Lesson 29: visiting Verona

Verona

There’s nothing like cramming in an Autumn holiday in a final bid for sunshine and relaxation, particularly when you’re last ‘holiday’ left you feeling permanently hungover for about 3 weeks. I went to Verona with my mum and sister for a much-needed break. Here’s why it was the perfect choice.

If, like me, you’re not 100% sure whether Verona is actually a real place or a mythical setting for Shakespearean plays, the following post will benefit you greatly. If you’re also the sort of person who enjoys amazing food and wine at reasonable prices, inspiring architecture and the anticipation of slice of history around every corner, you might also want to read on.

Verona, like her type

Verona, like her type

Verona, like her type

Verona, like her type

Verona, like her type

Verona, like her type

Verona, like her type

Verona, like her type

Verona, like her type

Verona, like her type

THE FACTS

Nestled in the north of Italy between Venice and Milan, Verona has the same charm as more obvious Italian destinations without being as much of a tourist trap. This seems to have affected two major things: price and authenticity. It was ridiculously easy to find fantastic-quality pizza, pasta, cicchetti, wine and ice cream that didn’t cost a fortune. Better still, EVERYTHING is within walking distance, which makes a huge difference when you only have a couple of days to explore and don’t want to waist hours navigating the metro and local buses. When you spend half your life sweating on the tube, this blissful breezy existence of strolling from place feels pretty bloody good.

WHAT TO DO

The arena

A Roman amphitheatre in Piazza Bra, built in 1st century, this magnificent and imposing piece of architecture is quite a sight. Go inside and explore, but also sit and have an Aperol Spitz opposite. Still used for opera performances, it’s worth seeing what shows are on during your stay.

Verona, like her type

The castle

Or, ‘Castelvecchio’ – a castle-turned-museum dating back to the middle ages with astounding views and beautiful old-meets-new interiors.

Verona, like her type

The balcony

Book lover and English graduate, and even I couldn’t get see past Juliet’s Balcony as a cheesy, overrated tourist attraction. Busy and a bit soulless, but tick it off the list if you have time because the building is beautiful.

Verona, like her type

The churches

There are four main churches in Verona and you can pay just 6 Euros to see them all. Each filled with breathtaking and often famous masterpieces and each with a unique character and story.

Verona, like her type

The shopping

So many good shops. Too many good shops. Designer, high street, boutique, market stalls, you name it. I was a little bit tearful that I can no space in my carry on for a shiny new pair of Italian-leather shoes. I did, however, settle for the perfect boyfriend jeans and a stripy jumper from an amazing shop called Scout and a sneaky denim dress from Zara.

Verona, like her type

The views

Whether you go up the tower, explore the castle or take the steps across the bridge, the views are stunning from every angle. Incorporate some time to sit back and take them in.

Verona, like her type

WHERE TO STAY

I’m a massive fan of Airbnb and it served us well yet again in Verona. For £85 a night, the three of stayed in a pretty, rustic and spacious apartment overlooking Castelvecchio. Our host, Francesca, was incredibly helpful, providing a detailed list of things to do. In fact, the general vibe of Verona was warm and welcoming pretty much everywhere.

Verona, like her type

WHERE TO EAT

We didn’t have a single average meal, let alone a bad one. Literally everything I ate over the four days I was there was delicious. Dinner for three with a bottle of wine and a couple of deserts rarely crept above 50 Euros. The trick was to look for a traditional, laidback ‘Trattoria’ or ‘Osteria’, rather than automatically hitting the swankiest or busiest places. Don’t get me wrong, you might get a fabulous view of some of Verona’s famous landmarks, but you could be getting better, cheaper food elsewhere. Here are a few great places we found.

Verona, like her type

Casual dinner alfresco

Pizzeria Impero – Borderline touristy but when you’re sitting in a picturesque square, surrounded by historical buildings and eating good-quality food at a good price, it’s more than acceptable.

Effortlessly cool bar

La Tradisiòn – A stylish and cosy ‘thrown together’ bar with a hipster vibe and Farmers’ Market worthy bar snacks. A glass of prosecco costs just 2 Euros. (Pictured above)

Contemporary fine dining

La Canonica – We accidentally stumbled across this gem down one of Verona’s little passage ways. Turns out it had only been open 5 days and the menu offered an impressive modern twist on some Italian classics, like veal Lasagnette and coconut tiramisu.

Atmospheric and traditional

Osteria del Bugiardo  –   Completely packed out every time we walked past, we booked a table for the evening and we weren’t disappointed. I could have sat in this stylish little restaurant drinking wine all night. No menus, the waiter recites what they have that day, so you know it’s fresh. The giant amoretti biscuit with warm chocolate sauce went down a treat after the tasty beef Carpaccio.

So, next time you’re planning a European city break, consider skipping the hustle and bustle of the most obvious places and bask in the beauty of Verona instead. It was completely stress-free, which is pretty important when you just want to spend a bit of time with you favourite people.

