As long as I can remember, I have been 'away with the fairies.' A chronic daydreamer, from a very early age I was constantly floating on a cloud of some kind of whimsy. Whether my fantasies be patched together from Alan Garner, JK Rowling, Eva Ibbotson or even Toy Story (at around 6, I had a thing for Woody the cowboy)…as a child I was always longing to be somewhere I wasn't. The everyday, mundane and minute details of everyday life bored me. Admittedly, they still do, sometimes. Whilst on the surface throughout my school days I'd be attentive and quiet, mentally I'd be an age way, in a liminal time, a faraway place. I'd be deep in an enchanted forest, running down the spiral staircase of a rich King's castle, hanging out in the Gryffindor common room with Harry (wishful thinking – I am so blatantly a Hufflepuff…), or living with Tolkien's elvish folk in Rivendell. My favourite film today, aged twenty one, is Labyrinth. I am in love with the fantasy art of Brian Froud, Jasmine Beckett Griffith. I own unicorn candles. I have a miniature, mischievous brass Cornish Piskie that I almost unconsciously rub surreptitiously everyday for 'good luck.' I wholeheartedly embrace the concept of the seven chakras, and fully believe in the life-enhancing and calming properties of crystals. I have been described as 'kooky' by friends. I'm not entirely sure it was meant as a compliment. Don't get me wrong, I'm not utterly spaced out 24/7, but I can get so lost in my own thoughts/daydreams that I am rendered oblivious to those around me. Whilst a vivid imagination can certainly be a blessing, it can also be a curse. I'm self-aware enough to realise that my chronic daydreaming can sometimes make me appear withdrawn, odd, or at worst, rude. I'm not. At least, I hope I'm not. I just don't always have the energy or the practicality reserves required to deal with some interactions, unfortunately. The left side of my brain has always remained firmly in control. Give me a cryptic poem to puzzle over rather than an equation any day. I might be able to think of something vaguely intelligent regarding the poem. The equation would be a lost cause -(Math is my Kyrptonite).
Although it's certainly got it's drawbacks, I think there are a few reasons that I should feel pretty okay about not being quite ready to hang up my fairy wings and plant my feet firmly on the ground quite yet. I think it's a sign of creativity. It shows hope – daydreaming is, to me, daring to believe that the world can be a different place; more magical, a place where anything can happen and dreams can be believed. I wrote earlier that the mundane details of the life bore me. In many ways, this is true. Most of us don't get a thrill out of online baking (unless your account looks like Richard Branson's), and to my knowledge I don't know anyone that particularly enjoys washing the dishes, dealing with energy bills, or hanging out the laundry. I am not a practical person. My head could definitely be screwed on a little more firmly. But crucially, it's the times that we are engaged with dull tasks that we can allow our mind's to wander, that give us the time for the spark of fantasy and wonder to be ignited. I once had a job, aged sixteen, where one of my main tasks was to lick envelopes. I'm not kidding, I was literally paid to sit and seal them up. Money for nothing, certainly, but soul destroyingly dull. I resolutely didn't care – it just gave me more time to daydream, uninterrupted. The rhythmic seal of the envelope, ceremoniously writing out the addresses in block capitals, acted as a kind of soothing backdrop for the riot of fantastical in my daydreams. I'm not suggesting that we all boycott necessary, everyday tasks or lose our grip on reality altogether. Daydreaming can rob us of just being present in the moment, and I'm a huge advocate of being mindful. I just think it's important that we sometimes allow ourselves occasionally to escape reality, to not be consumed by trivial annoyances of everyday life. I'm a firm proponent of the idea that there is magic all around us, inside us. We must make an effort to see it, to create it, to cultivate the creativity inside us and refuse to let that sprinkling of pixie dust in our souls to rub off during the (sometimes eroding) difficulties of everyday life.
I am the world’s worst decision maker. Or at least, I’m up there. In the top twenty, for sure. I basically need a flow chart to decide what socks to wear in the morning. I find having multiple options vaguely terrifying. If I were to psychoanalyse myself, I’d say it’s likely rooted in a deep fear of failure, of making the ‘wrong’ choice. The inability to make swift decisions can strike whether the choice is minor or major, life changing or inconsequential. Case and point: I once cried, age six, in The Disney Store, unable to choose between a Tigger watch with a green strap or one sporting Oddball from 102 Dalmatians with a blue strap. It just felt so incredibly vital that I made the right decision. Fifteen years later, this indecisiveness has, unfortunately, remained a resolutely unshifting facet of my character. Incidentally, I chose Oddball. Probably appropriate.
So yes, it’s fair to say that I find decisions difficult. But lately, I’ve been confronted with a hell of a lot of them. I’ve just finished my degree in English Literature, a broad degree that offers no firm direction. Everything is incredibly uncertain, career-wise. I’m unsure what to pursue, and having to decide what the hell I’m actually going to do with my life is, to say the least, pretty f*cking overwhelming.
