Do you have high-functioning anxiety?

Her Lessons

 

On Thursday 24th May, I started a new job. I also discovered the unwelcome return of my old mate, anxiety.

On Friday 25th May, I started writing a blog post about dealing with anxiety when you’re desperate to make a good impression. An impression as a professional, intelligent person who’s confident in what they do.

I deleted the post. Fearing that said post might hinder said good impression.

And then I read this article on Refinery29 – Are You One Of The Many Women Suffering From ‘High-Functioning Anxiety’? – and I felt a little foolish. After being someone who has always advocated speaking out about mental health, I was afraid of being judged. When, truth be told, to beat the prejudice you have to first overcome it for yourself. You have to keep sharing until it feels normal, for both speaker and listener.

In my original post, I started to detail my horror at experiencing old feelings of anxiety creeping in. Intrusive thoughts I’d learned to control a few years ago started to rear their big ugly heads during the build-up to my first day on the job, and for days afterwards, too. Lack of sleep, poor concentration, pounding heart, restless legs, a crowded mind, surges of adrenaline pumping through my body at the smallest things, like getting the train or choosing what to eat.

All the while, I walked and talked with unwavering confidence, smiling brightly at every new person I met. I guess you could say that I’m one of the many women with ‘high-functioning anxiety’. I actually find that I subconsciously use the adrenaline it creates to fuel my day. But the energy source is a futile one, and come bedtime I am totally done in.

I’m well aware that my anxiety is driven by OCD and the fear of things not being perfect, and so to address the symptoms I sometimes have to re-familiarise myself with the cause. I suppose I’ve been going round in circles like that all my life really, gaining a better understanding with each and every ‘phase’.

The most useful thing I’ve understood about battling OCD is that it’s a bully. And what do they teach you at school? Yep. To stand up to bullies. Call their bluff. Dare them to do their worst. Chances are, they’ll soon back off.

And so when anxiety creeps into my life and tries to sabotage the most important occasions, I take a moment to reflect on all the things I’ve done to look fear in the face, and remind myself that if I can jump out of a plane, get tattoos, go white water rafting, and get a mortgage, then I sure as hell can get through this day.

Over the bank holiday weekend, I caught the tube to Covent Garden to meet my boyfriend and some friends of his I hadn’t met before. Meeting new people is a typical trigger for anxiety sufferers, but not something I’ve experienced for years thanks to the ever-changing nature of my job. I’m used to it. But for some reason I couldn’t shake the nerves. I was furious with myself for feeling so worried, which only made things worse. In the grip of anxiety, it’s hard to think straight. I felt terrified and lost wandering through the usually familiar square, I couldn’t work my phone, and I felt tears welling up and panic flood my chest. I rang my boyfriend, and OCD told me to say “I’m not coming”. I recognised this attack instantly – the way it tries to stop you living your life. OCD wants you to be a recluse, FYI. So I consciously stood up to the bully and went for brunch instead.

And just like that, normality resumes and anxiety fades away.  Those mini inner battles can be immense triumphs – if you confront anxiety, I promise you will always win.

The next day at work I felt calm and in control. Like normal. Maybe the first-day nerves disappeared by themselves. Or maybe it’s about recognising when you’re vulnerable and  taking a moment to nurture yourself.

People often tell me how calm I am. It’s something I work very hard at. Calmness is a commodity I value extremely highly. Being told I am calm is on hell of a compliment – like when someone tells you how nice you look when you’re having a bad hair day.

The truth is, people don’t always see you the way you see yourself. Your internal monologue has a lot to answer for. They say that you should talk to yourself the way you would a close friend… “You’re doing so well”, “You’re look beautiful”, “You’ve totally go this”.

OCD isn’t a close friend. It never talks to you this way. And yet sufferers can’t help but hold it close. The negative, threatening voice indoctrinates your thoughts and tries to erode who you really are.

It’s vital to separate yourself from those thoughts to confront and overcome the anxiety they produce.

But how to take back control?

When I start to feel anxiety creeping in, I make an extra effort to be kind to myself, to nourish the deepest part of me in order to keep it safe. That means eating well, running, meditating and spending time both alone and with people I love. All of those things bring a sense of control and purpose that anxiety finds it difficult to penetrate.

As someone who is naturally introverted, I go to great lengths to mimic outgoing confidence because, well, fortune favours the brave (and the assertive). And when you pretend to be something in a positive way, you can actually manifest it for yourself. Hellooo, Sasha Fierce? Beyoncé was definitely onto something.

So, next time anxious thoughts start taking over, take a moment to assess the opportunities you’re giving them to have a voice. Fill that space with goodness and confidence in the form of positive thoughts and actions. It’s really hard sometimes, but it’s always worth the fight.

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Are you addicted to your phone?

Her Lessons

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Would you consider yourself a sane, reasonable person aged between 15 and 75? Then there’s a very real chance that you are completely and utterly addicted to your phone.

