Ear Worm

You know when you hear something and the melody goes round and round your head, you just can’t stop hearing it? It has the most perfect descriptive name “ear worm” – sounds ugly, because it can be REALLY annoying!

My father was a pianist. A very talented musician with perfect pitch and the ability to play anything on the piano, often if you hummed one line of a melody he could pick it up, add the bass notes and recreate the original song. Sadly I didn’t inherit any part of this gift, except perhaps a small ability to hear when things are out of tune .. ! As a classical musician my father had a deep intolerance for the noise he perceived “pop” music to be, and my early purchases of David Bowie and Pink Floyd vinyl had to be played on the family record player only when he was out. Perhaps due to this influence I retained a preference for music that has a pleasing (to me) melody, and have never really enjoyed “noisy” rock or punk music. As a young woman, in the late 70’s and 80’s I fell in love with ABBA and the melodious catchy pop tunes have been part of the backdrop to my life ever since. I have dragged the kids to Bjorn Again (a great tribute band) where they gawped and exclaimed in astonishment that I knew ALL the words to EVERY song, and the ABBA tribute museum in Stockholm is on my bucket list.

I seriously wish I could play the piano, but I just can’t make my hands act independently of one another – and I have tried … ! When son#3 expressed a wish to play piano, and within a week could make his left and right hands do different things, over the keyboard, at the same time, I felt a stab of admiration, envy and awe!

There is a point to this I promise.

Yesterday, Benny Andersson, the composer, producer, keyboardist and vocalist behind the ABBA songs released a piano album. This man is a musical genius, and I have huge respect for his gift. In listening to the promo tracks for his new album, I heard his new version of “Thank you for the music”, which has become the eponymous ear πŸ›… I bought the album, it all brilliant, but this track is going round and round my head,just because of an addition of an extra couple of notes to the original version…

Benny has been teetotal since 2001 because he recognised that alcohol was “causing problems” and that he “might lose everything” if he didn’t stop.

I didn’t know this till yesterday. It feels very important to me.

I have been, not struggling exactly, but internally mulling over the decision to be dry. Please don’t all groan at once. It’s not the day to day sobriety that’s a problem now, I honestly don’t think about drinking day to day,I have wine in the house for visitors, it doesn’t bother me people drinking, I never think that I might open it … no it’s not the day to day that’s the problem; it’s the loss of my identity that I’m wrestling with.

I have gained a lot from being sober, most notably peace of mind that nothing awful is going to happen, but I have also lost a lot. I probably thought everything would be perfect once I got to this point, 568 days complete, for anyone who’s interested. Of course it’s not and I’m having difficulty in holding together the gains and the losses: I mean holding In tension the positive and negative outcomes of the decision not to drink….

Benny got sober in 2001. I think he was 54 at that time. He didn’t discuss it in public until 2011 (and I can find no reference in press reports before this that even allude to him having an alcohol or drug problem) I need to think about what this means to me: beyond the obvious, that a man who had enjoyed enormous success, huge wealth and creative genius was still unable to moderate. Something about having been able to achieve that, despite drinking, but still choosing to stop – as a “high functioning alcoholic” my quotes. That having been a drinker doesn’t negate what he achieved, doesn’t make it, or him, worthless.

I know there is something in this for me. A message / point. If I’m being fanciful I could think I was meant to know this at this particular time … for now I have indulged the ear worm, bought the album and played the track many times, singing along whilst there is no one here but the dogs – who at least don’t howl when I sing 🎢!


I always felt that I should be part of a family of 5. I don’t know why, but when my second son was born I didn’t feel that the family was quite complete … in contrast when I brought son #3 home, it felt whole, as though this was ‘right’. Subconsciously I realise I still think of us as a family of 5, although we have not been so for some time. I often find myself cooking for 5, buying food as though there were 5 people here… Now of course we are only 3 at home; and this is taking some adjustment.

Suddenly I have a lot of space. The absence of son#1 leaves a big physical hole, as well as a release of a lot of stress. Hard though it is to admit, I was so ready for him to GO AWAY. I was very, very tired of an adult child doing nothing productive, making mess and being generally unhelpful. With him gone, I realise exactly how much energy and anxiety he was creating for me. Some part of wanting him to go , must I think, be ‘normal’ – there comes a time when our offspring need to leave home and set up on their own… this is after all the whole point: from the moment the umbilical cord is cut our children begin to grow away from us until they can take their place as functioning adults in society.

He’s in touch, pretty much every day I get a message or a snapchat – but the immediacy of him, the worry of his day to day ‘management’ is no longer mine.

