anxiety, Health, Home, Lifestyle, Mental Health

Emma, in the park, with the iron bar.

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In order to get a good title, I may have twisted the truth. It was not me who brandished an iron bar in this board game life event. In order to paint an effective picture of the scene though, I need to rewind the clock a little and give you a brief but thoroughly illuminating insight into both my mental health and state of training for a half marathon.

Anxiety has been bothering me as an adult for over half a decade but I think it’s been going on a lot longer than that without me realising. As a five-year old, before swimming lessons, I used to bite the skin around my fingers until they bled all over the changing room floor, and the smell of antiseptic cream can bring it all back in an instant. As a pre-teen I started biting the inside of my mouth without even realising – until I saw it on a poster on the inside of a toilet door and became aware it was a thing. The butterflies, the bad habits, they’ve been around for as long as I can remember.

Fast forward to 2018, and I’m a month away from turning 28. I still bite the inside of my mouth and I live in fear that it will end up being the thing that kills me, from infected scar tissue, a jaw that slowly crumbles from friction in the wrong places, or that I’m so focussed on trying to loosen a bit of skin from my bottom lip when I’m crossing the road, that I accidentally get hit by an ice cream van. I stay in a coma for six months, then go to hell, not heaven, because no kids got ice cream that day and that’s a punishable offence, and hell is just one giant mouth, and now I’m the skin inside, being chewed for eternity, that is my sentence.

Most days, though, in spite of my wild, uncontrollable imagination, I’m functioning. I’ve had a good dose of therapy, although it’s been over eighteen months, and I think I should probably go back for more. I get my eyebrows tinted and waxed, I should probably keep an eye on those wayward thoughts of mine too. They’re just as invisible as my eyebrows but equally worth a look at. Too bad my “luxury items” budget on my four day a week salary covers eyebrows only on a good month and mental health is somewhere under “Sensodyne even when it isn’t on offer.”

I’m a strong, independent woman. Not superwoman by any means. Strong enough, say, to hang the washing up on the line without getting achy arms, and independent enough to put a tampon in without supervision. And it was in a moment of feeling particularly confident in my abilities that I signed up to a half marathon. I wanted to do something for charity, challenge myself to do something big, prove to myself I can do anything. I’m running for Mind UK, who do incredible work supporting people who are suffering with mental illness and fighting the stigmas that surround it.

Anxiety can be really inconvenient. Usually I feel the warning signs coming on, and when I do, running is one of my go-to remedies. It makes me feel strong, fills me with the good kind of adrenaline, gets me outside, often results in a return journey via Co-Op where I can pick myself up a well-done-for-exercising white Magnum. Sometimes though, events or situations happen that take me by surprise – from unexpected smear test results to anonymous phone calls – and there’s not a damn thing I can do to control it. And when these things happen during a run… well, see for yourself.

Picture the scene.

Eduardo and I ate our weight in carbs on holiday. Ed is also running the half marathon in October for a different charity. We have two months of training to go and have not yet run over 10km in training. We have some serious work to do. So we decide to run 11km on this sunny Sunday and to my surprise it’s going well.

We reach 9.5km, and we’re on the final stretch of road before the park that lies between potential asthma attack and home, and I’m feeling positively resplendent when a car reverses along the pavement in front of us. It’s fast, so we stop and hop to one side, to avoid, you know, a spine-crushing entanglement with a Vauxhall Corsa. We’re in marathon-mode, so we don’t stop, and instead run along the side of the car, whose driver still hasn’t seen us and decides to accelerate in front of us to get into the football grounds to our left. At which point Ed (not me, when I get to over 6km on a run my ability to form words is diminished significantly) yells at her (maybe with some expletives, he’s not an angel) to look at where she’s going. The driver is ultra defensive and wheel spins towards Ed telling him to get out her way.

It’s not the most fun I’ve ever had, but that could also be because I’ve stopped running at this point, and the inside of my groin is seizing up. I feel slightly anxious, because in a fight or flight situation I usually run off, apologising over my shoulder for no reason, but this woman is turning her car around and has followed us down the road, where she proceeds to get out her car, with a two foot iron bar in her hand.

Of all the things I thought would prevent me getting to 11km on a post-holiday slump, it’s not a real life Cluedo weapon being brandished at me by an angry driver. In her words, we “could have damaged her car” when in reality, as we explained, she could have damaged all of our limbs and maybe our skulls too. It went on a bit and in the end she got back in her car, still holding the bar, and said she was “going to watch out for us and we should be careful where we run in the future.” All very comforting stuff.

I got through the final kilometre and a half but all joy of running the furthest I’ve ever run in my life had dissipated. I felt sad, and stressed out, and a bit lost for words, and could feel something inside my chest getting tight. What if she has a son who is in a gang and they find out where we live and batter us to death? What if I never feel safe going on my normal long-distance running route again, because she could turn up in her Vauxhall with the same iron bar, or worse, the rope, or the wrench, or the fucking candlestick. What if she calls the police and somehow makes it seem like we were in the wrong? Were we in the wrong? And, please, God, don’t let her get Colonel Mustard involved.

