A lesson on loss and gain

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.

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3 books to read when you’re feeling lost

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 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

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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 

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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.

 

Lessons from you: reaching out to a virtual stranger

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As a writer, I partly put words together for the fun of it, but mostly want to catapult those ideas into an invisible crowd of strangers. I want to reach out to people because I think that’s kind of nice. To share and share alike. As a species, it’s our ability to share knowledge and  communicate that’s helped us evolve. The newspaper, the phone, the TV, the Internet. To be some small part of that, to make sure these incredible inventions are put to good use, is paramount to the success of our existence, don’t you think? Both globally and individually.

So when opportunist Rosie reached out to me, having read something I wrote for the very talented Olivia over at The London Ladybird, I wasn’t just flattered, I felt relieved. Relieved for a generation of “sharers” who risk barely communicating at all. The Internet could send us one way or the other, and it’s our responsibility to make sure we stay connected. Perhaps more than we’ve ever connected before.

So, let me hand you over to Rosie of Thinkers Brew to tell our valuable and quite lovely lesson on reaching out, and the positive repercussions of taking a shot in the dark and connecting with a stranger.

THE IMPORTANCE OF REACHING OUT, BY ROSE MUSSEN

“When I was nearing the end of my degree in English and Creative Writing, it seemed that my lecturers realised they’d been a bit stingy with career advice. I remember going to a hastily organised talk given by some men who worked at a local publisher. It was utterly abysmal. One of the speakers made a reference to Peter Pan and how it was written by an author called ‘C.L Lewis’. Not even C.S Lewis, who obviously didn’t write Peter Pan. C.L Lewis. I could feel my best friend cringing next to me (she had recently completed her dissertation on J.M Barrie). That is quite a good example of the calibre of career knowledge I left university with. That, and being told by a creative writing lecturer that the beauty of being an author is that ‘you can have two jobs!’ – needless to say, it didn’t instil much confidence in me.

Fast forward two years to me working in hospital and running the administrative side of the world’s largest randomised surgical trial. I graduated with a degree in English and worked full time in obesity surgery research. Possibly the most irrelevant career path I could have gone down. But with student overdrafts to pay off and experience to gain, it served me well. Obviously I began to get itchy feet but had so few ideas of which career path to go down, I felt a bit stuck. I knew I wanted to write, that much was clear, but I didn’t want to write novels or poetry, which were the only focuses within the creative writing modules of my degree.

A friend had suggested to me a while ago that I might enjoy being a copywriter but I knew very little of what it entailed. Until I read a series curated by the amazing Olivia for her blog The London Ladybird. The series is called The Job Centre and my partner Pearl wrote a contributing post for it, so I thought I’d have a nosy at what other people had written and that’s how I came across Corin! Her post about being a copywriter shed light on a whole new kind of writing that I could do. I cast my mind back to winning a Double Decker chocolate bar in primary school for producing the best piece of persuasive writing and decided that writing copy was the career for me.

When I landed my first interview for a junior copywriter role at a marketing agency in Bath, I was thrilled but incredibly daunted by the prospect of it. I wasn’t sure who to go to for advice. It was a job in a completely different industry to mine and I didn’t know any copywriters. I plucked up the courage to send Corin an email explaining that I had read her piece for The Job Centre and asked her if she could offer me any tips. Her response was invaluable. She highlighted different ways that I could prepare, from producing a portfolio of writing that I had done in my free time, to arming myself with examples of bloggers and writers I admired. Corin also highlighted some important questions for me to ask that were things I wouldn’t have thought to enquire about because I wasn’t working in the industry. Helpful things like ‘how will I be briefed?’ and ‘what are the processes around delivering copy?’ all proved to be useful questions to ask in the interview because I was able to gain a really good insight into the role and the agency.

I’m thrilled to say that I got the job. I’m now working as a junior copywriter and absolutely loving it. Reaching out to Corin, a complete stranger, massively paid off and helped me secure a job that transpired to be completely the right job for me. By far the most helpful career advice I have ever received came not from University but as a result of making hopeful contact with someone and picking their brain.

If you’re unsure about making a jump into an unfamiliar industry or simply progressing within your current area, I can’t stress enough how much value there is in pinging an email to someone with a job you admire. They may not be able to offer you a definitive path to progression but they’ll probably be able to help and damn well (probably) won’t be a publisher who tells you that Peter Pan was written by C.L Lewis.”

Just imagine what reaching out to someone might do for you…

Read more of Rosie’s beautifully honest musings here.

If, like Rosie, you’d like some tips on becoming a copywriter (or if there’s anything you love a piece of unbiased advice on) please don’t hesitate to comment below or get in touch.

 

 

Lessons from 2016? Follow your heart.

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This time last year I was at an elephant sanctuary just south of Bangkok (WFFT), as far away from home as I’d ever been and with six whole months of barely planned travel ahead of me. Utter bliss.

Months before however, I’d gone through a strange, unexpected and terrifying phase of being scared of pretty much everything. OCD, they said. Which actually made perfect sense.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy teaches you how to realign your thoughts, but travel puts that theory into practice. The most important lesson I’ve learnt this year? To just bloody go with it. Like I always used to. To let go. To take things as they come. To trust in the order of events. Some things are beyond all control, and I’m so grateful I’ve learnt to believe that again.

Anyway, comfort zone well and truly out of sight, my dreams quite literally started to come true. The less I worried about all the stuff I couldn’t control, the happier and calmer I felt. My fears melted away one by one. With every new challenge I set, from white water rafting to trusting in perfect strangers, I remembered that risk-taking and relishing in fear makes you feel alive. Not checking the front door is locked 15 times a day. I went from hiding in my basement flat in Brixton to scuba diving with giant manta rays in Komodo.

I made myself vulnerable to the world, and it gave me everything I could wish for in return. Powdery beaches and crystal-blue water, magical sunsets, breathtaking views, powerful waterfalls, deliciously exciting food, new friendships, and being proposed to under the stars by the person I love. I swore to myself that I would never fear the world again.

And then halfway through our trip, I received the worst phone call of my life. My wonderful Grandad died. With hardly a week’s warning. We flew home for the funeral. Devastated in every way possible.

I could easily have reverted back to old habits. Blamed my grandad’s death on my “reckless” trust in life. When you have OCD you honestly feel like your thoughts have the power to affect reality. Like, if I’d just worried a little bit more, maybe nothing bad would have happened. But without the carefree living, none of the good stuff would have happened either. So I forced myself to carry on in my new-found frame of mind. To find the light in the dark. Life is nothing but a series of highs and lows, after all. You can’t have one without the other.

Whether it’s Trump, Brexit, the tragedies in Aleppo or the loss of yet another talented artist. 2016, like every year, has had its lows. I urge you to counter these awful things by being as actively positive as you can be, whether it’s persuing your goals, volunteering your time or loving someone unconditionally. Better yourself. That is the only way we can ever hope for a better world.

Flying back to Asia after the funeral was perhaps an even bigger turning point than travelling in the first place. Having faith in the face of heartbreak and grief is really bloody hard, but it will change how you feel about everything. Nothing can spur you on more than your own bravery, and nothing will reward you more. 2016, I will never forget you.