I also need to update about my health - both physical and mental - as although much of the emotional fall-out has been obvious from Twitter, nonetheless I think now is a good time to finally regroup and consider just how much of an impact this whole thing has had. I have been incredibly conscious of my own emotional well-being over the past year and a half as a result of the ongoing chronic health issues, which is probably a good thing because being able to reflect on things afterwards is really helpful in seeing that things have improved.
Anyway. First things first. I need to make a new Google Earth home icon.
I have had to compile this with the help of my tweets because things went so quickly I kind of lost track...
So, basically from the point of that first valuation, we were in house-hunting mode because we knew that the chance of Peter (the landlord) buying out his wife was slim at best, and we thought it best to get a head-start.
For the first few days I was mostly in a state of despair about this because it seemed that the rents had gone up over the past five years without there being any discernable increase in the quality of properties. Once I started looking properly, though, we got into the swing of adding properties to the favourites and getting on with house viewings.
Or, well, I say "getting on", but even this was fraught with complications and frustrations. Considering I generally do not have the spoons to speak to people on the telephone, and the potential (worst-case-scenario) homelessness situation was eating what little remained of my sanity, Paul was in charge of calling agents to organise said viewings.
It quickly became apparent that owning a cat made us undesirable, and our tactic of being upfront and honest with the agents at the point of booking the viewings backfired on us. The agents would either flat-out say "no" without bothering to check with the landlord, or they would promise to check and then never call back (and every time Paul tried to chase them he could never speak to the same person twice).
Peter and Doreen eventually decided to sell through Connells, who were originally managing our tenancy. Connells promised to "rehome" us (for want of a better word) by looking for properties in their portfolio that fit our criteria and letting us know when they became available. (You can imagine how well that went.)
Eventually, we managed to book some viewings. The first house we went to see was on Farm Road in Oldbury, about a 15-minute walk away from our house. This viewing took place on the day of Birmingham Pride so unfortunately we were unable to go, which was a shame because it actually didn't bloody rain for the first time in about eight years. The property looked fairly decent from the pictures, but when we got there it was awful.
I think I need to record the level of awfulness for posterity. (It seems to be traditional that at least 50% of properties we manage to view are actually terrible.) Awfulness included:-
- The front door opened straight into the front room (I generally dislike this in houses because (a) it lets all the heat out and (b) the lack of privacy.) There was a side entrance through a passageway that led into the kitchen, but this did not then attach to the garden, which meant that all the wheelie bins were outside on the raised front patio and thus blocked most of the lovely big bay window into which the door was set.
- The carpets were all brown, low pile hideousness. This was not so bad downstairs because there was a set of patio doors (with vertical blinds, OH BANE OF MY LIFE) leading into the garden, but upstairs all of the rooms were very dingy with tiny windows and very little natural light. Bearing in mind we went to see the property at midday on a really hot/sunny day, it barely made any difference to the interior.
- The kitchen which looked reasonable from the pictures turned out to be really scruffy, as did the (downstairs) bathroom. I really did not want a downstairs bathroom again after the amount of monster spiders we had to evict from Warley Road, but in any case, both the kitchen and bathroom looked as though they might have been presentable when first put in, but years of use had made them both less than pleasant.
- There was a fist-shaped dent in one of the bedroom doors.
- In the other bedroom there was also a cupboard with a lock on the outside, which was basically the final crowning WTF moment of the viewing. The lack of light had already put me off but that made us practically run out of there for fear of later finding a body under the patio. :P
On the way out the lady from Connells (it was their property) asked us for feedback and we settled on "It just doesn't feel right" as we suspected they would not want our honest opinion. She then asked us what our budget was (which was between £500-600 pcm, £625 at the most) and proceeded to try and sell us a property outside of that range because it had just been refurbed.
We went to find said property later on and the refurb was nicely done, but not as "beautiful" as she made it out to be. At least, not for the money they were asking.
The next house we went to see was one in Bearwood. This was after several failed attempts to view various others in and around Bearwood/Smethwick after the agents kept "fogetting" to call us back after supposedly checking if Leo would be allowed.