A more pleasant decision and immediate decision to be made, as opposed to the foggy realm of my future career path, was going to choose a puppy this weekend. I nonetheless found it ridiculously difficult. I looked down at three beautiful puppies. They all had faces constructed by the angels. Big brown eyes blinked endearingly. Wet noses nuzzles, tiny sandy tongues licked affectionately. I loved them. I loved them all. I wanted them all. I needed them all. It took an age. I ummed and ahhhed, cradling each one, wanting whichever was pup I currently had in my arms. It seemed impossible. How could I possibly pick between them?! But pick I did. I chose a red pup – the one I’d held first. I cradled him like a tiny furry child and as he blinked up at me, I followed my gut instinct and said that this was the doggy for me. Signed, sealed, (and not quite yet) delivered, he’ll become part of the family officially in three weeks. I adore him already. I look at his picture and melt, reduced to a ridiculous, soppy mess – or rather, an even more ridiculous, soppier mess than usual.
In the end, I made a choice. I’m incredibly happy with the one I made. I’m happy with my judgement. Sure, in the case of the four adorable puppies, there’s wasn’t exactly a ‘wrong’ choice. There was no bad outcome, nothing major at stake. I was either going to get an incredibly cute puppy or an incredibly cute puppy. But what I feel I can take from puppygate is this: I was able to make, what felt at the time, like an incredibly hard decision. I was able to make a choice and not regret it. Often we just have to decide, and get on with it. More often than not, we’ll make the right one. Perhaps there aren’t even any ‘good’ or ‘bad’ decisions. Just decisions. Life will constantly present us with choices that have to be made. The trick seems to be not to panic when they do. I’m going to try and view having multiple options in a more positive light, follow my gut and just get on with it. Another positive note: all future life choices will now be made whilst petting a dog. It might also make me more decisive: ‘Right Pup – One Bark for Yes, Two for No – what do you think?’ The new puppy will be lucky enough to hear me rambling on incessantly, and will in all likelihood become the silent, furry, adorable equivalent of a life coach. God help him. He’ll get lots of cuddles, though.
Today is my last day of being 20. I’m not quite sure how to feel about it all, really. I know it’s just a number. It doesn’t really mean anything. Just time, jogging along, as time unavoidably tends to do. Saying that though, it’s undeniable that there just seems to be something symbolic about turning 21. More so than at age 18, I think, there seems to be some kind of auspiciously grown up connotation to 21. I taste the words in my mouth, and they feel slightly strange. Twenty one. A proper adult. Isn’t 21 just for…more responsible people?
Terrifyingly, I remember thinking as a kid that anyone over 20 was practically ancient. In case I wasn’t already feeling my age today, my yoga teacher informed me this morning that she’s concerned one of my hips is weaker than the other. I’m clearly already a pensioner trapped in an (almost) 21 year old body. Get me to the Mecca Bingo centre and let the good times roll. Admittedly, I always did feel like I was just a bit too invested in the daytime TV programme‘Cash In The Attic.’ Quite clearly, I didn’t choose the pensioner life, it chose me, fifty or so years too soon.
Twenty has been quite a strange year for me, to be honest. Not my happiest. I think it’s a slightly liminal age, 20. Not the heady, reckless, ‘look-at-me-I’m-of-age-and-I’m-going-to-drink-jaegerbombs-til-I-puke’ 18 and not the slowly-starting to get settled mid twenties. At 20, I feel like I lost quite a bit of confidence. I’m hoping to rebuild that, slowly. I’m much less sure, inaway, about everything really. Though maybe that’s not all bad. It’s good not to have a too rigid idea of the future. Frightening, but then we can never really know what’s coming round the corner, can we? 20 certainly wasn’t all bad for me – far, far from it. There was a lot of good. I’m so grateful for all my beautiful friends and family – I’m so lucky to have such amazing, supportive and inspring people in my life. I’m just hoping that in my 21st year I’ll be in a better headspace, able to make the best of whatever opportunities life throws my way.
Fingers crossed and touch wood, my 21st birthday is shaping up to be a lot better than my 20th, even though the forecast is, weather wise, abysmal. I’m hopeful that 21 will be sunny for me on the whole, however. I’m entering the year happier, which is a good start. On my 20th birthday I was caught in a rapidly spiralling and terrifyingly all-consuming calorie phobia, terrified of gaining weight and dreading eating out to celebrate. I point blank refused a birthday cake or even a solitary bun, and my mum half-joked that we’d have to put a candle in a strawberry. I was the only one that made my 20th birthday slightly sad – it was self-sabotage. I got beautiful presents. I was made a fuss of. I was surrounded my dear friends that celebrated with me on a night out, but I rigidly controlled how much I drank and tallied up the mounting calories in every celebratory cocktail I was offered. Not this year. This year I am getting a cake and I am going to eat it and I am going to enjoy it. I am going to drink as much as I want (though ideally, I’d like to still be fairly vertical at the end of the evening). I am going to be with loving family and friends, as I was last year. But this year I am going to celebrate with them. I am going to be in the moment. I’ve never really been a party girl, and am pretty reluctant to be centre of attention. I hate planning events, especially when they’re centred around me. But the driving force for my 21st plans has just been a sort of quietly defiant voice in my brain saying ‘f*ck-it.’ I’m going to soak up turning 21, and I’m going to milk my celebrations dry.
