Dealing With Anxiety: Writing

In my quest to deal with anxiety I am always looking for distractions, complex problems to solve or escapes to take my mind out of reality for a while. I find having something to think about while walking or shopping helps me considerably.

After speaking to a friend who recently self published a book, I was motivated again to write a book. Writing a book has been a desire of mine now for years, but not knowing where to start or what to write about I haven’t bothered. 

So yesterday I started. I didn’t have a clue what the book was going to be about or the target audience when I started putting pen to paper. Or fingers to keyboard as it was. Surprisingly, the first chapter just flowed onto the screen and the genre, target audience and first characters were decided. 

I still wasn’t sure about releasing the book though. That is until I asked my wife to read he first chapter, resulting in her crying by the end. I know she is obliged to not hurt my feelings but judging by her impatience to read the next chapter, I think she might be telling the truth when she says it’s good. 

The book, for anybody interested, is fictional and targeted at 12-15 year olds, which is the age of my eldest son.

Now I just need to find the time and motivation to finish the book, and hen decide if I want to self publish or approach a publishing house. 

Schools and Holidays

One thing that really gets my goat is the whole “you’re not allowed to take your kids out of school for a holiday” rule in the UK. Fuck you government. If I want to take my kids on holiday I will. Fine or no fine.

It’s obvious what’s going on here though. Since the price of holidays during school term times is considerably cheaper, the government looses out on taxes on air travel etc. Obviously that isn’t acceptable. How will the pricks in westminster pay for their third and fourth homes if we keep finding clever ways to get things cheaper and paying less tax into their expense funds?

As it turns out, it’s usually cheaper to pay for a holiday in term time, and then just add the £70 per child to the total cost of your holiday and you still end up saving an arm and a leg compared to booking a holiday during school holidays.

The whole system is flawed really. Unless you look at it from the perspective of the corrupt wankers in UK parliament.

Rant over.

Anxiety. It’s All In My Head

I used to think anxiety was all in the head of the sufferer in a figurative manner. I always understood the concept of a person being anxious about doing something extreme, like skydiving for the first time, but being so anxious about doing something as simple as going to a shop, that they are physically sick? Bollox! It must have been a hangover or something…

Then one day, anxiety was all in my head. Literally. I didn’t know that’s what it was straight away though. What I did know was that I had absolutely no desire to venture past my own front door. Whenever I did, because of my competing obligation to spend time with my family, even doing simple things such as going shopping, I started feeling dizzy and physically sick. This was especially obvious when walking and a sudden feeling of vertigo would present at seemingly random intervals.

Possibly the worst part of this period was my appalling mood swings and inability to tolerate people. I hated anybody outside my family. As somebody who frequently meets new people through work, this was especially difficult, Often resulting in a need to “disappear” to the little boy’s room for five minutes to regain my composure. It also affected my temper and rate at which I angered over silly little things. I’m not usually a moody or bad-tempered person. I think my wife has only actually heard me shout in anger once in the years we have been an item, and that was to a debt collector over the phone.

Unforseen change also sparked “episodes.” Simple things such as having to pick the kids up from school early because they were sick were incomprehensible to me. Or a change to a meeting time at short notice. Or a five-minute delay on a bus or train.

Eventually I decided enough was enough and visited my doctor. By my doctor, I mean a random doctor from a different practice because my GP practice at the time were useless. This chap was the one who made the diagnosis of anxiety and put it down to a seizure I had suffered out of the blue a few weeks before hand. Prescribing some medication, he proceeded to sign me off work for a few weeks to allow the meds to start working. He also advised the use of a free counselling service available in the UK called Talking Matters.

For all I didn’t notice an immediate change, my wife had mentioned how she had noticed an improvement in my mood. Progress was slow in the early weeks of recovery though. Gradually, the prospect of leaving the house become more bearable. Then I began to enjoy day trips with my family again.

