Working Out the Gym

Over the last few months, I’ve taken up going to the gym. I can hear the eyes roll and the bored sighs from here. People hate people going to the gym – until recently I was one of those people, and honestly I would also sigh and roll my eyes at a blog post about going to the gym. Stick with it, my friends. Hopefully it will be faintly informative, or at least faintly funny.

I started going because I have an ongoing issue with the nerve in my right elbow, due to the amount of time I spend sitting at a computer. Three physiotherapists have asked me if there’s anything I can do at my job that doesn’t involve a computer – the answer is no. Perhaps I need to retrain as a shepherd or a taxi driver to avoid the problem. But in the meantime, my solution is to go to the gym to try and release the tension that runs from neck to shoulder to wrist and back again.

The gym is a fascinating place to observe human behaviour. It is at the same time an intensely private and completely public place to be. People are frequently half-dressed, or in clothes so tight-fitting they may as well be half-dressed. Men with shoulders the size of their heads stride around calling to each other, obviously at home and at ease. Women run on the treadmills with their headphones in, making no eye contact. I am one of these – I avoid looking any other people in the eye, mainly for fear of judgement. I am blessed with a slight physique, so don’t have to worry about people thinking I’m too heavy to be in a gym (which is, by the way, a completely bizarre piece of logic) but I worry anyway about being judged on my appearance or abilities – and on being compared to other women.

There is one woman who goes to my local gym who is pretty, petite and blonde. She wears a crop top and leggings, showing off a lovely figure. She does do some exercise in the gym but she also spends a lot of time chatting to the guys with shoulders the size of their heads. It’s a proper flirt party in the middle of a gym. Once, she was doing some kind of squats while kneeling on the floor – fair enough – but was pausing for minutes at a time in between sets to chat to the guys while rocking back and forth on all fours. For heaven’s sake – just grab your favourite and take him home for a romp in the sack.

I feel bad for judging her. I shouldn’t really, and honestly she only really annoys me when she’s hogging some equipment I want while doing her flirting workout. Obviously, the main reason she makes me feel bad is because she makes me feel unattractive, with my unwashed hair (I’ll never understand people who shower BEFORE going to the gym) and my already modest chest squashed a little flatter thanks to sports crop tops. I act aloof among the men at the gym, rejecting them before they can reject me. I’m quite sure they don’t notice and don’t care even if they do notice, however. While I’m feeling insecure and worrying about people watching me, most of the people at the gym are entirely focussed on themselves.

I mostly do weights stuff at the gym, trying to strengthen my arms and back to take the pressure off my arm. The weights area is lined with mirrors, which are sometimes useful to make sure you’re straight and centred, but which personally I hate because it brings my attention back to my appearance instead of my performance. If I’m not in front of a mirror, I’m in front of screens playing music videos (without the sound, the music is something else) which infuriate and depress me in equal measure as the women bounce around and stretch and make sexy faces at the camera. Why on earth would anybody find me attractive, I think, after staring at them for five minutes, getting up to do something else, and trying to surreptitiously wipe sweat marks from my hands or back or arse off the equipment.

I’m really selling it, aren’t I. Of course the point of going to the gym isn’t to judge yourself and come out feeling like a bag of manure. It’s to take control of your body and push yourself and feel the difference, in fitness or strength. In the media, for women it’s always about losing weight or getting toned, which I hope is slowly beginning to change as the world and her mother push the benefits of exercise, quite apart from any weight loss. Even though I’m not really going to the gym to lose weight, I am still (clearly) thinking too much about how I look while I’m there. I read this article this week about taking exercise in a body positive way, which has some great tips. I went to the gym after reading it but tried to ignore everyone else, view myself with detachment instead of negativity, and focus on how my body felt and on whether I could push myself to do a little more. It worked, and I set some new personal bests.

For my partner, going to the gym is very useful for his mental health. It’s a pure, uncomplicated feeling for him. He enjoys going through motions, going through routines, and appreciating the complexity of simple exercises. Doing things properly requires focus, and practise. He says although our stereotypes are of meatheads in the gym, they are good at what they do and often I see them helping each other with exercises, making me think they are just nice normal guys even if seeing them in the gym I’m tempted to stereotype them as dull and narcissistic. In a way, the gym is an entirely judgement free zone, because whatever anyone thinks of you you’re unlikely ever to hear about it. You are all strangers. I see the same people, I’m sure, but I’ve realised how little attention I pay to them, because I can never remember whether I’ve seen them before or not. As much as you may think people are watching you and laughing behind their hands, it’s in your head. It’s a natural thing to think, because that’s how we’re wired – to think people are hyperaware of our mistakes and completely oblivious to our successes. For me, that’s how I think of myself, not how other people think of me, and I need to get out of the habit of projecting those negative thoughts into other people’s minds.

