On the saving graces of 2016

I’m writing this with a dwindling packet of Lockets to my left, a wad of snotty loo roll to my right, and a kitchen full of food waiting to be turned into for my ace flatmate to turn it into tasty canapés ahead of the neighbours arriving for New Year’s Eve. I’m multi-tasking, taking stock as I prep a party playlist for this evening’s probably-bigger-than-anticipated festivities. And I’m sitting on the brink of a new year, trying to cling to the loveliness of 2016 wherever I can find it.

Aside from the despair felt on a global scale this year, 2016 sucked personally, too – from the detachment and depression that kicked in for me around February, to the loss of a true giant of a man in August – the last of my grandparents – and the subsequent unravelling of a family. Loss and hopelessness have shaped the past 12 months. But it wouldn’t be a new year for me without an attempt to salvage some goodness from the one just past. To look back and try to make sense of the good, the bad and the in-between. To set some intentions and aspirations for the year ahead – whether they’re destined to materialise or not.

This year, above anything else, was the year I saw the most beloved of men be ravaged by illness – his skin be turned to paper, his body scarily thinned, his voice silenced – and then be snatched away, quicker than I ever thought possible. But I’m left with constant reminders of my Grandad Charlie’s life. Cards, letters, photographs, the beginnings of a book manuscript, and a swallow-shaped tribute forever etched into my skin. Yep, in 2016, I got my first tattoo. I say ‘first’ because I sensed the impending addiction as soon as I walked into the tattoo studio. I’m still formulating ideas for my next piece, and I won’t go ahead willy-nilly with a design that doesn’t shout at me with pure certainty, but hey, watch this space. For now, I’m still pretty much obsessed with my first one.

In January, I took a short course in DJing. I bought my own decks soon after and genuinely can’t remember a time I’ve been so delighted, either before or since. I squealed and jumped around my living room, for god’s sake. I’m not exactly about to take to the stage at Ministry of Sound or anything, but it feels good to have found something that makes me excited to lose myself in it and learn.

This year, I did lots of running. I mean, I’ve been a runner for almost my entire 20s, but I’ve not run this much in a while. I ran four half-marathons, scored a 10k PB AND joined an actual running club. I start training with them next week. I was a bit beside myself when they accepted me as a new member tbh.

I visited another new country. Me and my flatmate somewhat spontaneously booked ourselves some autumn sunshine on the Greek island of Kefalonia. I spent an entire afternoon on a beach, doing absolutely nothing but napping and reading and eating foreign snacks. And I never do that. It was delicious. My bank balance will dictate how much more travelling I can do in 2017, but I hope it’s at least some. This girl and her ever-expanding mind are forever seeking new cities and sunsets and stories.

Other cool things that happened this year: I expanded my yoga practice beyond YouTube videos, found a teacher whose classes I adore and finally got to grips with Crow. I got taken to Paris for the day. I went on my first girls’ holiday. I swam outdoors. I developed a serious liking for coffee and red wine. I ate a lot of brunch. I interviewed footballers and Formula One drivers on camera and got paid for it. I read more books this year than in the past three years combined. I learnt how to make cocktails (well, two). I went to concerts and theatre shows and stuff all by myself. I had a sleepover with my sister, went to a hip-hop club with my brother and got drunk with my new-to-London younger cousin. And I referred myself for therapy.

And as for other wonderful things that weren’t directly my things but were wonderful nonetheless? I celebrated my little brother becoming a fully fledged firefighter and I saw one of my best friends from childhood get married on a day that swept me up in its pure awesomeness like nothing else could.

So, 2016, you did your worst. But it would seem that I’m leaving you a wiser, fitter (minus the lurgy), wider-read and further-travelled woman than when I met you, with richer experiences under my belt and better friends and close family than I could ever dare hope for. I’m clearer on what’s important and where I want to go. And more than anything, I’m learning to be OK with what is. To appreciate what’s in front of my face, accept when things aren’t great and trust in my own ability to make them better. 2017 better watch it, that’s all I can say.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, there are some uncooked meatballs that need cocktail stick-ing and a Betty Crocker brownie mix with my name on it.

What helps me

Last year, I shared a post that listed some of the things that make me happy. In light of the fact that this week we had World Mental Health Day, and considering that I’ve had a slightly wobbly time of it this year, I wanted to revisit the list. Update it. Let it reflect what helps me feel better today.