I get in the shower to try and clear my head, I have somewhere to be. When I get out the shower, I almost cheer up because my tan hasn’t entirely disappeared on the plane, and I decide to moisturise so I don’t dry out like a fig, and then I notice my ribs hurt. They feel bruised, unusually painful, and this is new to me, and number one trigger for anxiety attack for Emma = unusual pain. So I do what I never, ever let myself do when I’m functioning sensibly, when I haven’t been threatened by an iron bar in the previous hour, when anxiety strikes and I start to think about cancer. I google it.

No one is ever reassured when they google symptoms. Everyone knows this. It’s one of those facts we have inside our heads, and we don’t know when we learned them but we know they are true, like “don’t put metal in the fridge” and “George Clooney is gay.” I enter a rabbit hole death trap called “symptoms of bone cancer and how to spot them” and start to have a panic attack.

What a day. We should be celebrating our half way point in training, but somewhere between feeling fit and feeling frightened, I’ve lost my mind and think I’m about to die. One of the many reasons I’m marrying Ed is because when I come down to the kitchen in tears explaining I’m worried I’m dying, he takes me seriously – my anxiety that is, not my imaginary cancer. Eventually I begin to rationalise. Obviously there is a small, small chance I do indeed have Ewing’s sarcoma, but more likely than not, my brain has latched on to a pretty easy trigger and let rip.

Needless to say the afternoon is a write-off. There are many things that make anxiety the absolute balls. Intrusive thoughts, yes, inability to make decisions, absolutely, sense of overwhelming dread, my personal favourite. Logistics, speaking on the phone, social situations, driving, crowded places, dentists, hell, even the hairdressers. But it’s the physical effects that wipe me out. The headache that lasted until bedtime, the hoarse voice that’s a happy after-effect of your throat restricting, and the butterflies that turn into stomach pain and discomfort and zero appetite.

I wanted to write this post because, even though I feel embarrassed, a lot, about my own irrationality, you can pretend everything is great on social media, or you can be honest. I still feel shit this morning – probably because in all the madness I forgot to stretch when I got home, and my muscles currently feel like lead (if you read lead pipe, well done). I promise this isn’t emotional blackmail to get you to donate to my funding page, but if you do feel sorry for me right now, then I’m linking the fundraising page at the bottom of this post. But, I implore you, don’t pity me for my anxiety. These things happen and there are a lot of things I have to be grateful for – my limbs, my fiancé, and the inspiration to write a blog, for instance. If you want to feel sorry for me, just join me in feeling gutted that in all the commotion neither Ed or I managed to use a Cluedo reference as a retort or (my personal favourite) “pipe down, will you?” to the driver of the Vauxhall. A missed opportunity, and one that we have to live with now.

August is an expensive month. If you have any money left after holidays or Edinburgh Fringe or that aircon unit you invested in for your bedroom during the record-breaking temperatures, then may I direct you to my fundraising page, right here. It’s for a genuinely brilliant cause and the only thing that will get me back out there, running, praying I don’t encounter any more weapons. Other ways you can do good – look after each other, look after yourself, and never drive on the pavement.

 

 

 

 

Health, Home, Humour, Lifestyle, Mental Health

Roundabouts.

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Sometimes I think I’m in control of my life. I look at my impressive selection of Tupperware. I regularly buy courgettes. I think about insurance from time to time. And often I feel in control of my life when I’m driving, even if it’s just to the local swimming pool. I feel content, have a purpose. To be honest, I probably enjoy any mode of transport that isn’t the tube, but cars are the best. I can play music out loud, fill the passenger seat with snacks, feel the sun on my right arm and hope I get a lopsided tan.

It must be something to do with the fact I’ve made life decisions that mean I lack stability and a sense of direction in a general way. Sometimes, genuinely, I feel like I’m more likely to win an international snooker championship than ever actually write for a living. Sometimes I’m okay with that. Sometimes I feel happy in the decision I’ve made to chase a seemingly impossible dream and never pay off my student loan. And then other times, I pretend I’m fine and then I have a breakdown at a roundabout for no apparent reason, in the vehicle that’s supposed to represent me at my most sane (a Daihatsu Charade), and realise it’s all got a bit too much.

Recently I lost the plot at a roundabout and realised I’m not superwoman. And I learned that the biggest risk behind being in denial is finding yourself crying in a farm shop car park on the phone to your dad on a Saturday morning. I should have realised, by the level of anxiety the thought of filling my car up at the petrol station on the motorway was causing me, that I wasn’t in a good frame of mind. I should have known, from the fact I woke up, wondered why Ed hadn’t texted me from Scotland to say good night, assumed he’d died and started planning his funeral, that perhaps I wasn’t in the most balanced of moods. Nevertheless, I persisted, and it didn’t go so well.

Of course I’m no longer at the roundabout now, because I drove home, made a cup of tea and called it a day, but I am at a roundabout, permanently it feels, going round in circles, and I don’t know which way to go. I’ve talked before about coming out the other side of a battle with anxiety, dosed up on therapy and ready to rock the universe. And to a degree this is true – most of the time I’m much better than I was before. But right now, it’s not as good as it could be. Part of me wonders if it’s ironic, a twist of fate at work, because in a moment of ambition I signed up for a half marathon to fundraise for Mind UK, and since deciding to try and run 21 kilometres through the city of London in the name of the country’s biggest mental health charity my anxiety has gone through the roof.

