Reading time: 17 minutes
Every time I sit down to write, I get distracted.
Usually, by looking at pretty houses, or by making our homecoming plans.
It speaks to the transitional phase we’re in, and how all over the place we are. How all over the place I am, though that’s nothing new.
I’m feeling like we’re between lives, but also like we’re between different versions of ourselves.
Where we are
At the moment we’re anchored outside of St Georges, Grenada.
We picked up Mirounga’s new owner, Rai, 11 days ago in St Vincent. After a relaxed Easter weekend showing him our favourite island and introducing him to some friends, we left Bequia.
Leaving Bequia was so hard. I still can’t get my head around the idea that we won’t just be turning the boat back north at some point and going back. It had become so much like home, like normal. I already miss it so much, and it’s only been a few days.
We sailed down to Mayreau for a couple of nights, including a few hours in Tobago Cays. I finally consented to the destruction of my hair and went for a swim, and was rewarded with a ray, and so many turtles. Even turtles with hitchhikers! After a night in Chatham, where we celebrated Rai’s 82nd birthday, we cleared out of St Vincent and the Grenadines for good.
We spent two nights in Carriacou, and had an enjoyable meal with single-handed bad-ass Canadian female sailor Mina, who our friend Daffodil put us in contact with. To meet someone my dad’s age who spends her life onboard – summers in the Great Lakes, and winters in the Caribbean, was eye-opening. We haven’t meant that many solo sailors, and the ones we have met have all been men (and a fair few, totally nuts).
Yesterday’s sail to St George’s might have been our last actual sail on Mirounga. It’s come around so fast.
As of today, 25 April, Mirounga is no longer ours. It’s a year to the day since we moved onboard and had our first sail on her.
Grains of sand
Time is slipping by, falling through our fingers. We’re spending a couple of days here so we can visit the lagoon and St Georges. Then it’s most likely a motor around to Prickly Bay. That’s where we’ll leave Mirounga, and Rai.
Living with a stranger on a moderately sized boat has been, let’s just say… challenging.
I’m not good in close quarters with many people. There are very few people that I’ll happily spend more than a few days around. I’m hypersensitive to other people being in my space. Their habits. Their aftershaves, shampoos and detergents. Their voices and their phone ringtones. The way they chew or cough. Having superhuman senses basically means that some of these things feel like a physical irritant to me. I can experience sensations like pain and my fight or flight reaction goes off. The result is that I’m pretty horrible to be around.
It’s just… a lot.
So, although we hadn’t planned on leaving Mirounga until 2 May, we had to make a call. We’ll be getting off on 28 April. After a little mishap in which the funds went to a fictitious account number instead of the one for the escrow agent, we now have the payment, so we feel happy leaving her.
Once we move off, we’ll have a few days close by.
Rai is an experienced sailor, but he’s never sailed a catamaran before, or in these waters, or single-handed. He has no formal training. Colin has been doing an excellent job of talking him through how to handle Mirounga. But he’s not a qualified instructor, and learning at 82 takes a lot of time and repetition which we just don’t have time to provide. There’s also a feeling that with us around, Rai is not going to feel like Mirounga’s skipper, so he’s never going to take charge (or stay on deck!) no matter how much we tell him to.
It means we’ve had some beautiful moments to ourselves on the journey down. Watching boobies fishing and trying to land on our mast, tracking how far the flying fish can go, and stealing the sunset to ourselves on the bow. We’ve had times where Mirounga is still all ours, just for a few minutes.
Otherwise, we’re doing our best to make useful notes. We’re always teaching. We’re always explaining. And we’re always making sure Rai knows how to find all the help he needs when we’re gone.
We expect that Colin at least will be onboard and helping for a few days after we leave. I’ll be taking the time to get that boat smell off all of our clothing. You know, that fustiness. Washing all the things that have sat in the back of cupboards for a year, soaking up the salty atmosphere.
After 2 May, we’re on holiday. As much as it would be great to take any moment we can with Mirounga, we’re going to treat that time as ours, and ours alone. We’ll stay in a. hotel (a real rarity for us), eat out, dress up, read books by the pool, and hopefully enjoy a dive or two. We’ll get a feel for what it’s like to sleep on land again. I haven’t done so since the beginning of September. It’s been a month longer for Colin. What it’s like to flush loo roll (really – I instinctively look around for the bin wherever I go). Hell, what it’s like to flush instead of hand pumping sea water into the bowl. What it’s like to have hot water every day, and what it’s like to step out of a door onto land every morning.
We’ll probably just sleep. Probably. Though we find these days we always sleep better in a slightly rolly anchorage. Imagine having your bed rock you to sleep every night. It’s lovely.
And then, we travel the fast way
Our arrangements are now made for the journey home. When we get to Heathrow my brother Richard will pick us up, and we’ll go home with him to Lincolnshire for the night. The next day we’ll meet my dad at Clumber Park, and he’ll take us the rest of the way home. Clumber Park is close to our early childhood home, and somewhere that Richard and I remember fondly. We love revisiting these places, filling in memories that the pain of our teenage years and adulthood have taken from us. I love the places where we can just be brother and sister.