So gyms may be a bit strange and a bit intimidating and some might say a little dull, but they are also fascinating and interesting and fun places to find out what your body can do. There are people doing every type of workout, and it’s entirely up to you what you work on and why. I like that freedom, and at its best it feels like you’re a child again at one of those play centres – although without the ball pit, thank goodness, because as an adult they’re impossible to get out of. People might go there for different reasons, but remember that you don’t actually have to give any of them a moment’s thought. They are all there for themselves, and you’re there for yourself too.

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Do you have a plan?

“Phoebe, do you have a plan?”

“I don’t even have a pl-.”

The above is a quote from one of those Friends episodes that absolutely nails being a mid-twenty-something with no bloody idea what you’re doing. We all assume when we’re growing up that you reach a certain age when everything will work itself out: you’ll marry your partner and buy a house and start having a family, all while holding down that great job you fell into after university. I used to watch this episode of Friends without really getting it – of course people worked out what was going on in life! I wouldn’t still be floundering in my mid-twenties!

Well here I am in my late twenties and the shit is in many ways not coming together into a perfect sphere like it was supposed to. I graduated into the second year of a global recession and suddenly realised I should have spent the last three years getting masses of work experience as well as a First Class degree. This is thanks to what I see as the ultimate Catch 22: you can’t get a job without experience, but you can’t get experience without a job. One mildly embellished CV later I got a job on the minimum wage working for a man who shouted himself puce in the face whenever he thought I’d made a mistake. A few years later, the relationship I’d started at university which I assumed would end in marriage – because that’s what happened with the relationship you started at university, according to my parents and most of my friends – finally kicked the bucket, and I went back to university to restart my career and, suddenly, restart my love life too.

Fast forward a few more years and I’m in a happy relationship, but about as close to acquiring property or a dog as I am to writing a bestselling book – i.e., some light years away. I have a job I enjoy with people I like very much, but the boundaries of it are constantly shifting and I am frequently plagued by worry that the problem with creating a job from no job title, is that the job title can disappear and the job can go with it. Throughout it all I wonder if my problem is the same as that of Monica and Phoebe: I don’t have a plan.

When I was at university a friend told me the plan she’d made for the rest of her life. She knew what kind of man she wanted to marry, how many children she wanted to have, where they would live, and what job she would do, right down to the events she’d host for local disadvantaged children when she was retired. She asked me what my plan was. I said: ‘Well, I thought I’d finish this degree, and then… see what happens.’ She was as astonished and terrified by my lack of a plan as I was by her planning down to the nth degree.

I don’t do well with long-term plans because I’ve always found the ground shifts too much underneath me for any plans to be of any use. This shifting ground can be good or can be bad. Sometimes opportunities pop up unexpectedly and I like not having a plan to change – I don’t like changing plans if I do make them, in terms of the day-to-day and longer term. Other times, people disappoint you, and I feel it’s slightly less painful if you haven’t pinned too much on them to begin with, so I try not to. Most of the time any plans I put in my diary or on my calendar have a question mark after them, because then it hurts a little less if it turns out people have forgotten, or they cancel at the last moment.

But not having a plan can also be very unhelpful. There can be things you want to achieve but if you don’t set down the end destination it’s difficult to plan the route to it. I shy away from deciding, even in my own head, what I want the destination to be because I don’t want to be disappointed when it vanishes into the mist. Or because I fear that I won’t be strong enough to get there, and it will be twice as embarrassing when I collapse in a heap and have to be carried home. This is going against every motivational quote and women’s magazine ever written, not to mention all self-help books, but to be honest they always speak in such vague language that I’ve never really known what they meant. ‘Don’t limit your challenges, challenge your limits!’ What does that mean, in concrete terms? Show your working! Give me diagrams! It’s only now, when a potential goal of mine has been moved further away, possibly due to my own lack of certainty, I can see that I do need to set down that destination – even if I’m not 100% sure about it. Sometimes it’s impossible to be 100% sure, especially when it involves other people being on board too. But your determination might be a guiding light for them.

One of my science teachers in high school praised me for saying that I thought X was the ‘probable’ outcome for the end of an experiment. In science, this lack of ego is good because it’s often difficult to be certain. But in life, going around saying ‘maybe’ and ‘I might but I’m not sure’ could just end up with me not quite going anywhere. And that would not be a good plan.

Highlights of 2016

THERE WERE NONE, I hear you cry. Well, the other day I found a piece I wrote this time last year on highlights of 2015. Apparently I thought 2015 pretty much sucked in terms of news items as well, although I don’t remember it being particularly bad – apart from the Conservatives winning the UK election. Reading back through the post I remembered lots of little things I enjoyed about that year, and although 2016 was rubbish in terms of democratic votes, gun shootings, and celebrity deaths, it’s important to also think about the good things. This isn’t going to be one of those list of good news for the environment etc which have been doing the rounds lately, but rather a list of my own personal highlights. Some are tiny, and some are life-changing. What were your highlights of 2016?