Verona, like her type

 

 

 

 

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Lesson 28: hoarding the past

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If, like me, you’re a hoarder, you’ll understand the excruciating pain I was in when I had to throw away loads of stuff because of the damp in our stupid flat. Amongst the wreckage: Zara heels I’d worn once, trusty worn-out Kurt Geiger sandals and a pair of Jones Bootmaker brogues I wore everyday at uni and not once since. I have moved house four times since I graduated four years ago, and I’ve  taken these old brogues with me every time. The Zara heels I quickly got over, the Kurt Geigers I mourned and thought about constantly for a couple of days, but the brogues I never wore… I actually found throwing these away really hard. I felt sad and guilty, like I was letting go of some tiny piece of a past life. I’m not sure I’m particularly materialistic, just ridiculously sentimental.

It fascinates me how much we assimilate meaning from objects that have no purpose. They were just sitting there, collecting dust (and mould, apparently), and somehow they posed as an unlikely comfort, a reminder of the everyday stuff that often becomes lost. I seem to attach this sort of meaning to pretty much everything. It extends beyond the whole ‘I might need it one day’ philosophy. Half the stuff I keep I know I will never need. So why do I do it?

Fear. It’s as simple as that. Fear of forgetting the past, of forgetting a crucial part of the journey, of forgetting a piece of my history, or of someone else’s. All the time I’m hoarding things, I’m subconsciously living in fear.

Perhaps this is why I often dream that my house is on fire and I have to choose what to save, or why I have an irrational fear of being burgled, or why I take a photograph at every opportunity. The truth is, when you have too many belongings, or put too much pressure on yourself to capture and retain every moment, you lose sight of what is really significant to you. Your physical space is crowded and mixed up, and your brain does exactly the same. Tidy room, tidy mind. It’s so true. Your space eventually becomes too full for anything new, and you end up sacrificing your future trying to save your past.

Although it was horrible throwing my beloved brogues away, it was also quite liberating to have faced my fear. When we’re forced to live without something, or do things a little differently, we often end up wondering what we were so afraid of. Change is necessary for moving forward. Everything has to keep moving, whether we like it or not, so better to embrace it than attempt to dwell in the past via mouldy old shoes.

In the ever-evolving consumer culture we live in, it’s ALWAYS necessary to question how much shit we actually need. One of the easiest ways to stop accumulating too much stuff is (believe it or not) to stop buying so much stuff in the first place. Like any addiction, constantly buying things only leaves you wanting more. It’s a cruel trick. A hunger that’s never satisfied. I guess what I’m trying to say is that the happiness we think we get from material things is incredibly short-lived. We are too fickle for our own good. It stems from a constant stream of consciousness that tells us to focus on the things we don’t have, ignoring the things we’ve already got. Similarly, my fear of losing my possessions depends on the idea of absence. Forever focusing on the absence of material things, aligning our happiness with their presence, is simply not healthy or practical. And the truth of the matter is, while you probably don’t need another pair of shoes, someone out there really, really does. Someone out there, lots of people in fact, don’t own any shoes. So what makes you think you need another pair? Or that you can’t live without one of your 30?

Yesterday, I visited my nan, who’s preparing to move out of her three-bedroom house and into a little flat. She wanted my sister and I to ‘choose some things to keep’, and together we went through a big pile of potential ‘things’ my nan was happy to part with. Glassware, tea sets, ornaments, cutlery, pottery, jewellery, ash trays, photo frames. Everything had a story, and yet she was willing to let them go, if not to us then to charity. She made the brave decision to sacrifice a few pieces from the past to make some space for the future, moving forward and embracing a huge change. I will forever take my inspiration from that. The useless brogues (among other things) I threw away left more than enough space for a few things from my nan I will forever, rightfully hold close.

 

Lesson 27: turning 26

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So last week, I turned 26. That’s four years from 30. That’s too old to get a young person’s travel card and, let’s face it, it’s too old to fall asleep on the night bus and wake up in Orpington, with no phone and ketchup down your front. I am no longer in my early twenties, and do you know what? I quite like it. Here’s why.

Often one to let nostalgia lure me into believing that things were so much better in the past, I was all set to feel a bit weird at the prospect of leaving my early twenties behind. I had an absolute blast, and, more importantly, I had an excuse for when things didn’t quite go to plan. Ignorance and lack of experience in youth are the best excuses we ever have. And then, quite out of nowhere, we suddenly accumulate enough mistakes to know better. It’s not that life has to start being serious, I don’t think we should ever have to take ourselves particularly seriously; it’s more that I want my life to start having a different purpose. I want to reach a new level of productively, to embark on a new type of challenge; one that comes from hangover-free weekends and spending less time worrying about what to wear.

During my birthday celebrations, a friend and I had a conversation about whether we’d rather be 21 again. He said he would, and I disagreed. In fact, I can’t think of anything worse. He argued that back then, life was one big party, a party we were entitled to and expected to participate in. We didn’t have a care in the world. We were self-assured and the future felt far away. We could dream of being whatever we wanted to be. We were arrogant without reason.

