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.

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.

 

 

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, Secret Diary of a Tall Girl

Secret Diary of a Tall Girl #3

sunset

As I write this I’m on a National Express coach from the New Forest back to London, and there is a strong smell of urine and cheese puffs. My cup of tea is over-flowing, dripping onto the floor next to me. Coupled with the fact I left with a Tupperware full of banoffee pie from Ed’s dad’s birthday, but forgot to bring a spoon, so if I want to eat it while it’s still fresh I’m going to have to lick it out, I think I’m in for a messy ride.

It’s been so long since I got this coach. When I was at sixth form, my best friend and I would travel up every other weekend to stalk musical theatre stars and take posey photos outside Benefit stores (the novelty). Ten years ago, running for the midnight coach home on a school night, thriving on adrenaline from the Hairspray curtain call, all felt normal. These days though, I’m normally driving up, or rather Ed’s driving because I’d rather eat a loo roll than drive a big car and I’m eating chocolate raisins in the passenger seat and making a Delta Goodrem playlist.

It’s weird because I like to think of myself as a strong, independent woman, but this morning the thought of travelling back to my house on a coach alone suddenly got my stomach butterflying. I can talk about it rationally now, because something about the rancid smell, numb hands from the air conditioning, and sealed windows so I can’t jump out even if I want to, has made me feel calm again. Make of that what you will. But what was there to be anxious about, really? Putting the bins out alone in Bromley of all places? Needing a poo? Toxic shock syndrome?

Actually, probably the worst thing that could have happened, aside from, you know, a bridge falling on us, or a multiple car pile-up on the M27, is forgetting a spoon and watching my banoffee pie melt in front of my eyes. And I’m dealing with that JUST FINE. It’s been a mad couple of weeks, maybe that’s why my brain is in overdrive. So to save me waffling on for an entire journey, I’ll sum it up quickly for anyone who’s interested.

Highlights of the last fortnight:

  • Three weddings in a row. I tell you what, I really do have the most beautiful friends, and getting to hang out with them so much has been complete bliss. And whether its Pimms ice lollies, an ice cream van, or a French magician, this lot have pulled out all the stops.

wedding

  • Mollky; a Finnish wooden skittles game that, in all honesty, has changed my life more than finally getting the right contraceptive pill.

mokkly

  • Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour and Jesus Christ Superstar. Sometimes working in theatre makes you forget about the magic. You know how everything works, most of the people in it and still can’t afford an ice cream. But every now and then you experience shows that remind you why you started in the first place.
  • Planning a killer Halloween weekend. I am so ready for autumn with my adventure team.
  • Picking blackberries; it might just be the most therapeutic activity of all time and we now have a freezer full of them for whenever I have a rainy Sunday to bake an enormous crumble.

blackberries

  • Vegetarian food. When I decided to ditch meat for good at the start of the year, I told myself if I made it to the summer and there was a hog roast at one of the weddings, I’d let myself go to town. As it’s happened, there haven’t been any hog roasts so I didn’t have to make that call, but the veggie food has been out of this world. You run the risk of being given a strange mushroom pasta, or a goat’s cheese and caramelised onion tart, so when a plate of roasted aubergine with feta, ratatouille and potato dauphinoise lands in front of you, it feels like Christmas day. (with no dead turkeys.)
  • GLOW on Netflix. End of.
  • Having my best friend back from Australia and getting to hang out with her like nothing has changed. We also watched my dad’s outdoor film concert in the pouring rain and met a storm trooper. She is perfect.

sian

Lowlights of the last fortnight:

  • Sore nipples. That took me by surprise. After sending a hoard of emergency Whatsapps to friends to ask if anyone else had experienced three-day long dryness to discover none of them had, I couldn’t get to sleep worrying a) I was dying or b) I’d wake up and my nipples would have fallen off in the night and I’d find them under my pillow. Thankfully, after three days of no bras and some pretty intense moisturising, I went back to normal. Think I was allergic to my laundry detergent.
  • Being cold. Whether it’s sitting under an air conditioning unit all day at work, or in Nandos next to a broken door that won’t shut, I am so over being cold and it’s only August. Three more weeks until it’s socially acceptable to start wearing two layers of tights.
  • Period pains.
  • Period pains at a wedding.
  • Period pains on a coach.
  • Period pains at breakfast with your boyfriend’s parents.
  • Period pains on a run.
  • Period pains and no ice cream.
  • Period pains.

You know what? Writing that list has made me realise that whilst I might never want to drive a car larger than a Ford KA and am still not sure which bins go out on a Sunday night even though I’ve lived in the same house for two years, I am still a strong, independent woman. Yes I bloody am.