The first viewing of this ended up being cancelled because the agent didn't have the keys. Prior to this, though, we had a couple of booked viewings (for Saturdays) cancelled because someone else had managed to view it before us and reserve it. At that point I had to cancel a week of my leave in July (I'd booked a fortnight off) to use for last-minute midweek house viewings, but thankfully my line manager was very understanding and reasonable about the whole thing.
At the start of June the "For Sale" sign went up on the house - without any warning from Connells to either us or the landlord, helpfully enough. For the record, this was before they'd even come in to take any photographs and before it was even on the website, and they booked in the first viewing within days.
We politely requested 48 hours notice on all future viewings due to working full-time and needing more than a day to get the place reasonably presentable, which up until very recently Connells were actually very good at honouring. This was also so we could ensure we weren't actually in the house during the viewings because neither of us were sure we could cope with people tramping around the home we were being ejected from.
(Feedback from the viewings later was that the place was "cluttered and untidy", to which our response was "no shit, we still live here!" - we did say to Connells that we would be in the process of packing and had nowhere else to put our stuff and they assured us that would be fine, but yeah, whatever, apparently people can't see beyond the stuff to the actual house. FFS, you're not buying our possessions!)
We finally managed to see the house in Bearwood after booking in a viewing on a Wednesday afternoon, in the vain hope we might have less competition (as apparently for the first, cancelled appointment there were nine other people coming). This alas gave the agent carte blanche to use that slot to rebook everyone else in, so we viewed it with another couple and then two more turned up as we were going.
There were no photographs of the kitche on the website but I knew vaguely what to expect, having grown up in a similar house in the area. I knew it would be small but I didn't expect it to be THAT small, and again it had a downstairs bathroom (also the tenant had a very friendly cat!). We also got to view another house two doors down which was being let by the same landlord, which seemed... very slightly dodgy considering both houses were clearly being lived in.
I should clarify, Bearwood was our first choice for area because of bus links to both our jobs - Paul works in the city centre and Bearwood is where I change to get the 11 to my place of work. Unfortuantely Bearwood is becoming more and more bijou and properties get snapped up super-quick and/or are very expensive, so we did not hold out much hope of living there.
Despite the tiny kitchen, the rest of the house was nicely presented (the one two doors down was similar but I didn't like it as much) so we decided that having an extra reception room would offset the lack of storage in the kitchen, and we put in our application. The agent promised a response within 24 hours but it was more like three days. Apparently we were shortlisted and our application was sent to the landlord, but we were not selected. Paul asked for feedback but they couldn't give us any. I suspect both Leo and the fact that Paul smokes were contributing factors, though.
Not getting this house was a massive blow to my mental health, incidentally, and I will expand on that further a bit later. The same day, Paul attempted to get viewings on five other properties and managed to book one, which also didn't help the situation. On the other hand, it then motivated me to add more and more properties to the favourites on rightmove, even in areas we hadn't previously considered, purely because they were on the 11 route so I could get to work. :P
Shortly after this we attended a joint 1st and 21st birthday party for Isabella and Patrick (Paul's great-niece and nephew), which was a lovely day and resulted in my making friends with a four-year-old. :P
After that, we decided to change our tactic, as being honest from the outset was getting us nowhere. The plan going forward was not to announce having a pet until we had managed to get inside the property to view, unless the website blurb specifically said "no pets", because I figured that agents would be more amenable to do the legwork with the landlord if there was a chance of making their fees on the day.
This tactic seemed to work, thankfully. We managed three more viewings, all three of which were further out than we really wanted to be.
The first was in Blackheath and the agent managed to facilitate an evening viewing. It looked okay from the pictures but when we got there we were both impressed by the size of the place, and it turned out it had been completely refurbished (to a high standard) by the landlord, including a new kitchen and a new boiler / central heating. We were also really impressed by the size of the master bedroom (which was mahoosive!) It should have been a giveaway that as we were wandering around we were saying "ooh, that could go there!"
