Tuesday, April 12, 2016

The need for moderate speed

Most people who have met me past the age of 23 say that I am a daredevil, an adrenaline junkie. Quite a few of these friends met me at a very specific time in my life where I was living free in San Diego and taking advantage of almost every single extreme outdoor sport my money could afford. I had a great group of friends, my life was fairly stable, I was young and living it up.

There was a seemingly endless stream of activities that kept me going once I started with half marathon training and my body was fit enough to do anything I wanted (well, after that first recovery from knee injury, which was an eye-opener). I did a lot of daring things during that time of my life - traveled solo for the first time, bungy jumping, blackwater rafting, canyon swinging, skydiving, paragliding, scuba diving, shotover jets, indoor and outdoor climbing, zip lining...you name it. If there was a groupon for it, like helicopter piloting, I was absolutely there and first in line, encouraging my friends to come along with me.

I've read somewhere that after the age of 25, the fear of death sets in. That's why teens and young people are so willing, able, and enthusiastic about doing activities that would otherwise seem uncautionary to older folk. I am sure there are a lot of reasons for this - you're young and likely active and relatively fit, you have a stable enough lifestyle or one that allows you to feel safe enough to risk, your focus isn't on reproduction and rearing of kids, you have freedom and hopefully some amount of spending money to go out there and do what you want. To be honest, when I first read the article, because I was at a stage of my life where I was always doing something new, extreme, and active...I didn't really believe it. Of course I had friends who never wanted to do extreme sports and were not interested in pushing the boundaries, for sure. But I thought perhaps it was just an individual preference, rather than an inherent biological mechanism.

But after this weekend celebrating Goose's birthday with his friends...I now know that I have reached that biological milestone. For the first time in recent memory, I was doing an activity that literally made me feel sick with worry and made my brain hum with constant warnings.

We were go-karting.

Now I've never had too much issue with driving. I'm sure my parents will be glad to read that I've always been cautionary, unlike many teen drivers. The most I did was make sure I was always first off of the line when the light turned green, but that was just being silly and judging the reaction times of others, not because I was going particularly fast. Sometimes I get a little apprehensive when returning to driving after being abroad (and carless) for several months in a row, but it fades after that first short trip to the store. It really is like riding a bicycle.

But this time, as we entered the longest indoor go-karting track in the UK at Capital Karts, my alarm bells were ringing internally. As I watched the people before us zoom around the track, I could feel my anxiety mounting. This was no longer the adrenaline rush of excitement (though there was still a small amount of that), it was fear, dread, the warnings of risk.

As we got suited up and listened to the spiel about different colored flags and what they meant, I tried to calm myself down. It was just go-karting, something I'd done several times before. We were wearing full helmets, jumpsuits, and gloves. I was as well-protected as I was going to be in an activity like this.

We were given 15 minutes of practice laps to assign the order in which we'd start our real 35 minute race. I started last because they needed to find me a foam insert so I could reach the pedals.

I wasn't fussed about getting in a good position for the real race - I figured if anything, it would be better to start from the back because then I had more empty space on the track for myself before anyone else would come to lap me.

We started the actual race after filing into positions. I was third from last, the other two girls in our group behind me.

For the first three or four laps, I actually tried hard to get a good time. I did have the track to myself and was feeling pretty good about being able to take the right lines (outside, inside, outside!).

But then the leaders caught up to me. So instead of being able to concentrate on the track itself and where I wanted to be positioned for each turn, it was about getting out of the way of boys who weren't interested in being polite but rather getting the fastest time. Regardless of whether they hit you (which wasn't officially allowed) or cut you off.

It made my internal warning signals flare up again. I felt the adrenaline the whole time, but this was now doubled with anxiety about personal injury, about my friends or Goose getting hurt. My brain would just not shut up. So I decided I didn't care about the time, I wasn't trying to beat anyone, I was there as a birthday celebration...and slowed down.

It was good when there were pockets of quiet and I could do as I like. But I was constantly checking to see if anyone was catching up to me so I could get out of the way. I felt exhausted by the end, being on edge the whole time, even though I hadn't been going fast.

It was the first time in recent memory that I've felt this way. I've usually craved and enjoyed the line between excitement and fear. But I guess what they said was true - I'd started having those fears. I worried about the safety of the people with me, even though we were in a relatively safe environment. I let it get the best of me. I didn't like it.

I can only imagine what this will be like once I have kids (if I am fortunate enough to have any). I get it now, I totally do. But I am wondering if there are ways of letting go of that fear. It didn't seem productive at the time and I didn't like how it made me feel or act in the face of danger. There must be a balance between fear for your loved one's safety and being able to control it enough to let them live, to let you live.

I think this is something I'll look into further. I don't want to live in fear and I want to be able to enjoy my loved ones doing risky things from time to time in the course of their lives. Things can happen regardless of how careful you are about yourself or others. Being safe but still living life to its fullest.

If CBT is any guide on that, it's going to be about facing the situations that make me feel uncomfortable. Habituate myself with fearscapes so I can understand and then control the anxiety that will mount. Sounds like a new goal for this year, along with what I am already working on - facing fears, charging forward, living life better and without anxiety.

I'm feeling better about it already. :)

In the meantime, I'll leave you with this photo of someone terrified of go-karting, so I can laugh alongside them in how silly it is to be constantly afraid.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

The future is now!

Goose and I were getting ready to entertain our first guests. Four of his friends were coming down from Warwick to stay the weekend at ours for a belated birthday celebration. There was lots of fun surprise stuff planned - go-karting and an electronica concert, for starters. But this also meant that we would have four more people in our house than normal. Six people in a 60 square meter apartment with one bathroom, for two nights.