It’s not that I’m necessarily happier at 26. I just feel like I’m more the person I was supposed to be. At 21, I couldn’t see past my degree and my next night out. My life feels a whole lot fuller now. Complex and challenging sure, but it’s grown and developed in ways I never expected. I look at pictures of 21-year-old me and feel like it’s not me at all. That hair, that place, those clothes, those relationships etc, etc. I was having a great time at the time, but with everything I’ve learnt and experienced since then, I would never want to go back. For anyone who is wondering why, here are 10 reasons why I think being 26 is better than being 21:

1. I look better
After so many years of experimenting with my hair and face, I have finally worked out what suits me, and it’s definitely not a side-swept fringe, heavy bronzer and skin-coloured lipstick. In fact, I now look more like me at 17 than 21, I’ve reverted back to a more natural me (but with bigger eyebrows). At uni, I never quite looked the way I wanted to look. Lack of extra cash had quite a big part to play. I couldn’t always afford nice food, a decent hair cut, and skin-care products that actually work. All my money went on booze and books. Somewhere between graduating and finding my first proper job, I started to feel much more at ease with my appearance, more so now than ever.

2. I can dress myself
The same goes for clothes. I would rather go naked than trade my wardrobe with the one I had five years ago. Being 26 and earning a decent salary means being able to buy the things I always wanted but could never afford. It also means I’ve worn enough what-the-fuck-was-I-thinking outfits to know better.

3. I can drink responsibly
Kind of. In comparison to how horribly drunk I used to get anyway. Vomiting from too much alcohol has thankfully become rare and I actually remember my nights out now. Plus, I drink in much nicer, less cheesy vicinities. I go to places for the music, rather than getting wasted because the music is so awful.

4. I’ve found ‘the one’
I am now capable of being in a serious relationship and I no longer question whether I’m too young to properly settle down. Being so excited for your future with someone gives you very little reason to look back. I couldn’t imagine life without Joe.

5. I’m more interested in the world around me
Which has brought on a burning desire to travel and volunteer. I actually feel guilty about how little I’ve experienced of the world, and how much I could be doing to make some sort of difference. If I had travelled at 21 (which I’d originally planned but couldn’t afford to), I would have partied my time away.

6. I can picture my future
The future is no longer the bleak, scary place it used to be. I’ve worked hard and can see where my career is going. The thought of marriage and babies isn’t terrifying and there’s a slight possibility I might someday own my own house. Although, there are quite a few things I still need to get out of my system.

7. I have a more positive outlook
Which has largely come from learning to let go of the things I can’t control. I also care a lot less about what people think of me. There is very little point. Converting negative energy into positive isn’t easy, but I think it becomes more possible with age, confidence and experience. We have a limited amount of energy, what we spend it on is up to us.

8. I know who my friends are
I’ve discovered what true friendship is. I’ve met many of my closest friends in the last five years. We’ve come together through shared experiences, tastes and values. I’ve learnt that sometimes people drift apart, and that’s ok. Very few things last forever, and that’s what makes the things that do so amazing.

9. I’m no longer a junior or assistant at work
I’ve worked for successful brands, going from intern to editorial assistant to copywriter to senior writer. I’ve been rewarded and promoted and I now have a level of confidence and authority I couldn’t have dreamed of at 21. I used to worry that hard work and ambition wouldn’t be enough, but it turns out, it was.

10. I’ve made so many amazing memories
In the last five years, I’ve graduated, fallen in love, lived in three different London boroughs, covered London Fashion Week, doubled my salary, been to countless festivals and far too many crazy nights out, visited Paris, Ibiza, Aruba, Fuerteventura, Cape Verde, Austria, Egypt, Venice and Lisbon. I’ve written thousands and thousands of words and read hundreds of books. I’ve discovered the music that really moves me, and people I’d do anything for.

There have unavoidably been lows as well as highs: unemployment, uncertainty, loss, illness, mistakes, sadness and big changes. In fact, the hardest things I’ve ever had to deal with have happened in the last five years. The most important thing is that regardless of the darker times, it’s the positive things I hold close. I’ve learnt so much, and I hope reading this encourages you to always look forward. Keep learning from the lessons life throws at you, and the good will always outweigh the bad.

Lesson 26: going wild in Ibiza

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Pretty much my entire summer this year has been building up to one thing: 6 days in Ibiza with 11 friends. A part of me thought that maybe this time (my third time) at the ripe old age of 25, I wouldn’t go too mad. I thought staying in a beautiful villa in the mountains of Roca Llisa, miles away from the non-stop party at Playa d’en Bossa, would be enough to discourage me from going out every night. I was wrong, of course. I didn’t stay in once.