Over the last fortnight I have battled the worst cramps I’ve had in months whilst line dancing to Cheerleader, recovered from potentially fatal nipple itching, discovered chilblains can happen in August, and still managed to work a full-time job, organise an opening night, respond to a lot of ‘so when are you and Ed getting hitched?’ questions without having a nervous breakdown, finish a writing project, say no to shortbread (only once though – the rest of the time I ate a lot of shortbread), remember everyone’s birthdays, AND rescue a snail on the pavement.

You know what that means? I’m not only a strong, independent woman, but I think I deserve this banoffee pie, right here, right now. I’m diving in. With my face. The woman adjacent to me is eating a bag of radishes. That is over one hundred times weirder. Hope you’ve all had wonderful weekends, and if anyone else gets flaky nipples, I’ve heard it only happens to the best.

 

 

 

 

Home, Humour, Lifestyle, Mental Health, realism

How I’m not afraid of my birthday (but still scared of watches)

twenties

I’m turning 26 next week and I still can’t wear a watch. I’m aware it sounds crazier than giving up sugar but it’s been over a decade and I’m yet to reconcile myself with the idea of having a clock attached to my body.  

At some point in my childhood I must have been okay about watches – I don’t remember wearing one but I do remember desperately wanting a Baby G for my birthday. You know what, thinking about it I’m not sure I ever got one. I’m gonna have to pick that up with my parents when I see them because it’s suddenly occurred to me that could be the reason I’ve spent most of my twenties feeling lost and confused. 

Or why I still have a lot of unrealistic expectations looking through the Argos catalogue.

Nevertheless, by the time I reached my teens the wrist was a no-go zone. Somewhere between dangling from a tree as a kid and noticing just how prominent the veins are when you cling onto things tight, to starting cumulative frequency aged fourteen and realising that no matter how many times you look at a clock in one day, time won’t pass any faster, things got irrational. 

It’s tricky to explain to someone who can wear a watch without their throat feeling tight just how nauseating the idea of time ticking against your pulse is. And obviously it’s even trickier to rationalise when you live in a time where watches don’t actually tick. But it’s as much a part of me as my croissant addiction and it’s here to stay.

On a related note, I’ve been trying to find a way back into my blog, because alongside work and croissants and writing a play and going on trips and not just to Tesco, I’ve been short on time. But it suddenly occurred to me that a year ago I was looking at turning a year older with a very different attitude. My dread levels were comparable to discovering dragons are the first task in the Triwizard tournament – or just whenever anyone takes out an acoustic guitar at a party. 

This year feels different though. If someone takes a guitar out at my birthday this weekend I’ll probably just attack them and resume normal service. We have thirteen guitars in our house (it’s a house of musicians by the way – not a museum) so if I’m not careful it’s fairly likely I’ll spend the rest of my twenties in prison. 

Somewhere along the line – whether it’s being in a full-time work for a year, in a theatre that I love, moving in with Eduardo (“I’m just a girl, standing in front of a boy, asking him to buy me tampons”), being more creative or simply not wearing as many crop tops – I think I might have grown up.

Something has changed that means the prospect of turning 26 next week is not only not giving me a nervous breakdown, but actually getting me excited. I’m not talking Bake Off excited – because that would be ridiculous – but just positive vibes and real motivation for making it a year to remember. 

25 has been a weird year. Despite being more settled than the year before, I’ve still felt in limbo a lot – like I’m waiting for real life to begin, like I’m looking at myself from above wondering how that same person walking to work like an adult is the one who sometimes feels disproportionately sad about Mary-Kate and Ashley growing up to be really un-smiley. 

Breast scans and abnormal smear results have sent my health anxiety through the roof on many an occasion which has been about as helpful as algebra. I invested in some private therapy in the hope of discovering a worry-free existence and – despite one month having to sacrifice haircuts and vitamins to pay for it – it worked but it also meant a lot of delving into who I am, what I want and what I need, which has been kind of exhausting.

(I’d like to just add quickly – although I’ll be dedicating a whole blog to it at some point soon – that paying someone to help me get my head straight was the best decision I made this year and I recommend it with all my heart. Fight the stigma and look after yourselves please.) 

I haven’t run away from anything this year. I performed something I’ve written for the first time since age ten when I wrote a pop song called ‘Making love anytime/anywhere’ and sang it to my Dad without realising what it meant. Brexit and chronic hayfever happened. Christmas feels well and truly adult now, even if I’m still slightly scared of the sound of crackers. 

But I guess what got me thinking about the whole watch thing is that for the first time in a long time I feel okay about time passing. Clocks ticking. Seconds vanishing. By all means I’m still reasonably concerned that my frown line takes a lot of forehead stretching before it disappears in the morning. Mostly though – with the exception of doctors’ appointments which are still a minor to moderate distraction – I’ve stopped being so scared of the future. Butterflies are no longer part of my daily routine. I’ve stopped freaking out about change, or lack of sleep, or travelling. The prospect of tomorrow, next week, next month doesn’t scare me as much as not doing anything at all and not being happy with myself. 