My usual organized planner-self would have been on top of this. I did make sure we would have enough guest towels and bedding...but beyond that, I don't know what happened. My foresight completely slipped.

So it should have been no surprise to me that I was rushing around that morning, tidying up the place, making it ready for our numbers to triple.

Unfortunately I hadn't made sure we had enough real food and drink in the house to entertain four people. It's a birthday weekend...drinks, drunchies, and hangover breakfasts were going to be needed. 

Being a small person in a European country can sometimes be hard. On the one hand, it's great because everything here is a lot narrower and smaller, so you fit in (minus being short, which is a disadvantage almost everywhere, it seems). On the other, it can be tough getting those daily tasks done by yourself, even when unemployed. Especially things like heavy grocery shopping. The closest grocery store is about 0.7 of a mile away from our house, and it is way more expensive than it needs to be. I won't shop there unless I really don't feel like walking and I only need stuff for a day or two. Not the kind of place you go to to entertain four people and yourselves for two days. The rest of the good, large grocery stores are about a mile away. Most do not have particularly good bus routes from our house.

In any case, my point about being small is that I have a limited carrying capacity. On a good day, if I'm feeling energetic and strong, I can probably carry a large backpack and two medium heavy grocery bags for the mile walk home. On a very good day. My back, arms, and hands usually smart for an hour or two afterwards and I might be a bit sore the next day, but I'll make it.

I'm fairly certain though that I could not do that for the things we needed this weekend - a bottle or two of wine, some bottles of cider, large amount of milk (for all the British people who drink tea several times a day and require milk in their tea)...you see my point. It was pretty much all liquids except for the bags of crisps we would also surely need.

But I hadn't planned well enough in advance to get them with a normal online grocery delivery where the latest they let you order is 48 hours in advance...sometimes. Most of the time you book a delivery slot a week in advance, maybe 5 days if you're cutting it a bit closer. So online grocery shopping from our normal retailers was out.

Then Goose reminded me that we share an Amazon Prime account. This also includes the most ridiculous service ever called Amazon Prime Now. 

I am fairly certain this only exists in large cities because to support it otherwise would be madness. Similar to how in a few cities you can get drones to deliver packages to you within a few hours. Here in London they are also testing little rover robots in Greenwich to deliver packages. 

Amazon Prime Now is like that, but with a real driver. And you can pay him/her £7 to get to you within the hour you're ordering. Otherwise it's free Prime delivery within a few hours (you can pick 3 hour windows for them to arrive). It was 9:15am when I put in my order through the app. By not requesting it before 10am I paid nothing for delivery (though I did tip the driver as part of my bill). Everything I ordered arrived at 10:45am. To my door, with the nicest driver, Howard.

All the groceries I needed minus some fresh meat products (bacon), eggs, and cake...to my doorstep, in an hour and a half. For free.

The prices of the groceries weren't even ridiculous. In fact, they pretty much rivaled anything I could buy from a normal grocery store - online and brick and mortar. The crisps I ordered were still £1 a bag, the wine anywhere from £5-7 per bottle, the pack of cider was actually cheaper at 4 for £3.50.

And I could see real time updates about my order. As soon as I submitted, a map showed up, detailing the warehouse where my order was being packaged, and what part of the order they were on (e.g. packaging, ready for pickup, etc). After the stuff was all packaged, I was not only told the name of my driver (Howard) and given the option to call him any time, I could also track on the map, where he was at all times with my delivery, so I would know when he was going to literally arrive at my door.

All of this for free with the Prime account. 

And it isn't limited to groceries. One weekend Goose ordered a new PS4 game that had just come out. It came to us within 2 hours. It was literally cheaper and faster than downloading it on the PS4 store directly to his console. And we have a fiber connection here. Cheaper and faster to have a physical human being package it from a warehouse and drive it to us, than to download it over fiber internet.

This entire thing just blows my mind.

The future is most definitely here. What's next? 

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Rediscovering my friendship with Don

One of the big bummers about low mood is the lack of interest in doing anything. In my case, it was literally almost anything that required my brain. Sometimes even watching TV or reading was too hard; I wasn't able to follow the plot lines (and this is me we're talking about, a usual rabid reader). Sometimes I'd forget secondary characters that were only in every other episode. If Goose and I were watching the show together and later he brought up something that happened, I wouldn't always know what he was talking about, despite having watched and likely discussed the episode while it was happening.

So when I finally started to feel the light again, it felt like the world suddenly had color. I had a realization that London was, indeed, as cool as I had remembered it.

You know what first activity got me out of that funk? What I really got excited about?

Rainbow bagels. I kid you not...rainbow bagels are the first thing I have really gotten crazy about in almost a year.

I was reading an article similar to this one when I realized that I wanted nothing more than to try this bagel. As though my life depended on it. Through the days of wondering how or when I could get this bagel (several plans were made in my schedule, like figuring out when to go after classes, if I could deliver one to Goose while he was at work, etc). A lot of thought went into obtaining this bagel. I got a little bit obsessed.

But then I realized I should make it an opportunity to socialize again. The week or two previous I'd been set up with a number of girls as part of a ladies cocktail club. I only knew a few of the girls peripherally through a group that my gay BFF started a few years ago. He encouraged me to go because I'd been down and had lost so many of my friends and community to the layoff, and so I went. The girls there were super cool and easy to talk to. We bonded over various topics and I can see the beginning of at least some friendly acquaintance friendships. It felt like a door was opening.

