Family Stuff

My brother thinks that dad is a little bit scared of me.

My instinctive reaction to this was laughter and, somewhat meanly, to think of “THE POWER!” that this grants me.

I asked my brother if I really seemed that volatile. He didn’t have to elaborate much for me to get the gist of it: dad is scared by the unpredictable ferocity of my wrath.

I used to get like that with my brother sometimes; the right glare would make him shrink. But we’re both older now and have a fair bit in common. I’m more inclined to be frustrated by dad than my sibling.

You see, my brother and I actually talk to each other about feelings. Dad doesn’t do that (whenever he does it leaves me in a mild state of shock). Mum’s the empathic one, my brother’s been through enough of the stuff I worry about to simply get it, and I know dad doesn’t do emotions. He’s literally said as much. He feels them sure, but he doesn’t talk about them. It’s stupid, but it’s his prerogative I guess.

We’re a bit alike in that way, sometimes. I doubt I’d get so fiercely angry about stuff if I didn’t bottle it up in the first place. If I regularly talked to people about the things that bother me (I’m a terrible judge of how frequently I do that by the way) I could probably defuse the problem.

Dad tends to consult my brother on how to handle me. I find this fact hilarious and I’m not sure why. There’s definitely some sort of bitterness in me there. I can’t pinpoint the specific cause of it but, if I had to guess, I’d say that it stems from the marriage blip he and mum had during my teenage years.

That was a long time ago now. I haven’t had to explain the story behind my parents living in separate houses while still being together to anyone for a while. I think I’ve gotten better at explaining it concisely, but it’s still one of those *sigh* “here goes” moments.

One of the standard questions you get asked in a counselling assessment session is: “Are your parents divorced?”. To that I say no, because they’re not. But they nearly were at one point. It was the most amicable separation ever, it had a happy ending eventually, and I angsted to my friends about it way more than was necessary at the time. I have nothing to be upset about now and I barely had an excuse to get upset back then. It all worked out fine in the end.

But I still get mad sometimes and it’s easiest to get mad at dad. It’s not necessarily his fault; it takes at least two to miscommunicate, after all, but sometimes he’ll say something horribly insensitive at dinner and the rest of us will exchange glances round the table. I don’t think he even realises that what he’s said is insensitive until I respond with either a “I want to murder you” grin or a tight lipped bit of snark. I’ve managed to avoid bursting into frustrated tears in those moments so far.

Passive aggression is my bread and butter. I know it’s not a great approach to dealing with anything, but it’s very difficult to politely explain why you feel the urge to rip someone’s head off to said head owner. I love my dad but he can be a complete idiot sometimes. Maybe if we talked about emotions once in a while he’d know better than to say certain things around me, but I can’t bring myself to bridge that gap.

Shit. Maybe that’s why the idea of him going to my brother for advice on how to handle my emotions is so fucking funny to me. It highlights the crux of the problem.

I tend to alternate between glowing at any tidbits of praise I get from dad, gushing to him about tech stuff (because you can only talk to him about concrete things he cares about, since emotions are out of the equation) for the sake of us having some sort of thing to bond over (it’s not mandatory, but it is nice), getting sometimes out of date job advice from him, and wanting to rip his head off.

That’s family I guess.

A Good Day

It’s been a good day (despite feeling like my skin is going to melt off in this heat).

Turns out that some of this week’s angst might have been PMS, so things are probably fine. Maybe I’m not failing at whatever it is I think I’m failing at right now. I’m going to cling to that hope like it’s a fucking acceptance email for the job of my dreams.

It’s always a relief when I can blame my reaction to something on PMS. It’s a reminder that, for at least x amount of time, I was having a normal overreaction to a silly thing. I don’t have to feel guilty or embarrassed or worried if it was PMS. It means that I was genuinely overreacting to the thing, instead of said thing being a real problem that I alone am responsible for solving.

I hate being a responsible person sometimes. It’s not a bad quality, just a bit of an exhausting one, especially if you’re a perfectionist who has a bit of a thing about making sure people are okay (because what if they’re not and something bad happens).

It would probably be more straightforward if I didn’t try to deal with things on my own so much, but it’s my life. I’m responsible for how I handle things and it would be irresponsible of me to dump that on anyone else.

