Ok, doing a renovation isn’t for the faint hearted. My natural personality is endlessly optimistic, I see the bright side in everything, I charge positively in to many things, feel life is for living and have an infinity to Tigger, bouncy, bouncy, bounce. Yet at the back end of 2018 I started to get what Eyeore was feeling….
The anxiety I felt over the scale of the project, managing our budget, working full-time and running a side hustle business, as well as picking up and dropping off our lovely children from primary school and trying to be a good parent to them was enough to nearly have me on my knees. I wasn’t having trouble sleeping, I’d drop off in to a deep sleep, yet I would frequently wake at 3:00am and lie there for hours worrying. I’d worry about the enormity of the project, worry about the financial investment we were making but mainly I found myself walking around with this huge knot in my chest of anxiety, as well as feeling like I had a heavy heart.
Mental health. Mmmmmm. I guess mine has suffered recently. As things became more and more stressful I know that I retreated in to myself, internalising my anxiety and putting on this smiling face, still trying to juggle all the plates and like a fool taking on more, ‘You need someone to organise the team Christmas get together, yeah sure I’ll do it’ and so on.
Then in October 2018 I felt myself crack. It was a Wednesday and I went out for a walk, I needed to go to the bank so thought the walk and some fresh air would help. My phone in hand, which is where it’s spent far too much time of late, I messaged two of my closest (in spirit but sadly not location) buddies. I used to call them my photography buddies as that’s what initially had brought us together, but really they’re just my buddies. ‘I’m embarrassed to write this’ I tapped in to my phone ‘but I’m struggling’, a few more words and then before I could stop myself I sent it. I reached the bank and walked in. Despite it being a Wednesday lunchtime there was no one in the branch, as I approached the counter the cashier looked up, ‘What a lovely smile!‘ he said to me. I was puzzled and remember responding ‘Are you joking?‘ – after all I felt miserable as sin, ‘No’ he replied, ‘you had a lovely smile when you walked in’. It was kind of ironic, this kind stranger giving me a lovely comment about how happy I looked, yet the reality I felt so low.
As early November dawned we reached a stage of small highs but some really low, low’s. After overcoming the initial shock of quotes coming in £100,000 over budget we feel more positive after a meeting with our preferred builder where we discuss with him our budget and the need to scale back. Talk of starting the build in January 2019 and the prospect that this project would finally get moving helped to fill me with optimism. The gloomy tunnel starts to feel brighter. I hadn’t thought living in a house with dodgy carpets and such old ‘everything’ would subtly get to me. Yet when I met someone new and they heard about the project and what I had on people would frequently express their amazement at how much we were dealing with. It had become my normal but hearing others tell me that we were dealing with a lot did make me feel better, as it helped me to see it wasn’t just me being a bit pathetic, all this stuff was a lot to manage.
Then fireworks night and my optimism about us progressing the project in 2019 were shat on from a great height. Our builder returned with the reworked quote we were awaiting and still we couldn’t afford it. At this point I didn’t know what to do and even had a brief phone call with the Estate Agent about whether we could sell the house and what might be a reasonable selling price. It wasn’t at all what I wanted to do but sometimes when you can’t see the wood from the trees you clutch at straws.
I always worry that people who watch my instastories and see me buying nice homewares in Sainsburys or Neptune will get the impression that we are minted. We aren’t. We’re pretty normal people with a double income and additional extra income from my side hustle yet we also have the same expenses as many others. Everything we have so far is just from pure hard work and sweating our butts off. So we’ve sweated over the minutiae detail in planning this project to ensure we stick as close to our budget as possible, we then avoid any huge overspends which seem to incur all too frequently on Grand Designs etc. This has been important to us, as going wildly over budget would stress us both out enormously.
The reality of the situation was that I didn’t give myself credit for the enormity of what we were doing, nor give myself time to pause. I didn’t stand back and take any respite from it all. There wasn’t one big thing I did that helped me to feel more like me, instead a combination of small things have helped the anxiety to be kept at bay. None of them are radical but the sum of all of them just made things feel a whole heap better.
What’s kept me sane
Podcasts – Now a daily habit on my drive to the day job. I listen to all sorts and they are my me time. From Happy Place with Fearne Cotton to Katie Piper’s Extraordinary People, I absorb each episode and love the different chats and my me time switch off.
Keep a sense of humour. You can’t take things too seriously. It’s really helped me to be able to laugh at some of the daft things that are happening, you know…. finding a mouse in our temporary accommodation has eaten all our chocolate, the amount of dust that gets in to everything. If I allowed myself to lose my temper over some of this stuff then I’d go batty so actually laughing about it and pulling myself up here has helped.
Embracing the camaraderie of the supportive instagram community. I’ve made some great friendships via the ‘gram. Fellow home renovators, people who want to renovate and are just interested in what we are doing. All these people have been a great support, sharing ideas and showing interest in the project. I had a good giggle the other day with Philippa over at www.instagram.com/forestviewhouse. She had me belly laughing describing how she’d had an epic temper tantrum this week with her builder. Her renovation stress induced tantrum culminated in her throwing herself on the pavement and screaming at the top of her voice ‘I can’t even take a SHIT when I want‘, I feel ya Philippa!
Connecting with my photography friends and sharing how I was feeling, acknowledging that I hadn’t felt so good was a big help. I wasn’t after lots of gushy hugs but just knowing they had my back and cared made me feel instantly better. Leaning on people and taking up offers of support helps. I was surprised who did and didn’t offer though! When our washing machine was unplumbed a couple of months ago it was a neighbour in the street who offered me the use of their machine and a distant work colleague. Friends invited me over for dinner to get away from the mess and chaos, little things like that all help you get through it.
I booked a facial and also a hair cut and then booked my next ones in. Some self-care improved my mood and my self-esteem.
Actually just accepting that my situation was stressful and that it was normal to worry about what we were doing helped me to see some sense too. I also could then tell myself that next month, next year things will be different. We won’t always be running such a big project, this feeling of stress is temporary.
Putting on my running shoes and pounding the pavement instantly increased my mood. I’m an amateur runner but do love the buzz you get from running. My physical exercise pattern has taken a nose dive again since we moved in to our temporary accommodation but I’m committed to try and make running a regular habit once we’re no longer living out of a suitcase. I’m also desperate to start Yoga and know that making time for both will be so good for my head.
Trying to be far better about what foods I eat has also played its part. The lack of a proper kitchen in the house meant we didn’t want to spend too long cooking so were eating out more on the weekends (and putting on weight). Eating foods that were giving me sharp sugar crashes also affected my moods. I now try to prepare my meals for the week, taking fruit to snack on and cooking evening meals from scratch. I’m not perfect and still grab biscuits too often but when I do eat healthier I feel 10x better.
All these things together helped me to have space from the renovation project worries and to keep me mentally on an even keel. Weirdly once the work was fully underway I’ve felt totally chilled about it, it was more the planning stages that caused me the worry. Now its in full swing I can handle any of it 🙂
Sorry if this isn’t the sort of thing you want to read on my blog but I think its important to share that these projects are stressful. Whilst you might see some beaming smiling pictures of me during the process I’ve got to be honest about the realities of this kind of thing, its not a walk in the park. Have you felt smiliar if you’ve gone through a similar project?