What If My Dreams Don’t Come True?

Just two words can leave me in a cold sweat. Two words that have had me tossing and turning throughout the early hours of the morning, putting those dreams on hold or shattering them and most importantly, having me doubt every cell that swims flippantly through each and every vein in my body. So, as I come to the last year of my twenties, I look back at my ‘what if’s’ with an arched eye brow and an eye role here and there.

What if I don’t get the job?

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It happens. Sometimes you lose out to someone with more experience. Sometimes you realise that you had completely fucked up in the interview process through nerves that made you come out in a rash that looked ‘medical attention’ worthy (just me then?). Sometimes it’s not what you know but who you know. Some you win, some you lose but I think you always end up where you are supposed to be. It sounds easy to say ‘just have faith’ and that I’m flippantly putting that statement out there with no thought. But that is not the case. I have certainly lost out on many jobs. I have also been hired for many jobs that I now wish I had lost out on. Still, I completely have faith that I will end up in a job that makes me happy. One that doesn’t leave me crying silently in a cubicle, having sleepless nights and generally losing my mind. Have faith that all will work out as it should. Keep working on projects that utilise your natural talents and above all keep trying. The wheel has to turn the other way eventually.

What if I get fired?

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This did happen to me and unfortunately it wasn’t when I was a teenybopper, shovelling greasy chips into paper cartons at the local fish and chip shop. Nor did it happen when I started a sales career knocking on strangers doors trying to force a brand new gas and electricity supplier down their unsuspecting throats. Nor did it happen when I was dodging responsibilities in my last job. It happened when I felt I had found the ideal role. Right in the heart of Sydney, in an office block that revealed views of a city that took my breath away. My new role was to create documents for the bankers. A role that would have me exploring the depths of the Microsoft office suite to create visually pleasing masterpieces. The high-flying bankers would then use the documents to close various multi-million dollar deals. I got the job through a friend. Someone who helped me through the interview and a 3 hour Microsoft office test to secure the job.

I felt I had hit the jackpot. Finally I could stay in Australia – my dream place and build the life I’d always wanted. It wasn’t to be. Barely a week into the new job I was gently told to hand in my pass and make my way to the exit. Quite rightly too as I had no idea how to navigate through Excel never mind create a fancy technical graph that would leave members of the boardroom drooling. I also wanted it so much that I couldn’t concentrate, preferring to beat myself up over every single mistake that I made or the fact that I was just so damn slow. I left feeling like such a failure that my words here cannot do the crushing, overwhelmingly disappointed feeling justice.

Now I look back and see a small glitch in the road. Something that I barely think about and if I do, it no longer matters anywhere near as much as it did. It wasn’t meant to be and yes, I could sit here and think of what could have been but that really is a fruitless act. Sometimes your hired and sometimes your fired. Sometimes you resign and the boss loses out. Sometimes your fired and you lose out. As long as you tried your best and gave it your all then that’s what really matters. You never know, perhaps a few years down the line you will realise that it was the best thing that ever happened, which is certainly the case for me.

What if he leaves me?

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When I look back at my past relationships, I usually cringe. Reason being is that I was so desperate, it was embarrassing. Falling in love is wonderfully painful. With it brings a certain madness to the mind which can leave you being extremely unreasonable at the best of time. Sometimes, when you are least expecting it, that nasty soul sucking worm will start whispering to you that all is not safe and your loved one will be making their grand exit shortly. With the worm now nibbling slowly at your sanity, you throw caution to the wind and begin to latch onto your loved one with smothering force.

It not clever and it isn’t pretty. There is nothing worse than a desperate lover. He may well leave. It could be because the grass seems greener. It could be because the relationship has run its course or it could be that your insecurities are driving them away. Relationships end and relationships begin. The sooner you let go, the easier it will be…For you. As the saying goes ‘If you love something, let it go. If it comes back to you, its yours forever. If it doesn’t, then it was never meant to be’. Also, you may be surprised that when you are out of ‘that’ relationship and recovered, you may look back and think ‘my god he was a prick. What the hell was I thinking?’ Or something along those lines.

What if I’m single for the rest of my life?!

