A lesson on loss and gain

They say that grieving the loss of someone who’s still alive is one of the most difficult things you can go through. Death, however cruel, is beyond the realms of human control. It gives life meaning. But to lose person who’s still alive? That’s hard to get your head around.

I’ve experienced this in so many different ways this year that I don’t really know where to start. One minute I knew myself – I knew my life and my friends – and I relied on these things, trusting them to be true. And then new truths started to unveil themselves. The real, hard shit you go through reveals painful information about the foundations of your whole life. Mainly that unconditional love, understanding and forgiveness are precious and rare.

What happens when the things you’ve lost were as a direct result of your own actions? Because that creates a different type of pain and grief altogether. Let’s think of it in simple terms. Imagine your partner worked hard and saved up to buy you a really expensive watch, the watch you’ve always wanted, to signify how much they think you deserve. You go out one night, you get really drunk, you wake up and the watch is gone. You feel like maybe you didn’t deserve it after all, but deep down you know you still do, simply because you feel so sad and guilty about the fact it’s gone. It’s your fault, but it still hurts. In fact, it hurts more because you beat yourself up about it over and over. Loss is loss, in whichever way it materialises, whoever’s at fault.

In all honestly, I haven’t really recognised myself in many of the things I’ve done this year. I’ve made some pretty bad decisions. But at the same time, everything I’ve learned and been exposed to has become incredibly precious to me. I’ve shed a lot of skin in the form of bad habits, bad choices, bad influences and bad company.

This year I have felt my most human. Vulnerable is an understatement. And in many ways I’m kind of starting from scratch. There’s a belief that you feel able to interact more deeply with the universe during the aftermath of loss. When you’re hurting you’re changing. And when you embrace change you grow. I can’t tell you how much I feel this right now. It sounds a bit out there, but I honestly feel like the universe will always be on your side if you accept and internalise the lessons it’s trying to teach you. 

A few nights ago, I dreamt of fire in a way that apparently signifies transformation and starting over. I woke up in pain with a bleeding nose. The intensity of what I’m going through right now is like nothing I’ve ever felt before. The only way to move forward is to embrace and acknowledge every emotion, and have faith that the negative feelings have the potential to manifest as positive lessons.

So despite the fact that I feel detached from who I was, I’ve also felt a huge shift and a sense of stepping into a better version of myself. Something big happened and it shook my whole world. I’ve revaluated everything I care about, everything I believe in, realigned my truths, and with time and hard work I’m starting to feel more in tune with who I actually am.

It’s been a long road. It still is. So how to start turning loss into gain?

Mindfulness sits side by side with gratefulness. And let me tell you, learning to feel grateful for the bad things you’ve done, or the bad things that have happened to you, and the things you’ve lost as a result, will truly bring you freedom. You have that power inside you. You determine the interpretation of your life experiences, both good and bad.

And better still, once you’ve found peace with those experiences, you’ll also be able to use them to help others. One person’s loss will always be another’s again. Energy cannot be destroyed, only passed around, so it’s inevitable that your negative experience can be converted into something positive and just as strong.

I tried to replace emotional loss with emotional gain too quickly. It’s too confusing to feel conflicting emotions at the same time, or to mask one strong emotion with an opposing strong emotion. I realised that I needed to make a statement of physical gain instead, while dealing with the emotional loss. I asked myself, right now, what I’d like to gain more than anything. The answer? Independence and stability. How to make it physical? I bought a flat in London.

Next time you find yourself becoming fixated on something you’ve lost, try to identify something positive that you might gain. Even if it’s just that it made you realise how much you fucking loved that thing. It’s really hard sometimes, I know. This year, I’m grieving the loss of an almost-life, but in doing so I have to believe that I’ll gain something bigger and better.

It’s important to dwell on loss for a while and allow yourself time to grieve for something you love. But it’s just important to pick yourself up and move on, stronger, braver and wiser than ever.

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Lessons from 2016? Follow your heart.

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This time last year I was at an elephant sanctuary just south of Bangkok (WFFT), as far away from home as I’d ever been and with six whole months of barely planned travel ahead of me. Utter bliss.

Months before however, I’d gone through a strange, unexpected and terrifying phase of being scared of pretty much everything. OCD, they said. Which actually made perfect sense.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy teaches you how to realign your thoughts, but travel puts that theory into practice. The most important lesson I’ve learnt this year? To just bloody go with it. Like I always used to. To let go. To take things as they come. To trust in the order of events. Some things are beyond all control, and I’m so grateful I’ve learnt to believe that again.