I’ve had a pretty lovely last day as a twenty year old so far. I went to yoga. I went and treated myself to new makeup I didn’t need. I got a spray tan, surprisingly. It’s my first one, and though the lovely lady that sprayed me with what she slightly unnervingly called her ‘gun’ has promised it will develop overnight, at the moment I’m looking releivingly unlike a) David Dickinson b) an Oompa Loompa, or c) the shade of a Sainsbury’s carrier bag. The full effect remains to be seen. I’m hoping tomorrow will be a good day. I’m feeling lucky that some of my friends can make it out to celebrate with me, and incredibly touched that people have sent cards and presents.
The overall mood tonight is: ‘hopeful.’ I’m quietly excited. I’m hopeful that tomorrow is going to be great. I’m hopeful that I’m going to love 21. I’m hopeful. Excited and hopeful. Excitedly hopeful. It’s nice to be excited about things again, even in a quiet way.
I’m sorry that this post is pretty uninteresting and slightly rambling, as ever. I just felt that I should document my last night of 20, in some small way. But now, I’m going to stop being so self-reflective, possibly pour a small pre-celebratory tipple, and ponder the big issues – i.e is my Burberry ‘Summer’ perfume strong enough to mask the pretty potent smell of my spray tan? If not, one thing is for certain is this – I will enter 21 smelling vaguely of digestive biscuits. There are worse things, I suppose.
I hope tomorrow is a wonderfully happy unbirthday (or birthday!) for you all. See you on the other side of twenty. ❤️
Yesterday, on a whim, I bought a book called ‘Reasons To Stay Alive.’ I only picked it up because it was in the reduced pile. I’d never heard of the author, Matt Haig, but I’d seen the book before. It had been well-publicised. I vaguely remembered seeing it smattered across every prominent surface in every other bookshop I entered a year or so ago. As I took it to the counter, the elderly, irresistibly chipper bookseller peered down at the book quizzically. “Do you need reasons to stay alive?” he asked unexpectedly, piercing blue eyes twinkling at me behind his glasses. “Well…” I replied, probably sounding a little cowed, “I mean, hopefully I’ve already got a few.” He laughed.
You do not have to suffer from depression to appreciate and learn from this book. There are times when we all need reminding that things are not as bleak as they can sometimes seem, need to be told that the sun always breaks through eventually, even in the cloudiest of skies. Something that Haig does beautifully within this narrative is gently remind us, all of us, that though there may be times that the world seems to be filled with darkness more than with light, and though we may experience situations that can feel more than a little bit hopeless, there are always reasons to pull through. There are infinite reasons to keep going. You’ve definitely got more than a few. This book will remind you of some you might’ve forgotten.
It’s an unflinchingly honest, warm, wry, witty book. I read it in one-sitting. It is, however, so wise that I feel that one reading isn’t enough to sponge up all of Haig’s special brand of non-preachy wisdom, and so I am sure I will read it again and take more from it still. It’s a candid and easily accessible exploration of what it’s like to live a life at war with your own mind. It’s more than that though. It’s also a guide that advises you, as the blurb puts it, to “make the most of your time on Earth.” Time, it is all too easy to forget, that is limited. One part of the books magic lies in its emphasis that feelings of depression and anxiety are not forever. “This book is impossible,” proclaims the opening page. “Thirteen years ago I knew this couldn’t happen. I was going to die you see. Or go mad…the fact that this book exists is proof that depression lies.” Echoes of those feelings of hopelessness and fears of what we might perceive as an inevitably bleak future, Haig reminds us, might come-and-go for a very, very long time. Life is not linear. It’s filled with ups-and-downs and laughs and smiles and crying and arguing. There’ll be bumps in the road but there’ll also be fair bit of plain sailing thrown in for good measure. The darkness doesn’t last forever, this book emphasizes. When feelings of inadequacy and anxiety start to dig their claws into our psyches, there are ways to loosen their seemingly iron grip. The central message is this: Things will get better. You will get better. Things will be brighter. But you have to fight, and you have to stick around to see it.
‘Reasons To Stay Alive’ defies reduction to any one genre. Part memoir, part self-help book, Haig’s narrative is inspiring, and not in that gooey, sickly-sweet, ‘that’s-nice-but-I-just-threw-up-a-little-bit-in-my-mouth’ kind of way. This is not a sentimental or self-congratulatory story of personal triumph. This is not 253 pages of vague rambling about the importance of reconnecting with our authentic selves or inner child, however one goes about doing that, precisely. It’s a book about survival, and more specifically, about surviving against what are frankly some pretty f**cking terrifying odds. “Suicide is now – in places including the UK and US,” reminds Haig, “a leading cause of death, accounting for over one in a hundred fatalities…as people who kill themselves are, more often than not, depressives, depression is one of the deadliest diseases on the planet.” It was an eerily appropriate read for Mental Health Month. Stigma haunts the topic of depression like a stubborn bad smell, particularly, I feel, for males, who often find it hardest to admit that they’re suffering. It’s only through time, and the continuance of dialogue generated by eloquent, honest, and downright brave voices like Haig’s that the taboos around mental health are going to eroded. For depression suffers, this book could prove a lifebuoy, something to cling to when the storm hits and the waves are crashing and it feels like you might not be able to keep your head above the water, this time. “Be brave,” Haig implores. “Be strong. Breathe, and keep going. You will thank yourself later.”