 

Don’t worry, it’s not your fault. You see, phones are specifically designed to ensure that you become addicted to them. Which is probably the most important thing I’ve discovered this week, thanks to Catherine Price’s new book ‘How To Break Up With Your Phone’.

 

The book, which was thoughtfully given to me by my team at work, is completely terrifying. Particularly when Price shares insights that link the functionality of smart phones to slot machines. You heard it, slot machines. The most purposely addictive machine ever created.

 

“When we swipe down our finger to scroll the Instagram feed, we’re playing a slot machine to see what photo comes up next. When we swipe faces left/right on dating apps, we’re playing a slot machine to see if we’ll get a match.” 

– Tristan Harris, ex-Google employee

 

We get hooked on little doses of dopamine, a chemical that activates addictive pleasure receptors in our brains that cause us to feel happy and excited. Just like Ecstasy or Cocaine. When it comes to phone addiction, we’re not addicted to the content itself, we’re addicted to the action, to the thrill of something new to make us feel happy and calm. And just like class As, the more we use, the more we need.

 

Price also shares the interesting fact that the most powerful tech executives in the world choose to limit how much exposure their children have to technology.

 

Like I said. Terrifying.

 

There are a few questions you can ask yourself to ascertain whether you’re a fully fledged phone addict.

 

When you eat meals, is your smartphone always part of the table place setting?

 

Do you find yourself mindlessly checking your mobile many times a day, even when you know it’s unlikely there is anything new?

 

Do you sleep with your mobile (turned on) under your pillow or next to your bed regularly?

 

Somehow, without realising it, we’ve become a nation who take their phones everywhere with them like a living, breathing thing. They join us in the bathroom when we’re showering. We soothingly scroll through them when we feel anxious. They help us to avoid awkward situations, like making eye contact on the train or waiting alone at a bar. They make it easy to cancel on our friends. We even sleep next to them. They have our backs, our birthdays, our weather predictions. But what are they really doing to our minds?

 

Quite frankly, I couldn’t even begin to add up how many times I’ve sat down to do something productive and unintentionally spent an hour doing absolute fuck all on my phone. “Oh I’ll just begin with a quick browse through Instagram or Pinterest for inspiration” and WHOOSH, I’ve lost yet another hour of my life.

 

I would say, that as someone with OCD and multitudes of hidden layers of anxiety because of it, I’m probably ripe for the picking for technology designers. Even without my phone, my brain is wired to constantly seek ways of coping and reassuring in day-to-day life. I may not turn the light switch on and off 100 times before bed anymore, or check the front door is locked 10 times before I actually make it to work, but I do feel ridiculously anxious when I’m not checking my phone. In fact, ‘checking’ is a common and often crippling symptom of OCD. The fact that tech companies may even be tapping into this phycology is pretty disturbing.

 

The more I think about it, the more I often feel that my phone has more of a negative impact of my mind than a positive. Yes, it’s practical. I can set my alarm, check the weather and choose which train I’m getting all at the same time. But why do I then spend a further 30 minutes scrolling through pointless shit before bed? Only to feel a little less sure of myself and the need to buy 17 new things the following morning?

 

Sometimes I sit down to write and my brain feels all mushy, like I can’t quite locate the right words or remember the correct phrases. I find myself googling the meaning of words I’ve been using in text and conversation my whole bloody life, or having the look up the name of that ‘thing’ three times before I actually internalise it.

 

In her brilliant book, Price confirms my worst fears. Smartphones are reconfiguring our brains, making it harder for us to remember things and retain information. If you’re scrolling through utter shit on a regular basis, shit that’s mostly predictable and boring, it’s no wonder your brain is full of the stuff, too.

 

I guess it’s a bit like drinking alcohol, which I do on a regular basis. You know very well that too much booze will leave you feeling bloody awful the next day, and yet you do it anyway. WHHYYYYY? Why do we do it to ourselves? It’s time to give ourselves a shake and take back control, just like we did when we finally stopped drinking so much on a school night.

 

Phone, it’s been emotional. It really, truly has. But I think that’s part of the problem. I’m too emotionally attached to you. You hold my photos, my dearest messages from the people I love, my personal notes and memories. When did I stop using my camera, having heart-to-hearts in person, or writing stuff down in notebooks? I’m sorry, but I’ve realised that you hold a monopoly over my life, and there a laws against that sort of thing. I’m going to wean myself off of you as best I can (I’m not expecting miracles here). Thank you, Catherine Price, for helping me see the light.

 

Your turn. Save yourself. Spread the word.

 

Get your copy of ‘How To Break Up With Your Phone’ 

Catherine Price also wrote a brilliant article for The Pool – Read ‘Smartphone addiction made me restless, anxious and muddled’

A lesson on buying your first home

Her Lessons

This time last year was pretty much the worst time ever. After a flurry of emotionally traumatic events, I suddenly found myself living back at my mum’s, away from London, with most of my former world dumped in the garden shed. It all happened so quickly that it feels like the memory of a film rather than an episode from my actual life.

