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, in the Outer Hebrides.

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.

Tuesday, 30th March

This is not going to be easy to write but I think I should. My brother assaulted me this afternoon. Not very badly but enough to leave me pretty shaken.

He had invited Willow and me to his house after work to do some baking. When we got there he wanted to make three things at once – lemon sorbet, chocolate cake, and rainbow bagels. I knew straight away it would be overwhelming for me so I did all I could to keep myself feeling ok by smiling and doing whatever he asked, being compliant. He’s not someone you can disagree with. We’ve been walking on eggshells round him for years. You know how boys get into a bad mood when they’re 16? Well he never grew out of his. For example, he always insists on cooking the family Christmas dinner, but something usually goes wrong and he storms off saying he’ll never cook for us again.

We’d been in the kitchen since we arrived, Willow and him sitting at the table doing one thing, and me standing up chopping or measuring, generally following his instructions, all the while he was tutting at me or sighing that I was doing it wrong or too slowly. I don’t have kitchen gadgets really at my house but he has every gadget imaginable and I didn’t know how to use them, plus they were very noisy. My back was aching from standing up so much.

The cake was in the oven and the ice cream machine was whirring away, so we made the bagel dough and separated it into five bowls, each to be dyed a different colour, and took one each. The food colouring wasn’t mixing evenly into the dough with just a knife and he didn’t have any gloves so we all got our hands dyed. I was trying to be relaxed about it but now Willow has blue hands and mine are red and it won’t come off.

Then the ice cream machine pinged so I was tasked with emptying it into a tub, meanwhile he said he could smell the cake and asked me if it was ok. I’m trying to get rapidly melting sorbet out of a freezing container while checking the cake, which had 7 minutes to go but looked like it might be done. There was too much sorbet to fit in the tub so I was faffing about that, he was mixing the next colour bagel dough, and so when I got the cake out of the oven it was burnt. He said his oven overcooked things so I don’t know why he didn’t suggest we shorten the time.

Anyway, at this point I needed time out and my back was killing so I went and sat in the other room and Willow followed. We could hear him moaning and grumbling in the kitchen that the cake was ruined and he’d chuck it in the bin (it wasn’t that burnt). I told Willow to go and ask if he needed any help but he just snapped at her that it was too late now. I wanted to go home but I was scared of upsetting him further so we sat quietly and waited for him.

We all watched tv for a bit and things calmed down. He suggested we have a piece of cake and some sorbet – it was actually dinner time by now but I certainly wasn’t going to suggest we make more food. It all tasted fine, nice even. Then it was time to roll out the coloured bagel doughs and once again he was getting into a state because it had to be a certain size and he was fiddling about with a ruler and getting agitated. He decided to cut the grease proof paper into a template with a sharp knife straight onto the table. I wondered why he didn’t put a chopping board underneath but figured he knew best and didn’t dare challenge him.

When he lifted the paper, there were slices in the tabletop. He looked up at me in horror and I tried to pull the right face of “oh dear, that’s not good” but clearly it was the wrong face and that was it. He went nuts that I was “sneering” at him. By this point I’d well and truly had enough and said to Willow that we were going home. He said good, get out. We went to the other room to gather our things, then had to come back through the kitchen to get to the conservatory where our shoes were. He snarled “I thought you’d gone”, and when I opened the conservatory door he leapt up shouting “mind my things!!!”. I just wanted to leave as quickly as possible but he came charging at me as I was putting my shoes on – bearing in mind he’s extremely large, much bigger than me – and shoved me against the door to try to get me out before it was even open. I was terrified and shocked at this huge bloke coming for me with rage in his eyes as he got the door open and physically pushed me out of it, swearing and shouting that I should never ever come back! I ushered Willow out and away from him and we fled to the car as fast as we could and drove away.

I was shaking, my heart was pounding and it was all I could do not to burst into tears, but I had to keep it together for Willow. I couldn’t let her see how upset I was. I told her repeatedly how sorry I was that this had happened but she was her usual quiet self and didn’t say much. We needed groceries so I decided a detour via Tesco was a good idea to throw ourselves back into normality and perhaps pretend it had never happened.

