Finding light in the dark

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‘Six months is nothing’, they said. ‘When you come back, everything will be exactly the same.’

March 2016 was easily one of the happiest times of my whole life. I was in the Philippines, my boyfriend proposed. I was so tanned, so healthy and had absolutely everything to look forward to.

In April, everything changed. Well, not everything. One thing changed enough to make all the good things look different. Once upon a time I would have seen this as a sign that maybe I didn’t deserve to be as happy as I was. Now, I simply refuse to feel sorry for myself. What good can it possibly do? I still have all of those wonderful things (apart from maybe the tan). It’s so important (and often so bloody difficult) to focus on what we’ve been blessed with, rather than fixate on the negatives.

I wrote this post to comfort others as much as myself. Because sometimes terrible things happen. And the only way to make them less so, is to find the strength to interpret them in a positive way. A while back, I made a decision to have faith in the world around me no matter what, so I really have no other choice.

It’s something I worried about over again and again, without ever truly believing it would happen. That I would receive that heartbreaking phone call when so very far from home. Losing someone is never, ever easy, but finding out when I was minutes away from boarding a plane from Kuala Lumpur to Japan is one of the most painful experiences of my life.

What happens when you’ve assigned a limited amount of time and all of your money to fulfilling your dreams, and something happens to make you wonder why you ever wanted to be away from home at all? Because everything you really care about is a million miles away. You can plan every detail of your life six months in advance, only to find out repeatedly that you will never have full control. On 8th April 2016, my wonderful grandad died, and we made the decision to fly home.

Although I could talk forever about the strength of my family, or the beautiful send off we gave him, what I want to share is the light I’ve managed to salvage from the dark. That even though I’ve lost someone too soon and my family are suffering, I will not crawl into a corner, angry and afraid. I will be strong for them and for myself. Because that is the least we can do for the people we love.

There is so much hope to be found when it’s least expected, if only we discipline our minds and hearts enough to find it. Death is the only reason our lives mean anything, and grief teaches us so much about love. I said this in another post about death; that being prepared to grieve for someone is the same as being prepared to die for someone. They are the bravest declarations of love we can make. They prove that you believe in something much bigger than the constrains of life and death.

Be open to the possibility of a force affecting the order of things, and you’ll realise how much you want it to be true. If a bird of prey circles my head the day my grandad dies, and then again, in a different country, the day of his funeral. I will believe it means something. I don’t care if it’s just a coincidence, because I believe enough to make it true to me. I found something lovely in something very sad, and that means I know I’ll be ok.

In fact, lots of my family members experienced weird and comforting coincidences around my grandad’s death. He had dementia, but knew everyone’s names and played the harmonica during his last days. I even spoke to him on Skype. I keep seeing the Ferguson tractor he had and was handed free samples of his favourite drink (Baileys) at a food festival. It doesn’t matter that I’m probably just more tuned into these things now he’s all I can think about. All that matters is that my grandad’s death is shrouded in meaning. There is so much comfort to be found in that small, simple fact. That a random case of life and death has so much definition and significance in the minds of the people who loved that person. People live forever with us that way.

‘The ghosts of the people we love live inside of us, and like that we keep them alive.’

So it will probably come as no surprise that even though our money pot is dwindling and our plans have gone completely out of the window, we’ll be flying back to Asia tomorrow, having spent two weeks at home. Determined to finish our travels on a positive, and to continue to have faith in life, we’ll be spending the next couple of months in Northern Thailand and Vietnam, before volunteering on an organic farm in Spain. Because if there’s one thing death teaches you, it’s that you only have one chance to tick all those things off your list. Just one.

I was so fortunate to have known my grandad for 26 years, and will remember him by continuing to make the best possible memories I can for myself and my family, just like he always did for us. Having a positive reaction to a negative thing is really fucking hard, but I hope this story inspires you to be brave enough to do the same.

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How it feels to find ‘the one’

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It’s still a shock that these words form part of my vocabulary, but on 9th March, my boyfriend proposed to me. He booked us into Kandaya, a luxury resort in the Philippines, and proposed to me by candlelight on the beach. Champagne, white sand and starlight. Playing the song I always hoped he would. How the bloody hell did I ever get so lucky?

As surprised as I was, the feather-light feeling resonates more with being offered a job you were quietly confident about, and still being completely and utterly surprised about getting. Of course we are going to get married. I knew that from the very beginning. I just didn’t allow myself to believe I could be so fortunate. That finding ‘the one’ could be as easy as drunkenly bumping into someone at a festival.

I’ve naturally spent the hours since Joe’s beautiful proposal reflecting over our 3 years together. He came into my life and made it shine, made me shine. Why should anyone settle for anything less when it comes to being with someone forever? Because I honestly believe the perfect person is out there for absolutely everyone. And if you waste time obsessively searching, or settling for second best, you’ll simply never find them.

I’ve had my share of turbulent relationships. I thought that’s what love meant; a kind of angry obsessive passion that steals away your energy. A fire that burns right through you leaving charred black scars, only to be filled with the same flames that caused them. Sure, you can love someone this way, but can you marry them? Devoting your life to someone demands a rock-solid foundation, not one of molten lava.