The Guilty Feminist Podcast

This year I finally started listening to podcasts, and this was the first one I tuned in to after it was recommended by a friend (thank you Gillian!). Female comedians discuss a range of topics, from shoes to periods to nudity, and examine their complicated and at times contradictory relationships with femininity, feminism, their own bodies, and the people around them. It is hilarious and thought-provoking, wonderfully forgiving and a real tonic if you think feminists are shouty and irritating. Some are like that, but some of us don’t have a clue! The show starts with a list of brilliant ‘I am a feminist but…’ quotes, such as: ‘I am a feminist… but I often find myself promoting this podcast by saying, it’s about feminism, but don’t worry, it’s funny.’

Dancing at weddings

I’ve been to a few weddings this year with my partner. I struggle with weddings. I find the logistics of getting there, finding somewhere to stay, talking to people you don’t know, and figuring out when it’s okay to leave very stressful. But I’ve discovered that dancing at weddings with my partner is the best. This summer we went to a stunning wedding of a friend of mine (the same Gillian who recommended the Guilty Feminist podcast – congrats on the awesome wedding too!) in rural Kent, in a big marquee and the groom’s family’s back garden. I was panicking about what to wear up until the last minute, and got changed 30 seconds before we had to leave into navy trousers and blazer and a red shirt (then got self-conscious when my partner said we looked like we were heading to a business meeting). Anxiety + free champagne meant we were both wonderfully silly by the time we sat down to eat, and still pretty tipsy when the music started. We both love dancing and we barely stopped for the next couple of hours. Several people complimented us on our dancing, which felt wonderful and all in all it was a fabulous evening. I like weddings now.

Lazy corgi fight video

I love the beginning of this video, with a corgi lying on its back with its feet in the air. What is it doing?! And then the “fight” – I’m going to snap at you… and then just go and lie over here… and bark at…nothing… These dogs are just ridiculous. Corgis themselves make no sense. How are their legs so short?! So comical.

14th May, Canterbury

I moved to Canterbury this year after ten years of living in London. This was one of the life-changing highlights to the year: I moved in with my partner and started a much longer commute to work. For the most part living together has been lovely, and although the commute isn’t my favourite thing in the world, I love living in Canterbury. When I got back after Christmas it felt like home. And although there are pros and cons to being out of London, I certainly don’t miss the tube or the weekend crowds. Or the exorbitant rent. Although the rail pass does its best to make up for that!

Started anti-anxiety medication

This might be a strange thing to put as a highlight of the year. Having to take medication is bad, right? I certainly thought so for a long time. Even though I’ve been blogging about mental health for a while now and I am very supportive of friends who are on medication, I really fought going on anxiety medication myself. I realised that I still saw it as a sign of weakness. I thought I should be able to get past it on my own. And I put a lot of work into that and when I was feeling generally okay, the self-care worked. But when you’re tired or something knocks you so you take that lift back down to the beginning again, sometimes it’s too tough to haul yourself back up all the stairs on your own. I’ve been on anti-anxiety medication for six weeks. I’m on a very low dosage and it still sometimes gives me nausea, but I also have some more space in my head to combat anxious thoughts. I’ve achieved things that I’m not sure I could have done if I hadn’t been on medication. I don’t know what will happen, whether they’ll keep working, whether I’ll need to switch, or whether I’ll need to up the dosage, but right now I think they’re working. It’s easier for me to take a step back from anxious thoughts. There’s no point saying to myself “you don’t need to worry about this” because that doesn’t work. But I am finding some relief from going a step further and thinking “you don’t need to think about this. There is nothing saying you need to spend time and energy going over this. Let it go.” Just gaining that step and finding a bit more stability is feeling great. Keep your fingers crossed for me that it stays good.

Dyeing my hair

While in most areas of life I’m quite frightened of change, as we all are (I heard someone on the radio recently say everybody is scared of change, and if someone says they’re not, they’re lying) when it comes to going to the hairdressers I LOVE change. The bigger the change, the better. If I have a haircut and come out looking more or less the same, I’m a bit disappointed and have generally forgotten I had the haircut by the time I get home, so someone saying they like it confuses me. You like what? It’s the same! This year I dyed my hair red for the first time. I’ve wanted to do it for about a decade so it was pretty exciting for me. It didn’t go quite as bright as I wanted so I’m planning to get it done again soon. I look so quiet and demure that most hairdressers are worried I’m going to get upset, so they tend to – consciously or not – tone down what I ask for. But my current hairdresser in Canterbury seems to trust I want what I say, so I’ll ask him to dye it next. Hopefully it won’t come out some dreadful shade of pink.

Driving home for Christmas

I passed my driving test four years ago, then only drove on the odd weekend at my parents’ house for the next four years. Now I’m living in Canterbury, I have my car with me here. Unfortunately the years off and the fact I was driving somewhere I barely knew meant I started getting extremely anxious about getting in the car. Panic attacks and heated arguments with my partner while driving ensued, and although I kept at it, I was still struggling with nerves. I would be so anxious about driving fifteen minutes to the nearest stables for a riding lesson that I could barely stand due to extreme nausea. Then I started anti-anxiety medication, and although I was still anxious before I left the house, once I was in the car I was fine. So I took a somewhat bold and impulsive decision – I do this sometimes – to drive myself from Canterbury to Suffolk to stay with my parents at Christmas. I hadn’t been on a dual carriageway for four years and had never driven on a motorway. But for some reason I decided that having a parent come down and sit in the car with me, or drive in front of me so I at least knew where I was going, was not as good as going solo with the Google Maps app and ‘winging it’. Well, I was right. I had a couple of fun moments at roundabouts and risked speeding tickets here and there (with added adrenaline rush because when you take my little car over 80 miles per hour, the steering wheel shudders) but the sense of achievement was second to none. Definitely a highlight of the year.

