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Matt Wilcox

Musing

Nov 22nd 2015

On a personal note...

Those 'end of year' review posts people sometimes make? Think of this as an early one of those.

2015 has been a testing year

As the wonderful Paul Sellers likes to say:

Woodworking is like life - it comes with knots in it.

Knots are tough, hard to work, and damaging to your equipment - but you just have to work with them because that's what you've got to work with. Wood has knots in it. So does life.

2015 has had a few unexpected knots in it for a lot of people I know, mine far from the worst. It has been a bitch of a year. But suffice it to say that I am now single, and that has come with a lot of associated pains and complications. I won't be through some of that until at least April of next year if all goes well, longer if it doesn't. It's why I've been so quiet online, why I bailed on Twitter and Facebook for a while, why this site stopped getting updates. It has been a profound change in my life, and it's been scary, sad, and painful. But as Paul would say - you have to keep working on what you're making and not let the knot stop you. As you get through working with the knot you start to find good timber again. You re-sharpen your equipment, re-set your blade, and get back to making what you were making. By the time you finish, sometimes that knot proves to be a beautiful feature of the final work.

How 2015 has effected my head-space

For the last four years, while I was in a relationship, I have been happy and relaxed. You might say 'normal', which wasn't normal for me but became normal - and it was brilliant.

My ex leaving (on amicable terms, I should clarify) sent me back to how I used to be five or six years ago. Over thinking, over analyzing, over worrying. Unable to live in the moment. Spinning my mind at full speed over things I can't change or have any control over. It's deeply unhealthy. Fortunately, I am a lot faster at recognising this stuff now - and while that doesn't mean I can stop myself from feeling the way I do, it does tend to help slow things down. A few things have helped:

Family

Having loving family is always great. I live 2hrs away from mine and I'll be the first to admit I haven't always appreciated my family like I should have. This year I wished I lived a lot closer, to be able to just drop in. They've helped a lot in many ways. I even thought about moving back closer to home for that reason - but it just doesn't make sense when you look at the realities of it. Finding a comparable job there would be hard and mean throwing away a good job that I enjoy here, and finding a house there is more expensive than here too. Frankly I've had enough of a life change this year too.

Podcasts

Podcasts have helped a lot with this, weirdly enough. I listen to a few 'two dudes talking' shows, and a couple with a host who's a psychologist, and while a lot of the time they're tech related, they'll often swerve into personal stories. And I have discovered I'm far from alone in the way I think and react. From listening to them I've become aware that left to my own devices I have an anxious personality. My mind is constantly trying to second guess what could go wrong next and plan out ways to avoid that. The whole 'checking the door is locked three times in five minutes' type of thing is a mild symptom of that. Getting heart palpitations because I'm not sure I can save enough to retire on if I live to retirement age is a more stupid and serious one - my imagination of what might go wrong thirty years from now is utterly unreasonable.

Simply hearing other people talk about this sort of anxiety mindset has helped me. I recognise myself in their stories, and can take on board some of their fixes, and just get solace in the fact I'm not alone in this.

It also helps to realise that I don't have to be like this - I haven't been for the last four years. My thought process can change.

Focus

This is hard, but something I've become aware of very recently. I no longer focus on any one thing, and I need to. I now realise that when in a relationship I naturally focused on whatever I was doing, and that helped me be relaxed and feel in control. Even if that was only sitting and watching TV. I guess I was content and felt secure in general. Now, I'm always trying to multi-task. If I watch TV I feel like I'm wasting my time, and I'm also on Twitter or Facebook or the internet. My ability to focus has plummeted. And so I find myself in my head-space more and more often. And that's bad because my headspace is full of imagined traps and terrors.

So, being aware of this now, I'm trying to make conscious decisions to do only one thing at a time. To put my phone out of reach if I'm watching TV. To catch myself when I've stopped paying attention and started thinking of something else - then to bring my attention back to the task at hand. Focussing on one life experience at a time helps stop the worries I have permeating everything and taking over.

Accepting change

This is hard. But I think what really scares me the most, in general, is change. This year has had huge change, and more might come. I find that very scary. But... as soon as I accept that if it happens I'll deal with it, it moves from being an almost debilitating omnipresent fear where I scramble to do anything I can to avoid it happening, to merely a thing I really hope to avoid but can deal with if I have to.

Accepting that change might happen shifts me from obsessing over avoiding something, to realising that if it can't be avoided life will still go on and I'll be able to deal with it.

The trouble I havre after that is 'accepting' usually lasts a short time before I find myself back to worrying and having to remind myself to accept things again.

Social life

Here's a real bastard. I'm fairly insular, and I've only ever had very small groups of friends. Over time, those friends have moved away as life takes them to other places, other countries even. With Becca my social circle dropped to one person. She's gone, and so now I have no close friends around. The people at work are great, they've been kind and understanding and helpful - but the problem is I'm almost 35. People my age are in relationships, busy at work, having children, and basically are not available for being friends very often. I live in a part of the world where there simply aren't many people my age - the town I'm in and the ones close by are essentially full of retired people. The closest place with younger people is a 40min drive, and it's a university town. They're all 18 - 24. It's where I hung out for the last decade... but while I meet great people there, they don't stay. They move away. And, frankly, I'm feeling the age gap.

So I've tried joining a canoe club, which is great - but it's winter here so it's a case of an hour every two weeks in a swimming pool. The local camera club turns out to be full of people 50 and up. I don't like going clubbing any more even if there were decent clubs around, and going to a pub on my own in an evening just seems... depressing.

It's *hard* finding people my age; especially if you happen to be on a budget and can't afford to go to far off places that often to go meet them.

I'm still working on this one.