We had a drink in a local pub after before getting the bus home and decided to bite the bullet and put in the application for it. In discussions with the agent (Ash), his face fell at first when he asked about pets until we clarified we had a neutered, house-trained cat, at which point he revealed the landlord's other tenant also had a cat and it probably wouldn't be a problem. We were only in competition with one other person but our combined wages had effectively prioritised us, and after that it was literally a case of signing the paperwork first, which Ash was thankfully amenable to arranging. ;)
The one after that was in Netherton, which would have involved three buses to/from work, but it looked nice from the pictures and we'd booked the viewing a while ago, so we decided to honour it. We arrived to find the place apparently empty so Paul rang Connells (who else?!) who said that the landlord should be there doing some work on the property and would be showing us around. Quite obviously, the landlord was not there. (I am always wary when landlords are "doing work" on properties because it usually means that the lovely, colourful rooms you see in photographs are miraculously painted magnolia by the time you get there. Unsurprisingly, the property reappeared on the list a week or so later and the lovely purple bathroom had been repainted in - you guessed it - magnolia.)
We cancelled that viewing and Connells were adamant they would contact the landlord and ring us back, which also made us suspicious as normally they're not so obliging, and we wondered just why they were so keen to get rid of it. The area wasn't that nice also. On the plus side, as we were in Netherton I finally got around to taking Paul to the claypits where I spent many a summer weekend with my dad. Despite not having been there for over 20 years, I remembered the way from the town centre, although it then took us a few hours to find the actual claypit so we spent a lovely day wandering through the nature reserve instead. (We then got a bus to Merry Hill to avoid having to climb back up the hill, and another bus back to Dudley which took about 12 years to get there.)
The final viewing was a house in Tividale which was on the market for the very upper limit of our price range (£625 pcm). It was essentially a private let direct from the landlord, through an agent who are only invovled to sort out checks, etc., and it was such a faff to set up the viewing that we decided to honour it anyway even though we were basically certain we'd got the house in Blackheath. We were late to the viewing thanks to public transport fail and it turned out to be hideous anyway (there were flies in the box room and the kitchen was barely more than a cupboard, and despite having massive windows and being on top of a hill it was still really dingy). It was horrendously overpriced for both the area and the state of the place, quite frankly.
We had confirmation on the Blackheath house on 23rd June (the day after the Tividale viewing), which obviously I remember because it was the same day of the referendum and thus the one good thing to come out of that horrendous shitstorm. :P
After that, of course, it was a flurry of packing and moving and negotiating getting our deposit back. Despite a few teething problems there we should be getting everything bar £200 (for the gardener) back in a couple of weeks.
We moved on 29-30th August and have already made two of the rooms at least vaguely habitable. I wanted to have a clear out before we moved but it just wasn't possible, so I'll be doing that as and when we unpack instead. (I've already managed to dump a load of old VHS tapes of Voyager and DS9 because we're planning on getting Netflix. :D) A trip to Ikea is on the cards to buy various items of storage furniture and then I can properly put a dent in unpacking everything.
Also, we are bereft of both a fridge and a washing machine until 13th August, so on Saturday I had to take a big bag of dirty washing back to the old property (we have the tenancy until the 14th) so I could wash it whilst we finished the cleaning. :P
Yeah, I probably should have updated some of this along the way, but TBH I was not really in the correct mindset to do so and it would not have been quite this objective... Such being said, onward to the health update.
Right, so. Precisely one week after the first valuation in May, I finally received a letter from the urologist at around the 6-7 week mark after dropping in my three early morning samples. Naturally, I assumed it was the results.
Firstly, the letter was not actually addressed to me but to the GP, with me CC'ed in. Because obviously the patient is not important enough to be written to directly. The letter claimed I had only dropped in one of my three samples (not true) and that it was in the wrong bottle. This was worded in such a way as to imply that I did this on purpose, like I just keep urine sample bottles in my cupboard and did it for a laugh. No, dickbag, I used the bottles you GAVE ME at my appointment (in March) after checking with the lab which one to use.
At first, I thought I'd been discharged without ceremony, and I was so angry all I could do was swear indiscriminately. Once I'd calmed down a bit I decided I was going to complain (which I still haven't done because I wanted to get all the moving shit sorted first) because essentially the solution for the past two years has been to keep on ignoring me until I go away, and to not listen to anything I say. However, on re-reading the letter it indicated I could organise the samples again through the GP and they could then re-refer as necessary.
Basically, the lab lost my samples and it then took them six weeks to get around to telling me. This is particularly irritating because every time I've sent an inconclusive / incorrect sample through the GP, they have called me within days to rearrange it.
