Home, Humour, Lifestyle, Mental Health

Confidence: what is it and how do I get some?

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I daydream about The Sound of Music an unhealthy amount.

I daydream about having a four octave range. I daydream about making clothes from curtains. I daydream about running up stone steps and climbing trees with a gang of siblings. (I’m not currently talking to either of my brothers as one of them bought they other one a ‘make your own felt soup dragon’ from The Clangers and didn’t get me one. And I can’t run up any steps without an inhaler. Also I’m an adult now.) I daydream about fucking over a group of Nazis by fiddling around with their car engine. I daydream about living in the mountains. I daydream about my life being a musical. I daydream about becoming a nun so I don’t have to decide what to wear every day and, also, you know, a place in heaven and an actual life plan.

There are more dreams and aspirations to take away from The Sound of Music than there are Nando’s order combinations, but it’s now, at the ripe old age of 28, as I embark on a new adventure called “freelance writer”, that I’m starting to think about maybe the biggest one of all. Confidence. That moment in the film where Maria has to find it in herself to do what she dreams of, to be brave, to stop doubting herself and to face her fears; to be confident.

Please allow me to pause briefly in my narrative, to contextualise the lyrics of Confidence in light of my new life as a freelance writer, so you get an idea of where I’m at right now, mentally and lyrically.

What will this day be like? I wonder.

(I open my laptop. Some melted chocolate is stuck under the “F7” key. I think about cleaning it but decide against it, for no particular reason.)

What will my future be? I wonder.

(One month into trying to write for a living, I’m googling that job at Edinburgh zoo I read about; the person who has to pick penguins up who keep falling over because of the planes flying in the sky above them.)

It could be so exciting to be out in the world, to be free

(If only I could actually bring myself to write something)

My heart should be wildly rejoicing

(OMG I get to be on SNL, what?)

Oh, what’s the matter with me?

(I genuinely have no idea how that could ever happen)

I’ve always longed for adventure

(By which I mean a Hogwarts letter…)

To do the things I’ve never dared

(By which I mean eat the hottest sauce at Nando’s, or, you know, actually put myself forward for something or say “I’m good. Pick me”)

Now here I’m facing adventure

(Freelancing)

Then why am I so scared?

(Rent to pay… wedding to organise… the fact my vagina went numb for two days, but that’s another story)

A captain with seven children

(By captain I mean biscuit tin, and by children I mean biscuits, and by seven I mean none, because I ate them all before lunchtime)

What’s so fearsome about that?

(Bloating, diabetes…)

Oh, I must stop these doubts, all these worries

(You’re telling me)

If I don’t I just know I’ll turn back

(Honestly, if this doesn’t work out, I’m happy to go back to any job I’ve had previously, except the one temping for an account who dribbled on me.)

I must dream of the things I am seeking

(To…be…a…writer…TO… BE… A… WRITER…)

I am seeking the courage I lack

(Seeking it in the fridge, in a yoghurt pot, because probiotics solve everything… right?)

You still with me? Good.

Confidence. Confidence. It’s a weird one. I think somewhere along the line I used to have it. I must have felt confident when I wrote my first pop song, at the age of eight, and performed it to my dad who, bless him, had to let me know it wasn’t appropriate to sing: “anytime, anywhere, you and I, well, I care lots, because when I’m with you we can make love.” Yes. You read that lack of scansion correctly. Lucky I’m not trying to be a freelance lyricist.

I also think, at times, I have it now. Or one kind at least. The courage to get up on stage and improvise in front of a paying crowd every week (although not enough to come off stage and stop myself from immediately apologising to my team mates for ruining the show). The kind that tells me it’s a good idea to write blogs and post them on the internet, not even anonymously (although not enough to feel crippled with fear and self-doubt the minute I hit publish). I will leave the house without make up, walk around in my underwear (obviously when appropriate, not at the dentist), happily talk to strangers.