So, how do I know he’s ‘the one’? He makes me feel special. I never knew it was possible to learn to love yourself through the eyes of another. I don’t need to hide under makeup for him, and yet he still makes me want to look my best every day. He makes me feel safe. Safe enough to risk marrying. Safe enough to risk going travelling with and spending every day (hour) together. Safe enough to risk telling him my deepest fears and weirdest secrets, safe enough to risk being entirely me. Safe enough to risk thinking there are no risks with him. Which, of course, there aren’t and never will be. A relationship should give you the energy to face the world, not pose as a daily challenge.

I’ve come to appreciate that passion in a relationship doesn’t stem from heated arguments, it simmers gently in the background because of a concentrated interest in each other’s wellbeing. We never pick fights. We miss each other at any given moment we’re not together. We wave to each other from across the platform when our separate trains arrive. We go for  nights out on our own. We make time for each other’s friends. We laugh hysterically every single day. We sing duets while washing the dishes. I tell him what to wear and he cooks me dinner. And when I fall asleep in the taxi, he carefully carries me to bed.

At first I found it hard to get my head around this strange new feeling of dependency. I have always made a point of living my life very much on my own terms, and he was the same. In the early stages of our relationship, we refused to accept we were a couple, despite talking every day and spending the entire weekend together for almost 6 months before we admitted defeat. Some sort of other-worldly magnetism had been irreversibly activated. What struck me most, was how very easily I said goodbye to my old life and welcomed everything about my new one with him. I couldn’t help it, everything else quickly came second to him, purely because I loved him.

I’m not saying that every relationship should look like mine. But without pressure, it should be able to turn into something effortless. Something you both understand and accept to be true. Something that, however it looks to other people, makes you happy simply because it exists without cause. Something that was just always meant to be there, completely beyond all control and reasoning. Natural, raw and self-assured.

The beauty of the whole thing, and the very reason I know it’s right, is that I didn’t sacrifice myself for him, or he for me. Combined, something clicked and we created new-improved versions of ourselves. I went from unemployed and unsure of everything to living in London and writing for a living. I dared to believe in myself, and my dreams started to come true one by one. His best friends became mine, and mine his. Our relationship brought people together, and our lives connected so seamlessly its hard to imagine how they ever existed before.

Best of all, I accidentally found him. I wasn’t searching for love, it just happened. Maybe I’m just one of the lucky ones, but mostly I want people to know that the love you see in films does exist. For everyone. If it’s possible to be that happy, it’s always worth the risk. Worth waiting for and fighting for. Have faith in chance and the everyday connections we have with the world, and, like that, love will find its way to you too.

A lesson on feeling nervous

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Why you should never let feeling nervous impact your life in a negative way, no matter how great the fear, or how real the threat.

Nervousness, like hunger or happiness, is something I feel quite naturally throughout the day. It’s ingrained not only in my personality, but in the fabric of my instinctive bodily reactions, and has been since I can remember. Speaking to somebody new, answering the phone, leading a meeting, public speaking, getting on the tube, preparing for a night out, hearing a loud noise etc, etc. I am jumpy, a worrier, a worst-case-scenario thinker. It’s an endless, annoying disposition, and one I’ve wholeheartedly come to terms with. It’s an irrational, unreasonable feeling I’ve learnt to mask and ignore. I counter my nervousness with a very distracting kind of faux confidence, a performance of the character I’d rather have that’s so much a part of my everyday life its 99% real. Hand me a glass of wine and you can make it 100%. I have learnt to combat nervous feelings by acting as though they aren’t there. And it works. If I were to submit myself to every worried thought, every increased heart rate, every quivering hand, I simply would not be able to do the things I love, or be the person I want to be. We are bigger and more powerful than the confines of our own negativity.

In light of recent events in Paris and around the world, it’s fair to say that nervousness is currently a trending theme. I am writing this simply because I want to urge people never to let nervousness creep up and steel your personality, your identity or your life, no matter what. After Friday night’s terrorist attack in Paris, I was in awe of the people standing triumphantly in the streets the following day, from near victims to news reporters. Their strong defiance and bravery in the face of true threat echoes the strength we should always ensure to apply when faced with any demon, metaphorical or not. Saying you aren’t scared and acting as though you aren’t scared is enough to prove you aren’t, no matter what the little voice in the back of your head is telling you.

Much of my personal nervousness stems from an irrational fear of the unknown. But what happens when we have a legitimate reason to feel afraid? When we’re forced to picture ourselves trying to flee London’s equivalent of The Bataclan? What happens when suddenly it seems very sensible to avoid certain things, just in case? In my opinion, the most important thing anyone can do, is to live your life as normal. Terrorism can only ever win if we act terrified. To remain calm, optimistic, peaceful and brave is to counter terrorism itself.