TBF, providing the samples was fraught with disaster anyway. The bottle of water in the bag with the sample bottles / request slips somehow leaked everywhere, and as the urologist had written the requests in fountain pen ink (because they can never get the printed versions to work) one of them was basically illegible. I saved that one for last and put a note for the lab in with it (including all of my patient details AND the name of my consultant) saying it was the same as the first two. Also, Birmingham Treatment Centre's concept of dropping off samples consists of a red bucket which is hidden around a corner in the blood testing department - I only found this the first time because I managed to flag down a nurse (cash-strapped NHS can no longer afford departmental receptionists, obvs), but on all three occasions I felt really uncomfortable wandering around trying to find said bucket whilst people were having their bloods taken. So much for patient confidentiality!
Needless to say, a week or so later I went to the GP to rearrange the samples, and she was just as exasperated by the whole situation as I was. She also agreed I could drop the samples at the surgery for them to transfer them to hospital rather than going out of my way (again) first thing in the morning to do it myself. The six-week cut-off for those results was last week, so I need to find a new GP sharpish and make sure they don't get lost in transit somewhere. TBF, I might just ask for the re-referral to Urology regardless.
Weirdly enough, throughout all the house stress, my side has not been hurting as much as usual, but last week it started up again. I had one day off sick shortly into house-hunting when it flared up, and since then it's been mostly okay. That is not to say that things cleared up, because it seems to be the case now that my side hurts without any obvious evidence of an infection, and (TMI warning) for the most part my wee is lovely and clear but smells like death, so quite obviously there is still something not quite right.
As for the non-physical health side of things...
As I mentioned above, for the past 1.5 years I have been particularly conscious of my mental health, because it hadn't occurred to me before just how draining it can be managing a chronic illness (particularly one which is still undiagnosed / untreated). Since returning to work in October 2015 I have basically been perpetually exhausted and lacking in energy, and being in constant pain until early this year (I can't tell if it's actually got better or my pain threshold has finally switched off my nerve endings :P) has scuppered any form of activity or exercise, resulting in another bout of weight gain. All of these things combined have had a decidedly negative effect on my mental well-being, which I have been very consciously aware of.
I am basically used to living with a background noise of negative thought, after 15 odd years of fluctuating mental health. That probably means that I don't get help when I should, but I constantly fall into the trap of not thinking my problems are "severe enough" to warrant bothering someone with them. Also, my propensity towards self-analysis means that talking therapy doesn't work, and I suspect CBT wouldn't either, because I am incredibly aware that my reactions / thought processes are not "normal" and thus that makes it very hard to change them.
I have suspected for a while that I might some degree of bipolar, where the "highs" are defined by increased creativity, specifically writing flurries and falling back into fandom excitement (during which times I am often aware that I'm being "manic"), and the "lows" are the points where my creativity and motivation completely dries up. I think this would be quite hard to explain to any kind of health professional because it doesn't fit the standard sort of behaviours (e.g. spending sprees / susbtance misuse) associated with the disorder. I am defined by my history and my interests in every aspect of my life, it would seem. :P
Such being said, 2015 was a very difficult year, what with the familial emigration and everything that entailed. 2016 also got off to a bad start with the tail end of that situation (the funeral) but after February was out of the way things seemed to be looking up. Particularly because following Sunset in April I got my fandom / writing mojo back (I had, perhaps a little self-destructively, opted not to seek any help until after that so I could let the fandom excitement buoy me up again and allow me to enjoy the show as much as possible.)
Then the house news threw me several steps backwards again, and I went from just about coping to barely keeping my head above water.
Throughout the entire process I have been coasting on the edge of my sanity, drowning in despair/anger/frustration/hatred and occasionally surfacing via air pockets of sheer determination and motivation.
It had reached a point, during a week of cancelled house viewings just before I made the decision to cancel my week of leave, where people at work started to notice I was not myself: I was sullen, withdrawn and untalkative. Despite everything, I have always managed to present as being outwardly okay, so when people started to notice I knew things were getting worse.