So there are three of us at home now, and the dogs.

Son#2 is deep in a teenage angst phase, strumming his bass guitar endlessly, headphones permanently in his ears, ready to argue every single point – reluctant to engage with the essential programme of study this academic year. My heart sinks at the thought of another unmotivated, immature young man sitting around the house because he WONT make an effort to study. Sigh.

There is more space to pay attention to him. This should be a positive. Trouble is he doesn’t want more attention, he wants to be left alone to do the bare minimum, and Mum with her ‘ridiculous expectations’ and ‘pressure’ is an unwelcome intrusion into a world of band practice, anxiety, despair and teenage hormones.

Dad seems slightly more palatable to him, but only slightly. More acceptable because he puts less pressure I think; and less because son2 is looking with a critical eye on his achievements as a father, his efforts … and is angry as he finds his father wanting .

Son #3, dragged into a meeting with his form tutor at the beginning of term, seems to have taken seriously the comments on last years end of term report. He at least remains sunny and uncomplicated. He has a focus, a career in mind and he knows it will take work and commitment to get there.

And I? I’m struggling emotionally watching J decline. No more of that as its not my story, but its hard. Nothing like as bad as it is for K, but painful anyway. I’m wondering what my life will look like in 5 years? in 10? I don’t have a Plan any longer. I don’t know where I want to be, to live, how I want to work / not work, all my adult life I’ve had a plan, something to work towards. Now I dont. Now Im not a family of 5, and I wont be again.

It sounds more gloomy than I feel. I think im just adjusting. Trying to work out where my boundary lines are – with everyone. Son1 wanting $1000 to go to Everest base camp next week (nope) ; Son2 wanting money for Β a trip to town on a school night (nope) ; son3 wanting yet more video games (nope) Β …. Just adjusting. I’ve shifted to not looking very far ahead at the moment – a week or two at a time. Focussing on small goals, trying to re establish some routine….

Very sober. And both very glad to be, and very very bored of it. That makes no sense, but its how I feel. I want some escape from humdrum. I want a purpose. A goal. Or escape so that the lack of purpose doesnt really matter any longer …


I’m much better now (physically) , after recovering from the drama of last week – I’ve had a bit of time to reflect on my daft behaviour.

It’s often said that doctors are the worst patients, and I think that’s true

1. we ignore symptoms that we would take seriously in our patients

2. we have a tendency to bypass impartial medical advice; diagnose ourselves and get help from colleagues in an informal way

3. Most of us find it really hard to prioritise our own health / well being.

All of these things are true of me. Even though I have a lovely GP, and I do consult her about long term issues; when something acute happens, or the correct option is to go to hospital, I try to manage it myself. This backfired quite spectacularly on Wednesday.

I’m fortunate that more harm was not done.

So what of the future. I feel chastened and vulnerable right now, but how will I alter my behaviour? I have two epipens now, and I will keep them in my bag. I will carry antihistamines and steroids. I will probably discus a referral to an allergy clinic for some more up to date testing.

And I will TRY to behave more ‘sensibly’ in the future. At least partially I feel because I compromised my colleagues, asking them for help when I should have been seeking emergency help at the hospital.

Its so easy to minimise things ‘in the moment’ ; and hope that they will just sort themselves out. Longer term things I have taken seriously. like my raised BP – I visited my own doctor and we sorted out medication. But somehow, acute symptoms of illness get brushed under the carpet, under the ‘have to carry on’, ‘can’t take time off’ ‘feel a fraud’ ; this false premise that we , as health care workers, who KNOW what its all about, can therefore control it and carry on without disruption.

Its not that I feel particularly robust, I really don’t. If I were my patient I would have told me to rest and not go to work for a few days. I would have explained that the huge reaction has a whole body effect. The symptoms are caused by the sudden release of chemical substances, including histamine, from cells in the blood and tissues where they are stored. The release is triggered by the interaction between an allergic antibody called Immunoglobulin E (IgE) and the substance (allergen) causing the anaphylactic reaction. In this case some kind of nuts – probably Brazil’s. Β This is not a limited condition It affects your whole body. I was close to shock when my BP dropped. I should definitely have gone to hospital as many people suffer a biphasic reaction. i.e. the symptoms return some hours later.

Its more of a ‘I have to carry on’, and not because I don’t think anyone else could do my job, that I am somehow indispensable; far from it. Its more that I don’t really believe that I deserve the care I would give to others. Deep down.

That’s what a lot of this is about.

Lack of respect for myself. Lack of care for myself. Round and round it goes. Poking out in every area.








