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.

 

 

Home, Humour, Lifestyle, London, realism, Summer

Boob sweat, bum imprints and surviving the British heatwave.

cocktail photo

Don’t get me wrong, I love a bit of sun. Or rather, I love that it’s not rain. Rain gets in my shoes, frizzes my hair, fogs up my glasses and drowns my miniature strawberry plant. Rain is not for dancing or romance, like they tell you in the movies. It’s for drenched socks, slippery stairs and soggy newspapers strewn on the streets of London like leaflets for a storm.

Right now though, after I’ve managed about three hours sleep because my room is (and I know this because my radio is a thermometer) over thirty degrees at midnight, I can’t remember the last time it rained. Hydration feels further in the past than dinosaurs. Sun cream and a suffocating tube carriage have blocked out all memories of anything other than sweat.

It calls for an emergency remedy. But this is no time for water, sunglasses and climbing in the freezer. It’s time for a list of the daily dilemmas that impose themselves on us unaccustomed Brits every time the heatwave strikes. This is for everyone trying to be a functioning adult in the heat, as opposed to a millionaire blogger, small baby, or anyone with their own swimming pool. This is for everyone trying to remember a life without crotch sweat. Because we all know the only way you survive change is by stalking the internet for lols, right?

So where are we at?

Well. You’ve sweated so much between your boobs in the last 48 hours you’re about one hour away from wedging a Calippo in the middle of your bra and calling it a day.

You’re on Twitter approximately every 12 minutes missioning through #Britishheatwave hashtags because sarcasm is the only relief.

You’re afraid to sit down anywhere that isn’t the shower because you’ve left an imprint of your bum on every seat in the city and it feels a little bit like unprotected sex.

You have spots in places you never knew possible because it is impossible to stay grease-free in buildings that were made for the Ice Age.

You’ve spent most of your working days trying to overcome your seething jealousy of girls whose make-up stays on their faces, as opposed to seeping down cheeks, onto clothes, so you look like a picture a five year child drew for their school tea towel.

You’re thinking about starting a petition for free sprinklers in all London Underground stations. And free journeys to Antarctica.

No matter how hard you try to sleep on top of the duvet, there’s still a part of you that needs to keep some part of your body under the covers for safety, so you melt in your own predicament.

Sun burn will come for you, whether you like it or not. It will find a way in, like James Bond, and it will leave strange shapes on the underside of your arms and in between your toes, and suddenly you’ll miss your chilblains.

You’re so unbelievably bored of salad but it’s the only food you can eat without feeling like your insides are boiling.

Blow drying your hair has become as unrealistic as paying off your student loan, so you’re wild like Mufasa and hoping no one will notice.

Hayfever’s back. That bastard of a sidekick to any increase in temperature, where sleeping with the window open is a death warrant, and you’re one sneeze away from asking for an induced coma.

Physical contact has become impossible. You try to kiss your partner goodnight and they flinch, roll over and mutter “Are you trying to kill me?” You lie together, but apart, staring into the void, alone in the dark.

But it’s not all bad news. Every sun has a silver lining, right? Right?

For example, my cactus is thriving. It’s literally never looked so good. I swear – in my slightly hallucinatory state this morning – I saw it smile at me. Another brilliant thing about heatwaves – we have a medical reason to eat ice cream on the hour and not wear a bra for the next two months. When you add in the joy of freckles, no need to carry around a coat or umbrella, the fact that we Brits all love to complain about everything anyway, and the valid excuse to go up to dogs you don’t know and give them sips from your water bottle, it might just be the best time of year.

And just like that… as my sunburn from twenty minutes outside at lunchtime fades and I grow accustomed to this new climate, I check the weather app on my phone and see rain is forecast for seven days next week. It was nice while it lasted.

Home, Humour, Lifestyle, London, Mental Health, Theatre

Learning lines and learning limits.

Tamar and Emma Split_with_title_b

It’s Sunday evening on a bank holiday and I’m horizontal on the sofa – or as horizontal as I can be with humidity hair that is now so vertical it’s almost touching the ceiling – learning lines and watching La La Land and wondering if I’ll ever shake off this headache that’s been bothering me for the last two days.