When we got home, about an hour later, I decided to text my mum. I knew he would’ve been straight on the phone to her slagging me off and making me out to be the villain. I felt sorry for mum being caught in the middle but felt I should tell her at least a little of my side so I kept it brief and said “Jason assaulted me this evening. I’m pretty shaken up but we’re safely at home now”. Her response was really odd. “I’m sorry to hear that. Are you both ok?”. Not “oh my god, what happened?”. I realised she must have already spoken to him.

She wrote again a bit later saying that Jason and I are both under stress and can we sleep on it and let it go. I don’t feel stressed at all (well I didn’t) but I guess she doesn’t want to take sides. Now, I’m not like him in that I do realise this will eventually blow over, but he can’t go on treating us this way and I don’t want to be near him any time soon. He frightened the life out of me, and right in front of a child. That is unacceptable behaviour. He will never apologise though.

I gave Willow a long hug at bedtime. She knows how much I love her. I’m so grateful for her. But I’m devastated that I’ve brought her into a family like this. She doesn’t deserve it. I hope this doesn’t become something she’ll remember for the rest of her life, and she’ll be sitting with a counsellor in 20 years time saying “and there was this time my uncle shoved my mum into a door”. I have a bruise on my arm from where he grabbed me and my hand is sore. I’m lucky, it could’ve been a lot worse. Anyway, tomorrow is a new day and I will just do my best to make sure Willow has a good day. It’s due to be sunny again.

Monday, 29th March

looking for an adultier adult

What an incredibly beautiful sunny day it was today! Sitting in my friend Kathy’s garden this afternoon was like being on holiday. Not only was it sunny but it was actually warm. I was so blissfully happy to be a) out of the house, b) with a friend, c) in the warm sunshine, that I took several moments to just smile in appreciation, soaking up this feeling of pure contentment. I made sure to do this whenever Kathy popped into the house though so she didn’t see me grinning into space like an idiot.

I was wearing a jumper and boots while Kathy was much more appropriately attired in a vest top, capri pants and bare feet. Tomorrow is forecast to reach 22 degrees so I will be bolder and dig out some summer clothes. Especially as it’s due to snow(??) next week! Yes, really, although hopefully they’ve got it wrong as usual. Still, I will make the most of any warm weather we get while it lasts.

I hadn’t seen Kathy – or anyone for that matter – for quite a while and I’d been worried I wouldn’t have anything to talk about, but we chatted non-stop about anything and everything for almost four hours. The time really did fly by and I could actually feel my face hurting from smiling so much. She’d prepared an Easter egg hunt in the garden for our kids, such a lovely thing to do and it hadn’t even occurred to me that it was Easter. They had a fantastic time playing together. It was a relief to see that despite being at secondary school now, they are not yet too “grown up” to play. My guess is that we’ve got maybe only one more year, perhaps two at best. Then they’ll become teenagers, something I’m really not looking forward to!

Kathy and I are both facing Big Birthdays this year, albeit 10 years apart. We discussed our anxiety around parties but how in her case this was overridden by the desire to dance. Hers is in summer so she’s hoping to have lots of people mingling in the garden with plenty of food and music. I’m sure it will be wonderful but I probably won’t know anyone. She’s said I can bring a friend but who? I’d have Willow with me, which is fine as she’d be playing with Kathy’s son Tom, so I could always use her as an excuse if I needed to disappear. Do other people go to parties on their own, where they don’t know anyone? How do they cope? Maybe they have the knack of striking up a conversation without all the self doubt that would get in my way. I really want to go, I hope I don’t chicken out nearer the time. That reminds me, this morning I was writing a shopping list and totally forgot how to spell “chicken”. What’s happening to me.