Other people’s achievements

I am very lucky to have an amazing circle of friends, family, and partner. They share in my achievements and my worries as I share in theirs. Although there have been difficulties and sadnesses this year, several of my immediate circle have also had wonderful news that I have loved sharing with them. My best friend is pregnant and expecting her baby very soon. I love that I was one of the first to know about the pregnancy, and I’ve loved keeping up our dinner routine while we can and checking in on how she’s doing. Apparently my general cynical nature has been a great tonic to her when all she wants to do is complain about feeling fat and having rib pain and most of the people around her are saying OMG YOU MUST FEEL SO BLESSED!!! My ‘yeesh, poor you, that sucks’ has been very useful, she says, which I’m very happy (and relieved) about. In other news, my partner had his first academic book published this year. It’s a huge moment and I felt so very proud going to the launch and hearing him talk about it. Getting to read a published book by someone you know and love is really wonderful, and I couldn’t be happier for him.

There are more great moments but I feel like this post is already quite long and gushing. I encourage you all to note down a few things that went well this year, even if it was just a great book you read or a brilliant movie you saw. Looking back on them in the future is really encouraging, and god knows we all need some good things to remember about 2016.

Radical self-care part 2: Not Giving a F**k

Last week I mentioned that as part of my resolution to engage in radical self-care, thereby protecting my own mental health, I was going to read Sarah Knight’s book ‘The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving a F**k.’ Thanks to the speed of online ordering (not from Amazon, I hasten to add: I refuse to buy books from Amazon now) and the fact I am a very fast reader, I have already finished said book. It’s amazing and I’m going to share its basic concepts with you, as well as a list of some of the things which I, personally, do not give a fuck about.

The basic premise of the book is that you should be spending less time you don’t have, doing things you don’t want to do, with people you don’t like. By deciding what you do and don’t give a fuck about, and compiling a ‘Fuck Budget,’ you can spend less time, energy and money on things that annoy, and use that time, energy and money on things that bring you joy. Knight divides your Fuck Budget into four different areas:

  • Things and concepts
  • Work
  • Strangers, acquaintances and friends
  • Family

For each you make a list of things to do with that topic that you just don’t give a fuck about, and then later work out whether you can not give a fuck about those things without hurting people’s feelings. Of course, some things are much easier to not care about than others, and you have to be careful at all times to be polite and honest without going over the line into the ‘Asshole Quadrant.’

I don’t want to deprive her of book sales by going into the details of how you achieve not giving a fuck about all these things, and as I only finished reading it a couple of hours ago I can’t tell you yet how well it works in practice. However, I have already mentally discarded several things or events that do not fit into my Fuck Budget, and just deciding to let go and not care about whole lists of things is fun and invigorating. By carrying out Knight’s NotSorry Method, I’m feeling stronger and like I’ll have more time and energy to take care of myself and do the things that I genuinely enjoy. Yay!

So, here is a sample list of things about which I, personally, give zero fucks. Most of these come under the heading of ‘things and concepts’ – by far the easiest category because, in general, not giving a fuck about these things affects nobody but you.

