Defining who you are

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It kind of dawned on me that I’ve been writing in this blog (admittedly, on and off) for four years.

Like most people in their mid-twenties, those four years held some of the biggest changes in my life. They also coincided with our forever-rising dependence on social media. I’ve documented my experiences in various ways across both. Instagram especially. Weirdly – is it just me? – memories have felt more solid since we’ve been able to immortalise them online. Solid and yet somehow skewed? The photos and captions ingrain the images much deeper. Hard to forget. Hard to erase. Like scars. Everything before then is hazier, less tangible, in a nice way.

Looking back over various online platforms and profiles, the older posts and photos have started to look like relics of a past life. A life when my parents were together, when I was travelling, when I was engaged to my ex, when my grandad and younger cousin were still alive. A manifestation of memories, and one that the whole world can see. Documented originally as the happiest times of my life. Lingering on as painful reminders of what was.

Social media can be a dangerous place to dwell. We use it to define ourselves way too often. It reinforces how much we align identity with how other people see us, or by the things that have happened to us. And like any overbearing, oppressive society, it can prevent us from ever feeling free.

I’ve created a new website because it feels powerful to edit the past. I’m also really proud of my journey. Learning, letting go, and being reborn in a sequence of fluid spirals is the only way to stay sane in this life. I used to view mine as a straight, long timeline. One story. One with logical steps and dependable reappearing faces. Now? It’s the sea. The tide comes in and out as always, sure, but nothing is ever the same. Bit by bit, the shape of your life is eroded, sculpted and reformed, until one day it looks completely different. Softer in new ways, sharper or harder in others. If my life is a cliff, then, somehow, I’ve gone from standing at the crumbling edges with fear in my heart to observing its unlikely beauty from sweet patch of grass below.

No matter how much your life changes, the essence of you is the same. Find it, nurture it, trust it.

Words have healing powers, you know. There’s nothing that could make me believe otherwise. Whether reading or writing, they offer expression, release, comfort and understanding. Whether directly or indirectly, we, as humans, generally encounter similar issues in our lives. Betrayal, loss, illness, confusion, pain, death. And yet the online space we share is still disproportionately filled with illusions of perfection. I’m guilty of it myself. My Instagram is a shrine to good times and little else.

Like Her Type is, and always has been, a space for honesty. For admittance that things can and do often go catastrophically wrong. It means that we’re all the same. We all need reassurance. We all have our traumas. It’s also a space for the healing power of words. For me, for you.

Here’s a bit about me…

I like to say that I’m a writer but really, I’m the Lead Copywriter for a massive digital advertising agency in London and that kind of saps the bohemian romance out of the picture. Argh, why do we all define themselves as our job title? I’ll start again.

I really love peanut butter and marmite on toast. Yes, together. As in, I literally have it every morning. In some of my friendships, I’m the extreme worrier, and in some, I’m the most laidback person ever, and I feel lucky to have both dynamics in my life. I conceal a vast amount of anxiety every single day. I’ve been told that I’m very calm so I know how good I am at keeping those bloody annoying butterflies at bay. I’m definitely an observer, not a performer. I’m shit at accents. I have the metabolism of a 12-year-old (really, I did a test). I can run 5K in less than 25 minutes. I have four tattoos – a goldfinch on my back, Japanese Cherry Blossom on my arm, the alchemical sign for air on my other arm, and my cousin’s name on my foot. I have an incredible family. My sister and I aren’t twins but are telepathic. I have learned the value of having a handful of close friends rather than a house full of unreliable near-strangers. My beautiful boyfriend treats me like royalty (and sometimes like stray cat that needs lots of love and food). I really, really, want to write a book, and should probably just get on and do it rather than write this blog. I find it hard to watch TV or go to the cinema because I’m generally pumped full of adrenaline and can’t sit still. I’m ridiculously clumsy. On Sunday, I spilled my tea three times, dropped my dinner down my shirt and bashed my newly painted wall somehow with my dining table bench. I’m a homeowner. I’m still amazed that I’m a homeowner. I’m weirdly quite private which makes writing this blog all the more liberating. I love beer, gin, and red wine way too much. Also, Thai food, Vietnamese food, Japanese food (ok, Asian food), but I hate cooking. I have a secret passion for Drum & Bass and Tech House and used to party A LOT. My best friend and I once went for afternoon tea at 3pm and got home at 10am the next day. I have slowly started to enjoy a slower pace of life. I started writing this post thinking ‘Who am I?’ ‘Where is my life at?’ ‘How far have I really come?’ And I’m ending it with some answers. See, words.

Ask yourself. Who are you? Where are you in your life right night? And where do you want to be? Sometimes these questions aren’t as hard as you might think.

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Do you have high-functioning anxiety?

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But how to take back control?

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

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

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

Why you should get that tattoo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“They’re cherry blossoms”.

