The best books I’ve read this year

Summer solstice is fast approaching, provoking, as always, nostalgic thoughts of the year so far. As well as travelling, writing and getting engaged, I have thankfully found the time to read some bloody good books. So whatever your plans are for the next six months of 2016, I urge you to reserve time in your diaries for these life-enhancing reads.

The Secret History, by Donna Tartt

secret-history

After I fell helplessly in love with The Goldfinch last summer, I decided I had better read Donna Tartt’s hugely successful first novel, The Secret History. The plots couldn’t be more different but there is the same strong undercurrent running through both novels: how far is too far? How necessary is it to push moral boundaries? And what are the consequences? The story is told by Richard, who unexpectedly finds himself as part of an elite, mysterious group of misfits in his first year at Hampden College. He becomes the otherness he used to observe, and is heavily involved in the brutal murder of a friend as a result.

Mrs Hemmingway, by Naomi Wood

mrs_hem_pb_cover

If you have ever loved been obsessed with someone you know is bad for you, please read this book. Played out between Ernest Hemmingway’s four incredibly different wives, Naomi Wood focuses sacrifice, identity, power, and all the cloudy areas in between for her chosen account of the character’s real-life intimacies. She unveils the human heart as the most complicated contraption. I spent most of the book loving to hate Hemmingway, and then I accidentally fell in love with him myself.

Life After Life, by Kate Atkinson

life after life

As someone who frequently experiences déjà vu and whatever the hell the actually is, I found the concept of Life After Life quite fascinating in a ‘why didn’t I think of that?’ kind of way. It depicts Ursula Todd, who lives her life over and over again every time she dies, with the added benefit of ‘knowing’ what might come next, without really knowing at all. The result? Killing Hitler, of course. I absolutely loved this book. It’s so clever. The heroine is such an inspiring character. She reminds us of the good we are capable in darker times, and that the unknown is not always something to fear.

A God In Ruins, by Kate Atkinson

A+God+in+Ruins

Not a sequel but a ‘sister book’ to Life After Life, A God In Ruins tells the full story of Ursula’s brother, Teddy. I would definitely still recommend reading Life After Life first; the juxtaposition between Teddy’s character as a boy in the first book and a (sometimes elderly) man in the second is too stark and purposeful to ignore. This book contrasts mundane routine with the ‘glory’ of war, reminding us of the discomfort and detachment there is to be found in both. Atkinson no longer plays God, but continues to play with time in a slightly unnerving way.

Reasons to Stay Alive, by Matt Haig

reasons to stay alive

Reasons To Stay Alive perfectly expresses all the things you wish you knew how to say to someone suffering with depression, as well as to yourself. It also addresses and includes anxiety, bi-polar, OCD and many other mental conditions in the same breath. Acclaimed author Matt Haig wrote this book about his battle with depression and anxiety as a way of proving to other sufferers that a) talking about depression and anxiety is the first step to controlling it, b) there is always a light at the end of the tunnel, and c) you are never alone. Even if you think you know it all, reading this book will change the way you think about depression and anxiety. It is honest, funny and beautifully written.

The Last Act of Love, by Cathy Rentzenbrink

9781447286370The Last Act of Love

Easily the best book I’ve read this year, purely because it’s the bravest. Brace yourself before you embark on this incredibly moving journey with author Cathy Rentzenbrink. She wrote this book about love out of the purest love there is. She wrote this book about her brother, Matty, and how a car accident turned their lives into a living nightmare. Cathy Rentzenbrink is my newest idol. I suddenly saw sense in the ‘bad things’ in my life; the painfully uncontrollable things. Reading this book encourages you to accept more than you’re think you’re capable of, simply because the possibility of a love as strong as Cathy’s exists.

I would love to know your reading recommendations for the rest of the year! Comments below welcome, as always.

Advertisements

10 common fears travelling helped me conquer

FullSizeRender(38)

Two years ago, when I promised myself I would save up and see the world, I didn’t fully predict the mammoth effect it would have on my future happiness. I felt the weight of the importance to travel, but I didn’t really know why. I wanted to address the other-culture ignorance I was born with as a fortunate westerner, but I wasn’t aware of the sheer impact travelling would have on the way I interpret things. Going away didn’t help me ‘find myself’ (the beauty of travelling aged 26 is that I have a pretty good idea of who I am), rather, it helped me to have faith in the world.