Solo coffee. Solo walks. Solo a lot of things, actually. Cake in the window seat of my favourite local cafe. A whole row to myself in the cinema. The front seat on the top deck of a Routemaster. I adore people. I’m fascinated by them. I gain so much energy from the buzz of others. FaceTime with my sister and texts with my brother and chats with my mum and my dad and my mates. But being by myself is ridiculously important and key to me feeling OK.

Long stretches of time with nothing to do. Where I get to choose when I wake up. Where I have no need to leave the house unless I want to. Where I have no need to leave my bed unless I want to. Where the cupboards are stocked and there’s unwatched Netflix to binge on and unread books to devour. (I need to get better at this, granted. Better at not imposing obligations on myself. Better at just letting myself be, without checking my phone or keeping a mental note of the time.)

Running. Running before work. Running at 6am. Running before the world and its mother wake up and join me on the streets. When the sky is still black and most windows still dark.

My mornings. Making the same breakfast of porridge and berries every day. Eating it in my bedroom with a podcast or music on in the background. Cycling to work and sailing past the stationary traffic like see yaaaaaaaa. Feeling a new day stretching ahead of me, never quite knowing what it’ll bring but knowing that I mostly get to decide.

Doing something nice for someone else. I don’t really know how to say this without sounding like a sanctimonious git, but I’ve bought hot drinks and a sandwich for two separate homeless guys this week and it made me feel really, really good when I did it. I admitted that I had no cash but I asked what they wanted to eat or drink. Went to the nearest shops to buy cappuccinos and a tuna sandwich. Left them with some sustenance and told them to take care. I feel like Joey in Friends when he insists that there’s no such thing as a selfless good deed, but I think that’s OK. And it’s kind of the whole point. Because when we do something nice for another and spread some love, it’s supposed to make us feel good, too.

Reading. Reading really, reeeeaaaally slowly. As in, taking an hour to read a book made of paper and doing nothing other than focusing on its pages. Just paying attention to that one thing for a relatively long time. Preferably in a busy cafe. Or in bed.

Parks in the afternoon. Parks first thing in the morning. Parks in the evening as the sun’s going down and a chill’s setting in. I’m pretty lucky to live in one of the greatest cities in the world but also have super-easy access to some gorgeous green spaces. Must remember that sitting on a park bench with a takeaway latte is one of life’s loveliest things.

Early nights. Note to self: sleep is magical. End of story. More of it, please.

Even making this list helped me. Picturing myself doing all these things. Making mental plans to do them soon. Remembering that even when I feel really, really bad, I can still help myself out of it.

Tattoos and belly rolls

Last weekend, I did one of the most exciting things I’ve done in my whole life (IMO).

I got my first tattoo.

I say ‘first’ because, even in the moments I was having my arm inked, I already knew I’d get another. It’s just a matter of deciding what it’ll be.

I’ve wanted a tattoo since I can remember. There’s something utterly cool about people who have tattoos though… The way they just pull them off. Like, “oh this thing? I forgot I had it.” It’s part of them and their aesthetic. It just fits.

Turns out that tattoos aren’t things only the cool kids have. I just needed some help from life to figure out what I wanted…

My grandad was in hospital all summer. His terminal diagnosis in July shook everyone, and the way all of our lives changed so quickly was dramatic. My time was immediately split between London and home (Yorkshire), countless hours spent at my grandad’s bedside as he shared life stories, discussed the failings of politicians and, later, slept for hours on end. As sleeping became his default state, I got used to sitting with him in silence – me and my mum, brother, aunties, uncles and cousins taking turns to make coffee or give Grandad water when he gestured for a sip.

I took a book with me one day, anticipating my grandad’s snoozing and the ensuing silence. It was as I was sitting alone next to Grandad’s bed, not concentrating whatsoever on the book in my hands, that I looked over at him, taking all of him in. The whiter-than-white skin clinging to his resting bones. The full head of hair he was once so proud of, thinned from the prolonged bed rest of recent weeks. The distorted bird tattoo on his forearm, hue faded, typical of those teal tattoos you see on old men.

My grandad loved birds. He once gave me a book to help me identify the different species. He loved to feed the birds in his front garden; he’d put out seeds and scraps and leftovers after cooking enough food in his kitchen to feed the whole street. He named the birds that visited him (there’s a crow out there – Arnold – who’ll doubtlessly be missing my grandad (and his food!) almost as much as I do). Aside from that, my grandad was in the Merchant Navy. Once upon a time, he’d spend days upon days away at sea. I’ve discovered that many seamen would get pictures of swallows inked onto their skin; these were the birds whose presence would assure them that they weren’t far from land – and, therefore, home.