I cried.

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

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

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

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

 

 

A lesson on buying your first home

This time last year was pretty much the worst time ever. After a flurry of emotionally traumatic events, I suddenly found myself living back at my mum’s, away from London, with most of my former world dumped in the garden shed. It all happened so quickly that it feels like the memory of a film rather than an episode from my actual life.

The little boat that constitutes my existence was well and truly rocked. Inside, I was about to sink and drown at any moment. It was a common, incredibly shit thing to go through, but the way everything unfolded was far from normal. It was fucked up. I fucked up. And then I compromised my mental and physical stability. Being scared of losing love will do that to you.

I guess one of the main things I’ve learned is that real love and friendship will survive the biggest shit storm.  That and the fact that one of the best things you can do for yourself is to guarantee your own stable foundations.

So I decided to put everything into just that. Stability. I needed to buy a flat.

Being from a very small town just outside of Brighton, London has always felt like the epitome of opportunity, excitement and success. It’s not for everyone, but I bloody LOVE living in London. I worked so hard to get there, to be able to afford city life (and, of course, city rent).

Finding myself living back home after so many years felt like a huge backwards step. Thank God for my amazing mum for going on that horrendous journey with me. Looking for a flat of my own started off as a sort of half-dream to keep my mind focussed on the future. I populated my ‘Interiors’ Pinterest board and thought it wouldn’t extend much beyond that.

And then I thought fuck it. I’ll speak to a free financial advisor – at Torc24 – to see whether there’s a hope in hell of me ever qualifying for a mortgage by myself. Turns out, I did.

Motivated by this, I dared myself to dream a little more and scroll through Rightmove and Zoopla to see if any property actually existed at the price range I’d been told I could afford. Again, to my amazement, there was. And not just in outer Scotland, with the Help to Buy London scheme, I could afford to buy a flat within the M25. In a London borough (just).

In case you’re interested (and feel free to skip ahead if you’re not), qualifying for the Help to Buy London scheme means that you only have to pay a 5% deposit of a new build property of up to £500,000 (depending on what price bracket your salary qualifies for). The government gives you a whopping 40% loan to that you don’t have to start paying for 5 years. Mortgage rates are also pretty low at the moment. My mortgage is with Halifax and it’s fixed at 1.64% for 2 years.

Which, in a nutshell, means that my current monthly mortgage repayments are just £515. Which is cheaper than any rent I’ve ever paid, even when I was on half the salary I’m on now. Say whaaat.

I started my search for affordable new-build flats in Croydon. Not the prettiest of places, but set to evolve fairly quickly thanks to the new Boxpark and coming Westfield. As it turns out, there are loads of new builds available on Help to Buy, but the ones I could afford were really, really small. Like, really small.

I widened my search ever so slightly and came across Wallington (which I’d never heard of before) and which turned out to be a quiet, green part of Sutton with a handful of pretty parks, a lake and some decent pubs. I’m already a regular at The Wallington Arms.

I came across a one-bed flat in a renovated Victorian building, and, in a rather nice turn of events, my offer was accepted on my 28th birthday – a birthday I was dreading, I might add. And from that moment I started to realise that all the bad things that happened in the months before might well have been paving the way for unimaginably better things. For me, this flat was a physical representation of everything there is to gain from everything you’ve ever lost. I still have to pinch myself that it’s mine.

I had a sort of epiphany in the shower the other day.

I’ve moved house 10 times in the last 10 years, and I’ve have had some pretty horrendous bathrooms. There’s the one at uni that had brown carpet, mould in every crevice of the shower tiles, and a toilet that flooded during a particularly messy house party; and the one I shared with boys with constant remnants of muddy rugby training rimmed around the bath; and the one that was supposed to be a ‘wet room’ but which caused the ceiling to leak and eventually explode in the room below; and the one in a Brixton basement with prison bars on the window; and the one that was pretty much inside a cupboard in the kitchen with silverfish and no room to move.

And there I was, showering under a giant, ridiculously powerful, vintage-style showerhead, in a pristine grey-tiled wet room with a beautifully clean, heated ecru floor and plush new towels hanging on the warm towel rail. I suddenly realised how far I’d come. Not to mention the fact I’d got a mortgage by myself. A wave of peaceful relief passed over me. This is my very own bathroom. I own this. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so safe (and clean).

So here’s a message from me to you if you’re sick of renting, are going through a horrible breakup, or have a god-awful bathroom – keep looking forward and find the thing that centres you. It might feel bleak at the moment, but it’s all temporary. Keeping focusing your energy in the right direction and you’ll get there. Have faith.

A lesson on January goals

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‘New Year New Me’ has seen a bit of backlash. And I have to say I kind of agree. Not only does it imply there’s something wrong with last year’s you (you don’t need to be that harsh on yourself) it also overlooks the very important fact that you can start over any time. You really can.