The fear and anxiety I was living with a year ago, and have talked about a lot, always felt very separate to my personality. It was alien to me. Travelling didn’t encourage me to shape my identity, it reaffirmed to me what I already hoped was a myth. That fear and phobias are not truths, and they can be overcome. In short, travelling made me see that I was scared of things for no reason. OCD-induced anxiety is not ‘me’ or a product of a messy world, but an ugly phenomenon all of its own. One that can be confronted with a little will power and courage.

I am the same person as before, only calmer and less worried, with a much better perception of people, politics and environmental affairs. I have learned to look outwards, rather than forever seek for the answers within. I have broken the spell the media and my mind cast over me, that the world is a scary place. So here are 10 incredibly common fears that travelling finally helped me address.

IMG_6971

1. The fear of flying

Very few people actually enjoy flying, and plenty of us are completely terrified by the idea. But, quite simply, if you refuse to board that plane, you will never see the beauty that awaits you on the other side. Yes, there is a minute possibility something terrible will happen. But there is also a possibility that you will be (God forbid) hit by a car today. One is incredibly slim, and the other is even slimmer. It is always, always worth the risk. Which is barely a risk at all. I have boarded a plane every couple of weeks for 6 months. At first I feared the worst, and now a bad thought barely crosses my mind.

2. The fear of losing things

Being fairly (very) absent minded, I often misplace things. I have also been robbed in broad daylight in London. Combine the above with a once very materialistic attitude and you have a pretty persistent worry of objects you love going missing. Travelling makes you more mindful of what you really need, which turns out to be not a lot. As long as you have your passport and some money, you’re ok. When my backpack got  lost on the flight from Bali to New Zealand, I was distraught at first, but soon realised that it wasn’t the end of the world. I still double check I have my phone every few minutes, but more for the fear of losing precious photos, rather than the phone itself.

3. The fear of being attacked

Obviously it’s important to keep your wits about you when you’re in a new place or walking about at night, and there are some places you cannot go alone or even at all, but worrying people are out to get you is a waste of time and energy. I used to convince myself every stranger might want to kill me, which seems ridiculous now. The best way of proving yourself wrong is to compile a load of evidence against your own theories. I must have walked past thousands and thousands of perfect strangers, in hundreds of different neighbourhoods in 10 different countries, and felt threatened by absolutely no one. Not a soul wanted to hurt me, so what was I so afraid of?

4. The fear of embarrassing yourself in front of strangers

People do not analyse and criticise you the way you do yourself. Remember that next time you’re worried about giving something a go. Better to try and do something badly than sit back and watch. Because you’ll never learn anything otherwise. Try saying hello in a new language, play beer pong when you’re rubbish at throwing and never be afraid to ask questions that might seem silly. The satisfied feeling of getting over the initial embarrassment lasts much longer than the embarrassment itself. Travelling and meeting people from different walks of life has taught me that everyone worries about how they’re perceived from time to time, but the the most inspiring people don’t let it get in the way, or give a shit what people think.

5. The fear of not looking your best

My relationship with makeup, clothes and general self maintenance has gone round and round in circles over the last 6 months. I still want to look my best if and when I have the time, but the pressure to look perfect has definitely been lifted. There are so many better ways to spend your time and energy. Yes I still like to shave my legs and brush my hair, but I don’t feel uncomfortable about wearing the same outfit two days running or foregoing mascara. Life is too short for perfection. Look after yourself for God’s sake, but don’t let your day revolve around it.

IMG_6969

6. The fear of eating contaminated food

Whilst in Asia, do not assume that street food will give you the shits. Some of the best food I’ve ever eaten cost 50p from the road side. Having said that, do not take the importance of hygiene for granted. There is a balance. I would avoid anything that hasn’t been cooked fresh in front of you. Sometimes you might be unlucky, but don’t let the fear of getting ill stop you from trying new foods. Use your common sense. Common sense is much more finely tuned when fear is absent.

7. The fear of being in a fatal accident

When you’re travelling, it’s kind of weird how much you trust your life with strangers. From bus drivers to scuba instructors to tour guides, your knowledge of a situation is often completely dependent on someone you hardly know. The best piece of advice I can give is to trust that it’s better to be in the hands of an expert stranger than fend for yourself, but also to stay alert to any potential danger. Do not assume you are going to die on a choppy boat journey or dodgy drive along a cliff edge. Fear will inhibit your mind. Simply go with it until you feel in your heart something might be wrong. Be open about anything you’re concerned about, and make educated decisions with the help of others in the same situation.