 Last week, prior to Friday’s events, I found myself in a couple of situations that were interesting in terms of observing other people’s nervousness. Everyday things a lot of us are familiar with – a group presentation at work and two interviews (of which I was doing the interviewing, thank god). Clear and classic signs of nervousness were obvious in all cases: shaky hands, rattled speach, talking too quickly etc. These instances really dramatised how nervous feelings often equate to how much you want something to be good. I have OCD, and therefore want everything to be perfect all the time, which is probably why I end up feeling unnecessarily nervous. It’s fair to say, therefore, that any unified feeling of nervousness around terrorism on a national scale is nothing but a universal prayer for goodness over evil. Nervous feelings, if treated properly, can provide a useful energy, like performing under pressure in a test.

My advice? Never feel ashamed to be nervous, and never translate nervousness as a fear you can’t control. Meme pas peur.

Lesson 31: giving death a voice

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What do you say to someone when they tell you a loved one has died?

What do you wish people would say to you?

If there’s one life lesson worth sharing, surely it has to be this? It’s the hardest thing to think about, let alone talk about, but how are we meant to even begin to understand something we very rarely confront?

I am not a councillor and I do not have lots of experience dealing with grief, but I do have a strong belief that words can make you feel better. The mantra and purpose of my blog is to connect people through the shared experiences we don’t always draw attention to, and I think one of hardest things about grief, is that we do not talk about dying enough. It’s a terrifying taboo not worth thinking about, so no wonder we struggle the way we do when we lose someone close. The other side of the coin, of course, is that there’s always a danger of obsessing over death. The final-ness of death can consume you if you let it. Most of us choose to brush the idea under the carpet until we really have to face it.

Earlier this year, when I started to struggle more and more with OCD, I thought about dying all the time. More precisely, I worried about dying all the time. It snuck up on me on the tube, in the shower, in the middle of the night: “one day you won’t be here… one day so and so will die… this time 2 years ago so and so was here…” and it provoked panic. Therapy quickly taught me that really, there is no point in worrying, or panicking, or dwelling, because it won’t change a thing. In many ways this is reassuring, but in others it’s the foundation of the problem. We are completely and utterly ruled by nature. We have next to no control when it comes to death, and that’s what’s so scary.

We do, however, have full control when it comes to life. So, the one true way to stare death in the face? Simply, to live the best life you can.

A full and beautiful life isn’t just happiness and rainbows; it is catastrophe, sadness, anger, heartbreak and all the extremes that make us the emotional humans we are. To live a life without the negative is not living, it is half living. All these fiery, dramatic, powerful emotions make us feel alive. They’re difficult to process and cope with, but they’re integral to the human condition, particularly where love is concerned. Perhaps this is why when we grieve, we experience every catastrophic emotion there is. The person we loved and lost casts us on a journey through what it means to live, and what it means to love. It is painful, but to experience it means you have truly lived, and that is a blessing. You were brave enough to love someone so much that you ran the risk of inflicting this much pain on yourself in return. Being prepared to die for someone is the same as being prepared to grieve for someone; and both are the bravest declarations of love you can make.

But how does knowing this help with anything? Understanding grief does little to help you through it. And in all honesty, grief never really goes. It fades, sure, but it will linger for as long as you love that person. The trick is learning to comfort yourself rather than taunt yourself with ‘what ifs’. Your mind and memory will take you on a journey through time, always dumping you in the present with a big hole in your heart. My advice to you is to fill that hole with stories. Say them out loud, write them down and share them with people who care about you. Keep that person’s voice alive. Make it your duty to protect their memory.

Talking about death is integral to coping with grief. It also encourages us to fear the unknown a little less. This is what I tell myself when thoughts of death catch me off guard – I hope it comforts you too:

“…You know that moment when you start drifting off to sleep? It’s by far the most peaceful, welcoming feeling you ever experience. Your eyes are heavy and your body happily succumbs to the beckoning quiet. You want nothing but darkness and nothing else matters…”

That is how I imagine death to feel. Death is remaining in that blissful, content couple of seconds just before we fall sleep, handing ourselves over because it feels irresistibly natural. Maybe that’s why the dead visit us in our dreams. What if, when you die, you become the essence of a feeling? And what if you can’t quite settle into being the essence of peacefulness until the people who love you feel peaceful?

Last night, I dreamt that I had my purse stolen. My Granddad, my Dad’s dad, was in my dream, trying to help me find it. Oddly enough, I woke up to a text from my Dad (who is currently is Japan) saying that he’d had his wallet stolen. It was weird enough that I had experienced the same anguish and frustration asleep as my Dad had when he was awake, but it was even weirder that my Dad’s dad was there to comfort me. This was just a strange coincidence, but I can’t help but believe that maybe there are all sorts of different energies and forces we don’t understand. Our sensitivity to the people we love is much stronger than we realise. Who’s to say that bond is broken after we die?

Death, like anything traumatic and confusing, needs a narrative, even if the narrative is just a big open space that we write ‘who knows?’ in. Because, like life, maybe death can be whatever you want it to be.

Lesson 27: turning 26

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lesson 26: going wild in Ibiza

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until I see this bunch again anyway.

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Lesson 25: believing in yourself

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

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

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

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

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

‘Something bad will happen this week.’

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

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

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

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