January 2015: Not so much “Resolutions” as “Things to Remember”…

At least, that’s what I said to myself after I doodled this lot (below) on a page in my new year’s notebook one night last week.

Rather than actual Things To Do (because god knows we’ve all got enough of those already), they’re more words to live by – how I try to live my life, always, whoever and whatever I’m dealing with.

resolutions-2015Sometimes I achieve it, and have a day where even the most-delayed, rammed, horrifically-slow District line Underground train can’t dent my zen-like, at-peace-with-the-world state.

Other times, even a five-minute delay can cause me to nearly cry with frustration at EVERYTHING being WRONG, and as the pure, distilled symbol of everything I don’t like about my life. (When does a Tube metaphor ever NOT perfectly describe the difficulties of existence, I ask you? Never. Nearly.)

These Things To Try And Remember segue neatly into actual “Things To Do”, because they help me balance my mood, remember what I’m living for, and crucially, make me feel good about myself.

So, blah blah blah, if you really want to know – in terms of ACTUAL resolutions, I’ve started a bloody difficult new exercise plan (TurboFire), am doing daily yoga workouts before work, trying to break the Christmas habits and eat better, keeping up my food diary again, starting up driving lessons again, trying to learn the repertoire of my new choir, keeping an open mind on relationships, and generally trying to take 2015 as it comes. With joy. And resolution. In that sense, these kind of ARE resolutions.

But crucially, I’m not beating myself up if I “break” one, or have a shit day. And equally I’m trying not to feel too “this is too good to be true” if I have a good day.

After all – as you can read here and here – one of my most favourite sayings is “If you’re tired of starting over, stop giving up”. Which, in less wanky language, is “Whatever it is, don’t let one fuck up, fuck up everything, and DON’T GIVE UP, EVER”. Maybe I should add that gem to the above list? Haha.

Here’s to 2015, everyone x


To my dreams, nightmares and ex-boyfriends: Please can you leave now?

One of my all-time favourite bloggers, Laura, once wrote a post about bumping into her ex-boyfriend. Although that in itself is a fairly awful situation  (which she dealt with with consummate class, of course) she also spoke about how she’d spent six months dreaming of her ex after he left.

And how she managed to get him (and his new fiancée she’d found out existed within weeks of their breakup, which sounds utterly soul-crushing) out of her repeated dreams about them by quietly telling them, mid-dream, that they couldn’t be there anymore. And it worked.

Apparently, this idea is mentioned in Elizabeth Gilbert’s cheesy-but-truthful ode to heartbreak, Eat, Pray, Love. I’ve read the book many times but I don’t specifically remember that bit. Maybe because last time I read it I didn’t need to.

Well, this time, world, I do need to. It may be undignified to admit it, but I do.

I’ve dreamt about previous boyfriends repetitively, too. In every situation.

I dream that we’re back together; that we’re about to get back together; that he’s there but we’re just friends (and I’m laughing along with the group, being the cool girl, but dying inside).

I’ve dreamt that I’m with someone else, and he appears, ambiguously. I’ve dreamt that he comes back and says sorry and all is forgiven. Then there’s the one where he’s somewhere in a tent at a festival (?!) and all I have to do is find him and it will all be OK (except I always just keep missing him by a minute).

I’ve dreamt he’s in my bed and then he’s not. Particularly lovely, that one.

I’ve dreamt that I’m standing on a podium giving an inspirational TED talk about everything he and the breakup taught me and why I’m a better, more whole person now. I dreamt that we bump into each other, and I behave in a dignified, totally-over-everything fashion.

I’ve dreamt that my mother, family, friends, and everyone else tell me that I really should be over it by now, and that it wasn’t that big a deal in the first place. Not like you were engaged, for god’s sake. Aren’t you finished with all this needy shit already?

I’ve dreamt that I’m being laughed at, and pointed at, and mocked, by everyone in the room – thousands of people, including his friends and other people I know ‒ for believing that I ever meant anything to him, for thinking that he would ever stay, and for being too utterly stupid (or wilfully blind) to notice the signs that he wouldn’t.