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Many people are single and more and more people are choosing to stay that way. Take a dear friend of mine who is maybe in his 50s. He has been single for the entire 12 years that I’ve known him and has resigned himself to the fact the he is going to remain single. Comfortable in his routine, it has now become harder to let someone into his life. For me, I believe that it is far more important to be comfortable in your own skin than to search for someone to fill the void. If you can’t be alone, truly by yourself in your own company, then you will have a hard time really flourishing in any relationship. Work on yourself, no matter how painful that may be. Make yourself into the best You possible. If someone does come along and sweeps you off your feet then hopefully they will have worked on themselves too and together you would make one unbeatable team. If someone doesn’t come along then at least you can say that you enjoy your own company and actually LIKE yourself. That you can fulfil all your dreams and ambitions without hoping that someone else will do it for you. Take control of yourself. Make yourself happy. Once you have achieved that then whether someone is in or not in your life will be irrelevant.

What if I can’t make friends?

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Ah, the joys of making friends when you’re an adult. Gone are the days of wandering through the school corridors rubbing shoulders with your greatest fans – your friends. When you’re an adult taking on the pressures of the working world, making friends becomes a little (a lot) less straight forward. Yes, there are going to be people who just don’t like you. Sometimes on sight. Just the mention of your name could have people kicking the office bins over in a frenzy. Sometimes there are valid reasons that you have people vividly plotting your death. Other times it really is their problem. As they say, you can’t please everyone and why the hell should you. Life it tough enough as it is without having to try to please people who will never appreciate your uniqueness. That’s not to say you run around with your head up your arse, practically choking on your own ego. Be sincere, listen to others and show kindness. People love people. It’s human nature to be social creatures. Be the one to break the ice and introduce yourself. New and amazing friendships are waiting where you least expect them to be.

What if I don’t have it ‘all together’ when I reach my thirties?

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I have a list that had been created when I was in my early twenties. It pretty much went as you might guess with emphasis on the house, car, great job, great man, holidays and money. Pretty much a fancy pants lifestyle. Now I sit in my parents house as I wait to see if the job I want (and one I know I will be good at) will come through. I have no house or no mortgage to speak of, no car, no man in sight and little savings. If you had told me that when I was writing my dream list and crossing my fingers for the days to come I would have felt severely deflated. My stroppy younger self would have thrown the tantrum of all tantrums while asking the big question ‘what the fuck is the point then?!’ Well, I can safely say that I wouldn’t have it any other way. I have one year before reaching my thirties and I may or may not tick off all my to do list and that’s ok. As long as I grow a little wiser, a little happier and a little kinder then that’s all that matters to me.

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Dear retired Passport…..

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We had some fun didn’t we? 10 years have passed since you landed through my letterbox. I took you out of your envelope and cradled you with love and affection. I marvelled at your empty pages and the swirl print that decorated each page. You did well, I’m proud to say. You fought the elements and the random spillages (we both remember that custom officer saying that you smelt bad from a recent coffee wash) and were forever faithful when we boarded another plane or when your pages were fondled by yet another customs officer. I heard of other owner’s who’s passports strayed. Badly behaved one’s that chose the day of traveling to play hide and seek. You never tortured me like that.

We filled your first page with a visa for America and you took your first trip in your stride. You were proud and clean, ready to take on the world, full of naïve optimism. We set off to China and weathered the bleak cold and blistering winter winds. That was the time you were taken from me and held hostage, but I fought for you of course and as soon as we were reunited we ran for it, back home to safety. You slept in a drawer full of broken dreams before deciding that indeed you felt bare and naked with your empty pages and wanted a few more decorative pieces. I am not one to mess with dreams so we filled you up with multiple stamps from Australia, a visa for Laos, a visa for Thailand, another for Vietnam. A stamp here and a stamp there, like Kisses. I showed you off by taking pictures, showing your latest and greatest decorative piece. Yes, we did have some good times you and I.

