Sunday, 25th July

Mum’s cat woke me up at three in the morning. My room is where she prefers to sleep and I didn’t mind at all, until she scratched the bed and got her claw stuck. I freed her, shut her out of the room and went back to sleep. I ended up being rather decadent and staying in bed until eleven! Mum has a part-time job at the local museum so she’d gone off to work, and Willow amazingly hadn’t come barging in to get me up. In fact, she said she’d slept until ten, which made me wonder what time she went to sleep last night.

Mum’s partner John wasn’t going to live here when mum decided to move up, almost two years ago. They didn’t live together before, they each had a house in the same street. But he didn’t want to be without her either. She wasn’t moving to get away from him, she just needed to do this for her, for her retirement. She’d been stuck in the same place for such a long time and this was finally her chance to start living her life.

The village they were in before was really dead so I totally understood why she wanted to move and I supported her, but it wasn’t easy for John who had long-established friendships, and at 82 wasn’t going to be starting lots of new activities like mum. He’s eighteen years older than her, and she’s still got plenty of life left. She’s settled in so well up here, making friends, getting this job at the museum and volunteering with the lifeboats, whereas he just potters round the house or the garden, moaning about mum’s new friends and generally being a grumpy old man.

He goes back to his house every few weeks to check the post and see his friends, but he’s finally decided to sell the house and move in with my mum permanently. The trouble is, he has a rather large collection of books. 1500 in fact. To move them up here, assuming ten in a box, would take 150 boxes. They are both dreading it. So this morning he went home to make a start on sorting them out. He’ll be gone for a few days, which makes it a bit nicer for us to be here, as he doesn’t join us for any activities and he doesn’t like to watch anything Willow wants to watch on tv, whereas mum always lets her choose. She’s mum’s only grandchild and she loves spoiling her. Willow is very fond of my mum, which is the loveliest thing. She’s always keen to come up here. Hopefully next summer she’ll be able to come on her own.

We lazed around waiting for mum to come back from work, me reading and doing puzzles, and Willow playing with her new Barbie. I had thought about going to the museum to see mum but in the end, the time passed too quickly and she was back at 2pm. We all went to Lidl to choose something for dinner, and after dropping the shopping at home, we headed for the seaside.

The forecast yesterday had said it would rain all day, but by this morning it had changed to just being overcast. As mum moved up here just before Christmas and then the pandemic hit, we hadn’t actually visited when everything was open before. The funfair had a lovely holiday atmosphere now that there were people milling around and the rides were operating. I felt fearless and was keen to go on the rides, which is unlike me. I think I’d had enough of being governed by anxiety and wanted to live, feel, have adventures!

The three of us went on a very gentle rollercoaster to begin with. Then mum bought Willow a stick of candy floss, which she ate while mum and I went on the ghost train as she was too scared. It wasn’t in the least bit scary, but there was a point where it went downhill and took a photo, so when the ride finished we had a look. Oh my god. There were six screens of images, all people looking normal, and then there was us. I looked ok but mum had decided to scream for the camera and her face looked so distorted, she almost looked like some sort of alien crossed with a gibbon. We both roared with laughter.

Still feeling bold, I wanted to go on another ride, so I let Willow choose one for me. The ride she picked looked like it just went round and round, so I confidently got on. It started off gently enough and I waved each time I passed, but then it got faster, and faster, until I couldn’t really see any more and just looked down. After a while I was thinking “ok, this can stop now, I get the idea”, but of course I had to wait for it to stop spinning. I struggled to walk in a straight line when I got out, and felt dizzy for a little while afterwards, but I was proud of myself.

Time for something more sedate now though, and a visit to the arcades. The machines where you put in 2p coins and it pushes them down a shelf and they drop out the bottom, have always been my favourite. I’m sure they didn’t used to have toys inside when I was little, or at least I never won any, but today Willow won three keyrings, mum won two and I won a fidget spinner! It was very satisfying whenever I heard the chink of coins dropping out of the machine. I can see how this sort of thing could easily become addictive.

We took a walk along the seafront and came to a large sightseeing wheel. Willow wanted to go on it, mum wasn’t keen, so I went with Willow. Our little capsule rose slowly to the top, then stayed up there for absolutely ages. At first, I was grateful because it meant we got a good look at the view, but after a while I started to feel that I really would quite like to get down now please. Willow was fine so I didn’t want to say anything and worry her, and soon enough we were moving again. It went round twice more, but thankfully didn’t stop again until the end. Time to go home.

Willow had managed to get candy floss all over her clothes, so she had a shower and put her pyjamas on, while mum put her things in the wash. We ate our dinner in front of the TV, Willow chose Flushed Away for us to watch. I’ve sat through it a million times but mum hadn’t seen it before. It isn’t a bad film. When it finished, Willow piped up “what’s for pudding?” to which my mum offered chocolate. I wouldn’t normally give her sugar at bedtime but I guess we are on holiday. By the time I’d finished reading her bedtime story, it was ten o’clock and I was shattered. I went straight to bed, contented after a lovely day. It is so good to be away and doing all the things we don’t have at home. After such a long time of not being able to go out, this is so invigorating.

Saturday, 24th July

I don’t know why but I was really tired today. I could quite happily have gone straight to bed when I arrived at my mum’s this evening at 8:30pm. The two-hour drive probably didn’t help, although I was already yawning when Jason was over this afternoon.

I’d invited him round to play board games and he’d said that he would wake up and then head over when he was ready, so I was expecting him late morning but he didn’t arrive until two o’clock. It meant that Willow and I didn’t really do much as we thought he might turn up at any minute. At one point, Willow announced she was bored and just lay face down on the carpet. I did a load of washing and made sure the kitchen was tidy.

I was pleased when he did arrive because I’d been holding off eating the cupcakes I made last night. We each had one, but he complained they were flavourless. Oh well. We played a couple of rounds of Rummikub, then another game called The Great Balloon Race. He won, which I was pleased about as he can be quite a sore loser. I made dinner and we ate it in front of the TV. Jason recommended a series on Netflix called Superstore so we watched the first episode. It was pretty funny so we will probably continue with it. Willow and I really enjoyed watching Ugly Betty together and it’s the same female lead.

I’d told him we were planning to leave at six to drive up to mum’s but he just sat there on the sofa, not moving. I excused myself to go upstairs and pack some bits for the next few days, and decided to have a quick shower to cool off. My second of the day. The weather hadn’t been as hot today but I got quite warm making the dinner and wanted to freshen up before sitting in the car for two hours.

Willow complained that she didn’t have any leggings. She claimed they weren’t in the wash bin, the wardrobe, or the suitcase she brought back from camp. She can’t have left all her trousers at her dad’s place. I actually asked her when we went out yesterday if she needed any new clothes and she said no! She hadn’t been wearing any socks all day and when I asked her why she replied “they’re not the ones I like.” Honestly, that girl drives me mad. I trusted that she’d packed some clothes and we headed back downstairs.

Jason had been waiting for a vinyl record to be released on sale at 6pm, which is why he hadn’t budged. He did this the other day when we were in Camden. And apparently yesterday. God knows how much he’s spent on records lately, they are all limited editions. We finally managed to leave at 6:30pm.

When we got to mum’s, she was out so her partner John let us in. She’d told me she was going to be out all day helping a friend with something, which is why we didn’t go up until the evening. Willow and I were both parched so John made me a cup of tea while Willow downed two glasses of water. We chatted to John for a bit and then it was her bedtime, so I went up to read the bedtime story and mum arrived home. She was exhausted from her day out and I could barely keep my eyes open, but after I’d said goodnight to Willow, we sat on the sofa and spent half an hour or so catching up. It was lovely to see her but it will be better tomorrow when we’re less tired.

Friday, 23rd July

Today’s been a good day. It was a bit cooler overnight so I slept under my duvet instead of just a sheet, which led to better quality sleep. I woke at 7:30am as usual and didn’t have to be up until nine but was quite happy to be awake and read in bed. This never happens, normally I’d be clinging to every second of extra sleep I could get, but I didn’t seem to need it today.

I only had to work two hours today and the time passed pretty quickly. Willow’s stuff from her camping trip was still strewn across the living room floor so I asked her to tidy it while I was working. She asked if we could go to the toy shop this afternoon. I’d given her £20 as a well done for getting a good school report, and she was eager to spend it. My first thought was dear god, please not more toys, but actually she never wants to leave the house so I said yes.

She bought three fidget toys in one shop, two small soft toys in another, and a Barbie in a wheelchair in the third. This was a slightly odd choice as she’s never had a Barbie or any dolls, but fair enough! When we got home, she told me the Barbie is called Helen, and then it made sense. Willow’s favourite book is Katy, by Jacqueline Wilson, about a girl called Katy who has an accident and ends up paralysed. They have a family friend called Helen who is in a wheelchair, who comes to stay to show Katy that it isn’t so bad. Willow has read this book a million times.

She went up to play with her new toys in her bedroom. It was brilliant! No screens and I was free to read a book! She has a lot of toys and never plays with them, so I was delighted. I’d been worried she’d spend the whole summer glued to her phone, so this has given me hope.

Jason called and I invited him to come over tomorrow. We have an empty day and I thought it would be nice to have some company. He’s going to bring Rummikub as we enjoyed playing that at his house last time.

After Willow was in bed, I baked chocolate cupcakes. We had eggs that were best before tomorrow and I didn’t want to throw them away so what a shame, I had to turn them into cake! I hardly ever bake because then I have to eat it and there’s always too much, but that was another reason for inviting Jason over as he can help out.

I actually really enjoy baking, I know the recipe off by heart, it’s just 2-2-2-4: 200g of butter, sugar and flour, and four eggs. I don’t add as much sugar these days and I put in 25g of cocoa powder to make it chocolatey. They were done after 18 minutes and I did the washing up while they were in the oven. Result! I’m sure we’ll manage to eat twelve cupcakes between us over the next few days…

I called my dad as I hadn’t heard from him for a while. He was fine and sounded much more relaxed than when he was in hospital, which is understandable. He’s been going for his dialysis appointments at one place, foot checkups at another place, and he said he has a diabetic review at a third place. Thankfully he seems pretty adept at getting around on the bus.

He talked about the ocean, his special interest, for quite a long time, but that’s standard. Then he mentioned the communal rooms in his living complex are now open, after being closed due to Covid restrictions. He said the handbook says they do day trips to the seaside, but he’d much rather go with Willow and me! We’ve pretty much never done that. I feel like it would be weird, though I’m not sure why. He’s best in small doses.

Of course, if he wants to go to the seaside, he could always visit my mum! I wonder what she’d make of that. I don’t fancy two hours stuck in a car with him though, listening to him drone on about the ocean like a Nerdy Norman. I’m happy just to be at the beach, I don’t need to know the maximum depth of the North Sea or what some geologists found there in the 1960s.

Willow and I are going up to mum’s tomorrow evening. Of course, now it’s due to rain for the next week. But I’m sure we’ll find things to do, even if it won’t be beach weather. Last time we were there I got sunburnt, so at least I won’t have to worry about that.

Thursday, 22nd July

The end of term has arrived and with it, the start of the six week summer holidays. It’s been a mixed day for us as Willow struggles with home schooling.

First lesson was Philosophy & Ethics, where they were tasked with doing “something charitable” around the house for forty minutes. There was a huge pile of clothes on my bedroom floor that we’d both designated for the charity shop, so I asked her to bag them up. That took about five minutes, then she played on her phone.

Music was next, and the lesson began as always with “song of the week”, which today was Jump In The Line by Harry Belafonte, a really upbeat song that I recognised from Beetlejuice.

Willow had set herself up in the living room with one fan, and I was working in the conservatory with the other. It’s still oppressively hot. I remembered to email her form tutor to say thank you for this year. There were no teachers’ gifts or cards like at primary school, so I wanted to show my appreciation, even if it was just in a small way.

At 11am I had a whole company zoom meeting. It was to update us all on the company’s accounts for the past tax year. Amazingly, the pandemic year had seen us make a bigger profit than the previous year, while keeping everyone’s jobs. They said this was largely due to the furlough scheme, which was funded by the government.

They are forecasting for the year we’re in now to be a loss, so we may not get a bonus. That would be a shame as of course it’s always nice to get free money, but it’s not something I rely on. I remember when Glen first started working for an investment bank, he’d heard all about bankers’ bonuses and basically spent his before it arrived, and then it was about 1/10th of what he was expecting! He’s always been terrible with money.

Willow’s next lesson was science and they had to watch a video about venomous creates and write answers to questions. She’s very sensitive and she refused to watch it and got upset, so I said I’d do it for her. It was pretty gory in parts and I felt grateful there was no YouTube when I was in school, we had to manage with text books. I completed the questions and clicked “hand in” to submit it to the teacher. Honestly, that was much better than having her distressed.

She came to sit with me to eat her lunch and told me she wasn’t having a good day. There was more to it than just the gory video though. A girl in her form had attached herself to Willow like a limpet this year, and it had become pretty annoying for Willow, part of the reason why she wanted to move forms was to get away from this overly clingy girl.

She had texted Willow on WhatsApp and then her mother had chimed in, and her brother! I don’t know what they said as Willow deleted the messages and blocked her, but then this girl sent SMS texts saying why have you blocked me, and wouldn’t leave her alone. Poor Willow was in tears as she was telling me this and showing me the texts.

I was shocked that a parent had been sending messages to my daughter, so I sent a reply saying This is Willow’s mum. It is not appropriate for your family members to be messaging her. She is very upset. She will be moving forms in September so this needs to end now. Please don’t text her again. Good grief. I unfortunately had to email her form tutor again and tell him what had happened, and ask him to please express to this girl’s mother that it is not acceptable for her to harass my daughter!

After lunch was geography, with the lady who will be her new form teacher in September. She seemed lovely! Especially as she was wearing dungarees with daisies on. They had quite a fun task, to fill in a worksheet on famous landmarks. There were about ten and Willow spent easily fifteen minutes just on the first one, so again I stepped in, just to speed things along. I did the research, she typed it up. Then when she was too hot/distracted to even do that, I just finished it off for her. I’m such a swot. She handed it in and got a reward point, oops. I felt a twinge of guilt but not really. It’s the last day of term!

Last lesson was French and time for me to finish my work for the day. I had helped her enough already so I went to sit in the garden. French is her best subject and I wanted her to at least try. I was sure she’d manage to do it if I wasn’t there as an option. The task they were set though was very complicated, so she started whining and whinging and groaning. It’s the sort of noise that really grates on me, like nails on a blackboard, so I reluctantly went in to see if she needed help. I found a website for her and then told her to use that and carry on, while I went back outside. Before long, the lesson was over and school was out for the summer.

She was really happy and I wanted to take her out for ice cream to celebrate, but this brought on a meltdown. It was too much. She was spent and just needed to do absolutely nothing. I took myself upstairs to give her space to cool off. I was gutted that I wasn’t able to treat her, but it wouldn’t be a treat if she was upset. I’d even thought of taking her out for dinner but that was definitely not on the cards.

After a while, she came upstairs and all was calm again. She asked when the new Croods film would be released on TV. Well, it only came out at the cinema last week. I suggested we go and she was thrilled! The showing was in less than an hour, so we decided to get chips on the way. It was lovely, eating on the grass by the cinema in the early evening sun.

We practically had the whole cinema to ourselves, just three other families were there. I thought the film was pretty poor, although I did laugh a few times, but Willow thoroughly enjoyed it, which was all that mattered.

Erin next door texted that they’d be more than happy to feed Domino while we’re away and there is absolutely no need for gifts as it’s “just what neighbours do.” I am so lucky, they really are lovely. Wish I could say the same for the other side, they are constantly banging, drilling, shouting, baby screaming…

My mum called briefly, asking if Willow had enjoyed the camping trip. I haven’t spoken to Jason since we went to Camden at the weekend, and I haven’t heard from my dad since Sunday. I do relish the downtime, away from my family’s problems, but after a while I start to feel that nagging sense that I should call them. I might ring my dad tomorrow to see if he’s ok. I’m only working for two hours in the morning and then no more work until Wednesday!

Wednesday, 21st July

It was lovely not to have an early alarm this morning. I start work at 10am and didn’t have to drive anywhere first today, so my usual 7:15 alarm was pushed back to 9am. I needed the extra sleep as it hadn’t been a good night due to the heat.

There was actually a fair bit of work for me today! Probably because we’d all been out on the picnic yesterday so a little had built up.

I had my zoom counselling session at 11am. The fifth out of six. I knew that I wanted to focus today on improving my self esteem, now that my anxiety has drastically reduced. By talking about my family dynamic and the way I lost confidence in my abilities at work, it seemed clear this was the deeper issue. She said that obviously it isn’t a quick fix but I could try to view things differently, change my perspective.

She asked if I’d investigated pottery groups as we discussed last week, and I told her the one I thought would work best is a no because it meets on the Sundays I have Willow. I don’t feel comfortable leaving her home alone while I go out and have fun, it doesn’t seem right. So she suggested Willow goes with me. It’s not a group for kids so she wouldn’t be joining in but she could sit and read a book or something. I guess it’s an option, I had just resigned myself to not being able to really do anything for myself until she’s older. This attitude has to change or I will be stuck here not having a life, when there is an alternative. I just need to find a way to make it work, such as bringing her with me. Explain to her that it’s something I really want to do, it’s important to me.

She also suggested meetup.com as a way to make friends near me. I hadn’t heard of it so I had a look and there are all sorts of little local events going on and groups you can join. There are a couple that I bookmarked although nothing really leapt out at me. You can create your own group so I’ll think about that. Ideally I want to have a social life locally, friends that I see and go out with. That would be amazing. It’s been a good few years since I had that. The downside of being a single parent.

I mentioned Willow’s limited diet to the counsellor, and how I feel that I’m failing her by not giving her a balanced diet covering all the food groups, even though I’ve tried everything and she simply won’t eat it. The counsellor calmly responded that Willow is autistic. She even said that her own daughter is also autistic and has a similarly restricted diet, even at age 27. “As long as they are happy and healthy, don’t fight it.” I accepted some time ago that there wasn’t any more I could do, but when I allow myself to think about it, I feel like a terrible parent. There’s that low self esteem creeping through again. I should focus on the “happy and healthy” part.

Glen’s parents collected Willow from school this afternoon where she returned from the camping trip. I was so excited to see her and hear all about it. She’d had a great time, although details were a bit sparse. They sang lots of songs, she made a macrame rope bracelet, they gutted fish although she cried and hid in the tent at that part, and she said she had the opportunity to make friends with a whole new group of people from her year. Her face lit up when she told me about them. In a way, it’s a shame it’s the end of term, hopefully they will pick up again in September.

An email from the head informed me that the canteen staff have been “pinged” by the Covid app and have to isolate, so tomorrow will be home learning. He’d already emailed yesterday to say that Thursday will be the last day of term instead of Friday, due to rising cases. It’s a shame there won’t be a proper end of year send-off for them, although Willow doesn’t seem bothered. She’s not looking forward to home school though. At least it’s only for one day. From September she’ll be in a different form anyway, she asked to move to the same form as Meg and it’s been accepted. Hopefully this will be much better for her, with fewer disruptive kids.

I popped to Aldi while she was out for dinner with Glen’s parents. 26 items for £26, that place is unbelievable. Tonight’s dinner of broccoli, mushrooms and cream cheese pasta came in at under £1 a portion. It would easily be double that in Sainsbury’s. I’d forgotten that masks aren’t mandatory any more since Monday, but most people still seemed to be wearing one, myself included. Not only has it become a habit, it is safer while the virus is still so rampant.

I texted Erin next door about feeding Domino while we’re at my mum’s, and also while we’re on holiday in August. I put please let me know how I can thank you (beer, wine, chocolate, curry etc!) as asking for favours is one of my worst things, I hate it. She hasn’t replied. I noticed Mark’s car isn’t there. Maybe they’ve gone away themselves. I hope she replies tomorrow as I’ll be stuck if they can’t do it.

Tuesday, 20th July

I felt like I was flying as I drove to the office with the roof down this morning. The sun was shining, music playing, breeze in my hair… the sense of freedom was immense, even though the purpose of the journey was to go to work.

I was warmly greeted by my boss when I arrived, although still without hugging. It was good to see her, and even better to be back at my old desk, not shoved in a store room like last time. This felt much more “normal”. I logged on to my computer and everything was so big! I’ve become used to my small laptop screen at home, this dual monitor setup seemed huge!

Tyrone came in and said hi, and then Geoff appeared too. This was the first time our whole team had been back together, I think since the pandemic started. I was there for a few weeks in October but I think Tyrone was on furlough then. It was really lovely to see everyone and it felt great to be back, no anxiety! I went to the kitchen to get a drink and Stephen from art club was there, that was a nice surprise. He said he goes in one day a week now. We said we’ll have to arrange a date for the next art club evening.

Nick from the London office was talking to Tyrone. He always makes me laugh, but behind his back. I’m not sure what his job is, it used to be marketing but now he seems involved in systems. Either way, he’s very confident. Imagine someone in their late twenties wearing a tight white t-shirt, running his hands through his hair, and talking corporate speak. “So yeah mate, I’m thinking we move the ownership into your court, ditch the unnecessary shit and just get some energy, energy, energy.” We all had a giggle once he’d gone.

I somehow managed to find enough work to fill an hour, and then it was time for Tyrone, the boss and me to head into London for the department picnic. Geoff stayed behind because his son is getting married next week and he didn’t want to take any risks. It was pretty hot outside of our air conditioned building and I was grateful that I’d remembered to bring my fan. It’s brilliant, it’s a U shape and hangs around your neck with two little fans at the ends that you can angle.

The train was pretty empty, and then we had to take the tube. This was the part I’d been anxious about as it can be crowded, hot and noisy. Thankfully it wasn’t busy at all. That did feel strange. My first time on the tube since last year.

The picnic was to be held in the park outside the London office. We arrived early and all three of us needed the loo. That done, we sought out our London colleagues and said hello. The first person was the lovely HR lady who’d been so kind and supportive to me during my anxiety crisis, she was in the kitchen. In the next room was Des, who seemed glued to a spreadsheet. His hair was a very strange colour, I know he’d dyed it blond in a sort of later-life crisis, but this was more salmon-orange, not sure how that happened. Our department director’s office was next door so we popped in and gave him a hand carrying everything out to the park.

We found a shady spot under a tree and settled ourselves on the grass, as we hadn’t thought to bring blankets. There was a beautiful selection of filled rolls, savoury pastries, salads, fruit, crisps and cake, plus sparkling water and several bottles of Prosecco. When most people had arrived, our plastic glasses were charged and we all said cheers. It did feel like a celebration.

Two hours passed effortlessly as I was loving the experience of being so sociable after all this time cooped up at home. There was a slightly funny moment when someone offered to top up my glass and I said “better not, I’ll get verbal diarrhoea and probably fall over” but Tyrone didn’t hear me say “verbal” and assumed I was over-sharing a bowel problem.

The journey back to the office was busier but still ok. I think I’ve firmly set that anxiety behind me. As we were on the train, an email pinged up on my phone from Willow’s school. It was her end of year report. I nervously opened it and she had achieved a “1” for everything! This is brilliant, I’m so proud of her. On closer inspection, this grade was just for her “attitude to learning”, there was also homework and organisation but these were also fine. It was a shame there weren’t comments from her teachers about each subject, but never mind, it’s only the first year. I forwarded it to my mum as I knew she’d like to see it.

The thunderstorms that were forecast didn’t appear, we were really fortunate. I decided to drive home with the roof off and about five minutes along the route, it started to rain. I had to find somewhere to pull over to get the roof back on, but not before I’d got wet. Oops.

Mum called to asked if I could go to my gran’s old house on Thursday morning to let the workman in, which I can’t as I have to work, and to tell me to come up to hers Sunday evening to Wednesday because she’ll be busy all weekend. Becky had replied saying she’d love to have Willow on Wednesday, so now I wasn’t sure what to do. We could go to mum’s just for two nights but it hardly seems worth it. Or we go at the weekend and do our own thing while she’s out. I can’t decide, I’ll ask Willow what she thinks when she’s back from camp tomorrow. It would be much easier if I wasn’t also worrying about leaving the cat for too long, I still haven’t asked the neighbours to feed him yet.

My monthly Action For Happiness zoom meeting was this evening. I do look forward to this little discussion group. I asked when we might start meeting in person and the organiser said there weren’t any plans as he thinks we’ll probably go back into lockdown before the year’s out. I think he’s probably right, the way things are going.

We talked a bit about negative emotions and how they are natural, we shouldn’t try to suppress them and strive to be happy all the time. We just need to manage how we deal with them. Then we watched a talk on YouTube about compassion, which we’d started last time. I related what the speaker was saying to the Pixar film Inside Out, where five personified emotions—Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear, and Disgust—try to lead a young girl through life. He was saying we should be our compassionate self, and put that person/voice in charge. I liked that idea.

The meeting ended early because the thunderstorms finally arrived and for some reason I can’t fathom, he was worried his computer might get damaged. I looked at the kitchen, which was in a right state, put some music on and gave it the most thorough clean it’s had in a long time. It’s amazing what you can achieve when you feel happy, and I was definitely happy after the most sociable day I’ve had this year. People make all the difference. Today was a big step in getting me back to working in the office again, and I’m actually looking forward to it now instead of dreading it.

Monday, 19th July

It’s too hot to think. Or move or breathe. The cat is sprawled on the rug, as I am sprawled on the sofa – legs everywhere. God knows how I’m supposed to sleep tonight. I’ve borrowed the fan from Willow’s bedroom as she’s not here. I packed her off on her school camping trip this morning. Feels a bit weird without her. I kept wanting to text her things today, then realised her phone was on the table in front of me. I’m sure she’ll be having a great time.

I did my working from home in a vest top and knickers. No video calls today! I had the patio doors open and the fan blasting at me. Obviously lunch was ice cream. A butterfly flew in and even sat on my arm for a bit.

I took my car for its service and MOT today. There’s a garage at the end of the road so I could just drop it off and walk home. Thank god it’s only once a year, it cost over £300. They said I should probably replace the cam belt, that will be another £460. Eek! It will have to wait. The tax is due too but thankfully that’s only £30. I spent £100 yesterday on bits for Willow – a suitcase, clothes, a new bra as even though she’s got five, she only wears one of them, so I had to buy the exact same one. I couldn’t be without a car though, I use it every day.

I decided to call the doctor about my foot. When I was pregnant 12 years ago, my left foot randomly swelled up. The doctor said it was normal during pregnancy and it would go away once I had the baby. It never went away. Every time the weather was warm it would swell up. I have mentioned it to doctors before but they’ve never seemed too bothered. Now in the last few months it’s been permanently swollen, even in cold weather. My shoes don’t fit. I don’t have ankles any more. I thought it might be a side effect of the pill, which I started at the end of last year. That might account for my big squishy belly too, the reason I’ve gone up two dress sizes. I’ve never felt so enormous. It must be fluid retention.

The doctor called in the morning after I’d emailed some photos of my foot. She said it definitely needed checking out and asked me to go in at 5pm to see her colleague at the surgery. I had to walk round as the car was still at the garage, but that was good as it made my foot swell up even more. The doctor took my blood pressure, said it was a bit high but probably just from the heat. She got me to lie down and prodded my tummy, checking for cysts, but there was no pain. She squeezed my ankles a bit but again no pain. Nothing hurts, I’m just a balloon.

She decided to send me for blood tests and an ultrasound, to rule out things like diabetes and kidney trouble, especially after I told her about my dad. I think it’s probably nothing but I’d rather check, prevention is better than cure if possible.

In fact I’m sure it’s caused by this pill but I don’t know what I’d do without it. I haven’t had a period in nearly seven years, it’s been bliss. Six of those were with a coil but after the trauma of having it taken out, I’m not in a rush to have another person butcher about with me. I know I don’t need contraception as I don’t have a partner but I really can’t face the thought of bleeding for eight days every month, it’s such a nuisance.

On the way home, I stopped to take photos of the wildflowers that have been planted along the roadside. They are so pretty, I’ve been waiting for an opportunity on a sunny day.

I was dripping when I got home and had to immediately have a cold shower. I spent the rest of the evening wearing just a floaty thing with no underwear. There was no food so I ordered a pizza. Hopefully I didn’t give the delivery guy too much of a shock.

I texted my friend Kathy earlier to see if Willow could go to hers for a play date next Wednesday. I’ll be working 10-5 and it will be so boring for Willow to be stuck at home with me all day. Kathy replied a few hours later saying that sorry, her kid wouldn’t be there that day, how about the end of August. Copy and paste the text and send to another mum friend, Becky. She hasn’t replied, although I can see the blue ticks. Come on, Becky. We mums have to help each other out! Otherwise I’ll just have to bring my laptop up to my mum’s and we’ll stay there an extra day.

My lovely uni friend Sarah texted, asking about meeting up over the summer. Yes! I haven’t seen her since last year which is way too long. We’ve put 1st August in the diary, I can’t wait. She is one of my bestest bestest friends. It’s such a shame she lives an hour and a half away. When Willow was born, I asked Sarah and Greg, and Janet and Steve to be Willow’s “guide” parents – like God parents but non religious. We had a little gathering in the garden and planted a rose bush. It has turned out to be a bit meaningless but it was a nice gesture. I think Glen’s dad took the rose bush when we sold the house. Probably just as well, I’d only kill it.

Tomorrow is the work picnic in London. I checked the forecast. There are due to be thunderstorms. What should I wear to a picnic in a thunderstorm?

Saturday, 17th July

I had just nodded off to sleep when I heard a scuffling in my bedroom. Was Domino chasing his tail again? Or was he chasing something else? I sleepily put the bedside light on and cat and mouse both froze, guiltily. Oh for goodness sake. I shooed Domino away, grabbed the mouse before it had a chance to scarper, shuffled down the stairs and put the poor thing outside. Back to sleep until 4:20am, my usual wake up call from Domino. No you little bugger, it is not time to get up, nor will it ever be at that time. Wedged the door shut and got back under the covers. Managed to sleep until 8:30.

I had my second Covid vaccination at lunchtime. They show you a list that you have to say no to before they go ahead, things like have you had any other vaccines in the past seven days, are you under 18, are you pregnant, etc. I skim read the list and said no but the man insisted I read it more thoroughly, so I looked for a moment longer and confirmed they were fine to proceed. He asked, “are you sure you’re not pregnant?” How bloody rude. I wanted to ask him the same question, there was about as much chance. He jabbed my arm and it hurt, I hadn’t even felt it the first time. I waited the customary fifteen minutes and had a biscuit, then drove to Jason’s house.

He made lunch and we watched a hilarious old film called A New Leaf, from 1971, starring Walter Matthau and Elaine May, she also wrote and directed The Birdcage, one of my favourite films. Then at about 4pm we set off for London, arriving in Camden an hour later. We spent some time driving around looking for somewhere to park, and eventually found a side street with no restrictions.

Camden was much the same as it ever was, which relaxed me. I think if it hadn’t been full of people, that would have been more disconcerting. It’s one of my favourite places because it has such a bohemian vibe, even though all the store fronts and alleyways had been given a uniform black facelift, which removed some of the charm.

We walked down the high street and came to the Ray Ban store, where Jason decided to buy some new sunglasses. Mine are prescription and I got them for £20 online, but he spent £200. It was Record Store Day, when limited editions of vinyl records are released. He had his eye on a few that would be made available online at 6pm, and when the time came he pounced, buying four records for another £200. All this spending on things he doesn’t need is not something I will ever understand but there you go, we are very different in lots of ways.

We bought ice creams and wandered towards the market and its maze of alleys lined with little boutiques. Vintage clothing, silver jewellery, Tunisian lamps, handcrafted soaps, printed t-shirts, leather jackets, souvenirs, gothic attire, and hippy shops. The scent of incense hung gently in the air. I saw a rail of lightweight trousers and the shop assistant was immediately helpful, pulling out all different colours and styles for me. I’d narrowed it down to two and Jason convinced me to buy both pairs. I only agreed because I’ve got so fat lately that none of my jeans fit, and these were both elasticated. I instantly felt guilty, even though they weren’t expensive. Wasn’t it a bit excessive to buy two pairs? Oh well, it was done.

We headed to the food part of the market, loads of stalls selling all different cuisines. Jason got a falafel and I chose Chinese. We walked along the canal and found somewhere to sit and eat. There were lots of people dotted along the canal side, relaxing in the sun with friends, talking, eating, some with guitars. It was a bit like a festival atmosphere. We watched as a barge went through the lock, and wondered where it might be sailing to.

Time to go home, we walked back to the car to find a parking ticket on the windscreen. How could this be possible? We’d checked really thoroughly and there were no signs at all in that street. We’d even googled to find out the rules for single yellow lines, which said it was fine as long as there were no signs. Jason opened the ticket and it said it was a Controlled Zone, whatever that means. He looked it up on his phone and yes, we were in a controlled zone, which meant no parking before 5:30pm. We’d parked at 5:10 and been ticketed at 5:12. Unbelievable, the ticket inspector must have seen us park and then slapped the ticket on straight away. But how were we supposed to know? He’s going to contest it but no doubt he will still have to pay. It’s £65, rising to £130 if you don’t pay within two weeks. I offered to pay half.

I got home, had some paracetamol as my jabbed arm was badly aching, and watched three more episodes of Motherland before going to bed. It had been a lovely day, I was so relieved to face my fear of going to London and find that everything was fine. I’ll be more relaxed for the work picnic on Tuesday now. I sent Adam a selfie from Camden and he replied you look so in your element. Yes, I was. My happy place.

Friday, 16th July

I went to a concert this evening! As in, I left the house, in the evening! This happens so rarely nowadays. It felt wonderful, I felt alive. It was just a local thing, but as I walked through the park to get there, I could almost imagine I was in Central Park in New York. The sun had been shining all day for the first time in ages, and it was still warm. Summer was in the air.

I spotted an attractive guy walking alone ahead of me, wearing jeans and the sort of shirt that you might wear if you were going out somewhere. I wondered if he was also going to the concert, although that wasn’t likely. It occurred to me before I left that I might meet someone there – ok, the odds are tiny but you never know – so I spritzed on a bit of perfume just in case. I got closer to the venue but the man went a different way.

I’d been strolling so leisurely that I was almost late. The hall was full, although socially distanced. I was shown to the one remaining solo chair, by the entrance. Someone else entered a few minutes after me and said his name to the ticket clerk in a deliciously thick Italian accent, “Roberto.” As he walked past me to a seat on the opposite side of the room, I noticed it was in fact the same guy I’d seen on the way. Roberto, eh? Very nice… We were the only two people under sixty. The audience all looked older than my parents. What a shame we weren’t sitting closer together…

The concert was performed by a fabulous local singer and her accompanist on the piano, a woman who looked at least eighty but was wearing a glamorous red dress. The singing was classical, which is not really my taste, but her voice blew me away. After a few serious numbers, they moved into lighter territory, and even included some Joni Mitchell which I adored. There was a lot of humour, one song in German about a man bragging about how many lovers he has, a hilarious song about a man from a Spanish town with the longest name you ever heard, and the finale was outstanding. They performed “The Mum Song”, by American comedian Anita Renfroe. It’s sung to the tune of the William Tell Overture, and it basically reels off all the things mums say to their kids. We were laughing out loud, particularly me as no doubt, the only person in room with a young child.

I found a video for you of Anita performing it on YouTube https://youtu.be/CxjLVyYiIgM

At the end, we were asked to sit still and then leave when instructed, because of the Covid rules. Dammit, no chance for mingling. As I was closest to the door, I was first out. There was no way I’d linger outside waiting for Roberto, on the off chance he might want to get chatting or maybe more. As if! That sort of thing only happens in films. But I went home feeling rejuvenated, having been thoroughly entertained.

The rest of the day had been fairly uneventful. I went to Aldi after dropping Willow at school. It’s such a great supermarket, the quality of the food is very high yet the prices are so low. I bought 23 items for £25. However, it does have its downsides. There were only two checkouts open, and it seemed everyone in the store finished their shopping at the same time, so there quickly grew a massive queue. One bloke with a very full trolley appeared with a small child in tow. The man saw the size of the queue and yelled “oi, you need to open another checkout!” A staff member appeared and began setting up another till, and this guy went and stood by it, to the disbelief of everyone else who had been queuing for ages. A few people said that he couldn’t do that, it was pushing in, to which he replied “I’m the one that told them to open it up, you all just stood there like fucking morons.” Lovely example for his child. You don’t get this sort of behaviour in Sainsbury’s.

Work didn’t involve much work, as usual, in fact I’d finished in under half an hour. My boss messaged to say she’d be sorting some boxes for the next hour or so, so I decided to ask her what she’d like me to do, since I’d finished my work already. She suggested a couple of things that wouldn’t take me more than five minutes, and asked me to keep an eye on the inbox. Wonderful. I amused myself by playing Suguru puzzles on my phone.

After school, I took Willow for our usual Friday Treat at the ice cream parlour. We needed it today as it had become so hot. She sometimes opens up a bit about her day while we’re there, which I love because she refuses to talk in the car. She told me how she’d made a poster in science and got two rewards points. She was really proud of herself and I was thrilled.

Her dad came to collect her for the weekend and I called my brother. We’ve decided to go to London together tomorrow but I was worried about the heat, it’s meant to be a scorcher, so I suggested we don’t set off until 4pm. We talked a bit about dad, Jason had called him yesterday to take some of the pressure off me, but then he told me all about their conversation anyway. I hope we have a nice time tomorrow. I’m excited to visit Camden again after so long, I’m just not sure how I’ll react to being among crowds of people. I will definitely be wearing my mask.

Thursday, 15th July

Payday. Thank goodness. Each month in the first week after being paid, I tend to splurge on all the things I’ve been wanting to buy the previous month but didn’t have the budget for. Today, it was the kit list for Willow’s school camping trip next week. We had most things already thank goodness but she didn’t have waterproof trousers.

“Yes I do! Those pink ones on top of my wardrobe.”

“You mean the ones from when we went skiing with Adam three years ago? Pretty sure they’re too small, don’t you think?”

We had to go to Cambridge this afternoon to see a foot specialist about having some custom shoes made for Willow. She had an operation two years ago as one of the bones in her foot was growing funny, and when we went back for a checkup a couple of months ago, the consultant referred us to this clinic. It’s really brilliant, they will custom make a pair of shoes to exactly fit her feet, all for free on the NHS.

Cambridge is about an hour away from us, so I thought while we were there, we could pick up the bits we need for her trip. There was a shop called Go Outdoors nearby so we headed there and had a look around. Willow was tired and wanted to go home so she wasn’t very cooperative, and I wasn’t in the best mood as I’d scraped the car on a speed bump and said fuck, which I try not to do in front of Willow. We found the rack of kids trousers and picked some in age 11-12. It was a shame they didn’t have 12-13 as it would be nice for them to last but not the end of the world. They were all a bit jumbled up but it looked like the price on the rail said £18. We got to the till and were told £56. I actually said “HOW MUCH?!” He couldn’t be serious. What are they, bloody Gucci??

“Oh, do you have a discount card? If not, you can buy one for £5.”

“£56 for a pair of trousers?? You’ve got to be kidding! Come on, Willow,” and I marched her out of the shop.

We were both starving and there was a Subway a few paces away so I bought us each a sub and a cookie. We both felt a lot better after that. I decided to drive back towards home where there’s a Decathlon, to try there for the trousers. We had to get them today because tomorrow evening she’s off to her dad’s for the weekend and then the trip’s on Monday. I couldn’t rely on him to buy them, he’d undoubtedly screw it up somehow.

Decalthlon had waterproof trousers, in age 12-13, for the princely sum of £7. I also got her a fleece for £4, a pocket-sized bottle of suncream, and some insect repellent. Kit list smashed for less than twenty quid.

She was shattered so we played games on our phones until bath time when my mum rang. We’re going up to stay with her next weekend as it’s the end of term then, but she called to say she’ll be busy all weekend helping a friend. No matter, we’re staying til Tuesday so we can entertain ourselves at the beach or something while she’s out. Willow told her about our disastrous shopping trip, and how she’s looking forward to going camping. She usually refuses to speak on the phone and just meows or grunts, but today she was very talkative, it was lovely.

I started watching Motherland on Netflix a few days ago. It centres around a pretty dysfunctional trio of single parents and their interactions with the contrasting gaggle of yummy mummies. Really funny and entertaining, I’m onto the second series already.

It was quite late and Willow called down the stairs, “Mummy? I’ve done something really amazing and I want you to see. Right now.” It was probably time I went to bed anyway so I switched the tv off and came upstairs. “Close your eyes.” She guided me into her room and spun me round to face the wardrobe. Surely not. “Ta-da!” She had sorted the huge bundle of crap that had been on top of her wardrobe for, well, potentially years, I’m not going to lie. The one area she had forbidden me from touching. Not only that but the girl who never wants to throw anything away had made an enormous pile of clothes for the charity shop, and filled a carrier bag with items for the bin. I was so proud of her that I gave her a huge hug, which she declared was weird, but I was utterly overjoyed. Miracles can happen.

Wednesday, 14th July

My dad is out of hospital. He called this evening and had just started telling me about a tube in his neck when his laptop pinged and he had to go for a zoom meeting. It must be nice for him to be home, although he said he’s got to go back to hospital tomorrow, and twice next week.

I had my weekly counselling session this morning. I’d been looking forward to it because I’ve been feeling so crap these past few days. She asked about my dad so I filled her in, and told her about the awkward family FaceTime. We talked a bit about my brother and how I am always careful not to trigger his anger. She asked why I haven’t told him that Willow is afraid of him. Essentially, I had chosen to teach Willow that Uncle Jason isn’t really a bad person, he just had one bad day and there’s nothing to worry about, instead of telling Jason that he frightens my daughter. I answered that he’s family, we’re bound together, so she asked what I get from having him in my life, besides fear. I explained that he can be lovely, caring, and generous. We have fun together, and there are so many shared references from our childhood that no one else would get. My dad is falling apart, mum lives miles away, so Jason and I should stick together.

Then I told her about work. How I sit there all day doing nothing, and the work I do actually do is menial and frustrating. How I feel like I’m wasting my life, and my intelligence has eroded away. She agreed that it didn’t sound very challenging or fulfilling. I described how years ago, when I was married, I spent a few years as a full time artist, painting for commissions. I absolutely loved it at first, I felt I was finally following my true calling. But then I got too ambitious, I won a grant for a community art project that was much too big for me to handle on my own, I didn’t get any help or support, and then the client pulled out. I took it really badly, like a personal attack, and gave up painting for several years. The counsellor listened as I reeled off the whole story.

I said that I felt there was no joy in my life, and I didn’t know where to find it. She asked what sort of things I used to do for fun, for myself. I remembered a pottery club I used to go to on Wednesday evenings, that was brilliant. Why did I stop going? Because Willow’s dad moved far away so he wasn’t there to look after her any more, and I can’t afford to pay a babysitter every week on top of the cost of the club. I gave up so many things when we split up, while he didn’t change his lifestyle at all. The counsellor suggested now that Willow’s a bit older, I try to join a pottery group again. I agreed to look into it. It would be amazing and of course I have thought about it, but I just don’t feel comfortable leaving her home alone in the evenings. I did a quick search and found one that meets every other Sunday afternoon, which sounded doable as long as it’s the weekends she’s with her dad. I sent them an email.