I’ve dreamt about him (them?) and woken up feeling broken all over again; I’ve dreamt about him and felt utterly furious that he’d barged in to my brain uninvited, and wondered why he couldn’t just leave me the fuck alone.

When I’m awake, I often try to practice mindfulness, and see my thoughts for the random, but not necessarily-defining, whims that they are. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. But when you’re asleep, it’s even more difficult. After all, how can you control your dreams? But I can only try, right?

So next time he appears, behind the rose-tinted, totally-twisted, stomach-wrenching spectacles you always wear in dreams, I’m going to try Laura (and Elizabeth’s?) thing.

I’m going to try and say, politely and calmly: Please can you leave now?

I don’t want you here anymore.

Welcome to the inspirational bullshit club!

This week, the relatively-new young women’s website The Debrief published an article called “The Facebook Statuses That Are Giving You Emotional Contagion – Hit Unfollow Now”, by Stevie Martin (@5tevieM).

It struck a chord. Because I am the sixth status they highlighted. I am the “mate who posts OTT inspirational bullshit”. Yes.

And even though they (very nicely) put this bit under the “People you should never unfollow” section, I still sensed a hint of irritation (the words “OTT” and “bullshit” were a dead giveaway). Allow me to explain.

TheDebrief-bullshitLess than two months ago, my boyfriend broke up with me (that’s not it, bear with me).

Even writing that seems foolhardy; like some fatal admission of weakness. Surely, as a young, free, single woman I shouldn’t even acknowledge it – “he broke up with me”. I should write, “We broke up”, or “It just ran its course”, or “Meh, whatever, more fish in the sea, no biggie”.

Sometimes it feels like when your relationship breaks down, you’re expected to cry for a bit and then just go, “Too bad, his loss, move on”. I should be channelling Beyoncé, says the received feminist wisdom, thinking that if some guy I believed in and loved proves himself not to be worth my belief or love, then what else is there to do but pack up and move the fuck on? “Next”, as more than one of my friends has said, not unreasonably.

And yes, to some extent, that is how it feels, and there is a world of truth in it. Some days, I’m like, “Erm, [ex-boyfriend’s name] who?”

But actually, some days it’s more difficult. Because when all is said and done, the split was one-sided. So there we go.

Even after the initial shock of that person no longer being there (and worse, actively choosing to no longer be there), there’s still a lot of pieces to pick up, thoughts to banish or nurture, memories to temporarily block out, parts of your personality to box up that are no longer as needed or as relevant when you’re single, such as being more patient and understanding, or less selfish, or really good at that thing you did in bed (What? It’s true).

And sometimes, motivational slogans are the ONLY thing that gets me through. Same for song lyrics, or snippets of books. They’re the only thing running through my head reminding me to GET SOME PERSPECTIVE, or cheer the fuck up, or remember that life is good and love is out there and that I’m not alone.

And if that’s not your bag, then fine. If you have other ways to cheer yourself up, or prefer to chug through life in a miasma of cynicism and practicality because that’s what works for you, then go ahead. Honestly, I admire it. But it doesn’t work for me.

Despite my belief in rationality, calmness, lack of drama, realism, honesty and completely straight-talking (to the point where I’ve got into trouble) I ultimately can’t deal with too much reality in my own head. And I am not the type to escape into drugs or alcohol to get away from it (beyond a couple of G&Ts and Dairy Milks, anyway).

When you’re single after having not been, the reality is always there, knocking.

Reminding you of your shortcomings and things that aren’t going so right, that you could always sort of mask when you were with someone else, or that were compensated for because you had someone else to focus on.

Sometimes it’s as simple as wishing you could talk to them about whatever just happened, but you can’t. Sometimes it’s that profound feeling of loneliness that hits you, cold in the chest, for no real reason as soon as you step into a hot, packed train. Sometimes it’s the once-joyful memories that used to be shared, that pop uninvited into your head, and are now just evidence of the different paths you were travelling on all along, or that creeping feeling that you’re going to be alone for ever.