It pains me that you are retiring. Don’t take the trim off the edge of your front cover from that frightful passport renewal officer to heart. You took on more than most passports I can assure you and just because there will be someone newer and fresher taking your place does not mean you were not loved. Yes the new passport may have more pages and a fancy chip but it has nowhere near the experience you have. It is a newbie, a real young’un compared to you. I can only hope that it continues your legacy and takes on the world as you have. May you be a lesson to the new passport and others (particularly my parents passports as they have never been anywhere). You have set the bar high and I know in years to come you will indeed come out for those occasions where any future children and hopefully grandchildren will look at you in wonder and delight at all the places you have been, touching your colourful pages with all their beauty.

Yes, take this time to relax with the various other retired documents. Reflect on the good times and all that you have achieved as you will always be my first real passport. The one that took on the challenges, faced the fear and did it anyway.

The moment I ‘weally’ knew

When I think about it, I know I should have done it sooner. It was always meant to be but something I shied away from for a long time. Reason for this is I always thought I would never be any good at it, with my past experience leaving a bitter taste in my mouth. I believed that I would not be able to make any difference, however small.

At 20, I made my escape from the UK to the smog filled Beijing. I was running not from home but mostly myself, not wise enough to realise that wherever you go there you are. I was riddled with loneliness and culture shock that gradually became worse with each day that passed. My days were filled with DVD’s in a bid to escape my reality and I slowly but surely lost my mind. I was also a terrible teacher. So completely absorbed in my own pain and misery that I could barely fathom a smile, never mind provide entertainment at a school that relished an all singing and dancing foreign English teacher. The grey sky and the sun – which was barely traceable through the polluted air – added to my constant state of melancholy. I tried desperately to ‘stick it out’. Ashamed to admit defeat and have family view me as some sort of disappointment, I continued to go through the motions, teaching a few short hours a day and rushing back home to climb back into an unmade bed. As one of the only foreigners in the entire area, having any social interaction was difficult and as the days went by, the urge to meet people diminished. I finally cracked and went back to the UK – tail between my legs – promising myself that I would never go into teaching again as I was awful and no student should have to suffer having a teacher like me.

Fast forward eight years and I am sitting in the ‘farangs’ Temple living room area. The table we sit at is made of solid wood, carved with various elephant figures wandering the Thai jungle. The seats that we sit on are so heavy to move that usually I don’t bother, and merely slide myself between the table and chair. They are solid and are also carved into elephant heads, each detail finely perfected. It is bitterly cold and we are both wrapped up in our scarves and woolly hats. I – with my great suitcase planning and bringing mostly summer wear – am wearing every layer, including my pyjamas under my 8 precept whites. Nursing my coffee to counteract the cold we begin our lesson. It’s all about grammar and today is all about the should, shouldn’t and couldn’t. I had managed to scrape together some sort of lesson from the paperwork I had lugged from Bangkok to Fang. Using this we sat, starting with general conversation before getting into the nitty-gritty.

My lovely student – a 41-year-old Chinese woman who has lived in Fang all her life – is able to hold a conversation at elementary level and has no idea how to use these words – should, shouldn’t and couldn’t – in a sentence, never mind their meaning. We get to work, with this being the opportune time to put my CELTA training to work. We sit side by side in the cold. Two Temple dogs sit, nibbling their flees at our feet and looking up at us expectantly with their big brown eyes. I hear the other ‘farangs’ chatting away under hushed breath. The sweeping of the hand-made broom echoes through corridor into the meeting area. With each completed task my student looks up at me, needing reassurance. I tell her that she is indeed correct. ‘Weally?’ she asks, eyes widening in disbelief and a glimmer of hope. ‘Yes. Really’. And in that moment something happens. I begin to fill with a warmth that starts from my head and runs right through my toes. I have never felt so good. Better than any night on the town with the promise of more alcohol. Not the dancing or flirting with random guys. Not the belly aching laughter of a night with friends. Not grabbing the last ‘must have’ item in the sale. No, nothing compared to this feeling of knowing that my student was ‘getting it’. Feeling her hopeful energy that lingered in the air. We both looked at each other – glowing – and in that moment I knew that this was what I was meant to do. I am meant to teach.

