A new approach

I feel like I now understand myself a lot better than I did a few days ago.

My explanation for the last couple of weeks is that it’s been a vicious cycle of losing self confidence, kicked off by anxiety over the gastroscopy. There were other factors too but essentially it’s been a feedback loop which I haven’t recognised and haven’t managed to get under control. So, OK, maybe I will fix this and discover there is actually a real problem too, but for the moment, this is a definite problem and the rest is speculation.

I’ve been reading about mindfulness. For the moment at least I am feeling a lot more upbeat about my ability to handle the future in general because I now feel like I better understand the problem and I have a plan.

The key points of mindfulness are that firstly I should be more focused on existing in the current moment. I spend a lot of time thinking about the past, analysing experiences, looking for negativity in them, and thinking about how they will affect the future. It’s important to learn from mistakes but for me this goes far beyond that. In some ways that’s a self-fulfilling prophecy and becomes a vicious cycle because you’re constantly on the back foot. When I find myself doing this I need to instead focus on my surroundings, on my physical sensations, on my breathing. Focus on the moment. That’s what matters right now.

The second point is that thoughts are uninvited and often unhelpful. I have never really considered that it is possible to simply observe a thought’s arrival into my mind, recognise it as being unhelpful and let it run itself out. The exercise is to be aware of when these thoughts come up, identify them, and in doing so, disassociate yourself from them. They will still occur but you will understand that they don’t need to be acted upon and hopefully you will better control the negative emotional response they currently create. When you don’t feel obliged to act upon them you will much less often run into the situation where you do something you regret because of an emotional response and later think “that was really stupid, why did I do that?”, which comes back neatly to the situation in point 1.

Meditation is often mentioned as a part of mindfulness, and it’s unclear to me how it really relates to these other points. I think the value of it is in practising that ability to relax and clear those worries from your mind. It gives you the tools to be able to take a step back when you do feel things heating up. So far the breathing meditation is proving a bit difficult for me because I have a cold and it makes my sinuses burn and makes me want to sneeze, but I’ll get there.

I’ve yet to see how it all comes together for me of course but I feel like I’ve had a bit of a revelation by understanding these things. I’ve so far been able to stop my mind running away with itself, which is a marked improvement. I still find myself coming back to the big thought I’ve been having – “did she really change her hours just to avoid me?”. My heart rate speeds up a bit when I start to think about it. But of course, I don’t know the answer and the answer is irrelevant because even if it is “yes”, the correct course of action from here onwards is the same either way. If I behave like a normal human being she’ll behave like one with me. Get trapped in a negative feedback loop and she probably won’t. It’s that simple. I’ve been able so far to identify this thought and short circuit it and treat it as an unwanted guest in my mind. So it’s a promising start and I’m feeling a lot more optimistic than I have done for a while.

I’m planning to take tomorrow off sick and to work from home on Tuesday, so I have two more days before I need to face my challenges, by which time I should be better prepared than I have been for the past few weeks. This is actually a huge change of pace for me. A few months ago I was anaemic and there were many times I really shouldn’t have been at work, but I never seriously considered taking time off. Now, I have a slight cold and I’m using it as an excuse to take one day off and one day working from home.

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I am a mess.

Something I need to admit is that I’m a mess.

I wrote out the previous long post the other day and it all seemed so clear to me.

This morning things were bothering me enough that I was just about ready to go and pour my heart out to a colleague who’s previously been open with me about having problems reading other people, knowing when they are being genuine, knowing when he has upset them etc and who has a lot of internalised insecurity as a result. He’s so likeable that it’s hard to imagine he feels this way. To a third party it seems incredibly irrational, but to him it’s completely real. I’ll be talking to him and then I’ll go back to my desk and he’ll Skype me with “hey, did I cut you off there?”. It’s insightful that he shares his thought process because it lets me see how he observes something unimportant and uses it to form perfectly valid and sensible sounding suspicions that are completely wrong.

Then shortly after seriously considering doing this, she casually included me in a conversation and talked to me a bit and made eye contact when she spoke to me and everything. It’s such a minor thing but it was completely unexpected. I thought she was avoiding me and I was making her uncomfortable, and yet here she is looking me straight in the eye. It made me realise that I really haven’t got a clue what’s going on. All the conclusions I’ve reached have drawn heavily from speculation to cover over the gaps in my knowledge, and it’s all based on circumstantial observations that seem correct but may be totally wrong.

e.g. she got defensive over me asking her what time she was leaving one day, but maybe she was just worried about offending me (after I got funny with her the previous week) and she just didn’t really want to go there. It would be an overreaction if she has adjusted her schedule to avoid me, but it’s not unreasonable for her to approach the subject with a bit of caution. It doesn’t matter. Time heals these things. We are clearly compatible people so if I just behave like a normal person instead of second guessing everything and trying to adapt my behaviour to my speculation then things will work out OK in the end, maybe via a few bumps, but so what. If I make a big fuss over things in my own mind then I’m more likely to cause problems than to solve them by making a wrong assumption and then doing something that she considers bizarre.