  1. What other people think. I’m actually still working on this one, but Knight insists that it has to be on the list otherwise all those fucks you save by not going out to parties you don’t want to go to with people you don’t like will be wasted on feeling guilty for not going to said parties, just in case somebody noticed your absence and cared on some level. In my experience, this is, in any case, unlikely.
  2. Organic wine. I’ve tried it, it’s nasty. I’m going to waste no more fucks worrying about whether I’m a good person by not drinking it.
  3. Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I know this is controversial because so many people love him, but I tried to read Love in the Time of Cholera and I just couldn’t get through it. I’m giving zero fucks about not wanting to read any more of his books.
  4. Political theory. When I arrived at university for my Masters I found that I’d missed a memo on doing at least an A Level if not a degree in political theory. And reading Foucault’s entire back catalogue. I tried but I just don’t give a fuck about any of it. Most of it sounds either so narrow as to be useless except in very specific cases, or so blindingly obvious I don’t understand why anybody felt the need to write a book (or several) on it. Perhaps I’m missing something, but really, zero fucks given.
  5. Dietary/alcohol intake/what does and doesn’t give you cancer advice from the government and various experts. I am sick to the back teeth of articles telling me what I should and shouldn’t be eating, and what is and isn’t going to kill me, and whether it’s okay to drink wine on a Tuesday but only if it’s a full moon and only as long as you then don’t drink ‘til the following month. FUCK OFF. When did we stop being trusted to realise what generally is and isn’t good for us, and act accordingly? The amounts of time, energy and money I will save by giving zero fucks about this is at stratospheric levels.
  6. Apple merchandise. Enough. I get it, it’s pretty. But it breaks like all technology, stop pretending it’s magic.
  7. I’m actually looking forward to the next fad so people can stop telling me to eat kale. It’s nasty and I don’t want it. (See also no.5.)
  8. The nuclear threat from Iran/North Korea/any country that America etc. have deemed too “uncivilised” to be allowed to hold a stick to have some defence against the bigger bullies in the playground. This is doubly useful as something to save fucks on as there is also bugger all I can do about the nuclear capabilities of any of these places. I could read all the news items and absorb the rhetoric that all these nasty barbarians are going to try and kill me, but really, it seems pretty unlikely so I just don’t want to spend a fuck on it.
  9. Conversations about TV programmes I haven’t seen. The list of things that have come out in the last several years that I haven’t seen includes but is not limited to: Breaking Bad, Boardwalk Empire, The Walking Dead, Grey’s Anatomy, The Killing, The Wire, The Sopranos, The West Wing, Lost, True Detective, Dexter, Homeland, Parks and Recreation (although I wouldn’t mind seeing that), and Downton Abbey past series 1. As you can tell I give few fucks about keeping up with recent ‘must-see’ programmes. This means I give no fucks about conversations about any of these programmes. If you insist on talking about them at length in my presence then please don’t be offended if I check my phone, stare into space or go for an extended bathroom break. Telling me I’m “really missing out” will be met with death stares. Sorry NotSorry.
  10. Anybody’s opinion on whether I should or should not have children, including the opinions of friends, family and the media at large. I am tired of being asked if I’m broody, or being told that when I hit 30 I’m going to suddenly desperately want a baby. I feel like I’m waiting anxiously for a stealth attack from my own ovaries. I’d love to know for just a day, or a week, what it’s like inside a man’s head without this sodding pressure to think about children, and whether you want them, and just in case you do, to plan for the degeneration of your own body. I’m resolving to give no fucks about this from now on, and set up a zero-fucks barrier against all baby-related propaganda.

I feel like I’m taking better care of myself already.

I hope you’ve all had a good first ten days of 2016! And apologies for this post to anybody who had ‘resolutions/any New Year new you bullshit’ on their ‘Things I don’t give a fuck about’ list (Hi Emma!).

Resolutions and radical self-care

Last year I wrote a post about New Year’s Resolutions, looking back on what I had and hadn’t accomplished from the 2014 list. I have lost the proper list I made for 2015, which is probably for the best as I think most of them were extremely vague or fairly odd. As always at this time of year there is a lot of chat about what resolutions mean and whether or not they’re helpful. When I’ve asked people what theirs are, there are all the classics like ‘go to the gym more’ (one resolution for 2015 I do remember, go swimming or cancel the membership, is sadly still on my list for 2016) but others were different and often very specific. My favourite so far is someone’s resolution to watch all the Star Wars films, as he’d never seen any of them. That’s nice and easy, although I’m sure he’ll need a few drinks or a Jar Jar Binks dartboard to get through The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones.

I’ve also seen various alternatives to resolutions which I’ve found interesting. One was to find a word for 2016 which would guide you through the year. This is through Susannah Conway’s website, which has some really interesting and useful pieces on it. I haven’t found my word yet, and I feel like it might be difficult at the end of the year if you want to try and measure your success rate. But then maybe that’s one of the less helpful things about resolutions: if you haven’t ticked them all off, you feel like a failure, even if in other ways your year was very successful. Just because I didn’t make fishcakes last year (strange resolution) doesn’t mean 2015 wasn’t a success. A website called moodnudges.com had a potentially more helpful and healthy way of looking back on the last year – an Old Year’s Revelation. The idea is you look back over your past year and find the one thing you are most grateful for. This at least has the benefit of highlighting the positive.

I really only have one major resolution for 2016, but I think it’s going to be broad enough to encompass almost everything. I follow a woman on facebook called Laci Green, who posts fantastic videos explaining a lot of different topics, including what ‘Intersex’ means and Condom Tips for the Ladies. She hasn’t been posting so much for a while as she was suffering from some mental health issues, but she’s recently said that she’s feeling much better after taking a break and practising ‘radical self-care.’ This is a term I’ve read elsewhere in the last few weeks and both times what was meant by ‘radical self-care’ wasn’t explained. I found this frustrating until I realised that self-care probably means different things to different people, and I need to come up with my own ways to care for myself and feel better. The last few months I’ve been suffering more with anxiety, and been in and out of depressive moods, which I thought were just blips until someone pointed out that I’d been low more often than I was up for quite a while. I needed to evaluate where I was going wrong and what I could do to give myself some help.