On the day I spotted my grandad’s bird tattoo, despite having seen it countless times before, something clicked. No more wondering, debating, umming or ahhing. I knew what I wanted. A gorgeous, tattooed friend of mine put me in touch with an apprentice, whose artistic talent completely surpasses her level of experience. I sent her some inspiration and she sketched something that, as soon as I saw it, made my heart flutter and my head go, YEP. THAT. THAT’S IT.

It was perfect.

And so is the finished product.

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My cheeks ached from smiling the afternoon I had it done. My friend took me to a beer festival afterwards (I hate beer but I drank cider and danced to a brass band who covered 50 Cent’s P.I.M.P., so it’s all good) and I grabbed every opportunity to slip down my shirt sleeve and show off my arm with pride. And yet, when I later checked the photo the tattoo artist had taken of my new ink, you know what stopped me from sharing it online with everyone I know in that very same minute?

Bloody belly rolls.

*does the most exaggerated eye-roll ever at self*

I passed my phone across the restaurant table to my friend as we waited for pizzas as big as both of our heads. Her gaze was drawn to the stunning new art on my skin, and she couldn’t understand why mine was drawn to the discernible bulge around my middle. But it became all I could see. Forget the fact that I could clearly blame it on my stance or my outfit. Forget the fact that I’m in training for my fourth half-marathon of the year. Forget the fact that I shouldn’t even need to bring that up as proof that I’m fit and healthy “despite” having belly fat. That bulge was all I could focus on.

It doesn’t make sense, but our unreasonable brains rarely do. Those ugly thoughts permeated what should’ve been a night of tribute to the man who impacted my life in a way I can only wish he was still around to hear me explain. (I told him I loved him every time I visited the hospital, but now it just doesn’t seem enough.)

Logically, I know a clean silhouette and visible abs wouldn’t make me a better person. Logically, I know people still fancy girls with belly rolls and thigh dimples and skin that spills over the tops of their bras. Logically, I feel like a traitor to basically all women for thinking otherwise. But such is the mind of a girl who sucks her navel towards her spine and tilts her head just so whenever a camera appears.

You wouldn’t think I had an issue with my body image. I don’t talk about it at all – although much has been made in the past about my “photo smile” and my need to vet all pictures of myself before they leave the safety of my friends’ phones. Another friend was surprised when I told her I was fretting and that this is what goes on inside my head pretty much every day. I asked her to tell me I was being silly. “All [your grandad] would see is love,” she assured me. “That’s all I see. And that’s all anyone else will see.”

And that’s what I need to remember really. That the picture is of the tattoo, not of my body. And the tattoo stands for something way more than the superficial. My grandad never let belly rolls stop him from keeping a stocked tin of biscuits in his kitchen, or from enjoying his favourite Liquorice Allsorts, presented to him routinely each birthday and Christmas. We won’t remember him for what he looked like (although his smile was truly a knock-out). We’ll remember him for being clever and for being kind and for saying what he thought in every situation. For having had insanely rich life experiences and sharing them with a level of detail that my rubbish memory can’t even comprehend. For his tales of growing up abroad and working at sea and staying holed up in the cinema to watch back-to-back films in the days when it cost mere pennies to do so. For being so caring and so generous and so protective of the people he loved most.

As far as I can tell, this life is the only one we get. And I really don’t want to waste another second of mine worrying that my belly might stick out a bit. I mean, I know I will, because such conditioned thoughts don’t evaporate overnight. But at least I now have a permanent reminder on my skin of there being way more important and special things to be bothered about.

Netflix as therapy

When my grandad was diagnosed with stage IV cancer three days after my 29th birthday, my Netflix subscription had been laying dormant for a while. I’d reprised my role of avid series-watcher when new episodes of Orange is the New Black were released, but otherwise it was £5.99 I was waving goodbye to every month so my friends could use my Netflix account instead.

Cut to now, and I’ve watched Stranger Things, Don’t Trust the B**** in Apartment 23, Love, The Little Prince and The Fundamentals of Caring. I’m eyeing up Bloodline, I’ve started The Get Down, and I’ve been told that The Gilmore Girls is “amazing.” By several people. And that I should absolutely get on that.

