Tuesday, 19 November 2013

An update... getting back to normal.

It's been quite a long time since I've posted on this blog.  There are a number of reasons for that - I've had my head down working, I've been doing my HNC at college (I passed!!), I haven't been very well...

Anyway, it's getting to the end of the year now, and I've just done TORM* (an incredibly busy and successful TORM, and I'm very grateful to all those who made it so).  After a massively busy month before the market, getting ready, I'm now having a few, (I hope, and like to think, deserved), days off.   Well, I say days off, what I mean is unloading the van and unpacking, working on general admin, planning and internet / website / social media stuff, working on some charity hats that I'm going to be auctioning - you know, a self-employed person's time 'off'...

I've also been looking back on this year.  I know it's not over yet, but it's getting there, so I've been ruminating quite a bit lately.
This has been a very bad year for me.  I think one of the reasons I'm looking back on it even though it's still November, and it's traditionally after Christmas and at New Year that you review, honestly, I can't wait to see the back of 2013.  There have been a few high points, but they've been overshadowed by several months where it felt like I was wading through mud up to my armpits, and that it was never going to end or get better.

I don't want to appear as though I'm moaning ('quelle horreur', as Holly Golightly would say), but to put my year into context a bit:

Things started out badly, when a castle that placed a large order (a couple of months worth of work) decided not to pay me for it.  This dragged on for months and months, and pushed me right up to the point of bankruptcy.  Finally, they returned a substantial amount of pieces that they had ordered separately - as far as I'm aware because the contractor had kept ordering after she'd spent her budget, so the money just wasn't there to pay for them, and never had been.  Had it not been for the fact that Nigel (him indoors :)  ) has a job of his own, I'd have been out of business by March, because I had no choice but to use my reserves on those little luxuries like food and fabric!

As a direct result of this palaver I came very close to having to drop out of the millinery course that I'd almost finished - although it didn't come to that, I had neither the money to buy blocks and new materials, nor the time to make complex hats.  I still passed, and with a high merit for my finals, but not the distinction that I'd been on track for.  I was devastated (albeit briefly), but not surprised - I knew I hadn't been able to do my best work, and the grade was perfectly fair, if not a shade generous, on reflection.

The situation with the castle also put me badly behind with proper work - with one or two jobs, I had run out of essential materials and couldn't buy more - at one point a machine broke down (the motor died), and we had to wait till Nigel's pay day to have it repaired, not to mention the amount of time that was taken up in trying to communicate with the castle, only to be shouted at, to have the phone slammed down on us, or to be given the run around with various members of staff and contractors continually passing the buck and refusing to accept responsibility.

Then came another hammer blow - Nigel was to be made redundant just after Christmas, because Britvic were closing the site at which he worked (boo hiss baddies).

Around the time that we got the redundancy news, and that I was going through the pressures of my college finals, and the two wedding dresses I was making at the time, somebody decided to start harassing Nigel, via the internet and text messages.  This was someone who had a problem with me, but who seems to have seen my husband as the vulnerable one, because at no time did he contact me at all, not even once - he simply hurled a torrent of vile, profane and bullying abuse at Nigel.  He also threatened Nigel, and threatened me (through Nige).  It got so bad that we had no choice but to involve the police, who told us that they had issued a 'stage two warning' (whatever that means), and the abusive messages stopped (thankfully), at least for a time.

I was working all the hours I could, and making no headway.  I was staying up late at night, to try to get things finished, and getting up early so that I could get a headstart, and getting nowhere.  I was skipping lunch altogether, or eating it while I worked, to get more done.  Not the most sensible plan, I see now, but when you're locked in a feeling of guilt that you're not superhuman, and terrified of feeling that you're not good enough, this is how you try to address that.

I felt fluey all the time, I had bad headaches pretty much all the time, my vision was blurred, my joints and muscles ached and kept cramping, I was getting stomach pains and cramps, heart palpitations, stabbing pains in my neck and shoulders, I was getting panic attacks, and adrenaline rushes, more than once I shouted at people, or snapped at them for things that, under normal circumstances, would make me crack a sarcastic joke....  eventually I became frightened that I must have something really seriously wrong with me (cancer, or a brain tumour, or some obscure life threatening illness), so went to my GP. The doctor had a long talk with me, and asked me to tell him what was wrong.  After I'd taken up about four appointments worth of time, he told me that I had severe 'stress', was completely burned out, and that I was clinically exhausted.  He said that I couldn't go on as I was, or I would end up collapsing and being hospitalised.  He seemed mildly surprised I was still on my feet.  He wanted to sign me off for several months (but as I said, who am I gonna give the sick note to - have a chat with myself??).  He also suggested that I may have been struggling with the exhaustion for the last couple of years, but that everything else had sent me over the edge.

I did promise to take things easier, and at that point we wrote to all the people whose orders were affected, apologising, and explaining that I'd had some problems and been unwell, but that I was working hard to both clear my backlog, and keep up with any more urgent recent orders that I'd taken.  Obviously, this is what I should have done from the start, but when your brain is fugged, you just don't think of things like that.

I'm happy to say that after a serious low point over spring / summer, things are now getting much, much better.  I moved into my new studio, in September, which is wonderful, if a huge change (I'm getting used to being around people on a daily basis again!).  I'm actually going to bed at night, instead of working seven days a week, and four or five nights a week, and I get up in the morning, and catch a train to go to work.  When I estimate people's delivery times I'm being much more realistic (for example, if somebody orders a gambeson, I'm admitting it takes two days, instead of thinking 'well, if I start at 9am, I can cut it in the morning, machine it in the afternoon / evening, and hand finish it overnight, and I should be done by 5am, so that'll take a day').  Occasionally I still muck my timings up, and end up working all nighters, but not as a regular thing.  I'm no longer getting the aches, pains, headaches, and fluttery heart, etc.  And people keep telling me (or Nige) that I seem much more relaxed, and have my sense of humour back (mostly).

I'm also happy to report that Nigel jumped ship from his old company early, and is now settling into a new job.

So, anyway, the upshot is, I'm getting there.  Yes, I'm still a bit behind, but I'm working my way through, and as far as I'm aware I've contacted everybody that was affected - if I have missed anybody, as I admit is possible, now that I'm willing to admit I'm a person, not a machine, please do get in touch, and we'll get back to you as soon as possible.

And I really hope that 2014 is as good as the stonkingly good market we've just had suggests it will be!!

*TORM is The Original Re-enactor's Market, which takes place at Ryton-on-Dunsmore in March and November every year.  I've just set up the official Facebook page for the market at https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Original-Reenactors-Market/693858023966259?ref=settings