This afternoon, my boss finished early, so Geoff and Tyrone who were both in the office, independently started messaging me. Geoff’s messages were mainly updates on his movements, which I’ve got to say, wasn’t very gripping. Tyrone’s chat was much more interesting. We chatted about anxiety, how I’m scared of going on the train next week and he’s scared of being around people. Then he suddenly asked what makes you happy? Sorry, random question. It was as if he’d been in my counselling session! I said that I’d lost sight of what makes me happy and he replied that it’s usually simple things like love, money, family. Hmm, well I don’t have a partner, money is always tight, and don’t get me started on my family. He said that he feels disassociated with life sometimes, but he’s working on it and has learned that playing the piano makes him feel better. I had no idea he could play. It’s very good to channel your feelings into something like that.

Jason called while Willow was out for dinner with her grandparents. We were on the phone for an hour and a half, talking about all kinds of things. It was nice actually. We’ve decided to brave going into London together at the weekend. I’ve got my second jab on Saturday lunchtime, so if we go after that, hopefully it will be too soon for any ill effects to kick in. Not that I had any the first time, just an aching arm, which I can easily put up with. He’s offered to drive so we don’t have to use the train. I’m always nervous of driving in London, but hopefully it will be ok. I really would love to have a mooch round somewhere that isn’t my local town centre or Aldi.

Tuesday, 13th July

I did something a bit childish this morning. I emailed my boss suggesting that, since I clearly don’t know how to do the basics, perhaps I should have a full retraining in case there’s anything else I’m doing wrong. I just felt like Rachel in Friends where she has to be re-trained at the coffee house, after working there for three years. I’ve been in my job three years, almost to the day, and for a long time now I haven’t been enjoying it. The trouble is, the hours fit around school, they just gave me an eight percent pay rise, and now they’re funding counselling for me. They are a good employer, it’s the actual job that’s boring as hell. And massively overcomplicated for what is essentially, admin. I should take note from that episode of Friends though, when Rachel quits and starts a new job, she still ends up pouring coffee.

This is my twelfth career, and the one I’ve stuck at the longest. Pretty pathetic for someone who’s nearly 40. I just never knew what I wanted to be when I grew up. I still don’t know (nor do I plan to grow up). Well, I wanted to be a pop star but there weren’t any realistic goals. I wonder if it’s ADHD, the reason why I get itchy feet and need to get out after a while. I seem to have a built-in shelf life with jobs, like phones that break once the two-year contract runs out. I definitely have that feeling now, but I have to resist. The grass is not greener.

I put some gentle jazz music on while I was working today. That was a nice change and helped the time pass. A squirrel appeared on the fence, looking in the hanging pot to see if there was any food. It was empty, so I put some more out. The squirrel ran off, which I expected, but then he didn’t come back. Instead, a fat pigeon tried to eat the food, so I shooed it away.

Willow was in her usual after-school grump, telling me how one of the girls was clinging to her annoyingly, she had to sit next to the naughtiest boy, and a supply teacher called her William. In “tech” they had to draw a stapler. Maths was “embarrassing” because she had to keep asking for help and only completed 17 questions out of 50, when everyone else apparently raced through them all. My offer to help her went down like a lead balloon.

Tuesday dinner always used to be fish fingers, chips and beans, but recently it had been replaced with Aunt Bessie’s toad in the hole. However, I’d forgotten to buy any so I reverted back to the fish fingers. They were in the oven when Willow asked what was for dinner. I told her, and she was outraged. “You know I don’t eat fish!” Um, what? Since when? Besides, they’re only fish fingers, it’s not like I’m giving her raw sushi. “I’ll tell you why. Three reasons in fact. One, I gave up fish ages ago, you know that. Two, I want to be a marine biologist, so, you know. And three, I saw a documentary at school that said that although the packaging may say “responsibly sourced”, it’s a lie.” So now she’s an environmentalist and a conspiracy theorist? I served them up anyway and she left them.

An hour later, “can I have some crisps?”

Wednesdays are better, her grandparents take her out for dinner. One less meal for me to throw away. Then Thursday is frozen pizza, and Friday she’s off to her dad’s for the weekend. God knows what she eats there. I’ve asked but she never answers. He used to give her hot dogs from a tin. I read the ingredients out loud to him once. Mechanically reclaimed meat, skin, E numbers, mystery additives… none of it sounded like actual food and I certainly didn’t want him feeding that to my child. I would imagine things have improved now he lives with his girlfriend, she probably wouldn’t allow that. I ate the leftovers from last night’s curry – I know, hardly a picture of health, but I’m exhausted.

Dad emailed to say he’ll be going home from hospital tomorrow and he’s found a replacement fridge from Argos that he’s planning to order. Thank goodness for that.

Another day ends and I’ll repeat the same charade tomorrow. When will it get better? I need to get a life, just wish I knew how.

Monday, 12th July

Where do you find joy in your life? Serious question, I’d love to know the answers. As I finished my work an hour into a six-hour day, I began to really wonder where joy comes from. Does it grow on trees? Is it watching the squirrel, darting along the fence? Is it in sleep, as demonstrated by the cat, sprawled out on the conservatory rug? It certainly didn’t seem to be in work. I let out a loud moan of exasperation from the depths of my throat.

How to fill my day, while not allowing the computer to go into “away” mode after five minutes of inactivity? Eat contents of fridge. Google jobs in the area. Google jobs near my mum. Look on Rightmove at houses near my mum. Consider seriously moving to the seaside. Houses are much cheaper, mum would be on hand to babysit, we’d be near the beach… I started calculating how low my mortgage payments would be on a large three-bed house that costs £50k less than my tiny two-bed is worth. But there are no jobs up there. It’s so remote. Ok, I don’t have many local friends here but I wouldn’t know anyone there. And Willow would never go for it, she has already made me promise we’ll live here for ever and ever.

Daydream over, I decided to watch a film. Twenty minutes in, a message pinged up from my boss. Can we have a team catch up in a minute? Geoff’s already here so only one screen. Just a couple of points I’d like to discuss about CHARMS. Have a read of the attached. CHARMS is the computer system we use every day for logging orders. It’s the one part of my job I’m really confident with. I opened the attachment and couldn’t believe what I read. Three very basic things that I’d apparently been doing wrong. Things I do every day.

I connected to the video call and the two of them looked back at me through the screen. I thought they might say something about my hair since it’s pretty drastically different, but that went unnoticed. My boss raised her three points and I dutifully wrote them in my notebook, nodding in confirmation that I understood. Ok, back to work. Email from Des, I’d done something else wrong too. Honestly, I sit around all day doing fuck all, and then get told the work I have done is wrong. What is the point?

When 4pm finally came, I couldn’t close the laptop fast enough. I normally stop at 2:30pm but had to put in extra time as I’ll be finishing early on Thursday to take Willow to the foot clinic. That extra hour and a half was torture. I collected Willow from school, still in a grump. I didn’t know how to snap out of it. We watched some tv and I ordered a curry. Terrible. I’ll never lose weight at this rate. It was bloody delicious though, and there’s loads leftover for tomorrow. Willow of course doesn’t eat curry, she had her standard Monday pizza.

After her bath, I went downstairs to continue watching the film. It was called This Beautiful Fantastic, about an autistic young woman who needs to renovate her garden to avoid being evicted. She forms unlikely friendships with the grumpy old man next door and his cook, played by the “hot priest”, Andrew Scott. It was a lovely story, and it brought me back to my question about finding joy. The neighbour found joy in his garden. The young woman overcame her fear to develop a love for gardening, and also writing. And I found joy in watching a film.

I realised I hadn’t checked in on my dad today, so I gave him a call. His levels were better, his foot was good, and he’d seen a dietician. The kidney team said they will remove the tube in his leg and put one in his upper chest tomorrow. This will enable him to receive dialysis once or twice a week as necessary if his levels become too high again. He thinks after that he can go home, so either tomorrow or Wednesday. We’ll see.

Sunday, 11th July

We didn’t go for a bike ride. We didn’t really do anything today. I actually don’t like days like this, it feels like such a waste, and it’s a big effort to think of things to do when Willow says no to everything. She is driving me mad with her apathy. I should probably model a more active lifestyle but dragging her out for a walk is more torturous than it’s worth.

I made pancakes for our breakfast, did a load of washing, and went to Aldi. She stayed at home, glued to her phone. When I got back, she’d got hold of my guitar and asked to download an app that would teach her how to play. Brilliant! I wish I could play the guitar, I only know four chords. I’d love for her to learn, she’s never shown an interest before. She used to have drum lessons at primary school but these stopped when the pandemic hit. I’d asked if she wanted to continue at secondary school and she wasn’t bothered.

We installed the app and it began with plucking one string in time to the screen. I was quite impressed with the technology as it could tell whether she was doing it right or not. Then fingers were added to make different notes, still on one string. She found this more tricky as it often made a twang. I tried to guide her and offer tips, and to her credit she did listen. But after several failed attempts she gave up. Oh well. I told her it was a great start and to maybe try again tomorrow. These things take practice.

I’d bought some little jacket potatoes filled with herb butter that you could just put in the oven, so I cooked those for dinner and sprinkled cheese over them for the last five minutes. I served this up topped with baked beans. Willow likes baked potato if I scoop it out of the skin and put it in a bowl with cheese and beans, so I figured this would be fine. Well, I knew it wouldn’t but I hoped. Nope. She stared at it as if it was gruel, poked it around a bit making disgusted noises, and then left most of it. All because there were flecks of green from the herb butter.

My dad phoned five minutes before the dinner was ready. I’d been wondering all day if I should text to see how he is but couldn’t really face it. He’d only been talking a minute when the phone flashed up that mum was trying to call me. Nothing, then both of them at once! Dad suggested we have a family FaceTime later, so I agreed and hung up to speak to mum. “I’m just wondering how your dad is.” I explained that my dinner was ready but we’ll do a FaceTime with dad later. She said Jason wouldn’t want to be involved, which I thought was a bit odd. It’s his dad too.

Seven o’clock came around and after a few moments of figuring out how to add people, we were all connected. Dad in his hospital gown, mum in the living room in the dark for some reason, and Jason looking like he hadn’t slept for a month. He’d had friends to stay this weekend so maybe they’d been up all night? Who knows, but he looked rough.

Dad had plugged in some headphones that caused a great hiss whenever he wasn’t speaking. Willow got the giggles and started rolling around on the floor like a hyena. Dad started to tell us all the gory details of his foot, which set Jason wincing. He talked about the broken fridge, maybe getting a mobility scooter, and ultimately buying a car. Jason sent a text to me and mum, which pinged up on the screen: What about giving some money to his kids? Bastard. Hmm, so Jason was in a good mood. Mum sent a reply: Thank you! which was a bit bizarre. Willow started playing the guitar loudly. Jason texted back To hell with this and left the call. Dying inside, I mentioned that the football would be starting soon and I needed to get Willow to bed.

I took a screenshot of the call and sent it to Adam. Oh dear. You look good, your dad looks a bit sallow. Your brother doesn’t look the freshest. That was an understatement. I didn’t really look good, I was scowling at Willow, but it was nice of him to say. Mum texted to say that her “thank you” text was sent accidentally from her watch.

I quickly read one chapter of our storybook and hurried Willow into her room so I wouldn’t miss the football. She took the guitar with her, which I was pleased about. She never goes to sleep straight away. I came downstairs just in time to see England score a goal. Fantastic. Maybe we have a chance at actually winning this. Before long, Willow came downstairs waving her phone at me. She’d got to the point in the guitar app where it wanted her to pay to continue. It was a subscription costing over £100. I said that there was no way I’d be paying that for an app but she could have real lessons with a teacher if she wanted. Cue an eruption of “Ohmygod, it’s so unfair!” and she stormed off to her room so heavily that the house shook. I screamed up after her not to behave like that. Then I felt bad that I didn’t have a more zen parenting style. A large bar of guilt chocolate was rapidly consumed.

The football went to penalties as Italy scored an equaliser. This was unlikely to end well as we don’t have a great record when it comes to penalties. I clearly remember watching Gareth Southgate miss the penalty that put England out of Euro ‘96. I got really into football that summer. Now Gareth is England manager and by all accounts doing a great job. Italy won and you could feel the disappointment from the whole country. There had been a campaign to make tomorrow a bank holiday so those who had been celebrating wouldn’t have to go into work with a hangover. In a rare moment of good judgment, Boris Johnson decreed that this would be tempting fate and decided against it. Shame. Whether we won or not, it would be nice to have the day off work.

Saturday, 10th July

My dad is still is hospital. They’re keeping him in until at least Monday but I suspect longer. He had to have emergency dialysis last night because his potassium levels were so high. They put a tube in his leg, which sounded a bit strange to me. He thinks he’ll be having another round later today. He’s due for peritoneal dialysis later in the year but thinks they may accelerate this now. Physically, he’s a completely wreck, but mentally he’s totally somewhere else, saying how he’s using the time to prepare his presentation on the 1960 expedition to the Mariana Trench. It’s as if it’s happening to someone else.

Willow’s friend Meg came over for the afternoon. They must have spent four hours playing with their Sylvanian Families. I was amazed that at twelve years old they still want to do that. I sat in the conservatory reading, thrilled that they were doing something that didn’t involve a screen.

Meg is, and always had been, stick thin. Seeing her for the first time in months, her legs looked like knitting needles. I made sure to offer her plenty of food. I know that Lizzie doesn’t starve her, but she is a bit health obsessed and they never eat junk food, or anything fatty. I gave her some crisps and a cornetto. Then I cooked pasta with tuna and cheese for dinner, although she left most of it. Willow had her usual ham and pineapple pizza. I’d offered to order a pizza but they said no, strange children.

I didn’t see Lizzie at all, which was a relief. She dropped Meg off outside my house and Willow let her in, then I took her home and she said goodbye at the car.

Willow and I stayed up late watching old episodes of Taskmaster, then when she’d gone to bed I watched a film called Scoop which was hilarious.

Tomorrow is an empty day. I thought about taking Willow to the cinema, the kids club is only £1.75 a ticket, but it was sold out. I checked the listings in the next town and for the same film it was £21. Maybe not. She suggested getting the bikes out so maybe we’ll do that.

Of course it’s the final of the football tomorrow, you can’t escape it. Social media and even the BBC News app are plastered with it. The queen has sent a letter of support to the England manager. It’s a big deal I guess. I will watch the match once Willow is in bed, so I’ll miss the first half, but I’m not really bothered. I feel sorry for the team with all that pressure on them to win, the weight of a whole nation’s hopes on their shoulders. Rather them than me.

Friday, 9th July

It’s 8:30pm and I’m in bed already. I was struggling to keep my eyes open at 7pm. It’s been a stressful week.

Dad is still in hospital. His potassium levels were dangerously high so they’ve kept him in. I last spoke to him at lunchtime and he sounded fine, going on about the fridge again. He’s drafted a letter to the CEO of Currys which he forwarded to me. I don’t think there’s any feedback I could give if he’s determined to write that sort of letter.

Jason phoned as I pulled up outside the school to collect Willow. I didn’t answer. He could wait. We drove into town for Friday treat and he was there! The call was to say he’d be coming to Friday treat with us. This was a nice surprise, especially as he insisted on paying for our ice creams.

We were sitting round a table eating when mum phoned him. She still owns my gran’s old house and rents it out to an Italian couple, and there’s a handyman coming tomorrow morning to look at the front porch that needs repainting and the back gate that needs rehanging. The couple are away in Italy so she needs someone to be there to let him in. Jason protested that he had to wait in for an IKEA delivery, so I got the short straw. It’s at 10am, half an hour away. So much for my weekend lie-in.

Willow has absolutely refused to go with me, so I’ve told her she has to hoover the living room. Her friend Meg was supposed to be coming for the weekend but now it’s only 1-6pm tomorrow, no sleepover. I’m sure Willow was disappointed but she was fairly gracious about it. Five hours is still better than nothing.

A letter arrived informing me of a paediatric outpatient telephone appointment in August for Willow. I had no idea what this was for so I dialled the number on the letter. Half an hour of holding, then finally someone answered. I felt sorry for her, she must be extremely busy. I explained about the letter and she looked it up. It’s Willow’s autism assessment. I couldn’t believe it, I was utterly overjoyed. We’ve waited a year to get to this point. It’s only going to be a 20 minute phone call and then I understand it will probably be another year before she gets the diagnosis, but we are finally making progress. It’s clear to me, the school, and anyone who knows her (except her ignorant father) that she is autistic, so to have it confirmed officially will be so validating and no doubt will help to make life easier for her in the long run.

We had fish and chips for dinner, as we do quite often on Fridays. I hate all the batter and feel awful about my life choices every time. I would honestly prefer steamed broccoli. I love healthy food, I just don’t have the energy or inclination to cook it, especially as Willow won’t eat it so it’s just for myself. I wonder if her eating habits will change as she gets older and she’ll broaden her diet. I hope so, it’s going to be very restrictive socially for her otherwise.

I have a lot of housework to do tomorrow but at least after that I’ll be able to relax in the conservatory while Willow entertains her friend. I’m not at all looking forward to seeing Lizzie when she drops Meg at my house. I haven’t had to see or speak to her since last year. I’m not sure how I’d react if she tried to make conversation. What do you say to someone who wrote you a massive email listing all the things they didn’t like about you and your child, after being your best friend for years? I’d felt so betrayed, had our friendship really been a lie?

Next door’s child is screaming blue murder, there’s thumping and banging and all sorts going on. Thankfully, I’m so tired I think I’ll nod off as soon as I close my eyes.

Thursday, 8th July

All was fine this morning as I dropped Willow at school and headed for the hospital. Dad texted to advise me to park in a side street to avoid paying the extortionate rates of the hospital car park, so I drove round and round but all the side streets had yellow lines. I gave up and found a space in the multi-storey. The phone rang, it was dad. “There’s been some confusion, let me pass you over to someone.” Uh-oh. A woman’s voice came on the line.

“Who told you to come? We don’t allow any visitors because of Covid.”

Great! I explained that whoever dad had seen at the hospital had told him – on Monday and yesterday – that he should have someone present for support, he’s autistic, etc etc. I’d arrived and had taken the day off work specially, I was worried about him and wanted to know what was going on. She agreed to let me go in and said someone would come and speak to me.

I found the admissions unit and they buzzed me in and led me to a small room where dad appeared, wearing a hospital gown and his soft, black shoes. He looked so fragile. I gave him a hug and helped him sit down. A nurse told us to wait in that room and someone would come and explain everything to me. Well, we waited there for two hours. Nobody came, except to offer me a drink.

He managed to tell me that the operation would be to remove some more of his foot as the area where his toes were removed two years ago hadn’t healed and was causing problems. They would graft a patch of skin from his thigh to cover it. It all sounded very grim but I managed to detach myself from it, as I can be pretty squeamish, and tell him it sounded like an excellent idea.

Then I had two hours of him monologuing about the ocean. It’s his special interest and basically it’s his life. Just reading about it though, and talking about it. Endlessly talking about it. He’s a member of some ocean science society and they had an AGM dinner recently, so I got to hear about that and what went wrong, because of course nothing goes right with him. Then he went on about the mineral composition of the sea bed and got his laptop out of his rucksack to show me a pie chart. It was vaguely interesting but mainly I was just trying to say “ooh” and “aha” in the right places. When the nurses came to take him for pre-op, I was pretty grateful to be honest. I wasn’t allowed to go with him and was told to go home. They gave me a phone number to call at 4:30pm when they’d know which ward he’d be placed on.

I contemplated going to a cafe or for a walk round the lakes but decided to just go home, after texting mum, Jason and Adam to update them. Mum was her usual blunt self saying I didn’t need to be there, Adam was sympathetic, and Jason was at work and didn’t reply. I went to McDonald’s and got chicken nuggets and a milkshake. I’ll be healthy another day. Then I stopped at Aldi to buy chocolate and ice cream. I’d finished the last of the chocolate days ago and I’d desperately wanted some the last few evenings. You’d think my dad’s diabetes would put me off, but not this week, clearly.

After school, I called the hospital to see how dad was doing. They told me he was still in theatre but gave me the phone number for Recovery and the ward he’d be placed on. I distracted myself by making dinner, then called Recovery at 6pm. They said he was on the ward now. Another phone call to the ward. He’s fine and having a sandwich, they will check his potassium and bloods again tomorrow. Great.

About half an hour later, dad called me himself. “I feel fine, they gave me a ridiculous dinner though, baked potato and beans! They should know about my potassium levels! And for pudding? Chocolate muffin! They know I’m diabetic!” Sigh. At least he sounded completely fine. He then started on about the broken fridge, and some sort of consumer rights act, letter to the CEO of Currys, etc. I said look, just buy a new fridge. Then you can complain to your heart’s content but at least you’ll have a working fridge in the meantime. He hadn’t thought of that.

They’ll send him home tomorrow and he has no fridge and no food. Not to mention that he needs to keep his insulin in the fridge. This is what I meant when I tried to tell the hospital he doesn’t have capacity. He prioritises complaining over finding a practical solution. It definitely feels like I’m his parent, instead of the other way round.

I decided it would be easiest to do a group FaceTime with mum and Jason to give them the latest. That was actually quite nice and we ended up talking about films they’ve been watching etc.

I asked Willow to take the bin out as it was overflowing and it’s one of her jobs, but she remained parked on the sofa, glued to her phone. Next I heard a calamity as she’d knocked over my cup of tea. Fantastic. I mopped up the spill and she emptied the bin. She was due a bath but neither of us had the energy, so she promised to have one tomorrow.

After she was in bed, I sat downstairs doing a puzzle book. It’s wasn’t until 10:30pm when Domino was scratching up the furniture that I realised I hadn’t given him his dinner. He never usually lets me forget, he sits on the bed with us while I’m reading the bedtime story, then follows me down the stairs straight to the kitchen. He must’ve been somewhere else and I hadn’t noticed. Whoops. I guess I have got a lot on my mind. It’s been an exhausting day. I’ll be grateful for the distraction of work tomorrow.

Wednesday, 7th July

The run up to dad’s hospital visit continues. He called this morning to tell me I had to have a negative Covid test before tomorrow. As it happened, I have a bunch of test kits that Willow brought home from school as she’s exempt from doing them. I’ve only done a Covid test once before, about a year ago, as I haven’t ever had any symptoms. It was negative, as I expected. God it’s unpleasant, touching something to the back of your throat. I couldn’t do it without gagging.

I had my second counselling session at 11am. Obviously we talked about my dad. It felt validating for her to say that it all sounds very difficult and stressful for me. I explained how he is unfortunately a pathological liar and the counsellor found this very hard to believe due to dad’s autism, as autistic people are apparently very truthful. He lies about absolutely everything, but I wasn’t able to think of an example. I didn’t like the way she didn’t seem to believe me, or at least thought I’d just misunderstood him. No, he is a liar! I’ve thought of an example now, his front teeth have fallen out because he never bothered to clean them, and when my mum asked him about it he said he’d walked into a door! It’s things like that which are blatant lies. Also telling his horrible sister that I hadn’t seen him in over a year when I’d visited loads of times. The counsellor tried to say that maybe that was how he saw it, but surely not!

She suggested I phone the hospital to try and find out more details of what procedure he’s actually having tomorrow, since he’s been so vague with me. It would be good to know in case he will need additional care when he gets home. I gave them a call but the woman I spoke to was incredibly unhelpful, asked for his name about ten times, said she had no record of him, and she wouldn’t be able to tell me anything anyway. I explained that he’s a vulnerable adult with Aspergers and she asked if he has “capacity”. I said no so she asked if he signs his own consent forms and, well, he does, so she declared that he does have capacity and there was nothing she could do. I understand they have to protect patient confidentiality but the hospital requested I attend with him, I’m his next of kin, and he is incapable of looking after himself! It was extremely frustrating.

I’d arranged to work this afternoon from my brother’s house and I arrived in a flustered huff. I filled him in on what had happened and he gave me two doughnuts. That helped a bit. We both worked in his conservatory, it was really nice and his cat joined us most of the time. His cat is the opposite of Domino – extremely docile and wouldn’t hurt a fly. I was kept relatively busy by work, and was grateful to close the laptop at 5pm.

Then dad phoned again. The hospital didn’t like the results of some blood tests he’d had so they’ve decided they’ll keep him in tomorrow night. He had to go to a different hospital for more blood tests this afternoon in case he needs a transfusion tomorrow. This all sounded a bit worrying. He said I am still needed tomorrow, so I will go as planned. He didn’t sound at all worried, and was going on about how he’ll bring his laptop and work on his presentation about some ocean exploration thingy that he’s giving soon. I suppose in a way he’s lucky not to be at all aware of how ill he is. Ignorance is bliss!

Jason cooked spaghetti for dinner and we called mum to update her. She asked if we thought she should phone dad, to tell him how worried we all are about him, but we didn’t think that would help, or even make any difference. I don’t know when she last spoke to him, I think it might have been in February when we had a family zoom for dad’s birthday. The one and only time that’s ever happened. It was really cringey. Dad was living out of a hotel and badly needed a haircut. Mum had the camera pointing up her nose. Jason was hiding under his hoodie. And I had Willow squashed up next to me waving a Rubiks Cube.

I got home to find Glen’s parents and Willow in the living room. Glen’s mum held a mystery bag up at me, as if I was supposed to know what it was. The bag contained a whistle. Obviously. “It’s on her kit list for the school camping trip”. Oh. I hadn’t read the list yet. She’s not going until the end of the month, there’s plenty of time.

After they left, Willow told me she has great plans for this weekend. Meg is coming for a sleepover and will be here the whole weekend. Sounds like absolute bliss to me, I’ll actually get some time to myself! She’s planned loads of activities for them to do together – playing games, making “ice cream” (frozen fruit in the blender), watching a film, midnight feast… I asked her to write me a shopping list of any food or drink they might want. I hope it actually happens and Meg doesn’t let her down. Willow hasn’t had a friend here for ages and she seems so excited about it. Meg is Lizzie’s daughter, so it is potentially a bit awkward, but I’m not thinking about that now.

I’d said goodnight to Willow and gone downstairs to watch the second half of the England game, when an email pinged up from British Airways. Your flight has been cancelled. Please click here to manage your booking. I’m taking Willow to the Outer Hebrides in August, booked back in January. It’s somewhere we’ve never been and I chose it because she wants to be a marine biologist and there’s an abundance of sealife up there, not to mention white sandy beaches to rival the Caribbean. The flight in question was the return leg from Glasgow to London. They’d moved us onto an earlier flight, which departs before the connecting flight from Stornoway arrives in Glasgow!

Panic set in. I’ve been looking forward to this holiday for so long now, and meticulously planned activities for each day. What if we had to cancel the whole trip? Their customer service phone number had closed for the day. If I waited til tomorrow, there might not be any alternative flights left, so I sent them a tweet. They were fairly quick to respond, although they asked for a million personal details. Eventually, over an hour later, they managed to get us rebooked onto flights earlier in the day. Disaster averted. I really could’ve done without that additional stress. Really hope I sleep well tonight, I’ll need it for tomorrow. At least England had a good night, they are through to the final for the first time in 55 years.

Tuesday, 6th July

I don’t like my new haircut any more. My stupid hair is naturally wavy and the style only looks good straight. It may be straight at the start of the day but by lunchtime I look like Ronald McDonald. And I’m already not enjoying being fat. Turns out it’s less fun when you feel like a balloon and your next-size-up trousers are too tight. Have I really gone up two dress sizes in a week?? There’s not even any chocolate in the house to cheer me up.

I fought with Willow this evening. She has the world’s stinkiest feet, so I made her wash them but she yelled that I was telling her the wrong way to do it, and when I handed her a towel, she threw it at me and slammed her bedroom door. Goodnight then!

My dad called. I hoped it was to give me some more details about the hospital on Thursday but all I learned was that we can expect to be there for 5-7 hours. But that was after he’d filled me in on the saga with Currys and the fridge. 54 phone calls until he finally spoke to someone helpful, who has emailed someone else who should get back to him tomorrow. The way he tells anecdotes makes you want to cut off your ears so you don’t have to listen any more. His sister had got him the name of the CEO of Currys so he can write and complain. I asked if she was free on Thursday since I’m not really, but he said she’s twisted her ankle and that “everyone’s in a bad way at the moment”. I don’t know who he meant by “everyone” as I’m fine, although he didn’t ask.

Text from Adam. Fuuuuuuck my legs. God, what idiocy had he been up to now. 10km run to work, 10km run back, 40km virtual ride with Tomás the human lever and Vicky the EverReady Bunny. I don’t know who Vicky is, he’s never mentioned her before. I told him he’s a muppet and that 60km is ridiculous, next time just say no. His reply? Vicky is a hottie. Also Tomás is a super hottie. Bloody hell. I don’t want to hear about him fancying everyone. I stopped replying.

I was trying to relax and do my puzzle book when Jason called. “I’ve got a tabletop dishwasher that broke but now it seems to be working again so can you take it to dad’s?” I tried to work out when I would have time to pick it up (obviously not wanting to run his errands but agreeing anyway) and we ended up arranging that I’ll go to his place during my lunch hour tomorrow and stay for dinner. I admit he tempted me by offering chocolate.

I said I wasn’t going to worry about dad because it’s not like it will achieve anything, but I ended up spending a lot of time today googling diabetic feet, amputation, and all sorts of other grim things. It’s obviously contributing to my snappish mood and constant chocolate cravings. I just want this week to be over.

Monday, 5th July

I have so much to write and I’m exhausted just thinking about it. Maybe I’ll start at the end and work backwards. My dad phoned when Willow was in the bath this evening to have a rant about Currys because his fridge that he bought from them in March has broken. He actually got it from their eBay shop so he’d been on the phone to Currys and to eBay all day without anyone being able to help him, and got himself all worked up. Why does this always seem to happen to him? First it was John Lewis about the tv, then EE installing his broadband and he claims they owe him £200 in compensation, Sainsbury’s stopped selling jars of sandwich spread…. All reasons for him to want to write strongly worded letters of complaint to their head offices. He will give himself a heart attack if he carries on like this.

When I said I had to go because Willow needed me, he got round to the real reason for the phone call. He’s got to have a procedure in the hospital on Thursday morning and they suggested he has someone with him. He had two toes amputated because of undiagnosed diabetes two years ago and his foot still hasn’t healed. He said they’ve done two biopsies so they know what it isn’t and now they need to “dig deeper” to find out what it is. I think they will either chop off more of his foot or tell him he’s got cancer. It must be something pretty bad if they asked him to bring someone for support, in these Covid times when they’re keeping people out of hospitals.

I said I would take the time off work, although the appointment is at 7:15am and I wouldn’t be able to get there until 9:15, once I’ve dropped Willow at school. He’ll text me nearer the time or something.

Once Willow was in bed, I called my brother. “Have you just had a call from dad?” he said.

“Yes, how did you know?”

“Because he called me for an hour. Moaning about his bloody fridge and then asking me to go to hospital, which of course I can’t! I’m at work!” I also have work, but… So dad had phoned Jason and when that hadn’t worked out, he called me as second choice. I thought as the eldest I’d be first choice. Never mind.

He then moaned about all these new IKEA units he has to build (wouldn’t be a problem if he didn’t keep buying so much stuff), and how dad should give us all his money because how was poor Jason supposed to ever get on the property ladder. I mean, we each just inherited £10,000 when gran died, but no, don’t put that towards a mortgage, buy a massive tv instead! He is addicted to spending money and filling his house with stuff.

He said he’d called mum to moan about dad but she just annoyed him. Excellent. I thought I might as well call her too.

“Don’t go to the hospital, you’ll lose your job!”

Rational as ever. I explained that my job is perfectly fine and I have annual leave to use so it won’t be a problem. I promised to call her again on Thursday to let her know what happens. God, my family.

Then Adam texted. Nutcase continues to be a nutter and my walk through Woolwich is cut short because everything is shut because of a murder here. His psycho ex-girlfriend has been stalking all his friends. She tried to follow me on Instagram a few weeks ago and I blocked her. They split up nine months ago, they were only together for three months! I replied that things weren’t good with my dad, and we ended up having a quick phone call where I filled him in on my mess of a family, and he said that the level of harassment he was getting from this woman was almost at the stage of getting the police involved.

This afternoon was nice though, before all this kicked off. I finished work and took Willow’s glasses to Specsavers. When Glen brought her home from spending the weekend at his yesterday, he handed the glasses to me in two bits, saying the screw had come out and they lost it. Great. Specsavers repaired the glasses on the spot, and I had some free time before school ended so I took myself to a cafe. Embracing my new body image as a “larger lady”, I treated myself to a smoothie and a doughnut. It tasted amazing. Who needs to be slim when food tastes this good.

Yesterday was a brilliant day. I had peshwari naan for breakfast, left over from the previous night’s curry. I put a load of washing on, then at midday it was the first meeting of my big painting group for 16 months. We only formed the group at the end of 2019. There were about 12 of us and we would get together in a village hall, there would be some still life placed in the middle of the room, and we’d set up all around it in a circle with our easels and painting gear. It was always such a lovely thing to do because we’d wander round and look at each other’s work, and we always stopped for tea and cake in the middle. We even put on an exhibition last March and over 100 people came. Then it was all over because of Covid.

I had been looking forward to this so much and I was a bit worried that I might get all emotional and start crying, but I managed to keep it together. Eight of us came, a lovely range of people, from Chris who might not even be thirty yet, to Robin who’s in his eighties. We all had such a lovely time painting together, and it was so inspiring to see each other’s creations.

After I’d dropped all my gear off at home, and put in a second load of washing, I walked to the park to meet up with Meena, as we’d arranged the previous day. We sat on a bench in the sun and caught up on the past year since we last saw each other. She’s a nurse so I asked how that had been, but she said only a small handful of patients had Covid as she works at a private hospital. Her husband had bought a cafe on a mad whim a couple of years back and it had totally bombed, so I wondered what had happened and she told me he’d sold the cafe and was about to start a new job. He’s over sixty (much older than her, arranged marriage) so that must have been a blow as he probably thought he’d be retiring by now. She said she’s gone full time at work but hasn’t told him! I felt grateful not to be married any more.

It became pretty warm, so we strolled towards the town centre and ended up getting ice creams at my favourite parlour. We talked about our kids, hers is also an only child. She said he hates school and keeps “taking days off” and they’ve threatened her with a fine for unauthorised absence. She’s tempted to send him to a different school, although I don’t think that will solve the problem.

I thought that when Lizzie and I stopped being friends, Meena had taken her side, which was why our friendship had petered out, but she explained that she hadn’t been in contact with Lizzie either. She’d just made herself busy with work and ended up getting depressed and not talking to anyone. Just shows you never really know what’s going on with other people. If a friend goes quiet, don’t take it personally, they may well have their own problems.

It started to rain, so she drove me home and we vowed to see each other again soon. I walked in to find Domino had been sick on the living room carpet. On went a third load of washing. Willow arrived home wearing something absolutely hideous. It was a pale grey jumpsuit creation, that looked like something I would buy only if held at gunpoint. She said they’d had a day out shopping and bought her lots of new clothes in Primark. She was thrilled, to be fair, but god Glen’s girlfriend has no taste. I could only assume this was her influence. I managed to sound convincingly pleased for her, as I was genuinely glad she’d had a nice time.

Janet texted a picture of her daughter wearing a floppy hat, a tutu, wellies and a gold sequin handbag. Flora has discovered dressing up. She’s nearly three so it looked quite cute. Janet said that her husband Steve struggles to dress Flora, which reminded me of the time Glen sent Willow to nursery wearing a nightie and jogging bottoms, thinking that was an acceptable outfit. Men are hopeless. Correction – husbands are hopeless.

I am seriously hoping tomorrow will be a quiet day where nothing happens! I’m not going to worry about my dad because there’s nothing I can do about it. I’ve become pretty used to the idea that he’s a physical wreck and is probably on the way out. All I can do is be there for him.

Saturday, 3rd July

After getting home at half past midnight last night, I spent the whole of this morning in bed. It felt very indulgent but why shouldn’t I! My brother called to ask how my evening had been. I’d spoken to him yesterday and read out the menu from the website, which we both concluded was unlikely to be to my taste. I told him that actually it had been lovely, and he was happy for me.

I had my appointment at the hair salon this afternoon. Usually I would have walked but thunderstorms were forecast so I took the car. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d had my hair cut, which explained why it was looking so straggly, and a bit straw-like at the ends. I sat in the chair and the hairdresser asked what I’d like her to do. I showed her a few photos I’d saved on my phone but said she was welcome to use artistic licence.

While I’d been to this salon several times before, I hadn’t had this particular hairdresser. She was older than me, which is unusual as they are mostly so young, but in a way, that made the conversation less forced as it wasn’t about Love Island or wanting to move out of their parents’ house. She asked if I was from this town and I told her how I’d grown up in a town about 15 miles away, and she said she’d grown up there too! I’d put her at about 45 but as we were trying to determine whether we knew any of the same people, she said she’s 42. Well, I’m not great at guessing ages but I’m glad I hadn’t said it out loud. It made me wonder how old people think I am.

She cut my hair into a style that I immediately loved – an asymmetric crop, short on the left and jaw length on the right. I’ve had it like this before so I knew it would suit me, but she had never met me yet she cut it perfectly. A few of the other hairdressers remarked on how well it suited me, I guess they don’t have many customers who ask for something this dramatic. I felt so different, more like my old self again.

I had almost an hour left on the car park ticket, so I decided to go to New Look in search of black jeans. As I was walking along through the town, I heard a voice call “Juliette!” I looked up and it was Meena, one of my dearest friends up until last year when Lizzie and I fell out. We’d been something of a trio, bonding over our kids who were in the same class and all have additional needs, and I’d been a bit hurt that she had obviously taken Lizzie’s side, although perhaps this is another case of who shouts the loudest. Lizzie is the sort of person that people gravitate to, captivated by her exuberance.

Texts with Meena petered out very quickly after Lizzie and I stopped being friends. I imagine she told Meena all the things that she’d said to me, about how she thought I was rude and selfish after our disastrous holiday together last summer. I hadn’t wanted to get into playground tale-telling so I kept quiet.

My reaction on seeing her again came straight from my heart, and I didn’t think twice as I rushed over and gave her the longest hug. We stood like that in the middle of the street for ages, until she asked if I was ok. I’ve felt so alone all this time without any local friends, that I almost cried at being reunited with her. I didn’t want to let her go again. She asked how I’d been and I said fine, I returned the question and her reply was not as good, she’s been put on antidepressants and has been feeling really down. I felt a twang of guilt.

She apologised for not being in touch and explained that she hasn’t managed to keep in contact with anyone lately. I apologised too, and wished I had been more proactive in keeping our friendship going. Her son also started at the same secondary school as Willow, which made it all the more galling that we hadn’t stayed in touch, and she told me how he is struggling and keeps getting detentions.

I asked if she had time to go for a coffee so we could catch up properly, but she said maybe another time. I got my diary out immediately, wanting to make sure this would happen. We arranged to meet tomorrow afternoon at the park. My big painting group is getting together 12-2pm tomorrow for the first time since spring last year, and I’ve been looking forward to it like a wife waiting for her husband to return from months away at sea. I’ll meet Meena at 3pm, it means I won’t be able to hang around for long after painting group but I was scared that if we picked a later date, she might cancel. We had another hug and parted ways.

I went to New Look and bought some black jeans and a t-shirt. I needed them because I’ve become so fat that none of my trousers fit. I bought the next size up and decided to accept that I’m just bigger now and that’s ok. The t-shirt was an impulse buy and I couldn’t really afford it but what the hell.

As soon as I got home, I went to the bathroom and dyed my hair red. I knew that if I didn’t do it immediately, I might chicken out. It came out well and I was pleased, but I wasn’t finished. I had mentioned a shaved bit to the hairdresser when she first asked what style I wanted, but she hadn’t done it. I got my new clippers out, pinned my hair back out of the way, and went for it, a small patch above my left ear. The clippers came with eight attachments for different lengths, and I started with a number six, which was 19mm, figuring you can take off but you can’t put back on. It was much too long so I swapped to a number two, 6mm. This was perfect and I started to get the hang of it.

Standing back to admire my finished new look, I was delighted. My appearance was so different from the mousy woman I was yesterday. This new woman has a personality, a style, something to say.

I started to feel hungry and noticed it was almost 7pm. As I was on a roll of treating myself, I ordered a curry. My banking app pinged an alert that read “you have used all of your eating out budget”. Oh well, I moved some money from “groceries” to balance it out. It’s a brilliant app for budgeting, but with the haircut, the new clothes and the takeaway, I’d spent over £100 today. I’ll have to be very frugal for the rest of the month.

I knew there was an England game tonight so I decided to put it on. I honestly can’t remember the last time I watched a game of football, it would’ve been when I was still married to Glen, but there’s been a lot of excitement around the Euros and England have been doing well for a change. It was a good decision as England won 4-0.

It’s been quite a dramatic weekend so far, including last night’s posh dinner with Adam. I wonder what tomorrow will bring, but I feel like I have had a boost of confidence. Whatever it is, I’m prepared.

Friday, 2nd July

Wax legs, paint toenails, straighten hair, put on make up, wear a dress, add a spritz of perfume. All things I hadn’t done for a long time, until today. It wasn’t necessarily for Adam’s benefit, it was really for mine. It felt good to make myself look nice. I have definitely put on weight since the last time I wore this dress. I could gather a couple of inches of it at the back last time but now I filled it. There are delicate buttons all down the front and it was a struggle to stop them pinging open. Just what you need when going out for dinner.

It was a long drive and I arrived at the restaurant 45 minutes early, as I’d anticipated Friday traffic but there wasn’t any. Adam had travelled up at lunchtime and had been working in a cafe, then moved to the restaurant’s garden, where he was waiting for me. He smiled when he saw me and we had a big hug that felt like home. He was wearing a Ralph Lauren shirt with tiny orange and white checks, dark jeans and orange converse. He’d shaved off the straggly beard that he’d been sporting the last time I saw him, and looked much better without it.

The garden was beautiful, with flower borders and a small pond. The restaurant is situated in the middle of nowhere so it backed onto fields, I even saw a couple of cows. We sat there at a picnic bench for about half an hour, catching up and drinking sparkling water. I stupidly hadn’t brought a coat or anything warm to put on, and my dress had short sleeves, so I was praying it would stay mild. A waitress asked if we would like to dine inside or out, I thought inside in case it got cold but she said we could start outside and move, or they had blankets, so we chose a table outside. It is July after all.

To begin, we were offered a bread selection. I chose the prettiest looking style.

Adam decided we were having the Tasting Menu, which was seven courses at £80 a head. Eek. He was paying of course, so I decided just to enjoy it. A pre-starter arrived of pea velouté in an adorable tiny mug.

I ordered a glass of Prosecco while Adam continued with sparkling water, as obviously he doesn’t drink being a recovering alcoholic. The amount of water he can put away is remarkable. With each course, he asked for another bottle.

Smoked salmon with apple cubes, beetroot purée and dust, horseradish cream, caviar and a seaweed crisp was the next assault on the senses. Blimey. We ate it very slowly, tiny forkfuls at a time, to savour everything that was on the plate.

Buffalo mozzarella, tomatoes, pesto, pine nuts and desiccated olives was next. The conversation flowed between us so easily. Adam told me what his friends had been up to. André who had broken his leg or hip or something in a cycling accident recently was already back on the bike and faster than Adam, which clearly made him feel inadequate as he mentioned it three times.