By the end of this book, I really, really, cared about Matt Haig. I fully intend to read his other, fictional novels. If ‘Reasons To Stay Alive’ is any indicator, they’ll be filled to the brim with wit and warmth and encouragement, and packed with instances of the endurance and perseverance of the human spirit. I feel genuinely happy that Haig is capable of feeling good again, and that he’s scaled a mountain that must have seemed insurmountable. He’s a living lesson, his book proof of the vital need to just keep going, to keep putting one foot in front of the other, moment-to-moment, day-to-day. Even when it seems as though we aren’t making progress or achieving anything, we are. We’re alive, and that’s one hell of a miracle, when you stop and think about it. Stop and think about it.
P.S. There is no such thing as ‘not depressed enough’ to seek help. If you’re suffering, reach out. Even though it can feel like the hardest thing in the world to admit, even to yourself, that you need help, it’s worth it. Happiness is your birthright. Do anything that works for you, to keep you going. You are loved and loved in return. Stay.
Helplines for those suffering (UK)
Charity for sufferers of depression. Has a network of self-help groups.
Minds are messy. I sometimes find myself trapped in a tangled web of worries regarding how others perceive me. I’m often anxious that there’s a disconnect between who I am and who others believe I am. I rarely take an action without worrying what others will think of my decision. This results in me stalling and dithering, a ball of frustrated anxiety, trying and failing to find a solution that pleases everyone, and achieving only mass-dissatisfaction.
A technique that I’ve found mildly successful in silencing these worries is simply asking myself: does it actually matter? Does it matter what people think of me? Have I behaved in a way that I, personally, think is acceptable? If so, good. If not, I need to reconsider my actions and go from there. I must be my own judge and not let others’ perceptions of me haunt my every action and influence all of my decisions. Crucially, when we worry what others think of us, we project our own insecurities onto those surrounding us. We assume that everyone has noticed what we conceive as our ‘weak points’. We construct others’ perceptions of us. This is pointless and a waste of mental energy. It is all guesswork. Please yourself, do what you think is right. Make yourself proud and I believe the rest will follow.
We think that people think about us a lot more than they actually do. I actually find this thought incredibly comforting. I often feel incredibly conflicted – on a sensible, intellectual level, I know that no-one actually gives a damn if, say, I eat a muffin. But sometimes the mind is neither sensible nor logical. ‘They’ll think you’re greedy if you eat that,’ a nasty little voice occasionally whispers into my ear. ‘Disgusting, greedy pig. Lazy. You’ve barely done anything today. Of course they’re allowed to eat it. But not you, you don’t deserve it.’ And on it goes. This cruel, irrational, bullying self-punishment for a crime I haven’t committed. Unless, that is, I make a conscious and overt effort to battle against these thoughts, disregarding them as illogical. Would you ever think less of someone you love for eating a muffin? Um, no, me neither. I make an effort to pause, and halt this internal diatribe against myself. Eat the damn muffin, smile and be happy. None of this matters. Most of the time these days, I am able to do just that.
I worry. Who am I? Why don’t I have a clear perception of my own identity? How is everyone else so sure, soconfident of their place in the world and how they fit in to it? When I am able to think rationally, I wonder, is everyone quite as sure as I think they are? If they aren’t, we are alike and our struggles are similar. If they are, then their confidence has likely been gained through experience. If they are as unflappable and self-assured as I perceive them to be, then good. Life is not a competition. If we are not in competition with those around us, it makes sense that we cannot then ‘fall behind.’ The ‘but-they’re-doing-so-much-better-than-me-because-I-saw-that-one-post-on-facebook’ mentality is so draining and poisonous. I am trying to restrain myself from comparing my journey to the journey of those around me. Sometimes the answer to reducing our stress-levels is as simple as ‘don’t think too much.’ Many of us inflict unnecessary suffering upon ourselves by analyzing situations needlessly, hypothesizing on a future that we can never fully be sure of until it arrives. I am trying to stop sweating it about the small stuff.
