Do you have high-functioning anxiety?

Her Lessons

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But how to take back control?

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

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

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

Advertisements

Why you should get that tattoo

Her Lessons

Don’t get me wrong. Getting a tattoo is a big deal and requires some serious thinking.

God, I debated my first tattoo for about five years. And to be honest, I’m so glad I waited for that one. But getting a tattoo is also hugely liberating, particularly if you’re obsessed with looking ‘perfect’ all the time.

I think as you reach your mid-twenties, your personal style and sense of self kind of settle down and find a fixed shape. If any tattoo resembled my pre-2010 dress sense then fuck knows what I would have ended up with.

I knew I wanted a bird on my back, but I also knew I wouldn’t be able to decide the details until they sort of found their way to me (lame). I didn’t want to force it, so I waited. I also have a huge fear of making the wrong decision.

Then, one day I was in my Grandparent’s shed (why?) and came across a familiar old painting of a goldfinch. Around the same time, a colleague showed me a new tattoo artist she’d discovered on Instagram – Martha Smith – who specialised in nature. It was a match made in heaven and I still adore my goldfinch tattoo today. Not only does it represent patience and ‘waiting for the right thing’, it gives me faith that I know and feel what’s right for me when I see it.

You see, when you have OCD and easily become obsessed with bizarre notions of perfection, trusting your gut instinct can be tricky. Basically, your gut is punctuated with little jabs of OCD-induced thoughts that try and disrupt those all important signals. “This feels right” is often masked with “What if I’m wrong?” and thoughts of worry get in the way. It’s really bloody annoying, actually.

In many ways, getting a tattoo when you have OCD is like giving your inner control freak and perfectionist the finger. I realised half-way through the one-hour ordeal that even if something went wrong I already didn’t care – I was so high on liberation (and pain) that for almost 30 minutes I relinquished control and gave myself up to a total stranger.

So, when I got in touch with Martha again a year later, I didn’t give her an image to copy. I simply wrote to her that I’d like something to represent change.

I didn’t tell her that my Grandad had passed away while I was in Japan, or that I wrote him a letter about cherry blossom’s temporary beauty, one that was read to him on his deathbed, or that he smiled at the letter when he could no longer really talk, or that my Nan still has that letter stuck to her fridge, over two years later.

I didn’t tell Martha that the reason I wanted something to represent change was because over the last two years I’ve experienced more change than I thought I would in a lifetime (long story).

When she sent me her drawing, I knew it was perfect.

“I love it – what flowers are they out of interest?”

“They’re cherry blossoms”.

I cried.

I debated getting it somewhere discreet, like my foot, but I knew deep down I wanted it on my arm. A reminder that change can be beautiful when you’re awarded opportunities to connect with greater, deeper things. And that it is you, and you only, who tells yourself what perfection means.

Getting a tattoo can be a big step in reclaiming your sense of self. A sort of feeling in control by consciously letting go of control. And when Martha began tattooing my arm, she told me to imagine that any pain and hurt I had felt was going into the pain of the tattoo, and that at the end of it all, I would be pain free. And in many ways, she was right.

I actually ended up getting another, tiny tattoo that day and surprised myself with the spontaneity of it. The alchemical symbol for air  – a triangle with a line through it.

I know how this sounds, believe me, but during a yoga retreat in Spain, my yoga teacher told me I was Air. I looked at her, confused. I always thought I was Earth, but sometimes you see yourself through another’s eyes and realise maybe you labelled yourself wrong. Sometimes the things you tell yourself aren’t necessarily true. Sometimes opening up to a new version of yourself will free you from past limitations around who you were and align you with who you’re destined to become. Earth and Air signs are the inverse of each other, so really I have a tattoo of both, depending on how you look at it. Which, to me, is kind of magical.

 

 

Are you addicted to your phone?

Her Lessons

FullSizeRender

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

– Tristan Harris, ex-Google employee

 

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

 

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

 

Like I said. Terrifying.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Your turn. Save yourself. Spread the word.

 

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

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

Lessons from 2016? Follow your heart.

Her Lessons

fullsizeoutput_1e

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.

 

 

 

 

 

Why your tattoo demonstrates a beautiful faith in others

Her Lessons

Although I got my first tattoo two weeks before the US election results, it’s only recently dawned on me how important it is to have faith at a time when it would be much easier to withdraw from the unknown. When I read the news at the moment, all I want to do is withdraw from civilisation and live on the fringes of the Amazon rainforest. When what I should be doing, what all of us should be doing, is standing up and shouting about what we believe in louder than ever. For this reason, my tattoo (and yours) means more to me than I fully anticipated; it demonstrates complete and utter trust in a perfect stranger to create a part of you, a hidden message to the world, which is kind of a big deal when you think about it.