The hardest hurdle to over come was returning to work. I had planned to return a few times over a two month period, but found the thought extremely stressful. After speaking to my doctor on a couple of occasions, as well as a counsellor, who both advised that I didn’t return to work just yet. I took their advice for a while but I soon found myself slipping into a depression due to the lack of human interaction during the day while my wife was at work and my kids were at school.

Eventually I decided it was time to climb back on the proverbial horse and drag my arse back to work, for some company and a distraction more than anything else. This tactic seemed to work. At least for a few weeks. And then my employer seemed to get bored with the whole phased return thing and decided I was ready to be thrown back into the deep end.

Within a month I was on a train to travel to a different company 300 miles away, to meet with a room full of people who I didn’t know, to gather requirements for a project in which I’ll be seconded to said company to develop on a platform that I’m not familiar with. In the interest of avoiding confrontation, and not admitting defeat, I kept quiet about how all of this affected me mentally for a good few months. All the time I was slipping back into a depression and suffering anxiety attacks again. Inevitably, I ended up having a breakdown and being signed on the sick again by my doctor.

This caused disquiet at work to say the least, but I didn’t care to be honest. I turned my work email account off on my phone and ignored work entirely. Apart from sending in sick notes anyway. I’d obviously learned a few tricks by this point.

It was during this bout of sick leave I had an epiphany. Instead of trying to keep everybody else happy at the expense of my sanity, fuck them all. This is the tact I have employed since returning to work this time, after the promise of weekly meetings to make sure I’m managing with my workload ect. They lasted roughly three weeks, the first two meetings didn’t happen, if anybody was wondering.

I think the inexperience of employers when it comes to mental health issues is a cause for concern. Employers are great at catering to some poor sod that has lost the use of their legs, for example, but piss poor at recognising when somebody is struggling on the inside.

The moral of the story is. Anxiety isn’t something to be embarrassed about. Don’t be afraid to get help, or tell somebody something is too much. Trust me, it’s a real thing and keeping quiet about it will only make it worse! And remember, no job is worth your mental health.

Reading a Friend’s Book

Recently a colleague of mine published a short book which he mentioned in passing. I think he was angling for a review. Or maybe it’s a few quid out of my wallet he wanted via Amazon. Either way, the idea of reading a friend or colleagues book got me thinking.

What if I read the book and think it’s shit? Do I tell him to save him the time and energy of writing another book? Or do I spare his feelings and tell him I liked it regardless?

And then there’s the method of obtaining a copy of the book. He obviously has a printed copy of the book for himself. Can’t I just borrow that? That’s what friends and colleagues do with books isn’t it? Or am I expected to go and purchase the book from Amazon at full price to help a budding author on his way to fame? Then is the Kindle edition the right choice being more than half the cost of the paperback? Or will I be considered a cheap skate?

All of these things take time to process before making a decision of whether to read the damned book or not. Maybe I could write a short book about the thought process behind reading a friend’s book.

Did J.K. Rowling mention that she was writing a book about a wizard to friends and family in passing. Did she expect them to buy a copy of the book? Or to review it and tell her it’s shit? If she had, and they had, would one of the most iconic book series of modern society have ever hit the shelves? Would Daniel Radcliffe be on the dole? Would Emma Watson be lusted after by hundreds and thousands of men around the world?

The predicament goes on. Is it really fair to mention things like a book to friends and family and colleagues? Or am I being stupid?

In the end I borrowed the book using the Kindle Owners Lending Library I get access to through my Kindle and Amazon Prime subscription. Oh well Peter, I’m sure Amazon will give you something for the inconvenience. Sorry mate.