The little boat that constitutes my existence was well and truly rocked. Inside, I was about to sink and drown at any moment. It was a common, incredibly shit thing to go through, but the way everything unfolded was far from normal. It was fucked up. I fucked up. And then I compromised my mental and physical stability. Being scared of losing love will do that to you.

I guess one of the main things I’ve learned is that real love and friendship will survive the biggest shit storm.  That and the fact that one of the best things you can do for yourself is to guarantee your own stable foundations.

So I decided to put everything into just that. Stability. I needed to buy a flat.

Being from a very small town just outside of Brighton, London has always felt like the epitome of opportunity, excitement and success. It’s not for everyone, but I bloody LOVE living in London. I worked so hard to get there, to be able to afford city life (and, of course, city rent).

Finding myself living back home after so many years felt like a huge backwards step. Thank God for my amazing mum for going on that horrendous journey with me. Looking for a flat of my own started off as a sort of half-dream to keep my mind focussed on the future. I populated my ‘Interiors’ Pinterest board and thought it wouldn’t extend much beyond that.

And then I thought fuck it. I’ll speak to a free financial advisor – at Torc24 – to see whether there’s a hope in hell of me ever qualifying for a mortgage by myself. Turns out, I did.

Motivated by this, I dared myself to dream a little more and scroll through Rightmove and Zoopla to see if any property actually existed at the price range I’d been told I could afford. Again, to my amazement, there was. And not just in outer Scotland, with the Help to Buy London scheme, I could afford to buy a flat within the M25. In a London borough (just).

In case you’re interested (and feel free to skip ahead if you’re not), qualifying for the Help to Buy London scheme means that you only have to pay a 5% deposit of a new build property of up to £500,000 (depending on what price bracket your salary qualifies for). The government gives you a whopping 40% loan to that you don’t have to start paying for 5 years. Mortgage rates are also pretty low at the moment. My mortgage is with Halifax and it’s fixed at 1.64% for 2 years.

Which, in a nutshell, means that my current monthly mortgage repayments are just £515. Which is cheaper than any rent I’ve ever paid, even when I was on half the salary I’m on now. Say whaaat.

I started my search for affordable new-build flats in Croydon. Not the prettiest of places, but set to evolve fairly quickly thanks to the new Boxpark and coming Westfield. As it turns out, there are loads of new builds available on Help to Buy, but the ones I could afford were really, really small. Like, really small.

I widened my search ever so slightly and came across Wallington (which I’d never heard of before) and which turned out to be a quiet, green part of Sutton with a handful of pretty parks, a lake and some decent pubs. I’m already a regular at The Wallington Arms.

I came across a one-bed flat in a renovated Victorian building, and, in a rather nice turn of events, my offer was accepted on my 28th birthday – a birthday I was dreading, I might add. And from that moment I started to realise that all the bad things that happened in the months before might well have been paving the way for unimaginably better things. For me, this flat was a physical representation of everything there is to gain from everything you’ve ever lost. I still have to pinch myself that it’s mine.

I had a sort of epiphany in the shower the other day.

I’ve moved house 10 times in the last 10 years, and I’ve have had some pretty horrendous bathrooms. There’s the one at uni that had brown carpet, mould in every crevice of the shower tiles, and a toilet that flooded during a particularly messy house party; and the one I shared with boys with constant remnants of muddy rugby training rimmed around the bath; and the one that was supposed to be a ‘wet room’ but which caused the ceiling to leak and eventually explode in the room below; and the one in a Brixton basement with prison bars on the window; and the one that was pretty much inside a cupboard in the kitchen with silverfish and no room to move.

And there I was, showering under a giant, ridiculously powerful, vintage-style showerhead, in a pristine grey-tiled wet room with a beautifully clean, heated ecru floor and plush new towels hanging on the warm towel rail. I suddenly realised how far I’d come. Not to mention the fact I’d got a mortgage by myself. A wave of peaceful relief passed over me. This is my very own bathroom. I own this. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so safe (and clean).

So here’s a message from me to you if you’re sick of renting, are going through a horrible breakup, or have a god-awful bathroom – keep looking forward and find the thing that centres you. It might feel bleak at the moment, but it’s all temporary. Keeping focusing your energy in the right direction and you’ll get there. Have faith.

A lesson on January goals

Her Lessons

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‘New Year New Me’ has seen a bit of backlash. And I have to say I kind of agree. Not only does it imply there’s something wrong with last year’s you (you don’t need to be that harsh on yourself) it also overlooks the very important fact that you can start over any time. You really can.

And as far as the typical (pressured by society) idea of this New You goes, January is a cold depressing month that’s surely only made worse by foregoing comfort food, wine, cosy pubs and new clothes.

Why deprive yourself in January? I don’t get it. The New Year should be a time for nourishing and enriching yourself. Challenging yourself, yes. But caring for yourself mostly. Taking what you have, understanding it, and finding new ways to make it better. For some, that might mean running on spirulina powder and lemon juice, but surely January proposes an opportunity to delve into something much deeper?

