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.

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.