My summer was a whirlwind of hospital visits, hugs and hand-holding. It was also when I streamed quite a lot of digital entertainment through a little app on my iPhone. I’d watch Netflix at my mum’s kitchen table, on the train and in bed. I was watching it when I got a call asking if I’d drive my mum to the hospice as things had taken a turn for the worse. If I hadn’t had my phone in my hand, I probably wouldn’t have seen the call flash up. So, cheers to Netflix, I suppose.

I stopped watching TV for a while a few years ago. Unless we were talking documentaries or really interesting films about life, or maybe absorbing Danish detective dramas with English subtitles (hat-tip to my grandad for the heads-up on that one), what was the point? What was I learning? What was TV adding to my life?

And now here I am, dedicating an entire blog post to the trusty magic of trash TV. Because I’m not sure how I would’ve got through the summer and kept my sanity intact (ish) without the sitcom in which a girl with a blunt fringe and an even blunter tongue plays matchmaker to her dad and her flatmate without informing her friend of the disconcerting connection, then fosters a child and sets her to work as her PA (yes, it’s illogical and exaggerated, but that’s the whole point). Knowing that people were still laughing and silliness still prevailed somewhere kept me going a little bit.

When life turns itself inside-out and every which way until it’s barely recognisable, I like to wallow in it. Possibly for longer than is necessary. The intensity of it all bubbles up until it becomes a tangible fizz in the pit of my stomach. And then I cry (usually in yoga class when I’m least expecting it) and close down and stay home by myself for long periods of time. Or walk the streets in floods of tears (yo, people of south London who bore witness to my recent emotional meltdown, how you doing?). Or draw a blank and forget what I’ve spent my time doing entirely. I don’t engage in small-talk and I confide in just a close circle of friends. And, apparently, I turn to the digital streaming of films and TV. The mediums that can transport me to any place, any situation, any mood that takes my fancy. That can validate my feelings of darkness and despair, or switch them up completely and have me laughing at someone else’s utterly stupid situation.

Sometimes, it takes being removed from your own circumstances and given a backstage look at someone else’s (fictitious and fanciful, but nonetheless fascinating) life in order to get some perspective. I mean, there’s nothing wrong with wallowing. But with a side of Netflix and chocolate, I’ve found it’s even better.

“Actually, I’m not OK”

I’ve been meaning to write here for weeks. Since before Jo Cox. Before Brexit. Before news sites scrambled to cover each fresh world story, cropping up horrifically at breakneck speed.

Also, before I got world-shaking news about a man with whom I’m unspeakably proud to share DNA.

But nothing I’ve thought to write has seemed enough. Not to compete with more worthwhile work. Not to do justice to this weird desolation I’ve felt since approx. February. And besides, my brain hasn’t settled down long enough to get the words out.

I’ve burst into tears unexpectedly a few times. In the hospital. In the street. In the middle of conversations. This past Sunday, my little sister presented me with a tissue, then asked our dad in a hushed voice that she didn’t think I’d hear, “Why is Bec crying?”

Things have just been feeling incredibly heavy, like wading through mud and getting through the day are one and the same. And I haven’t truly known why. I’m taking an age to reply to text messages (sorry about that). I’m forgetting how to be around others. I’m avoiding going out much and I’m cancelling plans. I’m dreading someone asking what’s going on with me because the only answer I have that won’t make them wish they hadn’t asked is, “nothing.”

This week, I met a close friend for Caribbean food and felt nervous butterflies in my tummy. Me. The one who derives energy from being around people. My friend marvelled at how no one would know I was going through anything, what with my Instagram posts documenting lovely things, like al fresco pizza, new hair cuts and pretty green dresses. Instagram is doubtlessly there to document the damn fine moments in life, to preserve them online forever and always. But there’s a ‘behind-the-scenes’ that no one else sees. The same night I ate pizza on the grass, I cried myself to sleep. And the day after I wore that green dress, I watched someone I love be spoon-fed in hospital and had to nap in my mum’s living room because I exhausted myself with tears.

I was wary of publishing this post. Those horrific news stories keep coming thick and fast, reminding us that there are unjust deaths and political meltdowns and incomprehensible things happening right now. Me feeling blue ain’t exactly up there with the day’s headlines, and nor should it be. But it is what it is, and from what I’m hearing in articles and Instagram posts and conversations with friends, I’m not on my own. And I think it’s important we talk about these things. Because it’s only through talking about them that we can know we’re not the only ones (and have some kind of hope that it won’t always be this way).