At the end of the cocktail club meeting I suggested we make a Whatsapp group so all of us could keep in touch easier. It's a known fact (in my mind at least) that people are pretty crap at keeping up with correspondence. Especially if it's Facebook-related and events planning...so figured this would be a shortcut.

And it was. After telling Goose about the bagels and him showing mild interest (which is fair enough, it's a multicolored bagel, after all), I splashed the suggestion across to the cocktail ladies, and most responded positively. And quickly! Soon it became a group date with an interest in going to the nearby Columbia Street Flower Market as well. Boom, a date for that weekend with minimal effort. I was ecstatic.

And so we went to the flower market and the rainbow bagel shop. It's all located in Brick Lane, a trendy hipster neighborhood that is the next in a long line of slowly gentrifying east London communities. It is literally on the doorstep of Shoreditch, the first hipster neighborhood I was acquainted with when moving to London. The super trendy have now gone to other places like Brixton and Hackney. A rather frightening change from poor neighborhoods to affluent neighborhoods as soon there will be no place for the poor to go. But I digress.

First was the flower market. I was more interested in the bagels, of course, because sometimes plants make me uncomfortable. But I was willing to see what it was all about, and I like flowers. I rationalized that if I started to feel anxious I'd just neck it out of there until everyone was done and I could get the rainbow bagel of my dreams.

It really is a gorgeous flower market though, so I needn't have worried for long:

Unfortunately these photos aren't mine, they're stolen from the internet. It was jampacked with people and very narrow. Instead I used my eyes. I've been trying to do that more lately - use my eyes instead of my camera. I want to experience things for myself.

The colors were just incredible. I have only ever seen anything like it when Churches and I were at the Keukenhof tulip gardens near Amsterdam. Explosions of color. Lots of tulips, roses, and even succulents.

It's not a big market, so everyone went through the first time in about 10 minutes, maybe 15 if they got stuck behind someone buying something and couldn't move forward, so we all met at a coffee shop at the end, had a cuppa, then went back and made our real purchases.

I ended up buying these unusual looking tulips:

This is an actual picture by me. They were red tulips with yellow and purple crinkled edges. I later found out they're called parrot tulips, and the crinkling is caused by a virus (kinda ew). I had a bet with the other cocktail girls whether it was really a beautiful flower, or just simply terrifying. They all thought it was beautiful...I'm still on the fence. But happy I got them anyway. Nice to give some color to the house. They lasted a week, which was a nice surprise.

We finally headed to the bagel shop. At this point I was pretty hungry because I'd purposefully not eaten in preparation for this bagel experience. But when we got to the shop (which is open 24 hours), they had run out and it would be another hour before they had their next batch. I was floored. Several people were sad. So to kill time we wandered down the street, had another drink, and then wandered back.

The line in front of Beigel Shop was surprisingly manageable. We did find out later that it wound around inside the actual shop, but it was still a manageable wait time, around 15-20 minutes. I could deal with that, even with hunger.

Now when you think of rainbow bagels (or beigels), especially after reading an article like the one I linked above, you imagine this:

Gorgeous multicolored bright neon bagels with beautiful patterns.

Or even more simply, just with splotches of color. Something that reminds you of Lisa Frank and everything psychedelic and wonderful in childhood.

In actuality though...they were like this:

Which is not to say that they were bad...but they were a little bit of a disappointment. Don't be deceived! Every photo you've ever seen of a rainbow bagel that does not look like this one has probably had its colors saturated.

But it didn't matter, I was still interested. This was the first thing that had really gotten my interest back to London after everything I'd been through. I was excited either way. I was going to have a rainbow bagel.

And so I did. I ordered mine with cream cheese, crispy bacon, and tomato, which is a favorite combination from my favorite bagel shop in San Diego, Golden Bagel, which according to a quick Google search right now reveals that it has not only closed, but had very so-so ratings. Well, that wasn't my experience of it, in any case. I loved that place when I was living there and will remember it fondly always despite what the internet says.

I ordered Goose his request of crispy bacon with cheese. Others ordered cream cheese with salt beef, one of their specialties. I couldn't remember ever having salt beef (or even really know what it is), so I was wary. I tried some of someone else's...it's amazing. I'll have to remember that for the future.

But anyway, back to the rainbow bagel: I give it a thumbs up! Much softer and chewier than any other bagel I've had, but not necessarily in a bad way. It did get completely stuck in your teeth, which was a bit of a drag, especially as it's highly colored...but I was still very pleased with the overall texture.

The taste was a bit strange though. It was a tiny bit sweet and had an overwhelming flavor of tea. I am fairly certain this was not intentional. Either that or my taste buds were going nuts that week (it's possible, sometimes my smell and taste flare up and it's impossible not to think things don't taste right for days). It sort of tasted like matcha rice cake. Super sticky, little sweet, lots of earthy tea flavor. I had read in some article that someone claimed each of the colors was a different fruit flavor...but I don't think that's what was happening here. They were talked about as tasting like plain bagels, just colored. I would definitely disagree with that too.

Some in the group thought the savory and sweet combination was a bit much. I thought it was still good, but I was also completely immersed in my feelings of sweet happiness at 1) having obtained the desired rainbow bagel and eating it 2) finally eating something because I was starving and all we'd had that day was tea and cider and 3) the sun was shining, which is such a rare thing in England, so the salty sweet combination didn't bother me. Also, the amount of toppings they piled onto that bagel was incredible. A ridiculous slather of cream cheese, one or two tomato slices, and then, I kid you not, half a rasher of bacon. Literally we're talking like 5 pieces of bacon. It was awesome.

