A lesson on comfort zones

Her Lessons

comfort zone

After numerous fancy gins at Hove’s The Gin Tub on a Saturday night (which is great by the way), my best friend and I got onto the subject of comfort zones. Your comfort zone is your expectation of what’s normal and familiar. And we decided that sometimes it’s important to shake things up, most crucially when you feel like you need your daily or weekly routine to feel safe and in control.

Most of us are all-or-nothing people. Drinking 57 G&Ts, rolling in at 3am and eating pizza in bed at the weekends? That’s cool. But the chance of being in that frame of mind during the week? Not a chance.  During the week we freak out at the prospect of less than 8 hours sleep. We eat loads of kale and we act like nice, sensible human beings. We’re ok with this dichotomy, which means it’s just embedded within our comfort zone. In reality it’s a fairly chaotic way to live, cramming in all that craziness into one or two days. Perhaps then, there’s scope to find comfort in chaos? And perhaps is just a case of embracing chaos in a way that makes sense to us.

I’ve kind of found that the more you challenge your comfort zone, the more equipped you become at dealing with change. And yet, once you go through a lot of change, it’s very easy to become dependent on the small things that form our daily routine to feel normal. Sometimes that’s a good thing. Routine helps us gain some sort of control in an ever-changing world. But when the thought of going without your routine makes you feel scared, anxious or uncomfortable, that’s probably the precise moment you need to challenge yourself to try something new.

When I went travelling last year, I gave up make-up. This was a huge deal for me. I was incredibly dependent on make-up and the daily routine of applying it, and when challenged to go without, it was liberating. There’s no doubt about, if you step outside of your comfort zone and realise nothing bad has happened, it’s empowering.

It could be the smallest things that you challenge. It’s literally just a case of going ‘fuck it’ sometimes and living that little bit more. I’ve wanted a fringe for ages but started to find the idea of cutting my hair quite daunting.  Why? Why not just do it? What’s actually the worst that could happen. Life is too bloody short to worry over things that small. After figuring out a new identity when becoming single for the first time in five years, I was clinging onto my hair to feel like me. I decided cutting my it might help me relinquish other aspects of my life and let go. I was right. Cliches normally are.

I’m sort of starting to reap the benefits of experiencing so much change over the last couple of years. Before, I would have been reluctant to do things that made me feel anxious, now I actually crave them because I know how good it can make you feel afterwards. It’s a strange feeling when you start to notice how certain life experiences are slowly molding you into something more resilient and carefree.

It kind of comes down to your interpretation of what you’re ‘meant’ to do. How things are meant to be/ feel/ look are too often determined by the limitation of society’s ‘normal’.  Once you let go of how things are supposed to happen, you open yourself up to a whole new world of opportunity. The best advice I can give around stepping outside of your comfort zone is to stay fluid. Go with whatever feels right at the time, not whatever you think is meant to feel right at the time. Your happiness and your freedom to act are both on your terms, just remember that.

Maybe you’re thinking about booking that haircut, reaching out to that person, packing something in, starting something new, getting that cool tattoo you pinned, travelling that part of the world, buying those shoes, sacking off that social event, or maybe you’re just thinking about having a fry up for dinner when you always have a salad. Consider what you have to lose and what potential there is to gain. Sometimes you just have to be brave and say yes or no, depending on which outcome is more likely to liberate you. Take control and mix things up every now and again, you’ll be surprised how much more relaxed you’ll feel next time the universe shakes things up for you.

I like to drop this in a lot, but I have OCD. And OCD LOVES comfort zones, routine and control. Which is why I deliberately try to challenge them when I can feel them taking over. Sometimes it’s the things you think are keeping you safe that are actually holding you back. Remember how unstoppable you are. Remember there’s so much more to you and your life than what you ‘normally’ do.

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3 books to read when you’re feeling lost

Her Lessons

We’ve all been there. Sometimes it’s hard to shift the feeling that your life isn’t quite going the way you planned. Staying motivated to be the best version of yourself is tricky when you start to lose sight of who you are and where you’re heading. Believe me, I know.