Anyway, comfort zone well and truly out of sight, my dreams quite literally started to come true. The less I worried about all the stuff I couldn’t control, the happier and calmer I felt. My fears melted away one by one. With every new challenge I set, from white water rafting to trusting in perfect strangers, I remembered that risk-taking and relishing in fear makes you feel alive. Not checking the front door is locked 15 times a day. I went from hiding in my basement flat in Brixton to scuba diving with giant manta rays in Komodo.

I made myself vulnerable to the world, and it gave me everything I could wish for in return. Powdery beaches and crystal-blue water, magical sunsets, breathtaking views, powerful waterfalls, deliciously exciting food, new friendships, and being proposed to under the stars by the person I love. I swore to myself that I would never fear the world again.

And then halfway through our trip, I received the worst phone call of my life. My wonderful Grandad died. With hardly a week’s warning. We flew home for the funeral. Devastated in every way possible.

I could easily have reverted back to old habits. Blamed my grandad’s death on my “reckless” trust in life. When you have OCD you honestly feel like your thoughts have the power to affect reality. Like, if I’d just worried a little bit more, maybe nothing bad would have happened. But without the carefree living, none of the good stuff would have happened either. So I forced myself to carry on in my new-found frame of mind. To find the light in the dark. Life is nothing but a series of highs and lows, after all. You can’t have one without the other.

Whether it’s Trump, Brexit, the tragedies in Aleppo or the loss of yet another talented artist. 2016, like every year, has had its lows. I urge you to counter these awful things by being as actively positive as you can be, whether it’s persuing your goals, volunteering your time or loving someone unconditionally. Better yourself. That is the only way we can ever hope for a better world.

Flying back to Asia after the funeral was perhaps an even bigger turning point than travelling in the first place. Having faith in the face of heartbreak and grief is really bloody hard, but it will change how you feel about everything. Nothing can spur you on more than your own bravery, and nothing will reward you more. 2016, I will never forget you.

 

 

 

 

 

How would you spend 3 weeks in South East Asia?

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I don’t know about you, but before I went away, 3 weeks used to pass me by like that. Blink and it’s gone, with not an awful lot to show for it. Numerous hangovers and some new shoes from Zara. My break from the clock-distorting rat race has thankfully taught me this: I was wishing time away, and not really considering what I spent it on. Never, ever do this. Time is our greatest asset. The more we have the better. I’ve had the absolute priviledge of doing something amazing for the first half of this year. I turned all my money into time. 6 months away from my life. The result? I know full well how much you can do with your time if you spend it wisely.

Now, there’s the small fact that most of us have a job. This takes up a great deal of our time, I know. I really do. I might have been unemployed since January, but once upon a time I had a real job. Time and your weekends are literally the most precious things in the world. Which is why I struggle now more than ever to understand the relationship we have with our phones, the TV and the internet. Myself included. If time is so valuable, why do we spend hours scrolling through Instagram and watching ridiculous videos of things that may or may not be real pandas? We might not be able to hike to the nearest waterfall, but surely there’s still a whole world out there to explore? Even if it’s just a stroll along the river and dinner with friends.

So anyway, as you know, our time away was cut short when we sadly flew home for my dear Grandad’s funeral in May. Our weeks away suddenly felt finite and we realised that if we flew back to Asia (which we did) we could only afford to go for just under 4 weeks. Having already travelled for 4 months, we knew full well just how much you could see of the world in that short space of time, so we repacked our backpacks and flew back to Bangkok.

I’ve written this post to demonstrate how much you can see and do if you really put your mind to it, and to show that it is possible to ‘go travelling’ for less than a month, which is much more achievable for most people. Last year Joe and I spent close to £2000 on a week in Ibiza. This year we spent roughly the same on 10 days in Northern Thailand and 2 weeks in Vietnam. Here are some of the most memorable things we were able to do in that time.

Watch the sunset over Pai’s famous canyon

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After a night in Bangkok, we flew to Chiang Mai and then took the 3 hour bus to Pai. A notoriously chilled out, tourist-friendly town in the mountains. The scenery is incredibly beautiful and it was so easy to get back into the swing of things.