8. The fear of not being in control

One of the most impactful products of OCD is needing to feel constantly in control. This often provokes habits, rituals and ways of thinking as a way of regaining any control that has been lost. Even if you’re travelling alone, you will never feel completely in control. This is a blessing. Your boat is supposed to leave at 2pm but doesn’t leave until 4pm, you’re covered in insect bites even though you’ve rinsed a whole bottle of DEET, you only had three G&Ts but you threw up over the side of a tuk tuk, you lost your backpack even though you spent so long deciding what to take, you burnt your face even though you tried really hard to stay awake, you came straight off your moped even though you were driving as safely as you could, you got caught in a storm but the weather app promised it would be sunny. Shit. Happens. To everyone. No matter how careful you are. The more you stop trying to control everything, the better you will feel. Things can’t go right all the time, where would be the fun in that? Where would be the stories?

9. The fear of heights

When I think of being up high, my toes go numb and a frenzied caterpillar of fear crawls up the back of my ankles. I’m not sure when I developed this. Probably with age. The cure? Jump out of a plane. Go on roller coaster rides, bungee jump, ski and climb mountains. Find enjoyment in fear and learn to interpret the adrenaline as a good thing. Fear makes us feel alive, so we’re lucky to be able to experience such an intense feeling. The feeling of coming face to face with your fear is sometimes enough to make you overcome it. You will feel powerful, alive and in control, but only because you first felt afraid. Turn negative feelings into positive actions, because they’re the strongest of all.

10. The fear of things going wrong

One of the most important and life-changing things travelling has helped me confront, is the need for everything to be a certain way. Before, if something didn’t go exactly to plan, I felt so uncomfortable I would rather go back to bed than face the unpredictable day ahead. As you can probably imagine, during a loosely planned and long trip around the world, things frequently went wrong, or our plans changed, or we had to act very spontaneously. The beautiful thing is that when something went ‘wrong’ or differently to how I imagined, it often worked out for the best. It very quickly became apparent that just ‘going with it’ and not sticking to a strict plan opened the most amazing doors along the way. For example, in El Nido, we booked ourselves onto a ‘party boat’ tour of the islands, only to discover it had been cancelled after we waited around for 2 hours. We were pretty upset. Time is precious and all the other tour boats had left the bay. Then quite out of nowhere we bumped into Tom and Maddie, who owned a boat and offered to take us anywhere we liked for a fraction of the price. We loaded up the boat with food, beer and speakers (and Lydia, their puppy) and sailed off to the most beautiful islands, where we had our own party. It was the best afternoon imaginable and we were so sure the day was ruined just hours before. The lesson? Things can always get better, and sometimes better than ever. But first, sometimes something has to go wrong.

I am not fear and worry free, but I can honestly say have learned the value of acceptance. What happens to you is often completely out of your control, so better to fret less and live more. If I can do that, you definitely can too.

Why skydiving cured my anxiety

DCIM102GOPRO

When I was seven, my parents bought a half-built house on a brand-new estate. It thrilled me to think we’d be the first people to live there. Everything would be as it should be; no yellowing circles on the ceiling, not crunchy stains on the carpet, no rotten fence posts. It would be a show house; a perfect house.

Thinking back, it was obvious I had OCD even then. My mum showed me a plan of the upstairs rooms on a sheet of paper. There were three bedrooms left after hers, and I was to choose which one I wanted. There was one huge room, with two windows and space for a double bed and sofa, one medium-sized room and one box room. I chose the box room. My logic being that it would be the easiest to keep tidy. My mum eventually convinced me to take the medium-sized room, but the huge room I left for my younger sister. Sure enough, it became the ‘play room’ and was forever a mess. I congratulated myself for making the right choice. I didn’t even let friends sit on my bed for fear of creases or my soft toys falling into the wrong order. I wanted my world to be small and manageable so that I could maintain full control over everything in it, which is what OCD means for most of us – the greater and more vague the boundaries, the less likely things will be ‘perfect’. I was a seven-year-old perfectionist. 

Thankfully, as a teenager, my OCD manifested itself as wanting to be the best at everything. The silent competition I had with myself actually helped set me up for life, so the condition has its pros. It never hindered my social life and I loved going to school. In my late teens, my ODC switched to food. I was always conscious of eating the perfect balance of food groups. Carb-on-carb or meat-on-meat was a no go. If you’d given me a chip buttie I would have cried. Again, this seemed to work in my favour. I was slim, healthy and knowledgable about food.

