Do you have high-functioning anxiety?

Her Lessons

 

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.

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A lesson on buying your first home

Her Lessons

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 comfort zones

Her Lessons

comfort zone

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A lesson on loss and gain

Her Lessons

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.

3 books to read when you’re feeling lost

Her Lessons

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

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

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

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

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

 

Becoming, by Laura Jane Williams

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

 

Mad Girl, by Bryony Gordon

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

 

The Power, by Naomi Alderman

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

A lesson on self healing

Her Lessons, Her Travels

Her Review: Rustic Retreats Off-Grid Yoga

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to describe Rustic Retreats? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our days looked something like this…

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

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

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

A lesson on new beginnings 

Her Lessons

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I haven’t written about my life for well over six months. Well, I tell a lie. I have written. Quite a lot. But I’m not sure the frantic ramblings of this particular mad woman have quite found their public platform. My personal notes are brimming, and my blog is devoid of life. Sometimes facing up to your truth has to be done in stages I guess. Thoughts, paper, public.

It’s weird. Blogging can be such good therapy but it’s terrifying to be sharing this. My world has changed so much in the last six months that I’ve just about caught up. Life does that. It runs away with you. Catches you off guard. Just when you think you have it all figured out.

I don’t even feel like I’m the one qualified to be sharing my experience, because I definitely don’t have all the answers yet. Questions, yes. Answers, not so much. Questions like, “How the hell did I get here?” and “Am I losing my mind?” tend to be the theme.

So rather than delve into too much detail, I’m going to talk about having the strength to face the truth, even when it causes more pain that you’ve ever felt before. This post is about having faith even when it makes very little sense at the time. Of trusting in the order of things even when you don’t feel particularly strong or proud of yourself.

I’m writing this post because I’m kind of done. Done overthinking. Done trying to make sense of everything.

Here goes.

As some of you will know. Not too long ago I was engaged. I am no longer engaged. And right now that is all I have to say on the matter. I am, slowly but surely, learning to let go. Learning to embrace a new beginning.

I’ve learned that you can be completely in love, but it won’t guarantee you can give each other what you need to thrive. And that’s hard to say. Believe me. It’s all hard. I just wish I’d realised all this in a way that reflected how deeply I cared.

Everything kind of simultaneously happened while my parents’ divorce became official. I suppose you could say that each situation has helped me better understand and come to terms with the other.

This post isn’t about self-pity (I’ve had more than my fair share and it really, really doesn’t help). It’s about navigating an unexpected journey to reach a destination you never thought you’d need or want to discover. And here’s the thing. With every passing day, I can see the horizon of that destination a little clearer. And the closer it comes into view? The more beautiful it seems.

Time can teach you so very much. It never ceases to bewilder me. All of a sudden, enough time has passed and lessons from weeks, months or years before start to reveal themselves. Things that were so jumbled up and confused at the time start making sense. The raw pain eases and your true emotional reaction kicks in.

With time, I have learned so much. Mostly about who I am. And I’ve kind of worked out who I need to become to truly grow from this. Not just learn, but actually fucking grow into the best person I can be.

I look at my parents now. They are different people in the best way. Stronger and making the most of life. I’m proud of them. And I know, despite the confusion and unexpected derailing of my life, they are proud of me too. The saddest, most difficult times really do bring you closer to the people who truly love and understand you. People who trust your judgement and your dreams for the future, but who also tell you when you’re wrong. People who help you get back on your feet even after you’ve properly fucked up, because they know you’d do the same for them.

I’ve behaved irrationally. I’ve hurt people I love. I’ve been weak. I’m not proud. But I’m not afraid to admit that I’m human. We all look back and wish we handled things differently sometimes. All that matters is how you move forward. Make peace with your decisions, because every single one will make you a better human if you let it. And don’t let people make you feel worthless just because you inadvertently did something that ended hurting them too. True friends would try to understand.

The most difficult times make us if we let them, which is why I’m writing this post. Believe me, if I can embrace this new beginning, you can do bloody anything. This is by far the hardest thing I have ever experienced, ever thought I would experience, and my biggest, most important, most sacred life lesson.

I made a pact with myself a while ago to turn an unsettled time into a positive future. To do things I never would have done before. To love harder, to appreciate more, to rise to the challenge, to feel grateful for all the good things in my life and never get complacent. I’ve taken on a senior role at work with my own team of writers to manage. I ran my first 10k. I’m reading LOADs. I’ve booked a yoga retreat. I’m writing this post. Right now, these are monumental achievements.

And perhaps most importantly, I’m learning not to worry what other people think. Acting for yourself and facing the truth when it would be easier to please others is fucking hard. But it’s fundamental when it comes to making the most important decisions of your life.

Love is complicated and exists in so many different ways. Only you know what’s right in your heart. Only the people in a relationship know the details. It has very little to do with anyone else. I’m trusting love and what I truly believe that to be. And right now, that means having the strength to be on my own.

Honestly, just cherish the people who will support you and love you no matter what. The people who know you well enough to trust that you’re doing things for the right reasons, even when it means uprooting your (and sometimes their) foundations.

I saw this quote today: “whatever you’re looking for is looking for you too”. And right now, all I’m looking for is total inner peace, strength and acceptance. And when we find each other, I know I’ll be bloody ready for anything.

 

Lessons from 2016? Follow your heart.

Her Lessons

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Lesson 16: taking back control

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Three years ago today, my caring, funny, inspirational Granddad passed away. Despite being diagnosed with Leukaemia and given 2 years to live, he stayed with us for 8. He simply refused to go. He didn’t want to miss out. However much pain he was in, whatever it took, he wasn’t ready to leave the party. Bi-weekly blood transfusions were the norm and yet I never saw him without a smile on his face. So grateful to be with his family, my Granddad loved life and was the absolute life and soul, right until his very last day.

One of the reasons I’m writing this is because recently, I haven’t been enjoying life the way I used to, and I know I’m not alone. As we get older, life seems to get more and more complicated. It’s hard to always see past the stresses of work and the endless bills, let alone the things that seem completely beyond our control. But are they? Are the negative things we face completely uncontrollable? Because if my brave granddad can outright refuse to die, I have means to believe we are often more powerful than we know.

For anyone struggling a bit at the moment, take a step back from your life and isolate all the things you are unhappy with. Split them into two categories and write them down; things you can change and things you can’t. Take the ‘can’t change’ category and think about each and every thing very carefully, then simply rip it up. If you honestly feel like there is nothing you can do then maybe it’s time to cast these things from your mind entirely. Letting them go will give you more energy to focus on the things you can change. Next, take your ‘can change’ list and write a positive, realistic goal next to each thing. Whether you want to travel the world, lose weight, beat depression, get the job of your dreams or find the love or your life, these things are all within your grasp if you want them badly enough. The very best things in life come from hard work and dedication – that is what makes them so great.

Some of you will know that I often have very vivid, messed-up dreams, both when I’m awake and asleep. Apparently, these ‘intrusive thoughts’ have developed as a result of an anxiety disorder. For me, this often feels like something I have absolutely zero control over. Unimaginable things come into my head when I’m walking down the street, catching the tube or lying in bed at night. They stay with me for days. They provoke panic attacks. I don’t know where they come from, but I’ve been assured that CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) will teach me how to control them.

In the last week or so, I’ve dreamed of my Granddad three times. The dreams were calm, he was smiling and I woke up feeling safe. Always remember that you are the author of your own life. Take control and never forget how lucky you are to have a voice. Whatever you think you become, it’s as simple as that.