But, that proper, deep-down self-belief, in who I am, and what I want to do with my life. That’s… harder for me to come to terms with, I’m realising. I had three back-to-back meetings the day I churned out this blog on a particularly uneventful train journey home, and kept wondering why I apologise in advance for everything I say and do. Why I don’t appear to have any belief in the ideas I’m presenting until someone else tells me they’re okay. Why I resort to jokes, or self-deprecation, when someone says something nice about me. For example:

“I like your hair.” “Thanks. I have a short stump at the back that you can’t see where it accidentally caught fire.”

“Your show was great.” “Thanks. I basically shat myself before I went on stage.”

We all do it. From time to time. Some more than others. I think. Women, especially.

“I like your dress.” “It was on sale, it would look better on you, it’s baggy around my waist/my nipples/my elbows.”

“You’re so good at this or that.” “No I’m not. Don’t be stupid. Why would you say that? No I’m not.

I cried a lot last week, turned into a bit of an anxiety wreck, and went to bed, because I lost track of a play I’m writing. I just couldn’t find a way out of it. And I ended up being so full of self-despair that I couldn’t look at my computer anymore. But when the loathing passed, I got a bit mad at myself. That I always see the worst in myself and the work I do. That I can’t seem to ever argue on my own behalf. That I have so little faith in myself. That I was drafting up an email telling the people who commissioned me that they should approach someone else.

It’s particularly tricky when you’re trying to publicise a show that you’ve written and that you’re also performing, as I was doing a month ago. I needed people to come and see it (like, in a box office guarantee way, you know) and, I guess, somewhere deep down, I did want people to see it too, but I also sort of didn’t, because it made me feel nauseous and vulnerable and exposed. So it’s a strange thing, going on social media and yelling, COME AND SEE MY PLAY, when there’s a giant part of you going, DON’T. DON’T DO IT. GO AND HAVE A DONUT INSTEAD. NOTHING BEATS A DONUT.

This isn’t who I want to be. I’m all for empowering women, lifting my sisters up with me, as someone cooler than me might phrase it, so why am I so bad at empowering myself? Where does it come from? Will I have my ‘Maria walking round the abbey walls’ moment where I suddenly start singing and believing in myself? Where will that epiphany take place? Tesco? The shower? The toilet on a South Eastern train? Should I just go to Austria? Is Austria where dreams are made?

For a little while now, it’s felt like this ‘thing’ I’m trying to do in life is just a game I’m playing. Like a strange version of The Sims with more croissants. I feel frequently that I’m having some kind of out of body experience, I’m watching myself, and laughing. Is it just me? I doubt it somehow.

I don’t have any answers. I’m genuinely curious to hear from people who’ve found it. Found that core, that nut of confidence that keeps them centered, that keeps them moving, that stops them from saying “sorry” or “I can’t” or “I shouldn’t” or questioning constantly, wasting time questioning, instead of spending time sensibly, at a donut shop, where only good decisions are made. It’s in me somewhere, I’m sure. If someone told me, “you’re not funny” I think I’d have a thing or two to say about that, but I probably wouldn’t actually say it, I’d probably just feel a thing or two, and then go home and eat some more yoghurt.

Obviously this is a largely millennial, first-world problem. I’m aware I may be coming across extremely vain and self-involved and I need to get over myself, do what I have to do, and then do something worthwhile, like volunteer in a community allotment, or rescue a dog, or argue against tampon tax more often. But hey, I’m flawed, extremely flawed actually, physically too; that numb vagina could come back at any minute. It’s a constant threat. In that, my friends, I am confident.

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Home, Humour, Lifestyle, London, Mental Health, social media

Inspired by Britney Spears: what happens when it gets toxic.

Baby, give me it
You’re dangerous
I’m loving it

Too high
Can’t come down
Losin’ my head
Spinnin’ ’round and ’round
Do you feel me now?