And as far as the typical (pressured by society) idea of this New You goes, January is a cold depressing month that’s surely only made worse by foregoing comfort food, wine, cosy pubs and new clothes.

Why deprive yourself in January? I don’t get it. The New Year should be a time for nourishing and enriching yourself. Challenging yourself, yes. But caring for yourself mostly. Taking what you have, understanding it, and finding new ways to make it better. For some, that might mean running on spirulina powder and lemon juice, but surely January proposes an opportunity to delve into something much deeper?

I’ll admit that sometimes it takes a universal shift to help guide you in the right direction. It’s much easier to tap into a new sense of direction when the world around you in putting energy into the same thing, on whatever level its happening. It’s about using that shared January vibe of starting over to motivate shaping your own guidelines for the year ahead. I think self-love is key in January. Show yourself that you care in all the little ways and you’ll see the difference it can make to your self-confidence and achievements long term.

I know what my resolutions and goals are for 2018. I don’t need to start or complete them in January to make sure they happen. Cooking good food and doing yoga at home, for example. I know I can start to fulfil these as soon as I move into my new flat. It’s all on my terms you see. Which is liberating in itself. Setting yourself challenges that have realistic targets is crucial for nurturing your self-esteem. Plus I was really hungover on New Year’s Day so I’m hardly going to start then…

I don’t want to be a totally new me in 2018. I like who I am. I want to learn, grow and evolve in the most sustainable way, and that means healthy challenges and goals that make me feel good, inside and out. Not sudden starvation, detox punishments or saying no to things I love.

So here’s what my (albeit non-dry, non-vegan) January goals look like. Because I know these are the little things that well energise me to take on the year ahead. I’ve already ticked a few of my list, which is kind of cheating but that’s just how I roll.

1. Nap when it’s raining and don’t feel guilty about it. 2. Actually get your fringe trimmed at the hairdressers. 3. Read The Course of Love. 4. Use Headspace more. 5. Write even more. 6. Take a trip to IKEA. 7. Create a vision board for the year ahead. 8. Forgive yourself and others for the things you’ve been carrying from 2017. 9. Try not to overthink and just feel. 10. Buy a yoga mat. Shop for cool furniture. 11. Give clothes to charity. 12. Plan holidays, festivals and city breaks. 13. Drink red wine and Guinness. 14. Eat lots of veg. 15. Don’t skip the cheese. 16. Use The Body Shop’s Himalayan Charcoal Face Mask once a week (it’s bloody great). 17. Get that tattoo you booked. 18. Print photos. 19. Dance. 20. Work hard.

My goals for the year as a whole are pretty much always the same. That doesn’t mean I’m yet to achieve them. Somehow, the more I do achieve them, the more there seems to be achieve. Which makes them mantras more than resolutions:

Exhale the bullshit.

Worry less. Even less than last year. Until you reach a place of complete faith.

Make more time for the people you love. But also save time for yourself.

Learn what and who are really worth your energy.

Step outside of your comfort zone. Challenge yourself daily. That usually means ignoring introvert/OCD tendencies that tend to hold you back.

Create memories worth sharing.

Be grateful. For everything. Always.

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.

Why your tattoo demonstrates a beautiful faith in others

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Lessons to 16-year-old me

pink toilets like her type 16 year old me

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

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

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

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

1. Save your love

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

2. Think carefully about your career

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

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

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

4. Stop comparing yourself to other people

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

5. Be kind to yourself, and to others

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

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

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

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

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

8. Look after your body

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

9. Don’t force friendship

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

10. Do crazy things

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

 

Are some risks good for your health?

Oh hi, remember me? It’s been a while I know. Let me explain.

Somehow, one of the most eventful months of my life just passed me by. Whoooosh! Gone! I didn’t consciously decide on a digital detox (although it has been rather nice in some ways). Nope, I accidentally used up every teeny ounce of spare time on getting my life back on track after my sneaky six-month stint of unemployment. New job, new home. That sort of thing. My poor little blog (and therefore my sanity) has taken a back seat. But all for a good cause. Promise.

I’ve only just taken a minute to consider that this wonderful, crazy, busy time in my life is a product of the challenge I set myself to follow a dream. Last year, I quit my job to travel, and the positive repercussions of taking that chance are still resonating right now. Taking the time, saving the money and having the confidence and determination to act on a dream you’d deeply regret ignoring is surely what it’s all about? I’ve ticked a huge thing off my list, but if anything, the satisfaction gained from pursuing a dream comes from the chase itself. The freedom. The gamble. The excitement. Last year, I took a huge risk and won, and I want you to you do the same.