Yesterday I had a very frightening experience. I’m sharing it here, partly as a reflective entry, and partly because if it encourages one person who reads this post to take their own allergy a bit more seriously then it will have been worth it.

Since I was about 8 years old I have been allergic to Nuts. When I was 8 years old, no one was allergic to anything (!) so I think my mother had to push quite hard for a referral to an allergy specialist in a Central London Hospital. Here I had a series of tests (we have much more accurate ones today) and was confirmed as severely allergic to Brazil Nuts, Hazelnuts and Peanuts, and moderately allergic to walnuts and all the rest. I was prescribed an epi-pen which I expect most of you know is an auto-injecting adrenaline device. Through my childhood my mother diligently refilled my prescriptions for this epipen, but I never had to use it. By trial and error I learned what to avoid (i.e. doesn’t say it contains nuts, but often has nut oil eg all Belgian chocolate, cheesecakes bases, some curries, expensive desserts, etc etc) I never had a severe reaction (by my standards) because I always had an early warning signal that something contained nuts – severe tingling and itching in my lips and tongue, so I stopped eating it. Usually I would then be sick, and apart from taking some antihistamines and steroids for a day or two, everything would be ok.

I, as an adult, stopped bothering with an epipen, I’d never used it, they go out of date really quickly and I’m busy ….

Yesterday I went to a meeting, and at the beginning the Chair handed out some biscuits that he had bought specially. I chose one without chocolate chunks (see above), and didn’t check the packet. I didn’t even want the blasted biscuit and took it only to be polite. I ate the whole thing, two bites really – and only THEN did the tingling start. Lulled into a false sense of security by my relatively contained reaction in the past, I foolishly decided to stay in the meeting. My lips swelled, I developed swelling round the eyes, my soft palate at the roof of my mouth was so swollen I could barely talk, but I stayed ( Why ??) By the end of the meeting, about 50 mins after ingestion, I was bright red and although not struggling to breathe, I realised I needed some medication.

So I drove about 5 mins up the road to the local health center where there is a pharmacy, got some antihistamines which I took, then decided they were unlikely to ‘cut it’ in terms of getting on top of a IgE medicated anaphylactic reaction, so I trawled the corridors looking for Β GP I knew. Really doctors never learn. I found a colleague, he gave me a prescription for some steroids, I collected them from the pharmacy, took them immediately and sat down for about 30 minutes. At the end of that time the intense itching had started to subside, and my soft palate was less swollen. Still no problems breathing apart from a slight wheeze, definitely no airway obstruction.

I decided to go back to work, about 15 minutes drive away. Walked to my car, started out, and about 1/2 way realised I couldn’t see properly, there was a definite feeling that I was about to pass out, and I really felt very unwell indeed. I tried to subdue these symptoms by sheer force of will. It didn’t work. In fact it got worse. I vomited, completely unexpectedly, all over my (new) car. My dizziness got worse and I really thought I was going to faint. I have never ever fainted… I pulled into a side street, lay down – thank goodness for modern cars with a push button seat relaxer …vomited again, again no warning (YUK) and tried to think what to do.

Had I been my own patient, I would have called 999 without hesitation. I should have called 999. But I didn’t. I called a colleague… Duh! Fortunately she had the presence of mind to call the emergency services who arrived about 3 minutes later to rescue me. Even after they had assessed me and I was able to initially sit up – about 30 mins later and then stand up, about 45 mins later; I refused their suggestion to take me to hospital. Did I NEED to go ? Well I’m still here, so strictly speaking I guess not, but I’m sort of realising that this might be more due to good luck than judgement.

Today I’m chastened, tired, aching all over, headache-y and honestly a bit scared. I don’t know why my ‘failsafe’ early warning system that has served me so well for the last 44 years should have failed, and it scares me. Because I know what the consequences were from eating a small biscuit, what might they had been if I had eaten two? Or if I again eat something that contains nuts and I DON’T KNOW till its too late…

I now have two epipens and will get a third later today. One thing I will promise myself, If this happens again I will be a LOT less cavalier about the whole thing …


Adjustment Reaction

I’m so tired of struggling, I’m so tired of the rollercoaster of emotions and the physical reactions to anxiety that come and go. In general I AM positive about all the changes I have made in the last 18 months, but all this change and loss (of the me I know, of my partner and our dreams for the future, of son #1) is hard.