Oh,
The taste of your lips
I’m on a ride
You’re toxic I’m slippin’ under
With a taste of a poison paradise

I’m addicted to you
Don’t you know that you’re toxic?
And I love what you do
Don’t you know that you’re toxic?

(Britney Spears, 2013)

Saying ‘social media is toxic’ out loud is about as revelatory as saying the green pasta twirls are the best; everyone knows it. If it wasn’t so faffy (and wasteful) buying a packet of Tricolore and picking out just the green ones, I’d absolutely be bingeing on them as much as I binge on Twitter, Instagram, Whatsapp, you name it. But I’m not. I’m sticking to good old fashioned fusili, because I don’t have the time for that shit and I’m waiting until they just do the right thing and invent entirely green packs of pasta, and also, I’m too busy bingeing on Twitter, Instagram, Whatsapp, you name it.

I work from home on Fridays. Last week was possibly the busiest week in recent memory (and my memory isn’t great because social media keeps killing off my brain cells). On top of my job which that week included organising a press night, I had improv rehearsals, an improv show, a photo shoot, rehearsals for another play and several meetings squished in around that like a tea cosie of added pressure. It was a great week – I like being busy and everything sort of worked and went okay and I look my age and not like a haggard old hypothermic witch in like 75% of the photographs – but it’s been 11 days since I’ve had a day to just ‘be’ and so last night I thought I’d not bother setting an alarm and wake up naturally.

At 7.45pm – because apparently when you turn 28 you become a morning person – for approximately 36 seconds I felt like a goddess. My body and brain was refreshed and my electric blanket was more comforting than a hug from Oprah. Then I picked up my phone and began the morning scroll. 47 minutes later I’m a different woman. I’m stewing over a cup of tea, feeling nauseous, distracted, unmotivated, and, ever so slightly wizened. Excuse my use of ‘wizened,’ it’s just so fun to say.

I spent a few minutes talking to my sister-in-law, who I live with, about how I need to start charging my phone downstairs and investing in an alarm clock, so I can’t tempt myself with all the glories of the online world before I can even properly see out of one eye. I then grabbed my phone and deleted all the apps. I mean, I say all the apps, I kept Whatsapp – because I’m not ready to lose my entire friendship group and I have a lot of long distance relationships to maintain – and I deleted Facebook ages ago because these days it’s about as interesting as a pot of houmous. But I did plonk Twitter and Instagram in the trash and now I’m sitting down to contemplate where to go.

When I think about what I’ve seen on social media this week it’s no wonder I’m ageing prematurely and constantly vomming a small bit in my mouth. On Twitter, before 8am, I’ve seen pigs being tortured, racist Halloween costumes, stories of sexual assault, men telling women they’re shit, women telling men they’re shit and petty, bitchy gossip which is reminiscent of being 14, except in year nine we had MSN so we just said it to people’s faces. On Instagram, I’m seeing people’s holiday snaps, perfect vegan breakfasts, nights out, cocktails, shopping hauls, pumpkin after pumpkin after sodding pumpkin, often shared by people I know – and I’m including myself in this – aren’t actually happy. Not really.

Why are we teasing each other with snapshots of our perfect moments when life isn’t perfect? What are we doing to each other? Why are we playing this game, which we all know isn’t real, to make ourselves feel better for a split-second until we see a picture of someone else in a bikini/drinking a frappuccino/getting a free holiday/getting engaged/having a baby/being more successful than us/buying a house/spending loads of money/being cool and suddenly feel shit again?

When I was on holiday I turned the data on my phone off and started writing a blogpost I never ended up publishing. It was called “vacation: unfiltered” because I got really cliché in Tuscany. Yet again, I’d reached a point where I spent more time looking at Twitter and Instagram than I did breathing, blinking and, judging by the state of my IBS, digesting food. Something had to change. So why not add to the challenges I had already set myself for holiday (get a tan, regular bowel movements, eat ice cream every day) and turn off that free 4G?

