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.

 

 

 

 

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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 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.