Cattle in transit

I say my goodbyes to the hotel staff while practically running out of the door. Get me on that bus. Hauling my great blue suitcase onto the bus, I found myself a seat by the window and sighed in relief. Sorry Ha Long bay but obviously our timing to meet was just not that great. Winter time is certainly sleeping time and wandering around in the cold, foggy mist was beginning to have a negative effect on my brain cells, as my options for entertainment came down to sleeping or eating. I chose both in equal measures.

So, huddled in the corner of my window seat – the only passenger so far – we round the corner to pick up a herd of other travellers, who I noted were looking slightly dishevelled and furious. They could not wait to get on the bus. Strange, I thought. Why are they so desperate to get on? The Vietnamese bus driver was either having an off day or permanently has a face like a bulldog chewing a wasp. He fumed, beeped the horn and got off the bus, huffing and puffing. Communication break down ensues, with the passengers frantically trying to get on the bus and the driver taking his time to open the door – probably relishing in their frustration – until I pulled the leaver and let them on. Mass pushing and shoving over, all passengers were aboard and strangely all were sighing with relief. I could feel the irritation and frustration lingering in the air, and it turn out the toxic atmosphere was certainly justifiable, as I were to find out.

It turn out that some of these amazing 1-2 day cruises around Ha Long bay are not all what they seem. ‘What? False advertisement? Never!’ I hear you say, but the truth is in the pudding. Or the dishevelled, angry faces of those travellers who had been duped.

‘Did you do the cruise?’ Asks one English girl. I tell her no, to which she quickly goes into an angry account of their experience. ‘Good, it was shit! They lied to us and told us that it would be All Inclusive. We would get to go kayaking, fishing, that all the drinks were free. None of it was inclusive. None. Not even the drinks were free, even though that is what we paid for’. I could hear people throwing in the odd comments ‘And I paid for a single room…Like hell did I get it’ shouts a young, very cute Swedish guy. ‘Yeah, we were practically sleeping on deck’, cries another. ‘Oh and there was no hot water and no heating. The boat was falling apart and the food was awful’. The English girl finishes her – very justifiable – rant. Ah, so that’s what’s with the glum faces. She shows me the brochure of the ‘dream cruise’ and I can only look at her in amazement. Amazement that the brochure is so bloody beautiful and seemingly legit. Every page showed delicious food, beautiful decking and gorgeous interior, red bows on the chairs like something out of a wedding reception. I too would have been pulled in by the romantic, classy ‘sell’ of it all. No wonder they practically fell onto the bus, dying to get back to the game of ‘crossing the road’ in Hanoi.

A silence falls upon the bus as we make the journey back. I can see through the front window where the driver is sat and watch as two lanes miraculously turns into six. How efficient and time saving, I think angrily as I hold onto both the seat and my breath, watching as cars, lorries, buses and mopeds weave in and out of the lanes, coming within inches of each other. Three hours into the journey we are carted off one bus and onto another as the one we were on now has to go to a wedding (?). The next bus we sat like cattle, practically on each others laps with the lack of room and the whole ‘lets try and squeeze a few more passengers on, even though there is no room whatsoever’ attitude of the bus company.

Finally I make it back to the hotel to haul myself up five flights of stairs and greet my travel buddy with relief. A quick dump of the luggage and we are out, back onto the chaotic bustling streets of the old quarter. I actually feel content to be back, feeling the energy of the people vibrating through my soul. Noodles steaming in front of me and a beer in one hand we cheers to the craziness of it all.

Next time, travel with boyfriend

This is what I was told by the hotel manager. Obviously the staring and random foreign comments thrown at me were not all in my head. I did believe for a moment that I was being rather sensitive, with my previous post blowing off steam. As it stands, actually I’m seen as just weird.

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Welcome to the world of the single female traveller. Not all places of course but here in Ha Long bay I am seen as something of a rare species. With thoughts of writing, reading and relaxing before beginning my teaching career I thought what better way to spend it than on the coast of Vietnam. Maybe I was just a little bit naïve and failing to really check out the weather forecast – believing anything is better than the weather in the UK, I have found myself wrapped up in a scarf and woolly hat, eyes squinting through the fog.

So after a conversation with the manager of the hotel which involved me being sheepishly embarrassed of my single status, I have decided to do myself a favour and head south for warmth and sangria. I don’t take what the manager said to heart, as when I look back on holidays when I did have a partner, all I can remember are tears, arguments and silent treatment.