Here were some of my entries, about the detox but also compensations for the one photograph of the pool I gave in and uploaded to Instagram, in the form of some holiday truths.

It’s Tuesday as I write, and I haven’t been on Facebook since Friday. I checked Twitter once, because it’s Edinburgh Fringe and I get FOMO, and I gave into temptation and posted a photo of our swimming pool on Instagram, because, let’s face it, us millennials have been bred to brag, and what’s the point of having a swimming pool to yourselves set against a backdrop of Tuscan vineyards if you can’t ignore the view and instead spend 15 minutes showing off to people, most of whom aren’t your friends?

I’ve checked Instagram once and Whatsapp about twice a day – because I’m very attached to my friends, and also there are other ways of bragging.

We have been truly ravaged by mosquitoes. I look like a pepperoni pizza.

Yesterday I got stung between the eyes by a wasp and it’s only thanks to the fact I’m already double-dosing on antihistamines due to my worldwide hay fever together with the fact my body is already covered in red bumps that you can’t tell. 

In fact, I also have spots thanks to sun cream that are worse, far worse, so that’s nice.

I have IBS. The biggest triggers for bloating that can rival a woman who is six months pregnant are dairy and white flour. My diet on holiday has mostly comprised of pizza, pasta, bruschetta, ice cream, yoghurt and extra bread alongside every meal. My attempt at eating vegan regularly has flown so far out the window I THINK it has landed somewhere in the Yorkshire dales. If it’s any consolation I did find vegan Calippos and, if I hadn’t already posted on Facebook that Ed and I are getting married, I would be at the registry office right now, trying to make a Vegan Calippo my life partner.

I think I have three ingrown hairs on my bikini line.

It took us three days to find good food out. It might look picturesque but Tuscany’s main delicacies are wild boar and steak – not ideal for vegetarians.

Our shower only releases one line of water, like when a hose (or penis) dribbles a bit. Washing over half a metre of thick hair is one hell of an adventure.

And, finally, the image I project on social media versus the reality:

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The irony about writing this blog post is I’m entirely reliant on social media to get anyone to read it. So, already, within about an hour of deleting the apps I’m travelling the old-fashioned browser route to satisfy my approval cravings. And I’m reliant on it in other ways too. I’d never have raised over £1000 for my half marathon without Facebook. No one would come and see my shows. I wouldn’t be able to stalk cute babies dressed as characters from Killing Eve. I’d be ignorant of many world events – and equally at risk of staying in my tiny bubble.

But something has to change. Today a particularly vicious, gleeful cycle of bitching on Twitter pushed me over the edge. Me taking a break isn’t going to change anything – but I might actually be able to get some work done today if I stop letting it overwhelm me. It’s not always industry-related. Sometimes it’s an animal cruelty video. Or an Instagram story by someone whose life is cooler than mine. So I guess this is my way of making a promise to myself – to detach from it all – and also, as much as I find it hard to imagine that anyone has read my blog and thought ‘I’m so jealous of that cystitis-fuelled, anxiety-ridden queen of IBS,’ to just compensate for any part I’m playing in that social media game by dismantling it, acknowledging the bullshit, and taking off the filter.

It’s Friday morning. It’s 10am. I’ve done no actual work yet except write this blog. I’m sat in my Harry Potter pyjama bottoms with no bra on. I think I’m allergic to my laundry detergent so I’m regularly itching various parts of my body. I just ate Cornflakes with oat milk – part of my vegan agenda that begins at 8am and ends as soon as I eat chocolate and cheese later in the day. My hands are numb because the house is cold. I’m me.

 

 

Home, Lifestyle, Mental Health

World Mental Health Day: Living the (anxiety) dream.

Today is World Mental Health Day. This week I have had approximately seven anxiety dreams. And it’s only Wednesday. The irony has not escaped me.

