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.

January in Review

Unlike most of my posts which have some point to make or idea I want to work through, this one is designed just for giggles. Mainly because I feel like writing and I’m waiting for the oven to COOK MY PIZZA YOU PIECE OF SHIT.

So we’re already a month in to 2015, and January had its ups and downs for me as I’m sure it did for most of you. Here are a few things I noticed in the last month:

1. I have truly atrocious taste in men. I had cause to reflect on my dating history recently, and realised that in the last year the people I’ve been interested in or had brief, fleeting, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it “relationships” with have included:

  • A gay man. I didn’t know he was gay, obviously, although when I found out it made a lot of sense. That would explain why he was so easy to talk to, sweet, funny, and happy to talk about women’s rights
  • A man who said “call me Daddy” when we were in bed together. This was actually 100% worth it because it’s many, many months later and I am still laughing
  • Someone who thought a good idea for a first date was ‘hip hop karaoke.’ After I went back to him saying “Wow. Absolutely not” he pestered me about it for so long and irritated me so much that in the end I told him to just forget the whole thing
  • A guy who had been ‘involved’ in a ‘community’ that was ‘flexible’ about exclusivity for the past year and only chose to broach the subject after we’d been going out for six weeks, when he was on holiday for a fortnight, in an email. And then had the nerve to tell me when we saw each other again (after I’d told him he could take a long walk off a short cliff) that I should have known about it because he once mumbled something about ‘the kink scene.’ WTF.

2. Right now, I have the best circle of friends I have ever had. Honestly. Never Had It So Good.

3. I am generally in a very good state, head-wise. Despite the past month having several shit fireworks exploding in it (as in, fireworks of shit, not rather mediocre fireworks displays) I have remained mostly cheerful and upbeat. I have also felt genuinely happy for no real reason at several points. I have had bad days – I had one this week which scared me because I hadn’t had a day when I just wanted to cry all the time for a while, and once you’ve had depression for a period, when you have days like that you always fear that it’s the beginning of another episode, and not just a shitty day that can be remedied with wine and a takeaway. As it turned out, it was just a bad day that was solved with blues dancing and a decent night’s sleep. I think it’s easy to forget sometimes how much a few not brilliant nights of sleep can build up to make you overtired without you noticing, and I’d been waking up at 5am and not getting back to sleep for a few nights in a row. So it shouldn’t have surprised me really. But I am very happy with how I keep bouncing back.

I have no idea how long the pizza has been in the oven. Oh well. It’s not burnt yet, so I’ll carry on.

4. I am not good at time management. I am currently trying to juggle working two days a week, being at university for my Masters three days a week, dancing two or three nights a week, swimming two mornings a week, writing as much as I can, watching episodes of Friends to relax (you absolutely cannot beat it, it’s so comforting), reading lots and lots, and seeing friends, eating, sleeping etc. It’s the work and uni balance which I’m struggling with most. I tend to get into work and take a few minutes to remember what I do there, and the same when I try to do stuff for uni. This means that I am a week and a half away from an essay deadline and I don’t yet have a title for the bloody thing. It will get done, one way or another.

Making time for reading is particularly important. It’s not just uni reading, which I obviously have to do, but fun reading too. I’ve read some crackers this month. Butcher’s Crossing by John Williams, a re-read of The Blindfold by Siri Hustvedt, which is astonishing, and then her The Summer without Men too – which was excellent and not ‘women’s fiction’ portraying women as moronic idiots who spend all their time thinking about men and shoes as the title implies. Ignore the title, and also the dreadful cover, especially the title font and the fact they chose a quote from the Daily Mail. It is quite light, particularly compared to her other stuff which has more psychological depth, but it has a lot more to it than it looks like it will. I’m now reading Amy Poehler’s Yes Please, and it’s everything I hoped it would be already. But really, I do need to start organising my time better. Little things like my Masters degree result and The Future depend on it, a bit.

My pizza is done and only slightly burnt, so that counts as a success. I hope 2015 is working out for you too so far.

(I now have a greasy keyboard as I’ve been writing, editing and eating at the same time. Please see note on poor time management, above.)

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.