One of the most frustrating triggers is a sense of restlessness, boredom or loneliness. It makes me feel like a failure, it makes me panic, it makes me cry. It’s why I don’t spend much time alone in my house. I see plays. I do classes. I run around the park. I see friends. I fill my time with work. But this is complicated because another trigger is exhaustion, doing too much and high levels of stress, and so I often find myself trying to find a balance between doing too much and doing too little. I suppose this is the reason why I seem to have developed a perpetual fear of making decisions and a rather debilitating sense of potential regret or guilt. I’m constantly over-thinking what I should and shouldn’t do, with my day, with my job, with my life.

I’ve become slightly allergic to people asking me ‘How I am’ and ‘How things are going.’ Something bottles up inside me. Genuinely, I have no words, and this is a scary thing for someone who enjoys words. Succulent. Discombobulated. Refrigerator. I feel like I have nothing to say – or that if I did start to actually try and describe how I feel it would be extremely inappropriate in the theatre green room, or during a smear test. But that’s why I have a blog – to open a lid on things unspoken. The other day on Twitter I saw the description for the 19th century equivalent of “meh”; “flobly-mobly,” which means somewhere between well and not-well, and in need of sunshine.

I am extremely flobly-mobly right now.

I really hoped that I could start referring to ‘my anxiety’ as just ‘anxiety’ – something separate from myself, like ‘crunchy nut cornflakes’ and ‘nuclear war’ but I can’t, because it’s a part of me, like my ability to play on words, and my hair. And just like my hair, sometimes my brain behaves, and sometimes it gets a bit frazzled. My anxiety means I spend a lot of time thinking about cancer. It means stomach butterflies. IBS. Chewing the inside of my mouth every day. Not picking up the phone to unknown numbers. Thinking about getting home before I’ve even gone out. Fearing decision making. Intrusive thoughts. Thinking about cancer some more. Restless nights. Palpitations. Distraction. Procrastination. Dread.

However…

My anxiety makes me a caring person. Empathetic. Forward-thinking. Organised. A good party planner (even if once everyone arrives and has a great time I go upstairs to bed). Without anxiety I doubt I’d have acquired my sense of humour. My cynicism. To be honest, I doubt I’d have such good Tupperware, because I’d probably just chill out about routine and money and just buy lunch out more often. My anxiety makes me hungry – for success, for fulfilment, for crème eggs when I’m feeling really low. My anxiety makes me me – a Wednesday’s child, a good friend, a funny person, a writer.

It’s 6.50am. I set my alarm to go on a morning run.* I’m trying to break through this distaste I have for running first thing in the morning. I once had a terrible experience involving a Park run and hay fever and it put me off. But most half marathons seem to be at the crack of dawn, so I need to somehow get through it. I’m in bed, having a cup of tea, waking up, writing, and then I’ll leave the house. It’s sunny outside. This week, I’m doing me. I’m doing the things that make me happy, and giving myself a pat on the back for just getting through it. Often I fall into the trap of thinking anxiety is a weakness, a failure, a system breakdown of sorts. What I forget when I’m panicking, and remember when I’m calm, is that it makes you strong. It’s not easy getting up and going to work on an average day, let alone when your brain has spent all night telling you you probably have HIV. Sometimes it’s really hard just to get on the damn train.

I am lucky. I live in a world where we are beginning to talk about mental health openly. The sun is shining outside. I have a support system. Freak shakes exist. This is a reminder to myself that I need to get back to operating on a scale of gratefulness, love and joy, and not a scale of fear, pressure and guilt. I’m running this damn half marathon whether I like it or not, and I’m running it for brains, and health, and honesty. So you can expect some more from me on this topic. I’ve shut it off for a while, because sometimes it’s quite nice to think you’re chill all the time and crack on like a normal person. But the door’s wide open again. Because I’m hardly normal. I have two pet sharks. And normal is boring.

*I wrote this blog post yesterday and forgot to post it. I’m not going on a run this morning. I have an 8.30am hospital appointment for a colposcopy. The third year in a row that my smear test has come back abnormal (told you I wasn’t normal.) Don’t want to sound like a preacher’s daughter, but go get your vaginas looked at, mates. It’s not the most fun I have on an annual basis but I’d rather this than, you know, my vagina falling out or something. Book. Your. Smears.

 

 

 

Health, Home, Lifestyle, realism

Holy cow, let’s save the planet.

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Thought it was about time I wrote another mid-twenties self-discovery post because it’s occurred to me I’m 27 in just over half a year and that’s less fun and more the year lots of famous people die. I’ve been in a bit of a writing funk for about a month. I think I overdid it in January with the play; the post-show blues were quite extreme and I’ve spent a lot of February pretending to be more interested in food than writing (which is always half true anyway) and spilling hot drinks on myself.