I’ll admit that sometimes it takes a universal shift to help guide you in the right direction. It’s much easier to tap into a new sense of direction when the world around you in putting energy into the same thing, on whatever level its happening. It’s about using that shared January vibe of starting over to motivate shaping your own guidelines for the year ahead. I think self-love is key in January. Show yourself that you care in all the little ways and you’ll see the difference it can make to your self-confidence and achievements long term.

I know what my resolutions and goals are for 2018. I don’t need to start or complete them in January to make sure they happen. Cooking good food and doing yoga at home, for example. I know I can start to fulfil these as soon as I move into my new flat. It’s all on my terms you see. Which is liberating in itself. Setting yourself challenges that have realistic targets is crucial for nurturing your self-esteem. Plus I was really hungover on New Year’s Day so I’m hardly going to start then…

I don’t want to be a totally new me in 2018. I like who I am. I want to learn, grow and evolve in the most sustainable way, and that means healthy challenges and goals that make me feel good, inside and out. Not sudden starvation, detox punishments or saying no to things I love.

So here’s what my (albeit non-dry, non-vegan) January goals look like. Because I know these are the little things that well energise me to take on the year ahead. I’ve already ticked a few of my list, which is kind of cheating but that’s just how I roll.

1. Nap when it’s raining and don’t feel guilty about it. 2. Actually get your fringe trimmed at the hairdressers. 3. Read The Course of Love. 4. Use Headspace more. 5. Write even more. 6. Take a trip to IKEA. 7. Create a vision board for the year ahead. 8. Forgive yourself and others for the things you’ve been carrying from 2017. 9. Try not to overthink and just feel. 10. Buy a yoga mat. Shop for cool furniture. 11. Give clothes to charity. 12. Plan holidays, festivals and city breaks. 13. Drink red wine and Guinness. 14. Eat lots of veg. 15. Don’t skip the cheese. 16. Use The Body Shop’s Himalayan Charcoal Face Mask once a week (it’s bloody great). 17. Get that tattoo you booked. 18. Print photos. 19. Dance. 20. Work hard.

My goals for the year as a whole are pretty much always the same. That doesn’t mean I’m yet to achieve them. Somehow, the more I do achieve them, the more there seems to be achieve. Which makes them mantras more than resolutions:

Exhale the bullshit.

Worry less. Even less than last year. Until you reach a place of complete faith.

Make more time for the people you love. But also save time for yourself.

Learn what and who are really worth your energy.

Step outside of your comfort zone. Challenge yourself daily. That usually means ignoring introvert/OCD tendencies that tend to hold you back.

Create memories worth sharing.

Be grateful. For everything. Always.

A lesson on comfort zones

Her Lessons

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After numerous fancy gins at Hove’s The Gin Tub on a Saturday night (which is great by the way), my best friend and I got onto the subject of comfort zones. Your comfort zone is your expectation of what’s normal and familiar. And we decided that sometimes it’s important to shake things up, most crucially when you feel like you need your daily or weekly routine to feel safe and in control.

Most of us are all-or-nothing people. Drinking 57 G&Ts, rolling in at 3am and eating pizza in bed at the weekends? That’s cool. But the chance of being in that frame of mind during the week? Not a chance.  During the week we freak out at the prospect of less than 8 hours sleep. We eat loads of kale and we act like nice, sensible human beings. We’re ok with this dichotomy, which means it’s just embedded within our comfort zone. In reality it’s a fairly chaotic way to live, cramming in all that craziness into one or two days. Perhaps then, there’s scope to find comfort in chaos? And perhaps is just a case of embracing chaos in a way that makes sense to us.

I’ve kind of found that the more you challenge your comfort zone, the more equipped you become at dealing with change. And yet, once you go through a lot of change, it’s very easy to become dependent on the small things that form our daily routine to feel normal. Sometimes that’s a good thing. Routine helps us gain some sort of control in an ever-changing world. But when the thought of going without your routine makes you feel scared, anxious or uncomfortable, that’s probably the precise moment you need to challenge yourself to try something new.

When I went travelling last year, I gave up make-up. This was a huge deal for me. I was incredibly dependent on make-up and the daily routine of applying it, and when challenged to go without, it was liberating. There’s no doubt about, if you step outside of your comfort zone and realise nothing bad has happened, it’s empowering.

It could be the smallest things that you challenge. It’s literally just a case of going ‘fuck it’ sometimes and living that little bit more. I’ve wanted a fringe for ages but started to find the idea of cutting my hair quite daunting.  Why? Why not just do it? What’s actually the worst that could happen. Life is too bloody short to worry over things that small. After figuring out a new identity when becoming single for the first time in five years, I was clinging onto my hair to feel like me. I decided cutting my it might help me relinquish other aspects of my life and let go. I was right. Cliches normally are.

I’m sort of starting to reap the benefits of experiencing so much change over the last couple of years. Before, I would have been reluctant to do things that made me feel anxious, now I actually crave them because I know how good it can make you feel afterwards. It’s a strange feeling when you start to notice how certain life experiences are slowly molding you into something more resilient and carefree.