I went home very happy. Pleased that I'd been social and trying to make new friends, tried a new food item of interest, saw the sunshine. I was tired but content. I could feel the inklings of excitement starting up in me again. This was just the first step in planning my way back into a relationship with Don. Feeling the anticipation of sought-after events and food. Trying new things, really enjoying the city again.

I cannot wait to see what else there is to explore.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

The invaluable skill that London has taught me

I have learned a great many things through my experiences in London. I've written posts about the differences in culture, in dating, in products (especially food), regarding the weather.

But I realized today that one of the most fundamental things that London has taught me, that has had an impact on me, as a person, is...

...how to blow my nose in public.

I know this may seem like a trivial matter, but I assure you, it is not.

Before moving abroad, I had no concept of how to blow my nose in public. There was constant fear of the embarrassment associated with whether the "discharge" would always end up in the tissue, if I would have some telltale trace (such as bats in the cave). In general I avoided blowing my nose at all in public and would only do so when I had direct access to a private bathroom or toilet stall. It is safe to say that, truthfully, I never blew my nose in public for fear.

I simply did not know how to do it without feeling like I was doing it wrong, making too much noise, being gross about it, making a big error and finding the evidence later (ew).

And honestly, I don't think there was as much reason for me to do so in California or Helsinki. My nose simply behaved itself and I would need to blow it perhaps once a week in the privacy of my own home before going out.

London, however, does not let people get away with once-a-week blowings. Oh no. You'll be lucky if you can honestly go 24 hours without needing to blow your nose.

I blame the pollution, dust, and weather for this. It is simply imperative that you blow your nose.

What I noticed, as I started needing to blow my nose in places where I had no access to a private toilet, was that people were actually okay with blowing their noses around others. You'll be on a packed tube during your daily commute and someone will, inevitably, and quite subtly, blow their nose.

I do, however, have a theory that most people who do blow their noses in public, don't actually need to. The quietness and softness of their blowings, suggests to me, that they are doing it merely out of habit or gesture...not because their nose actually needs clearing. Unless the person is visibly sick and congested, the most you might get is a very soft honk puff from someone in public.

But they all do it nonetheless! Such a society of noseblowers! No shame about it whatsoever!

So over the years I have perfected my craft. It took a long time to be completely comfortable, but there was a time where I was too sick to keep sniffling to myself (and sniffling seems to be more offensive to people in public than making the sounds of a ripe zucchini being squeezed out of a small tube at a slow velocity...which I found strange). I had to charge ahead, be brave. And I was.

I of course immediately took out my pocket mirror and studied my nose, making sure there was no evidence of such an action, other than the telltale redness that seems to follow anything that relates to my nose.

I have even started to get to a level of mastery where I don't need the pocket mirror after I blow. I feel confident enough not even to check!

Who would have thought someone scared of public nose blowing could be so confident in such a thing over a span of just a few short years?

I will say I am impressed with myself. And heartily thank London for forcing me to master such a skill. I feel like such an adult now.

(This post is only partly in jest. I am actually quite proud that I feel confident blowing my nose in public and sometimes not needing to check. It's surprisingly relieving.)

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

And now for the nice part...

Thank you for continuing to read, even after the barrage of confessions I just poured on you since coming back online.

Now it's time to talk about fun things, good things that have been happening in my life.

I have moved in with Goose. It's been about two weeks since all my stuff was moved over and the apartment I'd been living in for the past 3 years was emptied.

I am shocked to say this, but it's actually going really well. So smooth!

Both Goose and I have not lived with anyone else (significant other or otherwise) for years. For me that actually means almost ten years. A decade of not living with anyone. The last person was my then-boyfriend, and only for a summer before he moved back home and got a real job. Before then it had been a solid year or two since living with real roommates, the senior year of uni. That's it. Since then it's been me, myself, and I, living in a place together.

As you likely all remember, I did consider finding roommates when I first moved to Finland. However, it wasn't long before I realized the Finnish don't do that, and I quickly reverted back to believing that living by myself really was the least stressful. More than likely it was. Especially given the apartment sizes there (miniature and rife with Ikea space solutions!).

Then when I moved to England, where it is exceptionally common to have a roommate because rent here is so ridiculous, I declined. That door had closed. No more admittance. No vacancy. Nope nope nope nope nope.

And so the saga of living alone continued...until now!

Honestly a small part of me always hoped something like this would happen. I would find someone great, we would move in together, and something something ride off into the sunset on the same horse. I remember telling my sister how it was always in the back of my mind which clothes I would get rid of to make space in my closet for someone else's clothes. Those were my secret single-girl thoughts (a bit embarrassing really, and quite desperada, when taken out of context).

And now it has actually happened! My goodness.

The move itself was surprisingly smooth. I paid two guys with a van who came and loaded and unloaded all my stuff at the appropriate locations. Moving in London is a bit of a bear in comparison to California (I can't really compare it with Finland as the company was always doing all my moving for me...which was amazing and I miss it...like the deserts miss the rain). Instead of packing all of your stuff into whatever boxes you have, throwing the rest in bags, and calling your friends over with their cars to help you load up and move everything in a caravan...going even just a few blocks away takes considerable time, effort, and money. Almost no one in my age range has a car in London because it's ridiculous to have one. Where would you park it when you're home? Would you even consider trying to find parking in the center? Is it even reasonable to have one given the number of times you'd drive a week? And what appendage or organ would you have to sell in order to pay for maintenance and parking!?