Maybe your mental health is running rife, or you’re going through a difficult break-up. Perhaps you’re struggling to cope with change, or things are just feeling a bit “blah” at the moment. Either way, feeling like you’ve lost your way is totally bloody normal.

I’ve discovered a truly wonderful combination of books to help pull you through. Alone, they are empowering reads, but each one kind of lifted me in a very different way. One of post-break-up self-discovery, one of normalising mental health, and one of rewriting history.

Reading them in succession definitely gave me a pretty big boost. Two are real life accounts of honest personal struggle, written in a way that make you laugh, love them and love yourself a little bit more. The other, I discovered, was almost finished and re-written totally differently before it became the absolute masterpiece that it is.

It’s amazing to feel that you’re being supported by a community of inspiring female authors who aren’t afraid to break a few rules, and who demonstrate that it’s possible to find your way again, however lost you feel.

 

Becoming, by Laura Jane Williams

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I’ve followed Laura’s blog and life on Instagram for a few years. She is a truly incredible writer and personality, and I wasn’t surprised to see she’s written a hugely successful book (now two…). ‘Becoming’ ended up really helping me through a time of confusion and upheaval. It reminded me that I’m not a huge fuck up, and that it’s important to work out how to be alone. Heartbreak bonds you to other people, but also teaches you a hell of a lot about yourself.

 

Mad Girl, by Bryony Gordon

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Just, wow. I wish I’d found this book earlier, when I was diagnosed with OCD. Bryony is so honest. So, so honest. This book comforted me, reassured me, shocked me and exposed many elements of myself to me. I am one of the ‘We’ Bryony has worked so hard to reach out to by sharing her journey. And the best thing about this book? It made me laugh out loud despite itself, despite myself. It’s a huge step in the right direction to eliminating the stigma around mental health. It’s also the perfect read when you’ve recently committed confused acts of self-destruction.

 

The Power, by Naomi Alderman

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Dystopian novels are kind of my favourite. They serve as a reminder of the resilience of humanity when pushed to the edge of existence. Despite the ominous nature of this book, reading it kind of reignited something in my mind – a kind of hopefulness in the face of change. I felt compelled to draw on newfound inner strength in the face of adversity. It’s also important to escape into a fantasy world when your own thoughts are giving you grief.

A lesson on self healing

Her Lessons, Her Travels

Her Review: Rustic Retreats Off-Grid Yoga

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Way back in January, I made some serious plans for this year. And I mean serious. I wasn’t just planning the odd city break and arranging to see friends, I was planning the biggest event of my life. I’ve replayed that wedding so many times that I sort of have to remind myself it never actually happened. It’s true what they say, it’s the image of what you think is supposed to happen that eats away at you most. 

So if you’d told me back then that the highlight of my summer would be spent surrounded by beautiful strangers in southern Spain, I probably would have laughed in your face. If you told me the original holidays I had booked would happen without me, I would have stared at you. If you told me that my life would have changed beyond all recognition, I would have felt bloody scared. 

The truth is, no one has any idea what’s around the corner. Highs and lows greet us as naturally as every changing season. It’s supposed to happen that way. So after a particularly low period, my week at Rustic Retreats was a hugely welcoming, life-altering high. A realisation that actually, there’s nothing to be scared of. All you have to do is trust.

I wanted to get away in every possible sense. My mind was becoming dangerously overcrowded and I could feel myself getting sucked into a spiral of negative thoughts. My body ached. My energy levels were low. I was physically and emotionally done. 

I’d never travelled alone before. The idea of it made the ends of my toes feel numb. I suppose that’s how I knew it was something I had to do. I needed to remind myself that I’m capable of more than I give myself credit for, and take on a mini challenge that forced me to spend less time in the darkness. 