Procrastination has its upsides though. I raked the garden yesterday. I’ve found a new favourite yoghurt; it comes with a spoon and a peel-off label so you can use the pot for other things afterwards (total revelation). And I’ve given up meat for good.

Now I feel a lot less frazzled than I did at Christmas. I’ve stopped getting ulcers all the time (that was a fun side effect of deciding to go vegetarian) and realised that as long as I can eat food without wanting to scream I’m happy. So because I have a working tongue and the motivation to write, my first post back in the game is about becoming vegetarian in the name of the planet. Because panicking about climate change is one of my biggest dilemmas these days; up there with dry eyes and not having a pug.

It’s not the first time I’ve tried to be vegetarian. That was aged 13 when I went to China Town for the first time, saw a load of dead ducks strung up in the window, and felt pretty violated. It didn’t last because at the time I didn’t like any vegetables so I was living off marmite on toast and my iron levels were pretty diabolical. I’ve tried to commit to full-blown vegetarianism again so many times but have always ended up giving in for one reason or another – whether it’s a hog roast at a wedding, a hungover sausage sandwich, or leftover Christmas dinner. Every time though I’ve felt pretty guilty. I’m a huge animal lover – my favourite Saturdays are spent fawning over farm animals and it’s always felt hypocritical then chowing down on a pork pie the next day – no matter how good they are with pickle.

But sometimes things just click. It could be an article someone posts on Facebook, one of Leonardo’s tweets, or watching Cowspiracy. When the timing of that revelation coincides with the beginning of a new year, it just feels like a good chance to do the right thing and not look back.

At the beginning of the year I decided to make 2017 the one that matters. Whether that was getting a creative project off the ground, joining a political party or just making an unforgettable carrot cake. Like the rest of the country I started with my health. I didn’t want to not be able to run 5k without feeling like I need to go on a ventilator. I wanted my insides to match my outsides. No more guilty conscience. First up? Couch to 5k. I’m running (or rather just trying to avoid dog poo in the park) three times a week and doing some pretty appalling yoga in between. Turns out just because you get some snazzy leggings and a new sports bra doesn’t mean you can pull off downward dog without looking like you’re stuck in cement. But progress shall cometh to those who bend with enthusiasm, right?

Next up was giving up meat (Fish is…sort of in progress.) I don’t understand how you can read about the effects of the meat industry on climate change and not at least significantly cut down on your intake. We only get one chance to save the planet and chucking a tin of baked beans in recycling isn’t going to help. If reading about my most successful form of procrastination yet is making you want to learn more, Cowspiracy is a good place to start but it’s pretty stark so be prepared to want to give up steak. Leo’s Before The Flood is also a good education on the planet – although he doesn’t focus so much on the damage meat production causes and I’m not convinced this isn’t because he likes a good burger. He does focus on the global issue at stake though, which by the way is pretty shocking, and invites us to remember we are one of an entire population, some of whom are suffering immensely because of climate change.

It might not seem like much, one twenty-something avoiding writing a play and looking up vegetarian recipes instead, but it’s part of a movement we can all join in the name of change so it’s not the worst idea I’ve ever had, is it?

If anyone’s wondering whether it sucks going vegetarian, honestly – for me – not in the slightest. Plus technically, I should say I’m a weekend pescatarian too, because I don’t quite have enough willpower to say no to smoked salmon. Yet. It can make life a bit complicated sometimes for sure, especially because my stomach already can’t cope with wheat either. And I’ve also cut 80% of dairy because I actively care about cows. I’m trying to care about them enough to not eat a whole Terry’s chocolate orange from time to time but sometimes you slip up. We’re all human (except the cows – I’m so sorry.)

The reason I haven’t yet made the jump to total vegan even though I really like vegan slogan t-shirts is because I find it hard enough trying to tie my shoelaces and pay rent every month without finding time to make homemade lentil stews for my packed lunches every day. At the moment it seems too expensive to do it well – and a lot of effort – and half the vegan options seem to include palm oil and DON’T GET ME STARTED ON THE ORANGUTANS?

While I’ve got animals on the brain I also want to stop putting them through so much when they’re alive. The problem with working in the arts and spending more money than you make every month is you can’t read an article on cruelty-free make up, examine the contents of your make-up bag or shower and do an overhaul overnight. But I do actively want to avoid brands that test on animals so as things run out I’m going to stop replacing them. It just feels tragic putting on mascara that might have been swabbed on a monkey’s eyeball, you get me?

You might be able to tell I’m becoming a bit OBSESSED with the planet. I mean I’m really nervous about the orangutans. And TBH I’ve been worried about the rainforests since GCSE geography but haven’t done much about it except buy recycled toilet paper when I remember. I feel like I’m getting emotionally attached to trees whenever I leave the house. A huge part of why I now love living deep in the depths of zone five is getting access to actual fresh air. London is so polluted these days in the week I genuinely feel like my skin is turning grey.