Am I regretting it now? Yes and no. I feel ill. Very ill. My poor sleep-deprived body is so very relieved to be going to bed before 6am. But at the same time, I’m so glad I reserved a precious week of my year to be plain ridiculous. I have a tendency to take myself and everything else too seriously, constantly worrying about the tiniest things. After five minutes with my friends, sitting around our pool, drinking Malibu (of all things) with boiling water at 10am because ‘it’s pretty much the same as Moroccan tea’, I’m laughing too much for anything else to matter. A week away from your day-to-day life has a wonderful way of making you realise what’s important. The non-stop partying was kind of just an accidental product of us being so happy to be there. We literally celebrated the entire time.

It’s a common misconception that most ‘party animals’ are that way inclined because they crave escapism. People often assume that going out-out is a welcome distraction from the hardships and monotony of life. In lots of ways it is, but for us, it really isn’t. I feel so lucky to be part of a group of friends that experience all the amazing things about a night out together, and none of the shit. No fights, no puking in the cab, no crying, no bullying each other into coming out, no kissing people you shouldn’t, no waking up with regrets. Sure, that’s what a night out used to look like for most of us, but after years of experience, I think we’ve finally cracked it. Most importantly, we just love music. We love each other’s tastes in music and none of us are shy on the dance floor. We even have our own dance moves. A look or a hand-signal across the dance floor has us in hysterics. We never drink to forget. Quite the opposite in fact – we’ve made hundreds of hilarious memories.

For our first night in Ibiza, we were unashamedly the first people in Pacha, dancing solidly to Amine Edge & Dance and MK until it closed. It was the PERFECT first night – and a massive thank you to Ben, who got us all in for free. Saturday saw us eventually arrive at Sankeys for Magna Carter and Reverse after a party in our villa, Sunday we hit Ushuaia for full-on cheese (Avicii), followed, of course, by Space for Erick Morillo, Monday at DC10 has ruined my ears for life and Chase and Status and Defected at Amnesia on Tuesday feels like a mad dream. I think we genuinely ended up spending 1000 euros on taxis. It was so worth it.

Before going away, we decided we’d throw our own party at the villa during the second day. We actually hired a sound system and each prepared a playlist, allocating set times so everyone could be DJ for an hour. At around 4pm I was standing in the ‘DJ booth’, watching everyone prance about dressed as a caveman with the BIGGEST smile on their face. Dancing on chairs, swinging each other round, cans of beer in hand, with a backdrop of palm trees, mountains and blue skies. I think it was the most carefree thing I’ve ever seen. Our whole day was spent like this (until the neighbours shut us down), and I will literally think of it every time I feel a bit low, probably for the rest of my life.

It sounds a bit OTT writing that, but it’s actually true. Plus, it’s helping me get over the guilt of sacrificing my health and sanity for a week of fun. Going a bit wild in Ibiza has weirdly put into perspective how much I really don’t need to go crazy, I just need my friends. I feel like I’ve been on some strange journey of self-discovery (probably because I still need to sleep), where I’ve gone from wanting nothing but a giant party to feeling like I never need to party that hard ever again. Like, I’ve done it. It’s out of my system. I guess taking things to the extreme always leaves you craving the opposite. I’m lucky that when I eat too much sugar, I start craving vegetables, not more sugar. And funnily enough, in the week I’ve been back I’ve started getting my wisdom teeth. Two of the the bloody things. I think it’s a sign. I’m ending on a high. I’m actually growing up.

Until I see this bunch again anyway.

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Lesson 25: believing in yourself

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The trick?
Believe in yourself,
But don’t believe everything you think.

As some of you might know, I’m currently receiving CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy). It’s not something I’m at all ashamed of, so I don’t mind touching on it from time to time. I find it all quite fascinating. I’m not cleanliness-obsessed and I don’t struggle to go about my day if things aren’t arranged a certain way, but I’ve been diagnosed with OCD based on the way I interpret things.

Everyone has weird thoughts from time to time. Like, really weird. Thoughts that make you think ‘where the bloody hell did THAT come from?’ They might be angry, inappropriate, sad, sexual, scary, hopeful, or just plain mental. Thoughts that have the potential to trigger an emotional response. It wasn’t until I started having CBT that I realised just how much meaning I was applying to these unplanned, intrusive imaginings. The more meaning I applied, the scarier and scarier they turned, and the line between my thoughts and reality started to blur. I felt like I was having premonitions, jumping to the worse-case scenario at the tiniest things. I thought I had just developed some sort of anxiety disorder out of nowhere, when really I had let the controlling OCD voice in my head get too loud. It’s very similar to the one that says ‘don’t walk under a ladder, it’s bad luck’, only more exaggerated: ‘don’t open the front door, someone will murder you with an axe.’ When you actually start believing that voice, it is terrifying, let me tell you.

The worse thing about OCD is that it feels like a comfort, like something is keeping you safe and allowing you to have full control of a situation. When in reality, it’s controlling you. So many mental afflictions provoke the same response – trying to claim complete control over your mind and body, only to find that the illness dictates everything you do, robbing you of any autonomy.