Look after the elephants

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After our day with Wildlife Friends Foundation at the very start of our travels, I was determined to visit a similar elephant sanctuary in Chiang Mai, one that stands head and shoulders above the rest in terms of actually caring for the animals. So many of the parks claim to be rehabilitation centres when in fact they still let ignorant tourists ride on the elephants’ backs, scaring them into submission. Elephant Nature Park provides a safe haven for rescued elephants, and does a huge amount to educate tourists on the painful and complicated history of elephant tourism in Thailand, particularly when it comes to elephant riding, trekking, logging and shows. None of which are OK.

Learn to cook Thai food

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I’m so glad I did a cookery class in Chiang Mai. I was worried it would be too complicated for someone as useless in the kitchen as me, but it was so easy and chilled. ‘A’, the teacher at Thai Orchid Cookery School made it really fun. We cooked a load of Thai classics: spring rolls, pad Thai, green curry, yellow curry, sweet and sour vegetables and tom yam soup. AND we got to eat everything we cooked.

Visit lots and lots of temples

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Chiang Mai is absolutely surrounded by temples. You can’t walk down the street without spying a looming golden Buddha, turret or passageway.

Drink cold beer after dark

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The thing about it being 40°C in the day is that it turns you into an even bigger night person. I’m not ashamed to say that my favourite part of the day was generally sundown with a beer in my hand.

Spend the night somewhere beautiful

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A must-do trip from Vietnam’s capital Hanoi, we stayed on a boat at Halong Bay with Viola Cruise. We had a really nice room, amazing food, trips to the floating village, beach and cave, lovely company on the boat and the most incredible view as far as the eye can see.

Cycle through rice fields

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You’re never far from scenic rice fields in Vietnam, and some tours include a spot of cycling if you’re after a dramatic backdrop for photos. We went to Ninh Binh from Hanoi, which took about 3 hours by bus.

Always take the scenic route, by boat

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Also in Nihn Binh are local people wanting to take you down the river in their boats. The scenery is astounding and it was a lovely tranquil ride but they did demand more money from us after we’d already paid so be prepared.

Help local students with their English

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We were approached by a group of students wanting to practice their English, but there are opportunities to volunteer with young adults if you’d like to lend a hand during your trip. These particular students study in Da Nang and have a drop in centre…

Find the best views

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Never exactly hard when you’re somewhere as scenic as Vietnam, but sometimes finding natural beauty when you’re staying in the heart of the city is hard. Bach Ma National Park is under 2 hours drive from Hue, and the view from the top of the 300 ft waterfall was one of the best I’ve ever seen.

Trek through the jungle

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Whilst at Bach Ma we also trekked through the jungle, ticking off 5 different waterfalls, each filling a crystal-blue pool. The national park is 2km up in the mountains, so the air feels cool and clean  after the stifling heat and stickiness of the city.

Get caught in thunder storms

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Despite visiting during the start of the rainy season, we only saw a couple of storms. One of them trapped us under the bamboo roof of a beach bar and the other soaked us on an hour-long motorbike ride back down a mountain.

Explore ancient ruins

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We originally wanted to spend a week in Cambodia as I’ve always wanted to see Angkor Wat, so Vietnam’s Mỹ Sơn was a bit of a substitute. Nowhere near the same scale, but a really interesting architectural site none the less, particularly because it was bombed in the war.

Visit a local village

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On the way to Mỹ Sơn from Hoi An there’s a small local pottery village overlooking the mountains. Stop for a coffee and test your skills on the pottery wheel. I was terrible.

Buy a custom-made suit

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We went to a wedding in the Cotswolds the day after we flew home, so it made sense for Joe to get a custom-made suit in Vietnam. Hoi An is famous for it, and it’s shockingly cheap. Joe’s was made by Yaly, and I was so impressed. You choose the colour, fit, fabric etc and they do the rest. £120 for a high-quality suit and shirt.

Eat incredible Vietnamese food

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In Hoi An, we stayed with a Vietnamese family who had just opened their homestay, Flame Flowers. We were their guinea pigs, and every day they served us a different Vietnamese breakfast to see what we liked best, usually consisting of coffee, noodle soup, green leafy vegetables and fruit. It was honestly some of the freshest, tastiest food I’ve ever eaten, along with the Pho, Com Ga, Bun Bo and Bahn Mi street food of course.

Fall in love with a city

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My favourite place in Vietnam, Hoi An is a beautiful, historial, ancient town. Every road is lined with flowering trees and decorated with lights and paper lanterns. French architecture in pretty pastel shades line the walking streets, with plenty of arty cafes, shops and restaurants overlooking the river. It is very touristy though, so we really enjoyed staying a short bicycle ride away from town with the locals.