Today is World Mental Health Day. This week I’m running a half marathon for probably the country’s most well-known mental health charity, MIND, and I’m currently the most anxious I’ve been in months. The irony has not only not escaped me but is enveloping me, like an invisibility cloak, but the cloak has a face, with a raised eyebrow, and its own personality, laughing contentedly at my misfortune. Basically it’s not an invisibility cloak, it’s the Sorting Hat. Thanks for bearing with me on that one.

In the first dream tarantulas appeared on my body; some kind of torturous manifestation of stress. They felt like dish scourers and were the size of side plates and before you ask, no, I have no idea why the tarantulas are all kitchen-themed. I could feel them under my feet, my back, beneath my hair line and the more I grabbed them by my hands and chucked them out the window the more they attached themselves to me, like Velcro, or a bad reputation.

Do I think it’s a coincidence this dream happened in September, aka spider season? No. Do I think it’s a coincidence this dream happened the night I washed my hair and left it in a scrunchy so that loose strands kept sticking to my back, my arms, my neck in an uncannily spider-like way? No. Do I think it’s a coincidence this dream – and the others, if only I had time to tell you about the scotch egg one – is happening at a time I’m busy, run-down and at risk of imploding? To quote the chef in The Little Mermaid, Non, non, non, mes poissons.

The problem with anxiety is just because I’ve got better at controlling it doesn’t mean it’s gone away. Actually, the older I get (at the wizened age of 28) the more I’m becoming convinced it’s just changed form.

I used to experience random, generalised, unpredictable bouts of fear and dread – sat in a hairdresser’s chair convinced they’d find some kind of cancer when giving me the special leave-in shampoo treatment (as if I’ve ever been able to afford the special leave-in shampoo treatment, they were just brushing it). Panic attacks working front of house for no reason (not even the time there was a terror threat and I was the one on cloakroom looking for potential bombs in suitcases and Harrods bags – that would be far too understandable). Filling up the car at the petrol station, sitting in the cinema, answering anonymous phone calls, walking to work, in the shower, in the supermarket – all-consuming, impossibly hard to recognise and even harder to solve.

I am in a position now where a lot of the time I can recognise the symptoms and solve them before it’s an issue. Go me. I spent the money I saved on special leave-in shampoo on some special leave-in psychoanalysis and counselling and worked out why my brain is the way it is. I can drive by myself now, I don’t freak out at the hairdressers anymore, I can even feel up my boobs in the shower without giving myself a death sentence. I understand the way my brain works and know when it’s misbehaving. I know when it’s a bad time for me to think about googling symptoms, I know when I need to get some fresh air and go on a run, I know when I need to sleep or eat or cry. I’m more honest with myself about when I’m struggling and spend more time saying no, looking after myself, and talking out loud.

I’m a way happier, calmer person for like 80% of the time. Now triggers for me are more circumstantial and less frequent but when they do happen they’re equally debilitating. I get anxious if I’m bored or unsatisfied or in limbo and I get anxious if I’m too busy and over-worked and burning out. What a conundrum. Working in the creative industries is a path I’ve chosen, not one I’ve been thrown into, and it’s an industry of extremes, so it’s my responsibility to get the balance right and most of the time I do. I might be working on a million projects alongside a full-time job but I still find time to eat carbs and watch Killing Eve and exercise and step on crunchy leaves so I stay sane. I’m happiest when I’m in control – whether that’s bulk-cooking vegetarian chilli or planning my week meticulously in my diary, mapping out evenings to exercise or to just lie down and contemplate the universe.

That other 20% though. That’s the mind number. It just seeps out, sometimes, seemingly, as a tarantula dream, and sometimes as disrupted sleep, butterflies, chewing the inside of my mouth, IBS, getting a cold, losing my voice, feeling exhausted, not being able to make decisions, procrastinating, crying or wanting to cry for no reason, nerves, nausea and general blues. All the shades of blue – the colour of the sea in Cornwall that one day of the year it isn’t grey, Daniel Craig’s eyes, the sky, the Microsoft word logo. You get where I’m at. And that’s what today is like. Ye olde Mental Health Awareness Day.

