From a young age, we’re pushed towards seeing failure as being something bad to avoid wherever possible. Until a few months ago, I equated it with fundamentally wrong things. Failure was something to beat myself up over, to torture myself with for years, to make me feel that I was never good enough (this in part is due to my dad’s attitude towards everything I’ve ever done, but that’s a whole other blog post).

Then I went to a couple of talks by entrepreneurs about their failed businesses, and I started thinking about failure in a whole new way. The guys who spoke were very honest about their experiences, but they were also incredibly matter-of-fact. They naturally expected to fail as part of life. A failure wasn’t ‘game over’ or ‘did you really think you could do that?’ or ‘you aren’t capable enough’. A failure was, ‘it happened, let’s move on – what’s the next thing?’

This is the same attitude that established startups have at their core. Google isn’t afraid to launch new products and services and then drop them a few months or years later. In many cases, these things aren’t failures. They’ve served their purpose, or they’ve been replaced with something better, or the resources have been moved to a new project. Yet news sites and end users often report them – and class them – as failures. Quite frankly, it makes me respect Google more. The fact that one of the world’s most important and successful companies can hold its hands up and say, ‘Hey, we created this thing, but now we need to do something else,’ is pretty groundbreaking. It’s inspiring. If it’s ok for Google to get it wrong, then it’s ok for us.

I met up with one of my good friends recently for a drink. Like so many of my friends, he’s an incredible, intelligent human being with very little confidence. He told me that his new approach is to expect rejection. This isn’t just a passive pessimistic attitude – it’s making him go out and try new things and new ways of interacting with people with the expectation of being told ‘no’. So far he’s had some successes (including getting a ride in a police car and convincing everyone in a pub to swap drinks) and some rejections (I was with him when he asked a road sweeper if he could drive the vehicle for a bit. Even though he was told no, the driver gave him plenty of tips for getting his own licence and that definitely counted as a minor victory). What he epitomises is the same thing that Google and the entrepreneurs embody – that you truly don’t know what’s possible until you give it a go, and even if you fail you can learn a hell of a lot from the journey.

And that’s what I want to do in 2014.

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Scenes from my birthday weekend

Ok, so my birthday was over a week ago now.

But in between that, the work Christmas party, various other events, gym visits, The Hobbit, a million meals out and various half-watched films and TV shows later, a house nearly constantly full of people (feeling the love right now), and much food and laughter, I haven’t had a whole lot of time to blog.

My life is basically this (but with more computer games and shenanigans of the nefarious variety):

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But you already knew that.

I’m happy, and that’s pretty awesome :D

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Business as semi-usual

The last couple of weekends I’ve spent quite a lot of time at business events. The first was Startup Weekend Nottingham, where I’d been asked to manage some of the social media on behalf of the Creative Quarter. I ended up managing four Twitter accounts and a Facebook page whilst taking photos and actually getting involved with the event and talking to people. On top of that, we were taking part in a hashtag battle, which meant that, contrary to my day job where I tend to tweet about once an hour, I was tweeting and retweeting as much as possible. Whew. I ended up ditching Tweetdeck and sticking to my phone so I could be more mobile (the event was quite spread out in a large cinema with lots of different rooms), and the app crashed about 20 times in total trying to deal with everything. I’m glad it wasn’t just me ;)

I arrived at the event on Friday night after a full week at work and commitments every evening, but the atmosphere was electric and a quick glass of wine was more than enough to get my energy up again.

There was a short intro talk and icebreaker task, and then people pitched their business ideas. The age range was huge – from eighteen year olds to 40+. Everyone got on really well, and just got chatting to each other like we’d all known each other for years. It was an amazing atmosphere, and one of the best things I’ve been to in my life. Loved every second.

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After the ideas were voted on and the best ones picked, people divided up into teams to get started planning their business model, pricing, presentation and everything else. Businesses ranged from phone number forwarding to improving clean water access in developing countries to smashing things up for stress relief :D
There was plenty of Red Bull, Vitamin water and food to keep the buzz going, and although there were some slightly flagging moments from tiredness (and a break to watch Dr Who), the teams worked incredibly hard and were enthusiastic right to their presentations at the end.

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Made cupcakes for everyone – vanilla and chocolate.

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I feel like I can’t really get across how amazing this event was in words and pictures.

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Last weekend I spent some time at another event, Good for Nothing. The concept involves helping a couple of schemes/enterprises/businesses out, and the ones chosen this time were focused on local, sustainable food and more environmentally-friendly, sociable eating. I liked the concept, and it was great to see some familiar friendly faces from the week before, but the briefs were far too involved (multiple different areas in each) and the event wasn’t organised enough generally in some ways, and over-organised in others. I think having a team leader for each team and simplifying the briefs down – and having fewer of them – as well as having more time to work on the tasks (e.g. the Sunday) would help a lot, because the fundamental idea was very strong. I ended up not being able to make most of the Saturday because I had a cupcake class (I had explained this to the organisers and they asked me to come along anyway), which I think may have offended at least one person in my team (or maybe she just wasn’t a friendly person – who knows), so I left a bit early because I felt like I couldn’t be useful in the remaining time.

The cupcake class focused on cake lace, which is this amazing silicone-feeling edible substance you make from a mix, spread in very flat moulds and stick in the oven. We also did some sugarpasting and painting, neither of which I’ve ever done at home because I don’t have the time or the space (also, I’m definitely more of a buttercream girl). The class was tiny; normally it’s at least ten, but there were only two of us so we got plenty of one-on-one attention which was great.


Awful phone camera picture because I haven’t had time to photograph them properly yet.

On Sunday we went to a gaming event in Derby, and I won a couple of things in the raffle, which was awesome :)

This week is a catching up week – gym, house cleaning, baking and birthday and guest preparations are on the go because it’s my birthday weekend and I’ve planned a whole load of stuff, including a Dinosaurs vs. Robots themed party on the Saturday, because I’m a child :D My birthday is next Tuesday (planning to seeing Catching Fire), and then it’s Second Wednesday, the work Christmas party and a gaming mini meet, Notts Programmers, and then it’s off for Christmas. This month is actually one of the quieter ones for me – October nearly destroyed me – and I’m looking forward to some much-needed time off!

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