End on a high

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Ho Chi Minh is either where you’ll start or where you’ll end up if you visit Vietnam. We ended our trip here in the chaos. Once you get over the insane traffic and noise you’ll notice the shopping, museums, bars and restaurants. We went to Pasteur Street Brewery for beer tasting, Hum Vegetarian Restaurant for a lovely last dinner, and Snuffbox Lounge 1920s themed bar for the best gin cocktails.

Whether you’re planning a trip of your own or thinking of ways to make this summer count, I hope this post puts into perspective just how long 3 weeks can be! Making every day count isn’t easy when you’re faced with an all-consuming job and daily routine, so remember to make time for the moments that will stay with you long after.

10 common fears travelling helped me conquer

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

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

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

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1. The fear of flying

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

2. The fear of losing things

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

3. The fear of being attacked

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

4. The fear of embarrassing yourself in front of strangers

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

5. The fear of not looking your best

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

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6. The fear of eating contaminated food

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

7. The fear of being in a fatal accident

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

8. The fear of not being in control

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

9. The fear of heights

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

10. The fear of things going wrong

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

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

Giving up makeup (more or less)

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Four months ago, the night before my flight to Bangkok, my sister helpfully went through my backpack in an attempt to reduce its embarrassing size. I’m proud to say that I agreed to leave a pile of clothes behind, but after bulk-buying my favourite beauty products for my six-month trip, I struggled with the idea of being without my lifeline: foundation.

“You’re taking two full bottles of foundation, four pressed powders and how many bronzers?!” she demanded in confusion.

“I don’t want to run out..”

Actually, I was terrified of not being able to buy my favourite and trusted brands abroad. It hadn’t really occurred to me in a serious way that I might turn my back on them altogether. That I would finally let my skin properly breathe for the first time in years. That my skin would behave normally of it’s own accord, without smoke and mirrors, if only I’d just let it.

A while back, I wrote a post about feeling comfortable in your own skin, detailing my experience with acne as a teenager and the affect it can have on your confidence. In the past, I’ve put a huge amount of pressure on myself to look ‘perfect’ all the time. I hoped from the bottom of my heart that travelling would help me confront my dependency on makeup, but in all honesty I never really believed I would be happy looking at barefaced me in the mirror. Now it feels weird to think that I never used to leave the house without a thick layer of high-coverage foundation. No wonder my skin was so unpredictable.

OLD MAKEUP ROUTINE:

Primer > concealer > foundation > pressed powder > loose powder > bronzer > blusher > various eye shadows > eye liner> mascara > eyebrow pencil > lipstick

Which is a fairly typical daily concoction for a lot of us. The result? Your face purposefully looking completely different. I’ve only recently come to realise what a shame that is. That so many of us want to look nothing like ourselves. I’m not sure at what point I started wanting to hide my normal face, but it was a very long time ago. It wasn’t enough that my boyfriend professed how ‘beautiful’ I am without makeup. Why wouldn’t I want to look better if I could? Even when it meant getting up at the crack of dawn to apply my face, spending a small fortune on products and feeling strange and ugly without them. Beauty is an addiction. So many of us have become obsessed with our own faces. Only now I’ve taken a step away from my old life do I realise how much time I was spending trying to make myself look ‘right’. And for who? Do people really notice or care if you’re not wearing a full face of makeup?

Those of us who wear makeup every day tend to have a fairly psychological relationship with it. Before, if I didn’t wear makeup, I didn’t feel like me. I felt as though I was being lazy, akin with not bothering to get dressed. Which, when you think about it, is completely ridiculous. It’s just my face. It’s nice to look nice, and I will always make an effort with my appearance, but nobody should feel like a slave to their makeup bags every single day. Nobody should feel less like themselves just because they’re not wearing mascara. It’s hard to think that way when you wear makeup every day. Which is why I’m so glad I’ve learned to like my face again.

So how did I do it?

Quite simply, makeup and travelling do not sit well together. You live out of one bag, you’re always on the go, you’re active, you have to be practical, you’re often sweating, swimming or in the rain, and there are 100 more interesting things to be looking at than your face in the mirror. I am so very glad that travelling forced me to stop feeling so dependent on makeup, I just wished I’d realised all this at home years ago.

I reluctantly gave up foundation first. Thailand’s humidity made sure of that. At first I felt hard-done by, moaning that even my expensive foundation was melting right off my face. Pretty soon however, it became a blessing. My morning routine was so much quicker. I felt self-conscious about spots and dark circles under my eyes, but my skin soon responded by being less shiny. I persevered despite feeling uncomfortable and pretty soon I wondered why I’d ever worn foundation at all. My skin could breathe.