The summary is: I need to stop thinking about these things and that’s exactly what I’m going to do. I need to stop thinking about her when I’m not at work. After I finish this post, that’s it, she’s not going to occupy more than a passing thought in my mind until I next see her. I need to keep her slightly more distant than I have done, but I shouldn’t stop being friendly to her when it feels natural.

I’m probably going to take a few days off sick next week because I’ve somehow caught a cold (in July) and I’m feeling pretty awful at the moment (with a fever during a heatwave), and let’s be honest, my mental state in the last post shows I need to take a step back and have a break from work and from her. So I’m going to have a 3-4 day weekend, I’m going to think about her not at all, and then I’m going to go back into work, and I am going to use a physical object on my desk to remind myself not to overanalyse things, which I will focus on and touch when I find myself doing it. I’ve tried this before and it does work if you are persistent with it.

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The cold period

In a complete change of pace:

She’s gone totally cold on me, but I’ve turned a corner. I don’t know why she’s changed so much so suddenly. I was so confused (and upset) by it that I wrote out a log of the last few weeks, and I was a bit surprised to find that with all the memorable medical landmarks interrupting my schedule recently I can remember a lot of details from virtually every day’s interactions with her.

In some ways I’m even more confused now because seeing it all written down in detail tells a story that makes no sense. I thought maybe I was misinterpreting something, but, now, seeing it written down chronologically and remembering vividly a lot of specific events, I very much doubt I’ve got the big picture wrong.

I don’t know exactly when it happened. There was a Wednesday three weeks ago that she seemed incredibly friendly with me (and had been for a while) then I remember her mood shifting on the Thursday (although not specifically with me), but it was more the following week that she really went very quiet with me. In the preceding weeks she was friendly, chatty and genuinely seemed to enjoy my company. Occasionally we’d see each other walking to the office in a morning and she’d beam and wave at me. It was totally unambiguous – she really liked me!

The final straw for me came this week. She started coming in later and leaving later. I asked her one day, during a casual chat (which was going OK up until this point even if I was doing most of the work), what time she would be leaving that day. She suddenly got quite evasive and uncomfortable and waffled about being very busy. She knows what time I leave, she could have just given a time 30+ minutes later. It would have been fine. I won’t say she’s definitely changed her schedule just to avoid me, but she certainly didn’t appreciate that question.

So the main points are:
1. She has completely changed how she behaves with me, this I’m absolutely sure of.
2. She has given me absolutely no indication why, this I’m also absolutely sure of.
3. I can see nothing I’ve done wrong or unusual that might explain it, except for the one mistake I made last week, but this was a week after she originally noticeably cooled on me, and it wasn’t really that bad.
4. She might have changed her schedule just to avoid me, which is pretty drastic because it means she spends less time with her children.

I’m confused. It seems unlikely I’m misinterpreting her behaviour because there were some pretty definite signals of affection before, and now not only have they vanished, they’ve been replaced with a total lack of interest in me, even to the point of her verging on being impolite at times. I am sure I did not do anything that would reasonably trigger such a big change in her demeanour. I’ve been very careful not to overstep any boundaries (and I’ve not had any desire to do so anyway), there has been no awkward (or non-awkward) flirting, no asking for her phone number, no adding her on social media, nothing. I’ve given her absolutely no reason to believe I think of her in any other way than platonically, which is mostly true. Ok, it’s not 100% true, but it’s 95% true. As I haven’t indicated as such, she’d be quite self-flattering to think I have such interests in her given that she’s a plump 40 something year old smoker, and I’m not.

So unless I’m suffering a very unreliable memory, it’s not me, it’s her. And all I can do is speculate about that. Maybe she’s taken a sudden irrational dislike to me, maybe she was worried she had feelings that she needed to cool down, maybe there’s some big shock in her life that has her preoccupied. But none of those things seem very plausible when you critique them. Maybe she’s just a flaky person and this is what she does.