I’m trying to work out whether it’s because I’m really due a cry but am apparently dead inside, because I’m tired and stressed and what feels like ten litres of water a day isn’t enough, because the contraceptive pill is causing some kind of internal bleed in my brain and these are my last 24 hours on earth, or because I’m firing all cylinders and there genuinely isn’t enough space for thought in my skull anymore.

It could be one of the above or all four; either way I’ve picked up my laptop to write a blog post for the first time in a little while because I have to get some thoughts out of my head and onto the internet before I explode.

I’ve abandoned writing anything new recently because I’m rehearsing non-stop and – I don’t know if you’ve heard this before – but there aren’t enough hours in the day. A friend of mine on Friday night took me to one side though, and said he’d hoped to read a new blog while he did a poo and was disappointed to see I hadn’t written one in a while as it’s his favourite thing to read on the toilet, and I feel compelled to write now because it’s genuinely the best compliment anyone’s ever paid me.

So here I am. Wishing I was Emma Stone. Trying to ignore my aching brain. Thinking about re-opening the giant bar of Green and Blacks I shoved in the fridge. Wanting to talk a little bit about what it’s like to burn the candle at both ends in the hope of getting somewhere, sometime soon.

I’m really proud of my play. For anyone who isn’t friends with me on Facebook and who isn’t sick to death of me spamming the internet about it, I’ve co-written it with one of my best friends in the universe, Tamar Broadbent (remember that name) and when we perform it feels like all the good things in life.

It’s funny. It’s happy. Hell it’s short. But you don’t have to be writing Hamlet for it to feel like hard work. Both of us have at least one full-time job and it means trying to create something in lunch hours, or in evenings in my garden because we can’t afford rehearsal space or on the phone on the train without commuters giving you death stares. It takes up a lot of headspace – on top of spending every waking hour thanking God no one can see all the sweat between your boobs in 24 degree heat.

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Sleep vs. rehearsals. 

It is completely worth it – but it doesn’t stop me having this feeling in the back of my head that if we just got to do this, only this, actually spend some proper time making something special, instead of trying to fit it around everything else, it would be so brilliant and I’d never complain again. But alas. Real life is a thing. And I can’t live at home with my parents because they live in the New Forest and quite often donkeys get onto the rail lines and you can’t get to London. I didn’t go to Cambridge – I went to King’s which has a good reputation for law and medicine but the humanities department is severely underfunded and you perform your shows on a sticky floor of a nightclub. Opportunities aren’t knocking on the door – although some Jehovah’s Witnesses did for the first time the other day, so maybe that’s something. I don’t have the money to study again or dedicate myself to writing or workshops. Basically it’s never been an option not to work – constantly – to get by. So where does it leave me?

Well. I’m a bit fragmented because this is the first night in I’ve had in a while and I’m finding it difficult to relax. It doesn’t help that I keep having to go outside because I’m spending all my money on flyers and props so I’m having to bulk-cook vegetable chilli for every meal this week. And the heat of the spice combined with the heat of the air temperature means it’s not cooling down. So I’ve had to put it in the shed and need to keep checking spiders haven’t snuck into the Tupperware.

Living the dream?

Between now and opening my show next weekend, on top of work I’m trying to work out how to build a bed on stage, sell enough tickets for opening night, get enough sleep, not get ill, start my new improvisation course, release a new podcast episode, remember to feed the birds in the garden because I’m home alone all week and if Eduardo comes back and sees I’ve left them to die he might leave me, try and fit an entire set in my car which is approximately the size of a microwave), and try to remember who I am.

Don’t get me wrong. I am so lucky. I feel grateful I can choose to live this strange, stupid life of trying to be an artist in inverted commas. I have parents who support me no matter what and haven’t forced me to go into insurance. A boyfriend who’s helping me build aforementioned bed and who comes to see every show multiple times. Friends. Friends who get it. Who do it too. Or if they don’t – who tell you they’re proud of you in random Whatsapps. To live in a society where I am free to make theatre about thongs and tank tops and first time blow jobs and not be sent to prison. To have the most brilliant writing partner. To have a laptop and all my fingers. To be alive and breathing.