And whilst a big part of me is sat on the tube trying to finish my book on Nora Ephron and thinking COME ON SADIQ HURRY UP AND SORT IT OUT there’s another part of me thinking; where have we all gone wrong? Is this really what matters – money and commuting and getting a fashionable rucksack and wanting to succeed and reading whatever shit the Metro’s made up that week and trying not to make eye contact with strangers? The more I’m trying not to choke on the air in the Victoria line tunnels the more I’m worrying that at some point soon it’s all going to end up like Wall-E and everything else will have been pointless anyway.

I’m not a columnist in the Financial Times though. Nor am I a climate change scientist, documentary-maker, politician. I’m a writer – with probably the smallest audience on the internet. So I feel a bit stuck on the ways we can make a difference, ways we can still live life to the fullest but not be total selfish bastards either.

So… I’m taking baby steps in the name of the planet and sharing that with you. It’s a lot of compromising and a little personal sacrifice in the name of the greater good – but to be honest if we all had to turn vegetarian to fight Voldemort we’d do it, wouldn’t we? For me, right now, it’s about veg chilli on jacket potatoes, homemade granola, dark chocolate and quorn nuggets (holy Jesus I’m completely addicted – someone save me). Not so bad really. I think we’ve reached a point where it’s not a good enough excuse to love meat. We simply have to try before it’s too late. We have to talk about it, learn more together, encourage each other and, if necessary, do a little preaching.

So that’s it: raked the garden, found a yoghurt, gave up meat, called my readers to arms. What’s next? I might de-scale the kettle.

Health, Home, Humour, Lifestyle

Smiling on bad skin days (and spreading your legs). 

Everyone has insecure moments. For some, it’s wearing a bikini. For others, it’s delivering a presentation, driving in the dark, getting a bra fitting or simply trying to open a can of tuna without slicing a limb. It’s natural, even my dog looks insecure sometimes, but it shouldn’t rule our lives, right? 

I’ve made my twenty-sixth year on this planet the year I stop thinking so much about what I look like and what other people think of me. A reality check came when someone in my close family became extremely ill and I became instantly grateful for having a body that functions. I decided to stop giving mine such a hard time and crack on with life, because it won’t last forever. Faking confidence also goes hand in hand with performing more, and especially comedy. There’s little room for inhibitions when you’re doing improvisation in a room full of strangers, or performing a scene in a play which involves practising blow jobs on deodorant cans with your dad and your boss in the audience. 

These days I’m definitely worrying less about choosing an outfit for work, or being judged at a party (actually can’t remember the last time I went to a party), or wearing make-up inside my house. No time for that shit when we’ve all got to dedicate ourselves to bringing down the monster on the other side of the Atlantic. Or as someone at the latest protest called him, “Wotsit Hitler.” (THANK YOU). 

However. A big, raised, swollen, red, painful however. Skin is a different thing. And I can’t always brush it off. 

I think it’s because while clothes are subjective, or pushing yourself out of your comfort zone is optional, skin is fairly out of your control. If it wants to rebel and fuck you over, it will. It can be more inappropriate than drunk Jennifer Lawrence on a chat show. I was in a conversation over the weekend with some friends who were discussing how relieved they are to no longer get spots because, let’s face it, we shouldn’t still be getting them at this age. It hurt a bit because while they were talking I couldn’t help but subtly press down on what felt like a small grape emerging on my chin. 

Two days later and my face has exploded. If you had a sharpie to hand I’m pretty sure you could map out a constellation or two. And as I stormed to the bus stop in a fury I realised it was affecting my mood big time. There were other factors of course; I forgot my headphones and was desperate to listen to David Beckham’s Desert Island Disc, I’ve discovered I have chilblains on my toes, which is making it impossible for me to wear any shoes comfortably, and of course, just the fact it was Monday. My imminent smear test was also weighing on my mind but, I can’t lie, when my chin is this angry I’d almost rather have everyone see my cervix than look at my face. 

This outbreak has come at a confusing time. I went back on the pill almost a year ago to try and get my acne and my boob pain under control. It hasn’t solved the problem but I can usually guarantee two and a half weeks of clear skin (although scars are another issue) before I get my period. However this week I’m bang in the middle of my cycle (hence the smear) so that’s lovely. 

Part of the problem with getting spots is the worry people will think you are unhealthy, or dirty. She must sleep in her make-up, wash her face in a swamp, or eat chocolate for breakfast (I bloody wish). Let me clarify, on behalf of anyone else who suffers with adult acne. I have a rigorous skin care routine, generally wear as little foundation as possible, try to get sufficient sleep, and partake in frequent exercise mostly from clenching my fists and tensing my core trying to resist eating a box of Cadbury’s milk tray for dinner. I’m also bemused because having committed to a vegetarian diet in the name of the planet, I’m eating more healthily than ever. 

Nope. This is a hormonal issue. I’m limiting dairy (plus, guys, the cows are unhappy so you should too), swallowing evening primrose oil by the gallon, and punching myself in the womb if it misbehaves (joking). Realistically I’m stuck with it and London’s fun little pollution game isn’t doing me any favours. 

There is of course a big part of me that feels guilty because I know there is more to me than my skin, and that I’m being as vain as can be. But there’s a bigger part of me that is distracted trying to make sure my enormous scarf doesn’t accidentally wipe off the concealer I have meticulously painted on to my face to disguise my new friends. Being a pasta-intolerant, non-holidaying adult is hard enough without feeling like I’m fifteen again. 