Granted, not every day feels the same. Today, I woke up to sunshine, pulled my hair into a bun and posted an embarrassing picture on Facebook for my friend’s birthday. Last week, I only washed my hair once. Yesterday, I struggled to see a future beyond my new normal. But today, I can see past this evening. I can look ahead without it seeming pitch dark. And I’m going to be grateful for days like this when they come. Just as I’m grateful for what’s been helping me through these weeks, providing distraction for my mind when it doesn’t like where it lingers.

Podcasts. Beautiful/Anonymous, Only Human, Distraction Pieces and Woman’s Hour are particular favourites.

Music. Currently on repeat: Nao and Anderson .Paak.

Netflix. I’ve binged on Love and Orange is the New Black, and I’ve started Stranger Things (great, but watching the first episode while babysitting alone in a strange house at nighttime was NOT the one).

Reading. Women whose words help. Nora McInerny Purmort, Meg Fee, Alisha Sommer and Marina KeeganNayyirah Waheed, Ella Risbridger, Yrsa Daley-Ward and Hannah Brencher.

Yoga. Union Station is the most beautiful place to practise. And in last night’s restorative class, when we were encouraged to say hi to the person on the next mat, I shared my burdens with a perfect stranger, who, in turn, told me about her break-up. We all have our stuff. Better than spouting the generic, “Yep, I’m good, thanks.”

Friends. Friends who distract me. Friends who listen. Friends who get married and are beautiful on a day so stunning I forget all else.

Family. When London’s too stifling, there’s always home. The ease of speaking with no filter. The too-big pyjamas I steal from my brother. The little sister whose day is made by a new nail polish in mint green. And the joy of finding my broad Yorkshire accent right where I left it three years ago.

Life is a series of ups and downs, of bright lights and dark spells, of floaty dresses and hearts that race at an overwhelming speed. The trick, I’m finding, is in not denying any of it. Feeling it all. Even when it sucks so bad. Not closing yourself off, and not letting slide the stuff that helps. The boundless sleep, the early morning running, the food that doesn’t come in a plastic wrapper. All of the above, and the people, too.

Because stuff will suck. Life’s like that. And there’s no shame in letting it be too much. In saying, “Actually, I’m not OK.” In, yes, trying to help yourself, but in asking for help, too. I may get snappy with my family and shy around friends. I may long to be in bed rather than outside with actual people. But, as I’m beginning to figure out these past few days? I really wouldn’t be without those people for the world.

An adventure is always worth having

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So my daily posting challenge didn’t last as long as I initially proclaimed it would, but I’m proud of what I did back there nonetheless. Two+ weeks of solid daily posts ain’t bad going, but I’m glad I stopped when I did. I was getting sick of the sound of my own voice, to be brutally honest, and all that inner excavating wasn’t doing great things for my mood. I’d become quite intensely introspective, had retreated into a self-made cocoon, and my posts felt to have taken on a sorry tone.

Good job my Barcelona trip came when it did! [/end brag… well, maybe not just yet]

I was there for the hen do of a girl I’ve been friends with since we were 4 (super thankful to have day ones like her). She just turned 29 and gets married this summer, which I’m beyond excited about, but which means we can pretty much no longer claim not to be adults… Anyway, I got back to London a week ago. When they say “time flies,” that’s because IT DOES. The trip started with the tightest of hugs from one of my best friends, who’d already been out there sunning herself for a day. I felt everything in me unclench – having someone be that happy to see me (and vice versa!) loosened up all the yucky tension I’d unknowingly been holding on to. We spoke in hurried tones and went off on tangents, as if we hadn’t talked in months (even though we chat every day). The cheap Cava helped us along, not that we needed it to. The wine out there is ridiculously priced, by the way – and that’s not a complaint.

The rest of the hen party arrived later. Nine of us in total. My friend noted that I reverted back to ‘School Becca’ during the weekend, preferring to watch and giggle from the sidelines because joining in turns my cheeks pink. I’ve always been like that in big groups. And I guess some things are hard to change. Just like my craving for travel, which is never truly satisfied. I go on one trip, only to return and start planning the next. Or, as in this case, look up Barcelona rental costs before I’ve even touched back down in Stansted… Seriously, I need to go again.