But, and don’t hate me, in the words of Ariel, I want more.

How are you supposed to work out whether the right thing to do is sit back and be satisfied or keep on moving? I love working in a theatre that inspires me, with people who are rays of sunshine, and near some of the most edible bakeries in the world. I can also get away with wearing whatever I like – and for someone whose fashion choices range from toddler on first day of pre-school to a nineties teenager wishing she was in Rent it’s something I will never take for granted. But I still can’t help day-dreaming while I’m on Outlook – about being able to write all the time, or make people laugh for a living, or send emails about my work instead of anyone else’s.

Does that make me a nightmare? A want-it-all? An unrealistic stargazer? Vain? Greedy? And – even worse – if “it’s understandable” and “we believe in you” and “go-get-em” that’s the answer then when is it going to happen? Because I don’t think I can do both forever. I don’t have enough Tupperware and it’s giving me a headache and I’m losing sleep over it and I only have so much confidence and self-esteem to get me there. It’s not just me. I’ve had countless conversations with friends in the business over the last few weeks who are trying to make ends meet, or do another rubbish waitressing job so they can go to auditions in the day, or who are starting to believe that it’s only ever going to be money that gets you places, or who are close to giving up.

But enough of the negativity. My life is not a tragedy (afraid I can’t say the same for my hair.)

Limits are hard to define. They are as blurry as a selfie in a nightclub. As grey as London’s polluted sky. As shady as slim. But I think I’m getting to know mine. When I’m not tired and headachey and nipping out to the shed every five minutes I’m actually positive. This grafting is as much a part of life as “making it.” And potentially it’s the best bit. Right?

Life isn’t just success and money and love and holidays and a really good barbecue. It’s credit card bills and bags under your eyes and judging anyone who says they like running. It’s that awkward feeling of a tampon not quite fitting right. IBS. Mouth ulcers. It’s holding hands and sneezing and falling asleep with a breeze through your window that feels good at night and awful in the morning when the pollen starts seeping into your lungs. It’s choreographing songs in your garden and eating fish fingers. It’s being proud of yourself right before spilling a drink in your bag.

Our play is on next week in Brighton. It’s called Split and it’s about all the best and worst bits of being a teenage girl. It’s set to a noughties soundtrack – like a romantic comedy about that relationship you have with your best friend before you fall in love with someone for real – when you speak all night on the phone and share your deepest secrets and dream of being in a girl band and think ice cream is the answer to everything. Tamar is a queen.

Splitposter

Being a teenager is all about feeling insecure and imagining a future and having multiple disasters in public and wanting to feel loved and trying to fit in and trying to stand out at the same time. Really it’s not that different from being a twenty-something trying to be a writer. You might know how to kiss better and no one’s making packed lunches for you but life is still both endlessly frustrating and endlessly optimistic.

I’ve been ready to give it my all this year. I still am. But I’ve also wanted to turn my life around in other ways – to be healthy and sane and satisfied. So now I’m going to get my chilli out the shed and go to sleep. Because it’s half ten and god damn I swore to myself I’d learn the last scene and then go to bed early and look the bloody hell what happened.

So to everyone out there trying to make something for themselves. Whether that’s a career, a family or just a really good fry-up. You’re the best and you’re already succeeding. Life is such a mess but I think – because Disney tells us it’s true – that it’ll happen and it’ll all work out. And if it doesn’t – well it’s quite nice to just sit back and watch Ryan Gosling on screen and dream. Happy bank hols.

Tickets for my show here.

 

Health, Home, Lifestyle, realism

Holy cow, let’s save the planet.

vegphotoblog

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Home, Humour, Lifestyle

If teenage me could see me now. 

emma-sand
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. 

macphoto
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. 

Books, Home, Humour, Lifestyle, realism, Storytelling

16 times Harry Potter is just too real for real life.

Sometimes when we freak out about our lives we find a distraction. This can be anything really. Some people like nail art. Others choose to bake the stone of an avocado in an oven for four hours and then grind it up into food.