Oh no, no no no. Very few friends with cars here. And the cars that do exist are 1) high in demand because of aforementioned reasons and 2) usually European-ly small. And by that I mean it's lucky if there are more than two doors and they are large enough NOT to park with their bumper to the curb and still leave room in the road for cars to pass. And this isn't even continental Europe where the cars are even smaller and sometimes have 3 wheels instead of 4 (really!)!

Nuuuup. I was going to be paying this myself. I even did myself a solid (financially, anyway) by buying my own boxes from Amazon then packing it all myself. Perks of being unemployed and a student: time and motivation to save as much money as possible. I had all my stuff packed before the van got there, of course. Saved myself £200 by not having them pack it all for me. I kid you not. Some companies make you provide all the moving supplies (boxes, tape, padding, etc) AND still charge you anywhere from £4-7 PER BOX. I didn't have that kind of money to splash around, so, nope nope nope nope nope.

The hilarity in discovering you have way more stuff than you ever knew is always an experience. You think you're not a hoarder, but secretly you must be. I'd been living in my place for three years, and though I am constantly purging, donating, recycling, KonMari-ing, giving away items (clothes and books especially), it somehow still ended up being more than I'd thought. This including the more than half of my furniture I sold before even considering the move. And the more than 10 bags worth of stuff I donated to charity.

Luckily I planned for it. Still had enough boxes on hand. My estimate for the moving company was just off by 10 boxes. Lol.

What I hadn't planned for was the fact that my table, built and bred in the apartment after it arrived from Ikea in a flat pack...didn't fit through the door and my tools had already been packed. Whoops. Luckily the movers had tools with them...but there was a bit of Eastern European grumbling about it, which I expect wasn't all rainbows and smiles.

But all in all, it went very smoothly. We made sure the moving van was on its way before calling an Uber to pick us up so we would arrive at our new shared place before the movers did. If we'd taken public transit, though my old place and our new place are only about 10 miles apart, it would have taken us over an hour. Even in the Uber it took about 40 minutes. This is why things are so difficult in London.

We arrived half an hour before the movers did. They probably needed to take the long and less roundabout (literally) route since they had all my junk in the back.

After it was all unloaded and I gave them the rest of my cash (which I'd made by selling off my furniture), we spent the entire rest of the day unpacking all my boxes, rearranging rooms, making sure everything had a home. We set up rules: if it doesn't have a dedicated home in the apartment, it's being donated.

Needless to say we got everything unpacked before too late that night. The flattened boxes are now neatly stored beneath the bed, no lingering signs of a move-in. I arranged for another charity collection (these home-calls are great, though it's a bit of a toss-up when it comes to what time they'll come between 8am-3pm...or in this case, 6:30pm... -_-*...) and had about 10 bags and some extra bits and bobs (or bric a brac, as they call it here), picked up.

The place is now spankingly habitable. Everything has a place, it isn't cluttered. We're saving a bunch on shared rent. It looks...like an actual house. With real people who live together and have stuff that goes surprisingly well together.

And living together has been easy, smooth. No feathers ruffled, no fights about my stuff versus your stuff or my territory versus your territory. No disagreements on what to keep versus what to get rid of.

It's...amazing. :)

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

The down and out

Naturally I am incredibly fortunate, so the pain that I suffered during the period following the layoff was purely emotional, psychological. I was not destitute or homeless, I was very lucky to secure a way to stay in the country and not have to leave the masters degree and relationship I had started here. I didn't even really have to downsize any aspect of my life, other than to budget more than I've had to before, and that was only because I have anxieties about running out of money.

There is no need for me to further explain why I felt the way that I did, though logically everything worked out almost as best as it could. Instead of working and going to school, I was able to wrangle my school into supporting a full-time student visa. I didn't exactly realize what this meant at the time, but needless to say it cost me a bit more money and time than perhaps I'd originally planned. Both resources I had. Again, so incredibly fortunate.

What I want to express instead are the emotional battles I've had to deal with. I think perhaps that's the main part I've been wanting to share, now that I've explained what happened on the outside.

To sum it up in just a few sentences: I became a hermit and didn't leave the house for several months. There were days at a time where I physically could not and did not leave the house. Something as easy as going out to get groceries (even if I needed them), simply alluded me. Every time I would try to get ready to go out, I would get anxiety about whether or not I was ready, and need to lie down for 15 minutes (even fully clothed) in order to get my strength and anxiety at a level where I could feel relatively okay going out.

Social events were avoided completely. The thought of having to explain to someone what I had gone through and was going through currently, was simply too much. I was only able to talk to Goose and my gay bff J about things on a semi-regular basis. 

The shame I felt was crippling. Even though logically I understood there was nothing to be ashamed about. I wasn't singled out; this was a very large company decision that had, generally speaking, absolutely nothing to do with me as a person. It didn't reflect on my professional abilities or experience, it had nothing to do with me as an individual. It was not about something I had done or not done.

And yet my identity has always been so wrapped up in my successes, personally and professionally, that I couldn't let it go. I felt I would be judged for what had happened. That I would be looked down upon, lesser than what I otherwise normally felt were great accomplishments in my life.

Everything I had done up until that point felt like it didn't count for anything. The multiple moves, the great jobs, the amazing experience...in my mind these all vaporized the moment I was let go and there was little recourse for me getting another job for a year. Becoming a full-time student with no job felt a million times worse than the impressive juggle of a full-time job and part-time school. It felt like a very big demotion. Like I was letting everyone down including myself. That I was supposed to be doing more than just school. It is such a normal thing to do, there's no glory in it.