This one is embarrassing to admit because it’s so shallow, but I think it’s something many of us worry about: on bad self-image days, I worry that others think I’m unattractive. I can see a bad photo of myself and still be thinking about it long after the camera has been put away. I’m ashamed to say that there have been times that I’ve been having fun, enjoying myself and not caring how I look and someone has taken a candid photo of me. I’ve afterwards looked at this picture, been horrified, and it’s spoiled the otherwise fantastic time I’d been having. This is obviously pretty sad, self-obsessed, and not to mention pointless. I could spend an eternity analyzing my own reflection for flaws. At times we suffer with negative self-image, I think it’s helpful to remind ourselves that we are our own worst critics. No-one else is critiquing our profile side on, obsessing over whether our bellies look noticeably bloated or not. If you spoke to a friend in the same way that you think/speak about yourself, would you have many friends left? Thought not. I know that these ideas are easy to say and much, much harder to put into practice. I know most of us would probably feel pretty ridiculous standing in front of the mirror telling ourselves non-ironically; ‘I love you. You’re gorgeous, you’re wonderful’ (not that you shouldn’t tell yourself these things – you are undoubtedly both!) Most of the general populous, however, aren’t going to be parading around Gilderoy Lockhart style, waxing lyrical about the wonder of ‘me, magical me’ anytime soon. I’m not suggesting that we all can or should take self-confidence and self-love to those dizzying heights. But just making an effort to silence the negative thoughts surrounding our appearance that subtly chip away at our self-esteem over time can make a significantly positive impact upon how we feel about ourselves.
Iworry. ‘Why am I such a coward?’ I think, desperately. ‘Why do I find it so hard to take risks? Will I always be so afraid?’ Yes, that’s right, I worry about worrying. Incredible. If they did a degree in worrying, I would graduate with First Class Honors. How do I quieten these thoughts? I’ll be honest – sometimes, I can’t. Writing helps. So does yoga, usually. A good book. Consciously releasing any tension I am holding in my body. Smiling. Fresh air. Looking up at the sky. Remembering that I am a spec in a vast and incomprehensibly wide universe. Reminding myself that I love and am loved in return. 9 out of 10 times (an unofficial stat, but still), the things we are worrying about are usually not that significant, even if they feel vital at the time. If I f**ck up occasionally, I am learning that that’s okay. The world around me will not collapse. It sounds counter-intuitive but, actually, sometimes thinking about why we’re worrying and getting to the root of the fear we feel can actually be useful. For example, when I stop and think about it, I am able to understand that two reasons I find it hard to take risks are that;
a) I have a perfectionist streak, am terrified of failure, and as such find it hard to take leaps into the unknown. I am afraid that things will go wrong and I will be unable to deal with it. I will not be able to be ‘perfect.’
b) I am afraid of making a mistake and looking silly.
After I’ve identified the root of this fear, I am able to deal with it head-on. Do I really want to miss out on opportunities and life experiences because I will be chasing the impossible construction that is ‘perfection’? As for point B), again – is it worth missing out on all the things that life has to offer due to a fear of looking ‘silly’? Every mistake is an experience.
I read an article recently about the importance of developing a personal manta. This can sound slightly hippy-dippy, but having a go-to phrase just to silence the incessant mental chatter of worries can actually be really calming. It doesn’t have to be fixed. Mine varies daily. One that often works quite well is just reminding myself ‘there are good things happening all around me.’ I also like; ‘this is not as scary as it seems.’ Sometimes I need to reconnect with the present, ground myself and touch back down to Earth after floating away on a grey storm-cloud of anxiety. When I hear my voice raised a couple of octaves (and believe me, my voice is already pretty high-pitched) and tightened with anxious energy, I exhale, pause, and remind myself ‘I am doing my best.‘ These five words continue to motivate me to try my hardest, to fight becoming sucked in to a vacuum of suffocating stress, and help me to give myself a much needed reality check.
The crux of this post is, I suppose, that if you’re someone that feels your mind is constantly whirring, writhing with what-if’s and worries at any given moment, you cannot simply indulge or give-in to this negative mental chatter. I hope that some of the techniques I’ve explored in this post prove in some way useful – I feel I can only really loosely call it ‘advice.’ These are just some methods that I use when I’m bogged down in a marsh-land of insecurity and worry. They work for me, usually, and I really hope that they work for you. I truly hope that you can find the serenity you’re searching for, and that, for the most part, you can regain control of your thoughts and tell your mind to STFU.
SlimFast. Weight Watchers. Tea-toxes. We are bombarded each day with adverts informing us of the multiple sins our bodies are committing, and what exactly we should be doing to rectify these ‘problem areas.’ I am not saying that there is anything inherently wrong with diets, or with any of the methods I have listed above (the exception to this, in my opinion, is the ‘detox tea’ – as well marketed as these are, they are essentially laxatives in tea form, and are incredibly easy to abuse). If calorie counting, monitoring ‘syns’, or tracking macros enables you to feel happy and healthy, and helps you stay at a body weight right for you, then that is commendable. It just hasn’t worked out for me.