At first I felt quite guilty receiving the therapy. I’m not that bad, I thought. And I’m not, but week after week I’ve been confronted with just how much belief I’ve had in the power of my imagination. Last month at work, I was told I would find out on 22nd July whether I would be promoted. On 15th July in therapy, I was asked to write this on a piece of paper:

‘Something bad will happen this week.’

It sounds ridiculous, but I felt so angry with the therapist for ‘tempting fate’ the week before my potential promotion. I convinced myself it wouldn’t happen, and that some other awful thing would happen that week as well. Interestingly enough, the people I’ve shared this story with, who don’t have OCD, have said they would also have struggled to write this down for fear of it coming true. It’s exaggerated superstition; a personal religion that sometimes gets out of hand. It’s as old as humanity itself.

On 22nd July, I’m incredibly pleased to say I was promoted to Senior Writer at The White Company. I don’t know what made me happier and more relieved; the promotion or the fact the therapist was right – my thoughts really do have no effect on reality. It’s an easy, uplifting lesson to have learned. The real test would have been if the promotion hadn’t happened – to then learn to accept that what I wrote on a piece of paper was completely unrelated, just an unfortunate coincidence.

The way I see it, I’m pretty lucky to have been given the opportunity to learn more about how the brain works and fine-tune my thoughts with the help of an expert. As much as we all like to moan about the NHS, it’s actually kind of amazing that CBT is a free service to people who need it, despite the lengthy waiting list. If you feel like this might be something you’d benefit from, ask your doctor to refer you and don’t be ashamed to speak up.

I feel so much more relaxed simply letting the things beyond my control happen. It’s liberating. More to the point, I hope the fact I’ve been able to carry on as normal – continuing to work hard and be sociable despite feeling constantly anxious – encourages other people to believe in themselves no matter what. Ignore the negative thoughts and power-on through. Good or bad things won’t happen because we will them to with our minds. The mind is a powerful thing, but the only thing it can control is your thoughts. The rest is up to you.

 

 

 

Her Review: #facefoward by The Pool and Clinique

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For any of you who haven’t heard of The Pool (seriously, where have you been?), it’s a very clever, very useful online destination for busy women seeking interesting news and information. From politics to beauty tips, it breaks down everything worth knowing into bite-size pieces that make you wonder what you ever did on your lunch break before. Plus, co-founders Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne are both brilliant, having put their combined writer-editor-author-presenter-DJ-comedienne experiences to the best-possible use – one of those things that looks good on paper and actually is.

Anyway, last night I was lucky enough to be invited to The Pool’s #facefoward event, in partnership with Clinique. And aside from the generous goody bag (always a nice surprise), I took so much away from the evening. I don’t usually review places and events, but I do love to talk about inspiration and motivation, which is exactly what the evening centred around. Laverne interviewed four very driven, very different women, quizzing them on the women who inspired them before inviting ‘future selves’ onto the stage to ask unfiltered questions.

Internationally acclaimed war photographer Lynsey Addaroi kicked off the evening; followed by Liberty London Girl’s very own Sasha Wilkins; England cricketer Ebony-Jewel Rainford-Brent; and Channel 4 news broadcaster Cathy Newman. Although these four women are experts in very different fields, striking similarities run through their four incredible journeys – namely that it is impossible to learn, grow and thrive without experiencing the really hard times, whatever they may be. Addaroi was captured on the frontline and threatened with execution, Wilkins slept in her car and kept her identity a secret, Rainfort-Brent was told she would never walk again and Newman has suffered the worst kind of sexism throughout her entire career. Four strong, fiercely independent women who simply refused to give up. Each time they took a knock, they built something stronger and more resilient in return. It isn’t the money, lifestyle and celebrity status that we should be aspiring to, it’s to develop an ability to believe in ourselves no matter what. The evening depicted this beautifully.

Lesson 23: staying connected

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Social media blows my mind. The power it has over people is one of the greatest mysteries of the modern age. It’s addictive; fuelling the insatiable appetite we have to define ourselves, whilst giving us just enough control over the way we wish to be seen. So, what does that tell us about how we interact with each other?

Almost every social-media platform has eerily evolved from a means of communication to a voyeuristic wonderland. People no longer tend to chat on Facebook, they use it to stalk people. We follow people we don’t know, based on the way they look. The newest platforms focus on imagery alone. Everything is visual and photos have to be atheistically pleasing to be worth posting. You could have the best night of your life but the pictures won’t make it onto your profile if you didn’t look cool or attractive. We’ve been bullied out of posting ‘normal’ pictures because everyone else’s fake ones look so much better. Our pictures are all becoming posed, especially the ones we want to look the most natural. I can say all of this because I’m a prime offender.

I’m also a hypocrite. I hate the fact Intagram plays such a big part in how we view the world, but then I use it to advertise my blog, or showcase my day. We’re professionally and emotionally dependent on virtual connections. We’re in a never-ending talent show, liking, liking, liking all day, every day. We’re constantly on show, constantly being judged. Even the people without social media are being judged. How weird…he doesn’t have Facebook.