How can anyone take me seriously when my skin looks like I’m losing sleep over my SATS? How many hours am I going to have to be seen in public before I can get home, clean my face and bathe in tea tree oil? I might as well have binged on pizza and ice cream all weekend if it was going to turn out like this. Massive HUMPH. 

And then, as I write this, stretching out my toes to try and improve my circulation, look around at all the commuters who probably use butter to take off their make-up and still have the clearest skin, and take a sip of water as if drowning my internal organs will solve all my problems, I get some perspective. 

My train has not crashed. I actually have clean water to drink. I’m not being detained at an airport right now. I have a face and eyes (albeit shit eyes with the wrong contact lenses in). People like me (when I’m not being a vain dickhead). I have three excellent types of Tupperware in my bag, a job, a roof over my head, a working body and my smear test is on the NHS for another year at least. 

Spots are spots. If I didn’t get them, I’d probably have something else wrong with me, like a hairy back, or excessive ear wax. And when you’re this good at puns, something’s got to be letting you down, otherwise it’s just plain unfair. 

When I saw the nurse this morning, she looked surprised and commented, “If you weren’t here for a smear test, I’d think you were at school.” LOL she so funny. My teenage skin might be betraying me, but it could be worse, she might have presumed I’m a pensioner and refused to swab my decrepit vagina. Whilst I hope my cervix is less unpredictable than my skin, and this is the last time I need to see a speculum this year, really it’s a solid reminder that it’s what’s on the inside that counts. That’s where the good stuff is, the core, the action that lets you live and laugh and lose your mind from time to time. 

And maybe one day, when I’m seventy (as if I’m going to live that long) and chilling out with five hundred dogs and hot chocolate on tap, I’ll miss the simple stresses of my youth. For now, I’m going to keep Superdrug in business and smile my way through. 

Health, Home, Lifestyle, Mental Health, realism

Goodness, grief, and getting back up again.

Heartbreak is a funny thing. For a long time I’ve thought I’ve known what it is. That bit in The Holiday when Cameron Diaz finally learns how to cry. The penguin with a broken flipper in Planet Earth II. The time an ex-boyfriend broke up with me and then asked me to hand wash his boxers. Going to IKEA six months ago to find an enormous plush shark to solve all my problems to find they were out of stock.

Turns out that’s nothing. Or at least it’s only part of it. Recently a new kind of heartbreak has come into my life. I’d forgotten how it takes you by surprise. Flips your stomach. Squeezes your heart. Fogs your brain. Wraps you up under your duvet and tires you out, eats you up.

Before you start worrying that the greatest love story of all time has ended, Eduardo and I have not broken up. As if he’d leave me when I make an excellent jelly, leave too much hair in the shower, and have the world’s smallest teeth. We’re all good.

No, this is a different kind of heartbreak. And as a consequence this is a different kind of blog post. Usually I’m all over the mundane – I love moaning about Tupperware, losing my way in the pasta aisle, getting emotional over hay fever. But every now and then a bigger dilemma comes along, one that grants you a whole lot of perspective, for which I am grateful, but it is rather agonising at the same time.

Until recently my biggest dilemma has always been anxiety, and until recently I’ve been smashing that little devil like a superhero and was thinking about writing a post on the benefits of paying for therapy (because the NHS offerings are about as satisfying and helpful as a pot noodle). Then when I watched Before the Flood I felt like there was no bigger dilemma than the threat of climate change and have been working my way through some blog post ideas surrounding failed veganism, nauseating dairy substitutes, and an irrational emotional attachment to cows.

And then my uncle died. First I found out he was poorly. Two weeks later he was diagnosed. Two weeks later he was gone. And that was that. And for someone who eats a lot of mince pies as soon as they arrive in the shops, I’ve felt hollow ever since. Empty. Because life isn’t the same anymore.

It’s very rare to come across a human being who is innately good. I’m not talking good in the sense of ‘you can have my last chicken nugget’ or ‘I’m giving up everything to work with broken Christmas trees in the last hours of their lives.’ I’m talking selfless, warm, loving, giving. Everything we want to be and often don’t quite reach. Well – my uncle was good as can be. He was also the fittest and healthiest member of my family by a long way. All of which makes me realise I need to worry about a terminal cancer diagnosis a lot less, stop giving a shit about quinoa, and just crack on.

It’s funny dealing with death and grief as an adult. When I was younger I lost one set of grandparents to pretty nasty terminal diseases well before their time so I’m not naïve by any means. But it has been mind-blowingly different dealing with this as a grown-up. You can’t just throw a tantrum and cry into your pillow. There are people who need you. You must be strong. It’s not all about you.

You lose it for the people you care about the most. Your soul will break into pieces and you don’t even get one Horcrux out of it. Of course we’ll be okay – us Pritchards are close-knit, and we have my uncle’s spirited nature, love, sense of humour, and go-get-em attitude that means we can get through anything. I’m not worried about us. We got this.

