Are you addicted to your phone?

Her Lessons

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

– Tristan Harris, ex-Google employee

 

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

 

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

 

Like I said. Terrifying.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Your turn. Save yourself. Spread the word.

 

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

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

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3 books to read when you’re feeling lost

Her Lessons

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

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

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

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

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

 

Becoming, by Laura Jane Williams

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

 

Mad Girl, by Bryony Gordon

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

 

The Power, by Naomi Alderman

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

Lessons from 2016? Follow your heart.

Her Lessons

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

Are some risks good for your health?

Her Lessons

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.

10 common fears travelling helped me conquer

Her Lessons, Her Travels

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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.

Why skydiving cured my anxiety

Her Lessons, Her Travels

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When I was seven, my parents bought a half-built house on a brand-new estate. It thrilled me to think we’d be the first people to live there. Everything would be as it should be; no yellowing circles on the ceiling, not crunchy stains on the carpet, no rotten fence posts. It would be a show house; a perfect house.

Thinking back, it was obvious I had OCD even then. My mum showed me a plan of the upstairs rooms on a sheet of paper. There were three bedrooms left after hers, and I was to choose which one I wanted. There was one huge room, with two windows and space for a double bed and sofa, one medium-sized room and one box room. I chose the box room. My logic being that it would be the easiest to keep tidy. My mum eventually convinced me to take the medium-sized room, but the huge room I left for my younger sister. Sure enough, it became the ‘play room’ and was forever a mess. I congratulated myself for making the right choice. I didn’t even let friends sit on my bed for fear of creases or my soft toys falling into the wrong order. I wanted my world to be small and manageable so that I could maintain full control over everything in it, which is what OCD means for most of us – the greater and more vague the boundaries, the less likely things will be ‘perfect’. I was a seven-year-old perfectionist. 

Thankfully, as a teenager, my OCD manifested itself as wanting to be the best at everything. The silent competition I had with myself actually helped set me up for life, so the condition has its pros. It never hindered my social life and I loved going to school. In my late teens, my ODC switched to food. I was always conscious of eating the perfect balance of food groups. Carb-on-carb or meat-on-meat was a no go. If you’d given me a chip buttie I would have cried. Again, this seemed to work in my favour. I was slim, healthy and knowledgable about food.

At Uni, it was superstitions. I was always seeing ‘signs’ and thought there was a meaning behind everything a typical OCD trait. Reading into everything comes part and parcel with doing an English degree, so my natural thought processes made for excellent critical thinking and literary analysis. OCD to the rescue once again. 

I suppose I never bothered to have my OCD diagnosed because it never really hindered my life. In many ways, it was a personality trait that had helped me be the successful young adult I am. I was always aware of my need to have things a certain way and the discomfort I felt if they weren’t, as well as the fact that I lived very much inside my own head. It wasn’t until I was 25 that OCD stopped being silly little habits and quirks and turned into something much darker. I was so used to it being a positive part of my life that it felt natural to believe that when my OCD convinced me leaving the house would be unsafe, it must be right. 

My OCD turned on me, and just like my seven-year-old self, I made my world as small as I could to keep things under control. It wasn’t tidiness, food or balance that evolved, but my obsession with seeing signs. Everything became a terrible omen to something unimaginable happening. I felt like I was going to die every time I left the house. So much so, that the images of my fate played out in my head. Night terrors in the middle of the day. I was being shot, stabbed and run over in my daydreams, and couldn’t seem to wake from the horror. Things I loved doing started to scare me, and before long I dreaded getting the tube or even walking down the street. Adrenalin pumped through my body every second of the day and relaxation became a myth. Anxiety, panic, ringing in my ears. All day, every day. I did my utmost to hide how I felt and yet I still wanted to be the best at everything, which tired me out beyond belief. The best thing I ever did was ask my GP for help.

A year later, I’m so pleased to say that I’m back to ‘normal’ thanks to 12 sessions of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). I still felt wary of the world, but the more I faced up to it the better I felt. In a pledge to myself that I never want to feel too scared to live a full and exciting life again, I decided to say a massive a ‘fuck you’ to fear, and to OCD, and jump out of a plane in Queenstown, New Zealand. As far away from home and safety as I could get. It was the best (and most terrifying) thing I have ever done. I no longer feel as though OCD dictates my decisions. It’s still there at times, sure, but I’ve learned not to rely on its authenticity. I have learned that fear is nothing to be afraid of, because it’s so imperative to living that we actually feel alive. Stuck in the house and hiding from the world, I felt terrified and close to death. Jumping out of a plane took my existence to another level. I felt oddly calm and accepting. I was in control of my decisions and yet completely out of control. I took a chance, and felt liberated at last.