Holiday with boyfriend number 1

It was my 18th birthday and my first time on a plane. Me and my boyfriend touched down in Cyprus for a week of dinning, dancing and having plenty of…….cocktails. My excitement and enthusiasm was immediately popped like a balloon when ‘C’ didn’t want to do anything. In fact we barely left the hotel as he was terrified of the locals. Instead we were in bed by eight. This lasted a week and involved multiple arguments and sheer boredom, which lead to more arguments for something to do. Arriving back in the UK we broke up in the car on the way home from the airport (only to get back together and repeat the same shit for another 3 years).

Holiday with boyfriend number 2

Exciting stuff, with a whole campervan to take us through Europe. I painted the inside a ghastly yellow, and hung up flower power curtains. He put up shelves in what would be our new home for the next 6 weeks and off we went. The campervan, the cities, the mountains, the lakes, the beaches, the history, the architecture were all incredibly. Apart from him. ‘T’ decided that the best way to take in the sights and sounds of our adventure was to chase European skirts. He was also something of a ‘cold’ fish which didn’t fill my heart with the warmth and giddiness of young love. The trip itself was amazing. It was just a shame he was there.

Holiday with boyfriend number 3

A trip to Portugal, travelling from Wales by car. I long ass journey but involved rocking to various music and eating baguettes and salami off the boot of the car, Mediterranean sun hot on our necks. It was our first holiday, in which we had only been dating for 4 weeks. We stayed at ‘K’s aunties villa, surrounded by fig and olive trees. It was stunning, except all was not as it seemed with the man in my life. As I observed this new Casanova with all his words of love and affection, I noticed that he would change personalities, depending on who he was talking too. How bizarre, I thought. The holiday went in a haze of alcohol, fine food, walks on the beach and me trying to detach his face from mine. Which was permanently attached, slobbering over me and removing layers of skin away.

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Get off my face already

He would not leave me alone for a second, watching my every move and spraying his territory with every glance from another male. I came away from the holiday mentally exhausted, hung-over and overwhelmed with the ‘love bombing’.

So Mr Manager, travel with a boyfriend next time?

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Welcome to Lonerville….Population? You.

I have and always will be something of a loner. Maybe its having brothers and sisters who are much older than me, so as a child they were pretty much making their way into the world, getting married and settling down, while I was playing ‘teacher’ with various stuffed animals. My parents had me late in life, my mother being 45 when she went into the doctors complaining of weight gain and feeling under the weather only to be told that she was indeed expecting. Of course I was an accident (a lovely surprise, as my mother will say). The doctors advised her to abort as having a child at her age – in those days, was just risky and opened up many possible health risks. My mother, already having 5 other kids under her wings decided against the doctors orders and thus added another sprog to her brood.

Growing up, I was a very quiet child. I could play alone for hours and hours without needing company from adults nor children. I would collect the figurines from kinder eggs to create armies which would entertain me for days. Stuffed animals would be marked on the ‘teachers’ register, with grades given to the best ‘students’. Art classes were held where I would hold the toys hand/paw and guide the crayon across the paper to create various images, and of course there was a competition for the best drawing. I look back and wonder how on earth I was able to entertain myself for so long, with these ‘make believe’ games. If I knew the answer perhaps it would certainly help me right now.

I decided to escape Hanoi and travel to Ha Long bay. I have gone from holding my breath and being constantly alert to the various sights, sounds, people and traffic to just sheer quietness. Ha Long bay is apparently sleeping. The sky is completely grey and with the thick fog the sea blends into the sky. It has gone passed the ‘romantic, dreamy mist’ state in which you can immerse yourself in the beauty to just not being able to see anything, never mind picturesque, rugged mountains. I already feel pity for the hoards of tourists that are getting off the bus only to be shuffled onto the cruise for a night of sightseeing where you will be hard pushed to see anything.