It’s no wonder, really, because after a summer of waiting for things to materialise now, on top of my actual job, I’ve got to finish one play in the next month, another by the end of the year, am performing every week, rehearsing every other, doing a live podcast in ten days and I can feel myself getting ill and it’s supposed to rain on Sunday and I have to run 13.1 miles. WHAT. At this point it’s highly likely I’m going to forget I’m getting married next year too. Someone remind me nearer the time.

However. I’m very much living the dream, not the nightmare. I’m going to be fine. I am alive. I am lucky. I have people around me who I can talk to. I have a job. I have really comfy pillows. I have time. Time to run. Time to chase a dream. Time to eat. Time to laugh. Time to make mistakes. Time to crash and burn. Time to heal. Time to work out what I’m doing and who I want to be.

Here are the little things I’ve done today and last week and the week before when I felt myself tearing up and feeling breathless, just in case it helps: I told someone. A problem shared and so on. I treated myself (to an over-priced, bad-for-the-planet, orange and cayenne pepper shot from Pret – don’t shoot me). I trod on some leaves in the park in the sun. I made a gratefulness list. I did some stretches in my bedroom (where I realised my carpet will never be free of my hair). I helped someone out. I gave myself a break.

Every day is mental health day – this one just gets special attention because we all love a hash tag. I didn’t write this blog to plug my FUNDRAISING PAGE – I wrote it because I felt like I had to. But if you’ve made it to the end then can forgive me for shoving it in your face. I’ve spent the last however many weeks and months training to run my first ever half marathon and it’s all for MIND. I’m about sixty quid away from doubling my target and raising £1000. Even a fiver means the world. Thank you – take care, talk to someone, check up on your friends and family, and get out on those leaves before they go soggy.

 

 

birthday, Home, Humour, Lifestyle

A decade of adulthood.

Ten years ago today I turned 18. I threw my first ever house party but, because I was a nerd, not a rebel, I didn’t plan it on a weekend where my family were away, so my parents, two brothers and my dog were unofficially held hostage in my mum and dad’s bedroom, banned from making a public appearance, except to clear away some leftover chicken drumsticks and to help fix my bed frame, which had mysteriously broken.

It was cocktail themed. Everyone had to come dressed as a cocktail and bring a lot of spirits. The craziest things that happened were we crowd-surfed in my lounge, the aforementioned broken bed was propped up with bricks for the next three years, and apparently two people had sex in my dog’s basket, but the dog never confirmed that. My entrance into adulthood was official.

Today I am 28 and last night I left a work party before 10pm because, ten years on, I’ve discovered I don’t really like parties. At least not when they’re on weekdays and I’ve had to organise them and they don’t include fancy dress.

I’m at this conflicting time in my life, where I still look like a teenager and feel like an imposter in adult places, like conference centres and the M1, but in many ways I have definitely, absolutely aged. Matured, like a cheese, but not an old cheese, not stilton or the ones that come wrapped in paper, like they might fall apart from old age if you don’t hold them together, and not a young cheese, a Babybel, a cheese string, that would be even more ridiculous than this analogy. Somewhere in between. But where exactly is that?

Brie? Double Gloucester? … Laughing Cow?

At 28 years old there is still so much I don’t know; when to use ‘who’ and ‘whom,’ why you have to rinse rice, what the collective noun is for a group of rhinos (just joking, it’s obviously a ‘crash’.) But just because school stopped a decade ago – along with my legwarmers obsession and ability to keep down peach schnapps – doesn’t mean I’ve stopped learning.

I’ve learned loads, actually.

I’ve learned it doesn’t become easier to grate things with age. Cheese will always be slippery and run out within five minutes. Both lemons and limes will become more elusive and you will end up grating your own skin into a citrus meringue pie for the work bake off. Carrots will fuck you over every time.