Yesterday I had a text from son #3 saying that son #1 had “locked him out with both dogs” in an attempt to MAKE son #3 walk them. Son #1 had been asked to walk the dogs on three days in the hiatus between his two (completely funded by me) trips. I don’t think thats unreasonable. Between them, the two dogs weigh in excess of son #3, and can pull him over, Its not appropriate for him to be walking them alone. I had to leave work, go home and ‘deal with the situation’. I’m sorry to say I shouted at son#1 who was idling the day away with his on/off female ‘friend’… and he shouted back before storming off. Not ideal.

Then i went to my therapy session and Angela reduced things to some kind of order for me, pointing out that it is a stressful thing going away, that son#1 is probably nervous, that I am probably a bit anxious and that this is all pretty normal. Indeed if another parent told me this, I would think it was pretty normal. When I got home we had a hug and a chat, and order was restored.

I think all this gloom could be called an adjustment reaction

An adjustment reaction is the psychological reaction to profound change in a person’s life such as divorce, separation, immigration or bereavement .

An adjustment reaction is characterised by anxiety and depression. The timecourse of the disorder allows a distinction to drawn with an acute stress reaction:

  • symptoms appear soon after a life event (within 3 months for DSM III-R or 1 month for ICD 10), however the onset is slower than in an acute stress reaction
  • symptoms last longer than in an acute stress reaction”

(see how I like to have a diagnosis for everything.)

I’m way past being the person who felt invincible, as young people so often do, and as I did in the past. I used to feel I could cope with anything, and manage to carry on. Now I feel frail and vulnerable and only too aware of my own weaknesses. I wonder how I coped in the past, without feeling as dreadful and dispirited as I do now? I wonder if I did just bury my sadness in drink? or maybe I ‘had’ to do that or I would literally have collapsed and fallen apart. I dont know.

I just know I have to keep going, and have faith that the days will get lighter.

why am I on my own at 52?

As the time since the ending of my last relationship increases, and the emotional carnage left behind is partially healed,I begun to wonder, “will I be alone for ever?”

I started using the ‘bumble’ dating app for a while a few months ago, but though I had a couple of dates I quite quickly realised I had neither the energy nor the appetite for dating at that particular time. I deleted the app and carried on.

Despite the apparent ‘failure’ of this experiment, it taught me a couple of interesting lessons:

  1. Dating sober is ok. It’s not like dating drunk- or even a bit tipsy, but it has some distinct advantages
  2. I have got very picky. This is also not a bad thing, and for now it’s just an observation. There were many more men interested in ‘meeting’ me than I was prepared to consider.
  3. One can set ones own rules . And that’s ok, even expected. Saying ‘thanks but no thanks’ after dinner is not only fine, but providing it’s done politely and kindly , completely acceptable.
  4. I can’t be bothered at the moment. Dating requires energy. It requires time and a willingness to be available, leave home and try …. I’d rather be home with the kids /dogs and sewing /TV at the moment.

So with all these provisos I wonder why I am even wondering about the future, possible future, possible partner I might want/ choose if the option were there ?

Maybe because I’m still an optimist by nature. Maybe I still believe, or hope , that it’s possible for life to be enhanced by a partner – that someone loving you could be a positive rather than a sad, soul destroying descent into miserable, aching sadness. I do see it around me. I see couples who have weathered difficult times and come out together stronger- at least that’s how it looks to me from the outside. Certainly they have been together for many years.

I don’t lack companionship. I’m not lonely (any more) I have some great friends, a job which involves a lot of contact with others, a family and other more superficial acquaintances I can spend time with should I feel the need. I don’t even really feel the need for a partner to confide in – right now I can’t imagine trusting anyone’s advice more than that of K or my brother (female and male input) or my close sober sister (for those bits) …. I have Angela to pose the difficult questions at me , ….

If I think about it, it’s the future alone I don’t really fancy. When the kids have grown and left home – when I have retired, so less / no daily contact with colleagues … or maybe that special person for whom I would be the number one – as they would be for me ?

I think I’m in a much better position to chose wisely now. The last two relationships I embarked upon were both driven by psychological needs that I was only partially aware of. From a place where I am A) sober and b) painfully wiser , I think I could make a better choice – as long as I’m careful, listen to my gut instincts and am honest with myself .

Regrets and how to process them

I think my post yesterday says something quite important for me.

I have lived as though I have no regrets and ‘put a brave face’ on so many things. I have ‘got over’ things such as the breakdown of my marriage, and ‘moved on’.

But have I ?

Or have I buried my shame and regret, my heartache, in a nice bottle of white wine, drinking steadily and heavily to blot out the pain of a smashed up family, the disappointment of divorce and the subsequent pain of an emotionally abusive partnership?Β  Have I really ever dealt with just how rubbish the educational failure of my eldest son makes me feel ? How guilty I feel for allowing ‘stuff’ to happen to my kids. How sad I feel for the wasted years? How lonely I have been and how fucked up the subliminal messages I have sent to my children?