I considered just lying on a beach by myself for a week but concluded I would slowly but surely go mad without any kind of structure. I looked at yoga retreats in Bali, Nepal and India but couldn’t justify the big spend. And then I found it. I found my sanctuary. 

How to describe Rustic Retreats? 

It felt like home. Serenely beautiful and yet warmly familiar. Nestled in the Sierra Espuña Mountains of rural southern Spain, the dramatic rocky backdrop creates a stunning contrast against the lush lemon, lime and pomegranate trees. 

Completely back to nature. Sounds of cicadas, frogs, bees and rustling bamboo trees. This is where we slept. Beneath the biggest, brightest stretch of stars EVER. 

There are enough big canvas tents to house groups of around 10 people, each equipped with two or tree proper beds, a table lamp, plug sockets, comfy blankets, cushions and rugs. I was delighted to find we’d been give a hot water bottle each (so cute), which soon became a part of our bedtime routine. That and cups of herbal tea or a welcome glass of organic red wine. 

The retreat is off-grid. Totally solar powered, complete with outdoor shower and toilet. I was amazed to find the swimming pool to be insanely clean, and the shower water hot. Elliot, the wonderful creator and host, has built something remarkable. I felt privileged to have spent a week marvelling at his work, as well as his immense hard work in running the place. 

God I haven’t even got onto the two best parts yet! 

First is the food. Elliot is a chef by trade. And a bloody amazing one at that. Vegan and vegetarian. simple and delicious. All grown and sourced locally. Every healthy meal felt like a feast. It was actual heaven. Have a little look at their sample menu...

And the yoga. Wow. Now, I really enjoy yoga, but I am by no means an expert. At first I worried that my lack of expertise would hold me back, but the retreat is tailored to all levels, and everyone is encouraged to just give it a go. 

Our days looked something like this…

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We were lucky enough to have the truly inspiring Bec Black as our yoga teacher for the week. As she explains beautifully over at balancebec.com, Bec’s philosophy is one of balance and synchronicity, and it radiates within her practice and persona in every way. One minute we felt truly and deeply connected with the earth and the flow of our class, and the next we were just laughing at ourselves. It was the right blend of serious and fun. And the harmony of our group was perfect. I couldn’t have asked to spend the retreat with more genuine, lovely, interesting people. 

I was expecting to spend my week soul searching and looking for answers within. And although I did do this, I’m just so happy that I was able to step outside of myself too. Outside of my comfort zone, outside of my thoughts. There is just so much more to life than our own personal  struggles, and sometimes watching the sunset over a valley is all you need to remind yourself of that. I feel more in tune with my body and my thoughts, simply because I gave them the chance to have a little freedom and room to move. It was magical. 

Does Rustic Retreats sound pretty ideal to you, too? 6-night retreats start from €450, including accommodation, food and classes. 

A lesson on new beginnings 

Her Lessons

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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.

Her Lessons

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

A lesson on confidence, health and hungover Sundays

Her Lessons


How introverted are you? Enough to notice visible effects on your confidence? Your health? Your drinking habits?

If like me, you’re the secret kind-of introvert (going above and beyond every single day to come across as anything but shy because you annoy yourself so much), you’ll appreciate the, erm, interesting challenge I faced recently. I was with almost-strangers (albeit incredibly lovely almost-strangers), non-stop, away for two days on a work training programme. Endless networking, dinner, a hotel, presentations, name badges, the works. Hell, basically.

As I stood up to do a presentation with my new group of mates, I couldn’t help but notice the subtle shaky hands of pretty much everyone in my group, despite their confident, assuring voices. I wondered just how many people in the room felt exactly like me. Shy on the inside, determined to hide it, drained by the unnatural performance. I felt so bloody tired the whole time and I knew exactly why. Introverts recharge their energy levels by being alone, while extroverts tend to feel energised by socialising. So in a group of 25 people, it was probable that half of us were becoming more and more fatigued, while the other half were actually gaining energy. There was no ‘alone time’, other than peeing and sleeping. I must have gone to the bathroom at least 10 times just to get it together. Which can’t be right.

