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This is my life now

I'm driving home from a friend's house along dark, unlit country roads.  The darkness is like a thick blanket; enveloping, suffocating somehow.  It's a clear night and the stars are splayed out above like a scattered spread of pinpricks in the blackness.  I want to gaze up at them and take a moment to appreciate them and drink them in, but I keep my eyes on the road, knowing the sharp bends and unforgiving corners that lie ahead.  I realise I haven't seen the headlights of any other cars for some time, and there are no houses along this stretch of road; so there is no comfort to be found in the warm glow from a faraway window.  I catch movement in the hedge; the piercing, suspicious eyes of something wild that knows still the threat of a humming engine.  A badger or a fox maybe.  I think about my life now, and how different it looks; how nothing is the same as it was.  I could not have predicted some months ago that I would be driving along roads I previously knew so well, to live near a town I grew up in (it feels a step backwards, no matter what anyone says).  I finally reach the brighter lights that signal I'm driving back into a place more densely populated, and breathe a sigh of relief to have escaped the clutches of the forest at night - where people drive too fast, where deep potholes threaten to dislodge tyres and where animals dart out from adjoining fields.  My window is open an inch or so and I take a second to pull a portion of the cool night air into my lungs.  It smells like woodsmoke, grass and dirt. It is familiar to me, like an old blanket or a passage memorised from a favourite book.  In a few minutes I will have passed through this town and be arriving at my parents' house; a quiet road not far from the sea, where gulls circle overhead and the latch on the gate needs a slick of oil.  I have two keys on my keyring; one for a house I haven't lived in for three months and one for their house.  They had a new key cut on the day I arrived home, my belongings in Ikea sacks, a portion of my life left behind in an Edwardian cottage an hour to the west.  I placed it on my keys, solemnly, accepting this new fate.  Placing my keys in my coat pocket, where they felt heavier against my hip.

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I wonder if it will ever feel normal to have stepped out of one life and into another.  I feel often as if this is some kind of temporary period, as if things are on hold.  I exist in anticipation of the moment when I can start living again, start making plans (I cannot sleep at night because I do not allow myself to breathe, I am waiting). But life is happening now and it does not allow you to pause, to place your life in the 'pending tray', to be the space between the inhalation and exhalation.  I am a persona non grata; between lives, floating in the ether, waiting for direction.  I am the fox in the hedge, viewing the lights in the distance with suspicion and uncertainty.  When you cry the salt dries and becomes a part of you and you become hard and grow extra layers, like a rock.  There's no going back now.

There is so much love there, still.  Sometimes when you stop watering a plant it continues to grow, defiant and persistent.  It doesn't care that you are not nurturing it or that you have shut it in a cupboard because you thought it no longer belonged on the windowsill.  That's just the way life works - it finds a way regardless.  I let it all wash over me; love, sadness, loss, tiredness, worry.  The key slides into the lock without resistance.  This is my life now.

Reading, listening to, watching

As I've been off work recently I've been digesting media even more enthusiastically than usual and thought I would share my picks of what I've been reading, listening to and watching.  There's so many great podcasts, TV series', blogs and films at the moment that it makes me feel overwhelmed sometimes thinking of how many things are on my list (so I'm going to make you feel overwhelmed by telling you what you should add to yours!) Happy to help...

Clique is a BBC Three TV series about two girls that start university and find themselves instantly drawn into a circle of friends who have a glamorous lifestyle with a dark secret hidden underneath.  It's so gripping and I've binged on it until I'm up to the current episode now, I can't wait for the next one.

13 Reasons Why is a new Netflix Original series set in a US High School.  A teenage girl commits suicide and then releases cassette tapes to friends explaining why she did it.  I've only watched the first two episodes so far but I'm already finding it totally addictive; there's something about it that somehow makes you feel like you're back in school and experiencing all the emotions of being a teenager again.  I can sense this is another series I'm going to race through.

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The Killing is a series I've been meaning to watch for ages but never got around to.  I'm up to Episode 8 now and though I'm finding it a little slow I'm determined to persevere as so many people have raved about it.  Let me know if it's worth sticking with?

Wild By Nature is a book by Sarah Marquis detailing her walks across Asia and Australia.  She walked 10,000 miles over three years and it's spellbinding, life-affirming account of what it's like to e a woman alone in the wild, to experience nature and to have long periods away from civilisation.  I can't describe to you how much this book has inspired me; it's just incredible.