My relationship with social media fluctuates between completely compulsive to carefully considered. Sometimes I settle down to read or write and immediately start scrolling through Instagram instead. 30 minutes go by and It’s like I’ve been possessed, flicking through picture after picture, barely pausing to focus on a single one. What am I looking for? I have absolutely no idea. Inspiration? Probably. Reassurance? I guess so. In reality, I’ve wasted my time. It’s plain old procrastination. Other times, I use social media in a constructive, useful way, with site statistics and cultural affairs dictating what I write and what I search for.  As if having a real persona and an online persona wasn’t schizophrenic enough, we have so many different uses and agendas for different types of social media – each one demanding a new version of ourselves. Much like we turn to certain people for certain things in real life. Both our real and online personas are subject to same human tendencies, so how can you determine which one is the real you?

Our identities are simultaneously the most fluid and the most controlled they’ve ever been. As a writer, I’m obsessed with the dichotomy between the real and not-real. Everything you read on my blog is ‘me’ through and through. It’s my voice, my opinions, my personality. And yet, I haven’t uttered a single word out loud. It’s all online, created for a purpose. Is this my virtual persona? Or are my posts a snapshot of the real me? If you find reading them a positive experience, it really doesn’t matter either way. So, here’s my advice: learn to recognise when social media leaves you feeling unnecessarily shit about yourself, and then walk away.

Last week, I went for a drink with a few old work colleagues. I was really surprised and grateful when they told me they’d been reading my blog after discovering it on Facebook. I felt instantly connected. This is when social media does the job it’s supposed to do. Similarly, since setting up my blog, I’ve shared uplifting conversations with people online that I haven’t spoken to for years. It’s really humbling to think that amongst all the selfies and filters, we still have a simple desire to connect with each other on an emotional level. As emotional as you can be when you’re just a few words on a screen.

Lesson 22: learning from Dad

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More than just a Daddy’s Girl, I am my father incarnated in female form. We are identical in so many ways it’s actually quite weird. Our eyes, mouth, nose, ears, legs (cheers Dad) and feet all look exactly the same. And more than that, we often think the same. We’re moved by the same things. We’re not afraid to say how we feel and we like to think we’re pretty in-tune with our emotions. We’re over-thinkers and people watchers, happiest either staring out to sea and pondering life or dancing to loud music with an endless supply of beer.

I have learnt more from my dad than I could ever say. Not only did he perform the miracle of ensuring I got an A in GCSE maths, he’s had me believing I can achieve the unthinkable ever since. Almost 10 years on, I might have forgotten Pythagoras’ Theorem, but I’ll never forget the importance of working hard to get what you want. My dad’s ambition, work ethic and motivation are qualities I feel incredibly lucky to have witnessed firsthand. They are the reason my sister and I went to good universities and followed our dreams of living and working in London. They paid for family holidays to beautiful places. They ensured we all lived in a spacious house in a nice area. They provided security, health and opportunity. The very foundation of my life has been outlined by my dad’s hard work, which is pretty amazing when you think about it.

My dad is really good at giving advice, but, like most of us, he doesn’t always practise what he preaches. When he dropped me off at my halls in Exeter for the first time, he handed me a note that told me to work as hard as I could whilst having as much fun as possible. My whole life still revolves around this rule, but I’m not convinced that my dad, or many people of his generation do the same. And there is absolutely no reason why they shouldn’t. If I’m not still dancing until sunrise on my 50th birthday, then something has gone horribly wrong. If anything, once you reach your 50s and 60s and your children are able to support themselves, you have more of a right to have a good time than the average teenager. You’ve brought up happy, ambitious children who love and respect you. Surely the rest of your life should be one big celebration?

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Father’s Day seems like the perfect time to document some of the most valuable lessons my dad has taught me, whilst hopefully reminding him and others to take his wonderful words of wisdom on board.

  1. Do things today, not tomorrow. It’s easy to push back the things you want to do. Life gets in the way far too often. Some things we can control and some we can’t. It’s so important to be impulsive no matter what, making the most of the opportunities in front of you and continuing to dream big through the hard times. My dad taught me the value of having a life plan, and together we’ve learnt that plans are often only made to be broken. Expect the unexpected and learn from the surprises life can bring. Change is terrifying, but it forces us to grow in ways we didn’t realise we could.
  1. You can’t please everyone. And you should never aim to. You can only spread yourself so far. Trying to fit into different moulds of expectation will only leave you wondering who you really are and what you really want. Save your loyalty and energy for the people who really appreciate and deserve it, because otherwise you’re in danger of being all used up by the time the ones you love need you.
  1. You are never too old to do fun, crazy, ridiculous things. At the end of term at university, my dad would drive all the way down to Exeter to collect me. On a few occasions, I took him for a night out. Like a proper night out. I took my dad to Timepiece. And we didn’t just go upstairs, we went upstairs-upstairs. Only Exeter goers will understand the significance of this. But just imagine my dad discovering that Jager bombs are only £1 after he just withdrew £100 at the cash point. He stayed up drinking cans of cider with my friends while I passed out. I find this weirdly inspiring. My dad is cool. My dad rides a motorbike. As he gets older, I want my dad to embrace this fun, carefree side of him more than ever. And I hope reading this inspires you to do the same.