There was a moment a few nights ago where I found myself knocking on the bathroom door at 3am to ask my brother if he was okay. We share a bedroom at my dad’s house, I thought he was taking longer in the bathroom than usual, and my sleep-deprived brain immediately jumped to the worst possible conclusion. I knew that it had, but there was a niggling feeling of “what if you don’t check and regret it for the rest of your life?”. He was fine, of course. That night was simply a sign that I need to sleep more and transcribe murder documentaries less.

I’ll be glad when he heads back to uni. It’s easier to avoid worrying about him when we’re not living in the same space. So. Much. Easier. I know I shouldn’t, but I feel at least a little responsible for his wellbeing.

I’m stuck at home surrounded by family and I can’t talk to any of them about it. About how my worst fear is that one day my brother’s going to up and off himself just like our cousin, and that some of it will feel like my fault for not getting said brother to a therapist after he told me about his self-harm or getting him to tell our parents about the self-harm or for not spotting signs of further mental health deterioration that are sometimes impossible to spot. That is the worst case scenario my mind jumps to when I hit a certain level of I don’t even know what. Out of it-ness? Triggered, maybe?

It’s the kind of hell scenario that the rational part of me knows will never happen, but the scenario that has just enough grounded disaster potential to keep me irrational about it. My brother is not suicidal and never has been, as far as I’m aware (but depression seems to run in mum’s half of the family). Self-harming behaviours are not necessarily linked to suicidal ideation and he hasn’t cut himself in ages now (but what if that changes?). He also has a large, supportive network of friends (but how many of his newly made uni friends know about his mental health stuff?). He is fine. But when I’m not, it’s one of the things I worry about. I wonder what that says about me.

Goddammit I said it’s been a good day but here I am getting angsty on WordPress at 3am. Again. Maybe I should make a rule for myself about late night/early morning posting. My critical thinking skills and positive vibes aren’t exactly switched on right now.

Anyway, here’s a picture of a mint chocolate chip sundae. Just to prove that it has actually been a good day.

2 Day Rule

Is it possible to do life in moderation? Is that a thing? Or am I going to constantly zigzag between being insanely productive and being exhausted for days at a time? Is this how self-employment works or is it just how I work (at this point I describe myself as a creative freelancer who specialises in UX design and music composition, and has a lot of hobbies)?

Adulthood is weird. Everything shifts so you can accommodate earning enough to pay the bills (I don’t have any bills to pay outside of my mobile contract but I do want to move out of the family home at some point). Friends drift in and out of your social orbit, you contemplate daring to invest in a credit card (I haven’t done it yet but maybe I will one day) and it can be difficult to maintain much outside of work. Again, speaking for myself here. I’m sure many people out there are better at this than I am.

I figured that I’d get a 9-5 job after graduation. I figured I’d get an income decent enough to allow budget leeway for charity donations, and that enforced social interaction would remind me that I have some social skills. None of that is happening yet, but I’m working on it.

I would like to get a job that necessitates leaving the house. Maybe even moving to a different part of the country. Relocating doesn’t sound so scary to me anymore, provided I have the salary to afford it. Living somewhere new, meeting new people, working a new job, it all sounds exciting. I love my family but I don’t want to live with them forever. I don’t want to feel this isolated forever. I want to make work friends!

The isolation isn’t that bad really. I have friends from home, uni and my UX group to talk to on a fairly regular basis. They’re ozzum. But I should probably be making more of an effort to physically meet up with people.

I’m not sure what we’d do, though. I don’t know how I’d feel about going into the city for a daytrip post-lockdown. I get a bit weird about enclosed spaces now, sometimes. Not that that’s an excuse; I usually get over mildly anxiety-inducing things via enough exposure to them.

More importantly, I don’t know what we’d do. It’s always easier to talk to people when you’re doing a thing together. I should start Googling things to do…

I finally got over my mental block when it comes to the job hunt, by the way. Can’t remember if I mentioned that on here before or not, but I have. So that’s good. I’m aiming to apply for at least one thing every 2 days. That should give me enough time to get my other work done, do a hobby and possibly not burn myself out for a change. I don’t know how well this new 2 day rule works yet but I’m going to find out.