Surprisingly, I’m not terrified of turning 40. I’ve been preparing myself for it for a long time and convinced myself so far that it’s not a big deal, I’m practically already 40. That’s the advantage of saying “I’m nearly 40” two years before you are. When it happens, you just drop the “nearly”. The panic will probably set in nearer the time though. I remember having a complete crisis over turning 30. It was like, you’re not young any more. Twenties is young, but by 30 you’re definitely supposed to be a grown-up. And while I had a husband, a daughter, a job, a house, a car… inside I didn’t feel remotely ready to be a grown-up. It’s that meme of looking around for an adult in a crisis, then realising you’re the adult. How silly that seems now! Of course 30 is young! But am I kidding myself to think that 40 is young too? It’s all relative and thankfully I don’t care so much now. I still don’t feel like a grown-up and probably never will. Good!

I think it has a lot to do with acceptance of where you are in life. Having all those things when I was 30 was like I could see the rest of my life ahead of me and it was all the same. I’d go to work, I’d drive a car, I’d be a mum, I’d be a wife. Forever. That looming predictability was pretty scary. Both my parents had spent time living abroad before they met, while except for the uni years I’d barely left the county I grew up in. Was this really the life I had chosen? Maybe I wasn’t thinking like this then, after all it was another three years before my marriage started to break down. Maybe it was simply fear of getting old.

Now, approaching 40, I’m single. To many this would seem like a step backwards but I see it as a wonderful opportunity not to be tied to someone who doesn’t share my outlook on life, my dreams or ambitions. I am free to plan my adventures, knowing that I could meet some incredible people along the way – maybe even someone special and end up living on the other side of the world! I understand that life is transient and see it in chapters. The chapter I’m in now is where I raise my child and go to work. The next chapter is the gap year, when she leaves home. After that? It’s unwritten, and this brings me so much joy.

Sunday, 28th March

Venus of Willendorf, an ancient sculpture of the female form

Have you ever caught sight of yourself in the mirror and thought “Jeeeeeeeesus is that what I look like??”. I’d got as far as pulling on my leggings, top half still bare, and the figure I accidentally saw reflected resembled not a relatively slim young woman, as I thought I was, but something more akin to that ancient sculpture of the female form pictured above. Saggy boobs, tummy expanding in all directions, thighs like tree trunks… a shape revered by civilisation before fashion dictated that women should be thin many centuries later. I think I actually gasped out loud in shock. I’d only stopped doing the running and the Dancercise classes a couple of weeks ago… ok maybe, wow it was actually two months. And I had been eating a lot of chocolate lately. I’d stood on the WiiFit for the first time in ages and it actually told me I’d lost weight and was at a pretty perfect BMI. I don’t think it would say that now.

I don’t feel depressed as such, I just don’t have the motivation to exercise any more. It was one of my micro special interests, it turns out. Autistic people have Special Interests – subjects they are deeply fascinated by. They research every fact and can recite buckets of information. Combine autism with ADHD and you get a special interest that I can be intensely passionate about for a short time and then abruptly totally lose interest in. I took up the dancing last summer and quickly increased from one class a week to three, all in my living room over Zoom thanks to the pandemic of course. On top of that, I started running. I’ve tried this before but my fitness level is usually about -1 so I’m extremely slow and can only jog for a couple of minutes at a time. In fact, when I attempted a Race For Life once I was overtaken by the elderly, the obese and even the disabled. This time I was considerably more able, my fitness having increased from all the dancing, and before I quit in January, I could almost do a whole 5k run without any periods of walking. This was unimaginable to me, a goal I thought I’d never achieve. Well I still haven’t achieved it and it doesn’t look likely while I’d much rather sit at home. Just the thought of having to get changed, then get all sweaty and have to get changed again is enough to put me right off.

The only reason I’d put the leggings on was because I’d bought some new trousers and been wearing them all week so I thought I should probably have a change. I’d actually had to buy the new trousers – “jersey high-waisted wide leg” with an elasticated waistband from M&S – because my jeans were too tight. Maybe I should cut down on the chocolate. I don’t normally shop at M&S, that’s for old people, right? But my lovely friend Sarah had got me a voucher for Christmas and I still hadn’t spent it. Obviously my first thought had been clothes for Willow, my daughter, but she couldn’t decide on anything. I had been tempted to get myself some Valentine’s chocolates and I’m glad I didn’t. Note to self: buy salad.