Naturally that's absurd to think. I realized this some of the time, but the thing with low mood is there is not much that will convince you otherwise. There are actions you can and should do, and those will slowly lift you out...but just talking and thinking about things will not easily change your mind. It is so fascinating how once again your entire understanding of the world is controlled by some chemicals your body releases (or doesn't release).

In any case, beyond going to class, where I avoided most contact with other students, especially the new full-time students who wouldn't understand what I'd gone through, who I'd been last year in comparison to this year, but also the other part-timers who I'd made friends with last year...I pretty much stayed home. I worried about using money for anything outside of necessity (meaning just groceries and rent, utilities, etc.). I am incredibly fortunate that Goose is no stickler and made me feel comfortable, didn't push me to spend money I thought I didn't have.

After about four months of this (though it felt like forever), I went and sought out CBT therapy. I'm lucky I live in a country where this is available for free, you just need a referral from your doctor, which I got. I was asked to take a series of surveys that determined how low my mood was, how high my anxiety. Apparently I scored high enough to where I was given a referral right away. Before I set off for Christmas I had my first appointment in the new year.

I just went to my last session today and I cannot say enough about how much this has helped me. CBT is about changing your ways of thinking, knowing when and how to act when you feel you can't do things. In other words it helped me to stop avoiding (which just reinforces itself and keeps you isolated) and start trying again. Honestly it was also nice just to talk to someone about all my problems without fear of it being too much. That is genuinely what they are there for. My therapist might not have always been the most patient, he is human after all, but his advice and techniques were sound, and for that I am incredibly thankful.

And so I am finally coming out of my down shell. I felt the first rays of light a few weeks ago. Hence the being okay with writing this blog again. And trying to find more friends. Seeking out old friends and reestablishing ties. Making it a point to leave the house, even if just for a short walk, every day. Getting back into exercise. Knowing that everything will be alright and that I will soon be onto my next great job and back into feeling secure about my identity, successes, experience, again.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Living through a layoff

But what does being laid off feel like? It feels like you're being told the work you do is useless. That you are worth only the money they are offering, that you are no longer needed. Even through the knowledge that you will find something better, because everyone who is ambitious and enthusiastic and half-intelligent does...makes no difference in the feeling that you've lost your home and been kicked out. There is a very special, unique, gut-wrenching feeling of being told you're being made redundant. Logic does not usually help you through it.

There is something special about the ExNokian family that now exists worldwide. Practically all of us have been laid off or sold by now, and yet we all still gather together to discuss how things were, how amazingly privileged we were to work there with all those people. The products we worked on that failed but we are still proud of. Many of them have even admitted to me that their new jobs, though perhaps better paying and a step up...do not compare. There was something special about that group of people, and we all know it.

Perhaps it is that we all feel like we went to war together. So many friends and colleagues cut off and then brought in again for new tours of the tech battlefield we were so clearly losing for so long. We'd lose thousands every year just to have the best, brightest, and continually loyal come back to us. There was always that cycle of rebirth, that reassurance your favorite colleagues would return with the next round of posted jobs after having lost their current one. I am sure this is why this layoff, versus the many others before it, felt so particularly devastating. There would be no rebuilding of this ship, returning of lost colleagues. We were now all separate people, scattered across the world. A diaspora of those who used to be together.

I am sure many would claim we're all being melodramatic, that we should move on. And I'm sure to a degree they are very right. But it does feel, to so many of us, that we lost a family as well as a place of work. We spend so much of our lives at work, with our colleagues. Could it not make sense that we would emotionally attach to it in the same way?

I do hope other companies who come across us, the wandering nomads of former Nokia, take note. The loyalty and company allegiance I have seen compares to nothing else. Treating your employees well seems such an afterthought nowadays. Instead you get constant slogans of productivity and innovation. What about community? Dedication? Actual work-life balance? When did it become all about what you can wring from a person before they leave your employment? Goose was telling me that no one in his industry expects employees to stay more than two years. Because of this, they purposefully do not develop long term plans for employees. Whether that be in how they promote people, distribute benefits, or other factors...the expectation that they will leave is rooted in how they treat their people. It is a self-fulfilling prophecy. And most certainly reinforced by the fact that people will leave what is not good after time and the only ways to promotion are to leave and get a new job.

What a strange world we live in.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

You've been made redundant!

Let's start with the big pink elephant in my life: the redundancy.

As someone who has had their career solely in tech, layoffs are not a new concept to me. The technology innovation market is volatile and at the whim of rather picky and illogical customers. So perhaps it is no surprise that there are usually ongoing drastic changes to the companies that compete in these arenas.

Before I start my most recent story of the layoff that grounded me for almost a year, I thought I would go through the history of my previous experience with layoffs, so there's some background to what happened. Okay then.

Straight out of uni I was incredibly lucky. I had scored a free internship with Digitaria at the end of my senior year, which allowed me to still have something to write on my resume before I was introduced to S, my future boss at Qualcomm. Going to a good school with good networking opportunities really is key to getting a job straight out of college, and I was lucky to have made a favorable impression on one of my professors who had a professional relationship with a big tech company. I was in, and without much of an interview. I was working with another student from my class who graduated at the same time as me, and together we formed a team of contractors that did background research on our users.

I was working with them for perhaps 8-9 months when we were told the company was having mass restructuring. Though I may not have loved the job due to my status as contractor (they really do treat you differently), it was still a very nasty shock being told that all the contractors, including me and half my team, were being let go.

I remember the very clear sick feeling in my stomach that formed, the tears that I shed. But it wasn't really the job I was upset about, it was the instability. I was afraid I wouldn't be able to find another job. As an adult, I now realize that of course it had nothing to do with me or even the function of my department, but it was simply a repercussion of what happened following the 2008 financial crisis. Lots of people lost their jobs. And I was simply one of them.