I haven’t got a fully-fledged plan yet for how I’m going to do this, except that I need to make time to exercise and also make more time for writing, which has been neglected lately. I have ordered a book which I’m hoping will be my guidebook for practising radical self-care, called The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving a F**k, by Sarah Knight. I am a terrible people-pleaser, to the point that sometimes I genuinely can’t work out what I want to do because other people’s wants are encroaching too much on how I think. I am also highly empathetic, so I can often tell what people might want me to do even if they think they’re being subtle about it, and have a habit of trying to mind read which can backfire as I will normally assume people are thinking the worst, and often they’re not. This all means that I struggle to put my own needs first, because I haven’t defined what they are, and only realise too late that I’m doing something I’d rather not be doing. The subtitle of this new book is: ‘How to stop spending time you don’t have with people you don’t like doing things you don’t want to do.’ I definitely need this. I am often astonished by other people saying no to things I wouldn’t be able to say no to for fear of hurting someone’s feelings or altering their opinion of me, or people asking for things they want and need without tiptoeing around or saying ‘just’ or ‘maybe’ thirty-seven times. The book is winging its way to me as we speak, and I will let you know who I get on and whether it’s useful.

The only other definite thing I’ve thought of in terms of practising radical self-care is turning off facebook more often. I find it exhausting, the constant barrage of negative news and the pictures of people apparently having so much more fun and being so much more productive than I am. It puts my brain in a strange sort of trance, where I’m not really focussing or taking anything in but not in a relaxing way, more in a way that makes me feel strained and anxious when I stop. Of course, sometimes facebook and other social media pages are useful for links to interesting sites or funny pages, but in many ways they just aren’t useful, especially because they encourage you to have a shorter and shorter attention span. I’m hoping to use facebook in particular less and less this year, and escape that odd compulsion to check my news feed just because I can: if I’m away and have limited internet I find I do not miss it at all, which I think is very telling.

I’m hoping that by setting more boundaries for myself and deciding what I need to feel good, I’ll feel more confident and successful this year than I did last year. I don’t exercise good practice when it comes to measuring my own success, as I am a perfectionist and likely to berate myself for very small things. During my Masters it was easy, in my head, to measure my success: I got given grades every few weeks which told me if I was successful or not. Of course, academic grades aren’t a very good way to measure your self-worth, as they only cover something so specific. I placed very tough expectations on myself to keep improving where improvement wasn’t possible, or to be perfect where perfect wasn’t attainable. At work I feel like I need to find my own way of measuring my success, something I am still working out but which makes me feel quietly confident. I’m also thinking of ways of widening my perception of what makes me successful, and counting up all the things that I discount about myself but which are actually worth their weight in gold. I tend to assume that things I find easy are things everyone finds easy, even when other people tell me that this isn’t the case.

Whatever resolutions you make, or don’t make, I hope 2016 is a successful one for you, by whatever terms you measure success. Take care of yourselves.

Highlights of 2015

I’ve been reading a few articles looking back at 2015, and most of the news has been bad. With the notable exception of marriage equality in the United States, most of 2015 has been pretty depressing. Plane crashes, a refugee crisis, a dreadful UK election result, many senseless deaths, the rolling back of women’s reproductive rights, and all too often a huge absence of human understanding and compassion. So I’m going to give a summary of all my highlights of the past year. They are often small and are all entirely insignificant to the world at large (apart from the one on what3words), but I’m hoping that by outlining a few, you’ll remember the better parts of the past year, and the joys of life that can be forgotten all too easily in the constant barrage of negative news.

Films

I think most of you know from this blog that I am a big film fan, and in particular a big cinema fan. One of my favourite memories of 2015 was this year’s Oscar season. I went to see several of the frontrunners, including Birdman, Whiplash, Foxcatcher, and The Theory of Everything, all alone and mostly in the middle of a weekday (hurrah for being a student, a time now sadly over). All the films were very good and when I think about any of them, the feeling of tranquillity I had when I went to see them comes back to me. It was a great few weeks. Another less highbrow film highlight of the year for me was Trainwreck, which I saw twice, once with my boyfriend and again with my best friend. I haven’t laughed so much at a film in years.

Amy Schumer

Of course, Amy was the star and writer of Trainwreck, just one high point in what has been a phenomenal year for her. I think she is an amazing woman and I can’t wait for what she does next – I am hoping with all hope that the rumours she and Jennifer Lawrence are writing a film together are true. They’re two of my favourite people. Here’s a link to 50 of her best quotes from this year. One of my favourites is: “I am a woman with thoughts and questions and shit to say. I say if I’m beautiful. I say if I’m strong. You will not determine my story — I will. I will speak and share and fuck and love and I will never apologize to the frightened millions who resent that they never had it in them to do it.” I like her particularly because I know that if I showed my Mum any of her stuff, right before she got freaked out by how sexual and uncouth it all is, she’d say: ‘Oh, she’s not very pretty. And she’s not very thin.’ And I’d be able to say that it doesn’t matter a damn. Because she’s awesome.