I wonder if people persons (people people?) are more likely to succeed in life than people who prefer their own company. Actually, I don’t wonder. It seems pretty obvious. If you live by ‘the system’, which in my experience means working in a busy, open-plan office, competing to have your voice heard in meetings and constantly networking,  then anyone with introverted tendencies is going to have to put on a self-sacrificing show if they want to do well. You could say I’m in the wrong job, but I’d say writing is pretty spot on for an introvert. 

What I’m getting at is that over the last three months (exactly three months since I started my new job) I have felt more tired, drained, wiped out, sapped of energy, dead practically, than I can last remember. My job is challenging and interesting, sometimes I work late and often I work through lunch, but it’s nowhere near as taxing as the results seem to suggest. Not the job itself anyway. I’ve kind of realised that it’s actually the whole ‘wearing a different hat at work’ thing that’s done it. Thanks to years of repressing my shyness, my faux confidence comes as naturally to me as my desire to be alone. But when it’s switched on 24/7, my poor introvert-style energy levels start to wear thin.

Then the weekend comes and I treat my self to a teeny bit of wine. And sometimes dancing because I have forgotten how tired I am.

Hungover Sundays.

And the cycle of tiredness continues.

It has to stop.

Ok, so my introverted nature isn’t directly damaging my health, but my extreme fatigue and desire to drink away my stresses isn’t exactly a healthy bi-product. I’m in no way inclined to take on a more reserved personality at work (or ever), so I’m somewhat forced to address this whole drinking thing. My sister has been training to run a half marathon and says she can notice a difference in her performance after just one drink the night before. This scares me a bit.

Let me make this clear, I’m by no means an alcoholic. I only really drink at the weekends. But I will hold my hands up and say I’m pretty alcohol dependent. I would really struggle to give it up. I like drinking. A lot.

What I’ve stopped enjoying is devoting every other Sunday to my sofa.

Another product of having demanding job is the horrifying realisation of how precious, rare and easily wasted your free time is. Precious enough to have a break from blogging (it’s been a while, I know), but also precious enough to consider sacking off the pub in favour of something more rewarding.

Or maybe I’m just getting old.

All I know is that being an introvert has never held me back, but being hungover certainly has (again see lack of blogging).

Believe it or not, you have far more control over your personality than you might think. Throw a hefty hangover into the mix and you’re just putting another barrier between you and the person you really want to be. Drinking might help you to feel confident and stress-free at the time, but it shits all over the long game.

Blogger, Steph Style, a good friend of mine, recently wrote a really insightful post about how she overcame her shyness. She’s one of the most productive, time efficient, go-getters I know. She’s also naturally shy on the inside like me (and so many of us) yet never ever comes across as anything but enthusiastic and outgoing. She works in PR. Not your average job for an introvert. Because really, in more ways than you might dare to believe, your life is your choice. Read her post here.

And here are my 5 tips on being confident for introverts:

1. Ignore the voice in your head that automatically says ‘no’ every time someone asks if you’d like to meet up. Give ‘yes’ a chance and you’ll build up evidence for why it’s usually a good idea. It becomes easier every time, trust me. Nobody looks back and thinks ‘I’m so glad I said no to all those fun things I was invited to.’

2. Stop overthinking what to say in a group conversation. Nobody analyses your words like you do. Better to put your thoughts out there than sit there all quiet. Concentrate on listening to what other people are saying rather than indulging that internal monologue in your head that’s louder than the interesting people around you.

3. Don’t play with your hair, bite your lip, fidget in your seat or hunch your back. Stand tall, make eye contact with people, say hello to everyone you vaguely know, ask questions, be conscious of speaking a fraction louder of what comes naturally.

4. Make an effort with your appearance. When you know you look your best, confidence becomes a lot more accessible.

5. Know when you’ve reached your limited for socialising. Take a moment, an evening or a weekend to recharge your batteries.