I’m looking to my first night home. Sleeping in my childhood bedroom, with dad’s cats crawling into bed for cuddles. But I’m looking forward even more to the next day, when we reclaim our flat (well, dad’s Airbnb, but really, we made it what it is), and our own cat, Schrödinger. She will almost certainly be furious and confused. She has been so well looked after by her loving foster parents Keith and Katie, and will miss them, but hopefully she’ll realise that we’re back for good. The first time she’s willing to curl up on our laps, to lie in the crook of Colin’s arm as he sleeps, will be so magical.
These thoughts, of home, family, beloved places, and our Schrödinger, are softening the blow of leaving our second favourite cat behind.
Transitions of the mind
Our transitions right now don’t just relate to the physical realm. To where we live. They run deeper.
Both of us go back to work mid-May. Well, for me its pending some security clearance, but that’s the target date. We’ll be struggling with the transition from unemployment to spending time at a desk again. To operating in a work context. It should be softened somewhat, by the circumstances. Colin is going into a new job, but in his existing field, so should find that helps. He is also just such a lovely person that he often slides right into a team. I’m going back to a place and people I miss dearly, so it will be like riding a bike. I hope.
It won’t be long before we transition to a new home life. We’re hoping to find a place that has lots of land and is semi-rural, but also convenient for me to commute one day a week. We want room for chickens and goats, and a hot tub, and space to let the grounds run wild for all the creatures that might call a garden home. Space to work and exercise at home, and also to have guests and socialise. We’ve never owned a home with a garden, or more than 2 bedrooms, so it will be an adjustment for sure. But I’m sure we’ll meet the challenge.
There is one change, and that’s a change in me. I really hope its one that helps me going back to work.
A little over a week ago I was diagnosed as having ADHD, and possibly also having a degree of Autism Spectrum Disorder. This was through a private assessment with Berkley Psychiatrists.
The ADHD is something I’ve suspected for a while. A few years ago my GP suggested I go for screening, which I did. It was an unmitigated disaster, and remains a reason why I discount the NHS for mental and neurological health support. The specialist, without even using the recognised diagnostic tools, dismissed me as being “too successful to have ADHD”. Apparently, if I was worthy of support I wouldn’t be able to hold down a job let alone a high-pressure career, or a successful marriage. He decided I was just “stressed”. I don’t blame the NHS for this, they’re just too underfunded to support everyone…
That feeling though has never gone away. It’s always been with me. From childhood, I’ve always had intense difficulty in concentrating and focusing. In sitting still, and stopping myself from talking too much. But also, in going completely mute because there are so many thoughts in my head to get out. Too many words to choose from.
A history of distraction
Finding my old school reports last year really made it clear. They all said the same thing – I would daydream or chatter my way through classes. I was considered bright but lazy and easily distracted. Some teachers saw it as insolence, my ability to occasionally be brilliant but then disrupt the class. My refusal to do homework. I remember having my eyes checked aged 8 because the teacher knew my spelling was excellent but I couldn’t copy from the board.
I thought that my diagnosis of dyslexia at 19 whilst at community college held the answer. For that year, something clicked and I worked myself to straight As in my classes. But at university, unless I was incredibly interested in a subject, I just couldn’t follow it. I could hear the words in lectures, but they didn’t settle. I couldn’t read more than a paragraph of a textbook without drifting off. When the deadlines came, I pushed through, and I got decent grades, but it felt like wading through porridge to get there.
Work has been the same. I know I produce good work, but I know it’s not without spending 70-80% of my time procrastinating. I know I zone out in meetings. I tried so hard to be on top of things, but I always felt like a duck. Smooth and elegant on the surface, frantically kicking away beneath the water. It eroded my self-confidence beyond belief. I had an intense paranoia that I’d be “found out” for the fraud that I am, even when I felt pride in my work. And a huge amount of guilt for not putting in the hours my colleagues did. Embarrassment at not being as sharp.
So much shame. It played a large role in my decision to completely walk away from my career last year instead of taking a sabbatical. I really didn’t feel like I deserved my job. That decision has cost me the ability to return on the very good pension scheme I was on. But we live and learn.
My home life isn’t spared. I have a tendency to either jump in and finish people’s (especially Colin’s) sentences. Quite often, ironically, I’ll get annoyed at people for not letting me finish my sentence. If I’m not talking a mile a minute, I’m glitching and pausing because it can take me time to get a sentence together. Either that, or I get distracted mid-sentence and completely lose what I was trying to say. When Colin is talking, he knows exactly when I’ve left for another planet. I won’t know, I’ll think I’m listening. I’ll be looking at him, or making “listening” noises, but he can tell from my eyes or the tone of my voice that I’m absolutely vacant. He told me he’s learned not to get annoyed by it as he knows I don’t know I’m doing it.