But… I’m emotionally exhausted by it. I just can’t carry on worrying that I don’t know where I am with her. And to be blunt, she’s become a drain of my daily social energy. There are other people in the office who actually want to talk to me. Apparently she is no longer one of them.

So I made the decision yesterday that I just need to stop talking to her. So far, I feel a lot better. I feel like I’m back in control of myself. I feel that her behaviour has been (unintentionally?) manipulative and now she’s lost that hold on me. I won’t say I’m not missing the person she was a month ago, but I’m definitely not missing the person she is right now. So far she doesn’t seem to have noticed and she has not made any attempt to talk to me, so I’m definitely not imagining her being uninterested in me.

What happens next? Eventually she might ask me what’s wrong. I don’t know if I expect her to or not – it depends on the reasons behind why she’s acting like this – but it’s a possibility I want to be prepared for. If it happens and she seems genuinely concerned about what’s changed between us, I want to be quite direct with her. I don’t want to signal there’s a problem without being confident enough to tell her what it is; I don’t want to leave her confused like I am. Passive-aggression isn’t a good trait. Equally, I would need to be sensitive about it. So I will tell her: A month ago you were really friendly with me. You seemed to enjoy my company. But lately, you give the impression that you don’t want to talk to me. I just don’t know where I stand with you. But it’s a tricky one because at some point we’ll be unavoidably together and she’ll casually ask how I am without really wanting that conversation, and I don’t want to throw it on her unless she is actually interested. If I’m not sure she really wants an explanation I just need to keep her at arm’s length for a while and see what happens.

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Gastroscopy adventures

Well, I’ll be honest. The gastroscopy was absolutely horrific. Probably the least pleasant experience of my life. Fortunately the hard part only lasted about 10 minutes, but they were some very long minutes! Apparently I have an unusually shaped stomach which tends to curve upwards more than most people’s, which made it more difficult for them (and me). I gagged quite a lot, especially when they were trying to move the scope through to the top of my small intense (duodenum). To begin with it was some kind of trainee doctor doing it but the experienced doctor had to take over to get it all the way. She kept saying to the trainee “it’s not your fault, it’s just a difficult stomach”, which would have amused me had I not been concentrating very hard on not gagging.

I had the choice of a throat spray or sedation. If I ever have it done again, I’ll take the sedation. Also, it’s very hard to feel dignified when you’re lying on your side, your eyes watering with a scope down your throat and every few minutes a nurse has to use a suction pipe to clean up all the stuff you’re spewing up. I mean, I probably won’t be traumatised for life, but… I think some people might be. My throat is traumatised though. I hope it will feel better tomorrow.

They didn’t find anything unusual but they took some biopsies. I think that means I don’t have an ulcer but I’ll have to wait for the consultant to give a summary of what it all means after I have the MRI. This also means I’m not really any closer to finding out what’s wrong, unless my strangely shaped stomach is to blame.

I had been getting quite worried about it and I made a bit of a mess at work with E. I’d felt she had been a bit distant with me the past week and especially Friday as we walked to the station together. Over the weekend I was a bit worried I was being intrusive so I thought I should ask whether she minded me walking with her. Monday morning she (was tired and) didn’t want to talk to me, so that didn’t help. I sprang it on her Monday afternoon and the look on her face told me I didn’t do it very tactfully. She was taken aback and slightly alarmed by the notion that she’d offended me, but at the same time, it made me look very oversensitive and I don’t want her to think she has to manage my emotions. I blamed it on the anxiety over the endoscopy and she seemed understanding, but later Monday evening I felt really bad about it. Even in the waiting room before the endoscopy I was still running through various situations in my head trying to work out what I should say next time I see her. I was thinking about that more than the endoscopy.

But as I was sat in the recovery area afterwards I felt completely calm. Yeah, I made a mess of it, but she probably won’t think much of it and even if she does, it was a one off, there were extenuating circumstances, and it’ll pass. I don’t know if I’ll bring it up again to explain myself or not and I don’t really care at the moment. I’ll judge it when I see her. I think when I’m anxious I don’t always focus it on the thing that is actually making me anxious, it’s more of a cloud that infects all of my thoughts.

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I have the endoscopy next week. It’s funny; I knew before I initially went to the doctor that it was going to happen, and my reaction was “OK, let’s get on with it”. Now that I have a definite date for it, suddenly I’m much less enthusiastic. Even though it only takes a few minutes it seems like a proper, serious procedure. I’m not allowed to eat anything 6 hours before, drink non-clear liquids 4 hours before, drink clear liquids 2 hours before… and I should expect to be there for up to 4 hours, so in reality I might not eat anything that day until about 3PM and might go up to six hours without liquid, which I’m fairly sure is going to be terrible. I can choose between a numbing throat spray or being sedated, in the latter case I need someone to come with me. It’ll be a full day off work.