Lesson 21: feeling inspired for life

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As a writer, one of my biggest fears is having nothing to say. What if I just wake up one day and my mind is an empty space where all my ideas used to be? I suppose I’d write about feeling frustrated. I’d write about my apparent sense of nothingness until my feelings of uselessness vanished. Accomplishment regained. That is the beauty of my profession. If I want to write, I can. Even when I’m writing about nothing. There is only ever a problem if I do not wish to write. That is a different story. You could say that the same goes for life; if we wish to live zealously, the best we can, for as long as we can, then we will. Even when we’re not doing anything particularly exciting. If we lose interest in life however, having lost control of the narrative, we’re forever staring at blank pages. The only person who can kick-start the story is the author – you.

I want to talk about what inspires me to stay focussed on the things I love doing, even during the times when I don’t feel like doing them. It can seem like your life is on pause when you lack the necessary motivation to simply have a ‘good day’. If you ever do a questionnaire about depression, it will ask whether you ‘have little interest in doing things you used to enjoy.’ I don’t want to talk about depression, but I do want to address the feeling we all get from time to time that saps us of inspiration. It’s completely normal, particularly when a lot of us have the same routine day-in, day-out. I don’t know many people who jump for joy each morning at the prospect of simply being alive. And in all honesty, I wouldn’t want to. There is so much pressure on all of us to be happy happy happy all the time. We are allowed to be miserable too – ups don’t exist without downs. However, feeling happy and feeling inspired are quite different things.

Seeking inspiration in your darkest times can be one of the best ways to gain something beautiful from them. When I was a teenager, I broke up with my first love and was completely devastated. I scrawled vast amounts of THE most cringe-worthy songs, poems, letters etc on any bit of paper I could find, and from that embarrassing, weirdly poignant adolescent experience, I learnt that anger and pain can make you feel like creating something: something that represents your emotions and releases you of them. Painters, musicians and authors have been doing it since civilization began. This can only really mean one thing – a lack of inspiration doesn’t necessarily come from some deep-routed unhappiness, it comes from monotony and a lack of life experience. Similarly, in some ways depression isn’t sadness at all, it’s feeling uninspired. With achievement comes a purpose in life – the one thing we’re all searching for. Without inspiration, we feel hopeless. Anyway, casting depression to one side, how do we keep ourselves feeling inspired on the really dreary can’t-be-arsed days we all know too well? Here are a few pointers that work for me:

  1. Have you ever been unemployed? I have. It was fucking awful. Writing jobs were rarer than unicorns when I graduated. Now, when I feel like I can’t face going to work, I think about how happy I was to be offered my first proper job out of Uni and I cling onto that thought. Past-me would kick the shit out of present-me if she heard me moaning about having to work. From bankers to bar tenders, jobs give us a purpose and that’s pretty important. It’s for this reason you should never give up searching for the right job, either. You will get there.
  1. Are you reading this blog post? In which case, your half-way to beating a lack of motivation – you’re interested in what someone else has to say, in what someone else is working on. People inspire people. If you like and respect what someone is about, use their influence to your advantage. When I see someone looking great or working hard when I’ve made zero effort, I consciously try harder the next day. Competition is healthy and necessary. If you are feeling uninspired, surround yourself with people from all walks of life and learn something from them. You won’t learn anything sitting at home by yourself.
  1. Have you done anything completely new recently? One of the most influential things for staying on the ball is good old-fashioned stimulation. Exercise those brain muscles by challenging yourself to something you’ve never done before. It could be anything from wearing red shoes to sky diving. A few weeks ago, Joe and I did an archery class. It gave me such a buzz because it was completely out of routine.
  1. When was the last time you read a book? I know I always bang on about the benefits of reading, and I know it’s hard to find the time, but it really does make you feel better. Finishing a book is so rewarding and chances are, the words would have made you laugh, cry and think carefully about life.
  1. Have you thought about volunteering or charity work? This is right at the top of my list at the moment. Not just giving money to charity, but being present and actively helping. If you are feeling uninspired, turn your gaze to people who have far less than you and think about the difference you could make. Even if you just buy the Big Issue and have a chat with the person selling it.
  1. Do you have a hobby? There is more to life than work. There really is. But there is also more to life than lazing on the sofa or getting pissed. Turn the TV off and try taking up something you’ve always wanted to do. Whether it’s photography, running, a makeup artist course, sushi-making classes, painting, poetry reading, baking or blogging, find something useful and rewarding to focus your energy on. Also, I’m not saying get a puppy but…
  1. Are you proud of your physical appearance? Sometimes a lack of enthusiasm can come from not feeling our best. Maybe it’s time to start eating right, or hit the gym harder, or get a haircut, or treat ourselves to new makeup? Or maybe it’s time to stop letting our insecurities get in the way of life? We regret the things we didn’t do. You’ve heard it a 100 times now.