Tomorrow I’m going to go to an owl sanctuary (dad’s insisting on a family outing. As much as he claims to love remote working I think even he feels cooped up), probably do some transcribing and apply to a UX job I don’t think I’m qualified enough to do. I never think I’m qualified for these positions but I guess you don’t really know in such an ambiguous field until you get the rejection email. Or an inevitable silence. It’s less crushing if you expect it. I think. I kinda don’t care anymore.

I read somewhere that gamifying rejection emails is a good way to get into a habit of applying for stuff. The idea is that you set yourself a target number of rejections you want to receive and start applying to all the things. Each rejection means that you’ve ruled another company off your list and learned something from the process. The rejection email counts as an achievement. Or something. I’m such a perfectionist that I think I’d beat myself up for not reaching the rejection target, and completely demotivate myself in the process. Plus there’s the fact that motherfucking companies don’t have the time to reply to applications these days (yup I’m not bitter at all about that). I’m going to try out my 2 day rule and see if it sticks.

All The Jobs

Sometimes it feels like I spend so much time working that I barely have the time to look for work (looking for work is something I’m supposed to be doing if I want to get off Universal Credit). My income streams currently consist of:

  • Database design for mum – this is fun in the kind of time consuming way I know I’m definitely being underpaid for. I’m not about to ask for more money though cause a) the client is my mum, and b) I have no idea what I’m doing so the project timescale consists is whenever I have the time to work on the project. I’m keeping a log of my hours and might casually show that to her towards the end, though.
  • Freelance transcription – this is interesting but sometimes tedious work, and it’s flexible enough to not exceed my arm capacity unless I’m being stupid about pushing myself. The pay is decent, I think, but payment dates are painfully unpredictable. Different companies have different pay days and invoicing systems. I’m super glad that my client contact is the one who handles the invoices and chasing up clients instead of me!
  • User testing – I’ve signed up to a number of user testing sites so I can become a paid tester. This means that I basically go through websites and apps evaluating design choices and spotting bugs. You get paid around £10 for a 20 minute test but you have to qualify first, and tests are few and far between. The work is fun and interesting but far too sporadic to be relied upon as anything other than a small income boost.
  • Redbubble – I occasionally post my designs on Redbubble products. It’s something I’ve been doing since 2015 but I reckon it only pays well if you put in some marketing oomph. The closest I’ve got to doing that is putting the occasional link up on Instagram. It’s a pleasant enough passive income to have since it literally costs me nothing!
  • Music streaming – I have an EP and single on Spotify as well as various other streaming platforms. Of course, streaming earns you peanuts: I put my EP up 2 years ago and have so far earned the meagre sum of $3.06. It was what I expected. Getting money out of the music industry means putting a lot of work into getting exposure and befriending the right people. To be honest, I’d much rather stay hidden away behind the scenes and apply to random freelance opportunities when I can.

I keep surprising myself with the portfolio nature of my career. I never considered becoming a freelancer, but it seems to be what happens when you’re a creative who likes to keep busy. If I develop some self-confidence I might even get good at it one day! However, it doesn’t change the fact that I would like a steady income and enforced social interaction in my life, hence the job hunt and the work coach breathing down my neck.

It’s kinda funny really. It took making yet another tailored version of my CV today for me to realise that I’m working 3 different jobs at the moment (freelance UX design, user testing and transcription). It was a weird ego boost. I am doing things; I’m just so busy that I forget what I’m doing until I have to articulate it to someone.

I don’t want to take on a soul-sucking minimum wage job if I don’t have to (I respect the fuck out of people who can handle the trials and tribulations of customer service), especially not when I’m earning a fair amount through my transcription work. Since I am actually earning and working a lot, maybe the next chat with my work coach will go better. I know what I’m doing now (the pep talk from my griblee friend the other day helped).

It helps that I found a cheap music freelancing platform to apply to things on. All things I apply to on there are musical. It’s the kind of stuff I love but doubt I’d ever be able to make a living out of. The opportunities that I apply to on there are ridiculously easy to apply to and actually excite me instead of instilling a sense of dread. Most importantly, it’s all stuff that I have experience in! It’s stupidly ego-boosting to see that I have years of experience in something, you know. It’s like a confidence safety net.

I think the sticking point of upset for my UX job hunt was to do with experience. 90% of any UX job is explaining why UX is worth doing to your employer. I’m prepared to deal with that, but I’m not prepared to be the lone UXer doing that for the entire company when I myself am very new to the field.