As it turns out I though the book was funny and well written and I enjoyed reading it. Although knowing the author is weird. It was almost as if a miniature Peter was in my head reading the book to me. That probably added to the witty nature of the book though. I may suggest an audio book…

If anybody fancies reading about the misfortune of the bloke who is married to a horse lover, the book is called So, The Other Half Wants a Horse… and can be “acquired” from Amazon here.

monzo-mastercard-1

Why I Like Monzo

I don’t usually like “trendy” companies. I’m not averse to modern upbeat companies in the slightest, it’s more their marketing strategies that I sometimes find obnoxious.

Monzo (Formerly Mondo) is a different kettle of fish though, if you can see past all the emote’s in every single communication released by the company. For anybody that doesn’t know who Monzo are, they are a new banking startup here in the UK looking to revolutionise the was people do banking. You can find more information at their website if you are interested, but I’m going to go through my favourite bits right here.

At the moment Monzo only offer a pre-paid MasterCard that can be topped up via the companion app on my smart phone. This is a reasonable stop-gap until they obtain their full banking license and are allowed to offer current accounts as it gives users an opportunity to explore their app and some of the features they think will change the payment card industry. It also allows them to gather feedback from the community about what they want from a bank.

Instant Transaction View

First of all, within seconds of me making a payment using my Monzo card, the transaction appears in the app. The payment also includes details of where the transaction was made on a map and gives statistics on how much has been spent in total with the retailer. In comparison, my current account with another leading UK bank doesn’t show me debit card transactions in their app for 5 days. They are quick enough to deduct it from my available balance though.

Notifications

The Monzo app sends me notifications for every transaction made using my Monzo card, wether it was in store or online. It event tells me if a transaction was declined for whatever reason, which helps to keep other accounts in order. Notifications seem to be pretty instant too, which is good.

International Usage

Using my card when I travel abroad is great. Instead of my bank charging me a percentage of all transactions plus extra charges for cash in a different currency, Monzo charge me nothing. Not only that, you get a favourable exchange rate as well. In fact, I withdrew €200 while in Amsterdam and I was told the exchange rate instantly. By the time the funds cleared though the exchange rate had fallen, so Monzo gave me the better rate without me even knowing about it. You can’t argue with that sort of service.

Card Freezing

The app allows me to instantly freeze my own card whenever I like. Wether I’ve lost my wallet or simply don’t want somebody skimming the contactless chip in my pocket. This is a very handy feature. I can also defrost my card in the same way when I want to use it.

PIN Reminders

If you’re anything like me, you’ve probably forgotten your PIN for at least one card in your lifetime. Usually that involves calling the bank, waiting on hold for 45 minutes, answering your security questions which you have probably forgotten, and then waiting 5 days for a new pin to drop on your door map. It’s just not that tricky in the Monzo app. Simple login, Go to your card settings and click PIN. After presenting my fingerprint to prove it is me, my PIN is shown on-screen. I’d say biometric authentication is more secure than a peice of paper handled by hundreds of hands to get to me any day.

Magstrip Security

Everybody knows the magstrip is the least secure part of a payment card. That’s why it’s disabled by default on Monzo cards. Due to issues with international travellers not being able to use magsrtip only ATMs however, Monzo have added a cool feature in the app to enable the magstrip for 24 hours. Now that an ingenious solution to an outdated technology flaw that won’t go away because of the unwillingness of ATM owners to update their ATMs.

Location Based Security

Another cool feature to help protect users is Location Based Security, Which would help if your card was cloned. Basically, whenever a transaction is made with the card present, Monzo use the location of your smart phone to determine if it was made by you or not.

Conclusion

I think Monzo will do well in the current banking landscape. It’s about time a bank came along that didn’t rely on ancient mainframes, batch processing payments and taking days to clear funds. It’s 2017 and that just isn’t acceptable any more. I noticed some of the big banks claim to not be worried about Monzo. I’m sure Research in Motion said something similar when Steve Jobs announced the first iPhone, and look where it got them.

Personally I can’t wait for them to launch their current accounts so I can lose my legacy banks and start banking in a smarter manner. Let’s just hope they keep to their promises of reasonable charges and fair practices.