Scuba diving: a lesson on facing your fears

Her Travels

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

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

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

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

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

Dive & Relax, Koh Lanta

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

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

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

A lesson on feeling nervous

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Paris

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lesson 28: hoarding the past

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If, like me, you’re a hoarder, you’ll understand the excruciating pain I was in when I had to throw away loads of stuff because of the damp in our stupid flat. Amongst the wreckage: Zara heels I’d worn once, trusty worn-out Kurt Geiger sandals and a pair of Jones Bootmaker brogues I wore everyday at uni and not once since. I have moved house four times since I graduated four years ago, and I’ve  taken these old brogues with me every time. The Zara heels I quickly got over, the Kurt Geigers I mourned and thought about constantly for a couple of days, but the brogues I never wore… I actually found throwing these away really hard. I felt sad and guilty, like I was letting go of some tiny piece of a past life. I’m not sure I’m particularly materialistic, just ridiculously sentimental.

It fascinates me how much we assimilate meaning from objects that have no purpose. They were just sitting there, collecting dust (and mould, apparently), and somehow they posed as an unlikely comfort, a reminder of the everyday stuff that often becomes lost. I seem to attach this sort of meaning to pretty much everything. It extends beyond the whole ‘I might need it one day’ philosophy. Half the stuff I keep I know I will never need. So why do I do it?

Fear. It’s as simple as that. Fear of forgetting the past, of forgetting a crucial part of the journey, of forgetting a piece of my history, or of someone else’s. All the time I’m hoarding things, I’m subconsciously living in fear.

Perhaps this is why I often dream that my house is on fire and I have to choose what to save, or why I have an irrational fear of being burgled, or why I take a photograph at every opportunity. The truth is, when you have too many belongings, or put too much pressure on yourself to capture and retain every moment, you lose sight of what is really significant to you. Your physical space is crowded and mixed up, and your brain does exactly the same. Tidy room, tidy mind. It’s so true. Your space eventually becomes too full for anything new, and you end up sacrificing your future trying to save your past.

Although it was horrible throwing my beloved brogues away, it was also quite liberating to have faced my fear. When we’re forced to live without something, or do things a little differently, we often end up wondering what we were so afraid of. Change is necessary for moving forward. Everything has to keep moving, whether we like it or not, so better to embrace it than attempt to dwell in the past via mouldy old shoes.

In the ever-evolving consumer culture we live in, it’s ALWAYS necessary to question how much shit we actually need. One of the easiest ways to stop accumulating too much stuff is (believe it or not) to stop buying so much stuff in the first place. Like any addiction, constantly buying things only leaves you wanting more. It’s a cruel trick. A hunger that’s never satisfied. I guess what I’m trying to say is that the happiness we think we get from material things is incredibly short-lived. We are too fickle for our own good. It stems from a constant stream of consciousness that tells us to focus on the things we don’t have, ignoring the things we’ve already got. Similarly, my fear of losing my possessions depends on the idea of absence. Forever focusing on the absence of material things, aligning our happiness with their presence, is simply not healthy or practical. And the truth of the matter is, while you probably don’t need another pair of shoes, someone out there really, really does. Someone out there, lots of people in fact, don’t own any shoes. So what makes you think you need another pair? Or that you can’t live without one of your 30?

Yesterday, I visited my nan, who’s preparing to move out of her three-bedroom house and into a little flat. She wanted my sister and I to ‘choose some things to keep’, and together we went through a big pile of potential ‘things’ my nan was happy to part with. Glassware, tea sets, ornaments, cutlery, pottery, jewellery, ash trays, photo frames. Everything had a story, and yet she was willing to let them go, if not to us then to charity. She made the brave decision to sacrifice a few pieces from the past to make some space for the future, moving forward and embracing a huge change. I will forever take my inspiration from that. The useless brogues (among other things) I threw away left more than enough space for a few things from my nan I will forever, rightfully hold close.

 

Lesson 25: believing in yourself

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

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

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

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

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

‘Something bad will happen this week.’

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

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

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

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