All of that stuff makes it near impossible to craft a UX cover letter. I want to position myself as someone who’s skilled and keen to learn, but also a someone who’s not willing to become the company’s UX God/unicorn (been there, done that, didn’t know what the hell I was doing but fortunately no one else understood my job title well enough to recognise it). Add in my perfectionism, a tendency to overanalyse things, general busy-ness, and, well. You get into a bit of a UX job hunt mess.

But that’s going to change now because I’m going to make my UX mentor read my goddamn cover letter. She can tell me if it’s good enough and her word will be final on the overthinking things. Then I’ll have a UX cover letter template and I won’t need to panic about the whole damn thing so much.

Family Wonderings

We held a socially distanced version of the Table Occasion the other week. It was strange but fine. I actually find it less stressful to interact with people while wearing a facemask (especially strangers) because I don’t have to worry as much about maintaining a neutral expression; I have a decent pokervoice (thanks to the remote internship) but no pokerface.

Anyway, the Table Occasion is one of those events where I can learn random stuff about my parents. Mostly via eavesdropping, but also via their friends. It really forces you to reflect on the fact that your parents are just humans like everyone else. This year I learned that:

  • Dad always wanted kids but mum only got broody towards the end of her twenties.
  • I only seem to do the kind of activities that require definition/extensive explanation when brought up in casual conversation.
  • Dad thinks of family members as free networking opportunities.
  • Dad literally said: “It’s about feelings not logic, so you can’t talk about it” in reference to my brother coming out. Oh dad. That’s not how human-ing works. No wonder men’s mental health gets such a bad rap!

Okay, so most of things I’ve honed in on are dad-related. No real surprises there. When someone only emotes in terms of frustration or happiness, it’s kinda difficult not to latch onto signs of anything else. It is what it is. Since doing the internship I’ve begun to realise that we’re more similar than people seem to think.

Recently it’s been making me contemplate the example my family sets for my brother, the only one out of us with diagnosable mental health issues (though I’m pretty sure mum could’ve been diagnosed with depression at various points of her life). Mum talks about emotions but gets so visibly bogged down in the process that it can feel difficult to talk to her about things (especially when I’m the one she vents to if she feels like she’s been a bad mother for not magically spotting my brother’s problems), dad doesn’t talk about emotions point blank and I. Well. I guess I’m somewhere between the two? I only tend to talk about the heavier stuff after I’ve dealt with it, though I think I’m getting a little better at talking to people during the bad stuff.

I had a phonecall with my Universal Credit work coach earlier this week and I spent most of it crying. I didn’t know her well enough to feel embarrassed about it, especially given the fact that I was tired, possibly ill, and talking about how stuck I am with the tech job hunt to someone who doesn’t seem to understand the idea that friendships can be maintained online. I mean, I have no choice with the way my friendship group is spread out during a global pandemic.

Anyway, to make a long story short, I think she thinks I need therapy and she may not be wrong. 90% of my job hunt at the moment consists of me wrestling myself into applying for things I don’t think I can do. I assumed it was normal to feel a bit shit during the job search, especially during a global pandemic, but maybe it’s not supposed to be quite this shit? I dunno. Emotional turmoil is relative.

I perked up later in the day after going for a walk, doing some intensive design work and making MY FIRST POTENTIAL UX FRIEND OUTSIDE OF MY UX LEARNING GROUP!

That last thing is a huge ego boost because it suggests that maybe I am capable of networking within my industry if I do it via platforms less intimidating than LinkedIn. I still can’t get myself to reach out to people first, especially not people with loads of experience in the industry (they’re the people that I should be talking to but I know I have very little to offer them in return. I don’t want to waste their time with my aimless but enthusiastic curiosity), but I’m happy to give advice to people on my sort of newbie level. Sometimes they follow up and then a potential connection is formed!

I also learned this week that the best approach to discussing deep, upsetting topics with mum is to do it while helping her make dinner. It keeps my hands busy and means that I don’t have to make eye contact while voicing scary thoughts/feelings. It’s the closest I can get to simultaneously hiding and being honest with her about that stuff.

Obviously I’m not going to tell her everything, especially not when it comes to my brother’s self-harm (that’s his story to divulge whenever he’s ready to divulge it). Who tells their parents everything anyway? It’s not mandatory. But the emotionally difficult stuff does usually feels a bit better if mum knows about it. It is what it is I guess.