But I am sad. I’m waking up every morning overwhelmed with it. I’m on the verge of tears all the time. It feels a bit like walking through really thick peanut butter. I’m lacking a lot of energy and appetite. And my anxiety is through the roof. I tell you what – I’ve not missed the daily butterflies and now they’re keeping me awake at night I’ve had enough.

So after weeks of not writing anything – of being a little bit lost for words – I’m back. Because writing has got me back on track in the past. And even this is a little self-indulgent, a little bit whiney, and not nearly enough of an injection of positivity that we all need I’m doing it anyway.

I don’t want to write any more sad things though. We all know cancer’s a bitch and crashes the best parties. Instead I want to write the good stuff I’m learning from this. Because, as Dumbledore tells me, happiness can be found even in the darkest of places, if only we remember to turn on the light. And Dumbledore is my spirit animal right now.

So what have I learned?

Well, I’ve remembered what my body is for and I love it. My body is strong, it’s functioning (minus rubbish sinuses and poor vision), it’s the only one I’ve got. I feel vaguely repulsed by the idea of body image standards now and I’m certainly going to stop feeling bad about my pasty thighs and adult acne. I have hands so I can write, a mouth so I can tell HILARIOUS jokes, legs so I can run to an ice cream van on a sunny day, and hips so I can try and mimic Shakira whenever I want. My body is perfect and all I need (unless I want to be a gymnast in which case dammit) and I want to remember that every day – even when my boobs really hurt.

What else? Family is the bomb. Everyone says it takes a tragedy to bring you close together and it turns out everyone is right (except the people who voted Brexit). I love mine; my mum for her devotion, her work ethic, her creativity; my dad for his sense of humour, his strength, his sweetness; my brothers for their talent, their kindness, their pretending to still be scared of me; my dog for him making me feel better about the amount of hair I shed. Eduardo and my best friends are also well up there in the stars. There are a lot of people I love so much I’d consider eating an oyster for them, who’ve got me through this. I’ve learned never to go a day without sending kisses, without being thankful for the people who make you you.

Sharks. Because it turns out when something bad happens, something good is around the corner. And that good thing is a rumour going round town that the sharks are back in Ikea. And your boyfriend picking you up from the station to go on an emergency sea life hunt in the depths of Croydon. And you finding two in a basket with your name on it. And you beaming. Literally beaming from ear to ear because you feel like a little, tiny bit of the emptiness has been filled with the world’s largest, cuddly fish. And my shark is called Malcolm. In honour of an absolute treasure of a man.

shark-photo

I had a conversation with a very wise friend this morning (actually; she’s my brother’s girlfriend and she’s the COOLEST and if you’re reading this, Daisy, you’re so one of us), who said she had stopped believing that everything happens for a reason, and started believing things happen no matter what, and it’s how you run with it, and how you let them define you. She’s bang on (and beautiful, and a dancer, no fair).

With that in mind, it’s Sunday night and I’m ready to start this week afresh. Ready to get back on the no-dairy train in the hope of saving a few cows, and one big planet. Ready to cry if I wanna cry, and laugh if I wanna laugh. Ready to give a whole lot of love again, say a proper goodbye, and live life with a shark in one arm, and every other person I love and the Harry Potter collection in the other.

Love to you all and muchas gracias for reading. X

fitness, Health, Home, Humour, Lifestyle

11 signs you’re ready to hibernate (when October betrays you)

This year, summer and I did not get on.

Intense thigh chafeing, daily sweating between my boobs, and burning all the freckles off my shoulders that one afternoon it hit 34 degrees. Not to mention chronic hay fever, Brexit (although the timing of that can’t necessarily be helped), humidity hair and a particularly alarming allergic reaction to a cooler fan.

I have never been more ready for autumn.

Winter pyjamas, candles, Halloween hysteria, fresh clean air, and giant scarves to hide from the world in; it’s always been my favourite. And I’m not the only one – when pumpkin spice latte starts trending on Twitter you know you’re living in a country that embraces seasonal change, and finally the season has arrived that we are actually good at – wet weather, pre-empting Christmas, jumping in crunchy leaves, making wellies look hot, and, of course, smoothies in knitwear.

However, amongst all the winter romance, the spices, the warmth of a fire, and the build-up to the end of the year, there’s one not-so-sexy autumn phenomenon that always finds us in the end. Sneaking through layers of protective knitwear, antibacterial gel, and bottles of immune-boosting syrups that cost more than your dream pug, there is nothing we do better than wallowing in the seasonal cold and flu bug.

It’s Saturday night. I’ve been horizontal for most of today, and if I shut my eyes and breathe through my ears, I think I can feel progress. I’ve stopped shivering, stopped sweating, and haven’t sneezed in six hours. Minus the fact I’ve started freaking myself out about being home alone on a Saturday night and there might be a clown in my garden, I feel better. I am so rubbish at being ill. Not only do I convince myself it’s something more serious, but mostly lie on the sofa crying and punishing myself for not being productive. So I thought I’d at least try to make spending my weekend under a duvet only eating jelly worthwhile.

Catching a demonic cold is hands down the worst thing about October except X Factor. So this is a list for everyone, like me, who’s caught the fucker and who’s ready to give up on reality and bed down for the winter.