The reason I’m writing about this is because I have to talk myself into ‘doing things’ quite a lot. My natural reaction is often to shun people and hide under my duvet, and this is something about me that I hate. It is possible to ignore the voice in your head that tells you to say ‘no’, you simply say ‘yes’. Next time you’ve got that I’m-so-bored-but-I-can’t-be-bothered-to-do-anything feeling, give yourself a little shake and remind yourself that THE ENTIRE WORLD is at your feet. It’s never too late to pick yourself up and start again, ever.

I came across a quote the other day: ‘Work is fascinating, I could stare at it for hours.’ You don’t have to be a writer to recognise the feeling of staring at a blank page for a really long time, willing something to happen. The truth of the matter is, whether it’s words, work or life, it doesn’t happen to us, we happen to it. We write the stories, we put in the effort and we reap the rewards.

Lesson 20: feeling comfortable in your own skin

Like Her Type - Corin Jackson

Flawless skin fascinates me. Perhaps this is because I’ve worn foundation since I was 13, or perhaps I’ve read too many magazines. Either way, a perfect complexion is something I will probably never have. And I’m ok with that, most of the time.

Anyone who has ever suffered with acne, scarring, eczema, psoriasis, warts, thread veins, poor circulation, dry skin or any other unwanted skin complaint will understand the psychological implications that inevitably come with them. It’s one thing feeling completely dependent on makeup to feel like you, but it’s something entirely different feeling like you have no control over your own body. You feel at war with yourself. You’ve tried every medicated cream, cleanser and herbal remedy on the market and still the soreness, redness and itching prevails. Problem skin is expensive and time consuming if nothing else. You feel as if on the surface, your body isn’t performing the way it’s supposed to. You feel disconnected from yourself, like there’s something wrong with you that you don’t understand, or that you’re being punished for something you didn’t do. It’s a frustrating battle, but, reassuringly, one that many people can relate to. According to the British Skin Foundation, acne affects 80% of women in the UK before the age of 21.

I think a lot of my insecurities are linked to having acne as a teenager. Your teenage years are awkward enough without having relentless outbreaks of painful spots all over your face. I don’t think anyone can fully appreciate how it feels unless they’ve experienced it firsthand. Imagine you’re 15 and planning a party, you’ve spent all your money on a new outfit, the boy you like is going to be there, you wake up with a load of spots in the middle of your face and all your confidence and excitement goes completely out of the window. I assumed I’d outgrow my breakouts eventually, and I did to some extent, but there rarely goes a day where I’m 100% spot-free, particularly if I’m stressed. On top of this, I have terrible circulation (a running joke with my friends), so my skin tone has a mind of its own, too. I think as you get older, you learn to laugh at yourself a lot more. Thank god. Taking your appearance seriously all the time is exhausting.

The reason I’m writing about this is because having problem skin can feel alienating, embarrassing and a bit hopeless. In reality, of course, it’s completely normal. The lucky few with flawless complexions are the anomalies. And besides, how lucky am I that the rest of my body is perfectly healthy? Far too often, we become so preoccupied with the things that are obviously ‘wrong’ that we take all the good things for granted. I might have been applying multiple products to my face every morning for as long as I remember, but if that’s one of my major complaints in life then I should probably keep quiet. I know it’s long, I know it’s uncomfortable and I know it seems endless, but it could be so much worse. If you feel hard-done by, or like you don’t want to leave the house, read about the struggles of people who physically can’t leave the house. Focus your energy on the fact that some people are allergic to sunlight, and then force yourself to go about your day the way they wish they could.

It’s not easy to cast your insecurities to one side, so here are a few little tips from one acne sufferer to another:

  1. Always remind yourself that people don’t fixate on your flaws the way you do. Your skin often feels worse than it looks
  1. Confidence, kindness and a beautiful smile stand out far more than a couple of spots
  1. Very few people get as close to your skin as you do in the mirror
  1. Even Kate Moss gets spots
  1. You could have allergies or a hormonal imbalance, so seek advice from a doctor and dermatologist
  1. Reducing the amount of sugar and alcohol you consume can make a big difference
  1. Estee Lauder Double Wear Foundation and Mineral Rich Loose Powder changed my life – but refrain from applying layers and layers of the stuff
  1. Always moisturise your skin, even if it’s oily – depriving your skin of oil will only encourage it to produce more oil
  1. Smashbox Photo Finish Primer actually works
  1. Be kind to your body – that healthy glow often only comes from inside

Perhaps the biggest piece of advice I can give to anyone feeling uncomfortable in their own skin is to remember this: our personal interpretation of perfection is only desirable because we are programmed to want what we can’t have. The sooner we learn to appreciate what we do have, the happier we’ll feel.