Status Anxiety by Alain De Botton - this isn't really for this list as it's actually sat on my bedside table waiting to be read as soon as I finish my current book, however I can't wait to pick it up! It focusses on our anxieties around achieving status and fear of failure.  I've enjoyed several of his other books so I'm really looking forward to this one.

The High Low I'm a little bit obsessed with Pandora Sykes and Dolly Alderton (basically I want to be cool enough to hang out with them, drink prosecco and talk about books) so I'm very glad that they are back with another podcast (after retiring their PanDolly podcast) and it's every bit as good as their last one.  Discussing current affairs, style, books and culture with their typical witty, funny, intelligent style, it's a must-listen.

S-Town is the latest podcast by the makers of Serial and This American Life, and begins with an allegation of a murder in a town in Alabama.  Again, I'm only on the third episode and even though it features predominantly conversations between the person who originally contacted the producer, and the producer himself, it's strangely addictive.

Missing Richard Simmons is another podcast I binged on recently - I finished the series in only a few days.  It involves the podcast maker (Dan Taberski) and his search for the fitness guru Richard Simmons - who Dan himself got to know through attending his classes and striking up a friendship with before he 'disappeared'.

So that's what's been on my reading pile, Netflix and podcast app.  What have you been binging on recently?

My first experience of acupuncture and cupping

When I discovered that one of my oldest friends had recently qualified as an acupuncturist I was very interested in learning more about the practice.  For several months I've been meaning to go to her clinic to try and solve some of my issues such as lower back pain and low energy, but recently with the added stress and anxiety of my personal situation I knew it was the perfect time to try it.

Acupuncture is a component of Chinese Medicine that can help with a wide range of illnesses and conditions, from chronic pain, migraines, infertility and stress and anxiety.   I had no idea it was so deeply rooted in Chinese Medicine and thought it was just something had to target sore muscles or chronic pain, so I was fascinated to find out more and experience it myself.

When I arrived at the clinic we started off with a consultation where we talked at length about a variety of areas such as my sleep patterns, eating habits, medication, energy levels and how I feel on a day to day basis.  As my friend knows me well she was able to connect a lot of this to the five Chinese elements - mine being water - which indicates certain temperaments, moods and illnesses and helps an acupuncturist decide on treatment.  My 'water' type means I can sometimes be fearful and anxious, hard and detached.  Water types typically suffer from lower back pain, tiredness and kidney and bladder issues.

Acupuncture works by inserting tiny, thin needles into specific channels on the meridians of the body that are linked to our different organs.  My friend started by putting needles into my feet and ankles - I was actually quite nervous at first but I was quickly reassured when it didn't hurt at all.  It was actually an odd sensation - even though the needles were just placed into the surface of the skin, it was a very deep feeling of relaxation that felt as if something stirred from far below the surface.  She also then placed needles into my hands, forehead and ears.  Each needle she added intensified the feeling of release and relaxation.  For most of it I kept my eyes closed and it was almost a meditative experience - added to by the soft, calming music and the aromatherapy oils being gently steamed into the room.  

One of the things I wasn't expecting is that my friend then added something onto the end of the needle which could be lit, and set the needles on fire! (This is called Moxibustion). This produced a warm sensation that radiated all throughout my legs and felt even more relaxing.  It was like the warmth was flowing all through my body.

She then took the needles out and I rolled over onto my front for the next bit of the treatment.  I've been getting a lot of tension in my shoulders, with frequent neck pain and headaches over the last few weeks.  She advised that 'cupping' would be a good way to stimulate the blood flow, release toxins, increase circulation and improve my energy levels.  She placed cups with suction at the ends on the shoulders and upper back, and 'clicked' them to increase the suction.  The skin is then drawn into the cup - the ones on my shoulders were slightly sore but all the rest felt fine and it was a really odd experience! My neck has been clicking a lot and feeling very strained and sore and my friend advised that the cupping should completely eradicate that.

The whole session with the consultation included lasted around 1.5 hours and I left feeling very relaxed and a little tired, which is apparently very natural.  Since my session I've definitely noticed myself feeling less anxious and stressed and my whole body feels less tense and somehow 'looser'.  I also noticed that my mobility and flexibility in my yoga class and at the gym the next day were much improved.  Although I'm still struggling with my sleep (I've been waking in the night and finding it difficult to get back to sleep) I'm finding this is getting better every day.

I'm booked in for my next appointment on Tuesday and I'm hoping to have acupuncture and cupping at least every two weeks for the time being as I can see that it would yield a huge improvement in my stress levels and the tension, neck and back ache I've experienced.  I'm really looking forward to seeing the long-term results and am already excited for my next session.

Have you ever tried acupuncture?