It kind of comes down to your interpretation of what you’re ‘meant’ to do. How things are meant to be/ feel/ look are too often determined by the limitation of society’s ‘normal’.  Once you let go of how things are supposed to happen, you open yourself up to a whole new world of opportunity. The best advice I can give around stepping outside of your comfort zone is to stay fluid. Go with whatever feels right at the time, not whatever you think is meant to feel right at the time. Your happiness and your freedom to act are both on your terms, just remember that.

Maybe you’re thinking about booking that haircut, reaching out to that person, packing something in, starting something new, getting that cool tattoo you pinned, travelling that part of the world, buying those shoes, sacking off that social event, or maybe you’re just thinking about having a fry up for dinner when you always have a salad. Consider what you have to lose and what potential there is to gain. Sometimes you just have to be brave and say yes or no, depending on which outcome is more likely to liberate you. Take control and mix things up every now and again, you’ll be surprised how much more relaxed you’ll feel next time the universe shakes things up for you.

I like to drop this in a lot, but I have OCD. And OCD LOVES comfort zones, routine and control. Which is why I deliberately try to challenge them when I can feel them taking over. Sometimes it’s the things you think are keeping you safe that are actually holding you back. Remember how unstoppable you are. Remember there’s so much more to you and your life than what you ‘normally’ do.

A lesson on loss and gain

Her Lessons

They say that grieving the loss of someone who’s still alive is one of the most difficult things you can go through. Death, however cruel, is beyond the realms of human control. It gives life meaning. But to lose person who’s still alive? That’s hard to get your head around.

I’ve experienced this in so many different ways this year that I don’t really know where to start. One minute I knew myself – I knew my life and my friends – and I relied on these things, trusting them to be true. And then new truths started to unveil themselves. The real, hard shit you go through reveals painful information about the foundations of your whole life. Mainly that unconditional love, understanding and forgiveness are precious and rare.

What happens when the things you’ve lost were as a direct result of your own actions? Because that creates a different type of pain and grief altogether. Let’s think of it in simple terms. Imagine your partner worked hard and saved up to buy you a really expensive watch, the watch you’ve always wanted, to signify how much they think you deserve. You go out one night, you get really drunk, you wake up and the watch is gone. You feel like maybe you didn’t deserve it after all, but deep down you know you still do, simply because you feel so sad and guilty about the fact it’s gone. It’s your fault, but it still hurts. In fact, it hurts more because you beat yourself up about it over and over. Loss is loss, in whichever way it materialises, whoever’s at fault.

In all honestly, I haven’t really recognised myself in many of the things I’ve done this year. I’ve made some pretty bad decisions. But at the same time, everything I’ve learned and been exposed to has become incredibly precious to me. I’ve shed a lot of skin in the form of bad habits, bad choices, bad influences and bad company.

This year I have felt my most human. Vulnerable is an understatement. And in many ways I’m kind of starting from scratch. There’s a belief that you feel able to interact more deeply with the universe during the aftermath of loss. When you’re hurting you’re changing. And when you embrace change you grow. I can’t tell you how much I feel this right now. It sounds a bit out there, but I honestly feel like the universe will always be on your side if you accept and internalise the lessons it’s trying to teach you. 

A few nights ago, I dreamt of fire in a way that apparently signifies transformation and starting over. I woke up in pain with a bleeding nose. The intensity of what I’m going through right now is like nothing I’ve ever felt before. The only way to move forward is to embrace and acknowledge every emotion, and have faith that the negative feelings have the potential to manifest as positive lessons.

So despite the fact that I feel detached from who I was, I’ve also felt a huge shift and a sense of stepping into a better version of myself. Something big happened and it shook my whole world. I’ve revaluated everything I care about, everything I believe in, realigned my truths, and with time and hard work I’m starting to feel more in tune with who I actually am.

It’s been a long road. It still is. So how to start turning loss into gain?

Mindfulness sits side by side with gratefulness. And let me tell you, learning to feel grateful for the bad things you’ve done, or the bad things that have happened to you, and the things you’ve lost as a result, will truly bring you freedom. You have that power inside you. You determine the interpretation of your life experiences, both good and bad.

And better still, once you’ve found peace with those experiences, you’ll also be able to use them to help others. One person’s loss will always be another’s again. Energy cannot be destroyed, only passed around, so it’s inevitable that your negative experience can be converted into something positive and just as strong.

I tried to replace emotional loss with emotional gain too quickly. It’s too confusing to feel conflicting emotions at the same time, or to mask one strong emotion with an opposing strong emotion. I realised that I needed to make a statement of physical gain instead, while dealing with the emotional loss. I asked myself, right now, what I’d like to gain more than anything. The answer? Independence and stability. How to make it physical? I bought a flat in London.