Next came mascara. The longer I went without wearing mascara, the more I came to like my natural eye shape and long blonde eye lashes.  A few weeks in and I was going about each day without any eye makeup at all and feeling completely normal. It sounds ridiculous, but I honestly never thought I would be able to do that. I’m actually quite ashamed at how much I used to hide my face. There’s nothing wrong with it. I just convinced myself there was thanks to an ongoing obsession with thinking I should be looking a certain way, to please nobody but myself.

CURRENT MAKEUP ROUTINE:

primer > powder > eyebrow pencil

Giving up makeup is like giving up any addiction; you absolutely have to be in the right frame of mind to be able to do it, and you’ll surprise yourself by how much better you feel without it. You’ll wonder why you ever depended on it so much and how it could possibly form such a big part of your identity, your confidence, your ability to go about your day.

I can’t help but think that with the new obsession with contouring, beauty filters and lip fillers, we’re not used to seeing natural faces any more. If we all give in, we’re in danger of all morphing into the same person. I’m not sure who she is, or why so many of us want to look like her, but she exists as nothing but a symbol of our insecurities. I don’t want to be her, I want to be me. Real beauty stems from having the confidence to be yourself. Makeup is a wonderful confidence-boosting tool, and one I could never turn my back on entirely, but there is simply more to life than wanting to look perfect all the time.

I still want to wear makeup and will never be the kind of girl who rolls into work barefaced. It’s polite to make an effort. I also love being part of a generation that has access to so many life-changing beauty products. It’s more that now the idea of having to go without them from time to time doesn’t completely terrify me. Makeup gives us an element of control over how we wish to look, but choosing to forego it sometimes surely gives us the most control of all?

Lost luggage and learning to let go

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One month into our travels, my absolute worst nightmare came true. After a 13-hour journey from Indonesia to New Zealand, we were the last people waiting at the luggage belt. That sinking feeling surged deeper and deeper into my stomach until airport staff told us all the bags had been unloaded. Mine wasn’t on the flight.

I can imagine this would be pretty upsetting for most people. Inconvenient at the very least. But for someone with OCD, who constantly fears the worst, it is absolute hell on Earth to have your fearful thoughts come to life. The gates of possibility to all the other terrible things that could happen are suddenly flung open. It is basically a horrible confirmation that you were right to worry, which is problematic when worrying doesn’t solve a thing. My mind went into overdrive trying to remember all the remain-calm techniques I’d learned in therapy, as I raced to the baggage claim desk.

‘Sue’ from Jet Star (don’t ever fly with Jet Star) was the most miserable cow in the whole of New Zealand. The conversation went something like this.

‘Do you know where my bag might be? Here’s the tag and flight number.’

‘No. Maybe it missed the connection. Leave your details and we’ll contact you tomorrow.’

‘I’m not leaving until you’ve traced my bag. That bag is my whole life right now.’

‘I’m calling security.’

And she called security on me, whilst I was having a panic attack. Fortunately the policeman got the wrong end of the stick and thought she had called him to help me. We eventually convinced her to contact Sydney airport some 3 hours later, who claimed my bag had got stuck on the luggage belt and should be with me in 24 hours. 24 hours of wearing Joe’s vests and pants was unappealing but do-able, so I forced myself to put the whole thing to one side.

The next day the airport called to say they hadn’t received confirmation from Sydney the bag had been found. It was dubbed ‘lost’. I felt numb, but I refused to panic. I calmly made a list of everything that was lost, had a little cry and carried on with the day. We drank bottles of beer in the sunshine and wandered up and down Queen Street buying a few bits. Later in the afternoon, Joe managed to track my bag online. The status had changed from ‘tracing’ to ‘arrived at airport’ and the relief of waking up from a bad dream swept through me. They had got it wrong. My bag was couriered to our hostel at 10pm that evening.

What struck me most about losing my bag was how quickly I accepted losing the clothes. It was the sentimental things that really upset me. The letters and photographs, the tickets I’d kept, the shells I’d collected, the notes I’d written. I was grief-stricken at the thought of losing those. But the clothes, which a month ago I would have held just as closely, I was ok with. And weirdly enough, the experience has made me feel less anxious in general. Because, basically, bad stuff is going to happen, and there is literally nothing you can do about it. If you want to be ok with it, you will be. Life goes on. And, of course, most of the time it could be a whole lot worse. Sometimes it’s important to give ourselves a shake and recognise just how fortunate we are that fairly trivial matters can seem so significant.