I was upfront and honest throughout about what was going on, and everyone (both my immediate and senior colleagues) has been incredibly supportive and understanding, always checking on how things were going. I honestly believe that if any of this had happened whilst I was still working at Legal, I would have gone off the rails a long time ago. I work with some of the nicest people you could ever hope to meet, and I would not have been able to carry on at work without them.
The lowest point for me was when we had the news that we weren't successful in getting the house in Bearwood. We found out around lunchtime and neither of us wanted to stay in work, beacuse (perhaps foolishly) we had pinned our hopes on getting it and wanted to get the whole process over with as quickly as possible.
I'm just putting a trigger warning here - ignore small text.
I've lost count of the amount of bus journeys I've spent over the past few months where I've tried to stop myself from crying, either because of early-morning over-thinking about the emigration, stress about the house situation or the stupid, godawful referendum result. On that particular day, though - and I feel somewhat reluctant still to admit this - I spent the entire bus journey home repeatedly wanting to kill myself just to make things easier.
I should clarify: this is not uncommon when I've reached particularly low points, and the last time it happened was just before I stopped taking the Pill, where the thought would randomly pop into my head as a reaction to even the smallest difficulty. There have only been two occasions where I've actually gone as far as working out how I'd do it - one was when I was 19 and had failed my Occupational Therapy course, and the other was on that bus journey.
It's actually really strange thinking about it in retrospect now that everything has blown over. Even as it was happening I was more than aware that my thoughts were not normal, that it was not a reasonable reaction to what was a relatively minor setback, but at the same time I was unable to stop it. Things had become so overwhelming that it was literally the only way out I could think of, yet logically I knew it was ridiculous. At one point I had even convinced myself it would make things easier for Paul because he would be able to find a smaller place for himself more easily, and even now I am looking at that "logic" and wondering how on earth I allowed things to get that bad.
Quite frankly, I should have sought help months ago, and even though at several points I considered going to the GP just so I could get something to regulate my brain chemistry a little, I was simultaneously terrified that they'd just refer me for counselling again and not take me seriously, so through some bizarre, twisted logic I decided to wait until things got worse, without realising that they already had. This is what happens when you live your life with background anxiety/paranoia/depression and normalise it to that degree.
You can come out now.
Thankfully, I managed to turn the crushing disappointment into renewed house-hunting motivation, and eventually (obviously) it paid off.
The past three months have progressed in a rapid flurry (I actually just had to check it really was three months because it felt like three weeks) and I have essentially been a social recluse for that entire time. Whenever I did manage to be remotely sociable (such as the Midland pub quiz) I was mostly knackered / unresponsive and wished I hadn't bothered.
And of course, in the midst of all this, we had the referendum, which has thrown the country into turmoil. I think my general mental state has only exacerbated the sensation that we are all trapped in a mutual dystopian nightmare, to be honest, because the entire thing has felt so unreal.
All this being said, the honest truth is that fandom has - as ever - kept me sane. I was determined to finish my Sunset story and, somehow, I did. I spent two muggy Sunday evenings indulging in various versions of the show with commoncomitatus and flailing over them via Yahoo!Messenger, as well as responding to her beta!flail with more flail, and I think if not for that I would not have come out the other side of this with my sanity relatively intact.
We're not out of the woods just yet, alas, as we haven't seen my grandmother since Christmas and apparently she has gotten worse since then, but I honestly just did not have the requisite spoons to explain what was happening with the house move. (When we explained via text to my uncle recently, she offered us £50 to help - sadly, it's her world-ignorant well-meaningness which is one of the hardest things to deal with.) Now that we've found somewhere we need to go and see her and tell her what happened, and at some point break the news about Bulgaria and field any questions as necessary.
But before that I need to sleep for a million years.
I should probably end this section by saying: don't worry, I'm fine. I am feeling much more positive and infinitely less crazy than I was a few weeks ago. In truth, the mental health deterioration occurred in much the same manner as my stress when at Legal Services: it was such a slow burn I didn't realise how bad things had gotten until I was free of the situation.
I'm fairly certain I must have missed something out in all of this, but this is quite long enough already.
Now that things are calmer, I need to start prioritising my cinema viewing as there are at least four things on the list, including the new Tim Burton - that one is non-negotiable even if I don't get to any of the others. :P
I'll try not to leave it so long between updates next time. With any luck I can get back into embroidery soon.