Naturally being the newly-out-of-college-studious-type, I immediately went job hunting, wasting no time. I met some recruiters and made friends with one of them enough to get hired at my next company, Hands on Mobile.

Hands on Mobile
Hands on Mobile, crazily, is the only company I haven't been laid off from. I was a contractor again (though in a much friendlier way where I was allowed into the office like everyone else) and have stayed friends with many of the people I met there. They are a good group of people. I'm sure it helped that I was one of three women at the office (of more than 200), and I was the only one working in engineering (the other two were either admins or part of logistics). I was young, ambitious, and nerdy. All the things that small companies full of men enjoy. It was a good time and I learned to code in PHP. Overall winning.

But the contract I had with them was only for three months and two months into that, I got a call back for a job I'd applied to nearly a year previous. It was Nokia, calling me up and seeing if I was still available, 9 months after I'd applied for the job.

Naturally the pay was better as a full-time employee for a large tech company than as a contractor for a smaller company, and it was what I wanted to do professionally, so I left. My boss, SA, was completely understanding and very nice about me leaving before my contract or project were finished. He held no grudges and to this day, remains very nice to me. As I have worked longer, I find people like him harder and harder to find.

Ah, Nokia. The start of my career began with me as a user interface designer for the low-end phone sector, then called S40 Phones.

I absolutely loved it.

My team was great and my mentor especially took me under her wing. She was pleased to have another woman on the team from the same program at UCSD (we all graduated with pretty much the same degrees, so were all familiar with the same professors and classes, trials and tribulations). We became fast and very good friends.

Two years or so into my working with Nokia, she decided to transfer to Copenhagen following a very nasty divorce from her bipolar and slightly abusive husband. We all agreed it was the right thing for her to do, and our company had already begun its pattern of restructuring regularly, though we didn't know it yet. The only reorgs we'd heard of until that point had been places we didn't know existed. I remember receiving an email about six months in, informing me that the Jyväskylä offices were closing down. We didn't even know where that was (it's in Finland, we had to look it up). It was a relatively small site closure, only 200 people or so, and since we didn't even know they existed or what their function was, it passed without much conversation.

The falling bombs of reorganization began to increase and get slowly and slowly closer to home. Suddenly there was restructuring on the east coast, and then within our own site. But no one was really being laid off, merely shuffled. So we didn't think much of it.

Our products continued to thrive, our programs continued without much change, though we did notice that more and more of them seemed to be cancelled before launch. We moved offices from two large buildings on the top of Scripps Ranch to a brand new single building in Rancho Bernardo. We assumed things were looking up, being moved into a shiny new building and being put all together. We were wrong.

Perhaps I should have known something was wrong when there was a decision from the top to remove all middle managers. My manager, beloved G, was basically demoted during this phase. I didn't understand it at the time, just that I had a new boss, R, who didn't understand design or its function. He was very much a project manager and not a people manager. He has since earned a rather surprising notoriety amongst the Nokians.

Anyway we continued along, though my team, the design team, was not particularly happy. We implemented agile ways of working, which at the time worked great for development but was fairly crippling to design. I continued working there because I loved my team and the people I worked with. We all continued our happy sunny lives in San Diego.

And suddenly we weren't. Our entire division, S40, was being reorged. Since my team dealt directly with operator-specific phones rather than worldwide editions, we were cut. I had been working there for three and a half years when this happened.

Since Nokia in Finland was still at the helm, we were given very generous severance terms. Six months of a "bridge" program that helped us get to our next step in life - whether that be seed funding to start our own businesses, money or application help to get back to school and further our education and training, or simply resume and interview workshops to help us to our next jobs. The six months were paid, we didn't need to come to work anymore, and we were still considered active employees. Meaning we could apply internally for jobs at other sites.

After traveling around for a bit, I applied abroad. I was beginning to feel done with San Diego by that point, my best friends having all moved away to new jobs and deeper relationships, my then relationship with my boyfriend having ended and had no chance of being rekindled past loving friendship (something that it took me a very long time to understand).

I was lucky. I had been able to secure good ties with a team abroad that I had especially liked. Their manager recognized my good work and was more than happy to go the extra mile to get me hired onto his team. And so I was given a choice of Helsinki or London. I said it didn't matter to me, I was just interested in going abroad. Helsinki was easier for visa purposes, so that's where I went. I signed the contract without ever having been to Finland. I met my team for a week two months before moving. The time up until the actual move was spent working two time zones, 10 hours apart. Not the easiest of times. But I did it.

Nokia Finland
Moving to Finland was such an adventure. This blog was started because of that move, so I won't go into detail about it. Needless to say I had an amazing time in Finland, and loved it.

Hilariously the man who hired me decided to move to California and head a different team, so after hiring me he handed me over to a new manager I'd never met before (this all happening before my move). I was a bit hesitant, since it is very important to me, the relationship I have with my manager, but things turned out great. My new manager was wonderful, and likely an even better fit than the original hiring manager would have been. She was great and really respected my work.

Six months in though, once again restructuring reared its ugly head. Half of my team was being made redundant. My half, the Finnish half. Our team in London was being preserved because the head of Phones Design was seated there.

I was devastated. After having made the extremely emotional move abroad, I was going to be sent home again after only six months. I remember calling my parents in the middle of their night (which was our middle afternoon), crying as I told them my adventures abroad were over before they'd really begun.