At Uni, it was superstitions. I was always seeing ‘signs’ and thought there was a meaning behind everything a typical OCD trait. Reading into everything comes part and parcel with doing an English degree, so my natural thought processes made for excellent critical thinking and literary analysis. OCD to the rescue once again. 

I suppose I never bothered to have my OCD diagnosed because it never really hindered my life. In many ways, it was a personality trait that had helped me be the successful young adult I am. I was always aware of my need to have things a certain way and the discomfort I felt if they weren’t, as well as the fact that I lived very much inside my own head. It wasn’t until I was 25 that OCD stopped being silly little habits and quirks and turned into something much darker. I was so used to it being a positive part of my life that it felt natural to believe that when my OCD convinced me leaving the house would be unsafe, it must be right. 

My OCD turned on me, and just like my seven-year-old self, I made my world as small as I could to keep things under control. It wasn’t tidiness, food or balance that evolved, but my obsession with seeing signs. Everything became a terrible omen to something unimaginable happening. I felt like I was going to die every time I left the house. So much so, that the images of my fate played out in my head. Night terrors in the middle of the day. I was being shot, stabbed and run over in my daydreams, and couldn’t seem to wake from the horror. Things I loved doing started to scare me, and before long I dreaded getting the tube or even walking down the street. Adrenalin pumped through my body every second of the day and relaxation became a myth. Anxiety, panic, ringing in my ears. All day, every day. I did my utmost to hide how I felt and yet I still wanted to be the best at everything, which tired me out beyond belief. The best thing I ever did was ask my GP for help.

A year later, I’m so pleased to say that I’m back to ‘normal’ thanks to 12 sessions of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). I still felt wary of the world, but the more I faced up to it the better I felt. In a pledge to myself that I never want to feel too scared to live a full and exciting life again, I decided to say a massive a ‘fuck you’ to fear, and to OCD, and jump out of a plane in Queenstown, New Zealand. As far away from home and safety as I could get. It was the best (and most terrifying) thing I have ever done. I no longer feel as though OCD dictates my decisions. It’s still there at times, sure, but I’ve learned not to rely on its authenticity. I have learned that fear is nothing to be afraid of, because it’s so imperative to living that we actually feel alive. Stuck in the house and hiding from the world, I felt terrified and close to death. Jumping out of a plane took my existence to another level. I felt oddly calm and accepting. I was in control of my decisions and yet completely out of control. I took a chance, and felt liberated at last.

Lesson 25: believing in yourself

deab49a48bad2fdd070d8305919c86fe

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.

 

 

 

Lesson 18: feeling normal

d871bb05e6d8c586d49d50cf8f9a5712

Growing up can be a lonely experience. Gradually, it becomes more and more inappropriate to share our weird and wonderful traits with people the way we might have at school or uni. We become more proper and more private with age. Having touched on mental health issues and with it being Mental Health Awareness week, I’ve been thinking about the things that put us at ease, starting with confession. After I posted about my anxiety, I received so many lovely, reassuring messages from people simply saying ‘hey, I feel like that too sometimes’. So not only was confessing to receiving CBT a way of unloading my issues, it seemed to benefit other people just as much to hear it. One of the most heart-warming things we can experience is a collective emotion. Connecting with people about a negative experience often equates to a positive outcome. For this reason, I’ve decided to list all the ‘abnormal’ things I do but wouldn’t usually talk about. Chances are I’m not alone in doing them, and it might make you feel less lonely too.