Next time you find yourself becoming fixated on something you’ve lost, try to identify something positive that you might gain. Even if it’s just that it made you realise how much you fucking loved that thing. It’s really hard sometimes, I know. This year, I’m grieving the loss of an almost-life, but in doing so I have to believe that I’ll gain something bigger and better.

It’s important to dwell on loss for a while and allow yourself time to grieve for something you love. But it’s just important to pick yourself up and move on, stronger, braver and wiser than ever.

3 books to read when you’re feeling lost

Her Lessons

We’ve all been there. Sometimes it’s hard to shift the feeling that your life isn’t quite going the way you planned. Staying motivated to be the best version of yourself is tricky when you start to lose sight of who you are and where you’re heading. Believe me, I know.

Maybe your mental health is running rife, or you’re going through a difficult break-up. Perhaps you’re struggling to cope with change, or things are just feeling a bit “blah” at the moment. Either way, feeling like you’ve lost your way is totally bloody normal.

I’ve discovered a truly wonderful combination of books to help pull you through. Alone, they are empowering reads, but each one kind of lifted me in a very different way. One of post-break-up self-discovery, one of normalising mental health, and one of rewriting history.

Reading them in succession definitely gave me a pretty big boost. Two are real life accounts of honest personal struggle, written in a way that make you laugh, love them and love yourself a little bit more. The other, I discovered, was almost finished and re-written totally differently before it became the absolute masterpiece that it is.

It’s amazing to feel that you’re being supported by a community of inspiring female authors who aren’t afraid to break a few rules, and who demonstrate that it’s possible to find your way again, however lost you feel.

 

Becoming, by Laura Jane Williams

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I’ve followed Laura’s blog and life on Instagram for a few years. She is a truly incredible writer and personality, and I wasn’t surprised to see she’s written a hugely successful book (now two…). ‘Becoming’ ended up really helping me through a time of confusion and upheaval. It reminded me that I’m not a huge fuck up, and that it’s important to work out how to be alone. Heartbreak bonds you to other people, but also teaches you a hell of a lot about yourself.

 

Mad Girl, by Bryony Gordon

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Just, wow. I wish I’d found this book earlier, when I was diagnosed with OCD. Bryony is so honest. So, so honest. This book comforted me, reassured me, shocked me and exposed many elements of myself to me. I am one of the ‘We’ Bryony has worked so hard to reach out to by sharing her journey. And the best thing about this book? It made me laugh out loud despite itself, despite myself. It’s a huge step in the right direction to eliminating the stigma around mental health. It’s also the perfect read when you’ve recently committed confused acts of self-destruction.

 

The Power, by Naomi Alderman

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Dystopian novels are kind of my favourite. They serve as a reminder of the resilience of humanity when pushed to the edge of existence. Despite the ominous nature of this book, reading it kind of reignited something in my mind – a kind of hopefulness in the face of change. I felt compelled to draw on newfound inner strength in the face of adversity. It’s also important to escape into a fantasy world when your own thoughts are giving you grief.

A lesson on self healing

Her Lessons, Her Travels

Her Review: Rustic Retreats Off-Grid Yoga

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Way back in January, I made some serious plans for this year. And I mean serious. I wasn’t just planning the odd city break and arranging to see friends, I was planning the biggest event of my life. I’ve replayed that wedding so many times that I sort of have to remind myself it never actually happened. It’s true what they say, it’s the image of what you think is supposed to happen that eats away at you most. 

So if you’d told me back then that the highlight of my summer would be spent surrounded by beautiful strangers in southern Spain, I probably would have laughed in your face. If you told me the original holidays I had booked would happen without me, I would have stared at you. If you told me that my life would have changed beyond all recognition, I would have felt bloody scared. 

The truth is, no one has any idea what’s around the corner. Highs and lows greet us as naturally as every changing season. It’s supposed to happen that way. So after a particularly low period, my week at Rustic Retreats was a hugely welcoming, life-altering high. A realisation that actually, there’s nothing to be scared of. All you have to do is trust.

I wanted to get away in every possible sense. My mind was becoming dangerously overcrowded and I could feel myself getting sucked into a spiral of negative thoughts. My body ached. My energy levels were low. I was physically and emotionally done. 

I’d never travelled alone before. The idea of it made the ends of my toes feel numb. I suppose that’s how I knew it was something I had to do. I needed to remind myself that I’m capable of more than I give myself credit for, and take on a mini challenge that forced me to spend less time in the darkness. 

I considered just lying on a beach by myself for a week but concluded I would slowly but surely go mad without any kind of structure. I looked at yoga retreats in Bali, Nepal and India but couldn’t justify the big spend. And then I found it. I found my sanctuary. 

How to describe Rustic Retreats? 

It felt like home. Serenely beautiful and yet warmly familiar. Nestled in the Sierra Espuña Mountains of rural southern Spain, the dramatic rocky backdrop creates a stunning contrast against the lush lemon, lime and pomegranate trees. 

Completely back to nature. Sounds of cicadas, frogs, bees and rustling bamboo trees. This is where we slept. Beneath the biggest, brightest stretch of stars EVER. 