So next year – well next year looks good.

I’m not fixed. I still can’t wear a watch; veins in compromising positions will always be an issue. But I’m making my 26th year on this planet the first I get my act together and give blood. Getting through life without wearing a watch is one thing, but I’m not letting a silly fear stop me from saving a life. 

Plenty of being 26 will be the same as it is now – except the part where I try and learn to pole vault in time to get to Tokyo in 2020. I want the little things to stay exactly the same. The people who keep my world spinning, adventures in the countryside, pun contests, a strong Tupperware game. I still have some work to do on not thinking about fatal illnesses too much. I’d also like to consume more cereal generally, my boobs to stop hurting all the time, to not cry the next time I try and do Park Run, to avoid getting my cactus caught in my hair a second time, and to win more 2ps at the arcade. 

This will be a birthday of not thinking about age and time and growing up. It will be a birthday of celebrating the now, with my favourite people, in Grease-fancy dress and threatening anyone who picks up that guitar. 

See you on the other side. X 

Graduates, Home, Humour, Lifestyle

23 signs you’re having a mid-twenties crisis

There are few things I love more than writing about being a twenty-something. Those things are basically Harry Potter, peppermint tea, theatre, puppies and free croissants by the way. 

So because it’s Sunday, and I need to take a breather from binge-watching The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and crying over how much I love Tina Fey, I’ve decided to go old school and write a list post. 

If you wanna do this thing properly, this read is best accompanied with a carton of Ribena, preferably bought from a vending machine at your local swimming pool, and a packet of Pom bears.

23 signs you’re having a mid-twenties crisis

crisis

1 A lot of today has been spent beating yourself up that some people have run a marathon and your idea of productivity was simply using dry shampoo. 

2 Your weekly shop involves making a list of adult-friendly ingredients, such as cashew butter, courgettes, coconut oil and rye bread, and leaving the shop with nothing but a lost sense of identity and a reduced croissant.

3 Your friends talk about houses and engagements and promotions and credit ratings like real adults and all you can think about  is how long it’s been since you last ate a pot noodle. 

4 You tried to straighten your hair with Netflix.

5 It’s tricky to explain but you definitely look better with a face mask on. 

6 You know how angry Voldemort gets when he discovers his Horcruxes are gone? You get that furious about very small things you used to take for granted – like perfume adverts in magazines (how can we POSSIBLY tell what they smell like?) and the holes in crumpets.

7 The other day you spent at least 15 minutes googling Ariana Grande’s Wikipedia page thinking how unfair it is that some people are so extraordinarily good at impressions and you’re just good at buttering toast. 

8 The biggest sense of achievement this week was colouring your skin in with black nail varnish so no one noticed you ripped your tights.

9 Sometimes you feel like you have a gaping hole in your heart for reasons that are beyond your control, like the fact that no one uses a milkman anymore and supermarkets have stopped selling those giant boxes of broken biscuits.

10 You hate yourself for it but you’re addicted to Buzzfeed lifestyle quizzes. Especially the ones that guess your age by your favourite Disney movie, or your pubic hair. You feel a combination of elated and barren when it tells you you’re a warm-hearted 17 year old.

11 You embark on a search of self-discovery and read a book of star signs. You lose heart when your birth date describes you as a ‘semi-shaded patio’ with ‘veiled eyelids.’ You consider asking your parents to change your birthday. 

12 You have mixed feelings about babies – you envy their flexibility, fear their control over your womb, and want to kick them out of their prams just to have a lie down. You may experiment with these maternal feelings by buying a strawberry plant. 

13 You start re-reading books from your childhood and wonder if it’s too late to be friends with Biff, Kipper and Chip. 

14 At your most vulnerable times you could be persuaded a dog is the answer to life’s troubles, but after some thought decide it’s better to wait and save up for a moose. 

15 “GOD I’m 25 – isn’t it about time I stopped having periods?”

16 You’re finally ready to buy your first picnic hamper but plan to fill it only with Wotsits. 

17 The idea of doing a Masters is weighing on your mind but only if you can study astronomy, or houmous.

18 You get deja vu all the time but for things that have never been a part of your life, like dinosaurs or common sense.

19 Sometimes you wonder if you’re a robot because you get absolutely nothing from mindfulness colouring books.

20 Pigeons piss you off on a daily basis: “JUST BECAUSE YOU DON’T HAVE ANY BILLS TO PAY.”

21 Approximately 80% of your day is spent thinking about what to eat next. The other 20% is wondering if fast typing counts as cardio. 

22 A disproportionate amount of your time is spent asking questions too big for this universe. Basically why are there no jokes on ice lolly sticks anymore? 

23 You’re suddenly really protective over your teeth. This manifests itself in anxiety dreams about your teeth falling out and investigating buying shares in toothpaste. 

ALL MY LOVE. X