I fell into the trap of obsessively calorie counting. I gained weight at university, as many of us do. I drank far too much and comfort ate out of boredom and loneliness. A very understandable, human thing to do. I was still the same clothing size as when I arrived, but was certainly much fluffier and wider than I had been. There was fat where there had been no fat before. I took to pinching it whenever I showered or looked in the mirror, disgusted, feeling like a stranger in my own body. I was revolted and uncomfortable that there suddenly seemed to be ‘more’ of me. I’d always been insecure, with my body image and how I felt about myself varying from day to day. However,
things were becoming increasingly worse. The more I stared in the mirror, the larger I felt. I analysed my reflection, panicked, my heart thudding. Irrational thoughts would creep insidiously into my brain, spreading and taking root like poison ivy. What if I just kept getting bigger and bigger and bigger? I imagined myself blowing up to gargantuan proportions, ballooning in Harry Potter Aunt Marge style. I felt that Something Drastic must be done. And quickly. I would gain back control of my rebelling body.
So I turned to the unfailingly reliable source of information (ha!) Google, and started scrutinising Instagram ‘fitspiration’ accounts for tips. Most advised a strict diet of no more that 1,200 calories (what I now know to be the recommended intake for a six to eight year old child). I gleaned that I must exercise intensely as much as possible in order to achieve maximum fat loss. I must record everything I consumed on a calorie-counting app, so as to keep myself ‘accountable.’
I went about it with a vengeance. I lost my tiny little mind. I had dreams about vanilla cheesecake. The low-calorie aisle in the supermarket was my kingdom. Everything I ate was now low calorie, low fat, low flavour. This new ‘healthy’ lifestyle resulted in making me the most mentally and physically unhealthy I have ever been. I became fearful and stressed around food, and was undoubtedly a nightmare to live with. I can only give a sincere apology to my parents. It must be unnerving to watch your child, once not adverse to following an entire takeaway pizza with generous scoops of Ben & Jerry’s, almost cry when necessity dictated I must eat white bread instead of brown. Today, I still hear the tension in my own voice when I am faced with a food choice I am uncomfortable with. I anger and frustrate myself. I hate that I seem unable to just enjoy delicious food without worrying about the impact it will have upon my body. It’s irritating, and representative of everything I do not want to be as a person. I sincerely hope that the day will come soon when I can truly feel free in my food choices.
So, following this new punitive regime, the weight fell off. Sure, I was miserable, exhausting myself with hours of exercise and for a particularly dark weekend subsisting on unseasoned salad and reduced Sodium Covent Garden soup, but I was getting skinnier! I was also really f**cking miserable. I isolated myself on the off-chance that this sick regime might be noticed and challenged. I had panic attacks alone in my room. Even to the very few friends I eventually confided in, I found it difficult to be honest about how much I was struggling. I continued getting smaller. I was losing the love handles I’d loathed, the ample chest I’d been embarrassed by. I was hooked. My previously large chest was flatter, so looking down at my body, I only saw more fat that I felt needed to be erased. I couldn’t see how thin I was getting. I whittled myself down to a clothing size that wouldn’t have fit me at thirteen years old. I certainly didn’t feel any more attractive than I had previously. On days that I had a clear perception of what I truly looked like, I just got a sick sense of achievement from noting that the fragility I was feeling on the inside was finally being reflected in the mirror. I felt lost, and so my food intake became something I could control at a time I felt increasingly powerless.
Fat is not a four letter word. As much as our culture demonises being overweight under the self-righteous and dubious campaign of concern that ‘it’s just so unhealthy!’, the underweight body is just as unable to function optimally. My current lack of body fat ensures that I am permanently freezing, when others are shrugging of their jackets. I am embarrassed to shake hands with strangers because my hands are always icy. The health risks of being at a weight too low for your body’s comfortable ‘range’ are numerous and vastly frightening. Skinny is not always glamorous.
As a society, we need to work to stop the labelling of food as ‘good,’ or ‘bad’, and to stop proclaiming that we are so ‘naughty’ for eating that biscuit and that we must ‘work off’ that slice of birthday cake. I am trying to re-learn that food is just that – food. Calories are not insidious shadow demons. They are units of energy, designed to keep us alive. I deserve to eat whether I do a ten mile run or sit in bed all day, and you do too.
Lately, I have improved vastly, and am eating so many foods I would have deeemed ‘forbidden’ this time last year. I am attempting to regain to a healthy body weight. I will find it uncomfortable. I have become used to the protruding bones, the angled shoulders, the stick-like thighs, the lack of padding when I sit down. But I must, and I will. I am slowly learning to silence warped thoughts that whisper lies into my ear: that I must be small to be worthy of love, that I must control every aspect of my food and exercise regime or else I am a failure. They are not true. I would not hold anyone else to such an evil, f**cked up standard, so why do I punish myself with such unforgiving thoughts?
I want to be healthy, in its true, balanced sense. I want to get my period back, be more fun, more spontaneous, and live life to its fullest. I want to stop uncomfortable toe cramps from constantly numb feet. I want to stop feeling the chill that comes from the inside. I write this post not out of any desire for pity, but rather as a form of therapy. I must drill it into my psyche that I am more than a number on a scale or clothing tag. I deserve to be defined by more than my gravitational pull towards the Earth. As the end of my university degree will hopefully herald a new era of descreased stress levels, the easier I imagine it will be to gain, and to build a life and mentality that does not revolve around worries about the way I look. My new motto: Healthy = Happy. Happy is the new skinny.