Or that raging anger at the fact that some people seemingly find a partner without too much hassle, while the rest of us keep getting our hearts smashed, as if we ACTUALLY LIKE being dysfunctional and heart-broken. You know, for giggles.

I can’t cope with all that shit alone (or other on-going crap, such as my parents’ not-always-great health, the state of my bank account, what the economy might do to my job prospects, whether I’ll ever afford my own place, or hell, even my middle-class guilt at caring about all that).

It makes me feel desperate, panicked and sad. I need my slogans, if you want to call them that. I need my collective wisdom in pithy, memorable sentences to remind me that others have felt similarly and survived (without going to bed for a month). I need the knowledge of crowds and the kind words of strangers.

I was all over this kind of inspirational shit when I started exercising. And I’m all over some other sorts right now.

And sometimes, I see things that are so helpful, and that feel so relevant to life in general, that I post them on Facebook and *gasp* SOMETIMES, on Twitter.

The bad ones are awful, and I hope I have the serenity to never post one.

The good ones help give me hope and power and thirst for life. And for that, I am grateful. And if I post one that pisses you off, then I’m sorry.

So yes, I am that “OTT inspirational bullshit” person. For anyone who hates this, you can just hide my posts or unfollow me. For anyone whose day might be just momentarily improved, once, or a few times after, then great.

Anyway, The Debrief said that you should never unfollow people like me, because, I quote: “it’ll be 4am, you’ll have had your heart broken and be scrolling through your newsfeed desperately trying to avoid clicking on your ex’s profile when suddenly you’ll see ‘8 reasons you should let go and move on’ as shared by your mate who posts OTT inspirational bullshit. And it won’t feel like bullshit.”

They finish: “Nobody ever got hurt by a little uplifting bullshit, OK?”

AMEN TO THAT, OK? Welcome to the inspirational bullshit club. 🙂

On “success”: a carrot cartoon for life

I saw this cartoon on the Psychologies Magazine Facebook page today, and it really resonated. Not only is it super-cute, but it cleverly conveys a few messages that I often struggle to remember. When I do remember, they have the power to instantly improve my own sense of happiness.

  • Don’t compare your insides with other people’s outsides. This is especially helpful when you’re having one of those days when you feel like a failure or like you never get anything done, and everyone else seems to succeed when you’re failing. Stop comparing yourself to everyone else, realise that pretty much everyone has their own demons in some respect, everyone is dealing with something. Realise that, respect it, and carry on with your own good self.
  • Success, happiness and achievement aren’t always measured by their outside appearances. Maybe what makes you happy isn’t overt, or showy, or shiny, or glamorous, or especially cool. Or maybe you don’t make as much money as that lot over there with their swanky apartments and holidays, business trips or social-media-friendly parties. Or you don’t feel you look as good, or have as much going on. So what? Be yourself, whatever that might be (or at least, try and figure out what that could be). If you love something, or something else other than the “norm” makes you feel happier, do it anyway, and let the show-offs (with their big fuck-off carrot leaves, GOD!!) do their “overt” thing. The older I get, the more I think happiness lies in redefining your own meaning of success.
  • Often, people make a big deal out of something because they’re feeling a bit crap about it inside. They make a big noise or shout about how great they are, and you feel like you have nothing to say back. Maybe they really are great, but if they need to say it, they’re probably trying to convince *themselves* too. Or, maybe they really *are* just an arrogant twat. In which case, easier to ignore!
  • Something that looks like a failure might actually come good in the end. Even rubbish things in life can sometimes turn out OK, say a bad break-up or a crappy job or a terrible argument. After my last break-up, I felt completely broken, and it took me a long time to realise that I hadn’t entirely wasted that time or those feelings. At the time, it looked futile, but after a while I learned things and moved on, and that experience became part of the whole of who I am, bad bits and all.

Quite a lot of cheese from a cartoon about carrots, hey? Haha.

Winning and losing: What can London 2012 tell us about ‘happiness’?