I’m sure you all know by now that I’m in crisis mode faaaaairly often. It’s because I was born on a Wednesday (or at least that’s what Divination tells me). My latest dilemma – the fact that my commute was killing my soul – led me to download all seven Harry Potters onto my Kindle in an effort to brighten up my train journeys and attempt to read them all in one month.

The last time I re-read Harry Potter it was in Spanish and I was at rock bottom. I was au pairing in the middle of the Spanish countryside (so remote I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s the location for the next Quidditch World Cup). The family I was living with refused to talk to me in the evenings and abandoned me most weekends to visit their local Ikea. The children threw chairs at me and the dad walked around naked in the middle of the night. All in all by the end of it I had serious cupboard under the stairs envy.

This time round my crisis was less comparable to neglect and more comparable to just repeatedly terrible Knight Bus journeys. In the end it took me seven weeks to read the series, which isn’t so bad considering I work eight hours a day and live with Muggles housemates who would be confused if I spent every evening curled up in my duvet googling the nearest Hippogriff store.

Unfortunately now I’ve re-read them all my life will never be the same. Here’s why. 

harrypotters

16 times Harry Potter is just too real for real life.

1 Your friends talk about houses and engagements and promotions and credit ratings and all you can think is “fuck these Muggles.”

2 One minute you pop out to buy a carton of milk and the next minute you’re walking down the road looking for Horcruxes.

3 Your friends won’t take you hat shopping anymore because last time you tried to find the sword of Gryffindor inside a flat cap and got thrown out. 

4 Nights out are difficult because nowhere in Soho sells Butterbeer. However you remain positive because, hey, at least it’s not a Deathday party. 

5 You try very hard to be a good friend and sympathise with other people’s life struggles but really you’re thinking “Seriously where is the PERSPECTIVE? On a scale from 1 to Dumbledore dying this barely qualifies.”

6 When someone asks you what your career goal is you mumble something about making a difference but what you really mean is you’re currently in training to be an Auror.

7 Every time there’s a flood in the girls’ bathroom you whisper “Myrtle.” Just in case.

8 The other day at work you accidentally volunteered to be on dishwasher duty because you misheard the office announcement and thought they were accepting volunteers for the next Triwizard Tournament.

9 Basically life sucks without cauldron cakes. 

10 You haven’t had time to do any chores for a month because you’ve been working on your application to the local council asking for permission to build an enchanted ceiling in your house.

11 It used to mug you off when people bumped into you on the street but now you know it’s not their fault: they must have been Confunded.

12 Every time you try and reach the plate of cookies in the middle of the table with a silent summoning charm you curse yourself: “If only I’d worked harder in Charms.”

13 You’re yet to confide in TFL but you’re pretty sure the reason your commute is delayed every morning is because Dementors are now managing Southeastern railway.

14 You’re 99% sure the cat that sneaks into your garden is an Animagus.

15 It’s proving more and more difficult to simply get ready in the morning because every time you look in the mirror you see the Philosopher’s Stone falling into your pocket. Now what? 

16 “This one time, at Hogwarts…” is the furthest you’ve ever got in that sentence because it turns out people think you’re CRAZY.

Graduates, Health, Home, Humour, Lifestyle, London, Mental Health, Storytelling

A Smear Test Story (Because I’m Worth It)

Since all I do is write about being 25 and IMO the most significant thing that happens to you when you turn 25, if you have a vagina, is getting your cervix scraped, it makes sense to me to document my first experience just because. For anyone lucky enough to have never seen a speculum, remember at school when you put two Pringles in your mouth to make a duck’s beak. It’s basically the lengthier, less tasty and less hilarious medical equivalent of that. 

I know, I know, I too have been wondering why something as sexy as a speculum isn’t used more regularly in porn. 

You guys probably all know that I think I’ve got cancer at the best of times, so there’s never an ideal time to get swabbed for malignant cells. Low on the list though, is a Friday morning at the end of a long week, when you need a wee. 