My brother told me that he had a long conversation with mum at the Table Occasion in regards to me and fucking. Mum’s worried about my lack of fucking (I think) but my brother isn’t because “You’re happy and that’s the important thing”.

Am I happy though? You don’t randomly burst into tears on the phone with a virtual stranger if you’re content with your life. I bet you also don’t feel the need to have clear exits available while watching films (just in case a stressful thing happens onscreen and you need to go calm down in a different room) if you’re “happy”. Either way, I don’t think it’s anything that fucking will fix. Being single is not the problem. I am.

Ugh. I feel like I should say something uplifting now about how stuff’s not so bad. Stuff could be worse, sure, but it could be better too and I’m tired of pretending otherwise. It is what it is.

I know it’s okay not to be okay. I also know I’m better off than most when it comes to my current circumstances. But I’m in that weird transitional space of not knowing if I’m okay anymore and it’s the not knowing that I hate. I didn’t expect to start crying at my work coach. I don’t even remember what question she asked that brought on the tears; it just happened. Was it an off day, was she being mean or insensitive without me realising it or is something actually wrong? Are you supposed to know what’ll reduce you to tears? Is that a thing? I don’t fucking know and that’s the problem.

The Why

I never wanted or expected to become a freelancer. I’m too afraid of dealing with difficult clients, too shy to feel like I’d be any good at handling unfamiliar people, and I don’t do niches. Besides, I want the stability of a steady income and regular co-worker interactions.

And yet I am a freelancer right now.

My niche, if I can really call it that, might be consulting? I do the grunt work for people who don’t quite know as much as I do about a thing, in essence: people who don’t have the time or patience to figure it out for themselves. It’s things like setting up a business YouTube channel for my guitar teacher (that’s been put on hold thanks to the financial pressures of lockdown), putting together my mum’s garden database, setting up the design and general content of my fashion friend’s portfolio website, and setting up a template WordPress site structure for a fellow freelancer who knew nothing about WordPress

But then there’s my transcription work. Transcribing isn’t consulting and neither is the paid user testing work I’ve been trying to get into.

I don’t know what I am. I dabble in so many different things that it becomes kinda hard to market myself, but that’s okay. I’ve heard numerous entrepreneurs in webinars say that it’s more important to sell people on the why of what you do.

I want to help people, be creative, and learn stuff along the way. It’s as simple as that.

Busy

I feel like I haven’t got much to say right now. Except that can’t be right. I’m so busy with work stuff that there must be something on my mind, while I’m awake enough to grasp it.

I’m doing freelance transcription, freelance design/development work (despite the fact that I don’t know how to do either of those things), am exploring the world of paid user testing, have started a Python programming course, and am toying with my podcast idea (when I get the chance). I also need to restart user research for my songwriting app now that my potential interviewees are out of the exam period.

What have I learned?

Unless there’s a deadline, don’t let anyone rush you. Find your own pace and go with the flow (my flow happens to involve a multitude of things at once and may require some adjusting).

My Universal Credit work coach keeps recommending random jobs to me that have nothing to do with my interests. Quite frankly, I’m too busy with the work/projects I have right now to want to apply to anything that doesn’t appeal to me.

I primarily earn money from freelance transcription, and that has really picked up this week. I’m in a position where I can actually afford to be a bit picky about the jobs I apply for. Not too picky – at the end of the day I’m still on the bottom rung of the career ladder, but something that is at least related to the field I want to enter.

I will find a junior UX job, even if I have to carve the position out for myself. Let’s face it, that’s probably what’ll happen. Eventually.

Levelling Up

This week I attended a webinar about levelling up as a woman in the workplace. I think the other attendees found it inspiring, if the chat was to be believed. I however, found it a bit depressing.

The webinar cemented the idea that getting places in the working world is about building strategic relationships rather than doing good work. I’m happy to put my head down and get on with things, but the idea of purposefully trying to build a “strategic relationship” with someone freaks me out.

I don’t think about networking in professional networking terms; I think about it as making friends. I volunteer and join groups that share my creative interests. It’s so much easier to talk to people when you’ve got clear things in common to talk about!