He’d taken Manon and her boyfriend Gaz to The Ivy. I was surprised as he’s told me before how Gaz (or “Gaz from Essex” to give him his full title) is not an adventurous eater, and he did say he felt a bit awkward when she shared a dish with him, rather than her boyfriend. Adam met Manon a few years ago, she was a barmaid at Cafe Rouge where he used to go drinking most days after work. I’d met her a few times when we were a couple, she’s nice enough. He told me she’s now working in a hospital cafe. I love that Adam’s friends are from all walks of life, he’s not a snob for all his wealth.

Halibut on a lentil dahl with cauliflower purée, white raisins and flaked almonds made up course number four. The waitress offered me another glass of Prosecco, which I declined as I was keenly feeling the effects of the first and Adam said my face was red. Oops.

I had asked him a few weeks ago about the possibility of staying in a nearby hotel after the meal, as it would be late and a long drive home, but he’d said he had an early bike ride in the morning. I sort of wanted to test this, to see whether it had just been an excuse, so I asked where he’d be cycling tomorrow. He replied that he had some chores to do in the morning, then might go out on the bike in the afternoon. Rumbled. He just hadn’t wanted to stay in a hotel with me. Maybe it’s for the best. We have a lovely friendship and it would be unwise to complicate things. Although I can’t entirely suppress the glimmer of hope that something might happen between us. After all, he was the last person I slept with, back in October last year. God, that’s a long time. I wondered if he’s been with anyone since.

The conversation turned to his uncle who passed away on Monday. I had assumed he lived in Australia, like Adam’s mum and aunts, but it turned out he was in South Africa. Their family is actually from Croatia originally but they all emigrated. It’s complicated. Adam’s first language was Croatian, but he speaks with a perfect Australian accent. He was telling me that his uncle’s two children live in Texas, and they aren’t likely to go to their father’s funeral. I thought this was very sad. By the sounds of it, his uncle wasn’t very lucky in life. Divorced and on bad terms with his ex-wife, attempted suicide last year, and ten years ago he was shot in the stomach by a burglar!

I excused myself to go to the ladies. Checking my makeup in the mirror, I had a blob of eyeliner goop in the corner of one eye. And something black stuck to one of my front teeth. Attractive. Once that was taken care of, I headed back outside to our table. Another bottle of sparkling water had arrived.

The next course was beef, but I don’t eat red meat so the chef made chicken with mushroom stuffing for me. It was delicious and beautifully accompanied by asparagus, girolle mushrooms and potato purée. I’d reached the point where every time I adjusted my position in the chair, a button popped open on my dress. I resolved to sit as still as possible.

The conversation moved on to the topic of work. I know Adam does something high up at an investment bank, but I didn’t know exactly what, so I asked. Well, I am none the wiser because his explanation went way over my head. Something about interest rates I think. Oh well. I said that my job was going much better now, and I told him about all the exciting events my director is always going to. He said that he is also rarely at home. It really is just me who hasn’t embraced the return to socialising. Apart from this evening that is.

I was starting to feel a light chill on my bare arms as the sun went down. I didn’t want to look stupid, huddled under a blanket, so I ordered a cup of tea. “Anything for sir?” asked the waiter. I answered, “No thanks, he’s fine with the 15 bottles of water.”

There was an optional cheese course next, which naturally, Adam didn’t want to miss out on. He’s so slim, I don’t know where he puts it all. Generally speaking, I don’t like cheese, but he assured me I would like the goats cheese. I decided to be a grown-up and try some with the apple chutney that was provided. He was right, it was delicious.

Our penultimate course was called a “pre-dessert” and it was pretty special. Lemon meringue pie served inside a real egg shell. The combination of sharp and sweet danced on my tongue, while popping candy fizzed at the back of my mouth like tiny fireworks.

This epic meal was rounded off with a light-as-air chocolate mousse. Proportionally, it was quite large, and I felt satisfyingly full by the end. As the waitress brought the bill, she complimented me on my dress. It was green, with an all-over print of crane birds, and she explained that cranes were special to her because it’s quite rare to see them but twice they had appeared following difficult times in her life. I do believe the universe sends us signs and I was quite moved by this.

I hadn’t looked at the time, as I don’t wear a watch and only used my phone to take photos. It was 11pm when the magic of this evening drew to a close and it was time to drive to our separate homes. Over four hours had passed in each other’s company and it had been wonderful. I’d spent a lot of this week not wanting to go, not looking forward to the journey and worrying that the food would be all things I don’t like, but I am so glad I went. I felt invigorated and alive, glowing inside from the joy of being in Adam’s company and the exquisite dining experience. Life’s pretty good actually.

Thursday, 1st July

July was heralded in with a warm sunny day, the first we’ve had for a while. It won’t last, it’s forecast to rain now for at least a week, but it was nice to pretend it was summer today as I sat in the conservatory with the patio door open. Until a flurry of, well, mysterious fluff came flying through the air and set off my hay fever that I didn’t know I had. I have no idea what it was but it filled the air in the back garden for at least an hour.

Work is improving each day. I had a meeting with one of the directors first thing where I was asked to take on a new task, so that felt good, and I had a call with my department director this afternoon too. He remarked that every week he calls me and he’s hungover from another night out, networking. All part of his job I’m sure. It sounds a world away from my own life, but he is only 30 and he’s single and living in London, so I can’t say I blame him. He’s a really good guy, he was telling me of all the things he’s been thinking about to make improvements to the office for my return, even moving my team into a bigger room. And he’s on board about the retraining I asked for. I am very well supported at work.

I have booked a hair appointment after all. I am fed up with this nothing-style and I don’t think shaving a bit off is one of my better ideas. It’s on Saturday afternoon, and I really want to go out on Saturday night but I have no one to go with. I looked online to see what’s on in London and there’s a gig I’d love to go to, but a) I don’t want to go alone, and b) it will cost me at least £50 including the train. That’s a lot of money to me, and while I can’t remember the last time I had a night out, I’m not sure I can justify it. I just wanted to have a piece of life, like everyone else seems to. I’ll have to face London in a few weeks for our department picnic, so I thought it might be wise to go for a practice run. I texted a friend but she isn’t free. It’s ok, it wasn’t meant to be this time.

I am going out tomorrow night though, for posh dinner with Adam. He texted me earlier, he seems very excited about it. I think it’s probably the food he’s most looking forward to. I hope it’s not pigeon or venison or something. His favourite “food” is sea urchin. Seriously. I’d be happy with McDonald’s. But I mustn’t be ungrateful. It is very kind of him to take me out for this very expensive dinner. And it will be fun to put on a dress and maybe even some makeup, if I can remember where I’ve left it. It’s been a while since I’ve bothered since I spend all my days alone. It’s not like Domino would appreciate the effort. He woke me up at 3:30am last night. Little bugger.

I got to the end of The Durrells this evening. It’s heartbreaking when you find a series you adore because you know it is finite. I cried during the final episode. 1939, the outbreak of war. Having to abandon the life they’d built on Corfu. Louisa and Spiros’ will-they-won’t-they romance. I have absolutely loved being immersed in their family and the beauty of the island with its eternal sunshine and glistening sea. I have the books to look forward to though.

Willow mentioned today that at school they were learning about diversity, in particular what it means to be non-binary. She thought this was really cool. I was proud of her, and hoped the rest of her class reacted the same way she did. I think it’s brilliant that they are teaching this sort of thing, our young people need to develop their understanding of the ways in which we all differ, so they will grow up to be accepting and unprejudiced. She said the school even has some gender-neutral toilets. I was impressed. Times have changed a lot since I was at school.

Wednesday, 30th June

Half the year has gone already and we are still gripped by this pandemic. Although you wouldn’t think so, looking at the footage going round of all the football fans. When will it be over? I expect people said this during the war and that went on for six years.

I saw an ad on tv earlier, advertising London, trying to attract visitors. It felt somewhat irresponsible, aren’t we supposed to stay at home and not spread germs? Or is it ok now? Am I the only one who hasn’t resumed normal life? Is everybody else getting out there, seeing shows in the West End and going on the London Eye? If I went to Camden this weekend, would it be full of people as it always was?

It was so hard to adapt to having all of this taken away, but oddly it’s equally hard to go back to it. We’ve been conditioned that being outside of our local area, or in crowded places, or doing anything non-essential is wrong or illegal or immoral. I now have to reprogram my brain that actually no, it’s all fine now, please go ahead. My brain doesn’t like change.

Maybe I need to just do it. Rip off the band aid. Get on a train and head into the city. I want to see Rachel on her boat. I know she’ll be busy though. Who else could I go with? Ooh I wonder if Sarah is free. I doubt it, I think she works at the weekends. And they’ve just moved house so she probably doesn’t have time. Or maybe she’d be happy for the distraction. I’ll text her. Rachel and Sarah are two of my oldest and best friends and I haven’t seen them at all this year.

I had my first session with the new counsellor today. She was wonderful. Much better than the last one. She has experience of autism and has an autistic daughter, so that filled me with hope that she will actually be able to help me. I spent at least half the time talking about work and my confidence issues, since that was the main purpose of the sessions, and she immediately gave practical suggestions, which is exactly what I was hoping for. She said I should ask for a fixed date to return to the office, so I’m not fretting about it and I can mentally prepare. She also suggested I ask for some retraining on the parts of my job where I’ve lost the most confidence. I thought I’d feel stupid for this but actually it makes sense and would be helpful.

Then she asked if I have any support around me. I ended up telling her how my mum moved away, my dad is ill, my brother assaulted me and I fell out with my best friend. It didn’t paint a great picture to be honest. When we were discussing my relationship with my mum, I mentioned that a previous counsellor had told me to say “when you say X, it makes me feel Y”, and how I once said this to my mum to try to help her understand why she’d upset me, and she took such offence that she didn’t speak to me for ages. My new counsellor said that nobody can make us feel anything. We are in control of our feelings. Someone says or does something, it is up to us how we react. This stopped me in my tracks. Really? We can control our feelings? I’ve always been ruled by mine, I can’t imagine having control over them. If this is something she can help me with then she’ll be a miracle worker.

I described how I see myself as the peace keeper of the family, going along with what everyone else wants to avoid upsetting anyone. She asked what about what I want. I honestly had never thought about that. It’s whoever shouts the loudest, and I tend to be silent. It hadn’t occurred to me that there was an alternative. One session and she has already got me thinking so much.

In other news, I have decided not to go to the hairdresser but to get a tattoo instead. I already have seven so it’s not that radical. I want to get the Chalice Well symbol on my wrist. It will be in memory of my gran and the place where I made my peace with losing her. I’ve been in touch with an artist and we’re just fixing a date. I’m not giving up on my hair though, I’ve bought clippers from Argos and I’m planning to give myself a sort of side undercut. Seems like a reasonable compromise as I’m not touching the length. We’ll see if I’m brave enough to go through with it!

Tuesday, 29th June

I’m grumpy and grouchy, my energy’s gone, I want to eat nothing but chocolate, and my face is all blotchy. I’ve realised what the problem is. I’m not depressed or having a breakdown, I’m hormonal.

I’ve been on this new pill for six months now and there’s no break, so I don’t know where I am in my cycle. I had a coil for six years before this so that isn’t an issue, but there weren’t such obvious fluctuations in my mood with the coil. This pill has made my skin greasy, my face spotty, and my temper very short. I would love to have a coil again but the removal was very traumatic so I’m not in a rush for anyone to start poking around down there. In fact, there was an article the other day about women who have had extremely painful coil procedures, arguing for anaesthetic to be used. I quite agree. My experience was awful. But anyway, the purpose of the pill is not for contraception as clearly that’s not an issue I need to worry about, but because it was so nice not to have that inconvenience every month.

I am getting worried about the moods though. Things are much more of a battle than they were before. I can’t find any joy in life. I was thinking about this earlier and it’s no wonder there’s no joy when my days consist of sitting alone in front of a laptop pretending to work, failing to have conversations with a snappy tweenager, and shepherding an evil cat away from the furniture he’s intent on destroying. This can’t be how other people live. What am I doing wrong?

I have my first session with the new counsellor tomorrow morning and I have no idea what to say to her. “Excuse me, please can you help me learn how to be a person, since everyone else knows how but they forgot to give me the instructions?” I am hormonally not in the mood for this. Right now, everything’s shit, except actually it isn’t and this is only temporary. I didn’t feel like this last week and nothing has changed, so it can’t be real.

I’m reading much more now I have a kindle, but it pisses me off how every book is some dappy girl who’s life is all fixed when she meets a man. Even the ones where the heroine achieves something great, there has to be a new boyfriend too. It’s not enough for her to become a great journalist or run a marathon. Where are the books where the woman is single and finds happiness in a hobby or with her friends and there is no love interest? Maybe I should switch to crime thrillers. Single mother driven to insanity by petulant pre-teen murders her cat because he sat on her glasses again and got them all smeary… hmm, perhaps that one isn’t likely to be a best-seller.

I’m thinking of going to the hairdresser. Maybe a proper hairstyle would boost my confidence a bit. Anything would be better than this ugly ponytail. Do women approaching 40 wear ponytails? I should probably grow up. I hate spending money on myself as I find it very hard to justify. I’m not worthy of it. That’s what I need to change! Maybe I’ll ask the counsellor how to improve my self-esteem. No, I will ask her! That’s the ticket. And I’ll book a haircut too.

Monday, 28th June

I woke this morning from a dream where I was Prince William’s new girlfriend. This is very strange as he’s not even remotely attractive, although he was a bit of a heart-throb before he lost his hair. We’d have been in the same year at school and we live in the same country so I guess it’s possible, but at about the same odds as me winning a Nobel prize or owning a Ferrari.

It was damp outside from the rain and I always check for snails on the path so I can gently move them out of the way to avoid crushing them with the car. However, this morning I managed to accidentally squash two snails while rescuing one. It was going to be that sort of day.

I had seven work emails. An improvement. Maybe even enough to keep me busy until lunchtime. I’d bought squirrel food from Amazon so I decided to put some out in the garden. That’s my favourite thing about working in the conservatory, watching the squirrels. It took a while for them to come out but then I saw them. First, Linus (the black squirrel, Willow named them) sat on top of the arbour, quietly munching. Then Biscuit (grey squirrel) showed up and looked like he’d found a pot of gold. He tried to shove as many peanuts into his mouth as possible, but it turned out that wasn’t many because squirrels aren’t hamsters.

I observed them like this for some time, until Linus disappeared into the trees. Biscuit however had no plans to leave, he’d won the lottery and intended to make the most of it. At one point he tried to bury his bounty in my fake grass, which caused some confusion when it wouldn’t dig. Then Linus returned, he’d noticed the food I’d put in the little pots that hang from the fence. He would take a few seeds and leave, then come back gingerly for more, whereas Biscuit didn’t dare exit the garden for fear the treasure might have all been a dream.

After about two hours, the dynamic between the pair shifted up several gears. Biscuit started to chase Linus. He didn’t want to share any more. It looked like they were on some sort of sugar high, as they bounded about the garden like lunatics. This carried on for at least half an hour and I was highly entertained.

Then I had a text from Adam. My uncle died of covid yesterday night, that was sudden. Oh god. I know Adam isn’t close to his family, I mean, they live on the other side of the world, but still. Poor guy was only 65. I asked how his mother is and he said she’s in shock. I never know the right words so I said it was really sad and I was very sorry. He sent me a photo of himself as a baby being christened, with his uncle, his mother, grandmother and aunt standing over him. His uncle was very handsome.

A few hours later as I was making dinner, he texted again. This sucks. Oh dear. He was upset. I wasn’t sure how he’d take it but clearly he was a bit shaken. I said that he was very welcome to come over if he didn’t want to be alone. He could spend the evening talking and I would listen and comfort him. I was picturing the scene of us hugging on the sofa, then sharing my bed albeit completely platonically, working from the conservatory together the next day. But an hour later he replied saying he’d grab a drink with a friend after work, and the illusion shattered.

I was a bit upset. I’m his shoulder to cry on, but only via text it seems. I felt rejected, which is stupid really because of course he’s not going to drive over an hour up to see me when he has loads of friends nearby.

I realised I’m actually seeing him on Friday. He’s booked a Michelin-starred restaurant for dinner, a sort of post-lockdown treat. I suddenly didn’t want to go any more. Why would he take me when he could take one of his real friends? The food will be all pretentious, plus it’s an hour and a half to get there and we’ll have to go separately because neither of us live on the way.

Once Willow was in bed, I sat in front of the telly and ate half a tub of Ben & Jerry’s. It’s been a while since I did that. At first it tasted nice but then it became too sickly, but I couldn’t stop. My trousers are all too tight at the moment. I felt like a fat slob. I have my Dancercise class tomorrow but I know I won’t want to do it. And I can’t go to the pool on Wednesday mornings any more because I’m back to working my full hours now. Well, I could have a quick dip and race home but I’m not sure it’s worth it.

Sometimes you rescue a snail and two more get crushed. You try to be a supportive friend to your ex-boyfriend (who you’re clearly still in love with), but end up feeling sorry for yourself. I realised how pathetic I sounded and that none of this was about me. Someone has died. If he needs me to be supportive by text, I can put my feelings aside and do that for him.

Sunday, 27th June

“Je n’aime pas aujourd’hui.” Willow’s favourite thing to say in French. Sort of sums up my feelings about today. I got cross with her, after asking her five times to bring her washing downstairs. On the fifth time, she incredulously replied “say please.” That was the last straw. I said I was taking away her phone and she stormed off to her room. She does nothing to help around the house and I’m sick of being her slave. I did two loads of washing, made all of our meals and did the dishwasher. The place needs hoovering but I couldn’t face it.

I have lost my get-up-and-go. I didn’t even get dressed today. We were supposed to meet Anjali at a crystal shop that was having a fair today, but I had to text and say we weren’t coming.

When Willow skulked back downstairs, I asked if she had anything to say to me. “What’s for snack” is not the response I was hoping for. She is incapable of apologising, it’s something she has never done and instead, pulls an inane grin. I know it’s her autism but frankly it’s infuriating. I try to teach her manners, and I’m sure she’s lovely to everyone else, but I get treated like something she’s stepped in.

We tidied the top of the ottoman in the living room that had become piled with crap, so at least that isn’t bothering me any more. It was mostly her stuff – an empty gift bag, an old envelope that I threw away and she fished out of the bin, a collection of pom-poms, a magazine she probably hadn’t bothered to read, and god knows what else. Then we watched old episodes of Taskmaster until it was time for her bath.

I just wish there was some excitement in my life. Anything. A reason to get dressed.

I was thinking earlier about turning 40 and I looked to see which celebrities are joining me. Some I knew about – Britney Spears (poor thing), Beyoncé – and some I didn’t realise were my age – Meghan Markle, Natalie Portman, Serena Williams. I was wondering what a 40-year-old looks like. How am I supposed to have my hair? What sort of clothes should I be wearing? I don’t know how to be 40, I don’t want to embarrass myself. At least I have a few more months to figure it out.

Is it childish to have long hair? My hair has been so many styles, I rarely keep it the same for too long. If it’s short, I wish it was long, and vice versa. It’s around shoulder length at the moment. Not in any sort of style. I’ve been thinking of dyeing it again but I’m not sure what colour. I prefer it light in the summer, but don’t want the hassle of blonde and the regular, expensive visits to the salon. I asked Willow her opinion a week or so ago and she said pink. I don’t know if she was serious. It has been pink before, but right now I don’t want to draw attention to myself.

I don’t feel like myself any more. I need this pandemic to end so I can start living again. I desperately need to make some local friends so I can start having a social life. I saw a tweet today that said if you want to make friends, join a choir. Maybe that’s something I could do. My mum joined her local Rock Choir, and I looked it up for my area but the fees are £100! No chance, sadly. There’s someone in my Action For Happiness group who I’d like to become friends with, she seems to be about my age or probably a bit younger, but I’m scared to email her in case she thinks I’m a weirdo. It would be so nice to go for coffee together. Maybe it will be easier once the group starts meeting in person, although I don’t know when that will be.

How do other single parents manage to have a life? There must be plenty of others that aren’t moping round their living rooms all the time. Maybe even single parents of autistic children somehow find a way? I guess it was a bad time for her to start secondary school, as I didn’t get to meet any other parents because the school couldn’t run any of the usual events, and they don’t have a parents circle. Maybe it will be different in September?

Tomorrow is Monday. Back to the routine of school and work. At least I’ll have a reason to get dressed.

Saturday, 26th June

The neighbours are making a terrible racket. There’s a child crying, lots of elephanting around, banging, thumping, an agitated female voice… god knows what’s going on next door but I wish they’d keep it down. How is Willow supposed to sleep with all this noise? It’s been going on for hours. I managed to block it out while I had the TV on (The Durrells again, almost at the end of series three now), but now my house is silent, it’s very apparent that theirs is not. I’m not even sure how many people live next door. They’ve never actually spoken to me.

There’s a man who often sits in his car. Maybe to get a moment’s peace. They have three cars, which seems excessive as it can’t be more than a three-bedroom house. Mine is only two. I’m sandwiched between them and another three-bed, which belongs to Mark and Erin, a friendly couple in their fifties who feed Domino for me whenever I go away. Mark has two children at university who visit every now and then.

I remember the day I moved in. I’d bought a new bed, after sleeping on a mattress on the floor in our old house as Glen took the bed when he moved out. To be fair, it was a super king and there’s no way it would have fitted here. My new double bed was wooden and had lots of slats that needed to be screwed into place. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t get most of the screws to go in. I knocked on Mark’s door, explained that I had just moved in and asked if I could possibly borrow an electric screwdriver. He came round and insisted on assembling the bed for me.

This was my first house as a single person and I was determined that I would be fine without a man, but I had to concede that I did actually need help, and I was grateful for it. He was on his own too then, meeting Erin two years later. I wish we were the sort of neighbours who would pop round for a cuppa.

When I was married, our road was very neighbourly. We would go next door for a barbecue in the summer, or a glass of wine. I remember one year, the neighbours did a mini firework display for Willow, as the only child in the street. The next three houses along from us were all older families, whose children had left home, so they were thrilled to have a little one to fuss over. Willow was only 4 when we moved there. And almost 7 when we moved out.


We went to my brother’s house this afternoon. First time since the incident, back in March. Willow was not at all keen to go but I ignored that, knowing that it would be fine. It was me he assaulted, although witnessing it was obviously very upsetting for her. I have forgiven him and she must learn to as well. He had never done anything like that before, and I know he is sorry.

We played Rummikub, which was thoroughly enjoyable. We used to play it regularly after Sunday lunch at my gran’s, years ago now, and hadn’t played it since. Willow had never played but seemed to like it as we had three games. Then Jason ordered pizza for us and we watched the new Pixar film Luca, which was charming.

Back home, my dad called. I’d collected his new SIM card and dropped it off to him on the way to Jason’s house. He was in the middle of a Zoom meeting so we didn’t stay. I was pleased to hear he’d managed to get the new phone working.

Mum texted to ask how it was at Jason’s. She was worried after last time, but I said it was fine, and she was relieved.

It seems to have gone quiet. Hopefully the neighbours have finished whatever they were doing. Time for sleep.

Thursday, 24th June

It’s 9pm and I’m in bed already. I’ve spoken to all of my family today, and I had to use my brain. Absolutely shattered.

My day went something like this:

7:15 Alarm goes off. I go back to sleep.

7:30 Second alarm goes off. I wake Willow and go downstairs to feed Domino and make myself a cup of tea and bowl of muesli.

8:15 We leave for school after both of us have got dressed. Willow grabs her standard two pain au chocolat to eat in the car.

8:35 Drop Willow at school and head to Sainsbury’s.

9:20 Arrive home having bought more pain au chocolat (heaven forbid she should ever run out), carrot sticks, rinse aid for the dishwasher, mint Cornettos and some flowery trousers that caught my eye.

9:40 Darren sends me a link to an article about a woman who discovered in her thirties that she’s autistic. Thought you’d find that interesting. We message on and off throughout the day. He says he thinks I’m sexy. I say I think he’s sexy. I like Darren but only from afar, like this. He’s just an ego boost. In a hot package.

9:45 Boot up the laptop. Reset the router because the internet is down. Restart the laptop.

10:00 Log in to work. I have three emails. These are supposed to keep me busy for the next four and a half hours. One simply says “thanks for your help.”

10:15 Video chat with my boss. I get tearful as I tell her how sick I am of being stuck at home on my own and how I just want everything to go back to the way it was. She tells me about her trip to London with her kids at the weekend where she cried because there was a cockroach in the hotel room.

12:00 Message from Tyrone about the spreadsheet I made him. Hooray, finally I get to do some work that I actually enjoy and that I’m good at! I spend the rest of the working day improving the spreadsheet and by the end it does some pretty clever things. Tyrone is impressed. I’m happy.

12:45 Call from Jason (my brother). We are on the phone for an hour talking about nothing. I tell him I’m making a spinach and chicken sandwich, he says I should give it a name so I call it a spicken sandwich. He says maybe not.

14:00 Call from mum. It was a pocket dial.

14:30 Finish work. Relax on the sofa with a puzzle book.

15:00 Call from dad, via the EE store. They can’t help him because I’m the account holder. He has given up on the bus company finding his phone and wants to buy a new one. I tell him I’ll order a replacement SIM and he needs to get a second hand handset from somewhere like CEX. He agrees but said he needs the new SIM by Tuesday as he’s going to an event in London.

15:20 Text from Adam. I think my colleague was hitting on me on the work messenger. Hmm. I tell him not to have another office romance, after the last one turned out to be a total nutjob. Not even with a hot Cypriot? He’s very hot. It’s a “he”. I relax a little. If you can be 100% sure he’s not a psychopath then by all means go for it, but office romances are dangerous. He replies: They’re a terrible idea. But he’s an Adonis. But yes, terrible idea.

15:30 Call to EE. They can only deliver the SIM to my address, not dad’s, and it will take 3-5 working days, but if I go to an EE shop, they will be able to give me one there and then. I email dad to let him know that I will do this at the weekend and drop it round to him.

16:00 Feed Domino. Set off for school to collect Willow after her weekly therapy session.

17:00 Arrive home. Call from mum, apologising for pocket dialling me earlier. She’d been at volunteering, teaching a group of school children a song about safety at sea, which she then sang at us.

17:30 Have dinner (pizza for Willow, microwave tuna pasta bake for me) and watch The Durrells. Two women and an otter are in labour so Willow takes her pizza upstairs.

18:45 Make decision to bunk off this evening’s Dancercise because I’m too tired from having to talk to all my family. Grab a Cornetto and a can of grapefruit cider. Willow is happily upstairs on the phone to Meg. Watch more Durrells.

20:15 Feed Domino. He has been surprisingly good today and not bitten or scratched me.

20:20 Story time. Reading about the Bishop of Peterborough trying to capture Robin Hood but Robin foils him and takes his gold and silver. I ponder aloud “why would a bishop go to the forest with bags of gold and silver?” Willow replies “I know right, it’s not like there was a B&Q!”

And that brings us to now. How was your day?

Wednesday, 23rd June

Last night, I had absolutely no desire to go ahead with this morning’s swim. It’s very easy to listen to that voice telling you not to bother, to just go back to bed. I knew that and acknowledged it but put my swimsuit on anyway. The 20 lengths seemed harder than last week. My inner thighs started cramping during length six. I swapped to backstroke, which helped. As I lay on my back in the water, gazing up at the expanse of blue above me, it felt like the most peaceful place on earth. I was glad I’d made the effort to go.

I put my clothes back on over my damp cossie to force me to shower once I got home. All washed, I put on a floaty tie-dye dress and leggings and spent the next few hours sitting in the conservatory listening to a podcast, eating olive bread and working through a puzzle book. The podcast was mentioned in my Action For Happiness group last night, Lee Mack’s “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Buddha”. A comedian’s take on spirituality, not making fun but taking a serious interest, seemed like it would definitely be worth checking out. In reality it was Lee and his mate laughing at each other a bit too much, so I’m not sure if I’ll persevere with it but let’s see.

My counselling session was at 2pm over Zoom but I’d noticed the counsellor hadn’t sent me the link. I sent her a text and got my laptop ready. Two o’clock came around and I hadn’t had a reply, so I texted again. I tried the link from last week but that didn’t work. If I don’t show up they will cancel my sessions, and my work are paying for this, so I got in touch with the company who provide the counselling over webchat to tell them what had happened, so they knew it wasn’t my fault. They said they would investigate and if the counsellor didn’t contact me, I should phone their helpline and they could re-match me with a different counsellor. I waited forty minutes and then called the helpline. They apologised, said they would investigate, and said they would re-match me.

It was pretty odd, I don’t know why she didn’t show up, or answer my texts. And very disappointing as this was my last Wednesday of not having to work, I could’ve gone out somewhere for the day. Not to mention that now I’ll have to go through everything I talked about last week with somebody new. I emailed the lovely HR lady from work as I thought she would want to know.

It had been a sunny day and I decided not to waste any more of it sitting at home, so I walked into town. I discovered a new band (it’s electronic dance music so I’m not sure if “band” is the right word) and playing that through my earphones as I strolled purposefully in the sun made me feel invincible. I was craving a chocolate brownie so I went to a nice little vegan cafe, but they didn’t have any so I chose a salad and a smoothie instead – very healthy! Sitting outside that cafe, it was a different world. Here I was a person who goes to cafes on a weekday afternoon and eats salad, not a nobody who mooches round the house all day.

I still wanted a brownie, and felt I’d earned it after my healthy meal and all the walking and swimming, and I chanced upon a little bakery a few doors down, which happened to have a whole display of different types of brownie! I chose one with white chocolate and raspberries, put it in my bag and continued to the shops. I was looking for lightweight jogging bottoms for running but wasn’t successful in finding any. To be fair, there are only two clothes shops in the town.

I walked back through the park and sat down under a tree. How lovely to be able to do this. I put the music back on and tucked in to the brownie. It was utterly delicious, so I only had a few bites and decided to save the rest for later. I was in no rush to go home, Glen’s parents would’ve taken Willow out to dinner by this time. There were families in the park with small children running round playing. I was invisible to them, and I felt totally unselfconscious.

Back home, I watched more of The Durrells while I waited for Willow to return. I’m on season two now. It’s such a joy to watch, a real highlight of my day. I continued watching after Willow was in bed. I’m not very good at pacing myself, I know I’ll be sad when it’s over, but I’m so excited to see what happens next.

Tuesday, 22nd June

10:20am. Text to Adam. My work is done already. It took 20 minutes. What am I meant to do for the next four hours??

That’s brilliant! came the reply. He didn’t get it.

It’s terrible. I hate this pointless existence.

Ah come on. You get money, you pay your mortgage, everything is fine! Can you tell he’s an investment banker?

I don’t give a shit about money, I want to live a fulfilling life!

Paying the mortgage is a precondition to having a fulfilling life. I give up.

I did honestly wonder though. Is this how I’m meant to spend my days? Pretending to be working when actually there isn’t any work? I did ask my boss for something to do, and that provided another half hour at the most. But the majority of my work day was spent questioning the meaning of life, lamenting the brain cells I used to have that have rotted away from lack of use, and playing Candy Crush.

I called my mum. “Are you in Lidl?” She’s always in Lidl.

“No, I’m in the car with Carole. I’m helping her set up her exhibition. Are you ok?”

“Yes, fine, just bored at work. There’s nothing to do.”

“Oh, you should move up here.” Her answer for everything. “Willow can go to this private school I just heard about, it’s really good.” What planet is she on?

“I don’t have any money to pay for a private school! And she doesn’t need a good school, she needs one that’s caring and supportive. Plus you live in the middle of nowhere!”

“What was that? Sorry, you’re breaking up. I’m in the middle of nowhere here! Got to go…”

People. I think the answer is to be around people. Mum may live out in the sticks but she’s rarely alone. We are not designed for it, each sitting in their own private cell staring at a screen. We need other people – to talk to, to smile at, to remind us that we exist in the real world, outside of the surreal bubble we unwittingly create when we barely leave the house for over a year.

I want the pandemic to be over. It has been the loneliest time for so many people, including me. I know that I have developed irrational anxiety around many things I used to take for granted, but I’m sure it will pass in time. I need to get back out there. I need to feel that I exist.

After school, I had an email from my dad.

I think I’ve left my phone on the bus. Please can you call EE and give your security details because the account is in your name, the webchat can’t help me unless you do that. Tell them I’m talking to Bhuwan.

Sigh. I phoned EE and explained the situation. They said they would block the phone. I realised I wasn’t actually sure what it was dad wanted them to do, so I emailed him to ask. The guy explained that they could block it, and then if the phone is found, I call them back and they unblock it. I decided that made sense and told him to go ahead. We were still talking about sending a replacement sim etc when an email reply came from dad.

I want EE to call my phone and tell whoever answers to hand it in at the bus depot. The webchat people don’t have access to that.

Dear god. In many ways he’s a very intelligent man but common sense and logical reasoning don’t seem to be gifts he possesses.

*I* could’ve called it! From my phone! But it’s too late now, EE have blocked it. If it shows up, they can unblock it.

It seems he sent the next reply before reading mine:

The webchat staff weren’t able to block the phone but they said that probably whoever you were speaking to has done it. Can you call it? With luck someone will answer and you can ask them to hand it in.

Unbelievable. He clearly doesn’t understand that you can’t get through to a blocked phone. He then went on to ask me to call the bus company. I was getting really stressed at all this so I called my brother to have a rant.

“Ohmygod dad is such an idiot.” I told him what had happened. He said he’d been dealing with rude people at work so he felt ranty too. It was nice to let off steam, I very rarely call him but it helped and I felt better for it. He invited Willow and me round to play board games at the weekend, which I thought sounded wonderful. I know Willow won’t be keen but I will just drag her there. I’m sure she’ll enjoy it really.

It was my Action For Happiness group this evening. I’d first attended a month ago so this was my second meeting. It’s just a small group of people who discuss, well, popular psychology I suppose (I have only been once!) over Zoom. I’d been looking forward to it as the last one was really interesting.

The theme for this month’s session was sadness, and how sadness is necessary in order to have happiness. However, what actually happened was that we watched a YouTube video of a professor talking about compassion. In it, he explained that there are two kinds of happiness – one led by achievements, owning things, that sort of thing, which is short lived and can lead to addiction and anxiety; and the other is about making a contribution, connecting with others, etc, which is the key to long term happiness. It was very engaging.

He also said that we are not our brains, they come as part of the human package we are in but we need to learn to drive them. Our brains are wired to focus on negatives, but we can train them to notice the positives more. Emotions like anger and anxiety appear quickly so that we can react to a threat, that’s how our brains are designed, but we can learn to control our brains differently. I am hoping this is what my counselling sessions will help with. I have the next one tomorrow.

I felt much calmer after this, and floated peacefully upstairs to retrieve Willow from her pit for a bedtime story. Domino came and lay on me, which would’ve been lovely except he smelled like he’d just done a poo. Another chapter of Robin Hood’s adventures and she was off to bed, while I enjoyed another episode of The Durrells.

Anjali texted to ask if I’d like to go to a new restaurant with her one evening. I hadn’t heard from her for a few days. It’s hard to keep up a friendship with someone you’ve only met once, no matter how well you got on that one time. I do really like her though and I desperately need a social life, so I was thrilled and said yes straight away. Of course, I’m only available when Willow is at her dad’s, so between us we managed to put 30th July in the diary. Something to look forward to.

I’ve booked another swim at the outdoor pool for tomorrow morning. I don’t think the weather is due to be nice so I’m not really looking forward to it. I hate getting wet. Thinking about it now, staying in bed is much more appealing. But I hope that I can somehow muster the courage to go through with it. I could always go back to bed afterwards. Take action to achieve happiness, come on. It will be worth it.

Sunday, 20th June

My lovely sense of calm was shattered this morning by the mad bitch ex-wife of that guy I had an affair with five years ago. She had sent me a friend request on Facebook the other day, which I blocked, but a few days later I noticed a message in my Facebook messenger from her, asking what happened five years ago and could I have the courtesy to reply. Again I pressed the block button. This morning, I opened twitter and there’s a message from an account with an anonymous sounding name, and it’s her! She had literally created an account to stalk me so she could send me a message! I didn’t want to read it as I would only get upset. How dare she! I blocked her, AGAIN. But I couldn’t stop thinking about it so I unblocked her to send a reply telling her to leave me alone or I would notify the police, then blocked her again. Another half an hour went by and I was still extremely bothered and upset, so I sent one final message saying look, we had a relationship, it had catastrophic results and I don’t want to undo the years of therapy and medication that followed. I am serious about going to the police. Please get over it and do not contact me again. Then blocked her again. This felt more like closure as hopefully I had answered her question. But man, what a shit start to the day.

I stayed in bed until after 11, I couldn’t face getting up. I needed a shower but couldn’t bear it. Domino decided I needed to get up though. He sat down on my pillow and kept batting my face with his paw and maowing at me, as if to say “stop feeling sorry for yourself and get up, you ridiculous human”. I dragged myself downstairs and had breakfast.

I wanted to watch a horror film, something to take my mind off the horror that was in my head from having the past forcibly dragged up. The trouble is, I’m a total wimp and I’ve never actually watched a horror film because I scare too easily. So I settled on the 2020 adaptation of Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca. I’ve read the book and seen a black and white film of it I think, so although it isn’t a pleasant story, I knew what to expect. That helped as I became engrossed in the drama on screen, but once it finished I felt restless again.

I decided the only thing that would make me have a shower was if I went for a run first. This is another thing that helps me when I need to deal with difficult emotions. I had a good jog round the block and knocked a minute off my time from Monday. The cold shower afterwards was bliss. I put clean pyjamas on and headed downstairs with a load of washing. That was the one thing I needed to achieve today. Then I scoured Netflix for a series to watch. In the end, I settled on The Durrells, which my mum had recommended to me a while ago. I loved it instantly and binge watched until Willow came home at 7pm.

I was pleased to see her and asked about her weekend. She couldn’t remember anything about it but showed me the art homework she’d done. I asked about the history homework but she looked puzzled and said “why did you want me to do that?” Er, because it’s your homework and it’s due in on Tuesday? And I’d emailed Glen to help her with it this weekend but clearly he hadn’t bothered. He also hadn’t bothered to prompt her to wash all weekend, so I put her straight in the bath. Why do I have to be the only parent who actually cares about this sort of thing? It’s exhausting. She suddenly remembered he’d taken her to the zoo yesterday (with the bitch girlfriend and all their other kids). Lovely, but he still should’ve made time for her homework. It’s important! Sigh.

Once she was in bed, I watched more Durrells. It’s pretty appealing, the thought of upping sticks and moving to Corfu. And maybe meeting a hot Greek bloke.

Saturday, 19th June

I am home from a wonderful mini break to Glastonbury.

The journey last night took five hours door to door, instead of the usual three. I went to fill up with petrol first, then about an hour and a half into the drive, the car’s oil light came on. FFS. The last time I went to Glastonbury, the car conked out completely just outside Solstice Services. Had to call/join the RAC and it took hours because they had to replace a piston or something and they didn’t have one. Cost me a fortune.

I didn’t know what the oil light meant so I tried to Google it while driving and the first thing that came up was “stop immediately”. Great. I was thankfully only four miles from Fleet Services so I pulled in there and got out the manual from the glove box. It just said I needed to top up the oil, thank goodness. It also said I should be checking the oil once a week… oops. Literally never checked it. I had no idea which oil to buy so I stood in the garage looking dumb until the guy at the till told me which was the right one for my car. I poured it in and thankfully the light went off.

Another hour along the road and I got to Stonehenge. Traffic is always crawling there because there’s such a good view of the stones from the road. I spotted an opportunity to pull over and got my camera out.

Another hour ticked by and then finally I got my first glimpse of Glastonbury Tor – the sacred hill that protrudes from the landscape, with St Michael’s Tower perched on top like a crown. I’d been researching where the best locations are to take photos so I approached from a direction I hadn’t taken before. I could soon see why this was going to be a good spot. There are lots of narrow waterways, drainage channels for the Somerset Levels. I managed to get a photo I was really proud of, with the tor reflecting in the water. In times past, this area would have been under water, making the tor an island – the Isle Of Avalon. There are many legends, including King Arthur coming here by boat. You can feel the magic all around.

I kept stopping to take more photos, and eventually got to the B&B just after 10pm. I texted Amy, the photographer I’d be meeting in the morning, to let her know that I’d arrived in Glastonbury, set my alarm for 4am and went straight to bed. It was difficult to sleep because the pillow was too thick and there was a sliver of light under the blind, plus I knew I’d be getting up at crazy o’clock. I was just into a dream when the alarm woke me with a start. I dressed quickly, filled a water bottle and set off for our meeting point at the base of the tor.

I recognised Amy by the camera round her neck. We greeted each other and began our ascent. While it was still dark at the B&B, the altitude even at the base of the tor meant that it was already pretty light. There was a field with several tents and people sitting round a fire, Amy supposed they’d been up all night. There was a National Trust sign saying No camping. No fires. Oh well. They had likely come for the solstice on Monday.

The climb was extremely steep and I was trying to talk to Amy but had to stop as I couldn’t breathe and talk at the same time. There were several sheep grazing on the sides of the tor, which was lovely. When we reached the top, a handful of people were already up there. It didn’t feel like the middle of the night. The sunrise I’d hoped for didn’t materialise as it was completely overcast, but it didn’t matter. The view was stunning as always. We rested a while and took photos of the sheep.

Without realising, we spent an hour and a half up there. Taking photos from various angles, trying to capture the sheep posing, failing to photograph the rabbits that were flitting about. We slowly walked back to my car and parted ways, having thoroughly enjoyed each other’s company.

It was almost 7am when I got back into bed at the B&B. I managed to sleep for a couple of hours, despite feeling wide awake. At checkout time, I put my things in the car and wandered off to find breakfast in a cafe. I couldn’t help smiling as I saw the familiar colours of the buildings, and the equally colourful people, one of whom was merrily playing a guitar in the street. The scent of incense wafted from several shops as I walked past. Glastonbury is a feast for the senses. Chocolate banana bread and a cup of tea seemed like a reasonable breakfast, while I finished the book I was reading on my kindle, about the lido.

I spent the rest of the morning browsing in pretty much every shop. They are all independent and have names like “Cat and Cauldron”, “The Goddess and the Green Man”, “Imaginarium”, “Enlightenment”, and “The Speaking Tree Shop”. It seems lockdown has removed my desire to buy things, I have been programmed out of it. Despite seeing so many beautiful clothes, jewellery, crystals, and other objects, I managed not to buy anything.

Lunch was in a different cafe that was so busy, I had to queue for half an hour just to be served. My feet were hurting and I was grateful to finally sit down. I had a halloumi wrap and sweet potato fries, which was amazing. Then, having exhausted the high street, it was time to visit Chalice Well.

This remarkable place is a world peace garden with beautiful flowers, and the site of an ancient spring flowing from the ground. At the top of the garden is the well itself, and several people were sitting around it with their eyes closed. I sat with them for a while, enjoying the tranquility.