The way I feel now makes me question all these things.

And then I look around me and see how bloody lucky I am. I have my health (at least for now) I am employed and solvent. My children are alive. I live in a first world country and take my security for granted.

I need to try and balance these conflicting feelings in my head; two weeks ago I went to the funeral of a 19 year old youth who died suddenly of natural causes. Seeing his devastated parents and a church full of sobbing family and close friends was a harrowing and sobering experience … That family will never recover fully from the loss of their son /brother… through no fault of anyone’s, their lives have been shattered. And in comparison I am so, so lucky.

Regret is pointless, It achieves nothing, just encourages me to go on blaming myself and beating myself up. I know I should instead focus on the positives. I still have son 2 and 3 who I can influence, son 3 is only 12 and so I have quite a lot of influence. We have had some really good times, some great holidays and I have a plan to go to Africa next Summer (I hope) with all three children…

I don’t have a balanced view right now, I swing from regrets to trying to be positive, seeming to find no peace or middle ground. I hope this is yet another ‘phase’ that will pass in time… I have planned a visit to an exhibition that I want to see with a friend I haven’t seen for AGES, this is positive and I’m looking forward to it, I expect we will have lunch afterwards and time for a catch up.

I had no idea, literally no idea when I started out 541 days ago that ‘being sober’ would have this profound an effect on me. I’m glad I didn’t know, because its scary enough walking the path without knowing whats round the corner. If I had known, I think I would have been too terrified to take that first step. Now its an act of faith continuing on this path – because I cannot go back, I cannot ‘unknow’ what I now know …


So, I’ll uncap a Becks Blue lemon beer (0% alcohol)Β  this evening and watch ‘Dragons Den’ with the youngest and plod on …


I have not written anything for a couple of weeks. It’s been hard to catch hold of anything long enough to think it through – let along long enough to write it down.

Son 1 has returned from his trip to Scotland- the wilderness therapy programme. Is he “different” ? Has it changed him ? I don’t know really. Certain things are different, he says he has recognised the negative effect that all his cannabis smoking was having on him, and says he intends to remain abstinent. That’s great, and if you had told me, before he went, that this is what would come out of it,even that this would be ALL that would come out if it, then I would have been happy I think. Now I feel that i hoping for, expecting ? More. He is a bit more aware of things that need doing, a bit more willing to help out, he seems to have worked out that the home doesn’t run itself… but the general pattern of excessive screen time, little purposeful effort at anything and hours playing on the PS4 haven’t really changed. He says inside he feels more confident, which is obviously good … I thought two weeks between Scotland and the big volunteer trip to Nepal would be good, now it feels like a LONG time with nothing purposeful to do …

I’m struggling with so many things right now, internally, I feel like I don’t know who I am any longer. If I’m not the heavy drinking, chill out, impulsive, disaster prone liability any longer- then who AM I ?

My kids are growing up and away from me. It’s hard to get everyone round one table for dinner without pressuring them. I feel like I’ve lost the opportunity to have the family I wanted. It’s been miserable for them,for the most part, at the hands of first their father and then my ex partner, neither of whom are any kind of role model. All I wanted was a happy family – and I tried so hard to provide that… I’ve worked my ass off to support them all – and what I have achieved is basically very little.

I’ve been on holiday from work – at home- for the last two weeks. Taking away my identity as a doctor – my identity as a successful career woman, my identity in a place where I am respected, confident and capable has been a bit of a strange experience … normally I’m “away” during time off work .. and that’s an adventure … at home there are long hours to fill .. and my inadequacy as another, and the failure of my family life is very obvious … we have managed one trip to the cinema together in a week ….

Last day off today. I feel both fed up at the thought of no more time off as the winter draws in, and relieved to be able to escape back into my professional life.

I feel like retreating to the safety of things i know; alcohol. Impulsivity. Recklessness. That man.

Because without those things, I don’t know who I am any longer. Everything is broken down and needs to be remade… I need to be remade, I am not any longer who I have been all my life …I’m someone different, someone I don’t know or understand. I fear she is boring, serious, no fun. She (or me) prioritised her career- felt she HAD to work full time to provide a nice house, stuff and holidays … but maybe she therefore neglected her kids? Neglected to be there , which in the end would have been much more valuable?

I’m going to stop now. I don’t think this is helping… and I need to take the dogs out.