In conclusion: I’d rather have a life over a thigh gap, and happiness over dizziness and fatigue and irritability and heartburn and lack of menstruation and all the other delightful things that come part and parcel of being at an unhealthily low body weight. If you’re reading this and struggling: please know that people don’t love you on the condition that you’re skinny, or that you can do ‘x’ number of minutes on a treadmill. They love you for you. For your laugh, for your kindness, for the light in your eyes that may have been duller, lately. Your life is for living now, not when you’re down a clothing size. Food is not something you earn, it’s a requirement to function. Love yourself now, as you are, and do what makes you happy. You deserve to. For the first time in a long while, I feel that I may be able to start following my own advice and live a life that reflects my beliefs. Life is precious, and we must make the most of it.
“Poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for.” Dead Poet’s Society (1989)
Sometimes the world can seem dark. Sometimes there’s a reason that everything is suddenly looking more grey-scale Kansas than glorious, technicolor Oz. But sometimes, perhaps even more frighteningly, there isn’t. Nothing is wrong. And yet nothing feels right. This fear is often vague, and sparked by everything and nothing at the same time. Sometimes I’m so consumed by irrational fears and worries that it feels as though there’s a ten-ton weight sitting on my chest. I feel like I’m suffocating, drowning in a spiral of ‘what-ifs’. It’s hard not to blame ourselves and feel somehow deficient when these sort of emotions plague us, particularly when on the exterior, we are under no actual threat. When I feel this weight settling on my chest on dark days, one thing I’ve found to be helpful is making a mental checklist of some of the things that I am most grateful for. This is a brief list of things that, to me, make the world a beautiful place, and make me happy to be alive.
Some moments that I have found especially beautiful.
Angels among us.
My family. Every single one of them. Especially my incredible parents. I am grateful every day for their health and their happiness.
Birdsong. Flowers. Blossom on the trees in Spring. The feel of sunshine on my back. The smell of freshly cut grass in the summer. The first taste of salt in the clean air at the seaside. Rich colours of fallen leaves and warm fires in Autumn. The freshness of the air and the dusting of snow on cars in the Winter. Hearing my own footfall in the peace of the forest.
My friends. Listening to someone talk about something they’re passionate about and noticing the light grow in their eyes. Being the one to put that light there. Having someone else incite that glow of excitement in me. Finding common ground and shared interests in unexpected places. The feel of a happy blush spreading across my cheeks when someone pays me an unexpected compliment.
Art. Music. Books that stop time because they weave you into a spell of magic and are capable of transporting you to a whole other world. Being introduced to art, music and books that others love, even if it’s not my thing.
Laughter. Any laughter, all laughter, as long as it’s sincere and kind. Tinkling, delicate giggles. Belly gusting roars. Ugly laughs, shouty laughs. Babies laughter. Suppressed snorts of laughter in inappropriate situations. Hearing my parents laugh at something from another room.
Feeling beautiful. Smiling and truly meaning it. Making someone else feel beautiful. Making someone else smile.
Travelling to a new place and seeing something that takes my breath away. Finding beauty in the wonders of the world. Finding beauty in the fields near my home. The fact that my father can see a house I find irredeemably ugly and he can make me look for what makes it unique. Listening to my mother tell me what kind of bird is in the garden.
The fact that my body and brain are capable of noticing and enjoying these things. I can see. I can smell. I can hear. I can walk. These are all blessings that largely grow unnoticed everyday. Every so often, I make a conscious effort to acknowledge them.
Angels among us.
Smiling and meaning it.
Sunlight through the trees.
So yes, sometimes the world can look dark. Bad things happen. Sometimes we are afraid. But the world is also filled with light. This post probably sounds trite and cliched. I don’t care, much. I think it’s so important to remember how blessed we are. I know that I am often guilty of being blindsided, of being dismissive of the tiny facets of life that prove to be what makes it worth living. I am trying to reduce the amount of times I complain that ‘I have nothing going for me.’ Life can sometimes feel like one chore and effort and disappointment after another. Yet, as I type this, babies around the globe are being born. Flowers are blooming. Someone is laughing and meaning it, people are falling in love. One person is looking at another and realising that they’re a little less alone than they thought they were. As hard as it can be to see sometimes, every day is a blessing and a miracle. There is good in every moment. So, hard as it is, I’m going to try not to get so hung up on issues that seem terrifying at the time, but in the long run will fade into insignificance. I am learning that I am not going to be happy every second of everyday. To expect to be so is unreasonable and unattainable and will only lead to further feelings of dissatisfaction. You and I will be happy and we will be sad. Sometimes we will feel nothing, sometimes we will feel as though we have so many emotions that our body can’t possibly contain them all. All of this is okay.
I am going to try so hard to quash my irrational sense of dread when it rears its ugly head, to leave my comfort zone, and to push myself to live a life I’m proud of. I want to live a life not ruled by fear, but rather one filled with gratitude, love and the knowledge that dawn arrives even after the darkest of nights.