There are many benches of wood or stone tucked away behind the flowers and trees, where you can sit peacefully and meditate. I found one where a small candle was lit and decided to sit there. Around me were such beautiful flowers of pinks, purples, blues, and reds. The scent of the roses was so sweet. I started to think of my gran. She had beautiful roses in her garden. I wondered if this special place might be what I needed to help with my grief for her. I started talking to her in my head, thanking her for being in my life, for all her love, support and time for me over the years. I remembered some of her sayings that I’m grateful for and that I try to teach Willow: “don’t go to the kitchen empty handed” (in other words, take that dirty mug or plate with you to be washed up), and “there’s no such word as “can’t” ”. I did shed a few tears but I felt better for it.

On my way out, I hugged a tree. It was like hugging my gran. I said thank you, and walked slowly back to the car.

The drive home was much quicker, only taking three hours. Domino was there to greet me. I immediately got into my pyjamas and put some dinner in the microwave. I wanted to see what the photos I took on my hike up the tor with my proper camera were like, so I slid the memory card into the laptop and had a look. There were 118 photos, of which six were any good. One day I will do a photography course. There really is only so far you can get with the automatic setting.

I’m so thrilled that I made the impulse decision to go to Glastonbury, even if it was only for one day. It truly is my favourite place in the world, there’s nowhere else like it. I feel like my soul has been restored and I have a new sense of peace and calm. Now all I need to do is maintain that back at home with the evil cat and sulky tweenager. Ommmm…

Thursday, 17th June

By 8 o’clock this morning, I’d taken the impulsive decision to book a B&B in Glastonbury for tomorrow night. I’ve been thinking for days about the empty weekend ahead of me when Willow will be at her dads and I have No Plans. I don’t like having No Plans. I end up spending far too much time in bed, then regretting not achieving anything and feeling generally shit about my life.

I’d texted my friend Rachel who I haven’t seen for yonks but she wasn’t free. To be honest, I didn’t have anyone else to text. I thought about going up north to visit my friend Hannah, but didn’t fancy the long drive. It’s forecast to rain so I didn’t want a day trip to Brighton or Cambridge or anywhere nice, and I hate having to ask the neighbours to feed Domino if I go away longer so going to my mum’s was out. I know the neighbours don’t mind but I’m always asking them and they never ask anything of me.

I have a few places saved in my weather app. Home obviously, mum’s town, London, Brighton, Isle of Wight (so I can see what it’s like where Janet is), Marrakech (my favourite abroad place, been three times), and Glastonbury. The solid block of rain that showed for most places (except Marrakech) had a gap on Saturday for Glastonbury and it said 21 degrees. I thought of my camera, and how amazing it would be to take pictures from the top of the tor at sunrise.

I sent a message to one of my favourite Glastonbury photographers who I follow on social media, asking if she’d like to meet up and she said yes! Amazing! She also informed me that sunrise is at 4:55am. Fuck. Oh well, carpe diem and all that. I realised I could’ve found that out from the weather app and braced myself, but the decision was made. I’m doing this.

Work was slow but steady, and afterwards I called my mum for a chat.

“Hi mum, are you in Lidl?” She’s always in Lidl.

“Um, yes.”

“Haha, really?”

“Yes, I’m just grabbing something for dinner. John’s in the car. What are you having tonight?”

“Willow’s having pizza and I’m having a stir fry. Again.”

“Oh, we’ll I’ve got a pie and some cottage cheese… that’ll do. Is everything ok?”

“Yes, I was just phoning to say hi and to tell you I’m going to Glastonbury at the weekend.”

“Oh, cool, well I’ve got to pay now, drive carefully.” And she hung up.

I’d signed up to do a Zoom quiz this evening, run by a charity for single parents. Thought it might be fun, maybe even something Willow and I could do together. She said she wasn’t interested and wanted to go to her room, so I told her she should start on that homework about the Magna Carta. Next thing, she was sitting in the conservatory in front of my laptop, waiting for the quiz to start.

The first round was about science, and question one was pretty easy. What is the middle colour of the rainbow? a) green, b) blue, c) yellow, d) turquoise. She said that turquoise isn’t in the rainbow, but couldn’t tell me what the answer was and started getting frustrated. As they were moving on to the next question, she announced it was blue. I wrote down a) because I am a person who gets the right answers. Maybe I shouldn’t have, maybe I should’ve gone with her answer, even though I knew it was wrong. She wasn’t happy, and after about three questions, she’d given up participating and just started grunting at me, so I said she was free to leave. I did the rest of the quiz myself and it was fun, but I couldn’t help feeling disappointed that we’d failed to enjoy this activity together.

There was a new film on TV this evening called Together, which followed a fictional couple through the pandemic, from March 2020 to now. They really didn’t seem to like each other, but of course were trapped together. It starts with her bringing shopping into the house, loads of toilet rolls. Shortly, her mum goes into a care home, which they think is much safer for her than having carers who travel from place to place, potentially spreading the virus. Then the care home gets Covid and her mum dies. The whole film takes place in the couple’s home so you don’t see any other characters, but she described being called in to the hospital to say goodbye and goodness it was hard to watch. Of course I thought of my gran.

As time goes on in the film, she has become angry at the government for not locking down sooner, as their negligence could have saved so many people’s lives, maybe including her mum. She delivers an incredible monologue. Then it skips forward some more and his business has collapsed, they are both in a pretty dark place. But somehow, as it reaches the present, they realise they are still together, through everything, and they kiss. Definitely the most poignant thing I’ve watched in a long time.

Just checked the weather app again. It’s now looking dry on Saturday everywhere except Glastonbury.

Wednesday, 16th June

I can’t believe I actually went swimming in an outdoor pool at 9 o’clock this morning! Who is this person and what has she done with Juliette?! The last time I went swimming was maybe seven years ago. I pulled my new cossie on, struggling a bit to get the over-eager tummy control panels over my massive thighs, and put a t-shirt and loose trousers over the top. Dropped Willow at school and arrived at the pool 15 minutes before my session time.

There were changing rooms but I didn’t need one. I could only see one other person there, a lady sitting on the wall. I sat down near her and said hello. We marvelled at how glorious it was to be there on this beautiful sunny day. She had just finished her swim and was drying off in the sun. A man in swimming trunks appeared and joined in the conversation. He had also just had a swim, but he was going back in in the next session. Due to covid, they are running 45 minute sessions every hour that need to be pre-booked, so when I arrived it was changeover time and the pool was empty.

More people slowly started arriving until the first person slid into the water and I realised I was going to have to get in too. The lady on the wall assured me that it wouldn’t be freezing, which helped. I walked down to the shallow end, muttered a few words of encouragement to myself, and climbed down the ladder into the water. It was cool but not cold, quite pleasant really. I waded forwards until I was waist deep, then dipped my shoulders under and swam. It felt wonderful, the lovely clear water gliding over me as I propelled myself to the other end. Not a cloud in the sky, not a care in the world. Just me and the water and the sunshine.

As I swam a couple more lengths, I became aware of how unfit I am. Each time I got back to the shallow end, I had to rest and catch my breath. Thankfully I wasn’t the only one doing this, and I got chatting to another lady puffing and panting as much as I was. It was her first time too, she and her husband are trying to lose weight. I’m always hopeful that I’ll make a new friend, but when she said “husband” my heart sank. They don’t need a third wheel. I carried on until I’d done 16 lengths, then we chatted some more. She told me the pool is 50 metres long. If I could manage 20 lengths, that would be a kilometre. There were ten minutes left of the session. I pushed off from the wall and swam with renewed purpose. I had to do those final four lengths. With a couple of minutes to spare, I made it.

Feeling a sense of pride and achievement, I climbed out of the pool and walked over to the wall where I’d left my things. The man from before came over, his things were there too. He started talking to me again, about his kids and how he lived a couple of streets away, and how he’d once thought of becoming a swimming instructor. It turns out his daughter is the same ago as Willow, although not at the same school.

He mentioned a few things about his job and I realised he works for the same company as my brother. I asked if he knows him and he said yes! What a small world. He suggested maybe we could get together with the girls some time, and he would email my brother to get my details as he didn’t have his phone on him. Sure enough, about an hour later I got a text from Jason.

Were you swimming this morning?!

Haha. Yes. I take it Matt contacted you.

Yes! How did you get talking to him?

Just at the poolside. He was talking about his job and I put two and two together.

Haha well he’s totally nuts hahahaha

I took that to be a good thing.

I had planned to have a shower and wash my hair when I got home but when it came to it, I was dry and really didn’t want to get wet again. I was so thirsty, I’d got through a litre of water by midday. I texted Adam, who replied that he usually drinks five litres a day. I’m sure that can’t be good for you.

I decided to have avocado on toast. I sliced all the way around the avocado so it was in two halves, then attempted that trick to get the stone out by hitting the knife into the stone and twisting, however, somehow it slipped and I had a nasty gash in my hand. I acted quickly and put a plaster over it before it really had a chance to bleed much. I often pass out when this sort of thing happens, but not today. It was stinging a bit but I carried on making my lunch and ignored it.

I tried sitting in the conservatory to read, but it was so hot and my arms were aching from the swim, so I dragged myself upstairs and had a nap.

At 2pm it was my first counselling session, over Zoom. My laptop is so slow, I had to restart it and it only just loaded in time. A woman with a friendly face appeared on my screen. We started with the standard questionnaire: on a scale of 0-3, how would you rate the following over the past two weeks, that one. I’d done it many times before. 0 for thoughts of self harming. 3 for low self esteem. She asked why I had come to counselling so I went through it all. She noted down low confidence as the main issue with work.

We spent a long time talking about Willow and how Glen won’t acknowledge her autism, how his girlfriend wouldn’t have her in the house for three months last year because she wasn’t excited about their new baby, etc. The counsellor was horrified at Glen’s attitude and behaviour.

I said that I miss having my mum living nearby, and how ill my dad is. That he is a hoarder and I’m worried Willow is like him. How I really miss my gran, and at that point the tears came, as always when I talk about her. I described how much I’d always enjoyed spending time with her, hearing stories of the mischief she got up to during the war. How wise she was, always giving sage advice but only when asked, and without judgement.

The counsellor said that clearly I have a lot that I’m dealing with. It felt like a sort of validation to hear it from a professional. I explained that work had always been an escape from all the other stuff going on in my life, that for those few hours I had a task to focus on and I was being useful. To have that taken away by furlough was really hard, and to come back and things were different has been an ongoing struggle too.

I asked if she thought she’d be able to help and she replied that this is a question she never answers, she is there to “facilitate the process”. I’m not sure I understand what that means, but I really hope something will happen in these sessions that helps me. We are going to focus on one thing at a time, so next week will be about confidence.

Willow arrived with Glen’s parents at 4pm and after popping down to say hello, I remained in my room, pretending to be working. They went out for dinner as usual and I put some salmon with sliced lemon in the oven for myself. Once she was in bed, I watched the final of the Sewing Bee. Somehow that set me off crying at the end. I could hear rain falling on the conservatory roof. The run of hot sunny days was over and a week or more of rain had begun.

Monday, 14th June

If only

Something weird happened this morning. I went for a run.

I blame Adam for unknowingly inspiring my subconscious with his insane 50km run yesterday.

I dropped Willow at school and had the thought as I was driving back that I could pop on my shorts, dig out my headphones and my running shoes, and have a jog round the block and a shower before work. So that’s exactly what I did. It’s a 2.5km loop so I used to run it twice but that wasn’t on the cards today, just a gentle return to running after five months off. I managed to run the first kilometre but soon after that I felt like I was going to throw up, plus the evil hill was looming, so I hauled myself up the hill, then started running again for most of the way home. My butt was jiggling, as was the spare tyre around my middle. I could feel the burn alright.

I burst through the front door, tugged my trainers off and staggered upstairs to take my clothes off as quickly as possible, which was not very quickly as I was panting so much and had lost the ability to get a sports bra over my head. I caught sight of my face in the mirror and it was almost purple. I set the shower to cold and let the water pour over me, blissfully cooling my fiery skin. Then I had a problem. There was no way I could put clothes on. I was still radiating heat. I texted Adam.

You bastard. You inspired me. Fucking ow.

He was pleased and amused. I shoved on my floatiest dress, no underwear, and tottered downstairs. Water. Water. Fan. Ahhhhhh. That’s better. Laptop open and time to start work. Better just grab an ice cream from the freezer, for extra cooling. Not much work to do today, thank goodness. My mind turned to the local outdoor pool. I’ve been reading a book called The Lido and, well, let’s say my subconscious is easily influenced. I booked a swim for 9am on Wednesday. Eek. What’s got into me? I hate getting wet! I must be mad.

Around lunchtime I had returned to a reasonable enough body temperature to get dressed. Had a quick video call with the boss who wanted me to make a report for her. Easy enough, I like little projects like that. Collected Willow from school and made dinner. She’s randomly started sewing clothes for her tiny teddy, so she brought some down to show me. I was really impressed! She’d sewn buttons and even stitched a daisy design onto one of the little coats. Bath and a chapter of Robin Hood to round off the day.

I texted Adam. So, what are you up to this weekend, swimming the channel?

Haha no but I’ve signed up for an 80km run in October. 50km isn’t that bad but I’ll have to train properly for 80km.

Dear god.

Sunday, 13th June

Adam is a complete nutter. He ran 50km last night. As in, he was running all night. It started at 8:30pm and he reached the finish 12 hours later. The crazier thing is that he was only doing it to keep his friend company, the friend having already run 100km and this was the last 50km of a 150km race. Yes. It’s completely insane. How they are not both dead today is beyond me. I can’t even run 5km.

I made pancakes for breakfast around 10:30. Willow had a picnic in the park with her boyfriend this afternoon, so I made a packed lunch for her as it was unlikely there would be anything she’d eat. It was another glorious sunny day so we drove there with the roof down. I really love my car. Alfie came to greet us. It was the first time I’d met him. He was wearing sunglasses so it was hard to see his face but he seemed nice, if a bit socially awkward, but to be fair, so is Willow. His mum came over so I could meet her. She was wearing bright blue sporty leggings and a white t-shirt. She looked to be about a size 8. I was glad that my size 12-14 tummy and thighs were hidden under a floaty kaftan. We arranged that she would bring Willow home later, so I drove back and sat in the garden with a salad and a can of pink grapefruit cider.

I called my mum and we chatted for an hour. She’s busy having a life, doing all sorts of things. A summer job, volunteering, a day trip with a friend yesterday, outdoor cinema with a different friend tonight… I’m really happy for her. I started a new book on my kindle. It’s so easy to read, I’m thrilled.

Willow had had a great time, they’d even gone for ice cream after the park. I chatted to Alfie’s mum from the doorway for a bit. They have just moved house, she and her husband both work for the police, she’s more than happy to have Willow again and I offered to return the favour.

I made hot dogs for tea and we watched tv until bedtime. My brother called but I didn’t want to answer. I don’t like it when someone calls me every day, it’s too much. I like my own space without feeling compelled to spend my precious evening listening to someone moan about their colleagues (ok, this is specific to Jason). The trouble is, I feel guilty if I ignore him, so an hour later once Willow was in bed, I called him back. An hour of moaning and talking about food. I was struggling to keep my eyes open.

Text from Adam. Not to be outdone, André and Keir cycled 200km yesterday. Nutters, the lot of them.

Saturday, 12th June

This evening I had to rescue myself from a tarantula. I used to be scared of spiders but when you’re the only adult in the house, you don’t have that luxury.

I was watching The Bodyguard, a film I’ve been meaning to watch ever since it came out almost 30 years ago. Of course, I was too young at the time but I vividly remember the hype around I Will Always Love You. I’d just said goodnight to Willow, gone downstairs and put the tv on, checking the guide to see if there was anything worth watching. It was literally just starting, perfect timing.

I tend to just have lamps on in the evenings rather than the main overhead lights. It’s more cosy. About an hour into the film, I saw something scuttle across the carpet. Oh god. It stopped at the edge of the fireplace. Without taking my eye off it, I put the main lights on, then went into the kitchen to fetch a tub. Praying it wouldn’t run up my arm or somewhere I couldn’t see it, I thankfully managed to coax it under the tub. It wasn’t happy and was trying to get out but I wasn’t going to hurt it. I snuck the lid underneath and it was trapped. Phew. I carried it out to a hedge down the street and released it.

I’ve done this lots of times before but that was the first one this year. I don’t mind small spiders but big ones can’t stay in the house, no way. The trouble is, now I keep thinking I’m seeing something moving, or imagining I can feel something on me. I’m going to have to think some seriously happy thoughts before I go to sleep.

Friday, 11th June

I am so sleepy after this evening’s sound bath so I won’t be able to write much, but I wanted to describe the experience while it’s fresh in my mind.

There were 20 of us altogether – 18 participants and two leaders. It was held in a hall in a local community centre. When I arrived, it was already three quarters full of people sitting on yoga mats laid out in two rows, leaving a gap between the rows for the leaders to walk down. It was so strange seeing all the people with their mats so close to each other, and nobody was wearing a mask. I felt quite uneasy as it had been a very long time since I’d been in a situation like that. I found a large gap to roll out my borrowed mat in, but then more people arrived and we had to squash up.

We were told to lie in whatever position was comfortable, take some deep breaths and relax. Most were lying on their back, so I did the same. Then the two leaders started singing some sort of Indian chants and making sounds from various instruments. It was hard to tell what they were but the first sounds were light and twinkly, then they moved on to singing bowls of different pitches. I tried imagining that I was on a beach but it didn’t last long and my mind started wandering to that unwelcome friend request from yesterday, conversations I’d had at work, all sorts of things. I’d been to a concert in London with some work colleagues a few years ago – who did we see? What venue was it? Random stuff like that.

The woman next to me was asleep. By this time, the leaders were moving round the room banging gongs. How the fuck can you sleep with someone banging a gong in your ear? I felt very cynical and decided I wouldn’t go to one of these again. I rolled onto my side, which was a lot more comfortable, and tried to focus on the sounds.

Soon I was aware that the twinkling sounds from the start of the session were back, which I took to mean it was nearly the end. Then we were told to lie on our front if we wanted something, I didn’t quite hear what. Most people rolled over so I did the same and watched to see what happened. They placed a singing bowl on each person’s lower back and struck it a few times while singing some sort of chant. When it was my turn, the sensation when she struck the bowl sent a sort of tingle through my lower body that wasn’t unpleasant.

At the end, they said they would come and speak to each of us in turn. I was eager to pack up and go home because I’d left Willow home alone, but nobody moved so I sat and waited. She said the strangest thing to me – she asked if I have lower back pain. I said I didn’t think so? Then she told me I’d had a massive leg twitch! I hadn’t even noticed. Apparently this is a sign of my body getting rid of something – tension or pain etc. I suddenly remembered how actually, I used to often have leg twitches just as I was nodding off to sleep at night. It would really freak Glen out because it would be dead quiet, both of us almost asleep, then whack! I’d suddenly involuntarily kick him out of nowhere.

I got home and Willow was completely fine of course. She’d called a friend, played games on her phone, watched YouTube and listened to music. Brilliant! I told her about my experience and she announced that she was glad she didn’t go because she would’ve got the giggles. I realised that I was feeling extremely relaxed and sleepy. Maybe I would do this again after all.

Thursday, 10th June

Bad start to the day. I didn’t sleep well again. Domino woke me up at 4am, I woke again at 6am, then he scratched up the carpet outside my room from 7am til my alarm went off at 7:15. I reluctantly dragged myself downstairs to feed him and crawled back into bed. Then the little bugger came back into my room and started knocking everything off my bedside table. Bad cat! I scolded. But there was someone at the door and I think he was trying to tell me. Then I felt guilty. It was the postman with some pairs of glasses I’d ordered on a free trial.

I picked up my phone for the usual morning checks of Facebook and Twitter. There was a friend request sitting in my Facebook notifications. This doesn’t happen very often as my account is pretty locked down and friends kept to a minimum. I didn’t recognise her name but when I clicked through to the profile I realised who it was. My heart stopped. It was the ex-wife of the psycho I’d had an affair with five years ago. She’d obviously gone back to her maiden name. I felt like I’d seen a ghost. That was the most fucked up period of my life. There was no way in hell that I would even dream of accepting a friend request from her, what the fuck was she thinking?? I blocked her, quick.

At the time, he’d told me she was an alcoholic, she was extremely jealous and controlling, and he was deeply unhappy but felt trapped because he thought she’d do something stupid or dangerous if he left. I later realised that he probably drove her to be all those things. He certainly drove me almost to insanity, to the point where I spent the night in a mental hospital after he’d said he was going to jump off a railway bridge. Like I said, it was a very fucked up time.

We were together on and off for about 18 months. The passion and excitement was incredible, we even had a dirty weekend in Paris, but the highs were always countered with crushing lows.

The start of the affair is what prompted me to talk to Glen about how unhappy I was in our marriage. How I felt invisible. How we’d just been on holiday and as an experiment, I didn’t say “I love you” or touch or kiss him at all, but he hadn’t noticed and even said it was the best holiday ever. I didn’t want to be carrying on behind his back, I owed it to him to be honest so I was, very early on. He was upset of course and promised he’d change, I said I’d end the affair. It was no more than a fling at that point. But a few months on and Glen had made no effort whatsoever to listen to me or act on any of the things I’d said, so we started seeing each other again and my marriage was over.

He was never honest with his wife. I should’ve realised but he was very charming and I was hurting and needy. It’s not something I’m proud of at all but I’d had a big breakdown that year, my career went down the toilet, my marriage ended, and I was extremely depressed. After the affair was finally over, I had a wild six months, sleeping with loads of random guys and not caring. My self esteem was at rock bottom. Then I met Adam, who also seemed a bit scarred and broken, but in a non-toxic way. Here was someone who would accept me for all my flaws, as he was also flawed. Ahh Adam. Sigh.

I packed Willow off to school and went back to bed for half an hour before starting work. I was really not in the mood but I opened the laptop and looked through my emails. I couldn’t stop thinking about that friend request. I sent my boss a message saying I didn’t feel good but didn’t want to take another sick day. Then I burst into tears. I was so disappointed in myself. How could I have only lasted two days of work before going back to feeling shit? I did some ugly crying for a bit and told my boss I would just take a five minute break. I grabbed the secret cigarettes and went into the garden. This is not good, I must find a better fix for these moments.

It did calm me down, and I went back inside and lit some incense. I sent my boss a message saying I was feeling ok now and got on with my work. She’d asked me to make a new report, so I knocked that up fairly quickly and sent it to her. She forwarded it to a few people who all replied saying it was wonderful. Haha! It was just a basic report, no need for all that praise. I wondered if they are tiptoeing round me, scared of triggering another bout of sick leave.

After work, I took Domino to the vet for his treatments, then collected Willow from school. She was delighted to see Domino in the car. It was sports day and she announced that she’d finished last in both of her events. Oh well, at least she tried. Surprisingly, she said she’d really enjoyed the day because there had been music playing like a disco, there was free water so they had a water fight, and there was ice cream too! She’d been dreading it so I was really pleased it had turned out well.

I was still feeling blah so I went to the chip shop for dinner. This always makes me feel guilty that I’m not giving her healthy food, but whenever I do, she leaves it! At least this is something she would eat. I had leftover stir fry from yesterday. I encouraged her to have a bath, and after I’d said goodnight, I went to bed to read my kindle. I didn’t even have the energy to watch telly. At least tomorrow is Friday.

Wednesday, 9th June

I woke this morning from another dream about Adam. We were in some sort of carriage, like in a period drama. Sting’s romantic ballad “When We Dance” was playing. I googled the lyrics:

I’m still in love with you

Oh dear. Must get over him.

I had a dream last night
I dreamt you were by my side

Spooky. The subconscious works in mysterious ways. I can’t even remember the last time I heard that song.

Willow left her phone at home so I took the opportunity to check through her messages. I only do this occasionally, I don’t want to invade her privacy but I think it’s responsible to check that she’s ok and not being pressured into sex or drugs or god knows what. There was a conversation with her boyfriend from last weekend, when she was at her dad’s.

Him: What did you do today?

Her: I went to this place that was in the middle of nowhere and I had to hang out with… THEM. ALL DAY.

Him: Who was them?

Her: My other family

Him: Doesn’t sound so bad. What did you do with them?

Her: Had a picnic while I got yelled at as usual

Him: Why did you get yelled at?

Her: Oh they’re always yelling at me. For being antisocial aka going in my room for 2 seconds while I’ve been with them THE WHOLE DAY, being moody, not wanting to do what they want, etc. But oh well.

Going back a bit further, she’d sent him another message:

How are you? I’m bunking off life. Life is lame right now for me.

I checked the date and, surprise, it was when she was at her dad’s.

My heart sank for her. I convince myself that she does like being at her dad’s house really and everything is fine, but I know it’s not true. I really wish Glen had picked a nicer girlfriend. He and I got on just fine before he moved in with her. She doesn’t like Willow and has always been jealous that he and I were amicable while she couldn’t get on with her ex. Neither of them have any understanding of autism and they’re not interested in learning, so they are not at all sympathetic of Willow’s needs. It breaks my heart.

Phone call to say my car was ready. The garage had replaced my tyre. It was £72, ouch. I realised afterwards I should’ve asked if they had any part-worns. Never mind.

Today was a rest day from work as part of my phased return. I was grateful for it as I’d been noticing minor palpitations again yesterday evening. I had a call from the health care scheme to do a quick assessment so I can start my six-week block of counselling that work are paying for. I mentioned my anxieties around work, loss of confidence etc, and also how I still burst into tears whenever I think about my gran. I will get a text within three days to arrange the first session. They will be 50 minutes long and over Zoom. Brilliant.

I didn’t have a plan of what to do today, which was actually not a great idea as I wasted time playing games on my phone and had to make myself stop. I made a nice salad and sat in the garden with some music on. The fan I’d ordered arrived, a few days earlier than expected, so I put it in the conservatory and tested it out. It was brilliant, I’m really pleased.

I’d picked up a free magazine from the supermarket, it was about events across the wider region over the coming months. I was hoping there might be something good that I could do with Willow over the summer. I flicked through and found something that sounded brilliant, a hot air balloon extravaganza with orchestra and aerial acrobatics! It takes place in the evening so you get the balloons at sunset looking amazing.

I texted my friend Kathy to see if she and her son Tom would like to go with us. Sadly he would be at his dad’s that weekend so it was a no. I tried to think of who else I could ask but drew a blank. Willow doesn’t have many friends where I’m also friends with the mum. Well, not to sit outside for five hours with anyway. It occurred to me that Glen’s parents might like to come. I would rather have my mum of course but she lives too far away and wouldn’t be able to get home that late. I don’t mind Glen’s parents, they’ve always been fine with me, plus it would be nice for Willow.

My kindle arrived, which I was super excited about. I downloaded two books and started reading while I waited for Glen’s parents to bring Willow home from school. When she arrived, I mentioned the balloon evening to her and she was very keen. Hooray! She agreed it would be nice to invite Nana and Grandad, so while she went upstairs to get changed, I asked them. They were equally keen and said yes. I was relieved because the price is per plot of up to six people, so now I could split it.

They took her off to the carvery for dinner so I cooked a stir fry and read some more on my kindle. When they got back, she took out her laptop and read them the story she’s been writing. They were impressed and I was very proud of her.

It’s sports day at school tomorrow. She is not enthusiastic at all, especially as she has to do three events, but again, I’m proud of her. I can’t remember what age I started to hate sports day, maybe a little older than her, but I remember in year 11 (age 16) I was nominated by my form to run the 200 metres. They were going round the class asking “will you do it?” with everyone saying no until it got to me. I said no and they said tough. When it was time for the race, I bought an ice cream and watched. Well, I did say no!

I have to take Domino to the vet tomorrow to have his flea and worm treatment. I can’t do it myself because he scratches me to shreds. It sometimes takes three vets to hold him down! I’ve made the appointment for 4pm so that afterwards it will be time to collect Willow from her after-school therapy session and I can bring Domino. She’ll be thrilled.

Tuesday, 8th June

It’s becoming unbearable to work in the conservatory. I was quite tempted to stand under the shower, fully clothed. The fan I ordered yesterday won’t arrive until the weekend. I told Anjali about it and she said her mum’s fan just moves the warm air around, it doesn’t actually makes things cooler. Oops. I’m thinking of getting some voile to drape from the ceiling in an attempt to block out or absorb some of the heat, but I can’t decide what colour, should it be dark or light? I might have to get a foldaway table so I can work in the living room if it gets really unbearable. My laptop was getting pretty warm, and I was worried about my phone overheating so I put it in the fridge for a few minutes! I’ve had a phone spontaneously shatter due to overheating so I’m quite wary.

Work hours passed uneventfully. I washed the bedding and towels. They dried almost instantly in the warm conservatory, such a bonus as my machine dryer takes two hours to dry anything.

I collected Willow from school and she went straight upstairs to call her friend Meg to work on their stories some more. I used the time to get the three bags of white stones out of the boot of the car and tip them onto the front garden. I noticed the car has a puncture! It was nearly 5:30pm by this point. There’s a garage at the end of my road so I phoned them to see if they could squeeze me in before they closed at 6pm. They could not, it has to be first thing tomorrow morning.

I panicked, how would I get Willow to school? Then I remembered I’d given a lift quite a few times to a girl in her year who also lives in our town. I met her mum in the car park on their first day, the girls were in the same class but then this girl was moved to a different class, something to do with learning Spanish instead of French I think. Anyway, I texted her mum and asked if she would be able to give Willow a lift in the morning and thankfully she said yes. Phew!

I had my Dancercise class this evening. By that time in the evening it wasn’t too hot in the living room, but I still struggled to keep up. It’s the most energetic I am all week. It didn’t run last week because of half term and the missed week really showed in my lack of stamina. It’s not on next week either, because the instructor’s going on holiday.

I immediately grabbed a cold shower, then read Willow’s bedtime story, another chapter of The Adventures of Robin Hood. We put the clean sheets on her bed, then I said goodnight and did the same for my bed. The mattress weighs an absolute ton and it’s a nightmare to get the sheet on as the bed is pushed up into the corner of the room so I can’t walk around it. That’s the only time I wish there was a man in the house. That and putting the bins out. My two least favourite jobs.

Tomorrow is my first Wednesday off work as part of my phased return. I have no idea what I will do with this day of freedom. I quite fancy sleeping to be honest! I don’t get nearly long enough at night, what with Domino waking me up at 4am, plus it being too hot so I can’t get comfortable. What is it with this country, we’re either boiling or freezing. In the winter, we put the heating on, wear snuggly jumpers and get blankets out, but in summer we just lose our shit and don’t know how to cope with the heat. Or maybe that’s just me.

Monday, 7th June

Domino and the robot dog

My first day back working after four weeks of sick leave went very well today. Things felt different, I didn’t have the thumping heart which is a great sign. I was relaxed sitting in the conservatory with chillout music playing and the patio doors open. I even lit some incense! Domino spent the whole day asleep on the rug.

My boss called me over video for a chat, which was nice and I wasn’t anxious at all. I suggested the four of us in our team all go for a drink some time, to try to get back that feeling of being a team as it’s been so long since we all worked together. I really think this will help me as I’ve been feeling so disconnected, but I think it would be good for the others too as she mentioned Tyrone had been suffering with depression recently. We need to rebuild our social skills, and it will make for a better working vibe I’m sure.

I filled my water jug and was constantly drinking, which is great as I usually drink far too little, but it meant I had to keep going to the loo. Forced me to take lots of breaks though! It was quite hot in the conservatory – not unbearable but it would be as the weather gets hotter, so I bought a tower fan from Amazon. I decided to buy a Kindle too. Now that I’ve read a book for the first time in ages, I want to read more and I really don’t have space in my house to keep buying books, plus it’s so much cheaper to get the kindle version of a book. I’m excited!

My brother called to ask if I would bring him some soup as he’s got a cold. He has a massive kitchen and it’s stocked to overflowing, easily four times as much food as I have, but whatever, I said yes. I had a sachet of miso soup in the cupboard and the best before date was in May, but I got a pen and made the 5 look like a 6. I’m sure it’s fine but didn’t want him to think I was giving him gone-off food.

Willow was grumpy when I picked her up from school because it was too hot. She was not impressed that we had to drive to Jason’s house, and then I got lost on the way home driving through narrow country lanes. He’s lived there a year, you’d think I’d know the way by now.

I produced breaded cod with chips and sweetcorn for her dinner, while I made a salad to have with my cod. She ate the chips and then got all sulky and didn’t touch the rest of her food. Great, I just love food waste. Domino had a sniff of it but he’s just as fussy as she is. Then she announced she was going upstairs to call her friend Meg. This was great because I sat in the conservatory and did a puzzle book. Yay for unexpected me-time!

At story time, I was looking forward to Robin Hood but Willow wanted me to read a story that she’s been writing. She said that Meg is also writing a book so that’s what they were doing while on the phone. She started this story a while ago and I’m really pleased she’s continuing with it. The latest chapter was great, I was very proud of her.

Scrolling through Instagram this evening, I saw that Dawn, the lady who did my massage the other day, is giving a sound bath on Friday. It’s only an hour so I’ve told her I will go! It will be the first time leaving Willow home alone in an evening but I know she will be fine. I’m really excited! Is this the year I get some sort of a life back?

Sunday, 6th June

I woke up with a headache so I didn’t get up until after midday. My legs had been bitten from sitting in the garden and they were itching like crazy. I headed back to the garden centre to get the rest of the white stones to finish the front garden. Then food shopping at Aldi, followed by food shopping at Sainsbury’s to get all the stuff they didn’t have in Aldi. No sweetcorn, beans or carrots! But it’s so cheap, it’s worth going to two shops.

Willow was brought home around 3:30pm. She showed me some updates on one of her phone games, then I suggested we walk into town to our favourite ice cream place, as the weather was still lovely. This was great because we actually talked as we were walking and she told me about her weekend. Normally if I ask her what she’s been up to she just says “stuff”, so I was thrilled to hear her talk about bike rides and barbecues with her grandparents.

I did a load of washing and we watched tv until bed time. We needed a new story book so I chose The Adventures of Robin Hood as neither of us had read it before. Then I went downstairs and watched Mamma Mia 2 as it was on tv.

Willow passed on her boyfriend’s mum’s phone number so I sent her a text about the two of them meeting up next weekend. She replied saying he had also never been to town without an adult (phew) and his brother is going to a birthday party in the park so she would make a picnic for them to join in so she could keep an eye on them. Perfect!

I also had a text from Anjali, who I hadn’t heard from for a few days. I’ve been offering to meet up but she’s been busy or not felt like it. She’s been off work too, so she was asking if I’m starting back tomorrow and how I’m feeling about it. She said she’s dreading it because there will be tons of emails and high expectations from her boss. I felt really lucky and grateful for all the support I’ve had from my work.

I’m feeling ok about working tomorrow. A little anxiety, yes, but not dread. I will log on, answer some emails, and then it will be time to stop. I know I can manage that. (I’m using positive language to convince myself). I feel that I know better how to relax now, and am overall much more zen than I was a few weeks ago.

More texts today in my ‘Besties’ group with Janet and Sarah. Janet’s builders are driving her mad. She’s had so much work done to that house, there can’t be much of the original structure left. Sarah had just got back from a weekend at her mother-in-law’s. They have found a new house and will be moving out of Sarah’s mum’s place next week. Two bedrooms and three bathrooms, so Janet quipped “who sleeps in the loo?” I’m happy for them, having their own space again. They’ll still be renting of course. I looked at my living room and felt very lucky. It’s not a huge house like Janet’s but I own it and I love it very much.

We have a tradition of taking a photo of the three of us with our husbands standing in the same pose every seven years. It started in 2007, the second one was in 2014, and this year will be the third, although obviously minus husband on my part. We now have five kids between us so I think they should definitely be in the picture too. The difficulty is getting us all together with the lockdowns and restrictions etc.

I suggested going to Janet on the Isle of Wight during October half term for my 40th. She’s got two young kids so it’s much easier than her travelling up to London where we usually meet. I think that could be really nice, and it solves the problem of what to do for my birthday. A mini-break with my besties would be perfect. We’ll see nearer the time. There’s talk of a third Covid wave so anything could happen between now and then, but I’ll keep my fingers crossed.

Saturday, 5th June

Summer is back after the rain of yesterday. This morning I put on a long kaftan and sandals and strolled into town. I was meeting my former yoga teacher Juliet (yes, same name as me but different spelling) for coffee at a little vegan cafe. It’s been several years since I stopped going to yoga and I would love to start again, so I emailed her the other day and we arranged to meet up. She’s so lovely, it was wonderful to see her after so long. She’d let her hair go grey, which did make her look a lot older, but she’s the sort of person who probably isn’t bothered. And to be fair, she is almost twenty years older than me.

I wasn’t planning to order food but she’d done 90 minutes of yoga already and was hungry. I’d decided to just have a smoothie but then a waitress walked past carrying the most epic-looking pancakes and I was sold. Juliet insisted on paying, which was very sweet of her. We sat indoors because the only table left outside was right in the sun.

She told me how she’d been, the family, etc and I did the same. Then she told me about a group she’d joined that does improvised singing in harmony over Zoom, which sounded mad but fun, and another larger group that sings simple chants and is quite spiritual. The second group was in-person before the pandemic and it was miles away, so she said she’d love to start a group here. I told her I’d join if she does. I want to do more things with people and this sounds fun. Her in-person yoga sessions are likely to start again in September, so I will have to wait as I don’t want to do it over Zoom.

I’d brought a book with me and fancied sitting in the park under a tree, but I needed a wee and forgot to go at the cafe so I went home instead. I remembered seeing some bags of white stone chips outside B&M recently so I drove out to get some. My front garden is tiny so I covered it in these white stones and a few colourful pots when I moved in, five years ago. The stones are pretty grey now so I wanted to put new ones down. I got to B&M and they weren’t the right ones, so I went to the garden centre instead. Found what I needed, figured two bags would be plenty, and got a member of staff to take them to the car for me.

I need three more bags. Maybe four. I did contemplate going straight back but they were so heavy I decided it could wait. So now the front garden is part gleaming white, part dirty grey. I’ll go tomorrow. Willow was due to come back from her dad’s this evening but she texted me to check I’d been looking after her robot dog and asked if it would be alright for her to stay until tomorrow. Of course, as long as she’s happy.

I sat in the garden and read a book. Mum called asking how things went with dad yesterday. Then a plastic drawer unit I’d ordered from Amazon arrived, so I spent a while sorting through the cardboard box of craft crap and putting anything worth keeping into the new drawers. Sorry Domino, you can’t chew that any more. I tipped a whole load of pens and pencils into the dustbin as they hadn’t been used in years. This is the kind of job I can only do when Willow’s not here as she won’t let me throw anything away.

On a roll, I carried the three sacks of leaves that have been sitting on the patio for six months through to the garden waste bin, then hoovered the lounge, kitchen and conservatory. It’s not actually my garden bin, you have to pay to have your garden bin emptied and I don’t because my front garden is stones and the back garden is astroturf. I don’t know whose bin it is but it was empty and in the place where mine goes, so I took advantage. I hope nobody will mind.

Jason called, also asking about my day with dad, so I had the same conversation with him as I did with mum earlier. He’s just bought himself a massive 4K TV and was raving about it, I didn’t really understand but whatever, it makes him happy. We each inherited some money when my gran died, I paid off my credit card and put the rest towards my mortgage. He clearly spent his.

Willow texted again. “Mummy…. Alfie asked if I can go into town with him next weekend. What do you think and what should I tell him?” Alfie is her boyfriend. I don’t technically know what this means for them – do they hold hands at school? Have they kissed? More than that?? I’m not sure I want to know but maybe I should, as a responsible parent? She’s only just 12, I’m sure it’s all pretty innocent, right? I’m not sure how much she knows about the birds and the bees. I don’t remember having that conversation with my mum at that age. Or any age for that matter. Way too embarrassing.

I haven’t met this boy. I feel like I should speak to his mother, is that really old fashioned? I’m in unchartered territory here. She’s never been to town without an adult before.

I’m glad she asked me what to do, this shows maturity. I said that as long as I know she’s safe then it’s fine by me but maybe she could find out some more details. She agreed. I said I’d like his mum’s phone number so we could arrange drop off etc and she said that was a good idea. Phew.

I’d just settled down for the evening on the sofa in the conservatory with some chillout music, when dad called. That’s my whole family phoning me in one day! He wanted to tell me that he’d been to a shop to look at TVs and ovens. It was a 45 minute phone call. In the end, my phone battery was about to die. I was so tired after that, that I went straight to bed without dinner.

Friday, 4th June

I had my work meeting this morning. Three faces smiling at me on the laptop screen. “Hello Juliette! How are you doing?” The sort of question that’s accompanied by a sympathy head tilt. The nice HR lady said she’d spoken to the CEO and he’s agreed to pay for me to have a six-session block of counselling through the company’s health care scheme. I am so unbelievably happy, i can’t believe I get free counselling! I know six sessions isn’t a lot but hopefully we can focus on particular issues and get me some coping strategies. By way of a phased return to work, I suggested not working Wednesdays for a couple of weeks and they agreed. Fantastic!

At 12:30 I collected my dad from the hospital. He’d had an appointment with the kidney team, they checked him over in preparation for dialysis. He’s not sure when he’ll have the surgery but thinks by the end of the year. I suspect sooner.

Because of his diabetes, he needs to eat regular meals and I didn’t have any food in the house, so we drove straight into town and had lunch in my favourite restaurant. Dad can talk and talk and talk due to his Aspergers, so we were there nearly two hours. He had to prick his finger and test it on a machine, I don’t really know what that was but it wasn’t pleasant to watch.

We went back to my house and watched a funny programme that we both like, then chatted a bit more. Domino came to investigate the visitor by walking across his lap a few times and then settling down. Dad tried to stroke him and got bitten. Twice. That cat is evil.

The reason he’d come was to look through my garage because it’s full of his things, so we spent the next three hours in the garage. I had no idea what was in the boxes, and neither did he because he was in hospital when his house was cleared out and they were all put here. We found lots of books about the ocean (surprise), model submarines and other ocean-related stuff, posters, old photos and loads of old slides. He inspected every book and would’ve read each one there and then if I hadn’t hurried him along. Several had been signed to him by the authors, which led to him telling me stories of how he came to meet them.

He chose a few items to take home, which we put in the car. I was gasping for a cuppa and desperate to sit down, so we went in and watched a bit more tv before I took him home. It was 9:30pm when I left to go home. I’d spent nine hours with him.

I would normally have gone straight to bed but Dawn, the lady who did my massage on Wednesday, had recommended a film and I wanted to watch it. Under the Tuscan Sun, about a woman who gets divorced and buys a run-down house in Italy on a whim. I enjoyed it, although it was very predictable. A nice way to round off the day.

Adam had texted to say he wasn’t feeling well and had spent the day in bed, although he didn’t take the day off work and carried on working from his bed. Total workaholic. I told him about my day with dad, and about Domino biting him. He said “those are the good sorts of memories”. That word, memories, put a lump in my throat. Dad is ill. I don’t know how long he has left. I don’t want him to be just a memory.

Thursday, 3rd June

This evening I decided to go clubbing. I put on a dress, my favourite push-up bra, jewellery, and massive heels. I grabbed a bottle of cider from the fridge and the pack of cigarettes that hides at the back of the kitchen drawer. Old school bangers from Kisstory on the stereo. Patio doors open and out I strutted into the garden. Party for one, oh yeah. If the neighbours could see me they’d think I’d lost the plot but I just didn’t care. I needed to dance.