The very notion of having faith in others might seem like a fragile thing after the catastrophes of 2016. Many of us have hoped and prayed for an outcome that the unexpected majority passionately prevented. It’s a strange thing, to feel like democracy has screwed you over. To be reminded, cruelly, how very little control you have. To feel like a minority, to fill negative space, when you were so convinced all of humanity should surely be on your side.

Does a majority vote make it the right decision? Of course not. But is there proof that you were right either? God no. Because the truth is, nobody on this earth knows the direction we should be heading to reach the best-possible outcome. After all, rock bottom can only mean a upwards climb ahead. Brexit and Trump. It’s impossible to digest, but digest we must.

It kind of helps to look at it this way: they weren’t  votes for evil (although the racist, sexist, fascist, homophobic undertones are hard to ignore, I know). Most of the votes were cries for help. For change. The outcome might seem horrifying now, but it could be the catalyst that people like you and I need to actually start paying attention. Have you invested a greater interest in politics, the economy, and the future of the world since these shocking revelations began to unfold? ME TOO. That must be a positive thing, right?

It’s amazing how far you can push yourself to cooperate with the world when you have to. Look at the brave souls who lived through WW1 or WW2, or, amazingly enough, through both. We feel hard done by now, but in all honestly, most of us have no idea how it feels to be well and truly fucked over by the system and dictated by the elite. Trump might look worryingly like the next Hitler, but we have to believe he isn’t. We have to have faith in the order of things. We have to let this shit unfurl before we come to grand conclusions. Because if I’ve learned anything over the last year or so, it’s that worrying about the future doesn’t solve a thing.

I’m writing this post because I want to talk about putting faith in a stranger on a personal level, and how it might just help us to maintain the crucial level of trust we need to be able to hold humanity close. Little gestures have big consequences, maybe we’ll understand that now more than ever. So rather than fearing the stranger that may or may not be on your side, remember there is more that binds us than our political standpoint. I will never understand why someone voted for Brexit or Trump, but I sympathise with a nation that truly believed that was their best option. I’m devastated at the sheer amount of hate that fuelled these campaigns, but I flat out refuse to be the hater. I will never add to that.

So erm, what’s the tattoo got to do with it?

I always dreamed of having a tattoo, but I never actually thought I’d get one. Which is a sad kind of dilemma when you think about it. Wanting something so much but not actually having the balls to make it happen. I let the fear of regret get in the way. This frame of mind is pretty much the opposite of how I decided to live my life last year when I headed off around the world in a determined flurry of free-spiritedness. It wasn’t supposed to be a temporary thing, to worry less. To make stuff happen and feel alive. So on 22nd October 2016, I got my first tattoo.

It symbolises even more than the painting in my Grandparents house it was based on. It demonstrates a shift in my frame of mind. A symbol of change, freedom and identity. Something I can hold close forever in an ever-changing world. Sometimes we need to be bold and take risks to feel alive. That’s just human nature. But ultimately, we crave the familiar. Your tattoo probably represents both.

Aside from my tattoo reminding me why people often go to extremes to gain a sense of control, it also serves as a beautiful declaration of putting my body (and the way it will look for the rest of my life) in the trust of a complete and utter stranger.

Well,  Martha Smith isn’t exactly a stranger any more. I couldn’t recommend this talented lady enough. She perfectly captured the inspiration I sent her, and now I have the first and only thing I know will be mine forever. The permanency of tattoos once scared me much in the same way that change did. What if something goes wrong that I can’t go back and fix? Having finally learned how to worry less, it kind of struck me that there’s so much comfort to be found in both the tie of forever and the opportunity change presents, if only your interpretation will allow for it.

So I guess this post is an attempt at comfort, and a plea to keep the faith in the little things you do if the bigger picture is too hard to take right now. Give up your seat on the train, smile at passers by, and hey, maybe even trust someone enough to get that tattoo you keep thinking about. Because the more intimately we all interact, the closer we’ll come to understanding how a nation can become so divided. We’re all in this together, after all.

You can find Martha Smith at Xotica in North Finchley, London.

Here’s a little look at some of her wonderful work: http://marthaellensmith.tumblr.com/

 

Lessons to 16-year-old me

Her Lessons

pink toilets like her type 16 year old me

Maybe it’s because I turned the grand old age of 27 yesterday, or maybe it’s because 2016 has brought about the most growing up I have EVER done. I’m ENGAGED for God’s sake. I just can’t stop thinking about how much can happen in a decade.