I don’t want to talk about me in those situations either. Most of the time I want to get to know the new people and then, if they actually care about our relationship going anywhere, they’ll do the same with me. If they don’t reciprocate the conversational interest after a certain amount of relationship-building time (if you really want to look at it in strategic terms), then maybe I can dodge a bullet. Who knows? I’m good at expending unnecessary energy on people. What I do know is that unmutual relationships are the worst!

Anyway, one of the exercises during this webinar was to write a list of professional achievements. I’m at the start of my career, so I found that pretty difficult. I guess I consider my personal website as digital documentation of my achievements, but maybe it would be good to have a few of my achievements in list format as well, just to cement the idea in my mind that I have done and will continue to do stuff I can be proud of.

Might as well do it now I suppose. I am tired to the point of crying about slavery articles, so a pick-me-up would be good right about now.

*Half an hour later*

Done. I now have 18 achievements to my name. I don’t know if that number is good or bad considering the fact that I’ve been on this earth for 23 years, but the list is going to grow either way!

Life Information and Superheroes

I did a lot of stuff yesterday so, naturally, I’m tired and sluggish today. In the absence of being able to think straight, I have decided to write a blog post. Let’s see if I regret it or not!

I have a notes app thing that came with my phone. I mostly use it to keep track of UX questions to ask at my next UX group and/or mentoring session. However, I recently decided that I need a new note category thing in the app.

I’ve called it “Life Information”.

This new category consists of random shit I must know to do be a proper adult. To be specific, it consists of things that no one taught me at school.

At the moment my list of Life Information contains:

  • Tax stuff – a note of how much I need to earn to get more confused about HMRC and taxes (over £1k).
  • My bra size – when you hate shopping as much as I do, it’s easy to forget this (all the labels fade before I remember to check them!).
  • My personality type – on the offchance that knowing I’m a ISFP-T personality comes in useful at some point.

There’s not much on there at the moment, but I’m sure the list will grow.

In other life news, I’ve decided to circumnavigate the many issues I had with my unfinished 2019 NaNoWriMo novel by turning it into a 10 episode audio drama mockumentary podcast. It’ll be about superheroes, the pedestals we put them on and what it takes to be one in reality.

Weirdly enough, I think I was unconsciously inspired by my freelance transcription work. I started trying to get back into the rhythm of writing my characters after time away, but everything I wrote came out in the style of an interview. It probably seems a bit random, but the new format is finally getting me excited about the story again. It’s creative writing where I only have to write dialogue! Dialogue is my favourite part of creative writing!

The new format also gets around a lot of the characterisation issues I was having with the story; namely the issue that the protagonist was too similar to me for me to like her, and the fact that her mentor hid his emotions too well to be any fun to write. The podcast however, takes place after the events of the original story. This means that I can do an unravelling of who each character is post-character development, instead of following their live trajectory.

Since the initial writing experiment, I did a 2 week course on podcasting in the space of 2 days and have started brainstorming episode themes. The main issue I keep hitting is that I don’t know who the show host is (the main voice over person who guides the overarching narrative), but I’m sure I’ll figure it out.

It’s nice to have something to be excited about again.

Catching Myself

Today I caught me comparing myself to someone I haven’t had a face to face conversation with in years.

It’s silly to draw comparisons between her and me for so many reasons, the biggest reason being that I hardly know her anymore. I have no idea what happens in this person’s life outside the veil of social media.

The important part about all of this is that I caught myself before I got properly miserable about it. Admittedly, I’m struggling to fight back the initial thoughts of “I’m so fucking pathetic”, but the point is that I’m fighting back.

Because I’m not pathetic. I’m sort of unemployed (depending on how you class the freelance work that I haven’t been paid for yet) and on edge. That is a far cry from pathetic; it’s the norm for a lot of people right now.

I’m not stupid (though I certainly have my moments) and I’m not useless. I won’t define myself in those terms anymore.

I’m determined, kind, curious and creative. That’s how I make my friends and it’s how I get my work done.

One mistake or bad moment does not make a life. It makes a mistake/bad moment. You pick yourself up, apologise to the people you hurt (including yourself) and learn from it.

I’m done with comparing myself to others and to imaginary better versions of me. I am who I am. There’s room for improvement, sure, but I’m not gonna torture myself over it. I’ll get there one step at a time.