I’m a terrible insomniac. My brain is too busy. I don’t know what relaxing is, and the closest I’ve ever gotten is in guided Yin Yoga classes with an instructor I trust, and a space I love. Even then, it was rare, because being cold, something rubbing, a sound… it would derail me. I feel like no thought goes completed in my head. They all get stopped short by another. I’m typing this now instead of sitting outside stargazing with Colin because I know if I don’t sentences will float around in my brain all night.
If I’m watching a movie or TV show and see someone familiar, I can’t help but look them up on IMDB. It doesn’t stop there though. I’ll go through their listing and mentally work out what age they were when they made everything I’ve seen them in. I’ll get stuck reading their bio. I’ll jump from them to another actor and read about them. I’m lost to what I’m doing.
Im list-obsessed. My phone is full of notes and lists because I hate not having a record. Every bit of travel I’ve done. What I’ve done for every birthday. Where we’ve spent every wedding anniversary. Every gig I’ve been to (I regret immensely that I didn’t make this in real-time, so haven’t got the dates, venue and ticket price). Spreadsheets of every expense on our renovation, of every passage we’ve taken on Mirounga.
Yet, I don’t manage any bills. I’m too chaotic to handle household tasks. I’m only good at organising and planning if the task interests me, otherwise I’m hopeless. The misread prescriptions, the missed RSVPs and appointments – Colin now double checks all of these things for me. And I would be lost without my iPhone.
Sensations, all of them
I have so many weird aversions. I mentioned a few earlier – my sense of smell and hearing are annoyingly acute. Clothing tags and itchy straps drive me nuts. But it goes further. Someone licking their lips or twirling an untrimmed moustache makes me feel ill. If someone sniffs when they should be blowing their nose or has a certain tone to their cough, I will literally just walk away. I can’t understand it, but I can only make eye contact with some people, and with certain people it makes my skin itch.
Just the thought of a wooden lolly stick makes my teeth, fingers and toes cringe, and if I encounter one unexpectedly I lose the ability to speak because I can’t open my mouth. It feels like all my teeth will fall out if I do. I’m a hugger, but at the same time feeling someone’s hair brush me on a bus, or their leg touching mine on a plane, makes me want to cry. I feel cornered ridiculously easily, so I snap, like the small wild animal I am.
They sound like silly quirks, but they can be exhausting. Going to the supermarket, using public transport, gigs, networking, and being near new people are all very difficult for me. I never know when all the sensations will overload me and make me explode into inappropriate and misdirected rage. Colin does way more damage control than I let myself realise, creating a barrier, steering me away, helping me focus. But it’s hard work for both of us. I’m often either a hyperactive ball of stress, or I’m completely inert, watching TV but not watching, in our cabin, because I need to shut out as much input as possible.
Having ADHD and/or being on the spectrum explains a lot. It helps me to make sense of myself, and to stop being so angry at myself for my lack of focus, or my short temper. The effect on my self-confidence means I’m a perfectionist and highly self-critical, and in turn that can make me hard work. I’m a needy, insecure, badgering type of friend who needs to be reminded that they’re loved. That doesn’t always give people the focus they need. That gets excited about doing things together and obsesses over planning (though we do have some good group holiday memories thanks to that).
When I get home I’ll be starting to take Lisdexamfetamine, under the brand name Elvanse, which is a stimulant used to treat ADHD. Yup, I’ll be taking amphetamines daily. From what I’ve read, it might calm down the constant chatter in my brain and help me focus. Some people describe it as being like taking the Limitless Pill. Others say it’s “like me, but on a good day”. I can only hope. That it works, but also that I don’t get any nasty side effects, or build a tolerance too quickly.
It’s useful that, on a whim, I decided to stop drinking alcohol 3 months ago. I just wanted to know who I was without it. It turns out that it doesn’t mix well with amphetamines, so that’s one barrier to successful treatment gone. The fact that I stopped drinking caffeine years ago will also help.
If medication doesn’t work, it may be because my problems are more related to ASD than ADHD. I’d like to be assessed for that, but it will have to wait until some other financial priorities are met. A house. A car. Furniture…
Where was I?
See, this blog is one of my rambles. The snapshot blogs may have been terribly written and quite dull, but they had structure. This hasn’t taken me long. A couple of very interrupted hours to spit out over 3000 words. But ordered it ain’t. And it’s not spell checked, because once I’ve written I just want to publish, with no patience for the boring stuff.
I’m hoping that, the ADHD diagnosis plus the therapy sessions I’m having weekly with a therapist through the Better Help app will help me prepare for the transition back to “normal” life.
That I can go back to my career, not feeling like an imposter but feeling like I’m giving my all. Felling capable of fulfilling my potential.
That I can go back a better, more attentive friend, wife, daughter and sister.
That I can really see what’s around me without distraction, and feel not only the value in the life I’m living but in myself.
I’ll keep writing about how all of these transitions are going. When I asked on our social media accounts if people wanted us to keep posting, the answer was a resounding yes. You want to see us transition into our new life.
You stuck with me through the painful transition to life onboard until it became something beautiful. This whole year, really, has been a transition for me, for who I am as I move forward in life. I hope the journeys to come will be just as rewarding.