  1. Very few people know this about me, but I have trichotillomania. Without meaning to or really realising, I compulsively pull out my own hair when I’m tired or nervous. It’s generally my eyelashes but often my eyebrows and the hairs from my head as well. You know that satisfying feeling of picking off clumpy old mascara? Usually, it’s just that. But when I’m a feeling a bit anxious, it leads to physical pulling. It’s no different to biting your nails or cracking your knuckles, and yet nobody really talks about it. We all have weird bodily impulses from time to time. It’s absolutely nothing to be ashamed of.
  1. I have a tendency to conjure up the worst-case scenario in my head. If someone is knocking at the door, it’s never the postman, it’s a burglar. I catch myself physically hiding from the postman. Which sounds funny now, but it’s not exactly ‘normal’.
  1. I have days where I hate the way I look more than anything else on Earth. I have a strong belief that 99% of people do. Everyone thinks other people are so happy and comfortable with themselves, when really we’re all intimidated by each other. People with straight hair would do anything for natural waves and people with curly hair gaze wistfully at poker-straight locks. We all want what we can’t have and we all choose to see people the way we want to. Just remember, nobody is as critical of you as you. Nobody notices the spots you obsess over, or the fact you’ve worn the same shoes every day for two weeks. People tend to focus on the things you have that they want.
  1. My boyfriend and I practically have a language of our own, speaking in weird voices with even weirder made-up words. If anyone ever overheard us they would probably mistake us for aliens. Or think we’ve been exposed to vast amounts of radiation. We also dance around the kitchen far more than is necessary.
  1. I never, ever wash my duvet cover once a week. Life is too short for that nonsense. However, anything less than once a month is nothing to be proud of. For someone with OCD tendencies, I never obsess over cleanliness. Not showering at a four-day festival is something I welcome with open arms. Gross, I know.
  1. I look back at old photos of myself on Facebook and Instagram and try to imagine them from other people’s point of view. Have I got better or worse with age? Were my eyebrows really that bad? Was I that uncool? Or that drunk? The truth is, of course, nobody cares.
  1. I sometimes convince myself that people are annoyed with me for no apparent reason. They only put one kiss at the end of a text, they forgot my birthday, they didn’t go to an event I organised. In reality, they were in a rush, forgot the date and had 10 other things to do that day.
  1. I feel anxious speaking on the phone. I’ve never really enjoyed ridiculously long phone calls and tend to let my phone go to answer phone when someone rings me out of the blue. I have to be in the right frame of mind for a phone call, whoever it is. I usually tell myself off and ring people back straight away, but my natural reaction is to ignore my phone. God knows why.
  1. I used to have a weird obsession with balancing out food groups. No carb-on-carb or meat-on-meat action for example. Rice in a wrap or a bacon AND sausage bap were literally my worst nightmare. I also know how many calories are in almost everything, even though I don’t calorie count.
  1. I can’t throw things away. My sister once asked why I’d kept one earring after I’d lost the other one, to which I replied ‘I might need it one day’. I’m overly sentimental and have boxes and boxes of ‘memories’. I’m paranoid I’ll forget or lose something import. Joe is the complete opposite. I don’t think he owns a single photograph and that panics me slightly. He says all his memories are in his head. The irony is that I’m incredibly scatty and constantly misplace everything I own. I’ve never had the same phone for longer than a year.

Although it’s important not to let your struggles become your sole identity, I hope my weird confessions encourage you to embrace what makes you you. I would love to know if you can relate to any of the above. Who wants to be normal anyway?

 

Lesson 16: taking back control

you are what you think

Three years ago today, my caring, funny, inspirational Granddad passed away. Despite being diagnosed with Leukaemia and given 2 years to live, he stayed with us for 8. He simply refused to go. He didn’t want to miss out. However much pain he was in, whatever it took, he wasn’t ready to leave the party. Bi-weekly blood transfusions were the norm and yet I never saw him without a smile on his face. So grateful to be with his family, my Granddad loved life and was the absolute life and soul, right until his very last day.

One of the reasons I’m writing this is because recently, I haven’t been enjoying life the way I used to, and I know I’m not alone. As we get older, life seems to get more and more complicated. It’s hard to always see past the stresses of work and the endless bills, let alone the things that seem completely beyond our control. But are they? Are the negative things we face completely uncontrollable? Because if my brave granddad can outright refuse to die, I have means to believe we are often more powerful than we know.

For anyone struggling a bit at the moment, take a step back from your life and isolate all the things you are unhappy with. Split them into two categories and write them down; things you can change and things you can’t. Take the ‘can’t change’ category and think about each and every thing very carefully, then simply rip it up. If you honestly feel like there is nothing you can do then maybe it’s time to cast these things from your mind entirely. Letting them go will give you more energy to focus on the things you can change. Next, take your ‘can change’ list and write a positive, realistic goal next to each thing. Whether you want to travel the world, lose weight, beat depression, get the job of your dreams or find the love or your life, these things are all within your grasp if you want them badly enough. The very best things in life come from hard work and dedication – that is what makes them so great.

Some of you will know that I often have very vivid, messed-up dreams, both when I’m awake and asleep. Apparently, these ‘intrusive thoughts’ have developed as a result of an anxiety disorder. For me, this often feels like something I have absolutely zero control over. Unimaginable things come into my head when I’m walking down the street, catching the tube or lying in bed at night. They stay with me for days. They provoke panic attacks. I don’t know where they come from, but I’ve been assured that CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) will teach me how to control them.