The MRI is quite a few weeks away but also has similar instructions.

This is my first personal foray into the serious end of the medical profession and overall it seems a bit intimidating.

Other… things… are going a bit differently. In work news… On Thursday she was a bit irritable and seemed a bit… wired. Since then she’s been quite subdued. I expect she’s a bit nervous because tomorrow she’s going on a trip with the boss to the other office and she’d previously made a remark about not looking forward to spending 3 hours in a car with him. As she left I said to her “I hope your big day out goes well” and she turned away and said “huh!”. But maybe she was just nonplussed by my phrasing and she’s been quiet because of other reasons. I don’t know. She’s not always easy to read, or at least, she is easy to read once you know how, but it’s not easy to see the reasons behind how she’s feeling. I feel like I’ve spent less time with her lately. She left early on Thursday, had a half day Friday, another half day today, and won’t be in tomorrow. And of course I won’t be in one day next week. So I’ve only walked up to the station with her one day lately and she seemed unusually quiet then. When she thinks I’m quiet she asks if I’m feeling OK, which I haven’t directly reciprocated because I’ve only just noticed the lesson in there; i.e. when she’s just making conversation she’ll ask “how are you?” which encourages a superficial polite reply, when she thinks there might be something wrong she asks “are you feeling OK?” because it signals that she’s looking for a genuine answer. But she asks that because she knows that I have felt quite bad in the recent past, whereas I feel like I have less justification for prying.

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Life and Gastroenterology

The gastro appointment was not very insightful but I’ve now definitely in the queue for an endoscopy and an MRI. I’m not sure what the MRI might show. Apparently both of these should happen in the next four weeks and I should be getting a letter in the next couple of days.

I’ve not lost any more blood since about three weeks ago. Running is going reasonably well and I’m back to where I was when all this started. I’m thinking of adding in an extra run per week starting next week to prepare for the half marathon training which will hopefully be commencing next month. I’m generally feeling OK, maybe a bit tired… But I think I’m still losing weight slowly, which isn’t good.

I actually went to the appointment after work one day after meeting my mum, who has been worried sick about me and wanted to come along. Recently I have more often than not been leaving work and walking to the station with a certain lady who we’ll call E. It just so happened that mum and E very briefly met.

In the waiting room at the hospital mum admitted that I’ve looked ill at times (which she’d not told me before). I said “you’re not the only person to have noticed that…” and left it at that, expecting a follow-up question, but as we were waiting for a taxi later she said “it was E, wasn’t it?”. I’ve since heard such phrases as “you didn’t tell me that… but I bet you told E didn’t you?”, “it sounds like E knows more than I do!”, and even the big question: “is it like having a second mother?”. But I think she’s also quite relieved to know there’s a responsible adult at work who seems to be keeping an eye on me in the event that I do happen to keel over.

Of course I find all this hilarious so I’ve relayed it to E, who finds it slightly less funny because she also feels like she’s being judged by my mother. It’s made funnier by the fact she predicted this exact situation. E and I seemed to get closer shortly after I first told her about my possible health issues. She realised one day that I was feeling ill and fussed over me a bit. Apparently I looked very pale, which certainly matched how I was feeling. Before that I was feeling sometimes she was a bit short with me, but afterwards, for whatever reason, it seemed like we suddenly became a lot more comfortable with each other. She was fussing a little bit and I said “now you’re sounding like my mum” and she got excited and said “well, I’ll be your work-mum!” while giggling. I said “I’m not sure how she’d take that” and E speculated that she’d probably be a bit upset but also reassured someone was looking out for me. Of course, E is actually closer to my age than my mother’s, but let’s not let that get in the way of things.

So… back on the E topic, I’ve tried twice now to make her a cup of tea.

We don’t have a culture of making each other drinks in our office, which I think is a good thing because it gives me an excuse to get up and wander around more often. E and I have an ongoing disagreement over whether it’s OK to pour the milk in before removing the bag (she thinks yes, I think no). Apparently I’ve made a big thing over this. Occasionally we are in there together and she starts laughing as soon as she pours her milk as she thinks I’m silently (or not so silently) judging her.