There are enough big canvas tents to house groups of around 10 people, each equipped with two or tree proper beds, a table lamp, plug sockets, comfy blankets, cushions and rugs. I was delighted to find we’d been give a hot water bottle each (so cute), which soon became a part of our bedtime routine. That and cups of herbal tea or a welcome glass of organic red wine. 

The retreat is off-grid. Totally solar powered, complete with outdoor shower and toilet. I was amazed to find the swimming pool to be insanely clean, and the shower water hot. Elliot, the wonderful creator and host, has built something remarkable. I felt privileged to have spent a week marvelling at his work, as well as his immense hard work in running the place. 

God I haven’t even got onto the two best parts yet! 

First is the food. Elliot is a chef by trade. And a bloody amazing one at that. Vegan and vegetarian. simple and delicious. All grown and sourced locally. Every healthy meal felt like a feast. It was actual heaven. Have a little look at their sample menu...

And the yoga. Wow. Now, I really enjoy yoga, but I am by no means an expert. At first I worried that my lack of expertise would hold me back, but the retreat is tailored to all levels, and everyone is encouraged to just give it a go. 

Our days looked something like this…

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We were lucky enough to have the truly inspiring Bec Black as our yoga teacher for the week. As she explains beautifully over at balancebec.com, Bec’s philosophy is one of balance and synchronicity, and it radiates within her practice and persona in every way. One minute we felt truly and deeply connected with the earth and the flow of our class, and the next we were just laughing at ourselves. It was the right blend of serious and fun. And the harmony of our group was perfect. I couldn’t have asked to spend the retreat with more genuine, lovely, interesting people. 

I was expecting to spend my week soul searching and looking for answers within. And although I did do this, I’m just so happy that I was able to step outside of myself too. Outside of my comfort zone, outside of my thoughts. There is just so much more to life than our own personal  struggles, and sometimes watching the sunset over a valley is all you need to remind yourself of that. I feel more in tune with my body and my thoughts, simply because I gave them the chance to have a little freedom and room to move. It was magical. 

Does Rustic Retreats sound pretty ideal to you, too? 6-night retreats start from €450, including accommodation, food and classes. 

Why it’s ok to be clueless at 18, and then again at 28

Her Lessons

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Ten whole years ago (fuck), my best friend and I were meticulously planning our 18th birthday party.

Location? The local rugby club. Partly because we’re September babies and all our underage mates could get served there, but mostly because that’s as far as our imaginations (and budgets) would stretch.

Dress code? Well. I wore a very small black sequin dress (which I’m pretty sure was from Peacocks) and Becky wore a glittery gold number. It’s funny, I felt SO grown up. Downing vodka-lime-and-sodas, I literally thought I knew it all. My god I was so clueless. We all were. But then you’re supposed to be blissfully clueless at 18.

I wonder, as I put some plans in place for my next looming birthday (still with Becky, thank God), how clueless you’re supposed to feel at 28?

Because honestly, at 27, I thought I’d got to a place where life would be pretty safe and steady. I thought I’d done enough groundwork to see me through. I was living in a lovely two-bed garden flat in London. I was planning my wedding. I’d just travelled for six months, beating a terrifying episode of OCD, I was finally being paid decent money to write. I had it all going for me.

And then, somehow, I didn’t.

Well, that’s not strictly true. I still have an awful lot going for me. I may be single and living back home, but I still have a successful career, a taste for travel, my mental health in check, and THE most supportive friends and family.

I actually feel closer to my 18-year-old self than I have done in years. Not because I’m sleeping in her dodgy pink and burgundy bedroom, but because we’re both on the precipice of something. 10 years ago, I had no idea what was going to happen next, and, right now, I kind of feel the same. It’s daunting, but everything I’ve learned leads me to believe that if you trust the journey, challenge yourself and follow your instinct, you’ll be more than ok.

What would I say to 18-year-old me?

I’d tell her to stop stressing. You’ll pass your A-levels, you’ll have a ridiculous time at uni and still get a good degree, you’ll get over that ex boyfriend, your acne will disappear, your hair will grow, you’ll learn the value of looking after yourself, you’ll develop your own style, you’ll move to London, you’ll work for free and it will be worth it, you’ll get the job you love, you’ll travel with the man you love, you’ll feel comfortable with who you are, you’ll learn to be true to yourself and trust no matter what. You’ll have your heart broken, you’ll break hearts, you’ll learn the value of true friendship, you’ll make terrible mistakes, you’ll go off the rails for a bit, you’ll have therapy, you’ll find your way. You’ll live, basically. And you’ll come out the other side stronger every time.

I kind of know what 18-year-old me would say back.

She would reassure me that if all of that can happen in a decade, just imagine where you’ll be in 10 years time. At 18 you were clueless. At 28, you’ve learned enough to know that feeling clueless leaves nothing but opportunity to learn and grow. You’re not supposed to know or have everything. Because where the bloody hell would be the fun in that?