But in all fairness, there are worse vices than eating chocolate. I don’t drink or smoke or do drugs… to be frank I barely leave the house, although we are in lockdown of course. But when the lockdown ends, what will life be like? Will we all rush out partying and clubbing? God, I miss clubbing. I only used to go a couple of times a year but I so looked forward to those rare nights when I’d get dressed up and just dance my heart out. Either with a boyfriend, or on the pull with a friend, although never expecting much. It didn’t matter because I was having a great time letting my hair down.

I’m kind of hoping we’ll get a sort of Summer of Love this year, like 1967 or the second one in the late 80s – both of which I missed through being either not born or too young. There will be a general feeling of hedonism and euphoria after such a long and unprecedented period of confinement, and people will walk round smiling and hugging one another, there will be parties and festivals, and a huge relief that we made it and we’re free again. I’ll get a flowing dress and wear flowers in my hair.

In reality, I think the paranoia will remain, along with mask wearing and social distancing. People will still be cautious of getting too close to strangers, especially if anyone coughs. Maybe 2022 will be the Summer of Love. I know I’m still scared to go back to the office, although that could be because I’ve become so used to working from home after five months of it, and six months of furlough before that. Hopefully they’ll continue to let me work from home, maybe with just one or two days in the office. I’m so much more relaxed here, with my music on, the cat on my lap (until he decides he’s had enough), the whole kitchen to peruse if I fancy a snack.

I wonder if one of the reasons I’ve become so lethargic is because I don’t have a special interest at the moment. I don’t have a new and exciting Thing to pour all my energy into. I started playing a new game on my phone about a month ago but even that has lost its shine already, despite (or maybe because of) me accidentally-on-purpose spending well over £100 on in-app purchases. Oops. That was stupid. I’ve disabled in-app purchases now to stop myself being such an idiot. Can’t believe I have to parent myself in this way.

Tomorrow the lockdown rules are being relaxed and we’re allowed to meet up to six people outdoors. Perfect timing as it’s the start of the two-week Easter holidays. I’ve arranged to meet my friend Kathy and her son Tom, who was in Willow’s class at primary school. It will be wonderful to see an actual friend in person after so long, rather than just having to exchange texts. I don’t really know what I’ll have to say though, as literally nothing has been happening for ages now. The most exciting thing in my life is Ugly Betty, which I’ve been binge-watching (for the first time) with Willow. Yes I know, extremely late to the party, but I look forward to each episode immensely, and it’s so nice that she’s at an age where we can share programmes like this.

I’m curious to know how other people have been finding excitement in their lives during lockdown. They probably have partners to talk to. Don’t get me wrong, I’m extremely lucky to have Willow living with me. I could be totally alone like my brother Jason. But often I can’t help thinking how wonderful it would be to have another adult to share my evenings with and to share the housework. If I’ve forgotten to buy sweetcorn, I’ll have to go back out and get it myself, there’s nobody else to do it for me. Still, I suppose that’s better than being trapped in lockdown (or at any time) with the wrong person – maybe a partner who drives you mad if you’re cooped up together, or even worse.

I wonder if I’ll ever find the right partner. The One. Does that exist? I think probably not. Well, not for me anyway. I’ve already changed so much from who I was 5 years ago, let alone 10 or 20, so how can a poor bloke be expected to keep up with each new incarnation? No, I think each phase of my life will probably (hopefully) bring new people into it. For the next 6 years or so, my primary focus is being a mum and seeing Willow through secondary school. If I don’t have a partner during her teenage years it will be extremely tough for me, but maybe for the best as at least I can focus all my attention on her. After that I’m having my gap year! I’ll finally get my chance to see the world. I want to spend time in India, Thailand, Japan, New Zealand, South America and Canada. Who knows what will happen after that. Maybe I’ll meet someone along the way and settle down in another country. That would be a real adventure!