I don’t smoke, and I don’t drink very often, but they both tasted so sweet this evening. They were Adam’s cigarettes from 2018. Still four left. You can click them somehow to make them minty. I think they’ve been banned now.

I took a selfie of my cleavage and sent it to Darren. Darren is a guy who lives 80 miles away but travelled all the way down to meet me for a Tinder date four years ago. We had amazing sex and then he left the next morning (well he’d driven all that way, it would’ve been rude not to). We stayed in touch although a relationship wasn’t ever really on the cards due to the distance, and because he wanted to have kids of his own and there was no way I was ever having another baby.

I had some very interesting times with Darren. The wildest was probably going to a sex party in a posh townhouse in London. Are you shocked?! Haha. It’s wasn’t as much fun as I was hoping but still an experience I’m glad I had, once. We had to wear masks until midnight, then it just became naked people shagging everywhere you looked. That was the first (and only) time I kissed a girl. He wanted to take me to another sex party near Amsterdam but it never happened. He still enjoys sending me dick pics. I’m really not interested any more having totally lost my sex drive through being single for so long, but it’s a nice ego boost that he still likes pictures of my tits.

I texted Adam (no pics!) but he didn’t reply. He was out having dinner with friends this evening. A real social life. I have to be content with dancing on my own in the garden. I wish I had a life where I actually had friends that I saw regularly. I doubt there are many sane people who get dressed up and dance like a nutter on their own.

It felt a bit like a last hurrah before I have to start work again next week. Tomorrow morning I have a zoom meeting with my boss, my director, and the HR lady. They each wanted to speak to me but I couldn’t face having the same conversation three times so I asked if they could all do it together. I feel a bit guarded and don’t want to say much, because if I tell them I’m feeling better and then freak out again when I go back to work, that will be really bad. I also don’t know what to suggest if they ask about making concessions for me or doing anything that could help.

I’d like not to work on Wednesdays. I hate Wednesdays. I work four hours every day except Wednesdays when it’s six hours. I don’t get a lunch break because I need to take an hour to collect Willow from school. Maybe I could ask for the next couple of Wednesdays off, by way of easing me back in?

I am so fat at the moment. I took a full length selfie using the timer because I thought I looked sexy but dear god I really do not. My thighs are enormous and my legs are snow white. I never get my legs out because I’m embarrassed of how pale they are, but that’s a catch 22 because then they will never gain any colour. Plus I burn so easily, but if I use sun cream I just stay white. I could try fake tan I guess but I’ve never tried it before because I’m scared it will look streaky or I’ll miss a bit or something else ridiculous.

At least my face isn’t bright red any more, it looks quite nicely tanned. Except that it started peeling. I’ve been applying moisturiser at least five times a day to try to avoid the dreaded peel but maybe it’s inevitable. I definitely haven’t been drinking enough water. I also have a bright white hairline.

Domino was confused by my garden antics. He kept trying to get my attention by chewing up the conservatory. I’d already fed him so god know what his problem was. Probably pissed off that I’d abandoned him again last night. Well he doesn’t need to worry, I’m not planning to spend a night away again any time soon.

Adam has replied to my text. “Haha you’re such a funny one.” I guess that’s fair.

Wednesday, 2nd June

Today has been a fabulous day. Firstly, Domino came back just after midnight. I heard the sound of him eating his dry food downstairs and ran down to give him lots of fuss. He wasn’t really bothered but I was so relieved he wasn’t lost or worse.

I woke up this morning from a dream that Adam and I were kissing. He was waiting for me outside a building (cinema or restaurant?) and when I got there, he started kissing me, running his hands through my hair, my hands were on his chest, round his waist… it was lovely. Sigh.

I had a massage booked for 11am. I found the lady on Facebook and instantly felt that I would like her. I wasn’t wrong. I wasn’t even looking for a massage but she popped up on my local town page and I decided to treat myself. Call it fate.

I feel like I’ve found a soulmate. She’s like the me I want to be. Blue hair and tattoos. She did the massage in her conservatory, which was just like mine. Crystals, hippy stuff, it was like a little slice of Glastonbury, which is my favourite place in the world (the town, not the festival). Hers too. We discussed our favourite things about Glastonbury – the white spring, Chalice Well, being on top of the tor, the people, the shops, the whole vibe.

The massage was extremely relaxing and not at all painful. To be fair, she probably could have been a bit more vigorous but I was blissed out and didn’t care. My shoulder blade is hurting a bit now though, but I was expecting that as it’s really scrunchy and knotty.

We talked the whole way through about anything and everything. When she’d finished the massage, we carried on talking for another hour and a half. Her cat came to say hello. It was amazing to find someone so much like me in terms of outlook on life, likes/dislikes etc. She said I should add her as a friend on Facebook so I did as soon as I got home.

I really hope I have found someone who could become a very good friend. It’s difficult because I get carried away thinking she’s going to be my new best friend and maybe she doesn’t need that, but I’m sure we will keep in touch so let’s see what happens.

I ate lunch in the garden and then had a long cool bath. Can’t remember the last time I had a bath but it was lovely. Relaxing music and even a bath bomb. It was Willow’s but hopefully she won’t mind.

More chilling in the garden and then it was time to make the drive up to mum’s again. Traffic was much better this time and I made it in under two hours. The weather has been beautiful so I had the roof down and Madonna’s Ray Of Light album on the stereo. I love drives like that.

Mum and Willow have had a brilliant couple of days together. They packed so much in! Yesterday was shopping and visiting mum’s crazy friend who has a mini farm with geese, chickens and pigs. Today was funfair, sealife centre, and even a little boat trip. Both seem very happy, win win! I’m delighted.

We’ll head off late morning to drop Willow at her dad’s house, which is roughly in the direction of home, about half way. I have nothing planned for the rest of the day, but that’s good as I’m really enjoying taking it easy. On Friday, my dad wants to come over to rummage through my garage. It’s full of his stuff that I’ve been storing for him. He doesn’t have a car so I can see I’ll end up driving him home with boxes of stuff. Not looking forward to it, but I must try to be more gracious.

Mum is angry with him because she sent him an email the other day asking his advice on something ocean-related, since that’s his specialism, but he hasn’t replied. Jason is also angry with him, because dad hasn’t spoken to him since J helped him move house. It seems he only contacts us when he wants something.

I’m going to try to have more kissing dreams tonight. That was lovely. It’s been a very long time since I had a snog in real life.

Tuesday, 1st June

Domino is missing. I went out for an hour and a half this evening and when I got back, he wasn’t here. Usually if he’s out, he doesn’t go far and pretty much always appears at the car to greet me when I arrive home. It’s been less than an hour but I’m a little worried, this is not like him. If anything’s happened to him I’ll be devastated, let alone how Willow will react. She just lost one of her dad’s cats two days ago, please please may Domino not have met the same fate.

I popped out on a whim to try to take photos of the sunset. Mum had borrowed my camera about a year ago because she signed up to a photography course, but never ended up actually doing the course and just moaned that she couldn’t work my camera. When I asked her yesterday if I could have it back, she got into a huff saying I’d given it to her! Of course I didn’t give it to her, why would I do that? It’s my camera, I very much want it! It was my 30th birthday present. Anyway, I was excited to have it back and I wanted to use it, so the sunset seemed a nice idea.

As you can see, I’m no photographer. In fact, I really would like to learn how to use the camera properly instead of just twiddling the dial and trying out every setting, hoping it will result in a decent photo.

I’ve had a very peaceful, relaxing day. I’ve fully adopted the principle that all this anxiety and needing to be signed off work can only get better if I give myself a break. No analysing, no trying to make myself better, no introspection… just relax and don’t think about it. I sat in the garden (NOT in the sun, I still look like a tomato), I put some music on, I finally finished reading the Thursday Murder Club (brilliant, really enjoyed it), and I cooked tuna pasta bake for dinner.

My department director from work called to see how I’m doing. He was really pleased to hear me sounding better but made it clear there’s no rush to go back if I’m not ready. I said I’m aiming for Monday. I should be able to face work again by then, right? The palpitations have almost disappeared. He said the HR lady might call me on Friday, and my boss will too. That’s fine I guess.

Tomorrow I’m having a massage at 11am. I’m really looking forward to it, just hope I won’t be in too much pain afterwards! I have to make the long drive back up to mum’s again in the evening, so I can collect Willow and take her to her dad’s on Thursday. Sigh. Why can’t people live closer.

It’s nearly midnight so I’m really hoping Domino will turn up in the night. I won’t even be cross if he scratches up the carpet, as long as he comes home. Otherwise I’m going to have to spend tomorrow searching for him all round the neighbourhood. My mum only just went through this with her cat! We love them but they are such a worry.

Sunday, 30th May

Oh my god. I am so sunburnt. I look completely ridiculous. Willow and I spent a few hours at the beach this afternoon and it was like I’d forgotten what the sun is, and also forgotten how to be outside. How can I be nearly 40 and not know how the sun works? I had a passing thought of whether she might need cream, but protecting myself? Didn’t even enter my head. So she played in the sand while I sunbathed. I was in jeans and a t-shirt because the wind was cold, and after about an hour I put a sweatshirt on. The worst area is my face, which is bright red, but my hands are pretty burnt too. And my neck. What an idiot.

It was the yard sale this morning so we all got up early to set everything up. My mum is clearly not a natural salesperson as she freaked out whenever anyone asked her how much something was. “Oh I don’t know, £1? 50p? Oh just have it for free!” Facepalm.

Willow and I went to explore some of the other stalls down the next street. She insisted on buying a Smiggle pencil case. I utterly detest Smiggle, they are just an evil corporation (I have no evidence for this) who rip off poor parents by making stuff that kids want but at extortionate prices, and once one kid has one, all the others want it too. Willow already has two Smiggle pencil cases so of course I didn’t approve, but it was her money and I didn’t want to make a fuss in someone’s front garden so I said she could buy it. She also got a mini Paddington Bear keyring, which I couldn’t understand because she hated the movie.

Then mum wanted me to drive her round the village so she could have a look at what other people were selling. It was mainly a load of old crap, but she did pick up a really good dart board for £5. When we got back, Willow had bought a big black furry toy cat from the stall next door. Great, more stuffed toys.

After lunch, the two of us headed to the beach, leaving mum and John to finish running the stall. Willow was in a bad mood because the shorts I’d bought her the other day were too small so she had to wear jeans. I decided there was no point in me getting grumpy that she was in a mood and wishing that she could maybe for once be happy, so as soon as we got to the beach, I bought her an ice cream and a spade. She perked up and started digging a hole, then collecting stones and shells. We brought at least 20 back with us because she can’t let anything go.

We went to get chips for dinner in the next town and it was much busier. I had to queue for half an hour just to order, then another half an hour until it was ready. I ate less than half of mine because the portion was so big. My beloved gran would’ve been 98 today so we raised a glass to her. I know mum and I in particular are missing her so very much.

A text came through on Willow’s phone from her dad saying that one of his cats had been run over. They were very sad and she was welcome to call him. She went up to her room. Mum said I should go after her but I wanted to give her a bit of time. I left it about ten minutes, then checked in on her. She said she didn’t want to call her dad but she had sent him a text. She seemed sort of ok but it’s always hard to tell with her as she is not outwardly very emotional. I offered to play with her and she was happy about that, so we played Among Us for a while, then watched YouTube videos until bed time.

I texted Adam a picture of my face. He replied “Oh my god!!” Yep, that about sums it up. Willow wants to go to the beach again tomorrow. We will definitely wear sunscreen.

Saturday, 29th May

I’m at my mum’s house and it’s so lovely to be away. The weather was glorious all day, which made the drive a bit more bearable. It felt like such a long way this time. We had the roof down for the first hour or so until Willow asked me to close it because she was worried things would blow away. I’m not sure what things she meant but never mind.

We set off at about 11:30 after a lie-in and then I wanted to tidy the kitchen before we left. The neighbours are feeding Domino and I didn’t want them to think we live in a mess. Willow then announced she didn’t have any knickers.

“What do you mean? You’ve got a whole drawer full!”

“I don’t like those ones. They’re uncomfortable.”

Sigh. “Ok, we’ll stop at Sainsbury’s on the way and get you some pants.”

Except Sainsbury’s didn’t have any in age 12-13 that weren’t in the “uncomfortable” style, so we had to make an extra detour to Tesco. I managed to find one pack in age 11-12 which would have to do. Willow decided to try on some sandals, which I was delighted about as she doesn’t have any summer shoes, only thick winter boots, but then an assistant told us we weren’t allowed to try things on. I got into a mood at this point – mainly because we were so late now but also because Domino the twat cat has been consistently waking me up at 4:22am, and then meowing and scratching up the carpet outside my room at 6:30am – so I marched Willow over to the Krispy Kremes. We never buy these because they’re so expensive but sod it, we’re on holiday.

It was mid afternoon by the time we got to mum’s and I’d let Willow choose the music in the car so I had that stuck in my head. But it was so nice to see my mum, and such a beautiful sunny day. Mum handed me a beer and we sat in the garden, while Willow went upstairs to get acquainted with her robot dog. Total bliss for the next hour or so, chilling and catching up.

Mum did ask about work, in her own special way.

“How’s work?”

“Fine, yeah, good.”

“They haven’t fired you then?”

Thanks ma. “Why on earth would they fire me?”

“Well, you said you weren’t enjoying it. Don’t fall out with anyone, don’t make them not like you.”

“I haven’t fallen out with anyone! They’re all really nice!”

Aaaaand change the subject. Sigh. Mum said she’d not been too good lately. She actually fell out with one of her friends, but to be fair, the friend went super weird and wasn’t very nice. It’s still a loss though, as well as the death of her uncle this month, her aunt in February, and of course her mother, my gran, in January. It would be her 98th birthday tomorrow. And her cat went missing for two days, although he did come back. I felt sad for her. She said she doesn’t sleep well. Her partner John is there but he’s 18 years older than her, and he’s a bit of a grumpy old man these days. Still, it’s company I guess.

We spent some time playing with the robot dog. Willow has named him Dustin. No idea where she got that from! She was thrilled to bits so I was happy. We all had pizza and then watched a programme about Cher while John sat in the other room watching football.

Tomorrow, mum is doing a yard sale, which we’ll be helping with. It’s a village-wide thing, with apparently over 100 people hosting these sales outsides their homes. It’s 9 til 3, which is a very long time, and we’ll have to get up early to set everything up. I hope people come, it would be very frustrating to waste the day, especially as it’s due to be sunny again. We never do anything like this, so I don’t know what to expect but I want to be positive so I’ll say it will be fun.

I’m determined to relax because I had a realisation yesterday. Stephen from art club texted me. He works in the same building I do, although for a different company, and he’d heard I was off sick. I texted back, explaining how I’ve been experiencing very high levels of anxiety, palpitations etc, specific to work, and I think it’s partially due to lost confidence etc etc. I then realised that I’d been getting myself all stressed, trying to analyse why, and how to make myself better, and that actually I probably just need to chill out, stop thinking about it, rest, and let nature take over. So that’s what I’m going to do. Bring on the beach!

Thursday, 27th May

Sick Leave Day 12

I just watched the Friends Reunion. As a huge Friends fan, I’d been waiting for this for a long time. I have so many memories tied to that programme. Once at school we had the radio on and they played the Friends theme, and at the right moment, the whole class did the clap-clap-clap-clap. In my second year of uni, we had one internet cable for the house (wireless/wifi didn’t exist) and I would plug my computer in overnight to download episodes of Friends because they wouldn’t come out in the UK until months after they’d been shown in the US and I couldn’t wait. It took literally all night to download one episode and if my housemate unplugged the cable I’d be furious. I had the Rachel haircut. Several times.

It was wonderful to see them all back together again, although why did they have to pick James Corden to host it? He is so annoying! I didn’t get emotional until I saw Jack and Judy Geller, aka Elliott Gould and Christina Pickles. They look so old and fragile now. I looked it up and he is 82, yikes.

The rest of my day was ok. I decided to buy some craft supplies after dropping Willow at school this morning. I’d had a wild idea of making a dragon out of Fimo modelling clay, or maybe papier mâché, in an attempt to occupy my mind. I bought a few bits, popped into Tesco for pizzas and carrot sticks, and went home. Did I make a dragon? Of course not. Did I even open the packaging? Nope. But maybe next week I will.

Instead, I sat in the conservatory and waited for the phone call from my director. He rang at 11:30 and we talked for almost half an hour. I don’t know what I said, probably a load of old crap, but he said that I’m a very intelligent person, which took me by surprise. That made me feel so sad because I know I used to be intelligent but I certainly don’t feel like it much any more. He asked about Willow, and I told him a bit about my dad. He said it helped him to know these things, especially as I explained how work is my escape from all the other stuff going on in my life. He said they are all rooting for me and they will do whatever they can to help me with my return to work. He really is a good guy, very concerned and sincere. I told him how much I appreciate his time as I know he’s busy and has important stuff to do, and he said this is important. Which set me off crying again.

Afterwards, I searched for a podcast about anxiety, to try to find some constructive coping advice. I found one about social anxiety around the return to normal life after Covid, which sounded particularly relevant, but it was more about being invited to parties, which let’s face it, is not a problem I have. The next one was about career anxiety, but I struggled to focus and found myself nodding off.

I called my mum. I hadn’t spoken to her for a while because I’ve been avoiding telling her I’m on sick leave, but I wanted to say hi as we’re going to stay with her this weekend. It was a short call as she was in Lidl but she sounded happy, I sounded happy, and we both said how much we’re looking forward to seeing each other. I’ve decided not to tell her. I’m sure just having a break and a change of scene will do wonders for me.

I had a message this afternoon from Tyrone, my work colleague. He does a slightly different job to us so I don’t need to interact with him much, and it had actually been a few months since we’d spoken. The message said “I like your form.” Random. I worked out he meant the Google Form I’d created for work, to simplify one of our processes. It’s not a tool he should need to use but I made it so that anyone could use it without specialist knowledge.

He asked if I could create a form to manage stock levels, create alerts when stock is low etc. I got quite excited about this (yes, I’m a geek) and said yes, I’d love to. I have no idea how to go about it or if it’s even possible, but I generally believe everything is possible and then Google how to do it if I get stuck. I said I will have a go tomorrow. I know I’m on sick leave but this is a project, it’s not my usual day job. I love having my own independent projects, and I think it could be really good for me to have a task and be useful.

I was scrolling through Facebook this evening and someone had posted in a local group that she had some space next week for massages. It has been years since I last had a massage. I used to go relatively often when I was married but not at all since. I have a very scrunchy shoulder blade from poor posture, so I thought sod it, why not treat myself. I’ve booked for Wednesday next week and I can’t wait.

Wednesday, 26th May

Sick Leave Day 11

I can’t believe it but I’ve been signed off for another two weeks. What the hell is going on with me. This is starting to feel serious. Four weeks off sick? That’s not good.

The palpitations started again as I logged on to work this morning, but they didn’t go away. My department director sent an email asking how I’m doing. I replied, saying I appreciated this as my boss hadn’t and I didn’t know why. I said that I don’t feel there’s a good dynamic in the team and my morale is very low but I will continue to work.

Just as I sent it, my boss pinged me a chat message asking how I am. I felt instant guilt at slagging her off. I honestly didn’t know what to say to her, as a lot of the problem is her attitude towards me (or maybe it’s just my perception of it). I said that I didn’t feel well (because I really didn’t at that point) but I could do my job. She suggested that maybe I had come back too soon and should take more time off. In hindsight, this probably made me feel worse. It would have been better for her to support me to work, somehow. I don’t blame her though, as I don’t even understand why I feel like this so I can’t expect her to know how to handle it. I’m sure this was her way of telling me to put my health first. We agreed I would call my doctor.

I rang the surgery and my lovely doctor only works Mondays and Fridays it turns out, but they said I could extend my sick note and any doctor could authorise that, so that’s what I did. Next week is half term and I was only due to work two days anyway.

I put my out-of-office on and went to bed. I hadn’t even got washed or dressed, I’d thought I would have a shower after dropping Willow at school but I couldn’t be bothered. Not good.

I felt fucking awful. How could this be happening to me? What is even wrong, what’s causing this? How have I become such a failure? It didn’t seem real, I was almost having an out-of-body experience. Palpitations going like crazy.

I thought about phoning my mum but still couldn’t face telling her so I called the counselling helpline that the HR lady gave me last week. The counsellor I spoke to told me that every evening I should think of what went well that day and write it down. Um, not so easy when the voice in my head shouts “NOTHING!” However, she told me to override that voice, to counter it. To write negative things on the left, and counter them with positive things on the right, eg.

I feel like utter shit | I got some help

She suggested I try to go for a walk every other day, and have a bath in the evening to relax. I will try. She also thought I should tell my mum. Hmm. I do want to but I know she will worry and I don’t want to have to justify it to her, when I don’t even understand it myself. She’ll be disappointed in me and I can’t face it.

I had a shower and collected Willow from school. We had McDonald’s for dinner. She was thrilled but I felt like a terrible parent, and I had a milkshake which is the least healthy thing imaginable, but so damn tasty. I need to go food shopping but we’re only here a couple more days, then we’re going to stay at my mum’s. I’ll go tomorrow and get a few bits. I need to do the dishwasher too, and wash our bedding. The weather looks better so maybe I’ll squeeze in a walk too? Maybe not. I must ask the neighbours to feed Domino while we’re away.

I’ve bought an office chair from Facebook marketplace so I need to collect that, and highlight of the decade in the evening – the Friends reunion! I’ve subscribed to Now TV on a free trial just so I can watch it. Of course it’s on at 8pm when I do Willow’s bedtime routine, but we’ll have to work around it because I’m not missing this.

Adam had a shit day too. He got called into a meeting with HR this morning. He’d had a relationship with a coworker for three months last year and not declared it. Seriously? Why the hell would he need to tell them that? He said there are rules but he’d checked the policy at the time and it wasn’t necessary to disclose because it didn’t pose a conflict or something. Not to mention she was a psycho bitch who got herself pregnant, then immediately miscarried… all sounded very suspicious to me but he was well shot of her. But this is crazy, it ended last summer! And he didn’t break any rules. He felt victimised and it put a downer on his whole day, unsurprisingly. Apparently she is leaving the company so he thinks she reported it in her exit interview. What a douchey thing to do.

I checked in on him this evening and he said he was feeling “ugh” but was going to go nuts on the exercise bike. Good idea. I told him that I’m not looking forward to speaking to my director tomorrow. He wants to call me because it’s company protocol, but I don’t know what to tell him. My heart tries to beat its way out of my chest every time I think about work and I don’t know why? Adam said I should tell him that. Life is very stressful these days for no good reason and it’s happening to a lot of people. I guess he’s right, it’s pointless me trying to explain the unexplainable, I’ll only make it worse.

Instead of focusing on why I’m struggling, I need to think of how I’m going to overcome it. Which is hard when you don’t understand what’s causing the problem. I’m constantly grinding my teeth, holding so much tension in my body. At least I don’t feel like I want to die, which is what has happened in the past. I feel like I want to get better. That’s a very good sign.

Tuesday, 25th May

My first day working again after two weeks signed off with anxiety can be described as “meh”. The palpitations started as soon as I logged on. My boss didn’t communicate with me at all. I don’t know what her problem is. No “welcome back, hope you’re ok. Let me know if I can do anything to make things better for you.” My other colleague, Geoff sent me a message asking how I’m doing. That was nice. He’s much older than me and ex-army so we don’t have much in common as I’m a pacifist, but he demonstrated more people-skills than my boss. She had the afternoon off, and I had very few emails to deal with, so I only did about two hours work. I decided not to feel guilty or to push myself. I always do my best and set my standards really high, but today I made the decision not to care so much. It’s not worth the stress.

This evening was my first Action For Happiness meeting. I’d been so looking forward to it and I wasn’t disappointed. There were nine of us on the Zoom call, hosted by a guy called Tony. They all really welcomed me to the group, which was lovely, and although we were all different ages, I felt I was among like-minded people.

There was a topic, which I wasn’t aware of beforehand although that was ok. It was “trance”, so Tony led us with, by his own admission, the bare bones of a PowerPoint presentation, about trance and hypnosis. He played us some, what he thought was, trance music – he kept saying he’s too old for this sort of music, to me it wasn’t trance, more just a dance remix, but I liked it.

Then he showed us a YouTube video of a group of people sitting in a conference room where one person was supposedly hypnotised, presumably to correct a speech problem as he was asked to picture a time when his speech flowed and what that felt like etc, so that he could then choose to return to this state whenever he wanted. It seemed vastly over-simplistic to me and we debated its efficacy.

We had a discussion around the crossover with mindfulness, and shared our own experiences of hypnosis (to quit smoking and for weight loss), NLP, sedation and even acid trips way back when in one lady’s case! It was so fascinating. I got to tell them about the psilocybin documentary that I watched the other day. They said psychedelics are making a comeback, although I’m not sure where they got that information! Domino decided to make an appearance and show everyone his bum, which they didn’t really appreciate!!

They were a lovely eclectic group and I felt comfortable speaking up and joining in. One lady in particular who was about my age seemed like someone I would like to be friends with. In a way, half the point of me joining this group was to make friends, so it would be amazing if that happened. Maybe once the group meets up in person, I could see about getting to know her. Joining this group definitely turned out to be an action for happiness!

Monday, 24th May

Sick Leave Day 10

My final day of sick leave. Can’t believe I’ve been off work for two weeks. It’s gone so quickly and I don’t feel like I did anything. Do I feel I ready to start up again tomorrow? Yes and no. I’m terrified. But I want to try. I don’t want to be off sick forever, wasting my days away playing games on my phone and watching Netflix. I want to be useful, to make a contribution to the world. The HR lady was so nice to me, so supportive and compassionate. I owe it to her, I don’t want to let her down. I don’t want to let myself down.

Do I feel different to the way I was a fortnight ago? Definitely. I simply couldn’t carry on. The thought of work made me hyperventilate and I kept bursting into tears. Now I still have palpitations but I’m sure that once I get started tomorrow, it will be ok. I shouldn’t have to interact with anyone, I can just crack on with it.

I think the biggest problem is my boss. She just doesn’t seem to get it. She hasn’t been very understanding and I feel uncomfortable around her. It’s such a shame as we used to be friends when we were on the same level. Then she got promoted, and she got together with Tyrone from our team, and the dynamic totally changed. We are only a team of four, so for them to be a couple is a bit awkward. They don’t flaunt it or anything, but we know. I bet they’ve been gossiping about me being off, they probably think I’m skiving. It’s not nice, that I would think that. I should be imagining them being sympathetic that I’ve been having a difficult time.

I spoke to my doctor this morning, she wanted to review me after the two weeks. She was really impressed that I’d managed to do things to try to help myself, for example joining the Action For Happiness group (first meeting tomorrow evening, can’t wait!). She said that we can see how it goes, working again, and that we can always look at doing reduced hours if I’m not coping right away. She really is the nicest doctor I’ve ever met.

She was also impressed that I want to start working again tomorrow, and I found myself welling up as I told her how frustrating it is not to be able to do things I used to. I had a full time job before Willow was born. Now, I’m not sure I could ever do that again. My brain doesn’t have the capacity any more, and I would become exhausted really quickly. It’s extremely hard to accept your own limitations.

I wanted to make the most of my final day so I searched my podcast app for something about the Tao Te Ching. I have the book upstairs but I struggle to focus so I haven’t actually read it yet. I figured a bit of Eastern philosophy on self-awareness, unpicked in a way that makes it easily accessible and understandable, could do me some good. I listened to the first podcast I found for 20 minutes before realising it just sounded like waffle (and it was sending me to sleep). The second was better but today’s post dropped through the letterbox after about five minutes and that was it, I was too distracted to continue.

Glen’s parents were collecting Willow from school today instead of Wednesday so about half an hour before they were due to arrive, I thought about going for a walk. It was sunny outside but I checked the weather app and it said it was about to rain. Not worth the risk so I went into the conservatory with the intention of going through the Action For Happiness workbook again. Instead, I got distracted and TIDIED THE CONSERVATORY!! This gets capital letters because I’ve been saying since before I even started this blog that I need to sort out the conservatory. It just shows, all I needed to do was plan to do something else. If I had intended to tidy the conservatory, it would never have happened, but because I wanted to do the workbook, voilà!

It still needs to be hoovered and dusted but the table is visible again, the cardboard boxes that Domino had chewed up are in the dustbin, Willow’s lego is in a box, books have been put away… I’m really happy.

I did my Dancercise class this evening. Last week I had to miss it because my arm was hurting from the vaccine jab but it’s fine now. I enjoyed “dancing” around to the music, and it felt really good to be part of something. We are only a small group of about six, I’ve never met any of them as it’s always been via Zoom, but I was imagining us all going clubbing together one day and how fun that would be. Must be a good sign if I’m picturing myself on a night out, if I can see something to get excited about in my future.

I didn’t write yesterday but not a lot happened. Willow has a cold so she was a grumpy sniffy snot monster, and I let her veg on the sofa for most of the day. We had arranged to visit my dad in the afternoon and I thought about cancelling as I didn’t want him to catch any germs, but I figured it’s only going to be a short visit, he’s really looking forward to it, and it’ll be good for Willow to get out of the house.

As we were getting ready to set off, the phone rang and it was dad. “Have you got a ladder?” Huh?

“No.” I felt instantly guilty as this was a lie, but it was probably buried in the garage somewhere and I didn’t want to wrestle with getting it out. Plus it wouldn’t fit in the car.

“Oh, ok. The light fittings are screwed in really tightly and I don’t want to be balancing on a chair.” Definitely not, he has mobility issues and the shakes, due to nerve damage. “Never mind. How about a drill?”

“A drill?? No, I…”

“Don’t worry. I’m sure I can borrow one. See you soon.”

He offered us a drink and gave us plastic glasses with LEDs in the bottom that changed colour when you added liquid. Willow thought this was brilliant. I thought it was a waste of money but that’s because I’m trying to economise, I shouldn’t be such a Scrooge. Then I saw he had a whole box of these glasses. That’s the trouble with dad. He’s a hoarder. What on earth does he need a whole box of colour-changing glasses for? My mum has told me how when she first met him, he had seven identical Star Wars posters. She asked if she could have one and he said no, as then he’d only have six. How did she not see the warning signs.

As a birthday present, he got Willow some sort of science kit to do with the oceans (of course, it’s his special interest). She looked happy but I’m sure it will never get opened. She was showing him the game Among Us on her phone when his started to ring. It was my cousin, who I haven’t seen in over ten years. She’s very smug and I don’t like her, but she’s my eldest cousin and I think dad’s quite fond of her. He has some stuff at her house (and in my garage, and his brother’s house) and she wanted to bring it over. He asked me how much longer we were staying. I felt a bit stabbed in the heart, like he wanted to get rid of us. We stayed another ten minutes, then left.

Next week is half term and we’re going up to stay with my mum. I’m working Tuesday and Wednesday so I’ll go home and leave Willow there. This has never happened before and they are both looking forward to it. I am too as it could bode well for future visits, helping me out with childcare over the summer for a few days maybe. According to the newspapers, the weather’s finally due to improve next week, although my weather app says otherwise. It’s been so rainy this month, we could really do with some warmth and sunshine to perk us all up. I hope we get a good summer. Goodness knows we need it.

Saturday, 22nd May

I’ve spent my evening watching the Eurovision Song Contest. I didn’t realise it was on but I’m glad I caught it. A total celebration, utterly mad songs as usual, a full audience as if there was never any Covid. The UK not only came last but didn’t score a single point. I blame Brexit. I didn’t think our song was that bad. Italy won with a heavy metal song that gave me a headache. Still, it was a welcome evening of unplanned escapism.

Today didn’t quite go according to plan. Willow and I went to the crazy golf but after a few holes I couldn’t tell she wasn’t feeling right so we gave up and sat in the cafe. I hoped a slushie might perk her up but it didn’t really and she didn’t want to continue. It was quite busy so I didn’t mind ducking out. We had lunch at McDonald’s. It was meant to be Pizza Hut but that wasn’t there any more, it had turned into a Five Guys. Next was the cinema and that was great. The film was very funny and we both enjoyed it. But afterwards we went straight home as I could see Willow needed to rest. I think she’s come down with a cold. I was always ill when it was my birthday too. She didn’t want any dinner. We’re due to visit my dad tomorrow afternoon, I hope Willow is feeling better because he’s really looking forward to seeing her.

Friday, 21st May

Willow is 12! And to make sure I knew about it, she woke me up at 6:30am, wanting to open her presents. That’s a full hour before my alarm goes off and I am not a morning person, but of course I made an exception for her birthday. She had received cards from my friends Janet and Sarah, my brother, Glen’s parents, and my mum. I got her a couple of books, a new duvet set with dolphins on it and a hoodie she’d asked for. She was so happy, bless her. It was lovely.

We got to school early and I went back to bed, to try and catch up on the sleep I missed from the early start. Glen texted, asking if he could pick her up earlier than planned this evening. For god’s sake, why can’t he just stick to a plan. I wrote and deleted several responses without sending them. Willow has told me a number of times this week that she wants to spend her birthday with me, which is why she doesn’t want to go to his house. I wasn’t prepared to shorten the hour we’d have together after school before his arrival.

I replied saying no and why did he have to change the plan to what he wanted instead of what she wants. I told him she was in tears about it yesterday because she’s terrified of upsetting him. His response was that she is terrified of leaving me alone! As if! I didn’t reply any further because I didn’t want to be dragged into a fight. This interaction ruined the rest of my morning, my heart was pounding again and I felt really angry at him.

But then I started to wonder if maybe he was right. What if she really does get herself upset thinking I just sit at home being miserable without her? I mean, quite often I do but that’s not the point. Or is it? Last weekend I went out with Adam and had a lovely time! Sometimes I really look forward to my child-free weekends, just for the down time. But I would never tell her that because I want her to know that she is wanted, that I love spending time with her. She was made to feel very unwelcome at Glen’s house last year and didn’t go there for three months, so it’s been important to me for her to know that I definitely do want her here. Maybe I’ve overdone it, to the point where she thinks I can’t cope without her? Or maybe, she just didn’t want to tell her dad that she doesn’t like going to his house so she told him it was because of me.

I dragged myself out of bed at lunchtime because I was starving. We’d had birthday cake for breakfast so I made up for that with a healthy lunch of avocado on toast and cherry tomatoes. I watched a few episodes of Friends, had a shower and went to collect Willow from school.

When she finally appeared, 15 minutes late, she could barely stagger to the car. It was raining but her coat was tied round her waist, she was carrying her heavy school bag in one hand and something else in the other. I went over to help her and she was already upset. Once in the car, I asked what was wrong but she was in full meltdown and couldn’t stop crying. I tried to get her to take some deep breaths but she wouldn’t. She couldn’t tell me why she was so upset and just said she didn’t want to do anything. What did she mean, no Friday treat? No Daddy’s house? I asked if I should call him but she said no. I really didn’t know what to do so we sat in the car for at least 10 minutes. In the end I was getting frustrated but didn’t want to get upset myself, so I drove us home. I was gutted that I didn’t get to take her for Friday treat but more gutted that she was so distressed and I couldn’t fix it.

On the journey home, I said that she does know I’m fine when she’s not there, right? That I have lots of things I like doing? She sort of said “mm”. I wanted to try to clear that one up, just in case. I told her that if she’s tired she can totally stay at Daddy’s house tonight, it’s no problem, but that set her off crying immediately. Obviously, she does not want to. And I’m positive it’s got nothing to do with concern for my wellbeing.

When we got home, she got changed into her new clothes and I made her a hot chocolate. She was still very upset but I managed to distract her a bit with an episode of Danger Mouse. We heard a car pull up outside and she started crying again. In a way, I was glad that Glen would see this. I’m sure he thinks I just say she doesn’t want to go to his because he thinks I’m a bitch. Well here was proof that I didn’t make it up.

I invited him in and suggested he sit with her and have a chat. It was the most civil things have been between us for a long time because there was no way I was going to let there be any animosity on Willow’s birthday. The last thing she needs is her parents visibly hating each other. He talked to her for a couple of minutes and then she went up to get changed again as she didn’t want to risk spilling anything on her new hoodie. Somehow we got onto the subject of her not wanting to leave me, and I asked if she’d actually said that to him. He looked sheepish and said no, but it was… “extracted” from her. I raised my eyebrows. Poor kid, he’d obviously put her on the spot at some point and she’d come up with this as an excuse. I was certain then that it wasn’t the real reason.

She perked up a little and they went off together. All very amicable. Janet texted and we chatted briefly about our weekend plans, she said she was getting a Chinese takeaway which sounded like an excellent plan so I ordered one too. Scrolling through Netflix, I decided to watch The Big Lebowski as I’d never seen it before and it’s one of those cult films. It was ok, not something I’d watch again but not a waste of time.

Willow came home, she’d had a nice time. I was pleased that it had all worked out ok in the end. We’ve got a fun-packed day tomorrow so I hope she gets some sleep tonight, more than her usual five hours which is nowhere near enough. No wonder she’s always so ratty. All over for another year. Phew.

Thursday, 20th May

Sick Leave Days 7 & 8

I didn’t get to write yesterday as I had a cider and it sent me to sleep, so I’ll fill you in now on my day.

I had breakfast in the conservatory and then filled in the Happiness Action Pack I’d printed out. I also filled out most of the careers workbook too. It was really interesting and certainly got me questioning what’s important to me in a career, and even in life. One exercise was to write down what you could do that would benefit you in 10 minutes, 10 months or 10 years. I put hoovering, saving money, and overpaying the mortgage & eating healthily/looking after my body for the respective answers.

It was forecast to rain but at that minute it was sunny so I seized the moment and went for a walk into town. I was so proud of myself, can’t remember the last time I walked anywhere. I treated myself to a cup of tea and slice of cherry pie in my favourite independent bakery. Hadn’t done that in months and it was so lovely.

When I got back, there wasn’t long until Glen’s parents would arrive with Willow. They always used to collect her from school on Wednesdays and then take her for dinner at the carvery, but of course that had to stop before Christmas. This was the first time back. That was the incentive I needed to FINALLY do the hoovering. Hooray.

After they’d brought Willow back and gone home, she told me that she’d received a text of some birthday money on her prepay card from my brother. It was £50! That’s a crazy amount, I’d expect £10, £20 at the most. She was stunned and had already sent him a really nice thank you reply without me needing to prompt her. I think he probably feels guilty. Whatever, she was thrilled and hopefully now will forgive him.

I ended the day by watching a fascinating documentary about a drugs trial, using psilocybin on patients with depression and comparing it to citalopram. The results were amazing and I was pretty jealous as I’ve always been curious about psychedelics. Sadly not available to the average person as it’s highly illegal, although it wasn’t until the 80s. Thanks, Mrs Thatcher. I’m sure any drug is dangerous if abused but I don’t see why it couldn’t be prescribed safely.

Today I spent six hours making Willow’s birthday cake. She wanted a log cake – chocolate Swiss roll decorated to look like a log. We’ve made this cake twice before. She also asked for a banana cake so I thought maybe the log could be a 1 and I could cut a banana cake to look like a 2, spelling 12 for her age. But in the car on the way to school, I had the idea of doing a dragon.

I made a four-tier banana cake with chocolate chips, shaped it with a knife to look like a dragon as best I could, then covered it with purple fondant. I made the head separately using a chocolate mini roll. I’m really pleased with how it turned out, although the placement of the wings is slightly off. If I was going to do something like that again, I’d cover the lower two tiers in fondant and then make the dragon separately and place it on top, but never mind.

I showed it to her after school and she was really wowed. I was so happy that I could do that for her, there’s no way I would’ve had time if I had been working.

We had some tears this evening as she really doesn’t want to go to her dad’s house tomorrow evening. I tried to ask why, is it the other kids, is it the journey, but she just said she doesn’t know. I said I could ask him to stick to the original plan of taking her for dinner around here but she didn’t want me to. She is terrified of upsetting her dad, but the result is it upsets her.

She had a bath and we watched the Taskmaster final, then after she was in bed I put up a couple of birthday banners downstairs. I really hope she is happy tomorrow and allows herself to enjoy the day. She has terrible birthday anxiety, the same as me (and my mum). I will try to make it as nice for her as I can.

Tuesday, 18th May

Sick Leave Day 6

I spent the morning in bed, not really knowing what to do with myself. I mean, I had things to do but didn’t want to do them, like the hoovering. An email came through from my department director, and then another from the HR lady who I spoke to last week. They were both checking in to see how I’m doing. I gave the HR lady a call and she told me about a conference she’d attended on Friday about mental health for employees. She said that “we all have mental health. Sometimes our mental health is good, sometimes it’s bad – it varies. Our job is to make it more good than bad.” Interesting.

It turns out the company has access to a mental health service as part of their insurance, and this service can provide counselling. Fantastic! I called them up and spoke to a friendly counsellor who was manning the helpline, but she said the cover my company has doesn’t include counselling but they could add it for a price. Oh. It would be six sessions and no waiting list! I emailed the HR lady to let her know. Really hoping they will go for it because free counselling would just be amazing for me right now.

I sent my director a fairly long email in response to his, outlining how I feel and trying to explain that it’s not something I can control, it’s anxiety relating to autism and ADHD. So much has changed over the past year and it’s hard for me to adapt. I said that I don’t think I will feel comfortable returning to the office until there aren’t any more restrictions, no more social distancing etc. In the meantime I can continue as I have for the past seven months. He hasn’t replied but he’s very busy and probably wanted to think about it. I really like him so I felt safe telling him all this. He’s young and newly promoted to the role, his predecessor was a very scary old lady who made me cry on more than one occasion. This guy is much more approachable.

I texted Janet to see what she was up to. They are having work done in their house, she was taking the baby to “signing”, then yoga and “sensory” tomorrow. All sounded so busy, in massive contrast to my own life. She said that she has to have stuff to structure her day, otherwise she ends up doing nothing and it makes her feel really unwell. I could certainly identify with that.

I had a think about what I could do to add structure into my week, outside of work and the school run. Over to my friend Google, looking for classes in my area. There are loads, but finding one that wasn’t at a time I can’t make was tricky. One in particular caught my eye, called Action For Happiness. That definitely sounded like something I should be doing. It runs once a month on a Tuesday evening, currently via zoom. I sent the organiser an email and he replied with some more information. Turns out it’s a charity and on their website there was a whole philosophy, and a Happiness Action Pack, which I printed out. I’ll try to have a go at filling it in tomorrow.

This gave me a little more oomph so I put a load of washing on, emptied and reloaded the dishwasher and cleaned the worktop. I still had to go food shopping so I dragged myself to Aldi, got everything I needed and then went to Sainsbury’s because Willow will only eat their pain au chocolat.

My brother called just after dinner. Willow refused to speak. He said he’s gone for a promotion at work and should have an interview next week. Then he asked how I’m feeling about work at the moment, because he knew I hadn’t been enjoying it lately. I haven’t told him, or mum, about being signed off. I don’t want them to know. I said I was feeling a bit better about things. He complained about dad a bit and I didn’t really respond. I didn’t want to tell him about yesterday because then he’ll know I wasn’t at work. Deceit doesn’t suit me, people always find out in the end, but maybe I’ll tell them in my own time.

