From the heart

I’ve written lots on this blog about things I’ve been doing, people I meet, places I’ve visited, funny animal stories and so on. I’ve been trying to write about my mental health and well-being for quite a while but I’ve found it very difficult to do. So today I decided to take a different approach and dictate the post – so if this post is more rambling, more chaotic than my usual efforts then please forgive me, but it comes straight from the heart.

When I first ran away to Portugal back in February – because let’s be honest, that’s what I did: ran away from my problems – I was a bit of a mess, to be honest. 2018 was a horrendous year for me and I ended up in quite a deep depression that I was on medication for. Although the idea of coming out to Portugal and the preparations had perked me up quite considerably, I was still feeling very low and worthless and my confidence was at rock bottom. Quite simply, I didn’t feel I was capable of doing or achieving anything.

Living on the farm did me the world of good because every day I was kept busy, whether it was feeding pigs, walking goats, collecting animal bedding, cooking, washing up, mucking out the animal sheds – there was always something to do. And of course there was always someone around me, if I needed to talk – though I don’t think I did very much; I found goat walking was a great time for some self reflection!

However I did crave some solitude, some space for me to discover who I was and to start to put together a new life for me here in Portugal that wasn’t based around other people’s routines.

So the last few months here in the little house at Coelhosa have been wonderful. I’ve had some paid work to do, but mostly I’ve treated it like an extended holiday, I guess. I’ve spent time reading, and staring into space, walking the dog, doing yoga, journaling, doing some crafty things, watching stuff on Netflix and sleeping. And that’s all been really healing and I’m starting to feel like I am strong and confident and ready to move on with my life. I feel like I know myself better, and I like the person I am.

However, over the last two or three weeks I feel like I’ve slipped backwards a little bit. I’ve found myself feeling quite down, quite blue and – to be blunt – lonely. There have been times when I’ve cried over something quite trivial, or reacted really badly to something that felt like criticism or rejection but probably wasn’t intended that way. I’ve had days when I’ve felt totally alone and just sad all day long. And there’ve been the odd few days when I’ve struggled to get out of bed and have spent almost the whole day sleeping or reading. (I worked my way through a whole series of chick lit novels where the girl always gets the guy and realised as I sobbed my way through the last one that all they’d done was help me feel totally alone in the world! So I’m back on the gory crime thrillers now … )

I’ve even had some moments when I’ve wondered what the hell I’m doing out here; when I’ve felt like this is all a big mistake; when it’s crossed my mind that maybe this isn’t where I want to be; when I’ve felt really homesick for the UK. And then I started stressing about how trapped I’ve made myself here because I’ve got no money and a dog and a cat and nowhere to go back to in the UK except Mum’s sofa and I couldn’t go back there with the dog and the cat and I couldn’t afford to take them back there anyway but I couldn’t leave them here, especially not Pickle, and what would I do when I got there, I couldn’t stay on the sofa forever and and and and ….

But in my more rational moments I don’t think that is the case at all – yes, I miss my family, but I speak to them all the time and am looking forward to seeing them at Christmas. But apart from family I don’t feel there is anything to take me back to the UK and I do love Portugal – the way of life, the people, the weather, the scenery – and feel very happy here generally. I guess maybe having such a relaxed (empty?) life gives me plenty of time to worry about things but I don’t really have much to worry about so I’m perhaps inventing things to worry about? Because a lot of the time I seem to be worrying about how impossible it will be for me to go back to the UK when I have no money and a dog and a cat, which is a bit crazy because when I was trying to decide whether to come out here my big concerns (apart from my son) were having no money and having to rehome cats and fish – and somehow I managed to get over those problems! So while I do miss my family, I don’t think moving back to the UK is the right decision for me, at the moment anyway. I think it’s more my state of mind that is just making me overthink things.

I’m wondering if my recent slump is because I finished the antidepressants a couple of months ago (I reduced them very slowly) and I’ve also recently stopped taking the contraceptive pill. So my hormones are probably all over the place now and it might take some time for them to settle down and for me to get back into a more natural state of mind. I’ve also not been well the last couple of weeks -yucky menstrual issues followed by a stinking cold – so that may well have played a part in bringing my mood down. And perhaps it’s the onset of autumn … although the weather has been glorious this week, last week was wet and the evenings are getting darker earlier and I know we are fast heading for winter.

Strangely I’m also wondering if it’s something to do with my neighbour going back to Lisbon a couple of weeks ago. Maybe I’m missing him! Well, not missing him exactly, because he drives me crazy, but missing having somebody in the village that I can talk to if/ when I want to.

I do make the effort to get out and socialise and see people but of course that takes money and petrol, especially living in such a remote area, and money is something I don’t have at the minute until my current work project is finished and invoiced and paid for, so I’m kind of having to restrict myself on the socialising at the moment. I go to Pedrogao most Mondays for the market, my weekly Portuguese class has just started again, there’s a monthly writing group I usually attend, and I do my best to meet new people and catch up with friends when I can. Last week I went for a lovely walk in a cork oak forest with two new friends I’ve made through Facebook, I went for drinks with new people on Friday, and I do go to Coelhal, the next village, once or twice a week – though the only person there who speaks any English is currently back in Lisbon.

The thing is, I think I’m probably done with needing solitude. It was what I needed at the time and it has done me the world of good but I think I do need now to start building more of a life for myself – getting into a routine, finding activities and projects to keep me busy – maybe some voluntary work; is that even a thing here in Portugal? – and building a community around me that I can feel part of and that can support me when I’m feeling down. I’m not sure how easy that’s going to be when I’m living in this tiny abandoned village though! Maybe it’s time for me to start considering other options. Rental doesn’t seem to be a big thing here and I certainly can’t afford to buy anywhere (haha, I only have £22 in the bank right now!). So I need to start looking at some more creative ways that I can become part of a community here in Portugal where I feel supported and loved even while living in a place where there is no community.

So that’s the next challenge. Onwards and upwards!

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