And recharge is exactly what I’m taking the time to do right now. You can only push your mind and your body so far. Recognising when it’s time to have a few weeks off drinking, or some time to yourself to just relax is incredibly important for your health.

You’ll be amazed how much more productive you can be.

Why skydiving cured my anxiety

Her Lessons, Her Travels

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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.

Scuba diving: a lesson on facing your fears

Her Travels

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If you’ve been following my blog from the beginning, you might know that last year, I received cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) for anxiety triggered by OCD. I basically couldn’t control the negative intrusive thoughts coming into my head and it escalated to the point that each day I convinced myself I would be burgled, pushed in front of a train, stabbed in the street etc, purely because the image in my head was so real and relentless.It was such a horrible phase and I’m so glad therapy made it a relatively short one. I never used to be the sort of person who was scared to take risks. I have always been fairly happy-go-lucky and carefree. I had moments last year where I was too scared and anxious to leave the house for fear of something terrible happening, and I never, ever want to feel like that again. I desperately want my experience, and the fact CBT worked so well for me, to help other people going through a similar thing.

Anxiety disorders are so common and absolutely nothing to be ashamed of. It can 100% be controlled with time and patience. It will always be a quiet battle at the back of my mind, but learning to scuba dive was the final push for me to face my fears.

I have always dreamed of travelling. I had planned to travel by a certain age, and that age was fast approaching. How was I suppose to head off around the world and face the unknown when I felt scared every time the doorbell went? Enough was enough. I wasn’t going to let anything get in the way of a dream I had held close for so long, so I set about facing my fears one step at a time. It started with learning to ignore my own thoughts, which is pretty difficult when you feel like your negative thoughts are the only thing keeping you safe, and it finished with deliberately doing things I am terrified of. The biggest so far? Scuba diving. I decided to do my open-water course in Koh Lanta a week into my travels.

For those of you who have never been scuba diving, there’s a fair bit of theory behind it you have to learn for your own safety, with an exam at the end of the 4-day course. I was basically given a massive book that told me in every other paragraph how I’d get decompression sickness, drown or sink if I did something wrong. Or that my lungs would explode if I accidentally ascended too quickly. Throw in the fear of being eaten by a shark or stung by poisonous fish and there’s quite a lot to think about whilst your submerged 18m under water. There’s also the fear of looking ridiculous in your wetsuit, or forgetting how to prepare the equipment. Throughout the course however, my biggest fear became my greatest ally; the fear of embarrassing myself. I was diving with strangers, and the idea of them knowing how I felt inside was even more terrifying than all the above, which actually worked in my favour because I had no choice but to just get on with it.

On my first proper ‘fun dive’ a giant sea turtle swam gracefully past me, amongst hundreds of exotic fish, and I had a quiet moment of celebration to myself. It had all been worth it. Because, the truth is, you just aren’t living if you don’t take risks, and you will never see the truly beautiful if you don’t make sacrifices somewhere along the way. It won’t be easy, but that’s what makes it worth it. I hope anyone reading this can have the courage to believe in themselves just a fraction more, because if I can learn to scuba dive, you can face your fears too.

Dive & Relax, Koh Lanta

Learning to dive wasn’t a spontaneous decision. It was something I’d been desperate to learn as a teenager, and something that was edging further and further away from me the more I thought about the risks. I would have been so annoyed with myself if I hadn’t taken the opportunity to do it whilst in Koh Lanta, which has a great reputation for dive centres.

‘Dive & Relax’, based on Long Beach, was perfect for me. They promise small groups and a personal service. You are effectively trusting your instructor with your life in some ways so it’s important to learn somewhere quiet if you’re a bit nervous. The 4-day course cost around £300, which included a day of theory, a shore dive, 4 boat dives, an exam, lunch and drinks.

If you would like any more information on CBT or scuba diving (or anything else I’ve covered) please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

Lesson 18: feeling normal

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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 8: controlling anxiety

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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.

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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.