This has got to be the most distanced I have ever felt from my teenage self. Particularly me at 16, who thought she was really cool and knew everything, but who had never experienced much of anything and had the world’s worst hair cut. There are so many things I wish I’d known then, but am secretly quite glad I didn’t because the journey is hilarious, moving and valuable to look back on. I have learned so much it’s actually quite disturbing. I feel like a completely different person, in the best way imaginable.

So I guess this message is for anyone – 16 or not – who’s struggling to picture themselves in the future. There’s a good chance that in 10 years time you will be completely unrecognisable and sometimes this is a blessing. Do not be afraid to change as you age. Learn from every experience and it will shape you into something more resilient, understanding and wise. As a 27-year old, I empathise more with everyone I knew at school whose parents were divorced. It’s hard to take as an adult, and must have been impossible to digest as a child. You were going through something traumatic. Tremendous upheaval. I get it now. The saddest things help us to reconnect in some indirect way eventually.

All I know is that I can look back and smile at 16-year-old me, but I no longer know her well enough for a tearful embrace. We are different, we are grown apart and we are much happier that way; existing not as each other’s shadow but as something amicably separated. The past, after all, is a separate entity to the present and the future is a complete and utter stranger. So here’s some advice from one stranger to another. Here’s 10 lessons to 16-year-old me.

1. Save your love

Sometimes first love lasts forever, and sometimes you find something much, much better. You’ll think of him/her, sure. That’s ok, but mostly you’ll learn how it feels to have your heart broken and you’ll become a better person for it. At 16 I fell in love, at 17 I thought love was mostly about playing games, at 20 I was cheated on, at 22 I learned the hard way never to date a friend. Then I found him. And I realised it was all just building up to meeting that person. It was worth every horrible breakup. Happiness rarely lies in settling for a relationship filled with secrets and doubts. Give things time to unfold before you give up on finding love.

2. Think carefully about your career

Although I love my job, I still wish I’d thought about my career options a lot more carefully at school. I knew I wanted to write but I didn’t know how that translated to an actual career if you weren’t, like, an author. I didn’t know what a copywriter was or how much it paid. I knew nothing about marketing, sales, SEO, or CRM. They literally don’t teach you the things you could really do with knowing. I thought ‘I’ll be a fashion journalist’, and then got sick of working for free in the hope that it might pay off eventually.

3. Use the Internet for something other than videos of cats

Dear all 16 year olds of today, I know that careers advice is still incredibly shit 10 years down the line but you do have this wonderful thing called WiFi. Believe it or not, we still had dial up Internet when I was 16, and that meant not being able to use the Internet and the home phone at the same time. I mostly chose the phone. Or MSN messenger. And back then mobile phones were literally just mobile phones. With no 3G or Wifi. Ever. Whaaaat? Crazy I know. Take full advantage of your nifty information-filled phones – the choices you make now really do affect the rest of your life.

4. Stop comparing yourself to other people

At 16 I was obsessed with labelling myself as something, probably because I had no idea what category I was supposed to fit into. I felt like I knew who I was at school, but then I went to Uni and I wasn’t top of the class or well known anymore. I was average. Competing to stand out at Uni when you come from a small town and a shit school, and even harder when you eventually try make it as a writer in London. My advice? Don’t rush your identity. It forms with experience, the people you meet, the places you visit, the books you read, the films you watch, the shit stuff life throws at you. Be interested in things and fight for your cause. Your signature look and persona will materialise eventually.

5. Be kind to yourself, and to others

Don’t compare yourself to charismatic extroverts when you’re the opposite, don’t force yourself to wear clothes you’ve copied from someone else, stop thinking everyone is prettier, cooler and cleverer than you. And equally, never assume you’re better than someone. Sometimes you might be, but mostly you’re not. There will always be someone out there who is much better at something than you. It’s called competition. It makes you want to be better. Don’t be too hard on yourself, and when you’re struggling, don’t be too proud to learn from other people.

6. Thinner/prettier/richer doesn’t = happier

At School and Uni, I genuinely thought that if I was just a bit thinner, with clearer skin and better clothes I would be happy, like, forever. Obviously these things can make us feel more confident, but they’re so superficial we take them for granted almost instantly, and that longing can only be replaced by something else depending entirely on your own vanity to work. It’s a bad circle to get stuck in. As you get older, you really do discover what makes you happy, like hearing live music with friends, elaborate family meals, sunsets in exotic places, recognition for working hard, cuddling up in bed when it’s raining, finishing a great book, the love from your pets, or just a plain old cup of tea in your favouritemug. These wonderful, familiar things are what we must cling to in our darkest moments, not perfect hair or pristine teeth.