The news often vaguely ominously informs us that we live in the “Age of Social Media.” I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what this actually means, about the impact of social media upon all of our lives, and particularly about its impact upon Generation Z – those of us born from the mid 1990s to 2010. At the risk of sounding like I’m playing the world’s smallest violin over here, I actually think us Z-listers have it pretty rough in a few respects. First of all, unlike our parents before us, we do not as of yet have a Spice Girls song named after our generation, which I feel is a problem. Spice Girls gripe aside, I also notice that the creeping encroachment of social media in every aspect of our day-to-day experience is something that older generations (understandably) struggle to comprehend. Instagram, Facebook and Twitter can actually prove as damaging as they are connecting. Sometimes it can feel overwhelming, as though everyone else’s life is picture perfect. Sometimes your life can feel like a bad night-club photo. All of your friends look beautiful and perfectly poised, whereas you’re not looking at the camera, have accidentally shut your eyes, and half of your head has been cropped from the photo frame. Unfortunately, real life has no ‘untag’ option.
Something that actress Lily Collins explores brilliantly in
her autobiographical book ‘#Unfiltered: No Shame, No Regrets, Just Me’ is the value of transparency in the age where Instagram reigns and no post is complete without a smattering of hashtags and a flattering filter. I related to a lot of the issues she explores within the novel, as many others within my age bracket will undoubtedly do so. Collins tackles everything from relationship issues to eating disorders, body image struggles, and articulates that gnawing feeling that you’re just plain old weird. She does so with a tact and wittiness that came as both a surprise and pleasure to me. The book was courageous. There’s an incredible bravery in laying yourself bare. Sure, some of the sentiments were slightly saccharine, but the book was ultimately inspiring and uplifting. It made me smile. It made me cry. It was jarring to see some of the feelings I struggle everyday to express articulated clearly on the page by a celebrity that I had admittedly previously admired more for her beauty and style than for her emotional intelligence.
All in all, I think we (myself included), need to unplug and appreciate the value of living #unfiltered. Like Collins so brilliantly says, “We all want to feel part of something greater. But sometimes, though we recognize this shared instinct to connect, we get stuck in our own heads, convincing ourselves that no one else could understand our problems, that we’re outsiders.” Scrolling through an infinite feed of posed photographs, it is incredibly easy to get caught in a spiral of self-hatred and to just feel utterly at sea, wondering if everyone else has been given some kind of manual on how to succeed and yours has gotten lost in the post. ‘I’m not enough,’ we sometimes tell ourselves, getting trapped inside our own minds and giving in to crippling waves of insecurity. In a concluding chapter, Collins lays out a stark sentence that I absolutely adore. “I will never need anyone to complete me,” she states. “I am enough on my own.” This simple mantra is so empowering, and one that we often forget. You are ‘enough’ without any validation from anyone else. You are not a number of ‘likes’. You are not as worthy as your best selfie. There is beauty in the unposed. There is beauty in your ‘bad angles’. There is beauty in you, as you are, even if you cannot quite see it yet.
When someone is brave enough to be transparent about their thoughts, feelings and life experiences, we can often see facets of ourselves reflected within others. To me, there is a complete purity and comfort in looking at someone else and feeling slightly less alone. There’s a serenity that comes with knowing that our dissatisfaction, our problematic behaviours and our insecurities are not unique. And not only that, but knowing that they are common. No-one is permanently living a life that is #instagood.
So, I’m going to follow Lily’s advice, take a chance, and be a little more #unfiltered. As she so rightly says, if no-one acknowledges the inherent artificiality of social media, and the problems tied with the construction of our lives as a roll of staged ‘best-bits’, the more people will grapple with feelings of unworthiness in private. “A conversation can’t start unless someone speaks up,” writes Collins. I will freely admit that for every selfie I post on social media, there are twelve others on the camera roll that I’ve rejected, mercilessly looking for any visible flaw. Each picture is filtered, blemishes blurred, red-eye corrected. I might post a picture of myself smiling in a hot tub on holiday in a bikini, but the day before I was crying in the mirror, feeling lost and completely alien in my own body. I am far from perfect. I am deeply flawed. Sometimes I smile and mean it, sometimes I cry and mean that too. This is true of every other single human being on the planet. We need to be mindful when engaging with Instagram and Facebook. We need to remember that those that we follow are likely only posting the snapshots from a ‘highlights reel’, and that a smile is easily faked. Perhaps we all need a little (or a large) #realitycheck. Social media is not a true representative of reality. So glory in your perfectly imperfect self. To quote Dr. Seuss, “Those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind.” Be true to what you feel, and I firmly believe that magic will happen. Self-love and gaining confidence is a slow process, but I truly hope it’s possible to achieve, even in an age where self-esteem is easily shattered and appearances are deceiving. I firmly believe that when you’re truly happy, filtering your life will become unnecessary and redundant, and Instragram will feel a hell of a lot less important.