So now I find myself alone. My travel companion is waiting in Hanoi for my return where the offer of employment as teachers awaits us. I sat at a café where a herd of Chinese tourists chatted, comparing purchases of coffee and nuts. One by one they took the chairs around my table. All but the one I was sitting on. I felt my vulnerability levels peak, sticking out like a sore thumb with my blonde hair everywhere. I tried to immerse myself in a book but felt the eyes of the locals on me. I sneaked glances as a local man watched my every move, from drinking my coffee, opening and closing my book, paying the waiter and gathering my change. I quickly scuttled off to walk off the insecurity that had begun to brew. Throwing my hood up to ‘disappear’ I walked and found a secluded spot overlooking the sea. Looking at my watch I noticed that I had been ‘out and about’ for just over an hour and suddenly I felt the dread that comes with ‘what the hell am I going to do for 3 weeks here?!!’

A person who is bored is bored with themselves. I read that somewhere many years ago and at the time I could not have agreed more. I agree with it now and am trying to ‘pull myself together’. I walked the stretch of the bay, continually trying to calm the feelings of uncertainty that comes with the unknown. Then I remembered that I could entertain myself for hours on end when I was a child, not needing a single soul to entertain and reassure me. So really I should embrace the solitude, the misty landscape, the sleepy beachfront with the wide roads that are not cluttered with mopeds beeping their horns frantically and missing running over my toes by inches. As I looked out to sea in all its murky grey glory, I asked myself ‘Here? Or at your corner desk staring at the computer screen?’ Here….Definitely here.

Calm in the chaos

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One of my favourite sayings is ‘wherever you go, there you are’. It was my internal reminder when I decided that life was just too tough, the job wasn’t what I wanted, that city just wasn’t for me. Whenever I sat at my desk, staring into the computer screen, eyes and mind slowly rotting from dissatisfaction, I would tell myself under muttered breath that ‘wherever you go, there you are’, so basically don’t even think about running away from your problems when all you are doing is running away from yourself.

I did that a lot. Throughout my early twenties to fairly recently, its what I did best. The grass was always greener and I was constantly searching for ‘something’. In fact my Dad said to me before I packed up for another adventure into the unknown ‘I don’t know what it is you are searching for, but I do hope you find it’. I am now in Hanoi, which fills me with immense uncertainty. The air is filled with adrenaline and chaos. If you have been to Hanoi then I am sure you understand the terror that comes from crossing the road. I was brought up as a kid to look left and right before crossing, always keeping your eye out for any cars that come into view and of course always cross when the green man is showing. Now I find myself looking left and right and just walking – looking straight ahead – at snail pace, hoping and praying that I get to the other side in one piece. Don’t run – was the advice I was given. Slow and steady wins the race (or in this case, keeps you alive). The constant stares and comments that are thrown at you by locals have my irritation levels soaring. The constant street sellers who shout for their donuts, books, fruit, and various other random items that need to be bought only adds to overwhelm me. My travel companion is slowly deflating in front of me. He is so cultured shocked and overwhelmed that the two of us together is like a ticking time bomb of irritation, just waiting to happen. Today I watched a guy on a moped carrying a plasma TV on the back with one hand on the handle bar and another holding the TV. There was another with a family of 4 on one bike with the man texting as they swerved through various bikes, cars and pedestrians.

Although I feel I have been slapped in the face with culture shock, as I walked around in a state of fury, exasperation and mental exhaustion from constantly being alert, I said to myself ‘wherever you go, there you are’ and suddenly I though of that saying in a whole different meaning. I am here so therefore its ok as I have myself. This crazy environment is neither good nor bad. It is neutral. I am making it into an overwhelming experience. It is all my own doing. Suddenly, with that in mind I felt a certain peace come over me amongst the beeping horns and swerving wheels. I am here and I have myself. Wherever you go, there you are and suddenly its not about deciding to run away from yourself. Its not about what city, job or situation you’re in. Its about knowing that you have yourself and that its up to you how you ‘paint’ your surrounding. It whether you take all the negatives and let them eat at your insides or you see things for what they are in that moment.

Of course I am still trying. I have come back to my hotel room exhausted while my travel companion is practically having a break down in the other room. It takes time to adjust but if you just observe your surroundings and try not to label the experiences with good/bad or get attached then everything becomes a little easier, a little less intimidating and you can finally say ‘wherever I go, there I am…thank heavens for that’.