With the Paralympics promising to cheer us all up in the post-Olympic gloom, I consider what the successes and ‘failures’ of the Games – and the events as a whole – can tell us about being happier in our own lives

The Paralympics are just around the corner

The Paralympics are just around the corner

The London Olympics – is it just me, or do they already feel dismally distant? In the two weeks since the light quite literally went out on London 2012, the golden glow emanating from all us usually-grey, complaining Brits has faded almost as quickly as a tan on lightly-bronzed skin. But it’s OK, because in mere days, the Paralympics will arrive, and the joy will spread once more.

But this certainly poses the question: are humans are doomed to peaks of glory, in the pursuit of a goal – followed by a dismal trough of gloom once it’s all over, or we don’t get what we were after? Well, actually, no.

Admittedly, for two glorious weeks, Britons were pleasantly surprised. We were not, contrary to popular opinion, quite as rubbish as we thought. Traffic and public transport weren’t the carnage we’d been expecting, the weather (mainly) held out, Britain did damn well across the medals board, and the Opening Ceremony was a bonkers, ridiculous, fantastically-hilarious, toe-tapping conglomeration of the best of British. Twitter loved it. We all loved it.

Briefly, we experienced what it must be like to actually shake off the yoke of our usual, grumbling, bleakly-practical and self-deprecating state, and experience genuine, heartstring-pulling joy.

Yes, I found myself revelling in rhythmic gymnastics, welling up at running and drying my tears after dressage. I found myself laughing happily at the Mo Farah meme, and even reluctantly approving of the sell-out cosmetic ads from Pendleton and Ennis et al. despite their over-use of Photoshop on some of the officially most-honed bodies on the planet. And this, from someone who usually doesn’t give sport the time of day.

But since then, we’ve had more rain, more news on the deficit, separate cases of old men pontificating on young women’s bodies, massacre in the Middle East, titles being stripped, and the end of a legend. Despite every publication under the sun’s attempts at shoring up ‘Olympics withdrawal’, there’s no mistaking that the shine has gone. And, after the initial revival, when the Paralympics are also done and dusted, will that be the final story?

For those of us interested in a slightly happier state of affairs, is this the only thing we can learn from the Games? With the Paralympic Games just around the corner, and cheeky adverts from Channel 4 promising an even better show than the BBC extravaganza, are we destined for the same high and then perishing low of the previous set, only this time worse, because there are no more to come?

Are we destined to bounce between ‘fun event’ to ‘fun event’, but be miserable the rest of the time? Will we shuffle under our collective duvets, and, as winter encroaches, simply refuse to cheer up?
Continue reading

Ruby Wax on mindfulness: How our brains drive us mad

Ruby Wax on mindfulness, Conway Hall, London

Ruby Wax on mindfulness, Conway Hall, London (sorry for the rubbish quality, it was pretty dark where I was sitting for some reason, and my phone couldn’t cope)

So-called ‘poster girl for mental health’, and full-on comedian Ruby Wax explains where science meets mindfulness and helps me figure out just how it could help my own mental well-being

Before anyone even comes on to the stage at the strangely church-yet-village-hall-style venue that is Conway Hall, in Red Lion Square, Holborn, a kind-yet-tired-looking man to my left starts telling me about his mental health.

Somehow, before I’ve even had a chance to really say anything, he’s told me that he had to give up work soon after his depression diagnosis and that for him, like 25% of those prescribed pills, medication didn’t work, so he’s been trying other ways to wrestle with his own mental demons.

He’s come to the talk with a group of people for whom trying to keep the black dog at bay has also seemingly become a daily struggle. And they, and me, make up just one line of the buzzing crowd of people – men and women, from teenagers to pensioners ‒ thronging into the hall with impatience to hear famous comedian and sufferer of depression Ruby Wax speak about that recent buzz word in mental health: mindfulness.

That’s what I tell the man to my left: “She’s talking about mindfulness,” I say, “It’s basically a way of focussing on the present – a bit like meditation but without the Buddhism,” I venture, sounding more confident in my definition than I feel.
Continue reading