The Ragtime Gals

This video of Jimmy Fallon and Joseph Gordon-Levitt in a barbershop quartet version of Rihanna’s ‘Bitch better have my money’ (a song I’ve never heard the original of, because I can’t see how it could top this) is my absolute hands-down favourite video of the year. It makes me laugh no matter what, and even got me out of an anxiety spiral a few months ago that stopped me going to sleep for bloody ages. I watched this video a few times, and at least was convinced the world wasn’t about to end. Thanks Jimmy.

A first date, 30th April, 3pm to 9pm, Foyles café and Zizzi

The beginning of something amazing. You know who you are. I feel very lucky.

Candles

I didn’t realise until this year how much of a massive fan of candles I am. My bedroom is now a fire hazard every evening. But I love watching flames and find them very soothing. Also the smell when you blow them out is gorgeous.

10th September, 1pm, SOAS

I handed in my MA dissertation, drawing a line under two years of work. It was a great two years and I enjoyed most of it, but I was very, very happy to see the back of that dissertation!

Books

Favourite books of 2015 include but are not limited to:

  • The Shadow of the Wind, Carlos Ruiz Zafon – fantastic adventure.
  • Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg – I have a notebook full of quotes from it, one of my favourites being that one of the most important career decisions a woman will make is whether or not to have a life partner, and who that partner is. Women are still far more likely to make career sacrifices for their partners or family, so you need to be damn sure your partner is supportive. Great book. I’m looking forward to seeing Dawn Foster in January, who has written a book called Lean Out, arguing that Lean In is too focussed on women in corporate jobs. I agree in principle but I hope she’s not going to spend the time picking Sheryl Sandberg apart. As Amy Poehler wisely said, more women need to be able to say: ‘Good for her! Not for me.’ Fighting each other all the time isn’t helpful.
  • The Watchmaker of Filigree Street – beautiful and amazing and unexpected.
  • Neverwhere, Neil Gaiman – so many fantastic characters, and now I’ve joined the angry mob asking why he hasn’t written another full-length novel in the same universe.
  • The Garth Nix Old Kingdom series – I’ve read them before but I reread this year for the first time in a while and wow, they’re good.

 

Dancing

This year I went blues dancing in Madrid and Toulouse. I don’t think I need to explain why those trips were a highlight of the year!

Yoga

This year I finally tried yoga for the first time. I’d read several stories from people with depression saying they’d found it useful, but I’d also heard some horror stories about people being humiliated by unsympathetic teachers in classes, which put me off. Then my friend Gillian said she watched videos on YouTube by a woman called Adriene. Her bedtime routine has genuinely changed my life. I have been bad at sleeping for many years and around September had got into a habit of taking a very long time to fall asleep, mainly because as soon as I lay down I’d construct imaginary situations in my head of things going wrong, or of having terrible arguments with people. Unsurprisingly I then didn’t sleep and when I did I had restless, nasty dreams. For a few weeks I did Adriene’s bedtime routine most nights, and not only did it help me sleep on the nights I watched it, it’s reprogrammed my brain so I can now switch off much more easily when I go to bed. I’m doing more of her other ones now too, although building myself up slowly as in the first week or so I went at it a bit too strong and pulled muscles around my shoulder blades, which made sitting at a desk all day very painful!

A TED talk on addiction

The message of this video about how to tackle addiction makes so much sense, particularly as the way most societies and governments approach it right now clearly isn’t working. The video made me cry, though, because I know addicted people and although it rang very true, it’s also such a difficult attitude to remember when it’s someone you know personally who you cannot seem to help. It might then seem an odd choice for a highlight of the year, but it’s also representing TED talks in general which I always find fascinating, and I did find it useful to watch a video about addiction with some hope in it.

Awards for what3words

The company I work for, what3words, has had an incredible year. what3words is an app that gives every 3m x 3m square in the world a unique 3 word address, and in 2015 the brilliance of this simple concept was recognised by the United Nations, The Tech Awards, Cannes Lion Festival of Creativity, and many others. I’m currently writing from nets.hatch.truth. What are your 3 words?

The concept of hygge

A couple of times this year I’ve come across the Danish concept of hygge, meaning “the absence of anything annoying or emotionally overwhelming; taking pleasure from the presence of gentle, soothing things.” I have tried to bring more hygge into my life in the last few months, since I heard about it, but I think it will be a big project for next year.

Friends

I’ve said it before, but I’m very lucky to have such a supportive group of close friends. I have six or seven wonderful people who I just have to say “I’m not okay today” to and they know what to say and do. Although obviously I would prefer not to have to rely on people for a lot of emotional support, some things can’t be tackled on your own, and I’m proud and thankful that we’re at such a good level of communication that so few words can convey so much. Thank you all.

Corgis

I hadn’t really noticed before how ridiculous and brilliant corgis are. They’re like real dogs, but they don’t have proper legs! I find them incredibly comical and now have a goal in life to have one of my own. I don’t see how you could ever be sad when you’re looking at something so cute and funny.

Happy New Year everyone!