7. Don’t long for a life of sunshine and rainbows

I grew out of puppy fat, acne and terrible hairstyles but my happiness didn’t blossom in the same way. It became far more complicated than I ever would have imagined. And that’s just how is it. I was a very fortunate teenager, and not at all equipped for some of the things life would throw my way some 10 years later, but I know from the bottom of my heart that prettier/skinnier whatever does not make you happier. If that was all you had, all any of us had, the world would be an awful, boring place. Treasure your friends, work hard, say yes to opportunities, support your family, and be grateful for what you have. That is where true happiness lies.

8. Look after your body

I’m still learning how to implement this long-term because I love a party but nothing makes me want to vomit more than the thought of how I drank at uni. Drinking all the time is part of uni culture and hilarious to some extent, but it also makes you lazy, forgetful, overweight, tired and depressed. Lying in bed hungoverall day is not making the most of some of your best years. Your free-to-do-what-you-want years. Try to strike a balance. It really doesn’t hurt. You will look back and wish you tried harder. Believe me.

9. Don’t force friendship

First off all, it’s lovely when you stay BFFs with everyone from school, but sometimes it doesn’t work out. You won’t believe me now, but in 10 years time you might have a completely different friendship group. You might have gone to uni away from home, moved to a new town, travelled, partied, put yourself out there in various shapes or forms, and eventually found yourself with a whole bunch of new mates. Somewhere along the line, you will work out who your true friends are. Here’s a hint: staying in touch with them and seeing them regularly isn’t something you have to factor in, it’s just part of your life. Friendship should be completely effortless, but at the same time you’ll both want to make the effort.

10. Do crazy things

When I started a new job once, I was asked to state an interesting fact about myself. Although most of the things I wanted to blurt out were highly inappropriate at the time, I was privately happy to recall so many silly, funny stories. It’s true what they say, your best memories aren’t going to start with a salad an an early night. Take chances, party and say yes to things, just be smart about it. You’re only 16 once, after all.

 

Why it ALWAYS pays to be patient

Her Lessons

164f8f346a9f3b5694ad07702b19d1bf

Living in limbo is not fun. It is, however, often a stepping-stone to a much nicer place, as long as you’re patient, optimistic and prepared to push yourself. I hope this little anecdote shows how important it is to let a timeline of events unravel before submitting defeat. It’s goes back to that age-old saying I love to overuse – who knows what’s good or bad? 

Last week I was miserable. I was jobless, living at home for the foreseeable future, and full of doubt. I was losing perspective, and fast. Six weeks of not having an awful lot to do may sound like bliss, but it plays havoc with your identity and relationship with the world around you when you’re not convinced it will ever end.

Less than seven days later, I’ve found myself an exciting new job and secured a beautiful two-bedroom house to rent in London. Initially I thought how the fuck did that happen? But I really gave myself no other option, even when all I wanted to do was stay in bed and eat cake. Good things don’t just happen; they take hours and hours of hard work and sacrifice. I wasn’t lucky, emerging from limbo unscathed. I made this happen. And I did so when a voice in my head started telling me I wasn’t good enough. Ignore it. You have to keep going.

 I could feel depression starting to weigh me down, stealing little segments of hope and energy. I had so much time on my hands, and the world had started to feel pointlessly endless. The longer I stayed in the house, the less I wanted to go outside. I’d felt like this before only much worse, when I graduated during a recession and had more chance of capturing a unicorn than landing myself a paid writing job. My degree and all that I’d worked for had no immediate purpose, and I felt my identity wear away with each passing day spent applying for unpaid jobs I was unlikely to get.

This challenging time became one of my most significant life lessons. I hit a really low point. I drank A LOT. But I kept on writing for anyone and anything that would let me. Unpaid writing filled up a portfolio, which landed me an unpaid internship with an online magazine in London Bridge, and another one writing from home. I wrote articles for free by day and worked nights in the local pub. I was promoted to Editorial Assistant and promised a proper salary, and then just weeks later the company went bust, and I began to give up hope.

