Monday 24th – Sunday 30th November
I used to be permanently stressed. Balancing schoolwork, revision and exams with musical, equestrian and social commitments takes its toll, and as a result I became hyper-organised. My schedules were planned out by the half-hour on calendars, in my filofax and even on my wall through a weekly calendar made of post-it notes. I worked out exactly what I had to do,how long everything would take, and when I had to do it to ensure it was done and ready on time. I worked out that I performed best late at night or under drastic time pressures, so I factored these in.
I dealt with stress by laughing over coffee in the music department, by spending two hours every Wednesday and Friday afternoon playing my violin in the farthest sunlit practice room, or working through it when I couldn’t sleep at night. Singing and riding lessons were fortnightly therapy sessions. Stress became normality, apart from on the rare occasions when I broke for ten minutes, tugging at my hair. Then that became normal, too.
And here’s the secret: I enjoyed the stress. I worked better. There was always something else to be doing, something else to be learning or reading or writing. A break from my schedule was a satisfying rebellion, and following it meant a few hours of freedom at the weekend.
This week I lost my ticket holder in Canterbury whilst visiting my sister. Inside it was my 16-25 railcard, my Dad’s OysterCard for the London Underground, and my tickets to get home, and I was a wreck. I don’t lose things. I don’t forget them. I know where everything is. How could I be so stupid?
We retraced our steps to the bus station, the university, the cinema, the house. I called my parents and then G in floods of tears, unable to comprehend my idiocy. Hours later it showed up in the cinema where it had fallen on the floor under the seat, and the guy I asked there hadn’t known what to look for. I got home, late.
The following day I took a bus to the city – a regular routine. I left my headphones at home by accident. I walked through the Mall on the way to my singing lesson, pausing in Boots to replenish my makeup and, in the queue, found my purse was not in my bag.
I’d had my purse; I’d paid for the bus and put my return ticket inside. And then I’d put it on the seat next to me rather than in my bag like normal, and not picked it up again.
Never more grateful for WiFi, I called the company and they planned to intercept the bus when it returned to the station having stopped by the train station. I’d worked it out so my parents wouldn’t find out my ridiculous mistake; they’d been incredible the previous day as I tried to get home from Canterbury that to thank them by losing my purse would be shameful.
I went to my singing lesson.
“Well,” said Gareth, “you’re stressed.”
I was confused. Stress to me is working late at night and sleeping deeply but never for long enough. Stress is being on top of everything, all the time. Stress is what keeps me going when I start to fall apart. Stress is how I thrive.
We talked about structure, and I understood that my stress within the structure of school just became part of the structure of school. Although I have a hundred and one things to do at the moment, and I plan when I ought to do them, without the structure of school it’s all too easy to lose track. I realised that my stress within a structure – the stress which allowed me to succeed in that structure – is different to my stress away from it, because it has no external boundaries. And it occurred to me that my forgetfulness, my jumpy sleep and my bad dreams have all been symptoms of an undiagnosed enemy which once was my ally: stress.
A kind woman on the bus picked up my purse and took it back to town, handing it in at the library because they saw my library card. The librarians found my details on their server and they called home, so my parents found out. Mum came out to get me. I read my book as I waited for her, unable to focus, and I told her that “there must be something wrong with me”.
“Well,” she said, “you’re stressed.” And we started to work out why, and how that can change.
I’m running an event on Sunday at the Forum in Norwich and there’s too much that still needs doing in advance.
I’m supposed to be going into her school next week to do workshops in PSE lessons and I’ve not even planned it.
I’ve got to get a project report almost finished for Team v a week in advance because I’m away the week it’s due.
There’s more that I didn’t talk about. This is week thirteen of my gap year and it’s only the fourth gap year post I’ve published on my blog. There are forty-eight summer onehundred posts that I still haven’t typed up despite it being December next week, and I might as well tell you now, not all of them have photographs. I haven’t written a piece for my paper Shift for about six weeks. I haven’t been keeping my diary properly. I haven’t done enough Christmas shopping. I haven’t done enough to keep in touch with friends who have left for university. I haven’t looked enough for a job. I haven’t thought about travelling next summer. I haven’t practised my violin. I haven’t tidied up my room and my office. I haven’t run or been to the gym in too long. I haven’t ridden. And, equally, I haven’t given enough time to myself.
So I suppose this is me making myself accountable. There are the things that I haven’t done and need to do, and now the world knows about them. Now they have to be done. I need to get into the good habits I planned to at the start of my gap year, and I need to do it fast or I will have wasted it. I need to set up structures like those I had at school so I can stop letting my stress control me, and instead turn it back into the force which enables me to succeed.