I’ve learned that if you forget to have dinner before you go out on your 21st birthday you will be sick on yourself, your shoes and someone else’s shoes, and the worst possible solution is to pour a pint of water over yourself to disguise it. I’ve also learned that your best friends are the ones who have the photo of you soaked in water and vomit as their desktop background for the next five years.

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I’ve learned I’m not yet responsible enough to own a herb garden, nor am I capable of not spilling hot drinks either down myself or on important documents. And by important documents I mean my favourite postcard of a highland cow that has my exact morning hair, and my ticket stub from Celine Dion; I’m not yet adult enough to hold onto anything that is actually important. I also don’t know whether I should say ‘an herb garden’ or ‘a herb garden.’ One makes the inside of my skin feel funny but I guess if grammar were easy we’d all be spending a lot less time learning about commas in school and a lot more time learning about mortgages, and tax returns, and why you should always eat dinner before going clubbing.

After a decade of driving I still can’t parallel park when people (or squirrels) are watching and filling up the petrol tank makes me more anxious than disease. I iron my clothes about once a year and when I do I use my hair straighteners.

My idea of rebellion has not improved. The most daring act I commit on a regular basis is that even though the back of my hair conditioner says keep in for five minutes I get bored after 30 seconds and wash it out anyway. And sometimes I still eat dry pasta.

Alongside all those particularly life-defining experiences, some other things have happened in my adult life. I got a degree (but I have no bloody clue where the certificate is). I’ve discovered a taste for red wine. I’ve changed what I want to do with my life over 5000 times. I’ve written lots, laughed lots, cried lots. I’ve lost approximately seven pairs of headphones. I’ve developed IBS. I’ve gone from being able to run a bath to being able to run 8 miles and I’m still going. I’ve fallen in love with the same person twice and in my tenth year of adulthood I’m going to marry him. One of the main reasons I’m spending the rest of my life with him is because he’s really good at inventing games and activities at parties – he started the crowd-surfing at my 18th whilst dressed as a pink lady.

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I have zero clue what my next ten years of adulthood are going to be like. I have so many dreams.

I’d like to get paid to write. For real.

I’d like to adopt a staffie and call it Lego. Or adopt two staffies and call them ‘Fizzy’ and ‘Laces.’

I like to think I will be able to pull off mom jeans.

I’d like to have a baby without completely destroying my vagina and call it Lyra whether or not it’s a boy or a girl.

I’d like to become more confident about using spices in cooking.

I’d like a cupboard where all the mugs are different. No matching sets. Lots of personalities.

Mostly though, I want to spend the next 10 years making more mistakes. Being unafraid of failure. Improvising. Laughing. Because the biggest thing I’ve learned is that life’s too short for anything else. Oh, that, and to never ever wear a waist belt out in public again.

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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.

 

 

 

Home, Humour, Lifestyle, London, realism

Coming Clean.

I have something to confess to you all.

There is a dress at the bottom of my washing basket that has been there for one year. It’s hand wash only and in twelve months I haven’t found the motivation, inspiration or remotest sense of interest to sort it out.

I hate hand-washing clothes for a number of reasons. It’s time consuming. It’s faffy. I have to go upstairs to use the good sink. It’s boring. But it’s absolutely no excuse, is it? I should be ashamed. On a shame scale I’d say it’s probably worse than forgetting about a satsuma at the bottom of the fruit bowl and only discovering it one month later after it’s grown its own ecosystem, but it’s not as bad as, say, leaving your child in the supermarket and going home to watch Gogglebox?

Either way though, I refuse to be ashamed, because, let’s face it, this entire blog centres around confessions and smashing filters to smithereens and if I really was ashamed of myself, I’d probably be doing something about it, instead of pointedly ignoring said item of clothing and writing about it instead.

I’m taking it as a sign that today is my one-year anniversary of not giving a shit. In the age of clean, I’m embracing the obscene (and rhyming, apparently.) Because the thing is, I know, deep down, I am just the kind of person that cares more about having a choice of cereals in the morning than a choice of presentable clothes.