She accidentally poured me a cup using her method a few weeks ago (my cup was in the kitchen, next to hers) and she couldn’t stop giggling when she realised what she’d done. So last week I walked into the kitchen, her mug was in there, the kettle had just boiled and I saw my chance… unfortunately she got distracted and never returned, so it just sat there, which is a shame, because I was really looking forward to seeing her coming down the corridor holding it and looking utterly confused. This morning she came in while I was in there, put her mug down, went off to the toilet and again I saw my chance… I realised I should have checked before she left the room, but I know she usually switches from coffee to tea around mid morning, she’s told me several times she prefers tea to coffee, she told me yesterday “I don’t know why I drink coffee here, I don’t drink it at home”, I knew that she’d already bought a big coffee first thing, I knew she’d made herself a cup of instant after that, and it was only 11 o clock by this time, so I thought “no, I’m safe, she won’t want more coffee…”. Then she came back and it turns out she wanted more coffee. She’d been a bit irritable and was getting snappy with the person who sits next to me, so, frankly, I thought she’d had enough coffee for one morning anyway. She seemed to have mixed feelings of being flattered I’d made a cup of tea for her and, well, being annoyed I’d made a cup of tea for her, so she begrudgingly accepted it at the time. She did say thank you in the afternoon though (when she was making ANOTHER cup of coffee).

But I’m going to keep trying. One day I will make her a cup of tea and she will want to drink it. It’s a small thing but I don’t really know how I feel that we have one woman in the office full time and she’s expected to make drinks for the boss and huge rounds of drinks for visitors and do the washing up… or rather, I do know how I feel and it seems a little bit antiquated. There’s no hierarchy between us and therefore no expectation or obligation so it’s good if I can do it for her occasionally.

In some ways she’s not as exciting as she was but she’s still fun to be around, so I’m still drawn to her I suppose.

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Some short thoughts about some films I’ve watched recently:

Sergio Leone:
Fistful of Dollars is incredibly dated and seems quite silly, really.
For A Few Dollars More is superior in every way but still quite dated
The Good, The Bad and the Ugly (TGTBATU) is actually really good! It’s a bit dated but it mostly holds up and is miles ahead of the other two. I really enjoyed it. Leone has a habit of holding scenes for longer than you expect because he lets the music play out, and in this film, it really pays off.

Once Upon a Time In the West is probably equally as good as TGTBATU, though it’s much slower.
Duck, You Sucker! is OK, but it’s nowhere near as good as TGTBATU or OUATITW. This film suffers from a similar problem as the next in that there’s an extra dimension added in the form of flashbacks, but they don’t really add anything other than a bit of artificial ambiguity.
Once Upon a Time in America is… well it’s four hours long. If your film is four hours long it had better be amazing, and OUATIA is not amazing. There’s probably an interesting story in here somewhere but the film doesn’t tell it. Paradoxically, it seems like the film needs to be longer to explain all the scenes that don’t really go anywhere. The way the narrative is focused around the 1960s looking back into the past doesn’t really make a lot of sense to me as the 1960s story is really weak in that it tries to be mysterious and ambiguous, but the more you think about it the less sense it makes and the less believable it gets.

The Sergio Leone films deserve a special note for their bizarre portrayal of women and sex. There are so many scenes of sexual coercion, abuse and straight up rape in these six films; by the time I got to OUATIA my reaction to such scenes had become “oh god, not another one”.

Arrival (2016, not the mid 90s one) is a highly original film about an alien first contact on earth. I’ll understand anyone who says it goes nowhere or it’s not as clever as it tries to be, but I found it enjoyable because it approached the subject carefully and didn’t devolve into an action film.

Passengers is… I don’t know really. It’s a romance film pretending to be sci-fi. The first half slows to a crawl, but when Laurence Fishburne appears the pace suddenly picks up. I want to say the first half bored me and the rest of the film is a bit tragic, but the second half was quite engaging and I did enjoy it. That doesn’t change the fact I was feeling bored around the 1 hour mark though. Plus, the whole film is a bit ridiculous and it’s best you don’t think about it too deeply.

Blade Runner (the original) is a strange one. I wanted to like it but I found it a bit underwhelming. The world seems interesting but the story is quite lacking. The long ‘action’ sequence towards the end is tedious and out of place. SPOILER ALERT the main character lacks depth but that’s probably OK because he’s probably a replicant, a fact which is hinted at but is actually completely irrelevant to the story. This would have probably made a better sub-plot than running around a dark apartment for 20 minutes while the antagonist delivers a philosophy lecture. Also deserves a special note for instigating a romance sub-plot by having the main character sexually assault his love interest. Really?

The Disaster Artist is absolutely fascinating. I don’t know how else to describe it.

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