In the last week or so, I’ve dreamed of my Granddad three times. The dreams were calm, he was smiling and I woke up feeling safe. Always remember that you are the author of your own life. Take control and never forget how lucky you are to have a voice. Whatever you think you become, it’s as simple as that.

 

Lesson 8: controlling anxiety

DSC_0797

Everyone feels self-conscious. It’s the price we pay for being intelligent human beings. We’re acutely aware of what we look like, what we say, how we feel, who we are and how we interact with everything around us. The challenge arises when this awareness becomes overly critical, obsessive, worried, controlling. How many of us worry on a daily basis about something we just said, something we used to wear, that hair cut we once had, whether someone likes us or not, whether you’re supposed to like something or not? Like many of us, over-thinking and over-analysing everything has always been a part of my personality. I’m as self-conscious as they come.

I’m going to put something out there that you might not agree with. For me, self-consciousness is not a weakness. In some ways, self-consciousness is one of my greatest strengths. Confused? I’m going to explain how it’s possible to turn anxiety into something positive, rather than something that gnaws away at your soul. Anxiety is a difficult thing to live with, and it’s more common than you might think. I’m not going to define what anxiety is or feels like in this post. It’s incredibly complicated and everyone is very different. For now, let’s just think of it in the context of feeling self-conscious, which is something we can all relate to.

Somebody once said to me:

‘You’ve gone downhill.’

Meaning, I’ve let myself go, I’ve reached my peak, I will forever be less attractive than I once was. This is both one of the most upsetting and prominent things that was said to me in my late teens – a direct insult to both my appearance and my ability to recognise my apparent deterioration. Not only did I feel ugly, I felt stupid for not realising how ugly I was. It didn’t matter that this was simply one person’s unwarranted opinion, all that mattered at that moment was that someone thought that about me. The bitter and honest truth was that although there will never be any justification for someone saying something so cruel, I was forced to face the fact that I had stopped making an effort with my appearance. I had done strange things to my hair, I had stopped eating healthily, and I was partying a lot. I was the least self-conscious I have ever been, but I didn’t feel much like me at all. I hated that person for saying that to me, and for years those words ate away at my confidence, causing me to second guess how attractive I was and how well I understood myself. It’s not healthy to obsess about the way you look, but before this comment I had started to go the other way. I had started to not care that much at all. And that’s just not the sort of person I am. These horrible words reminded me of that. In a kind of messed-up way, they did me a massive favour.

BLQ-buddha-you-are-what-you-think-shape-thoughts-Choose-positive-thoughts-for-blog-300x300

You can argue that the reason I started taking better care of myself was to prove that person wrong, letting them define me, but I simply wanted to look and feel like myself again. I am the sort of person who wears makeup every single day. It isn’t because I feel societal pressures to do so, I just enjoy the act of getting ready, of being polished, of being well-dressed. There’s a quote you’ve probably heard: ‘being well-dressed is a beautiful form of politeness’, and I really believe that. If I don’t make an effort I end up feeling lazy, and subsequently end up being lazy. If I felt comfortable going barefaced and wearing any old thing (and I do sometimes envy people who are), it would be a different story all together, but that’s just not me.

Negative comments are always difficult to digest, especially when there is an element of truth in them. These comments don’t have to come from someone you know, it could be that you talk yourself down on a daily basis. The secret to rising above it? Be the best person you can be. Challenge yourself to that. Anything negative that comes your way can simply do one, because if you are yourself and you are trying your hardest in life, nobody is allowed to critique that, not even you. And I don’t mean the best looking, either.  I am critical of myself, but I use that feeling to try and do good things. When I have achieved something, I leave myself alone. If I wake up with a huge spot in the middle of my face (something I’m often confronted with), my natural reaction is to hide in a dark room and cry a little bit. Then I think about all the inspiring people in the world who would do anything to actually be able to SEE their own faces, to have the gift of sight. I really believe you can draw on the energy anxiety can give you and turn it into positive rather than negative energy – which is exactly what this blog post is a product of.

I hope talking a bit about anxiety allows you to confront your insecurities. Feeling constantly self-conscious is nothing to be ashamed of, and it’s very hard to control, but it can be controlled. Just remember that self-worth and confidence aren’t gifts from other people, they come from within. And similarly, other people can’t take them from you. They might get damaged, but that merely allows you to build something bigger and better each and every time they do.