New Year’s Resolutions: Pros and Cons

This is an experiment in writing when slightly drunk. I haven’t tried it before, and if it’s a disaster, none of you will ever know because I won’t post it. Unless I get more drunk while writing, in which case, there may be a 24-hour window to read before I remember it and say “HOLY SHIT! TAKE THAT CRAP DOWN!!”

I have always been a closet fan of New Year’s Resolutions. I make them every year, but by year’s end, I rarely remember what it was I wanted to accomplish. But this year is different. A few days ago I found the resolutions I made at the beginning of 2014, and thought it would be interesting to write a piece about what I’ve achieved, what I haven’t, and why.

Somehow, in the whole of 2014, I never found a single afternoon to bake a sodding cake. Although I enjoy baking a good deal and have made numerous scones, biscuits, and tray bakes, I have never actually made a proper cake. (Or a loaf of bread, but a gift from my flatmate will put paid to that very soon after I return to London.) One of my resolutions for 2014 was to make a cake, as I finally got a cake storage thing for Christmas last year- what are they called? Cake tin means the thing you put in the oven. Cake box? Cake Tupperware? I don’t know. But I still haven’t done it, which is disappointing. Baking a cake goes on top of the New Year’s Resolution list for 2015.

Next is ‘keep/start writing.’ The slightly optimistic ‘keep’ is because technically I started this blog in August 2013, although I didn’t tell anybody about it, and I only put up about four posts. So really, the resolution was to start writing. And I have. I started this blog after a small existential crisis over the summer, and I have kept it up – on and off, due to busy-ness and illness etc. I love writing, and the feedback I’ve got from people has made me happier than almost anything else I can think of. This year also marks the first publication of one of my pieces of writing, on HelloGiggles.com, a piece about depression which I was very pleased with even before the responses I had from so, so many, directly or indirectly. The one I remember best wasn’t directed at me, but was a comment on the piece on facebook, where a girl tagged a boy- presumably her brother – and said ‘I think Mum should sit down with Dad and read this.’ As someone who grew up in a household with one parent who was a depressive, and the other who was totally confused as to how to handle it, the thought that my piece of writing might have helped a set of parents and their children understand the illness made me immensely proud and more than a little emotional.

Another resolution was the somewhat vague ‘go abroad.’ I took an active step backwards with this in allowing my passport to expire and being too lazy/tight/filled with inertia to renew it. I have to now, as I am booked to go to Madrid in a few months’ time, so this will definitely be achieved in 2015.

Next is ‘keep dancing.’ This was, as it turns out, a resolution akin to ‘keep eating.’ Although I switched from swing to blues dancing in February, once I’d found out how much I enjoy dancing, I don’t think I could have given it up. Having said that, I did stop going swing dancing after a few fun-filled lessons towards the end of 2013, and only got myself to go again after a stern voice in my head said: ‘For heaven’s sake. When you went before, you enjoyed it so much, you were looking up classes for every night of the week. And now, because you’re a bit scared, and a bit lazy, you think that means you don’t enjoy it? BULLSHIT. In the words of Elizabeth Taylor: ‘Pour yourself a drink, put on some lipstick, and pull yourself together.’” It’s that kind of thinking that got me going back to swing in January 2014- I kept acting as I would if I were going, until I turned up there. This is a good tip if you’re suffering from anxiety about something. Think: “Well, if I were going, I would stay here a little longer, eat now, change into these shoes. Oh, now I’m all set up to go dancing. Seems like I might as well just go over there. And now that I’m here, I might as well dance.” I did the same sort of thing when I got myself to go blues dancing for the first time in February 2014. And now, going to those classes is a no-brainer. It’s the highlight of my week. I did it enough, met enough lovely people, that it doesn’t make me anxious anymore. I was thinking the other day of all the good things about 2014, and the only reason blues dancing didn’t come into my head straight away is because I couldn’t believe it had only been this year that I started doing it. ‘Keep dancing’ doesn’t need to be on the resolutions for 2015, unless I start needing to resolve to wake up in the morning.

My other resolutions were too personal to talk about on here, even with the influence of alcohol (I didn’t get a long way with either of them, by the way). On average, my success rate wasn’t brilliant. Despite this, I think there’s something about the feeling of a new beginning which can be useful for focussing your mind on what it is that you want to achieve. A mix of specific – ‘keep dancing’ with not so specific – ‘go abroad’ – I think is helpful. For next year, like, I’m sure, so many people, one of mine will be either to cancel my subscription to the local leisure centre or to actually start going again. I haven’t been swimming (I can’t take the gym) for a few months, but they’re still cheerfully taking £20 I can ill afford from my bank account every month. What else? I hope that both ‘keep writing’ and ‘keep dancing’ will go without saying. ‘Bake a cake,’ as discussed, goes back on the list. As do the others I haven’t managed to do in 2014. But I’m not beating myself up about not getting everything done in one year. One or two things, I haven’t done because I wasn’t ready yet. It’s been a very busy year, in many ways a very difficult year, but it’s been my best year so far. Does everyone think that each year? I hope so.