1 It’s been a gradual realisation over the last three days but you’re pretty sure you’d trade in your boyfriend for a permanently hot water bottle.

2 You’re drinking so much lemon and honey it’s highly likely your wee is 90% Lemsip.

3 “Feed a cold, starve a fever.” Two packets of Jaffa Cakes and a curry later and you can add nausea and undisguisable food baby to your list of ongoing symptoms.

4 Your head hurts too much to catch up on Bake Off and you wish Mel and Sue would just come over and batter you with a rolling pin to put you out of your misery.

5 You think about sue-ing whoever’s responsible for all the oranges you ate in September which clearly had no effect in protecting your immune system whatsoever.

6 “SORRY FOR BEING WEAK” was the last email you sent to your bosses before signing off work and going home to die.

7 Nothing you wear is appropriate. All your clothes are either suffocating or hypothermic, so you decide your best option is creating an entire pyjama range out of those heat-sensor tights from M&S.

8 Your neck feels a bit stiff from propping yourself up on pillows in an attempt to breathe through your nose and you worry how long you should leave it before concluding it’s meningitis and calling it a day.

9 Everyone who is healthy is evil, including fictional characters on television, and the dog next door.

10 If there’s a GCSE in sneezing, you get an A*. Hi-five to you.

11 Your husky voice and throaty cough sounds almost sexy so you try to sing “sticky, sticky shoes” like Phoebe from FRIENDS but choke on the second “sticky” and go back to mourning your vocal chords.

GET WELL SOON, WORLD.

fitness, Health, Home, Humour, Lifestyle

20 thoughts we all secretly have in yoga class.

We’ve started yoga at work. It’s at half past six every Tuesday. There are approximately ten of us and I have the least cool yoga mat. It’s at the top of a building in Angel which could bear similarities to the Sky Tower classes except you have to climb approximately six flights of stairs to get there so everyone is too exhausted to take selfies. 

Yoga is officially the best thing that’s happened to me since they invented giant crumpets. Even so, there are some major struggles because it turns out in a class that’s dedicated to being zen there are like one million very un-zen moments. Similar to giant crumpets seeming like a good idea at the time, until you remember they contain enough gluten to RUIN YOU and wear out three hot water bottles before it’s over. 

I’m putting myself out on a limb here (because yoga is a part of me now) and assuming praying that I’m not the only one who thinks these thoughts alone on my mat when I’m supposed to be perfecting child’s pose.

20 thoughts we all secretly have in yoga class. 

1 You don’t mean to sing your own praises but you are seriously good at breathing through your mouth. Maybe there’s a league we could all join?

2 Whilst you do love sitting cross-legged on the floor it does feel a slight waste not to be singing All Things Bright and Beautiful at the same time. 

3 What shall you have for dinner… perhaps something clean, like sushi, or bleach?

4 Alternatively if you order ahead perhaps the burger could be in your mouth within ten minutes of leaving this class. 

5 Fuck. Forgot to shave your armpits. Game over.

6 Whilst you love the idea of cactus pose you can’t help but be reminded of that time in Year Eleven PE where your cool rating was directly proportionate to whose thighs were wider than their handspan and TBH you’re still extremely traumatised. 

7 You love planking. You haven’t been this relaxed since you tried to wax your bikini line at home for the first time, left it on for too long and glued your underwear to your skin for two days. 

Just me?

8 You have a gut feeling that owning a dog might be a tad more therapeutic than pretending to be a downward facing one, six floors up, whilst all the blood rushes to your head and what feels like the tendons in the back of your knees turn inside out. 

9 Why has no one farted yet? Something very un-zen about trying to perfect sphinx pose when you’re so painfully conscious of your own digestive system. 

10 What did you do to deserve being this inflexible? Was it that time you stole a cola cube from Woolworths? Of course that had to come back and bite you in the ass. 

11 Babe you are owning child’s pose right now. Maybe you should move to LA and start a Youtube channel.  

12 Why are everyone’s leggings so much cooler than yours? You haven’t been this jealous of other people’s clothes since the jungle trousers phase of 1999. 

13 You are totally gonna name your first child Yoga. 

14 Not usually one to solve all of life’s problems but the world would be a much better place if we all had a bit of intravenous lavender oil. Just saying. 

15 You know what the best thing in life would be? Yoga that makes you tanned at the same time. Why is that not a thing?

16 Those people who do this for a living…why don’t they have any loose hair strands getting caught in their mouth? 

17 Not sure whether it’s fashionable to have VPL in sports leggings but either way you should become its ambassador.

18 Remember that time you really, really wanted a Baby G or Baby B watch from Argos and had to wait until Christmas? That was a positively minuscule problem in comparison to how much you want to be able to shove your foot into your upper thigh and perfect tree pose by next week. 

19 There’s some kind of sick injustice in the world when everyone else has managed to find their namaste with one leg up against the wall and you’re still trying to work out which one of your legs is left and which one is right. 

20 “Please don’t make me leave my mat. It’s so safe and warm here.”

Namastay cool babeeeeees. X