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, Humour, Lifestyle

If teenage me could see me now. 

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Actually it’s fashionable to write your name in the sand at a beach party. In case you forget it.

About once a week I get mistaken for a teenager – mostly when I’m buying ibuprofen in a supermarket run by morons and once when two men in a van stopped to ask me to get in their van but on closer inspection thought I was fifteen and left me alone (true story – avoid Holloway Road at all costs). It’s a weird one because I know I look young, and my voice is enthusiastically high-pitched, and I get excited about practically everything, but I’m not a teenager anymore. I stepped out of that skin a long time ago and into a new one. Somewhere along the way I shrugged off all the fear, the shame, the discomfort, the maybelline dream matte mousse and started a fresh version of myself. With hair straighteners and sarcasm.

But the perpetual identity crises that happen when you turn twenty-six and haven’t made it yet have got me thinking – which parts of my teenage self are carved into my identity now, ten years later, still running through my veins, tripping me up or propelling me forward? And if my teenage self – in all her insecurity and hope and hysteria – could see me now, what would she say?

When I started secondary school, there was this girl in year eleven who used to terrorise younger students in the toilets by throwing soap at them. I think she was probably responsible for a lot more threat in the school than toiletry-based aggression, but that is the lasting memory I have of her and it has stayed with me. She had her comeuppance on her final day of school when someone else in the year threw an entire jug of water over her at lunch, years of repression and inferiority surfacing in the most iconic aquatic tirade since Titanic. Meanwhile, in the bathrooms, the unspoiled bars of soap breathed a bubble of relief. It was the last time I ever saw her, an image I hold dearly, because it’s the closest I’ll ever get to being in Mean Girls.

In my second year I was so desperate not to make a fool of myself on sports day (despite not even being terrible at sport) that I faked a blackout in the middle of the 400m race so that if there was even the remotest chance of me coming last, I would become a medical hero instead. What actually happened was that during my pretend blackout, an ice cream van arrived on the field and everyone fled to load up on 99s with flakes and those 10p bags of crisps called prawn balls and no one noticed me. God help my mum having to fake-comfort me the whole way home because I couldn’t even bear to admit to myself that it was all a sham.

A bit later, aged fourteen, I got run over on my birthday by a crazy Italian motorcyclist who’d just got out of a coma. I wasn’t seriously injured but I milked it a bit and distinctly remember feeling excited that something big-deal-enough had happened to me that I might feel like I fit in, or get even a sliver of attention from the cooler girls in my form. Instead, one girl laughed and another asked whether I had drawn the tyre marks onto my calves to be edgy.

To be fair that does sound like something I would do. 

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Apple store webcams, where dreams come true.

I was pretty tame. I still am. Finding out what dry humping is was enough to send me into anaphylactic shock. The only embarrassing things I posted on the internet were Casualty and Holby City fan fiction on pretty hard-to-come-by forums, spilling all my fears, hopes and dreams into fifty minute medical dramas. I once spent an entire term dancing with ribbons for PE and couldn’t sleep at night worrying I wasn’t sexy enough in my gym leotard – despite being at an all-girls school with a teacher who had a mullet and a long string-like plait down her back that looked like the rope you use to turn the hot water on in the shower. 

To be completely honest I’ve only partially moved on from that. Except when I’m lying in bed now I remember I’m 26 and the only thing I need to worry about these days is one day buying a house and spending seven hours detangling my tights after they’ve been in the washing machine. All of which leads me to thinking, what in hell would 15-year old me think of my life now? Of who I am, what I’m doing, even what I look like? What makes me laugh, cry, scared, angry? 

Maybe something like…

I can’t believe you’ve actually bought yourself your own crossword puzzle book AND you’re wearing a pac a mac in public on the train. What if another human sees you? Of all the things I thought you’d grow up to appreciate, linen spray is not one of them. Really? A teapot’s on your Christmas wish list? You drink BEER now. You’re such a dad. Don’t you have any Malibu? Why don’t you like any cool bands? As if you take your make-up off in front of a boy. Have you no shame? What do you mean, you don’t hang out at stage doors anymore?You’re so boring. What even is council tax? I’m so sad you’re not famous. WHAT? THEY DON’T DO PRAWN BALLS ANYMORE? I never thought you’d grow up to be someone who thinks a sign of a good night is Nutella on your pyjamas. I can’t believe you talk about tampons in public. And I’m sad you still can’t shave your legs. Really, you’re considering taking up knitting? Why do you insist on wearing patterns that clash? Why don’t you just go to Jane Norman? Maybe you should fake your own death to see what happens.

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Why don’t you pose underneath hand dryers anymore?

Aside from jesting, and the horror that I am 1000 times less cool now than I was in 2005, actually I think teenage me would be happy with how it’s worked out ten years later. That I found the confidence to be me in the end, that my two best friends then are my two best friends now and one of them works for Lindt. She’d probably be relieved that I ended up in a school where I did fit in, loved university and am working in theatre, which is what I always wanted to do after I stopped wanting to be a vet slash acrobat slash paramedic slash Lara from Casualty slash zookeeper slash Desperate Housewives slash famous.

She’d be fucking mind-boggled and then positively delighted that the boy I fell in love with and told everyone I was marrying and stalked from afar is now my boyfriend and we fart in front of each other and I go to bed with Sudocrem on my spots and he doesn’t care. She’d be sad that I’ve given up singing but happy that I took a ten-year break from writing scripts and am back to it although disappointed there’s not even one scene set in an emergency room. She’d be proud I can talk to strangers and not be ashamed of my hair colour and wee up a mountain and more. 

Being a teenager was super crap but teenager girls have it harder these days – the only confidence crush I got online was someone not thinking my ambulance crash story was realistic enough. Teenagers these days probably think I’m really weird when I listen to their conversations on the bus and smile over my shoulder at them like a knowing grandma. But it’s because all that faking blackouts, trying to be cool, telling stories, caking on the make up, wanting to be loved, that all stops in the end and I want them to know that. That the girls who throw soap will always lose out.The ones who get it thrown at them will learn to brush it off, come out cleaner, stronger, smarter, funnier and smell better on the other side. You will grow out of Malibu and grow into your body and you’ll grow up to be you and only you.

And I bloody can’t wait to learn how to knit.