Afterwards, I asked Willow why she didn’t want to talk to him, if she was still feeling funny towards him because of what happened. She sort of acknowledged that was it. It must have been very frightening for her, but she does need to learn to let things go and not bear grudges. He’s being nice now and we’re not in any danger down the phone. I hope she will forgive him.

She wanted to spend £20 on an in-app purchase for one of her phone games. We had a look at her account and while she had the money, she owes it to my mum for the robot dog. When I pointed this out, she stormed off upstairs to her room, stamping like an elephant and slamming the door. Great. I left her up there to cool down while I hung up the washing. I called up to see if she wanted to watch tv but she said no. At bedtime she still wouldn’t come out of her room and didn’t want a story. Sigh. I was feeling hugely drained by this so I went to bed too. I guess birthday anxiety is rising for her, only a few days to go.

Monday, 17th May

Sick Leave Day 5

I had planned to go food shopping after dropping Willow at school this morning, but something compelled me to drive in the other direction and head to the biggest charity shop I know of. I wanted to see if they had any bedside tables, as my dad had told me he needs some. I got there half an hour before they opened so I went to Dunelm and wandered round to kill time. I knew dad needed lots of things for his new place but I wasn’t sure what, so in the end I bought him a reed diffuser, a soft throw for the sofa, a plant pot shaped like a tiger, and some plastic foliage to go in it.

When the charity shop was open, I looked but they didn’t have any bedside tables. There was a B&M nearby so I went in and they had some lovely bedside tables for only £25. I took a photo of them and got back in the car. I contemplated which other charity shops might be worth checking out but decided to just go to dad’s house. I sent him a text saying surprise!, I was on my way.

He was so pleased to see me. The flat was nicer than I’d imagined. He’d said there were no carpets but instead of bare floorboards as I was picturing, there was a nice wood-effect laminate. I said I wanted to take him shopping but before we could go out, he spent at least an hour and a half going through things on his laptop. He’d taken every possible measurement of the flat and drawn a plan of the layout, showing where he might put furniture; he’d made a spreadsheet of all the things he wants to buy, comparing the prices from several different shops; he’d made a calendar in a spreadsheet showing all his appointments, colour coded… After packing his laptop (he wouldn’t let me just write a list on paper) and god knows what else into a rucksack, we were finally ready to leave.

We spent nearly two hours in B&M. He managed to get so many things that he needed, from toilet cleaner to a bathroom mirror, a set of crockery, cutlery, glasses and mugs, the bedside tables, a rug, tea towels, a smoothie maker, an iron… it came to just under £200 which frankly was a bargain considering how much stuff he had. After about an hour in the shop, he needed to sit down and take some medicine. It was past lunchtime and his blood sugar had dipped. I got a bit worried and said we should stop there but he wanted to continue.

When we’d managed to cram all the stuff in the car, I insisted we went next door to Costa for a panini. It’s important for him to eat regularly and I was hungry too. We chatted as we ate, and he told me that when I was little, he was pushing me through town in a buggy and I shouted “Bros!” because there was a shop called something bros. and I’d thought it was like the band! I don’t really have any memories before the age of seven and I hadn’t heard this story before, it made me smile.

It was nearly time for me to collect Willow by the time we got back to his place and as we arrived, the heavens opened. Thunder, lightning, hail, it was crazy and out of nowhere. We had no choice but to stay in the car and wait for it to ease off. After about ten minutes we decided to make a dash for it. It took three or four trips to bring everything in. I said I had to go and he asked me to drop him at Asda on my way so he could get some groceries.

Of course, I hadn’t done my food shopping, or hoovered or washed Willow’s school shirts, but none of that mattered. I could do all that tomorrow. Dad emailed me at 7:30pm saying he managed to buy in Asda all the bits we didn’t get in B&M (hairdryer and saucepan set), and he was over the moon that I came to help him today. There’s no way he could’ve got even a quarter of that stuff home on a bus.

I know that I did a really good thing today. I just couldn’t help thinking what a shit life he’s had, and about that letter from his father.

This time off work is giving me the space to start to feel better about life, now that my main stress factor has been removed. I still have physical symptoms, mainly my heart trying to beat its way out of my chest, and my eyelid occasionally flickering, but I don’t feel as anxious as I did. I will definitely be ready to go back next week, although still only working from home. I’ll return to the office on my own terms, and I think now that they’ll be fine with that.

Hopefully my boss has been told that she can’t harass me into going back any more. I’m sure she didn’t mean it to come out that way but that’s how my fight or flight interpreted it. She’s young and only became a manager a few months before the pandemic when we had a reshuffle.

If all goes well, there are only five more weeks until all restrictions are removed and life goes back to normal for the UK. I think that’s the point when I’ll feel ready to return to the office, maybe two or three times a week. I don’t see there’s a need for me to ever return to five days a week. I can’t bear the thought of the petrol cost, aside from anything else. We’ll see. Anything could happen in the meantime.

Sunday, 16th May

I made my will this morning! Quite by accident. It’s something I’ve been meaning to do for years, ever since Willow was born, or maybe even before then when I became a homeowner. I had a quote from someone recently and would probably have done it next month, however fate had other plans.

I decided that I want, maybe need, to be more sociable, so I did a search for single parent groups in my area. I thought that might be a good way of meeting people, making friends who are in the same situation as me. I found a website called Gingerbread, it’s a charity supporting single parents. They run this type of group but unfortunately not in my area. However, there was a link on the website to get a free will – usually £90 but free through the charity – so I followed it. The process was really easy and totally free. The guy had quoted me £150+VAT!

After spending most of the day lazing around in my pyjamas, I had a spurt of being quite productive this afternoon. I put some music on (the only thing that gets me moving) and did a load of washing; emptied the dishwasher, reloaded it and put it on; cleaned the bathroom; and cooked tuna and sweetcorn pasta. I’d intended to hoover as well but didn’t get round to it. Maybe tomorrow.

Spoke to my mum and my dad on the phone. Mum wanted to know how dad is. Dad just seemed to want a chat.

Had a shower before Willow came home. I didn’t want her to think I’d been slobbing about all day. She’d had a nice weekend with her dad and seemed happy. She’s decided that on her birthday she will go up to his house for dinner and then come home. It’s an hour’s drive each way, which doesn’t sound like the most fun way to spend her birthday, but she said it’s what she wants so I’m happy if she is.

I have a little WhatsApp group for my two best friends from primary school, Mandy and Gemma. We’ve been keeping in touch through Facebook but last year I actually met up with Gemma, first time we’d seen each other since 1995! She has three kids, the youngest is a day or two younger than Willow and is also autistic. Mandy has two boys, one older and one younger than our girls. We started this WhatsApp group a couple of months ago after Gemma’s partner decided to leave her. Mandy is also a single mum, so this made all three of us. We just had a brief chat today but interestingly, they both said they’re feeling fed up and blah. I think we must all have some sort of pandemic fatigue. It helps me feel better about work, knowing that it’s a general mood, lots of others are experiencing the same.

I haven’t mentioned my teeth-whitening for a while. Since I stopped the treatment, the whiteness has massively faded but in a patchy way. It’s as if my teeth had a reaction to the bleaching product and are now shedding it. I’m sure that’s not what it is but I can’t help wondering if my teeth are simply going back to the shade they were before. What a waste of money and effort that would have been. When they are less patchy, I’ll take a photo to compare.

My second week of sick leave starts tomorrow. I’m sure I’m totally capable of working and do feel guilty but the time off will be nice, despite the forecast daily rain. I must try to get more done with it. The conservatory still needs sorting out. Maybe if I break it down a bit and just aim to do the table, I’ll be more successful. I need to go food shopping again but I’ll try to get some proper food and actually do some cooking. I’m sure a little effort to eat better will have a big impact on my general sense of well-being.

Saturday, 15th May

Did absolutely nothing for most of the day. Had an hour-long chat with my mum talking about Willow mainly, and the feedback from her therapist. She told me not to pursue the counselling through the doctor, it’s just another thing that will make Willow feel like there’s something wrong with her. She’s doing really well with this therapist and they’ve approved another six sessions so stick with that. I think this is probably good advice.

We talked about my dad and how he can’t look after himself but doesn’t realise it. I asked mum if she thought my dad’s parents could have been autistic. Just wondering because he has it so badly (not that autism is bad but for him it really is). I knew his mum, my Nana, although we only saw her once a year. She died when I was 22. We didn’t like her much, my brother and I, because she always got our names wrong.

His dad died before my parents met, but mum started telling me a bit about him. She said he was a bit like Del Boy! Smoking, drinking, gambling, women… the opposite of my dad. Very showy – with a Jag and a snooker table and a bar in the house and a ride-on lawn mower – but no class. She said he would shout at my Nana if she didn’t do well at bridge, and after he died she never played bridge again and her social circle slipped away.

I knew my dad hadn’t been wanted when he was born. They put him in a children’s hospital for two years, he didn’t talk properly until he was four. His name’s Timothy but he hates it and goes by Tim. His younger brother was also unwanted and got fostered out. His name’s Thomas but goes by Tom – Tim and Tom! There are two older siblings who were doted on, making it all the worse for the younger two. Nana mellowed a bit in her later years and included my dad in an equal split of her will, but cut out his younger brother altogether.

Mum told me something that really upset me. When my dad’s father died, he left notes for all his children. My dad’s said how he was such a disappointment. I cannot believe that someone’s dying words to their child would be to tell them that. I feel really disturbed by this. My grandfather, who I never knew, was evil by the sounds of it. No wonder my dad is such a mess. Despite that though, I still know that he loves me and would never doubt it. Poor dad.

We didn’t know if he was still in the hospital so I sent him a text. He called and said he was still there and waiting for an ambulance to take him home, moaning that he’d been waiting for six hours. I reminded him that there’s a pandemic on and he could just take a taxi but never mind. It was a short call but he said I’d cheered him up. I felt so sorry for him.

I had a quick shower and headed out to meet Adam for dinner. He’d booked a pub halfway between us, which was about 45 minutes drive. It was pretty mild so I decided to take my coat but no jumper. My arm was aching a bit from the jab but I figured it was fine. On the way, he texted to say he was stuck in traffic and would be late. I took the opportunity to pop into a nearby Tesco. My arm was actually hurting by this point so I wanted to get some paracetamol, plus I thought it was stupid not to have a jumper so I picked one up in the sale for £5. My earrings were heavy and bothering me so I bought a new pair. Clearly I have excellent foresight, not.

We hugged in the car park and went for a walk through a wet field! It felt like such a silly think to do, but in a fun, carefree way. It was an hour before our reservation so we wandered off exploring. It would’ve been extremely romantic if we were a couple. I imagined holding his hand and kissing. Oh well. Dinner was amazing, the biggest portions I’ve ever seen. He insisted on three starters, a main and dessert. I was so full I could barely move. We talked about all sorts of things. He always has plenty to say and I did a lot of laughing.

Four hours after we’d hugged hello, we hugged goodbye. It had been a lovely evening, really relaxed and fun, with no “feelings” ruining it for me. We were just good friends catching up and that was perfectly fine.

I’m lucky really. It turns out I have got some decent friends and I like spending time with them. I should make much more effort to see my friends more frequently. I’m sure it would help with the feelings of loneliness, isolation, and social anxiety. Restrictions are easing again on Monday, I should see what I can do to engineer some sort of social life for myself.

Friday, 14th May

Sick Leave Day 4

Mum’s cat was found on someone’s roof! Poor little thing was up there for two days! She said he was fine and soon trying to go out again, which she was having none of. Mum had spent the last two days crying so she was over the moon that he was ok.

I got my first dose of the Covid vaccine today. It was at 1:30pm so I could have lunch first. I’m prone to fainting and wanted to do all I could to prevent it. There was no food in the house so I left early and went to Tesco to grab a meal deal. I took a precautionary paracetamol and tucked into a plant-based hoisin wrap, which was delicious but I managed to drip a big splodge of hoisin sauce on my t-shirt. Classy.

When I got into the vaccine centre, I was sent to a waiting area. It looked like an exam room, with four rows of eight chairs all spaced about a metre apart, everyone looking at their phones. I actually thought I’d stumbled into some sort of training course until I was shown to my seat. After about 15 minutes I was called in.

Absolutely all the staff had been really friendly, and when I explained that I was quite anxious and prone to fainting, they took me to lie down and offered me a cup of tea! I barely noticed the jab itself and then lay chatting to a lady from St John’s Ambulance. I felt absolutely fine but didn’t want to take any chances. After what must have been at least ten minutes I started to feel guilty for taking up their time so I slowly sat up, still fine, then headed back to the car.

There was about an hour until school pickup time so instead of going home, I decided to drive to the next town. There are two “Aladdin’s cave” sort of antiquey shops that I used to love visiting and hadn’t been in since the pandemic. It felt so good to be back in my favourite shops again and I had a great time looking at all the old treasures (or junk depending on your taste!).

After school, I took Willow for our usual Friday Treat and then we headed home and her dad collected her. I was alone for the weekend. This is a good thing in case I get a reaction from the jab and feel rough tomorrow. She wanted to be at school early today and when I went to wake her up at 7:30, she said she’d been up since 5am and tidied her room! I’ll never understand that kid.

No news about my dad so I’m assuming he’s still in hospital. I’m not going to worry about him because I think hospital is the best place for him.

I have two friends from sixth form that I’m still in touch with – Rachel and Hannah – and I ended up catching up with both of them, separately, this evening over WhatsApp. Hannah is two days older than me and she used to live nearby but got headhunted and moved up north about four years ago. I hadn’t spoken to her for ages, very bad of me. She never married and doesn’t have kids, although she does have a boyfriend of a few years.

Actually the same is true of Rachel. She lives in London and her boyfriend is nearly 60… but she’s happy and that’s all that matters. She bought a houseboat a couple of months ago, before that she was renting a room above a shop in a shared house and I’m sure she wasn’t happy there.

Hannah on the other hand has a beautiful detached four-bed house. I guess that’s property prices up north. She sent me some photos of her new kitchen and bathrooms. She asked if I’d like to come and visit but it’s a three-hour drive and I really don’t fancy six hours of driving. Rachel is nearer although still over an hour, but I asked if she’s free this weekend. She’s working two jobs and trying to fit in seeing her boyfriend, so no. Shame, as I miss her.

Adam texted asking what I’m up to this weekend. I told him I’m doing nothing and he suggested we do something together, either a) I help him with gardening one of his rental properties, b) dinner tomorrow night, or c) join him and his friends for a 50km bike ride on Sunday. The guy’s a nutter. I said no to a) because I want to rest my jabbed arm, c) is preposterous, but b) is possible. I don’t want to go to his house because the last time I got all emotional and spent the next week crying, so I suggested maybe a pub garden. He is going to find somewhere and let me know. I’ll see how I feel, my arm is starting to feel heavy at the shoulder. I can cope with that, just hope there are no other symptoms.

I don’t know if it’s wise to see Adam but I think maybe getting out and attempting to socialise might help me with my anxiety around work. I’m not necessarily wary of being in crowded spaces, strangers don’t worry me, it’s being around people I know and making conversation. I feel like I’ve forgotten how. I have seen a small handful of friends over the last few months as one-offs and I’ve been nervous each time, but in the end the conversation has flowed and I’ve had a lovely time. Work is different because there are rules – you don’t speak to your boss in the same way as you would a friend, that sort of thing. But maybe spending a little time with Adam tomorrow could help me relax a bit. We’ll see.

Thursday, 13th May

Sick Leave Day 3

My mum’s cat still hasn’t come back. She’s devastated. She’s spent the whole day going round the village, knocking on doors, putting posters up, asking the vets… I’m so sad for her.

I had a nothing day, spent mostly in bed playing games on my phone. Didn’t feel up to thinking about anything or doing anything. Around lunchtime I got a text. You are now eligible for your free NHS Covid-19 vaccine. YES!! Finally! Everyone I know has had it already, now finally it’s my turn. I immediately got onto the booking site and registered for tomorrow.

I had a call from the GP to discuss Willow’s “little brain man land”. I told him all about it and he said he’d like to refer her to a counselling service and he texted me a link to self-refer. I clicked through to their website, eventually found the referral forms but they offered two different counties, neither of which are where I live. I called the surgery and the secretary said I could try a different service, and gave me their number. I phoned and the guy who answered didn’t seem to have a clue what I was on about, then after I’d said it three times he declared that you can’t self-refer, it has to come from a doctor. Back to square one! I called the surgery again and they said they’d get the doctor to make the referral. What a waste of time.

Glen texted to say he’d planned a party for Willow which couldn’t happen now but he’d like her to go to his on the Friday evening for birthday dinner and then he’d bring her back the next morning. I didn’t think she’d want to do that but said it was fine by me but I’d have to ask her and let him know. When I told her about it after school, she got all anxious and upset. She really didn’t want to go to his house, but she was so concerned not to disappoint her dad. Poor kid, I hate that he puts her in this position. I told him what she wanted and he had to impose his wishes. It’s not about what you want you idiot, it’s about her. I texted him and said I’m sorry but she wants you to take her out for dinner and bring her home to me. I made it clear that she didn’t want to upset him. He didn’t reply.

My brother called just after I’d gone to bed. I didn’t answer, and sent a text saying we could talk at the weekend. He replied saying dad’s in hospital. Oh. I went downstairs out of Willow’s earshot and phoned him. Apparently he’d had one of his many medical appointments and mentioned that he’d been retching all day when they were moving house, so the doctor decided to keep him in but supposedly they will release him tomorrow. I very much doubt he’s fit to go home but we’ll see.

Wednesday, 12th May

Sick Leave Day 2

This morning I had a meeting with the therapist Willow’s been seeing at school, and some members of the SEN team. She’s had six weeks of one-to-one sessions at school with an independent drama therapist, to help with self esteem issues, so this was a follow up. The meeting was meant to be on Teams but after half an hour of cursing my laptop, I still couldn’t get the stupid thing to load properly. It had an error when I tried the app, and when I finally managed to connect through a web browser, it didn’t recognise my microphone. I apologised and asked if we could swap to Zoom.

The therapist said that Willow had opened up to her a lot during the sessions, particularly about her inner world of “Little Brain Man Land”. I know she has this but not to the extent I was now being told. She described a village living in her head, her mouth, and her stomach, and they control various things. The villagers who live on her teeth control what she eats. There is a good side and a bad side, the left side is bad because she has pain on her left side. They can appear on the desk in front of her and tell her what to do. This all sounded pretty scary to me and I asked if she should see a psychologist, but the therapist said that isn’t necessary as this inner world is a coping strategy that is actually helpful to Willow, and she is in control of it, although to me it sounded like it was controlling her.

The therapist also said that she suspects Willow has dyspraxia. I was a bit unclear as to what that is so she explained that it is to do with movement and coordination but also difficulty concentrating, following instructions, getting her words jumbled up, and poor organisational skills.

We all felt it would be useful to continue the sessions, which of course comes down to funding, but the school team got back to me soon after to say that if I could discuss Willow’s “brain man land” with the doctor, they would be able to fund another six sessions. Fantastic.

I’m so proud of her for all that she has to cope with. Life really does seem to be difficult for her, and it’s such a relief to know that the school are so supportive. I do what I can of course, but it does take its toll on me. I’m not any sort of medical expert and it’s hard to know how to help her, I worry a lot and hate to see her unhappy. I can only reassure her that she is loved and hope this is enough.

I asked Willow on the way to school if she’d decided about her birthday plans and she said yes, let’s go with what we discussed yesterday. I texted Glen after the meeting to let him know that we need to swap weekends and he can take her out for dinner on her birthday. I didn’t think it was fair to put Willow in the position of telling him herself. I tried to word it in a way that wasn’t passive aggressive but made it clear that these were her wishes. He said that would massively bugger up his plans and he’d have to get back to me. Tough mate, that’s what your kid wants. I booked the golf.

While I was battling with Teams this morning, my boss texted asking if she could phone today to see how I am. I was astonished, I didn’t think this was allowed! I’ve been signed off by a doctor, they can’t harass me! My heart started thumping and I could feel the tears pricking my eyes. I googled it and it turns out that employers can phone staff who are on sick leave. I replied that no, I’m not ready for that. She said they’re worried and want to make sure I’m ok. Well duh, of course I’m not ok, that’s why I’ve been signed off!

This ruined my whole day. The forecast was for today to be the only sunny day for the next week so I’d planned to go for a walk outside. I was going to do the hoovering. No way I could manage either of those now. Absolutely gutted after doing so well yesterday.

A couple of hours later, my boss sent me an email saying that it’s company protocol that I speak to someone by phone to register my sickness. For goodness sake! I didn’t trust myself not to say something stupid. I didn’t want to talk to anyone! The email said I could call the HR lady so I did.

Well, she was lovely. I burst into tears and she was really understanding and reassuring, saying there are plenty of others within the company who also don’t feel ready to return to the office. This was a surprise, as in my isolation I just assumed I was the only one. I hate letting people down and she said that it’s better to say no than to make myself ill. I mentioned that I’m on a waiting list for counselling and she said it’s totally fine for it to be during work hours. Big relief. She suggested a few resources such as the BBC’s “Headspace”, which I will try to check out when I have the energy.

I felt much more optimistic about staying in my job after that. It seems they really do care about me. I’d be an idiot to leave. I’m not thrilled with my department but I can’t see a way of transferring without moving to the London office, and there’s no way I could do that with the commute. It will have to wait until Willow is older and can get herself home from school. I was so drained after the call, and the meeting about Willow, that I got into bed and went to sleep.

After school, Willow and I had a wander round the town and I asked her about her “little brain man land”. She explained that it’s all controlled in the brain but I could ask what happens in the other areas. It turns out that it applies to her entire body. Feet are mattresses because they put a spring in her step and mattresses have springs! Legs control movement. Hands were very detailed – they are schools, each finger is a classroom and the palm is the playground, but the right hand is the good school and the left hand is a bad school.

There are Taste Buddies who are very small and live on her tongue (not the teeth). When she eats something, the taste buddies decide whether she likes it or not. Her arms are airports, with five planes taking off every 15 minutes. There are three holes at the back of her throat – the middle is the voice box, the right is like a cable car sending food down to the stomach, and the left is the wrong hole, like when we say “that went down the wrong hole”.

She could’ve carried on talking as she was really animated but I was struggling to take it all in. It sounds to me like she needs a psychiatrist but apparently it’s normal for children her age to have an active imagination. I’ll see what the doctor says tomorrow.

Text from Adam. “Remember the Russian I used to work with? He just bought the most expensive house in Lincolnshire. He’s grumbling that he’s underpaid, although he’s overpaid but it’s all relative y’know. Absolute castle. Comes with three goats.”

My mum’s cat has gone missing. He’s not even a year old yet and a bit of a wild card. He’s been stuck up a tree before. I feel terrible and don’t know what to say to her. She’s been knocking on doors and she’s put a message on the village Facebook group. I really, really hope he turns up alive and well. Poor mum.

Tuesday, 11th May

Sick Leave Day 1

I had a whole spectrum of thoughts going through my head today. Lots of guilt for being off work when I actually felt much better, although obviously I only felt better due to the relief of not having to work. I wanted to rest, to let the spaghetti in my brain untangle, before starting to think about what I want to happen regarding my job. However, I was aware of how short two weeks is to make any potentially big decision, so I tried searching for careers advice online.

I found a skills assessment tool from the government’s National Careers Service. It said it would take five to ten minutes to complete, so I thought it would be pretty thorough, but it couldn’t have taken me more than two minutes. The result? Some sort of architect’s assistant role was its best match. For which I have no training. The next site was more promising, I found a downloadable workbook entitled How To Change Career. At a quick glance, it looked like it asked the right sort of questions to get me thinking, so I printed it out. I’ll work through it tomorrow, or make a start at least.

When I spoke to the doctor yesterday, she gave me a phone number, to see about arranging some counselling on the NHS. I called and was told there’s a six month wait. That’s exactly what I knew would happen. They suggested I go private (££, not really possible) or try calling Mind, the mental health charity as they can sometimes offer counselling. Maybe I’ll try that tomorrow.

I googled “social anxiety brought on by the pandemic” and read a few articles. Interesting, but nothing constructive on how to overcome it short of mindfulness and yoga. I have ADHD, I can’t do mindfulness. I’ve tried before and I give up far too quickly.

With my dad’s chocolate-based diet findings fresh in my mind, I had carrot sticks and guacamole for lunch, and salmon fishcakes with broccoli for dinner. For the first time in months, I felt that I had the energy to do my Dancercise class again. I’d joined the class in August last year and dropped out after my gran died in January. I thought I just needed a couple of weeks to get my mojo back but I realise now that it never came back. I used to love that class and look forward to it. Since stopping I’ve lost the fitness it had given me, and gained back all the weight I lost. I sent the instructor a message saying I’d be joining the class tonight. She was thrilled.

Willow went up to her room and phoned her friends while I did my dancing. Well, I say dancing, it was more shuffling about, trying to keep up, stopping for multiple drinks of water, changing my clothes halfway through as I was unbearably hot and I remembered I had some shorts. Thank goodness for Zoom, I was just in my sports bra and shorts by the end. There’s no way I’d survive an in-person class without being half naked. But I made it through the whole hour and I felt so good for it.

The instructor, Louise, stayed behind for a chat with me afterwards. We spent a good twenty minutes having a catch up and it was so nice to talk to a friendly face. When my gran died, she sent me a card and a huge box of chocolates. None of my friends sent a card. I barely knew Louise but she was the kindest person at that time. Maybe people don’t generally send cards any more, but my best friends knew how close I’ve always been to my gran. Anyway, in the past now.

So, I’ve eaten well and I’ve exercised. Both a bit of a surprise, given that I’m meant to be too ill to work. Who knows what I might achieve tomorrow! The house needs cleaning, that would be a good start.

Willow asked me today what’s happening on her birthday. It’s a Friday and her weekend to stay with her dad. She was disappointed and said she’d rather be at home. I felt a tiny bit smug about this, that she chose me over him, but I suggested he still comes down on the Friday as normal but just takes her out for dinner and brings her back afterwards, instead of taking her to his place. That way he still gets to spend time with her on her birthday. She seemed content with this as a solution, but I didn’t want her to rush into it so I said we’ll think about it again tomorrow. I want her to tell Glen, as he’ll only get nasty if it comes from me. He can’t be mad at her for the way she wants to spend her birthday. Maybe he can have her the weekend before as a swap.

There’s an adventure golf place she used to like before the pandemic, it will be open from Monday when the restrictions ease again. I asked if she’d like to go on the Saturday, and invite a friend or two. She said she’d like that, but just herself and me, no friends. I wondered why but didn’t question her. I’ll book it tomorrow if she’s still keen.

Monday, 10th May

I’ve got myself signed off work for two weeks. I couldn’t take it any more – dreading starting work each day, the pressure on me to go back to the office, my not really understanding why I don’t want to go back and beating myself up about being a problem, my loss of confidence in my abilities, the general vibe in my “team” if you can even still call us that, the looming annual review follow-up call with my department director… Combined with the crippling fear of losing this job and making a huge mistake.

I had an hour’s video meeting with my boss and Des at lunchtime just discussing a work issue and afterwards my brain had turned to mush, I couldn’t face doing any more work. What’s happened to me? Why have I become so incapable? Why have I convinced myself that I hate my job, the best and most suitable job I’ve ever had? Why do I search online for jobs all the time? If I don’t have this job, then what? Disability benefits for the rest of my life? Am I actually disabled? That’s not how I imagined my future but I just can’t seem to stay in a job without having some sort of “episode”.

I’ve had a form to fill in at home for over a month and just can’t make myself do it, no matter how much I want to and know it needs to be done. It’s something to do with my pension and I don’t fully understand. I’d finally emailed the pension company for help about a week ago and they told me what I needed to do so that it made sense. They sent an email today asking if I’d done it. I replied honestly, saying that I’m autistic and not good with forms and I’m really sorry for being so rubbish. They replied saying they’d fill it in for me as much as possible and include a return envelope for me to post it back. I was so grateful for their kindness and felt so ashamed at my inability to do something so basic. The tears started.

As I was driving to collect Willow, I burst into tears again. This has been happening a lot recently. The other day a song came on and I started blubbing out of nowhere. I didn’t even think it was a significant song. Is it general anxiety about the world opening back up again, that I’ve forgotten how to be normal? Is it worry about my dad? My brother? Stress caused by my stupid ex-husband? Grief from losing my gran? Constant all-the-emotions about Willow? Lack of sleep thanks to Domino waking me up all the time? The bloody neighbours who are like a herd of elephants, and their screaming? Not having any close friends nearby? My cheek has developed a twitch.

I called the doctor as soon as I got to the school car park. I was ten minutes early so there was time. I told the receptionist I’d like to request to be signed off work, then started sobbing again. She said there were no appointments today and I’d need to call back in the morning. I started hyperventilating and getting hysterical, I simply couldn’t face not getting this sorted now. She could tell how distressed I was and managed to arrange for a doctor to call me back later.

When the doctor rang about an hour later, Willow was playing games on her phone so I went upstairs and shut myself in my room. It was the lovely lady doctor I’d seen in the past and I was so delighted that it was her that I started crying again. I explained how I was feeling regarding work, how I’ve developed some sort of social anxiety due to the pandemic, how I’m scared for my future if I leave my job, etc. She has such a kind voice. I knew she would help me. She gave me the number of a free counselling service and told me to call them tomorrow. She wants me to use this time to think very carefully about what I really want to happen with my job, my career, and she will review me again in two weeks.

I tried to make my face look like I hadn’t been crying and went back downstairs. I felt much calmer, and even a little more able to function. This then made me feel guilty. Did I really need time off work? Was I just making a drama out of nothing, when I should just buck up, quit moaning and get on with it? What will they think of me at work?

My brain is still pretty mushy and I’ve got some serious thinking to do over the next couple of weeks. I’m not going to tell my mum about this as she’ll only worry. It’s my problem. Maybe this counselling service will be able to help with some advice. Right now, I really don’t know what to do.

Sunday, 9th May

I’ve spent most of the weekend binge-watching Line Of Duty. I finished all of the first three seasons. I don’t want to know how many hours that is. I’ve always dreaded witnessing a crime as my memory is so poor I’d probably incriminate myself.

“What did you have for dinner last night Ms Briar?”

“Um, I can’t remember. Probably chips?”

“Wrong! It was toast. We found evidence of crumbs on your sofa. You’re GUILTY!”

Hmm hopefully not too likely.

I picked up my brother yesterday morning to take him to the van hire place so he could help my dad move house. I wasn’t sure how things would be between us but he was his usual self as if nothing had happened. When he got into my car, he took up so much space I was shocked. I shouldn’t have been, I know he’s obese, but being in a confined space seemed to magnify it. He smelled too, general b.o. and deodorant to try to mask it. I had to open my window. He spent the journey moaning about work and about dad, then I dropped him off and went home.

My mum called. “What’s going on? Aren’t you going to help Jason today?”

“I already did, I took him to the van hire.”

“Oh, ok. Good. He called me but I was in the shower, and now he’s not answering. What did he want?”

How should I know? “Probably driving, I’m sure he’ll call back if it’s important.”

Mum called me back half an hour later. “He’s crashed the van into a parked car because he was trying to park it in a tight space and your dad didn’t help. The car taillight’s smashed and there’s a small dent in the van. And he said your dad hasn’t packed a thing and the place is filthy and smelly with rubbish everywhere. There’s a half eaten chocolate cake, boxes of chocolate breakfast cereals, chocolate bar wrappers and bottles of lemonade. Brilliant diet for a diabetic! I don’t know what to do Jules, what should we do?”

Nothing we can do, Jason will have to deal with the van later and in the meantime, get packing and throwing out the rubbish. My aunt and uncle were due to arrive later with some furniture for him so they could help Jason. It would be pointless if I showed up too.

“Oh god, he’s just texted to say your dad’s being sick.”

I’m not surprised. “If he’s that ill, he should probably go to hospital. Sounds like he’s in a right state.”

“Ok, I’ll tell Jason to phone a doctor.”

I’d arranged to meet up with Anjali to walk her dog round the park, but I thought I’d better cancel in case I had to go to the hospital or goodness knows what. She was fine about it, and said the weather’s bad anyway and we’ll do it another time.

Jason called me around 5pm. They’d got to the new flat, my aunt had been and gone, my uncle was still there. They’d assembled some basic furniture, he was just having a break before unloading the rest of the van. He complained that he hadn’t eaten all day. He often says this. I don’t know how he gets to be the size he is if he doesn’t eat. Maybe he’ll have a massive McDonald’s on the way home. He took the opportunity to have another moan, repeating what I’d heard from my mum about the state of dad’s room, and then moaning about his job again. I couldn’t get a word in but I was quite pleased about that as I didn’t really have anything to say to him. Line Of Duty was an excellent distraction from having to think about all this.

Today I did a load of washing but other than that I was glued to the telly. Why not! At 5pm the front door opened and it was Willow. Glen had brought her home two hours early. I hugged Willow and told her I was pleased to see her, and then I shouldn’t have said anything but I told Glen it was meant to be 7pm. He said it had been 5pm the last few times. Wrong, that was a one-off and he’d texted to let me know they’d be early. I said that next time it’s 7pm. As he left, I texted him a screenshot of our shared calendar, clearly showing 7pm drop off time.

In the meantime, Willow had sat down on the sofa and curled up facing the wall. I’d upset her. I’d made a mistake, I couldn’t help opening my big mouth. He replied to my text asking why I’m such an angry bitch. I said it’s because he behaves like this. Poor Willow. She shouldn’t have to see her parents arguing. It took a few minutes of gentle coaxing for her to turn round. I felt terrible. He pulls a stunt and then I’m the bad guy. I was thrilled to see her but so mad at him. I should’ve kept it hidden.

She perked up and showed me a game on her phone that she’d been playing over the weekend. I stuck a pizza in the oven for her, there wasn’t anything for me to have as we’ve run out of food. I wasn’t really hungry so it didn’t matter. We watched a programme we both like, then she had a bath and went to bed. I didn’t hear from Jason today so I don’t know if he got into trouble for damaging the van. I thought of texting him but decided to stay out of it. Last thing I want is another rant down the phone. Fingers crossed the week ahead will be a peaceful one.

Friday, 7th May

It was a beautiful sunny day and I felt like I was flying as I drove to work with my sunglasses on and Seal from 1994 blaring out of the car stereo. The freedom of playing loud music is incredible.

I got myself set up in the little office and had my hour-long video call with Des, where he mainly repeated what he’d said last week and then deviated to tell me about a video he’d seen on YouTube of cats getting a brazilian. With a razor of course, not wax. That would be ridiculous.

My boss came in for a “chat”. She wanted to know how I am, in general. I didn’t feel prepared for this, I hadn’t done the research. How am I, really? How do I quantify this? I’m alive and I’m at work, I had a shower and breakfast, so does that mean I’m ok? Or does she want to know that I have developed massive social anxiety and have lost any sort of social skills I might have had before the pandemic? That I’m still upset about what happened with my brother? That my uncle died yesterday? That it’s Adam’s birthday and I’m devastated we’re not still together? That I’m having an existential crisis??

I managed to avoid saying “I’m fine” and instead told her I’m on the waiting list for counselling and that it will probably need to take place during work time. She wants me to come back to work but I don’t want to. Not until things can be back to the way they were. It’s too much if we can’t be in the same room and all these other rules. I don’t want to be told off for accidentally standing too close to someone.

After school I took Willow for Friday Treat at the ice cream parlour and bought her some new clothes. Black of course, to go with her new black hair. She put them on when we got home and she looked amazing, so grown up. I felt really proud of my beautiful girl.

Her dad arrived early and she was still getting changed. I wanted to ask him about the accident, especially as he looked completely fine (apart from his dress sense, that woman of his has clearly inflicted her chavvy style on him).

“So, what happened then?”

Long pause.

“Stuff.”

Long pause.

Unbelievable! He clearly wasn’t going to talk to me so I told him he could wait outside and I shut the door. I don’t understand why he has to be so rude to me. We can’t even have a conversation? I know I was rude back, to shut the door on him, but I was pissed off. I felt guilty for ages after that. Not that he didn’t deserve it, but I wouldn’t want Willow to find out I’d behaved that way. If he’s being a twat, it doesn’t mean I need to be too. Sigh.

After they left, I whacked on some loud music and had a little dance round the kitchen. I cracked open a tub of ice cream and decided to start watching Line Of Duty from the very beginning, as I’d only seen series 5 and 6. I’d watched the first episode and was just getting into the second when my dad called. I didn’t answer so he left a voicemail saying he urgently needed my help. I felt bad so called him back. He’s moving house tomorrow and my brother has hired a van to transport all his things, but he needs me to take my brother to pick up the van as there’s nowhere he could leave his car. Oh. I still haven’t seen or spoken to my brother and was really not keen to do this, but in the end I agreed. Maybe it will be good to break the deadlock.

An hour later, I finally managed to get him off the phone. It was pretty late now and I just wanted to finish the episode and go to bed. Anjali texted asking if I’d like to meet up tomorrow. I was so pleased as I’d been meaning to contact her but instinctively she’d had the same idea as me. That’s a good sign. I often worry with friendships that they can become one-sided and I get sucked into thinking “if I don’t text, will they?” I was worried I’d have nothing to do this weekend but now I have plans. This feels good.

Thursday, 6th May

I’ve just seen a tweet by my brother announcing that my favourite great uncle has died. Is this how I have to find out? Why didn’t my mum tell me? Why tell Jason and not me? I can’t get my head around it and feel quite hurt.

It’s not been a good year for that generation of my mum’s family. First my beloved gran died in January, then gran’s sister-in-law very soon after, and now her brother. They were all in their eighties and nineties but it’s still a shock when it happens. My gran was one of seven children and now there are only three left. I never see them as they all live in Denmark, gran came to England after the war in the late 1940s and settled here, but mum is close with one of her cousins so I get to hear the family news from her. Usually.

One nonagenarian who is doing well is Edith from my art club. I had an email this afternoon from one of the members to organise a meet-up in July and somebody replied asking if anyone knew how Edith is. I’ve thought about her a lot during the pandemic, wondering if she was still alive but too afraid to ask in case the answer was no. Lucy sent us a photo of Edith sitting in her garden, big smile as usual, taken last month in the sunshine. What a relief. I’ve known her since before Willow was born and I’d have to describe her as formidable, as well as kind, generous and extremely well-loved.

In other news, I dyed Willow’s hair black after school today. It actually looks really good as her hair was fairly deep brown to start with. She’s pleased with it and looking forward to showing it off to her friends tomorrow.

It’s Adam’s birthday tomorrow. He’ll be 42 so I sent him a box set of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy books. Facebook memories showed me that three years ago we were on a minibreak in Oxford together, and two years ago we were in Paris for his 40th. Just the two of us, even though he’d dumped me five months before, he said that was what he wanted to do. Before we split up, I’d booked an incredible three-michelin-starred restaurant for his birthday, and he still wanted to go. I’m glad we did as it was the most incredible meal I’ve ever experienced. We were a couple again, just for those two days and it was bliss. But once we got back, it was all over again.

Last year he had a girlfriend that he wasn’t very into but she was a friend of his ex-wife. That’s pretty messed up. Then he was seeing a model who got herself pregnant without his consent. She actually stopped taking her pill. She miscarried after only a week or so, so I doubted it was even true but he said he saw the positive test. Obviously he dumped her for being a psycho, and as far as I know he’s been single since then, except for the two weeks in October when we got back together. He’s the last person I slept with. I wonder if it’s the same for him. I really need to get over him.

Had a nice chat with Sarah and Janet this evening in our “Besties” WhatsApp group. Sarah’s youngest will be two on Monday, and Willow will be 12 in a couple of weeks, so we remarked on how quickly they are growing up. Janet had the vaccine and was feeling rough, Sarah’s having it next week. I wish I was having it. Want to get it over with now. Really, I just want everyone to have it so things can go back to not being weird and scary. I wish they didn’t both live so far away.

I haven’t asked Anjali to meet up at the weekend because we can still only meet outdoors and the weather’s due to be terrible. Maybe I’ll paint. Haven’t done that for a while. I forget how therapeutic it can be. That sounds like a good plan.

Wednesday, 5th May

Today was a better day. Started off with an email from the school SENCO, replying to my message yesterday about Willow’s struggles with homework. She suggested Willow joins the homework club, which runs every day after school. Of course! This would be much better for her. She’s still in the mindset of working, keeping home separate for relaxing. We’ll try it out next week.

At lunchtime I went to the dentist and she was so impressed with the whitening of my teeth that she called a couple of colleagues in to have a look! It was so funny, like I’d won a prize or become a genius or something. Three dentists crowded round me, marvelling at how lovely and white my teeth are. I’ll take that as a win. To keep them white, I need to use the gel overnight once every two months. Then after a year I can cut down to every three months, then six months and it will stay at six months. If I don’t do these top-ups, I’d need to go through the whole procedure again in about six years time. I’m sure I can manage this.

I was a bit worried that they are now too white and people will stare and say things like “oh my god, what happened to your teeth?” or like that episode of Friends when Ross had his teeth bleached and they glowed in the dark. The dentist assured me that they look natural and will “settle down” over the next week or so. She seemed delighted. She’s actually lovely. I would love for her to be my friend. Maybe that sounds silly but she’s always so nice to me and asks how I’m doing, and how Willow’s doing. I feel like she’d be a fun person to go for a drink with.

My dad phoned this evening. I hadn’t spoken to him for a few months so thought I’d better answer the phone. My dad is a classic Aspergers case, but undiagnosed so he’s never had any help. He comes across as very intelligent and can talk about the ocean (his special interest) til the cows come home, but can’t look after himself properly, to the point where he had to spend several months in hospital a couple of years ago and now takes a cocktail of meds every day. After the hospital, he was put into a care home, where he stayed for about a year until they evicted him for being too annoying. Seriously.

He’s been living in hotels for the past six months or so, but he was calling to say that social services have found him a place to live and he’s hoping to move in at the weekend. He’ll be renting it from the council and it has a warden. Sounds good I think. Independent enough that he won’t bother anyone, but with help on hand if it’s required.

However, he doesn’t plan to settle there. “I don’t want to rent! It’s a total waste of money and I’ll have nothing to show for it. No, I’m looking for a shared ownership property. Then when I sell it in say ten years time, I’ll still have that equity.” Ten years? Dude, you’ve probably got three years to live at best. He’s so far removed from reality, he has no concept of how ill he is. Maybe that’s a blessing, at least he’s not preoccupied with death.

I usually dread his phone calls because it ends up being a rant about something being terrible (he wrote an angry letter to Sainsbury’s because they sent him money-off vouchers for a product he doesn’t buy), or a monologue about the latest discovery in the ocean (some centuries-old fossil was found and from it they learned that…..) at which point I totally zone out. But it was kept short today because I had to make dinner. There’s only so much I can take.

I texted my mum to fill her in. They’ve been separated nearly 20 years but she still cares about him in a feeling-sorry-for-him sort of way. She said she already knew about the house because my brother Jason had told her. When I mentioned his plans for shared ownership, she said he’s a complete nutcase. She’s right.

We have all tried to help him so much over the years. Mum arranged for his house to be cleared while he was in hospital so it could be sold. It was once our family home but he’d destroyed it. There was mould and rats and the ceiling was falling in. There was no way he could move back there but he didn’t think it would be a problem. Deluded. It must’ve been really hard for my mum. I still have a whole load of his stuff in my garage.