I’m not saying that you should drop everything and go travel. It’s on the list for some people but it definitely isn’t the answer for everyone. I’m not advocating shirking your responsibilities either. Only you know where they truly lie. This post is to encourage you to follow your dream, challenge yourself, and live outside your comfort zone – whatever those things may mean for you. I embraced my biggest fear. I ventured into the unknown. And it quite literally changed my life.

You know the story by now. This time last year, I was in a permanent state of panic. Things weren’t going right, and I couldn’t bear the lack of control. My family experienced massive upheaval and sadness. I felt worried, lost, anxious and scared. My OCD reared its ugly head, and suddenly the entire world frightened the shit out of me. Leaving the house each morning became a bit of a challenge.

Think, for a moment, about doing something scary. Like public speaking or a terrifying roller-coaster ride. You feel unstoppable afterwards. So, picture embracing your BIGGEST FEAR. Actually standing up to it. Imagine how euphoric you’d feel then? Now imagine spending 6 months deliberately doing things that terrify you. Imagine how you’d feel then. Good things happen when you challenge yourself in the right way, and amazing things happen when you learn to see things from a different perspective. It becomes so much easier to see the positives in everything. It’s cheesy as hell, but changing your life can’t happen unless you do something that profoundly changes your mind.

My blog has always been about sharing life lessons, because learning from the hardest challenges and the darkest moments is one of the best ways of getting the most out of your life. Your one precious life. If my legacy as a writer could be anything, it would be getting people to squeeze every last bit out of the time they’ve been given, to reassure everyone that the bad stuff isn’t supposed to hold you back, it’s supposed to help you grow into something more beautiful and more inspiring than you would have ever been without it.

So what’s the key to success? Look. Forward. Never back. Life moves in one direction, and if you want to be successful, you have no choice but to move with it. When something goes wrong, you can wallow in self-pity for a while. But when you’ve gathered a bit of strength, you have to fight back and move on. Survival will kick in eventually, and when it does, use the adrenaline to actually thrive, doing something you love.

Remember that everyone you know, even the successful, happy people, are ‘going through something’ right now. Everyone. In some shape or form. Because absolutely everyone has to deal with life. You are not different or unlucky, you are alive. Everyone is born into more or less fortunate circumstances, sure, but that doesn’t mean you are predestined to win or lose. Your happiness, your progress and your attitude are completely your choice. And your responsibility.

Look at TV presenter Katie Piper for example. I am so inspired by her. Something evil happened to her and she refused to let it win. It isn’t luck that’s made her a successful, hugely inspiring person; it’s will power and an incredible amount of passion for what she does. She wasn’t about to let getting acid thrown in her face get in the way of her dreams, so what’s stopping you from following yours? If you want something badly enough, you have to fight for it. You have to be strong and brave.

I’ll allow myself this little break from blogging because since the last post I wrote, I have spent proper time with my family, started a new job, been to the most memorable festival with friends, moved into a new house in a new area that we love, and actually got round to throwing an engagement party. And I did all these things because in December 2015 I left my job and followed my dream – my dream of living a full and exciting life. To look forward no matter what.

Her Review: #facefoward by The Pool and Clinique

hero_landscape_faceforward

For any of you who haven’t heard of The Pool (seriously, where have you been?), it’s a very clever, very useful online destination for busy women seeking interesting news and information. From politics to beauty tips, it breaks down everything worth knowing into bite-size pieces that make you wonder what you ever did on your lunch break before. Plus, co-founders Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne are both brilliant, having put their combined writer-editor-author-presenter-DJ-comedienne experiences to the best-possible use – one of those things that looks good on paper and actually is.

Anyway, last night I was lucky enough to be invited to The Pool’s #facefoward event, in partnership with Clinique. And aside from the generous goody bag (always a nice surprise), I took so much away from the evening. I don’t usually review places and events, but I do love to talk about inspiration and motivation, which is exactly what the evening centred around. Laverne interviewed four very driven, very different women, quizzing them on the women who inspired them before inviting ‘future selves’ onto the stage to ask unfiltered questions.

Internationally acclaimed war photographer Lynsey Addaroi kicked off the evening; followed by Liberty London Girl’s very own Sasha Wilkins; England cricketer Ebony-Jewel Rainford-Brent; and Channel 4 news broadcaster Cathy Newman. Although these four women are experts in very different fields, striking similarities run through their four incredible journeys – namely that it is impossible to learn, grow and thrive without experiencing the really hard times, whatever they may be. Addaroi was captured on the frontline and threatened with execution, Wilkins slept in her car and kept her identity a secret, Rainfort-Brent was told she would never walk again and Newman has suffered the worst kind of sexism throughout her entire career. Four strong, fiercely independent women who simply refused to give up. Each time they took a knock, they built something stronger and more resilient in return. It isn’t the money, lifestyle and celebrity status that we should be aspiring to, it’s to develop an ability to believe in ourselves no matter what. The evening depicted this beautifully.