It isn’t even a time thing. I take a lot of time making cool packed lunches in multi-coloured Tupperware. I spend time straightening my hair so I don’t look like an (albeit anaemic) Aslan. I spend time writing, sitting on my hands so I don’t bite my nails, thinking about the future, thinking about puns, and – I’m self-conscious enough to feel like I have to defend myself here – washing everything else. Because I’m still a clean person. I wash all my other clothes – very regularly. My towels. My face. My hair. (Sadly, even though my loathing for hair washing rivals my loathing for complicated laundry items, I can’t get away with leaving my head at the bottom of the washing basket for a year.)

And the dress isn’t soiled or anything. I don’t think I even sweated that much that evening. Come to think of it, I probably didn’t need to wash it. I probably could have just sprayed it with Febreze and hung it back up. And my laundry basket is this kind of plasticky stand-alone Ikea one, so I don’t think it’s prone to germs or infestations. Basically I don’t think I’m endangering myself or anyone I live with by leaving it in there, getting it out every time I do a normal wash, and putting it back in.

It’s just one of those can’t be bothered adult things that I’ve let get the better of me. Like descaling the kettle. And getting a proper job.

Maybe I’m a late developer. I mean, let’s face it, I still haven’t got boobs. Perhaps when I hit 30 I’ll finally learn how to do it all. How to shave my legs without maiming myself, how to stop all my woolly clothes from going bobbly, how to just hand wash a damn dress. Or maybe, maybe, I’m not responsible enough to do washing. Perhaps I can skip that bit of adult life out. I tried to wash my denim jacket earlier and forgot I’d left a crème egg in the top pocket. It’s now fucked. Truly fucked. And the worst part is, I’d bought the egg as a present for someone. It wasn’t even for me. No part of the situation is fair.

It seems ironic, given London’s illegal levels of pollution, that we seem to be living in a clean age. Instagram grids are flawless, fridges are jam-packed, no, not even with jam, but with spinach and spirulina and self-love (mine is actually full of cheese strings left over from my noughties play). Everyone is living up to this idea of perfection that’s probably inspired partly by Scandinavia and their damn perfect interior décor, partly by Reese Witherspoon, and partly by that person you went to school with on Facebook who you don’t really like, or know anything about anymore, but who posts photos of her baby in immaculate bibs (why does it never dribble)?

But it’s not sustainable, is it? Just like fossil fuels, this mining of Youtube and Instagram and Pinterest for lifestyle inspiration and the perfect bath (if I took a photograph of my bath and put it on Instagram I’d probably get reported for being triggering), means at some point if we haven’t already, we’re all going to end up having a breakdown. Perhaps we all need to take a step back and start leaving more things at the bottom of the laundry bin.

I’m not writing all this in reaction to the clean scene, because honestly, actively ignoring that dress at the bottom of my laundry basket isn’t an act of protest. But it does fit nicely with the theme. I’ve given up chasing perfection and trying to be something I’m not. I spent pretty much all my teenage years trying to escape my own body and be someone else. It resulted in a bad fringe, two months spent trying to be a ballet dancer, and a lot of self-loathing.

I’m happy with who I am now but I don’t take myself seriously enough to start trying to paint an image of perfection online. I barely know how Instagram works, although I did recently discover when posting a podcast, that if you use the hashtag #adultfilm a lot of porn stars start following you so that’s exciting. It’s actually quite hard being an adult and managing to do lots of different things. We don’t get wet break time. We don’t get rewards for doing unpleasant things like tax or epilating. We have to be responsible for our own tax. Not nearly enough of our clothes have pockets in.

So happy anniversary to me. Cheers to being messy. To celebrate, I might do a hand wash tonight, because now I’ve put the dress out into the world I feel like I really ought to do something about it.

Well. At least before I turn 30.