I began writing this in the waiting room of my doctors surgery. State of mind: trying to make myself as aroused as possible so it hurts less (only half joking). But I’m surrounded by old people, a blood pressure machine and a woman breastfeeding. There’s not a lot of scope at the NHS. It’s got to be said, I know you’re short of funding but a Brad Pitt cardboard cut out wouldn’t go amiss. 

So I’m having all the bad thoughts obviously. Is it like giving birth and will I need stitches after? What if I’m not actually flexible enough to fit in the stirrups? (Actually though – if it makes me more flexible please get me in there now.) Where does the voice that calls out the names actually come from? Just think of The Secret, Emma. Healthy cells, healthy cells, healthy cells. Normal cervix, normal cervix, normal cervix. 

Forty minutes later (clearly my nurse likes to play hard to get) I’m inside. (She’s not…yet). We’re talking. Like a first date (at least what they tell me) where you know there will ultimately be penetration but you go in for a bit of small talk anyway. I’m on the bed. We’ve got onto the subject of arts funding. What can I say? I take my work to bed with me. 

This is 100% worse than losing my virginity. As I spread my legs it occurs to me again that there’s still no Brad Pitt cut-out and this is the least enthusiastic I have ever been. What if my zest for life never returns? What if it’s sealed up in the pot of my hopefully benign cells and gone forever?

This nurse is so nice but seriously, stop asking me about work while you’re inside me. Hasn’t anyone told you it’s wrong to mix work and vaginal probing? Oh wait…your work is vaginal probing. On a positive note it turns out the best possible way to perfect mindfulness is a smear test. It’s apparently the one time I am completely in the moment.

It’s not peaceful. It’s not relaxing. I might be a bit sick. 

Now it’s over. I do feel fine really, maybe like 19% violated, but no more panicked and astray than normal. I may have told the nurse I loved her for treating me nicely giving her in all honesty not that inaccurate an insight into what I was like when I was single. (Ed, my hostage boyfriend, worries this bit makes me look a bit fragile. Thoughts on a postcard?) 

As I walk to the bus stop some builders yell at me from some scaffolding. Clearly I’m giving off some sexy post-swab vibes. Turns out getting swabbed gives you the courage to yell back at men in fluorescent jackets who catcall. My only regret is not telling them I’ve just had my cervix scraped, just to put them off for life, but I am still secretly pleased they called me ‘that blonde’ and not ‘that ginger.’  

I’m a bit devastated that they didn’t use the stirrups. Now I’ll never be a gymnast. I was also kinda hoping for a free Lucozade and Club bar after, like when you give blood. Next time I’ll try to bleed more. 

All in all, now I’ve had a cup of tea and feel like my pelvis definitely isn’t permanently damaged, I’m pretty content with how it went. On a scale of 1-10 on the ‘Is it worth it to know you’re cancer free?’ scale it’s definitely an 11. Realistically, as a growing woman, it’s not the worst thing that our vaginas are going to go through in life and the desire to live a long and happy life and to experience everything the world might throw at my cervix is the reason I’m gonna get my smear test every year. Cancer can piss off.  

Ironically when I arrived at Victoria station en route to work, cervix intact, the entire building was being evacuated. The words ‘exploded’ were being thrown around lightly and all I could think amidst the chaos was if my ‘lucky reason’ for not being on the tube at the time of a terrorist attack is because I was having a smear test that is bloody terrible because I’ll be indebted to a speculum for the rest of my life. 

A smear test and bomb scare in the same day guys = not the one.  

Turning 25 is scary. Living in London is scary. Cancer is scary. Smear tests are scary. But you just do it, you know? Croissants were of course invented as a post-scrape reward and coming through on the other side of all that fear and vagina-displaying you feel pretty good about yourself. I’m grateful to be swabbed because it’s vital. I’m grateful the security threat was just an unexploded WW2 bomb and no one died. Plus I got quoted in The Metro, hi bucket list. I’m happy I can spend the rest of my weekend with my head down and my legs shut having checked off one major item on the to-do list for age 25. Because I’m worth it.  

Girls, if you haven’t spread your legs yet, go get swabbed and tell me about it after. X