My spirit somewhat broken, I became a customer service advisor in a call centre and wondered why I ever believed I could write for a living. But soon enough, friends I studied with started to get proper writing jobs, or jobs in PR or marketing. They got paid to do something interesting. Inspired and unforgivably competitive, I held on a little longer.

be positive quote

15 months after graduating, I started to write for New Look on a basic salary and felt like the luckiest, happiest person alive. It didn’t matter that I was writing product descriptions for pittance, I was a copywriter! I was saved!

Four years on, when I quit my most recent Senior Writer job to travel, it struck me that I was deliberately throwing away something I would have died for just a few years before, but the other option – not going travelling – was completely out of the question.

Returning home to Brexit, uncertainty and unemployment brought back horrible memories. One of the worst times of my professional life gave me the mental tools I needed to carry on believing in my work and ability no matter what. The really shitty times prepare you for doom and gloom in ways you never even expect.

It’s July 2016, which means I graduated five years ago. I have achieved more in those five years than I ever thought possible. I’ve taken risks, and they’ve paid off in the long run. I’ve let time run its course before giving in, and I’ve subsequently doubled my salary, and quadrupled the possibilities.

This story is for anyone who feels like I did five years ago, for anyone on the brinkAL on something brilliant who needs an extra push. I doubted whether I would ever find a job, let alone one I enjoyed with a decent wage. If you work bloody hard and believe in yourself despite everything you’re up against, amazing things will happen. Five years ago I had ideas, a bit of willpower and absolutely no money. A week ago, I had the same. By the end of the month, it will all be a distant memory, and one I’ll no doubt return to next time I find myself in Limbo again.

Why your imperfect life is more inspiring

Her Lessons

smile quote

A few months ago, someone said to me: “Your life is literally goals right now,” after I uploaded some recent photos: white-sand beaches, tanned smiling faces, an engagement ring, friendship, love, excitement.

I hadn’t really considered my life outside of my own ‘goals’ and thought about the significance of ‘right now’. In all honesty, I was too happy to stop and consider just how lucky I was, and how maybe, those photos were a bit of a kick in the teeth to someone not having the best month of their lives. I was clinging to my ‘right now’, unaware of the permanency it might appear to have on Facebook. Like everyone, I only really share the good things. The photos that make my life look great, because, for a couple of days, it really was. It’s nice pretend it’s always like that.

I didn’t think twice about showing off how much fun I was having, because not long before that, before I went travelling, I was actually having a pretty terrible time. So much so, that if I’d seen photos of people who seemed to have what I was missing, I would have felt significantly worse.

I’m writing this post to highlight that life ‘goals’, happiness and hardship are as temporary and changeable as travel itself, so it’s incredibly important not to assume someone has a perfect life just because it always looks that way in their photos. Perfection isn’t always inspiring. Sometimes it’s very, very fake.

The truth is, not only do we refuse to share our bad times as much as our good times online, there’s actually a pretty huge stigma around sharing anything negative, ugly or depressing. The result is a catastrophically one-sided selection of perfect lives for us to compare our sometimes-crappy lives to.

To even things out a bit, I wanted to show how much my life has changed since I returned home from travelling. I’m pretty sure it isn’t quite ‘goals’ at the moment, and that’s completely ok. It’s really fucking normal, actually.

I am currently in the midst of what can only be described as terrible, endless come down. The repercussions of travelling have hit me like a train; I am living back home, slightly reclusive, completely penniless and confronted with endless days of job hunting and rain. Oh, and Brexit. And more rain.

My tan is fading, I have to say “sorry, I can’t afford it” constantly, and I’m met with the reality that all the amazing things I learned and enjoyed whilst away, like giving up makeup, speaking to children I don’t know, eating out every mealtime, having spontaneous adventures, drinking every night, and discovering a new city every three days; all these things have absolutely no place in the society I find myself in today, so what was the point in spending all my time and money? I am full of doubt, anxious at times, and I feel like a stranger in my own country, which has only been amplified by said country leaving the EU.

The fact is, I have knowingly brought this state of being on myself (apart from Brexit, obviously). I KNEW I would feel like this. I was ready for it. I decided I wasn’t afraid to live a life of extreme ups and downs for a while. And the memories of the ups will get me though the downs. Whatever happens, it was worth it. Pretty soon things will even out, and while the bad moments fade, the good will remain stronger and more powerful than ever before. Nostalgia is clever like that. I refuse to feel sorry for my unemployed self, because I know this is temporary, just like whatever you might be experiencing right now is temporary too. Life is an imperfect but continuous stream of highs and lows, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Would I travel again knowing how hard it is to adjust afterwards? Well, would you give up drinking and having fun after a really bad hangover? Thought not.