But I was saved from the fire yet again. My boss was very pleased to have me on the team and one of our team members in London was leaving to join a team in China. If I wanted the job in London, it was mine. So naturally, I took it. The prospects of me getting another job in Finland on my own, without speaking Finnish, were slim. Plus their economy had started to take a turn for the worse, and I could see it was only going to get harder. So I accepted, and 10 months after moving to Finland, I moved to England.

Nokia England
My time moving to London is also well-documented. It was not an easy transition. I did not enjoy living here until over a year in. But eventually things settled and I found a good community. Work was more interesting and a better balance. It was better working at the same site with my team, rather than having us split across the world and time zones.

The first big change happened when we were acquired by Microsoft. Fears of layoffs began immediately. The worst didn't happen though. Pretty much everyone kept their job, but there was a split amongst those who were sold (us) and the ones who stayed behind. Phones was split as a separate entity from the rest of Nokia. We were acquired, everyone else stayed behind. We lost the ability to talk to people we'd worked with for years, but generally speaking they were still there, working on the projects we knew them to be working on. Nothing really changed except who you could email or the projects you had knowledge about. It didn't seem so devastating, and I didn't mind us being acquired by an American company. I thought perhaps this would make me more familiar with what was going on, what would happen.

We moved to a new office as our old one was being renovated to be super high spec and customer-facing. We all took it as a good sign that we were shuttled into one of the hottest Microsoft offices in London - centrally located off of Oxford Street. This in direct comparison to some of our colleagues who were forced to move to Reading, which is about 40 minutes outside of London. We only imagined how people dealt with that commute after having the ease of Paddington for years.

And so we continued doing our work. We settled into our new office, made friends with some of the colleagues on the other side of the securely locked offices (yes, we were working for the same company, but were still siloed into our own securely locked areas).

So when the announcements came down, perhaps we were not so much shocked as expecting it to be like the rest of our Nokia layoffs. Roles would be made redundant and reorganized, but the majority of us would stay doing the work in slightly different roles.

Not to be so. That year Microsoft had its second largest layoffs in history, and we were part of it. Our entire office was shrunken to 14 people. And this only because the new head of design sat at our office and needed to keep a skeleton crew of those who would finish the projects we had already started and committed to. Long after the announcements were made final and we knew what was going to happen, these colleagues, who applied again for their jobs or were appointed to their jobs, told us that they didn't expect to last a year after we all left.

It all happened very fast. Within three months of the announcements everyone was gone except those of us who were forced into an inbetween situation. A few needed to finish projects only they could finish (there were perhaps less than 5 of those), and then there were those like me, who needed our employment to extend further to get to our next steps. Mine was securing another visa, for others it was trying to qualify for maternity leave (we had several who were pregnant...not all of them were lucky enough to go on maternity early to secure future jobs, as per the European requirements to get women back in the workforce after they've had children), or to find jobs internally.

I went to the office a few months after it all happened and the big farewell passed. There were three people in the office. Three. Out of the 70 or so who once sat there. Some of the remaining 14 were traveling...others had stopped coming into the office altogether and worked from home. Everyone I spoke to was updating their resumes, CVs, and interviewing. They did not expect to last long before being laid off themselves. Some even confided that they should not have taken the appointment to their jobs.

And so ended my most current layoff. Whoosh, the speed of life.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Where to even begin...

After reading the last few posts I wrote before stopping, I realize quite a bit has been left out. So where to begin telling the story of what happened? I want to start at the beginning, having the proclivity for order and organization...but life isn't really like that and for fear of it being merely a report card of what my life has been like, it feels a bit ingenuine.

So I am going to start where I feel the story makes the most sense. Sorry if the chronology of things gets a bit fuzzy in the telling.

To give a run down of what happened though, as I don't think there will be many shocks to you if I've talked to you within the last 6 months:
  • I met my partner, Goose. We've been dating for a bit over a year now. I am moving in with him in two days. I have now met both sides of his family. This is still all very new to me.
  • I traveled to many new and old places like The Netherlands (Amsterdam), Wales (Mumbles), Belgium (Brugge, Brussels), Washington State (Seattle, Redmond), Finland (Helsinki, Oulu), other places in the UK (Dover, London Fashion Weekend, Durham, York, Warwick, Clitheroe), Italy (Venice, Rome), Ireland (Dublin and many others), Portugal (Douro Valley, Porto), and Spain (Gran Canaria).
  • I turned 30 and celebrated it with my parents and friends in a beloved pub in Marylebone.
  • I moved office buildings from Paddington to Oxford Street.
  • I and almost 30,000 others lost their jobs.
  • I lost many friends through the layoffs and life.
  • I spent a very hard summer fighting out negotiations on how I could stay in the country for my partner and to finish the masters degree I was halfway through.
  • I became a full-time masters student on a student visa.
  • I spent more than 8 months dealing with the worst depression of my life thusfar.
  • I am finally ready to talk about all of this.
To say there is a lot to write about is an understatement.

Just as a forewarning: I won't be publishing everyday like the olden days, so posts might be a bit sporadic. I will try to write regularly, but timelines might be a bit scrunched, especially what is going on now (which I hope to eventually tell about). So apologies in advance for the irregularity.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Testing, testing...one, two, three?

After spending 11 days in Gran Canaria with my person, whom I call Goose, it struck me on the plane ride home that I wanted to start writing again. It's been a long time since my last post and a lot has happened. There have been significant changes to my life in the past year and a half and I'm finally ready to share it, really speak about what happened.

I know my readership will have dwindled since the heyday of this blog, but I'm okay with that. It really was just for you, devoted readers and family, that I wrote these in the first place.

So, without much pomp and circumstances, we're live again. And with an updated look. :)