Text from Adam. “They caught the guy who stole my bike. He’s a drug addict trying to reform. What should I do?” I’d forgotten his bike got stolen, it was months ago. And he could easily afford to buy a new one, in fact, I’m sure he has already. I had no idea what to tell him so I asked if it was an expensive bike.

“£300.”

“Oh.”

“So pretty cheap.”

“Er, my bike was £30.”

“Hmm I guess I could be nice and ask for a cheaper replacement.”

“Dude, he’s a petty criminal and you’re a millionaire. I’d just drop it.”

Another one who’s deluded. He had some friends round for dinner this evening (forbidden due to lockdown but rules don’t apply to rich people) so then he started rambling on about oyster mushrooms and I switched off.

The weekend is approaching and Willow will be at her dad’s. I haven’t made any plans because I’ve forgotten how. Maybe I’ll see if Anjali’s free. It would be nice to see her again, since we’ve only actually met once. Other than that, I feel like I could quite happily sleep all weekend.

Tuesday, 4th May

I logged in to work this morning to find loads more emails than usual. I guess that’s due to the bank holiday. I opened Teams and waited for our morning meeting (yes, they were reinstated, groan). The meeting didn’t start. I tried to find out what was going on and discovered my boss has an out of office on, she’ll be back on Thursday. Nice of her to tell me! I wasn’t remotely in the mood for work and had to strongly fight the urge to bunk off and go back to bed, but that would’ve left my colleague holding the fort alone and I didn’t want to do that to him.

I called my mum. “Mum, I’m grumpy. I’ve got too many emails.”

“But you’re always complaining you don’t have enough work! Now there’s too much? Honestly, just answer them one by one. Or if you hate your job that much, quit!”

Yeah, because bills don’t exist.

I said I was just tired from spending the weekend cooped up at home with Willow and she said that was an awful thing to say. She doesn’t seem to understand how exhausting it is. I don’t mean that I don’t love her or want to be with her, but with both of us being neurodiverse in pretty different ways, it’s often frustrating and stressful. Little things she does wind me up. There are dramas any time I ask her to help around the house, even taking her plate to the kitchen. The house really needs hoovering and dusting but I can’t face it.

After school, I took Willow to Superdrug to buy hair dye. She had asked the teacher and they said it was ok as long as it was as natural-looking as possible, no hints of blue etc. They’ve suggested using semi-permanent and to do at the weekend to see how it looks, but she’ll be at her dad’s this weekend so she’ll have to wait a bit longer. It will be weird seeing her with black hair.

When we got home, she wanted to do her homework because a teacher had threatened her with detention if she doesn’t hand it in tomorrow. It was art and she had to write down ten facts about an artist I’d never heard of. We opened Google and she managed to write down the dates he was born and died, then she started rolling around on the floor with her legs in the air. That was the end of doing homework. I felt a bit calmer today and just said that if she can’t do it, she can’t do it. She asked me to email her head of year, who knows her quite well and understands her difficulties. I thought this was reasonable as I didn’t want her to get detention.

I’m looking forward to tomorrow because I’m going back to the dentist to finish off this teeth-whitening! Tonight is the last night of wearing those trays, thank god. My teeth have become very sensitive so I hope the dentist can help with that as they weren’t sensitive before. My gums stopped being sore after I made a conscious effort not to clench my jaw and grind my teeth in the night, but I’ve been making up for it during the day as I can’t seem to keep my jaw still. There’s an incredible amount of tension there.

I really need to learn to relax. My heart thumps pretty violently these days too, like it’s trying to get my attention. And I get a twitchy eyelid. Is this all just middle-age, or is it anxiety? The dentist appointment is in the middle of the day, so that gets me out of work for at least an hour.

Monday, 3rd May

I’ve gone a bit to the dark place. I’m going to say it – being a parent of an autistic child can be bloody hard sometimes.

Willow said she had some homework to do and got out her Chromebook. The school have given one to every pupil, at a cost of £300 each of course. I made Glen pay. First subject was “tech”, whatever that is. She will be designing a mirror, so the homework was to write a paragraph about the person she’s designing it for, their hobbies and interests, and how this could influence her design. Willow being Willow, she decided to design it for Domino, the cat. She’d written a few very brief points and showed me her work, as if it was finished.

I can’t get my head around it. Is this really all she’s capable of? I was very capable at school and always did my best, which was usually above average. Even in subjects I didn’t care for, I would still try because it was important to me to do well. I was in the top sets for everything. I can’t believe what I see when I look at what she produces. I wouldn’t dream of handing in something like that. Have times changed? Are expectations lower? Is it because of the pandemic? Is she simply not able to do better than this?

I’m sure she isn’t stupid, there is just some sort of barrier. She often claims not to understand the task, but I don’t think she’s actually thought about it properly. Maybe she can’t, due to ADHD or some reason like that. She’s easily overwhelmed by schoolwork, but I’m sure she gets herself worked up too easily and if she could only stop panicking, she’d realise that she could do it after all. Am I expecting too much of her?

She showed me her next task, which was to create a mood board for English. She’d made a start but become frustrated with it. I had a look and it was clear that she didn’t understand what a mood board is. I described it as best I could and showed her some examples on Google. She had tried to insert a video, which is why it wasn’t working, so I explained this and she got very upset, saying she can’t do it and started crying. I felt so useless. I had tried to help her and it hadn’t worked. My child was upset and I didn’t know how to make it better. We shut the Chromebook and watched TV.

Around 6pm, she asked what to do about the outstanding homework. I honestly didn’t know. I couldn’t deal with her getting upset again, and my “helping” had only made things worse. I started to feel stressed and took myself up to my room. I needed a break. We’d been by each other’s side for three days solid and it was too much.

I started scrolling through Facebook and idly found my way to Glen’s page. We’re not Facebook friends any more, but he’s a huge model railway enthusiast, so he has a public page devoted to that. When we were together, he had an enormous set-up in the garage and he’d spend all his time in there, playing with his trains. He spent an absolute fortune on it, I remember once when we were first married, getting really mad at him after discovering how much he’d spent on his hobby that month while I had been umming and ahhing over whether I could afford to buy a jumper. Anyway, I’m very glad that it’s someone else’s problem now.

He had written on his Facebook page that he’d been in a car accident on Tuesday, written off the car, cracked a few ribs, and felt lucky to be alive. I stared at my phone. Did Willow know about this? She hadn’t said anything. Maybe he hadn’t told her. I didn’t want to ask in case she didn’t know and then I’d upset her (again). If things were better between us, I’d text him to ask if he’s ok, but then he’d know I’d been looking at his page. I don’t know what made me look at it today, I can’t even remember the last time. Maybe some sort of sixth sense.

I hadn’t heard much from Adam this weekend but he texted me at that moment saying something about being skint. It really narks me when he says stuff like this. He’s a bloody millionaire for god’s sake. I asked why and he said something about aggressive savings and investments. Poor diddums. It occurred to me that if Glen died, I wouldn’t get my maintenance payments any more. This would be a disaster. I mean, it would also be a disaster for Willow to lose her dad, but I wouldn’t be able to afford to live. I told Adam about the car crash. After saying gosh, that’s terrible, he then told me that if Glen did die, which of course is highly unlikely, he could “afford” to pay me £3,000 a year “for all the help you’ve given me over the years”. Jesus Fucking Christ. It’s called being a friend, arsehole. You don’t pay people to be your friend. I was his girlfriend for 14 months and then we stayed friends. What is wrong with him. I swore at him and switched my phone off. I never switch my phone off, that’s how mad I was. Maybe I have PMT. It’s hard to tell as I’m on a continuous pill, but my skin looked like crap after the shower this morning.

I really wonder what the point of it all is. I don’t know how to help my child when she gets upset. My friend thinks he should pay me for friendship. I’m still not speaking to my brother. I hate my job. Yep, I’ve definitely reached the dark place. I don’t think I’m particularly good at this thing called life. I’m nearly 40 and it’s hard to think of anything to feel positive about. Even my TV shows have finished – Line of Duty last night, and we got to the end of Ugly Betty, so I don’t have those to look forward to any more. I guess I really do need that counselling. Hope they can fit me in soon. I really don’t like feeling like this.

Sunday, 2nd May

The neighbours are so loud I can’t hear myself think. It seems to be one person having a blazing tirade. It’s been going on for at least half an hour. Willow came downstairs because of it. We had a listen for a bit but couldn’t make out what they were saying, or even if it was in English. The tone was pretty clear though.

They are pretty terrible neighbours, always making noise and often drilling at random times of day, plus they have a young child (at least one?) who does a lot of screaming. Not like a baby crying, like actual screaming. And there’s the evangelical singing and bad keyboard playing, although I haven’t heard that for a few weeks now. It could be worse though, my poor uni friends Sarah and Greg lived next door to a drug dealer until last year.

The last two days have been total non-events. I’m the sort of person who leaves things to the last minute, so with a three-day weekend, that means nothing gets done at all on the first day, and very little the second day. We did at least get dressed today. My trip to the supermarket would’ve been somewhat different if I hadn’t. Willow did sort out her room, and I managed a load of washing. But other than that, we’ve spent a shameful amount of time on our phones.

Willow’s nana, my ex-mother-in-law texted this morning asking what her favourite colour is. She’d found a backpack that she wanted to get for Willow’s birthday and it comes in a variety of colours. I wondered how to tell her to please not get a backpack – she already has one for school and a spare and it would just end up on top of her wardrobe. I suggested clothes might be better. She video-called Willow. “Mummy says you’d like some clothes for your birthday.” Willow pulls a face, then turns the camera on me. We’re in my room, I’m still in bed. I quickly hide under the covers. Bloody hell. I mumble “it was just an idea, maybe ask her what she’d like” and Willow says she’d like some Lego. Good, fine, whatever. I remember I’ve made an Amazon wishlist for her, so I send this to the ex-mother-in-law. She replied two hours later: “done. Got the Among Us hoodie, size 13-14 years”. Not the Lego then. I hope it won’t be a tent on her.

We had an incident similar to the robot dog today. Willow told me about a special light bulb she had at her dad’s house – until it broke – that changed colours and had a night mode, etc. She said she’d like to have it here and I said yes, that would be fine. She texted her dad to ask which one it was and he sent a screenshot in reply. The reviews gave it 3/5 stars, plus she’d told me it had broken, so I found one in Argos and showed her the details. To me, it seemed the same but better, but she didn’t want it. It wasn’t the right one. I decided to get it anyway, sure that she’d like it once it was in place. Well, clearly I am evil as she stormed off in a huff when I brought it back from the shop. I installed it and synched it to her Alexa but she was angry and said she didn’t want it. Great. Why do I bother.

I bought a chicken to roast and some potatoes, so that will give me something to do tomorrow. I feel like I should’ve insisted we leave the house. The weather’s due to be rainy tomorrow so we’ve missed the boat really. It’s so hard when Willow shows absolutely no willing and I didn’t have any ideas of where we could go. I guess we could’ve just gone for a walk into town and back, but to be honest, neither of us could be bothered.

If things were different, I probably would’ve called my brother and we could’ve met up with him. I still haven’t spoken to him, it’s been over a month now. It plays on my mind, especially as my mum pointed out the other day “he might drop dead any day and then you’d regret it”. I mean, I don’t think that’s likely – he is very obese but is that a cause to drop dead at 37? – but I’m not sure how much longer this silence should go on for. I miss him, but I am afraid of him a bit now. It has been nice not having the drama of his temperament in my life. I don’t really know what to do.

This evening, Willow asked if she can dye her hair black. My hair has been a lot of colours – purple, pink, red, orange, etc – but never black. She said there’s a character in a book she’s reading who’s a goth, and she’s turned her avatar on her phone into a goth. I’m not really sure what to make of this, she is only 11? Although I’m sure I started colouring my hair at age nine. Wella Colour Mousse, I remember it was red. I don’t want to stop her experimenting or expressing herself, but I know that dyed hair isn’t allowed at her school. When I told her this, she mentioned a boy in her class who has dyed his hair black. I might email the teacher, although I really don’t want to pester him, I’m sure he’s got more important things to do, but I don’t want her to get suspended or anything. I think I’ll tell her to ask him herself on Tuesday.

It seems to have finally gone quiet next door. Time to sleep.

Friday, 30th April

My first day back at work today was fine. Not good or bad, just fine. I didn’t get emotional at all. I arrived early, as I’d expected it to take a while to get my computer set up as I was sitting in a little office on my own, rather than at my usual desk. Thank goodness for the IT guy. No great reunion with my boss, she seemed too busy to spend any time catching up with me. Instead, I had an hour’s video call with Des, who filled me in on the work he wanted me to do, and then went off on a tangent about the lack of public transport in Manila. He’s a bit random sometimes.

I quietly got on with my work without seeing anybody. I started to feel like I might as well be at home. I was a bit more focussed but probably only because I had a new task. The last hour passed very slowly. I wondered if my boss would pop her head round the door to see how I was getting on, but no. When it was time to leave, I said goodbye as I passed her office and she dropped in a comment that maybe I’d like to be coming back fully now. I didn’t know what to say as she caught me off guard on my way out. I replied “one step at a time” and left the building.

I don’t want to be back in the office every day until things are the way they were before. Splitting us up into separate rooms is horrible. It’s 25 miles each way and I’d rather save the petrol money. I didn’t like the way she threw that at me as I was leaving. It bothered me all the rest of the day.

Now we have a three-day weekend. I’m most grateful for not having an alarm. Three days of lie-ins! Willow surprised me by saying she wants to use the opportunity to sort out her books. I’m thrilled, although I know it doesn’t mean that she’ll actually part with any of them, but it’s great that she wants to be more tidy and organised. I’d like to tidy the conservatory. There’s all sorts of stuff on the table that needs a home, a cardboard box of craft materials that been half eaten by Domino, some large shells that we collected from a beach trip which are on the floor, and various other junk.

I’m a bit concerned about the teeth whitening. My teeth are looking very white now and I still have five days to go. I don’t want them to be too white. Maybe it’s just because I’m not used to it but they do seem very white. They’ve become quite sensitive too. When I took Willow for Friday Treat at the ice cream parlour after school today, I couldn’t enjoy my blood-orange sorbet as much as usual. It’s made me wonder what it is I’m actually doing to my poor teeth. I hope it’s not damaging. It can’t be though, it’s all done through my dentist, not like I bought a kit off eBay.

Adam and Anjali both got the vaccine this week. I’m still too young, but hoping I’ll get it soon. Neither of them have had any ill effects from it, which is great as I know lots of people have felt really rough. I don’t mind waiting my turn but I’m sure the sooner I have it, the sooner my anxiety will start to ease.

Thursday, 29th April

It was Willow’s best friend’s birthday today. The daughter of my ex-best friend, Lizzie. She had a serious illness when she was younger and is fine now but gets lots of mouth ulcers as a legacy, so for her birthday, Willow asked me to buy her a piece of ginger root. I think that’s got to win a prize for the strangest birthday present ever. She’d read somewhere that chewing ginger root is good for mouth ulcers and wanted to help her friend. Bless her. We also got her some pink nail varnish, just so it wasn’t totally weird.

Janet texted me earlier. Her two-year-old had just thrown a poo at her. Ah, the joys of parenting. Pretty sure that never happened to me, but I remember when Willow was a baby, Glen had a t-shirt that said “Daddy Cool” and every time he wore it she’d throw up on him.

One of the things that came up when I met the counsellor yesterday was how I still have to do Willow’s bath and wash her hair. As I was explaining how she can’t do it herself, I found myself realising that she probably could if I wasn’t such a control freak. It’s me that’s stopping her. If she doesn’t cover every last hair in shampoo, or if it doesn’t look like she’s rinsed thoroughly enough, I freak out and butt in.

So for tonight’s bath (yay for a midweek bath!), I said to her “wash your hair now” and I left the room. She called me in to check she’d done the shampoo right, so I showed her the mirror to see for herself that she had indeed done it right. I directed her to rinse it off and check in the mirror that it was all out. Then I told her to do the conditioner and left her to it again. She called me back to check again but it was fine. Rinse and get out. Win!

Spurred on by this, once she was dry and in her pyjamas, I handed her the hairdryer and brush. She blow dried her own hair. This has never happened. There were moments when I wanted to interject “no! Not like that, do it like this,” but I bit my tongue. I realised she needs to make her own mistakes. What a lightbulb moment.

I felt sad and guilty for holding her back all this time, telling myself she wasn’t capable when really she was. It was my perfectionism, my insistance that she does everything my way, my constant interfering whenever she tried, that was the barrier. I wonder what other aspects of her life this is true for. My rigid notions of what she can and can’t achieve.

Im going into the office tomorrow for the first time in six months. When I went back in October after six months of furlough I burst into tears as soon as I arrived. Really hoping I don’t do that tomorrow. It’s going to be every Friday. I’m sure I can manage that. It’s an hour’s drive, which is one of the big reasons why I haven’t rushed to go back, but actually I quite enjoy the journey as I can listen to music or a podcast. I’m loving Rob Beckett and Josh Widdicombe’s “Lockdown Parenting Hell”. It’s hilarious and always makes me feel better about my parenting.

I hadn’t realised there’s a bank holiday this weekend. Willow will be with me and we don’t have any plans. I asked her if she’d like to arrange to meet a friend, or go somewhere, or do something. No answer. I told her she can’t spend the whole time playing games on her phone, she got quite defensive at that, as if of course that isn’t what she was planning to do. I’ll have to think of something. We can’t just stay indoors for three days. I’m so out of practice at leaving the house that I don’t have any ideas at all.

Wednesday, 28th April

I had a lovely day today with my mum. Everything was relaxed, she didn’t grill me about my brother, we got along really well. It was surprisingly nice to look round shops again, and particularly pleasing to find that I didn’t have the slightest inclination to buy anything. We even had Japanese food for lunch, which is my favourite and I’d been concerned we’d be skipping lunch as mum doesn’t usually eat between breakfast and evening dinner.

She did ask why I’m going to counselling and I said that it’s really to help with work stress, and that parenting Willow alone is hard so I could use some coping techniques, that sort of thing. I didn’t want her to worry that I was in a bad place, because really I’m not and life’s pretty good. She didn’t understand what my problem with work is, or why being furloughed for six months and then having a core part of my job taken away might have had an impact on my confidence. Oh well. In general she was fairly supportive and said that I can call her anytime if I have a problem. She usually says the wrong thing if I do call with a problem, but she means well.

We collected Willow from school and then, while I was cooking dinner, they got into cahoots about this robot dog. They had a look at it online and it had £20 off until the end of April, so they decided mum would buy it and Willow would pay her back. She donated half the cost as a birthday present. I’m not sure how much this has taught Willow about the value of saving up for something, I think it’s taught her more that granny is soft.

Mum complimented me on the dinner and said my house looked nice. I had really wanted her to come over as she hadn’t been to my house in ages, in fact I couldn’t remember the last time. I wanted to show her that I’m coping just fine and I’m not some sort of disaster that she probably imagines I am. Ok, the conservatory needs a good tidy but the living room and kitchen were good. I didn’t say I was perfect.

My visit to the counselling centre this morning went well too. The lady was really understanding and supportive when I explained all the reasons I want to start counselling. She began by asking how I felt about being there today and I said “optimistic”. I wasn’t coming from a position of crisis, desperate for help, as I have been in the past.

I started off explaining that I’ve recently discovered my neurodiversity and I’d like to better understand how this affects me, and learn to cope with my limitations. Then I told her about Willow, to which she replied that almost 12 is a very difficult age and she’s developing and changing at the same rate as a toddler learning to walk and talk. I don’t know when kids have particular developmental bursts, so this was reassuring as an explanation.

I went on to tell her that my gran had died a few months ago, and at this point I burst into tears. This surprised me, as I hadn’t realised how emotional I still am about it. I miss her enormously but she was 97 and had Alzheimer’s for the last couple of years, plus I had hardly been able to see her during the pandemic, so I had plenty of time to adjust to her not being present in my life, but I guess that’s not the same as her being gone.

Before the Alzheimer’s I used to visit her once a week and she would cook lunch for me, well into her nineties. She was fiercely independent, having been alone since my grandad died 25 years ago. We’d talk and watch Flog It, I’d do the sudoku in her weekly magazine. It was a haven of familiarity and comfort. I cherished those visits. She was the kindest, wisest person I ever knew. She never had a bad word to say about anyone, and she gave the best advice without ever being judgmental.

I finished the session feeling a fair bit more needy after all the optimism of my entrance, but I’m sure that if she can match me with a counsellor and find some availability, it will be beneficial. I hope work will be understanding if I end up having my sessions during working hours. I can’t exactly do them while Willow’s in the house.

Tuesday, 27th April

Willow cut her hair with the bathroom scissors. Sounds bad? It’s worse.

About six weeks ago, she cut herself a 1cm fringe. I have no idea what possessed her and was completely shocked. When I first noticed, she denied it. Then she said her hair was getting in her way. It looked ridiculous at the time but by now it had grown to about an inch long and was starting not to look so bad, almost like an intentional fringe. Now she’s shorn all of that off.

It looks like she’s been at it with a razor, there’s just stubble. Right at the front. I asked her why and she tried to claim it was because I’d said it looked silly. That was weeks ago! It was starting to look better! Now she’s reset it to zero and has to go through all of that growing-out again. I don’t think I got cross with her but I probably looked horrified. She went into her bedroom and slammed the door.

I texted my mum, who called me straight away. “Oh, I did that sort of thing when I was her age. She’s got a cool new haircut! Go tell her you like it.”

Why do I bother.

“She’s probably upset about something. What’s happened to upset her?”

Nothing? Being alive? She doesn’t talk to me so how should I know?

“She can’t express herself in words so she does this as a sort of self-harm. Why don’t you research self-harm.”

Sigh. All I wanted was for my mum to say that she understood this was difficult for me.

We’re having our day out together tomorrow. I spoke to her earlier today to discuss what time we were meeting and I mentioned I have this appointment at the counselling centre first, so then came the questions. Why? What’s wrong now? Oh dear, etc. I said we’d discuss it tomorrow but there’s nothing to worry about. Then she started about how I should contact my brother because “he might drop dead any minute and then you’d regret it”. I’ve gone from looking forward to this trip, to now dreading it. Great.

I took a sick day off work today because of this cold. I woke up still feeling rough and decided straight away, in the hope that I could rest and maybe shake it off in time to enjoy my day out tomorrow. It wasn’t easy to rest though because next door’s kid was screaming, but not having to focus on work did help.

I didn’t wear my teeth-whitening trays last night, not because I’d given up but to give my poor gums a break as they were so sore and painful. I’ve got them in now as I worked out that if I had dinner early, they could be in from 6pm til midnight without causing me too much bother. It’s tough finding a six-hour window when you’re not planning to eat or drink or be asleep but maybe this is it.

Text from Adam. I’d told him about Willow’s hair. “Oh, I think I did that too at her age”. Bearing in mind he’s my ex-boyfriend, not Willow’s dad, I do wonder how I end up surrounded by people like this. Or maybe it’s perfectly normal and I’m overreacting. Either way, I’m grateful to be starting counselling as I’ve got no idea how to cope with this child.

Monday, 26th April

I ate two dinners this evening. My own, and then Willow’s after she’d gone to bed. She hadn’t touched it. It was just a chicken kiev and beans, not like I’d tried to poison her with broccoli or anything, but she has decided she doesn’t like it, even though she did before. I can’t understand how she can bear to go to bed on an empty stomach. I couldn’t let a plate of good food go to waste.

She usually has pizza on a Monday. Not that we have a strict meal plan or anything, but I guess it has become a habit. She has pizza at least two or three times a week as it’s one of the only things she’ll actually eat. In fact, yesterday afternoon a notification pinged on my phone: “Siri suggestion: start a timer for 18 minutes”. God. How often must I say that.

I talk to Siri as if he was a real person, you know, with pleases and thank yous. His voice is set to Australian because, well, yum. It’s nice having a helpful man about the house. Shame he can’t put the bins out.

I watched an old film this evening. Gregory’s Girl. I’d seen an article about it the other day as it was released 40 years ago. The year I was born. I was curious to see what people were like then. Well, I’ve never seen such terrible hair. And obviously it seemed extremely dated, but there were lots of things about it that made me feel a bit wistful. Nobody had a phone. Nobody was glued to a screen, texting, taking selfies. People talked to each other, spent time outside, played the drums or the piano. Danced under a tree. My childhood was like that, always outdoors, but Willow’s has been completely different and not for the better. People had more patience then. Attention spans are so short nowadays.

I spoke to someone from the local counselling centre today. I’d emailed because they offer a decent price for people on a low income, and I’ve been there before. The lady chatted to me for about half an hour, establishing what I’d like to get out of counselling, my expectations etc. I mentioned about discovering that I have ADHD and probably autism and how I’d like to learn how to use this new understanding to live my life more effectively, to avoid burnout and meltdowns, that sort of thing. To be able to tackle tasks I don’t want to do, and to see projects through to completion. To accept that it’s ok to say no to things if they will be too stressful, and that this doesn’t make me stupid or a failure or useless.

Their low-cost sessions are with trainees but the lady was really understanding and totally got where I was coming from, and said she’d try to match me with someone in their final year, so they’ve got some experience under their belt. She also said that nowadays, they ask how you’d like the sessions to go, whether you just need someone to talk to or if you want more constructive feedback, whatever you feel would be most effective. This is great! So, I’ve got an initial assessment booked in for Wednesday morning.

I don’t think it hurts to ask for help. There’s always something to learn from getting another person’s perspective. I think the reason counselling didn’t really work for me in the past was because I was expecting them to “cure” me of my depression, which of course was probably caused by undiagnosed neurodiversity. This time it’s different – I don’t need to be cured or fixed, I just want to learn how to cope better.

I want to give up on the teeth whitening though. My gums are so sore in the morning because I clamp my jaws tightly together during the night. I hadn’t realised that I do this. I spoke to my dentist today and she said that by clenching and grinding, I’m pushing the gel out onto my gums, which it’s not designed for. She suggested I wear the trays during the day instead, but that would mean six hours without eating or drinking. I’m not sure which is worse. I really don’t want to put them in tonight but I’ve spent a lot of money on this and I’d be an idiot not to see it through. Nine days to go. Come on Jules, you can do this.

Sunday, 25th April

I can’t believe how glorious the weather has been lately. Another beautiful sunny day today. I met up with a couple of friends for a walk round the lakes this morning, and while it wasn’t warm, we all needed sunglasses.

I bought a padded chair for the garden, and after a spot of inspired weeding, I spent a blissful two hours reclining in the sun this afternoon. By this time it was much warmer so I’d put on a pair of shorts and a strapless top. With Air’s “Moon Safari” album wafting gently from my phone’s speaker, it really felt like I was in Ibiza or somewhere, despite the sounds of the neighbours trying to construct something just the other side of the fence.

It was so relaxing, I could’ve stayed much longer but was worried I was starting to burn so came indoors and began reading “The Thursday Murder Club” by Richard Osman. I’d bought it weeks ago but hadn’t got round to starting it. I tend to do that with books. I was 19 chapters in when Willow arrived home from her dad’s. And there ended my relaxing day.

“Where are your glasses?”

“Oh, I didn’t have them.”

“What, all weekend?!” Sigh. “Well, where are they?”

“Dunno.”

Cue searching the house from top to bottom for her missing glasses. I eventually found them hanging from a shelf in her bedroom. Hard to tell if she really forgot them or if she left them behind deliberately. She hates wearing glasses and is very careless with them. I’ll have to somehow get her a spare pair to keep at her dad’s house in case she does this again.

“I’m hungry.”

It’s 7:15pm by this point.

“You’ve had dinner at Daddy’s. What did you have?”

“Dunno.”

“Willow, tell me what you had for dinner.”

“I dunno, crisps and a sandwich.”

Oh god. Is that what he feeds her? “Ok, so did you have a proper lunch? A cooked meal?”

“Dunno. Can’t remember.”

Sigh.

“Have you had a wash this weekend? A shower?”

“Dunno.”

“So do you need a bath now?”

“No.”

I’m exhausted from this “conversation” and frankly glad that she doesn’t want a bath as I no longer have the energy. We both read in silence for half an hour until I decide it’s time she got ready for bed. I’m reading Alice In Wonderland to her as our bedtime story. I’ve seen the Disney film but never read the book. My god it’s strange. I realise she did need a bath and feel like a bad parent.

I’ve got a cold coming on and I’m gutted, I’ve managed not to catch one for I think over a year. My nose is blocked and runny and I’m dreading trying to sleep tonight, especially with the teeth trays in. My teeth seem whiter already, can’t I stop now? I still have ten nights to go. I know it was my choice to do this but I can’t wait for it to be over. I’m so tempted to tell work I’m ill and stay in bed all day but I’m sure I can manage to operate a laptop with a stuffy nose. It would be different if I was in the office. No one wants to work next to someone sniffing constantly or blowing their nose. I hope I’m better for Wednesday when mum comes down.

Saturday, 24th April

Today was such a wonderful day. For the first time this year, I went to my art club.

For over ten years now I’ve been part of a small group of artists who meet once a month to paint together. Painting can be such a solitary activity that it’s lovely to get together with others to do the thing we love, especially as none of us do it professionally. We always meet at Stephen’s house because it’s the biggest, each with our own gear, and we either paint whatever we fancy or sometimes we pick a theme. It’s a very relaxed, friendly group so it’s great to look at each other’s work and share feedback. Most of the group are quite a lot older than I am, but age has never been a barrier for me.

The last time we’d been together was sometime last year, in Stephen’s garden, when restrictions had allowed it. The time before that was March 2020, just before the first lockdown. With groups of up to six now permitted to meet outside again, I suggested it to Stephen the other day and he invited the others. In the end there were only three of us but my goodness it was worth it.

I did pretty much nothing all the rest of the day so as not to tire myself out, just willing it to be 4 o’clock already. The sense of anticipation while I gathered my kit was thrilling. It was such a beautiful day again, so I drove over to Stephen’s with the roof down. When I arrived, the joy of being back at art club made me want to run at Stephen and hug him, although of course I couldn’t.

David was there too, he’s the same age as Stephen (that’s about 20 years older than me) and they’ve known each other since they were teenagers. He’s a classic Aspergers case with some seriously encyclopaedic knowledge. Today he monologued about the Roman Empire, the Battle of Jutland, and Russian YouTube. I didn’t have a clue what he was on about but it was warm and familiar to hear him talk and I smiled and tried to make the right noises.

Stephen asked about homeschooling and when I said Willow had been in school the whole time because she’s autistic, David became really interested and started asking about her characteristics etc. I wonder if he knows that he is autistic. I didn’t like to say, just in case he wasn’t aware. I’m almost certain he won’t have been diagnosed as I don’t think that was really done when he was young, although it’s so obvious to anyone who knows about autism.

We finished our paintings and then stood around talking for half an hour. Stephen’s wife joined us, asking how Willow’s getting on at school and whether I’ve had the vaccine yet. Of course they’ve all had it but she seemed surprised that I’m still too young to be eligible. That’s one benefit of hanging out with older people, they make me feel very youthful!

It’s turning into a very sociable weekend as tomorrow I’m meeting up with two more friends for a walk round the lakes. I think it’s been more than a year since I saw either of them. It’s funny, it sounds like I don’t have any shortage of company if I want it, but last night I felt so lonely that I installed Tinder.

Willow’s dad picked her up for the weekend at 5pm and I had an empty evening ahead of me. I’d asked Sofia, my neighbour, if she fancied going for a drink but she blew me off, and Anjali had said she didn’t feel comfortable going out yet. I was suddenly craving an evening in a pub garden, with literally anyone who would talk to me, and perhaps make me laugh. Tinder was a dead end, unsurprisingly, but at least it kept me occupied, swiping through all the profiles. I’d say maybe 3/100 appealed to me, and then they have to like you back before you can start chatting, which of course didn’t happen. I binge watched Money Heist on Netflix and went to bed. This evening was the same, but I didn’t feel lonely any more. I won’t uninstall Tinder just yet though. You never know…

Thursday, 22nd April

I had my first ever Stress Shower today. Normally I hate the shower, it’s a pain in the bum that has to be endured every other day. It’s not that I don’t like being clean, of course I do. I just really don’t like getting wet. And then having to get dry again is such a faff. And it means getting up 20 minutes earlier when I’d much rather be in bed. So when I could feel a meltdown coming on, I surprised myself by getting straight into the shower.

Work had been slow so Adam was trying to teach me how to do something interesting. I had a go on my phone and it wasn’t working, so I tried on the laptop and we started making progress but it was so complicated and after a while I couldn’t take any more. Remote learning is hard, I see now why so many kids have been struggling.

I usually work in the living room but it was dark and cold in there so I moved into the conservatory. Domino was already there, clearly he’s more intelligent than me as it was lovely and warm. It’s difficult to work in the conservatory as it’s too bright but it was such a beautiful day and work was quiet so it was a good move. However, I was in a thick jumper and even after I took it off I was still a bit gross. That’s why the shower suddenly appealed.

I apologised to Adam. He must think I’m such an idiot, although he said it was fine. Oh well.

I spoke to my mum today, she asked if I could take a day off work next week so we could go on a shopping trip together. She lives two hours away so this was a lovely surprise that she wants to come down and spend time with me. This never happens! It will be really lovely and I can’t wait. And shopping! Even if we don’t buy anything, I can’t remember the last time I mooched round the shops. I miss her not living nearby any more.

This evening as I was getting ready for bed, I hit my thumb on a shelf in my wardrobe and caught the nail. It started bleeding quite a lot and Willow even came out of her room to see what had happened (I say “ow” a lot and she’s usually not bothered at all), so I went downstairs to get a plaster. I started to feel faint, as often happens with me and blood, so I lay on the kitchen floor. I was feeling a bit sick too but I’d just put my whitening trays in so really wanted to avoid that. I decided to stagger up to bed and lie down there. I still felt woozy so I called for Willow to bring me a wet flannel for my forehead. I think she was a bit concerned, but the flannel really helped and I was soon feeling better.

I’m so clumsy, particularly lately. I noticed earlier that I’ve got a huge bruise on my foot from when I dropped my phone on it. I’m always bumping into things. Maybe I need to drink more water, or get more sleep. Or maybe it’s just who I am.

It was weird sleeping with the teeth trays in last night. There was a definite drool situation. Coincidentally, in the episode of Ugly Betty that we watched today, Betty finally got her braces off. I now have some small idea of how it must’ve been for her (ok, I know it’s fiction but still). I’ve never needed any dental work at all, only one filling when I was 30.

Willow will need braces but the dentist says she’s not ready yet. Her teeth are all over the place. Clearly she gets that from her father, he apparently had a ton of dental work when he was a kid. I tried to get him to at least go for a check up when we were first together but he refused, and when I mentioned it to his mum she said “leave him be, he doesn’t like the dentist”. Unbelievable! Since we split he’s had to spend thousands of pounds at the dentist, haha! Prevention is always better than cure. Just wish I could learn to prevent clumsiness and meltdowns…

Wednesday, 21st April

“Misfit, misfit, breakdance on the street…”

Ok, it turns out those are misheard lyrics but I prefer them. I don’t want to be a “freak that’s on the street”, but I love the idea of being cool enough to breakdance.

This song (by Curiosity Killed The Cat) is my current favourite song. It’s insanely funky and a song about being a misfit somehow speaks to me… I can’t get enough of it and keep playing it on repeat, especially in the car where I can have it really loud and dance and sing to myself. It’s incredibly liberating and stress-busting. I’ve also just discovered some early Level 42 and my goodness, it’s so funky that it’s almost painful to keep still when listening to it. I wonder if other people feel like that about music.

Adam is grumpy today. He put some money into a cryptocurrency recently and made $10,000. It kept going up and was at $20,000 yesterday. Insane, right? But today it plummeted and half of it was wiped out. He’s gutted at losing $10k but he’s trying to think of it as being still $10k better off than when he started. I can’t imagine what it must be like to be playing around with that kind of money. The emotional highs and lows.

He’s insistant on taking me out to dinner with his winnings, so he’s booked a posh restaurant for some time in July. He’s so sweet to me, although I don’t really understand him. I don’t fit in his world of rich bankers, I don’t have a PhD. I’m a single mum on benefits for goodness sake. Maybe I bring him back down to Earth. I hope he doesn’t see me as a charity project. Actually, he often tells me I saved his life by forcing him to go to rehab and then sticking by him, so I think he feels that he owes me, although even if that were true, he’s repaid me a hundred times over.

Once when we were a couple, he got drunk and put £20,000 in my bank account. I was furious and instantly transferred it back. He’s always trying to give me money and I say no. I don’t want his money; I want his company, his friendship. His love.

I think I counted that in the 14 months we were together, we had seven holidays, and he paid for all of them. My first time skiing (I was terrible and kept forgetting how to turn or stop), a week in New York, even Lapland with my mum and Willow to meet Father Christmas. It was wonderful of course and he was always outwardly so charming and gregarious, but underneath he was in a bad way, even after rehab he was obviously still hurting. I guess that’s why he broke up with me.

He never got over his marriage ending. I think for someone so successful, he took the “failure” extremely hard. Even now, more than three years later, he’s still a bit of mess, although much better than he was. It makes me sad because the reason I was drawn to him was that I could see through his issues, I could tell he was a good, kind person. I still think that. And maybe I thought that someone with problems of their own might be accepting of me with all my problems. I didn’t even know how wealthy he was for quite some time because it was irrelevant. I’d still love him if he worked in Tesco. Platonic love though now I suppose, as it has to be.

I went to the dentist today and collected a whitening kit. I have to wear it every night for two weeks, starting tonight. Maybe I’ll brave a Frownie while I’m at it. In a fortnight I’ll be a new woman! I’m doing this for myself, I have no one to impress. It feels good though. It’s like the way people do up their homes to sell them, why not do it up while you want to stay living there so you can enjoy it? I want to improve and take care of myself now, not just when there’s a man on the scene.

Ok, update. I have weird plastic trays in my mouth and a sticker on my head. My mouth feels weird and I have no faith at all in this Frownie patch. My tongue doesn’t know what to do with itself. I really hope I can sleep. God knows what I’ll look like in the morning.

Tuesday, 20th April

The one that contains some backstory!

I had my appraisal yesterday and it was fine. My boss and I talked openly and I’m hopeful there will be some positive outcomes from this. Things that haven’t been working well, or that have been causing stress, will be looked at now. I’m grateful.

Today we had a meeting of the whole company over Zoom. We do this once a quarter. Every department gets to speak briefly about what they’ve been up to since the last meeting. I’m not sure anyone finds it particularly interesting or relevant as all the departments are so different. For me it’s an excuse not to work for nearly two hours, although it turned out that being on camera meant I had to sit very still, which became pretty uncomfortable, and by the end I was starving.

There’s no food in the house and I need to go shopping AGAIN. I seem to be at the supermarket every other day. I had to order pizza tonight. If Willow would eat pasta then I could’ve made that but she won’t. No rice either. Or vegetables. It’s very difficult for me because I eat everything, except red meat. I really enjoy having a varied diet and I love vegetables. She takes after her father.

I remember when Glen and I first got together and I discovered he didn’t eat vegetables. At the time, I was fully vegetarian. I said it would be a problem but he didn’t think so. So I married Mr Steak-and-Chips.

There was one time that I wrote a list and sent him to do the shopping. He didn’t buy the aubergine because he didn’t know what one was. He didn’t buy mangetout or babycorn because he thought I’d written “mangetoutbabycorn”, as if that was one thing, and he didn’t know what that was either. He didn’t buy nectarines because he thought they were mandarins and the shop only had satsumas.

If I met him now, there’s no way I would choose him as a partner. But I was only 22 and I’d just come out of a five-year relationship that had broken my heart.

James was my first serious boyfriend. We got together at the end of lower sixth, when we were 17. I’d been desperately unhappy all through secondary school and was firmly in the losers gang. Changing schools for sixth form meant a chance to start over. That was the first time I made a conscious decision not to be myself any more, to start masking (not that I realised that was what it was). Being myself hadn’t worked out too well, so now I decided I wanted to be liked. It wasn’t as bad as I’d expected and I made some good friends, one of whom I’m still very close to.

James seemed so nice and sensible. We both liked art, we both had a brother called Jason, I thought these sorts of things were a good sign. This good guy wanted to be with me and I resolved not to screw it up.

We went to separate universities and everyone said it wouldn’t last, but that just made me determined it would. I can’t say this made them the happiest three years but hey, I’m stubborn. My friends were going out doing all the things you’re supposed to do at uni, while I shut myself in my room for fear of being unfaithful.

His degree was a year longer than mine so I moved up to live in a house share with him and two girls. When his degree was nearly over, we put down a deposit on a rental place of our own. A few days later, my housemate told me James had said to her he wanted to move back home to his mum. I thought she must have misunderstood so I asked him but he confirmed it. Said he didn’t love me any more. Just like that, no warning.

I had developed quite bad depression that year we lived together but was in total denial about it because I didn’t want to become my mother, who had been on antidepressants for 20 years. I remember feeling like a lead weight, I couldn’t get up from the sofa. I wanted to do my share of the chores but I wasn’t able to any more. To the others it must have looked like laziness. I guess I’m not surprised he fell out of love with me. At the time though, it was like the bottom dropped out of my world.

I started looking for a new boyfriend after only a few weeks. I had to convince myself there were other guys out there, that I wouldn’t be alone forever. So, after just five weeks of being single, I went on my first date. Glen was everything James wasn’t. Tall, slightly older than me, he had an expensive new car (compared to James’s old Metro)… he seemed so mature. It didn’t make sense to dump him just so I could play the field and make up for lost time.

While James wouldn’t let me even say the word “marriage”, after just three months Glen was saying we should buy a flat together. He was a real grown-up, not scared of commitment, and that was what I desperately needed after being hurt.

I feel sad now looking back, that I was so needy. I could have taken that opportunity to discover myself, to make a career, to find my way in the world, but I was petrified of being alone. After all, isn’t that the way of life, that people get married and have kids? What if I never found someone to marry me? My mum was only 24 when she got married, so that was my template, I didn’t know any other way, despite my parents separating during my last year with James. Maybe that’s what caused the depression, I don’t know. Maybe that made me even more determined to find someone, to reclaim the stability in my life.

I have changed so much in the five years since Glen and I split up. I finally got to play the field, which was everything from wild and bizarre to cringe and hilarity. I spent a wonderful year with Adam. And now I’ve been on my own for two years and it’s exactly what I needed. I’ve proven to myself that I don’t need a man to look after me or protect me. I am enough. I’m not scared to be alone anymore. Or to be myself.

Sunday, 18th April

Today was another blissfully sunny day. I didn’t sleep long enough (again) and the neighbours skipped their singing this morning, but Willow encouraged me to get up around 11am. I washed her school shirts, then set off a load of dark clothes and put the dishwasher on before we headed out to see our friends.

We stopped at Sainsbury’s on the way as I wanted to bring them something. When you haven’t seen someone for months, I figured it’s nice not to show up empty handed. There was a pretty bucket of easy-grow sunflowers which I thought was perfect. I also took the opportunity to buy some black sacks and mustard, which I forgot to get yesterday.