One of my aims of travelling is to feel less dependent on material things. And, although I still have quite a long way to go, this experience has brought me one step closer to where I want to be mentally. So actually, it turned out to be a positive thing. You never really know what’s good or bad until you allow time to take its course. It’s hard to put that into practice but it’s so important to remember.

I hope reading this encourages you to be patient if things aren’t going your way at the moment. If you are learning and growing, you are winning. It’s as simple as that.

A lesson on keeping a clear head

Plane to Bangkok

In October, when I proudly announced that I’d be going travelling at Christmas, my plan was to document the build-up. The build-up is just intermittent butterflies and last-minute packing for some, but for me it was the strange and stressful journey I guessed it would be. So strange, that I haven’t attempted to write about it until now. ‘Now’ being on board a plane to Bangkok. I don’t think it’s really felt real until today, and I went through of phase of wishing maybe it wasn’t. Fortunately, I ignored the voice that told me I wasn’t quite up to it, because I know it only gets a look in when I haven’t slept or rested enough. For that reason I wanted to do a post about overdoing it. And I don’t mean overdoing it in terms of too much Christmas pudding, I mean by simply doing too much.

Understandably, Christmas is often the hardest time to rest. You have this image of yourself curled up on the sofa with a blanket and a box of Quality Streets all week, when in reality you’re still shopping on Christmas Eve, you’re constantly keeping an eye out for elderly relatives needing the toilet, and trying to visit as many people as possible in the name of Christmas cheer. Throw in a few family tiffs and you end up either drunk as a dodo or have the hangover from hell. I for one, did not feel particularly rested over Christmas, although I did feel more content in some ways. I wouldn’t have wanted to miss a moment with my friends and family, but one day of nothing to yourself is something you’re entitled to no matter the time of year. I guess I felt that I’d have all the time in the world to rest in Thailand, but then I thought that about Christmas, too. When is it supposed to end?

I was under no illusion that I’d be super busy between the day I handed my notice in at work until the day I flew to the Far East 10 weeks later, but looking back now, I can’t actually believe how much I packed in. I wanted to go away with no regrets, so I said yes to everything. Right now, I can’t help but wish I’d reserved a few days to gather my thoughts. I have a friend who schedules ‘rest days’ into her diary, which I have so much respect for. After a point, it becomes impossible to enjoy anything if you haven’t first had a moment to yourself to catch-up and compose yourself. I mean, you should see my bloody toenails right now. I didn’t even give myself 10 minutes to paint my toenails! Over the last 10 weeks, I have flitted from one thing to the next without pausing to think. Typically, it all kind of hit me when I was skiing down a mountain in Austria a couple of weeks ago.

My dad has always wanted to go skiing, so for his 50th birthday, we found a pre-season deal and flew out to Austria the day after I left my job. A skiing holiday can be pretty intense. I knew in my mind and body that all I really needed was rest, but I was determined to hold out for just a few more days. Moving out of our flat, commuting and working my notice period in amongst the standard stresses of Christmas turned out to be more emotionally and physically draining than I had hoped. Anyway, one minute I was skiing perfectly and the next I convinced myself I couldn’t do it. The danger of falling off the side of the mountain suddenly felt so real that I crouched down, dug myself into the snow and started to panic, which is exactly how I’ve felt about going away. It was that voice, the one that’s only there when I’m ridiculously tired. You know how sometimes a piece of bad news feels much worse just before bed than it does the following morning? It’s because tiredness affects our ability to cope much more than we care to admit. If I could give anyone who’s about to travel or make some big changes some advice, it would be to put a few days of rest at the top of your list, and tell everything else to wait.

I am so thankful that I’ve squeezed in seeing all the people I care about before I head off round the world, but there are times where I should have said I was ‘busy’ resting. Saying yes to opportunities that come your way is so important, but learning when it’s best to say no can be more beneficial for everyone in the long run.

I’m sure at the end of this 11-hour flight I’ll be wondering what all the fuss was about, but right now I’m just really happy to have an hour to myself to write something. I was going to write about how hard it was to say goodbye to everyone I love, and how moved I was by the cards and kind words. I don’t think I have ever felt so loved in all my life. But those words belong to the people I’ve already shared them with, and these words belong to you, whoever is reading this now: thank you so much for reading the first post from my little adventure, and a very happy New Year.