So now I’m trying really hard to imagine what 38-year-old me might want to say at this exact stage in my life. To pre-empt any time wasted by not learning from the last 10 years. And I’m guessing it’s very much the same. Stop. Worrying. Stop trying to control what’s beyond your reach and just trust. Do not give up. Don’t you dare. Because there’s so much coming for you, if only you just open your heart and let it.

 

 

 

 

A lesson on new beginnings 

Her Lessons

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I haven’t written about my life for well over six months. Well, I tell a lie. I have written. Quite a lot. But I’m not sure the frantic ramblings of this particular mad woman have quite found their public platform. My personal notes are brimming, and my blog is devoid of life. Sometimes facing up to your truth has to be done in stages I guess. Thoughts, paper, public.

It’s weird. Blogging can be such good therapy but it’s terrifying to be sharing this. My world has changed so much in the last six months that I’ve just about caught up. Life does that. It runs away with you. Catches you off guard. Just when you think you have it all figured out.

I don’t even feel like I’m the one qualified to be sharing my experience, because I definitely don’t have all the answers yet. Questions, yes. Answers, not so much. Questions like, “How the hell did I get here?” and “Am I losing my mind?” tend to be the theme.

So rather than delve into too much detail, I’m going to talk about having the strength to face the truth, even when it causes more pain that you’ve ever felt before. This post is about having faith even when it makes very little sense at the time. Of trusting in the order of things even when you don’t feel particularly strong or proud of yourself.

I’m writing this post because I’m kind of done. Done overthinking. Done trying to make sense of everything.

Here goes.

As some of you will know. Not too long ago I was engaged. I am no longer engaged. And right now that is all I have to say on the matter. I am, slowly but surely, learning to let go. Learning to embrace a new beginning.

I’ve learned that you can be completely in love, but it won’t guarantee you can give each other what you need to thrive. And that’s hard to say. Believe me. It’s all hard. I just wish I’d realised all this in a way that reflected how deeply I cared.

Everything kind of simultaneously happened while my parents’ divorce became official. I suppose you could say that each situation has helped me better understand and come to terms with the other.

This post isn’t about self-pity (I’ve had more than my fair share and it really, really doesn’t help). It’s about navigating an unexpected journey to reach a destination you never thought you’d need or want to discover. And here’s the thing. With every passing day, I can see the horizon of that destination a little clearer. And the closer it comes into view? The more beautiful it seems.

Time can teach you so very much. It never ceases to bewilder me. All of a sudden, enough time has passed and lessons from weeks, months or years before start to reveal themselves. Things that were so jumbled up and confused at the time start making sense. The raw pain eases and your true emotional reaction kicks in.

With time, I have learned so much. Mostly about who I am. And I’ve kind of worked out who I need to become to truly grow from this. Not just learn, but actually fucking grow into the best person I can be.

I look at my parents now. They are different people in the best way. Stronger and making the most of life. I’m proud of them. And I know, despite the confusion and unexpected derailing of my life, they are proud of me too. The saddest, most difficult times really do bring you closer to the people who truly love and understand you. People who trust your judgement and your dreams for the future, but who also tell you when you’re wrong. People who help you get back on your feet even after you’ve properly fucked up, because they know you’d do the same for them.

I’ve behaved irrationally. I’ve hurt people I love. I’ve been weak. I’m not proud. But I’m not afraid to admit that I’m human. We all look back and wish we handled things differently sometimes. All that matters is how you move forward. Make peace with your decisions, because every single one will make you a better human if you let it. And don’t let people make you feel worthless just because you inadvertently did something that ended hurting them too. True friends would try to understand.

The most difficult times make us if we let them, which is why I’m writing this post. Believe me, if I can embrace this new beginning, you can do bloody anything. This is by far the hardest thing I have ever experienced, ever thought I would experience, and my biggest, most important, most sacred life lesson.

I made a pact with myself a while ago to turn an unsettled time into a positive future. To do things I never would have done before. To love harder, to appreciate more, to rise to the challenge, to feel grateful for all the good things in my life and never get complacent. I’ve taken on a senior role at work with my own team of writers to manage. I ran my first 10k. I’m reading LOADs. I’ve booked a yoga retreat. I’m writing this post. Right now, these are monumental achievements.

And perhaps most importantly, I’m learning not to worry what other people think. Acting for yourself and facing the truth when it would be easier to please others is fucking hard. But it’s fundamental when it comes to making the most important decisions of your life.

Love is complicated and exists in so many different ways. Only you know what’s right in your heart. Only the people in a relationship know the details. It has very little to do with anyone else. I’m trusting love and what I truly believe that to be. And right now, that means having the strength to be on my own.

Honestly, just cherish the people who will support you and love you no matter what. The people who know you well enough to trust that you’re doing things for the right reasons, even when it means uprooting your (and sometimes their) foundations.

I saw this quote today: “whatever you’re looking for is looking for you too”. And right now, all I’m looking for is total inner peace, strength and acceptance. And when we find each other, I know I’ll be bloody ready for anything.