We pulled up outside their house and walked over to the garden, where they were there to greet us with chairs laid out in a socially distanced pattern. It was so lovely to see our friends again. We met when the kids were not quite three years old, almost exactly nine years ago. Gosh, I didn’t realise it had been so long. They started nursery on the same day and the mums were invited to sit in the nursery kitchen for a cuppa and to get to know each other a bit. We later discovered our birthdays are on the same day and the kids are only three days apart, and we’re all autistic. It’s such a shame Willow had to go to a different senior school, but I’m so pleased we’ve stayed in touch.

I wasn’t sure how long our visit would last but I had to drag us away after four and a half hours because I was starting to freeze and it was past dinner time. Otherwise we could have easily stayed longer. The conversation didn’t stop flowing as we talked about school, families, parenting, autism, work, lockdown, pocket money, supermarkets (comparing different brands), computers (why are they so slow?), the importance (or not) of spelling and grammar, kids and their phones, and generally what a strange year it’s been.

As we left, she thanked me for the sunflowers and said I shouldn’t have, then explained to the kids that it’s a social convention to say “you shouldn’t have” when someone gives you a gift, even though you’re pleased to receive it. She’s 11 years older than me and really good at that sort of thing. She also has three older children, so I guess she’s had a lot of practice.

Back at home, Willow remarked how quickly the weekend had gone. That’s surely a good sign. After she’d gone to bed, I settled on the sofa with a toffee apple cider to watch Line of Duty. I’ve had a few of these lately as a little treat but I’m already finding them much too sugary. It’s been nice to have a different drink for the evenings though, to differentiate that part of the day as grown-up time. Anjali texted a beautiful happy photo of her dog running through a field in the sunshine, and also observed that the weekend had flown by. It must be the weather.

It’s my appraisal at work tomorrow, but not until 1pm so I’ll be stewing about it all morning. Great. My packet of Frownies arrived today but I’m too scared to use them tonight in case they leave a big red mark or something. That would look great in my meeting! The frown line lives to see another day. Hopefully I won’t have too much to frown about. Fingers crossed!

Saturday, 17th April

I achieved some things today. Not as many as I’d hoped but a few is better than nothing. There was a pile of books on my bedroom floor from when I’d sorted through my collection back in January. It had been bugging me all this time but charity shops were closed. Today I took them to the charity shop, along with the clothes Willow and I decided to discard a few days ago. Tick.

It was a beautiful day so I put the top down. I felt such joy driving along in the sun with the wind in my hair, sunglasses on, tunes blaring. Freedom after being stuck at home.

Next, I picked up a storage trunk for the garden that I’d ordered from B&Q. With the weather improving, my thoughts have turned to making the garden more comfortable so I can spend time there. I have a wooden arbour seat but no cushions for it, so I ordered a yellow cushion from Amazon the other day, then realised I’ll need somewhere to store it. Tick.

I rounded off this little outing with a visit to Asda to pick up some summer clothes for Willow, the weekend paper, some cat food and a few other bits. I used an unfamiliar new self-checkout that was specifically for trolleys rather than baskets. There was a large area to the left of the scanner and a smaller area with a picture of a bag on it to the right. I unloaded all my shopping on the left, put my bag on the right, but the machine wasn’t happy. Someone came to help and it turned out I’d got it the wrong way round. That wasn’t a picture of a bag, it was meant to be a basket. I asked why it would be a picture of a basket if this was for trolleys only. The assistant helped me load all the shopping back into the trolley so I could get started. It would have been so much easier if there was a nice normal checkout with a friendly person scanning the items for me. We lose so much with these machines, and they still need to be staffed to assist when either the machine or the user gets stuck.

Anyway, I thoroughly enjoyed the drive home but I’d been out much longer than I’d intended and it was way past lunchtime. Willow had stayed at home and I wanted her to have some fresh air, so we drove to McDonalds. I ordered 20 nuggets for us to share. Big mistake. She only wanted six, so I ended up eating 14 and then felt sick. I don’t know what possessed me. We didn’t eat again for the rest of the day. Excellent parenting, not.

I had hoped to assemble the trunk for the garden but after that feast I just wanted to flop and read the paper, so I didn’t get round to it. The kitchen is covered in plates and mugs again and I really need to do some washing – Willow’s school uniform, my clothes, our towels, sheets… Why do I always leave things to the last minute? I’ll have to do it tomorrow now and we’re going out in the afternoon to sit in the garden of one of Willow’s old friends from primary school, so it will have to be the morning.

I’m not a morning person, particularly at weekends. On Sundays around 10:30am, the neighbours start doing some sort of loud evangelical singing, accompanied on the keyboard. It sounds terrible and is usually enough to propel me out of bed to quickly put on some music of my own to drown them out. I kind of hope this will happen tomorrow as I really need to get on with the housework.

Friday, 16th April

My knickers are too tight again. It’s a literal pain in the arse. I’ve been constantly tugging at them today. All that exercise I did from August to January has been undone. I have no desire whatsoever to jump around getting sweaty, or go for a run. I was proud of myself for not replacing the chocolate after eating it all the other day, but then I took Willow to the ice cream parlour after school and treated myself to not one but two scoops (chocolate and cherry, pure heaven).

It’s the first time they’ve been open since December when they closed for lockdown. We used to go every week for Friday Treat, my reward for us both for making it through a week of school/work. It’s a little ritual I started many years ago, so that when Willow looks back on her childhood, she’ll remember this as something she and I always did together.

The girl who works at the parlour greeted us with a smile. “I wondered if my favourite regulars would be back!” It felt so good to have this piece of our former lives back, albeit still a bit strange as we’ve become so accustomed to staying firmly at home.

I’ve been thinking about my frown line today too. When I watched that live video chat on Instagram yesterday, I noticed how the two women, both my age, had flawless foreheads. How come? Do they actually spend time looking after their skin? Have they had work done? There’s a very deep furrow above my nose and while I’ve joked about botox for years, scarily, now might be the time. I’m nearly 40, it’s not going to go away on its own.

My research showed me that most people actually have two lines, an “11” it’s called. Mine is just a “1”. I wonder why but I’m not complaining. I read that some people frown in their sleep and I’m hoping that’s what it is because I’d hate to be scowling all day without realising. As it is, I have Resting Frown Face thanks to this line.

I’m not a vain person, I only look in the mirror once when I get up and I never wear makeup unless I’m going on a proper night out. But I’m terrified of ageing and looking old. I’ve been dyeing my hair since I was nine years old so when I got to my twenties I told myself I’d never actually know when I went grey. That didn’t exactly work as my first grey hair wasn’t on my head. Anyway, I don’t have many but I do still freak out whenever I find one.

The skin under my chin is sagging. I think it’s from looking down at my phone all the time. I’m maybe only 5% bothered about it though, not enough to make any lifestyle changes. The rest of my body is pretty saggy, let’s face it. I can’t remember the last time I waxed my legs. It’s funny how the hair just grows back in patches now, on my shins. Warmer weather is coming though, so I have at least bought some Veet cream.

Is it time that I become one of those people who has a skincare routine? Exfoliate, cleanse, tone, moisturise, and a face mask at the weekend? Honestly, I simply can’t be bothered with it all. And all those products add up. There are more important things than having perfect skin, which I’ll never have anyway. I’m not 20 any more and I’m totally ok with that. But this frown line is bothering me.

It turns out botox is unlikely to help me as it’s more of a prevention than a cure, not to mention the prohibitive cost of multiple sessions because the effects are only temporary. I had imagined they would just inject something in (like a gel or something) under the groove to push it out, but that’s not how it works, it’s more like a poison that freezes your facial muscles. I’m quite relieved in a way as the thought of a needle in my forehead isn’t exactly appealing.

Instead, I’ve found a product called Frownies. They are strips that you stick to your face. Basically, you hold the skin taut, press it on, and wear it overnight. They recommend you do this every night for 30 nights and then you can reduce the frequency, but I read the comments and some people say they’ve been using them for years. I suppose I could get used to that if it means minimising the appearance of this awful line. And with no boyfriend, there’s no chance of me freaking someone out with a weird thing on my face. I’m going to order a pack and try them out. Can’t hurt… well, certainly not more than botox.

Thursday, 15th April

Willow is sobbing her heart out as if someone had died. She’s inconsolable. The reason? It’s her birthday next month and she wants a robot dog. I’ve said I’ll get her a robot dog, but it’s not the right one.

She’s got her heart set on one that costs £140. There’s no way I’d spend that. I simply can’t afford that for a toy. She knows we’re not a rich family. So I’ve found some alternatives around the £50 mark, which is still a lot to spend on a toy but it is her birthday. Nope. Tears, trauma, tragedy. Am I a terrible, mean mother? Should I blow the budget because it’s what she really wants? I don’t think so. She needs to understand that we don’t have that sort of money, and that life is full of compromises, and that the cheaper robot dog is still probably 98% as good.

I tried giving her an analogy, that if you really want to go to Florida but you have to go to Bournemouth instead, it can still be a great holiday and you’ll have a wonderful time. This had no effect.

It’s hard not to feel mad at her for being a spoilt brat. Don’t be so ungrateful! But I know that’s not what’s going on with her. I don’t understand why she is so upset, but I can sense it’s wrong to be cross with her for it. I know this rigid thinking is part of her autism.

Domino the evil cat decided to bring a mouse in at that moment. Cue more tears from Willow.

Some good news though. I emptied and reloaded the dishwasher, finally! Ok it’s a small win but felt like a big achievement. And in even better news, THE DAILY TEAM MEETINGS AT WORK HAVE BEEN CANCELLED! Already! The relief of having one less thing to worry about was huge. Maybe that’s what spurred me on to do the dishwasher.

I spent the afternoon filling out my appraisal form for work. I tried to make myself sound as good as possible but it’s hard trying to remember every time I’ve “added value” or gone “over and above” in the past three years. Especially as my notebook is still in my desk drawer in the office, and my memory is appalling.

At the end it asked for “additional remarks” so I mentioned how much confidence I lost due to being furloughed and how I haven’t managed to regain it, and I mentioned my newly-discovered autism, ADHD and executive dysfunction. I feel it’s important to tell them this so they understand why I might ask a certain question or misunderstand an instruction or keep asking for clarification.

I’ve always thought you need to make a good impression at all times and say yes to more responsibilities whenever they are offered, but now I’m learning that’s not always the best advice and can lead to meltdowns, which are far more unprofessional than just saying no in the first place.

I watched an Instagram Live video chat this evening between two artists I admire, both my age. One was saying how she used to think of herself as a painter first, then an artist, then a human being, but she’s learned to be a human being first, then an artist, and a painter last. Art expresses the human experience, through the medium of painting.

I think of myself as a human being first, mum second, and employee last. Thankfully I’m not anyone’s wife or girlfriend! Actually, maybe being a mum is first, but either way, work is last. I thought that this isn’t what an employer would want to hear, but when it comes down to it, we all have lives. I had a text earlier from a colleague in a different department. Hadn’t heard from her in months. She’s suffering with depression and anxiety. We’ve all been affected by the pandemic. I’m not the only one struggling. We’ve arranged to meet for a walk next time Willow’s at her dad’s. I’m looking forward to it.

Wednesday, 14th April

I feel like I’m on a hamster wheel, chasing my tail, hoping to catch up but not getting anywhere. Where has all my energy gone? I haven’t washed up from Sunday lunch, I haven’t emptied the dishwasher so there are piles of dirty dishes all over the kitchen. I keep thinking I’ll do it tomorrow but no, still can’t muster up the effort. Maybe I used up all my “spoons” at the weekend and now I’m paying for it.

I had a bad meltdown at work today. Well I say at work, of course I was at home, but it was during work and because of work. I guess there have been a few things building up.

1. The daily team meetings that started this week. I had huge anxiety (for no reason) but forced myself to not say anything and just do the meetings. My boss talks, we get to respond, we don’t really get to say anything we wanted to say, time’s up.

She always starts with “how are you” to which I know the answer is “fine thanks, how are you?” but clearly I’m not fine, although I don’t want her to know that because you must be professional at work. I suppose the meetings are stressful because I feel I have to prepare beforehand, but then I don’t get to mention the things I’ve prepared and then I stress about them.

2. The company have decided that maybe we should start having annual appraisals out of nowhere, so mine’s on Monday. First ever “what do you really think of your job” and I’ve been there nearly three years. The form I have to complete asks some pretty laying-it-bare questions and I’m uncomfortable with not knowing how much honesty to use versus how much I want to impress them and keep my job and maybe one day progress within the company. It will take a lot of energy to complete that form.

3. I had some additional responsibilities before Covid hit that I haven’t had to do since I came back from furlough and now they want me to start doing them again in a couple of weeks’ time. I barely have a grip on what I’m doing now, plus I can’t remember any of that other stuff and will have to be retrained which will make me feel stupid again when my confidence is already super low.

4. This guy Des who loosely oversees our department (of the cat pee story) has taken control of half our responsibilities since Covid, so we’ve been running everything by him whereas we used to just do it ourselves. Now he wants me to not take part of it back but do a new procedure that’s really his job that he’s given me email instructions for. There are a bunch of variables and it’s just not that simple, plus this is stuff that has consequences if I get it wrong. I know this means he has faith in me but honestly it’s too stressful and I can’t cope.

5. On Wednesdays I work six hours. All the other days I only do four and a half. It’s a legacy from when my ex-in-laws used to collect Willow from school on Wednesdays and take her out to dinner. I dread Wednesdays. I don’t get a lunch break because I have to take an hour to do the school run at 3pm.

6. Now that lockdown restrictions have eased, I’ll inevitably have to go back to the office at some point and I don’t know why but I’m terrified.

7. I miss my brother. I’m so upset that he assaulted me and now we’re not speaking, we were really close before that. I want to just call him and chat about the new contestants on the Sewing Bee this evening but I’m not ready to let him back into my life.

8. Domino the evil cat keeps waking me up at 5:30am.

I’d been unsettled all morning, moving from the sofa to the conservatory to the table to the garden. I ate all the chocolate in the house. Around lunchtime I wrote Des an email querying some stuff (took me half an hour to write the email because that’s who I am), had a panic attack, sent my boss a text to say I need a time out, and went upstairs to bed. I know the signs now, I could tell I needed to get away from the laptop and lie down. My heart was pounding like crazy and I was all shaky.

While I was in bed I searched online to find a counsellor in my area. I think it must be time. I can’t behave like this at work, and this isn’t the first time. I need to get a grip on this anxiety and I can’t do it on my own. I need help. I found someone who sounded nice and sent her an email.

After about an hour I felt like I could face going downstairs to make a cup of tea. I opened the laptop again and apologised to my boss. I told her I’d emailed a counsellor. We ended up having a really good heart to heart, while I sobbed hysterically . I told her that I’m struggling and she said that lots of people are finding things hard at the moment, including herself. She said I don’t have to take back the extra work I used to do, and she’d have a word with Des. By the end of the day I didn’t have to do his new procedure either.

I’m grateful and feel lucky that she was so understanding but god I feel like such a failure. How can I be so incompetent? I used to be able to Do All The Things, why can’t I now? I’ve been extremely fortunate and managed not to catch Covid all this time, even when there was an outbreak at work while I was there for a few weeks back in October. So why has it destroyed me? I think it must be that autistic thing about change.

I’m still very much learning what it means to be autistic, as it only occurred to me that I am last summer when I was researching for Willow. I’ve heard this is common. Discovering I have ADHD too was quite a shock because I associate that with not being able to keep still, while I’m the most sedentary person I know, but I have learned so much and it really is me.

The world has changed beyond recognition in the past 12 or more months. My job has changed. Willow started secondary school. It’s a lot to take in, on top of all that self-discovery. Plus falling out with my best friend last summer and not having that person to confide in any more. Maybe it’s not surprising I’ve lost confidence in myself.

Hopefully the counsellor will respond and I can start to pick myself up.

Monday, 12th April

I feel like a lead weight. I’m so exhausted. Don’t even have the energy to sit and watch tv. It’s a sad state of affairs when you go to bed at 9:30pm but I’ve hit my limit for the day.

It wasn’t even a particularly strenuous day but I didn’t sleep well last night and had to get up early for the school run. I made it through the dreaded new daily team meeting (it was fine) and the rest of work was generally ok, but then I had a power struggle with Willow all evening.

She wants to spend £23.99 on an in-app purchase. This is ridiculous and I said no. It’s too much money! Her dad gives her £5 a week through a pocket-money app and she only wants to spend it on her phone games. I have let her in the past but for smaller amounts. She needs to learn the value of money, and to appreciate what she already has.

I asked her to give me a tour of the game and all her favourite things about it, in the hope that she would see she already has a ton of great stuff, but it didn’t convince her. So she’s been pretty sulky but I’m not going to back down on this. It’s funny, in the car on the way back from school today I ended up telling her how my brother Jason doesn’t own his house, he rents, because he prefers to buy lots of things rather than save for his future. Whereas we don’t have loads of “things” but I do at least own our house, and when the mortgage is eventually paid off, there’ll be no rent to pay, while he will have to pay rent forever.

I think it’s important to talk to kids about money to instil good habits early on. I don’t think my parents ever had those sorts of chats with me but my gran certainly did. She was extremely wise, I learned so much from her.

I made broccoli and chicken pasta for dinner, with a white sauce that I made from scratch and some of the leftover chicken from yesterday. Really proud of myself as I haven’t cooked properly like that for a while, and there’s a portion leftover for tomorrow. Willow had pizza. I know which battles to pick.

Lockdown has been eased in England today. On the news I saw people queuing outside shops at 5am. Bewildering. And like a warning from the universe for us all not to be cocky and rush back into our old lives before it’s safe, it snowed this morning. Although that didn’t stop people sitting outside pubs, clearly so desperate for that first pint that they didn’t care it was freezing.

Nothing about my life has changed with these new rules, I don’t feel a sudden urge to rush to the shops or the pub. I’m grateful for this as it means I don’t feel compelled to buy things for the sake of it, but maybe also a little sad that I don’t have a social life. I can’t go to the pub as I have to stay home every evening. I can’t exactly leave Willow on her own to go galavanting, as my mum would say, and I really don’t feel comfortable with the thought of a babysitter. Not that I can actually remember the last time I went to a pub, or out socialising anywhere for that matter.

I texted Anjali to ask what she thinks about the lockdown easing. If anything, she’s even more trepidatious than me. Not enough people have been vaccinated and things are still bad in Europe, so it would be dangerous for us to be complacent. She was watching Brazil on the news where the situation is catastrophic. Looks like we won’t be having a night out together any time soon, but that’s actually fine by me. I agree it’s wise to be cautious. It will be worth the wait once it’s finally safe.

Text from Adam pops up. “I had a vegan burger for lunch at a pub with Stéphane today!” Life is different in London.

Sunday, 11th April

“OOOOOOOOOOWWWW!!! What the hell, Willow???” is how my day started when my leg was whacked by a baseball bat. Ok it wasn’t a baseball bat, she just crawled over me (she’s nearly 12) or stood on me or I’m not really sure what happened but dear god it killed! At first she just looked stunned, but then she went off to her room crying. I felt guilty (and in pain). I called out that I knew she didn’t mean to hurt me, it was obviously an accident, I’m fine really. I left her to calm down and a few minutes later she came in with a magazine, showing me a competition to win a toy or gadget or something, as if nothing had happened.

I am a huge wimp and have a really low pain threshold, plus I bruise easily, so I was worried that I’d have a hideous purple blotch on my leg, but 12 hours later there’s no bruise. Maybe I overreacted.

Other than that, it was a good day. I made a roast dinner, we watched some Ugly Betty, I read the paper while she played on her phone. I requested she sort her room out because it was a bombsite and she asked me to help. Fantastic! I was delighted that not only was she open to tackling it, but that I was permitted to be involved.

She collected up an armful of clothes that were too small to give to charity, huge result as she normally won’t part with anything. I reshuffled some of her storage to create a little more floor space. Her room is tiny but she’s got masses of storage – one of those 4×4 IKEA units, three narrow drawers under her desk, another set of three drawers, cupboards under the bed, a wardrobe… yet she still had teddies and cushions “arranged” on the floor, to the point where you could hardly see the floor.

Things were going well until I proposed that some of those teddies could live on top of her IKEA unit. Then the tears came. “I don’t like change! I don’t want them to move! They live there! Noooooooo!” I sat with her and gently held her, trying to explain that we’re not getting rid of any of her things, we’re just moving them to a different part of the room so she can see the floor (and maybe we can clean it). I know the way she feels is not something she can control, so reasoning with her was unlikely to have much effect. In the end, there were some toys she didn’t mind being moved, and others that stayed put. I was proud of her. We made a huge difference without doing any major changes. I quickly dusted and ran the hoover round.

I read her a story, said goodnight and went downstairs to watch Line of Duty. Fantastic episode tonight, really gripping.

Tomorrow, school starts back after the two week Easter break. I am not looking forward to early starts again. Totally not a morning person. And it’s Day 1 of our daily team zoom meetings at work. That means I should probably put a little thought into what to wear, instead of throwing on whichever sweatshirt looks most comfy. Sigh.

At least I don’t need to worry about dinners for the next few days. There’s plenty of leftover chicken, and I bought lots of sausages so we can have those with mash one night. I got broccoli too, so maybe when Willow has pizza, I’ll have broccoli pasta. Blimey, I sound like a functioning adult.

Saturday, 10th April

“I’m beginning to think I’ve met my twin”. What are the odds. Of all the billions of people on the planet, and knowing how hard it is to find a decent man, I’ve found my perfect friend on the first try. Call it beginner’s luck or call it fate, I am amazed what the universe has thrown up by matching me with Anjali. Thank you 🙏

We met up for the first time today and were chatting and laughing like old friends as we walked her sweet little dog around the lake. It was raining gently but I was so relieved to be out of the house and with another person that I didn’t care about the weather. We walked and talked for an hour and a half, sharing stories about our lives, our loves, our families, our friendships, our philosophies… we must have walked round that lake three times. It was so comfortable being in her company that I could’ve stayed much longer, but I know these things shouldn’t be rushed.

Later on we were texting and discovered we both have colourful houses, another thing in common. She sent me that message and I agreed, it was like finding a twin. Remarkable. I felt so energised that I went and tackled the clothes mountain and I won! A small pile for the charity shop, the rest folded or hung up. Victory! It’s amazing what you can achieve when you’re happy.

I went shopping and bought some actual food. I’ve been living off junk all week while Willow’s been at her dad’s but now I felt motivated to plan a roast dinner for Sunday lunch for the two of us. She came back this evening and it was so lovely to have her home. I want to be a good mum and give her a proper meal. She’s an extremely picky eater due to her autism but she will eat a roast. She won’t eat any vegetables but I want to eat them. It’s very demotivating when her diet is so restricted, really hard to muster the energy to cook for myself. This will be a good meal that we’ll both enjoy. We’ll have a nice relaxed day before school starts again on Monday. That’s the plan anyway.

Friday, 9th April

I had a meltdown this morning. I could feel myself getting upset and starting to panic and not knowing what to do. I’d written the email but didn’t know if I should send it and kept sitting back, rocking with my head in my hands. I phoned Adam and burst into tears.

“My boss *sob* wants us to have video team meetings *sniff* EVERY DAY *sob* and I don’t understand!” I wailed down the phone. “Why does she need to check up on us? We’ve never had team meetings before and now we suddenly need them EVERY DAY?? There isn’t even any work to do! Why are they trying to get rid of me? Why don’t they trust me to do my job any more?” I rambled incoherently.

Adam assured me that my feelings were perfectly normal (I still disagree, I think it was a total overreaction, but bless him) and proceeded to tell me a lengthy anecdote that wasn’t really relevant. That helped me calm down a bit. We talked for about 20 minutes. He made me laugh by telling me that some friends came over for dinner last night (lockdown rules don’t apply to rich people) and a female friend got her period on his new dining chair. I thought this sounded ridiculous but nothing surprises me with Adam.

By the end of the call I felt ready to accept the meeting request without needing to question why they were necessary. This is a good step. I could hear my mum’s voice in my head telling me not to be so stupid. It was so odd that my brain took a meeting request to mean that they think I’m terrible at my job and want to get rid of me. It’s quite a leap to reach that conclusion. Whatever the reason for the meetings, I’m sure my boss will get bored of them after a while and they’ll be cancelled.

In other news, things are still going well with my new friend Anjali! We chatted some more today and she recommended a series on Netflix which I took to immediately and watched the first two episodes, only stopping so I could pace myself and have some left for next week. It’s called Money Heist and it’s in Spanish with subtitles. Fantastic! I couldn’t get enough of Call My Agent which is in French so I was delighted that she suggested another foreign language series. Subject matter is totally different but I’m gripped.

I was brave enough to ask if she fancies meeting up tomorrow and she said yes! I’m so excited to get to meet her in person, I really hope we click as well as we have by text. We’re going to take her dog for a walk around the lakes so I hope the weather holds. What am I going to wear?! It’s not a date like with a man so I can just dress normally, no need for anything fancy. It’s good not to have that pressure. Fingers crossed tomorrow will be a Good Day 🙂

Thursday, 8th April

I’ve made a new friend! I’m so excited! Bumble was proving useless for finding any men at all that I wanted to swipe right on, so I changed it from dating to “BFF” and thought maybe friendship was more realistic.

I’m quite picky when it comes to dating. They can’t be bald or a smoker, and if their picture shows them holding a fish or a pint or an ex-girlfriend, they’re out. They’ve got to have nice teeth. Also if their name is the same as my ex-husband, that would just be weird. If they can get past those hurdles, their personality usually lets them down. No, I do not want to be your “partner in crime”. Sorry, I’m not sporty and I don’t care about football, cricket or golf. I’m not “active” so if your main interest is the gym, I’ll be a disappointment.

Looking for a friend was so much easier. It doesn’t matter at all what they look like! I matched with Anjali and we started exchanging messages. The conversation flowed nicely as we talked about how we’ve both felt alone during the pandemic, how our mums don’t live nearby, and about working from home. She’s got a cute dog called Timmy. Then I asked how she likes to relax in the evenings and she said she plays the same phone game that I play! It was such a nice surprise and from then we were chatting like old friends.

I want to suggest we take her dog for a walk around the lakes on Saturday. I’ve got the day to myself with no plans and it would be so nice to have someone to meet up with in real life. I’ll see if we continue chatting again tomorrow and then suggest it if it feels right.

It would be so great to have a close friend again. Obviously I need to get to know her, apart from the game I’m not sure how much we’ve got in common yet, but first impressions are good.

I had a best friend for several years but we fell out last summer and haven’t spoken since. Lizzie. Her daughter is still my daughter’s best friend. We all went on holiday together, first time I’ve ever had a holiday with a friend rather than family. I thought it would be great since we spent so much time together anyway. She and her daughter are neurodiverse too, which I think is probably why we got on so well, but it was a recipe for disaster on the holiday.

We were staying in a house that we’d booked through Airbnb. I drove down and she took the train with the kids. Problems arose for several reasons. We have different parenting styles – some things I would allow but she wouldn’t and vice versa. She wanted to go for a very long walk but I knew Willow would hate that. This sort of thing. With two adults and it not being either of our home, there weren’t any predefined roles to slot into – you know when you go to someone’s house, they offer you a drink and you offer to help with dinner or to clear up etc. but it’s their house. You know how to behave. This was different. I put dirty plates straight into the dishwasher, she liked to rinse them and leave them to drain first.

One evening, we’d been outside the house flying kites and it was so windy it actually became a storm. It was Willow’s idea and she got all upset because it was way too windy and the kite wasn’t flying. I could tell she was going to have a meltdown so we all went back indoors. Willow went straight upstairs and my friend’s daughter said goodnight, Willow grunted an acknowledgement but was too upset to answer properly. So Lizzie said “GOODNIGHT!!” really rudely at poor Willow! I snapped that she shouldn’t talk to my daughter like that, it was obvious she was upset, and then spent the rest of the evening comforting her even more than I would’ve had to.

The next morning, Lizzie and her daughter had gone by the time we got up. I didn’t know where they were, she didn’t text or leave a note. I was angry and upset that she had been so rude the night before, and now disappeared so we couldn’t even talk about it. Willow was upset too and neither of us were enjoying the holiday, so I packed up the car and we drove home. I texted Lizzie to let her know.

Over the next few days we had a heated text exchange where she was mad that I’d abandoned them and I was mad that she’d been so callous to my child, when she of all people should understand autism. She wrote me a long email saying how she thought I was rude and my daughter too, and that our friendship was basically a lie. I was crushed that I’d lost my best friend, but wasn’t going to fight to win her back if that was how she truly felt.

I’ve missed having a best friend so much. We would talk every day and tell each other everything. It leaves a big hole when you lose that closeness. Especially not having a partner. I will approach my friendship with Anjali cautiously as I have a tendency to get all excited about anything new and I don’t want to scare her off. It takes time to build trust, particularly if you’ve been hurt before, but hopefully it will be worth it. Let’s see what happens over the next few days.

Wednesday, 7th April

I think I’m allergic to my job. I was so looking forward to it yesterday after a week off but within half an hour of opening the laptop this morning I was having a mini panic attack and almost in tears. Email chains where I’d got the process wrong just made me feel like I’m hopeless at my job and they are probably wishing they could get rid of me. Plus I know I can’t stay working from home forever and I’ll have to go back soon. I’m terrified, although I don’t really know why as I’m sure it will be fine.

I’ve had this job nearly three years. It’s the longest I’ve spent in one role, and that’s probably only because I’ve spent the past 12 months at home and six of those were on furlough. I’m nearly 40 for goodness sake. It’s like I have some sort of self-sabotage mechanism built in, like mobile phones that start to go wrong after two years so you have to upgrade. I want a new job. My job isn’t even that bad and the company is great. I know the grass isn’t greener. I have lost so much confidence over the past year. Maybe it will start to get better once things go back to normal.

I’ve had 12 different careers. I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up. Well, I want to be an artist but I tried that and it was too stressful and I had a breakdown. I want to work and contribute to society but I don’t know what I’m good at, or interested in. I often doubt myself and feel like I’m only good for being on disability benefit, but I think that would be disastrous for my mental health.

I often think that maybe I could do a course, retrain in something more interesting. I’ve done this before, with interior design and a legal secretary diploma, but dropped out both times. Before Willow was born I thought maybe I wanted to be a primary school teacher, based on my memory of primary school being basically painting pictures and playing the recorder, which sounded like great fun. Once I thought it through and realised I’d be in a room full of kids all day I soon changed my mind.

I wish I was more like Janet. She knew she wanted to be an art teacher and she’s been doing that happily for years, now head of department. Sarah trained as an art therapist after uni and Greg trained as a printmaker, they both worked in those fields up until a few years ago when they moved house and took retail jobs to tide themselves over while they looked for more suitable work. Then the pandemic hit and things have been tough for them. They ended up moving in with Sarah’s mum. I guess I’m lucky to have my job after all.

We’ve been having team catch-ups over Zoom once every 10 days or so for the past few months. They are meant to be for morale and to keep us feeling connected, but really it’s just so Des can talk about his cat. We sat through his tale of embarrassment as he walked down the street carrying a tube of cat pee to take to the vet, and when I asked why he didn’t put it in a bag, he genuinely didn’t seem to have thought of that. People are strange.

Email today from my boss said she wants us to start having DAILY video team catch-ups. In god’s name why??? What could there possibly be to talk about every day? Is it a way to check up on us? Make sure we’ve got dressed?? I preferred it when we were just trusted and respected to do our jobs. She said she’ll explain more tomorrow. It took a lot of willpower not to reply asking why we suddenly need daily policing when we’ve been managing fine for months. Not to mention there’s still hardly any work to do! Patience is a virtue, and so is the ability to bite your tongue. Only two more days til the weekend.

Tuesday, 6th April

I wasted the whole day today.

When I wrote last night that I would tackle the clothes mountain, or Willow’s room, I really thought I might. When I woke up this morning and lay awake in bed I thought about tidying the conservatory. There’s a craft box that’s a mess and I imagined I’d go and buy a storage unit with drawers to sort out all the different coloured paper and pens and stickers and tape.

I finally dragged myself out of bed at midday, planning to just have breakfast. Step one. Then see what would happen next. What happened next was that I played games on my phone until the battery ran down. Then, realising I was clearly not going to do anything productive, I put the telly on. I might have a burst of energy later, like I did yesterday.

I watched three episodes of Firefly Lane, then some gameshows, and whatever came afterwards. The tv was on in the background just keeping me company but I wasn’t watching it. Around 6pm I ordered a pizza because I figured I should probably eat something, although I wasn’t hungry. I guess if you don’t exert any energy, you don’t need to make up any calories.

At 9pm I decided to watch more Firefly Lane and ended up finishing the series. There isn’t a second series yet, so now I’m alone for the rest of the week with nothing to watch. That was stupid.

I texted Adam. He cheered me up by saying we’ll go to a Michelin star restaurant when they open up again. He’s so funny. McDonalds would do. The one Valentine’s Day we spent together, he got off the train completely drunk. It was the middle of the day. I got him an espresso and made him sleep back at my place while I googled to see if there were any AA meetings we could go to. So that evening, I took him to his first AA meeting, and then we went for McDonalds at a service station.

He spent all of that March in rehab and has been sober since. But he was at a really low point in his life then. I loved him and supported him because I could see that under the mess he was a good person. He still is a good person, which is why I still care about him. He says I saved his life, which bugs me because I don’t want him to keep being my friend because he thinks he owes me something. He’s already paid me back a hundred times over. Our worlds are pretty different and I’m ok with us not being together. Ok that’s a lie. But it is what it is.

Oh my god I actually downloaded Bumble this afternoon. Thinking about Adam and the day that I was wasting, not being motivated to do or care about anything, made me realise that life is meant to be shared. That’s what gives life meaning. So I thought I’d see if there’s anyone out there.

There isn’t. Which is probably a good thing. I’m so glad I have work tomorrow. I need that structure and sense of purpose it provides.

Monday, 5th April

Willow has gone to her dad’s for a week. I’m not good at these times. I always miss her and feel overwhelmed by the emptiness of the house without her energy, even though when she’s here she can drive me crazy.

I either see these times as an opportunity to Get Things Done, whereby I get so overwhelmed (there’s that word again) by the number of things I need or want to do, or the size of the project I want to tackle, that I can’t face starting and nothing gets done; or as an opportunity to rest, whereby I don’t get anything done.

This is the trouble with ADHD, and how I recognised that I have it. Extreme inability to begin tasks that I don’t really want to do, even though I know I have to do them. One article describes it as: “considerable chronic difficulty in getting organized and getting started on many tasks, focusing [their] attention, sustaining [their] efforts” (link at the bottom).

The other day when it was hot, I wanted to wear my summer trousers but I couldn’t find them. My wardrobe is pretty neat and well organised on the left where it’s all shelves. On the right are two levels of hanging space but I have a jumble of clothes at the bottom. Quite a big jumble. Ok, it’s a clothes mountain. I figured the summer trousers must be there so I pulled it all out to search. They weren’t, I must have got rid of them in the last cull. But then I thought that I should tackle this enormous pile of clothes, actually deal with it and put them away or get rid of them. So of course they are all still on my bedroom floor nearly a week later.

I accidentally watched a new programme on tv this evening called Sort Your Life Out, a sort of British rip off of Marie Kondo where they take all of one family’s possessions out of the house, force them to sort through them all, and then put around half of them back into the house in a much more organised way.

I could feel myself itching to do the same to my house the whole time I was watching, and found myself staring at the jumble of cables under the tv unit. As soon as the programme finished I got up and started sorting them out, putting the Wii remotes into a shoe box, I even traced an unused aerial cable through to the far kitchen wall, cut it off and put it in the dustbin. I then got the hoover out and did the living room and kitchen. The shoe box isn’t big enough to fully hide the cables so I ordered a storage basket from eBay.

This sudden burst of energy took me by surprise. The programme must have really got to me because I couldn’t just sit there wishing the cables were tidy any more, I had to get up and sort it out immediately. Maybe because my dad and brother are hoarders so it touched a nerve. I’m very aware that I don’t want to become like them. I’m glad my house is small so I can’t cram it too full of stuff.

Willow, worryingly, seems to have the hoarding gene. Her room is tiny but overflowing with toys and books and cushions and things. She won’t part with anything. She won’t even let me in there in case I move something or touch something. I’ve told her she has to dust and hoover but it doesn’t happen. I will have to tackle it this week or it’ll become a health hazard.

Tomorrow, work have given us an extra day off because “Christmas was a bit crap”. This is wonderful and very generous of them, but I now have a whole day on my own to fill. I mustn’t waste it. I will do the clothes mountain. I just need to remember to put some funky music on, that is normally a huge help. And then maybe incentivise myself with a reward, such as another episode of Firefly Lane. I watched another two episodes this afternoon, I’m enjoying it so much.

The weather has turned cold again, some areas even had snow which seems ridiculous when we were basking in 23 degree heat a few days ago. Clearly it doesn’t matter now that I don’t have my summer trousers any more.

https://www.additudemag.com/adhd-motivation-problems-getting-started-on-tough-projects/

Saturday, 3rd April

I just started watching Firefly Lane on Netflix. I added it to my list a while ago and forgot about it, then this evening after saying goodnight to Willow I felt like getting stuck into something new and this seemed to fit the bill. It’s about two best friends and covers them at 14, in their early twenties and in their early forties. I thought it might progress chronologically but I like that it doesn’t and each episode is a mix of all three eras. It’s a great way to build their backstories and make them more relatable.

One character is wild and extrovert but sad and carrying scars on the inside. The other is also sad but in a different way, and very timid, despite having the more stable upbringing. I wonder which one is more like me. I think it depends who I’m with.

My best friends in the world are my uni friends, Sarah and Janet. We’ve known each other over twenty years now. Crumbs. We were all studying art so we hardly had any lectures and usually wouldn’t get up until the afternoon. We did all the usual things you do at university together – going to parties, going clubbing, getting drunk, holding each other’s hair back… we’d spend hours getting ready and often that was just as much fun.

Janet is the sensible one I guess. Always had her head screwed on. A great laugh though, certainly not boring or stiff. Sarah is more of a dreamer I think. Like me. She was always up for a night out. Her husband Greg was on our course too. They got together in the first year, we all shared a house in the second year although they split up which was a bit awkward. Sarah had a wild phase and then they eventually got back together at the end of the third year. Janet’s married too, to Steve, who is perfect for her. He’s really sweet and is utterly devoted to her. Sarah and Janet have each got two kids, all much younger than Willow. I think I put them off!

We don’t see each other much these days. Well, not at all this past year thanks to Covid, although we have done a couple of video calls, for example when Sarah turned 40 we couldn’t let that go by without seeing each other, even if it was on a computer screen. The main problem is geography. Sarah lives over an hour away and Janet’s even further, on the Isle of Wight.

Communication was never frequent between us but that didn’t matter, we’re old friends so we’d always pick up where we left off. That where the pandemic has actually been a good thing. We’ve got a WhatsApp group now called Besties where we definitely talk more often than we did before. Janet started it and I remember feeling a small sense of relief that she called the group “Besties”, that I really am one of her best friends. It’s silly I know but I sometimes doubt whether people feel the same way about me as I do about them.

They have their husbands but I’m on my own and it’s been so nice to know that I’ve always got them there if ever I need to talk. That’s what friends are for I guess.

I actually made a new friend last summer. I was walking into town and I saw her walking ahead of me and she stopped outside a house. I figured she was meeting someone who lived there but she’d stopped to stroke a cat. I stopped too and we got talking as we fussed over the cat, and then carried on walking together. It turned out she lives in my street! She’s only 23 but age has never been a barrier for me and we got on immediately. Her name’s Sofia, she’s from Mallorca. I think all her family are still there so I feel a bit protective of her, although she seems not to need it.

I wish I’d been brave enough to move to another country when I was her age. My life would have been so different. But I was ridiculously naive and wouldn’t have had a clue how to look after myself. I’m sure that phase of my life will come in the future. In fact I will make sure of it. I don’t want to look back when I’m 70 and say I wish I’d done more with my life.

Friday, 2nd April

“Where did we get the fake grass for your garden from?” Text from Adam, my ex-boyfriend, today. Well Adam, it was three years ago and I can’t remember what I had for dinner last night, so… He wants to redo the garden of one of his rental properties. I’m pleased I think, because he likes to be kept busy. It’s good for him to have a project.

My heart sank when he sent me that text. Three years ago we were still together. I was happy, and I thought he was. It only lasted a year but it was such a wonderful year. Willow loved him too. We were a family. I was devastated when he ended it. I really thought he was The One. I certainly related to him far more than my ex-husband.

We’ve remained friends but that has been tricky for me. I haven’t stopped loving him or wishing we could get back together, or hoping that maybe in a few years it will happen, that maybe he just needs more time. I think I’m over him, then something sets me off again and I realise I’m not. We did get back together briefly last year but it didn’t work. He did it because he cares about me and it felt safe and familiar, whereas I did it because I thought we were going to be back together for good this time and we could plan a future. He wasn’t ready for that. It’s hard when you have history.

His text just made me feel sad that we’re not together any more. That I don’t have a loving partner. I did then; I don’t now. He went on to ask if I could remember what the product was called, and the width of my garden. I don’t know those things. I don’t want to remember. He doesn’t realise that each question was like a knife through my heart.

Lockdown has definitely made all of this worse. Being cooped up alone, everywhere’s closed, meeting people is illegal… I’m hardly likely to find someone new any time soon. And with Willow’s needs, and the fact she’ll become a teenager before I know it, I’m not sure I should be throwing my attention into a relationship, possibly for the next few years. I don’t have the energy for dating apps – been there, done that. I’ve even lost my sex drive, which after 11 years of marriage to someone who preferred his right hand, was rampant let me tell you. I made up for lost time and now I don’t feel remotely interested. Maybe that’s because I’ve convinced myself that it’s not the right time for me to have a partner, who knows. The mind is a powerful thing. Still, it would be nice not to feel so alone.

Thursday, 1st April

Something astonishing happened this afternoon. Jason texted me and apologised. I think this is the first time he’s ever admitted that he’s done something wrong, or said sorry for it. Maybe he was as shocked at his actions the other day as I was and felt guilty. Or maybe mum put him up to it. Either way, I didn’t know what to say in reply so I just said thank you.

I’m not ready to process my feelings yet about what happened on Tuesday. He acted like a maniac. He attacked me in front of a child. How can I just let it drop and go back to being nicey-nicey? The trouble is it’s mum’s birthday at the weekend so she really wants us to make up. Willow and I are going to see her but Jason isn’t coming now. Good. I’m not ready to face him yet. I spoke to mum briefly today and she said we’ll talk about the situation when we’re together, but I don’t want to. I can’t put it all into words yet.

I’ve barely been able to function today. Neither Willow or I got dressed, we just slobbed about watching tv. I’m grinding my teeth all the time, it’s my “stim” I’ve realised. We always have proper breakfast because it’s easy to make a bowl of cereal, but other meals were pretty substandard, and there was a fair amount of chocolate. Domino (the cat) licked my Lindt Easter bunny so I had to throw part of it in the bin! My own fault for not stuffing it all down at once.

Willow has a cold so tomorrow will no doubt be another day of slobbing about the house, although we are pretty much out of food again so I’ll have to go shopping. It hasn’t been a very exciting Easter holiday so far for poor Willow. She’ll be at her dad’s next week though. I’ll miss her so much. I’m usually grateful for a break and some peace but at the same time hate being alone.