There was something about the place that just made me ease up. Maybe it was the jugs of sangria we lapped up as we cooed over a scrappy dog with long legs dancing between the tables. Maybe it was the man balancing a tray of doughnuts on his head as he offered his wares up and down the beach (it’s all about standing out in the cut-throat world of seaside snacks, apparently). Maybe it was the unspoilt buildings that rendered me unable to put my phone down for more than three seconds on the top deck of a bus tour, such was the need to capture each one. Maybe it was dancing to ’90s pop songs at 3am among a bunch of earnest locals and British expats who warned that they’d gone there on holiday and just never returned home. Or maybe it was having a bedroom with a balcony, ordering patatas bravas at every meal, or getting sunburnt in a foreign place with some of my oldest friends.

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‘Self-care’ feels like a to-do list too much of the time. Had a bubble-bath? Cross it off the list. Been to yoga and the cinema in the same week? Winning at life. This trip reminded me that life isn’t something to be compartmentalised. Yes, the irony is that it took a scheduled holiday for me to realise this, but bear with.

I don’t want to treat life like a box-ticking challenge anymore. To have it feel like a list of stuff to get through, rather than a whole bunch of stuff I get to actually enjoy.

Not that weekend-long sangria sessions (with ham plates! and cheese plates! and bread plates!) can always be a thing. Or can they…? On the bus to the airport, I read this piece by Marie Phillips, on moving to Amsterdam with not a plan or even a word of Dutch to her name, but still styling it out and making it work. I’m not saying my Barcelona rent research was wholly serious, but trust me, the temptation to upend my life is real. I tweeted Marie about being impulsive and making a move, and she replied, “Seriously, if you are in a position to do it, an adventure is always worth having!

It made me realise, even if I never live abroad or travel half as much as I’d like, I can still have adventures. I can still stay firmly put on a sweaty dancefloor ’til 3am. I can still get on a train and go somewhere – anywhere – just because I want to. I can still eat a meal made up entirely of cheese. I can do all of those things and more, because I’m an adult (honestly), and adventures are what I’m here to have.

Never try on a bikini after you’ve been sucked into an Instagram wormhole

The keen-eyed fans among you (oh, come on, I know you’re out there… 👀) will have noticed that there was no daily post yesterday. Yeah, about that. I fully intended to write. I just didn’t know what. And when the end of the day rolled around, the last thing I wanted was to indulge my brain in even more of its destructive internal ramblings by writing about my feelings.

It started very innocently with me clicking a link in a fitness page’s Instagram caption, and ended very frustratingly with me bawling in front of the series 4 finale of Girls (I’m not the only one who slyly wishes Hannah had gone back to Adam, am I?).

See, I forget sometimes that Instagram is all staged (yep, mine is, too). It’s all hashtags and likes and selling our best selves. Yes, there’s genuine connection and a whole lot of realism if you look for it, but even the most straight-talking, body-positive posters consider what they’re going to post before they post it and do so in order to engage their people. ‘Tis a fact of life. We’re all just building our “personal brands” out here.

So, there I was, gawping at this girl’s phenomenal physique, teetering on the precipice between admiration and ‘I basically hate you right now’-level envy. And then I did what I never should’ve done in that situation, and I tried on a new bikini.

It didn’t go to plan. All my mind chose to see were the soft bits and pink bits that no Insta model has. I couldn’t tell if it was the cut of the bikini that wasn’t working for me, or the colour of it, or just the kids’ leftover pasta I’d had at work, but I wasn’t eyeing the svelte and sculpted image I’d had in mind.

Cue an evening in which my mood spiralled downwards, tiredness played with my emotions, and (total honesty here) I ended up crying on the settee because I was all alone (melodramatic? moi?).

I know what I’m supposed to do in moments like that. I’m supposed to text a friend or my mum, or read something funny, or do something nice for myself like have a bath or go to sleep. But actually in the moment, it’s hard to remember much apart from how rubbish I feel and how much I apparently want to prolong it.

Today I woke up still in a mood (sleep can be magical, but not when you consistently get two hours less than you’re meant to). So I figured it was time to change the record. I voice-messaged my friend – just saying out loud that I felt crap helped put it into perspective. I made a good breakfast – actually, the same breakfast of porridge that I have day in, day out (my flatmate finds this very funny), because it’s always reliably comforting. I started ghost-writing an article about the things it’s OK not to have figured out by the time you’re 30 (I chose this out of the titles I’d been sent in the hope I could self-soothe during the writing process). I had coffee with a friend who always knows precisely what to say. I headed to Oxford Street to return the offending bikini and try on pretty new ones. And as I read an article by Ann Friedman on reclaiming the word ‘ugly,’ I bit into the slice of white buttered toast that came with my veggie breakfast (at 2pm) and decided that it was SO worth having a bit of a belly bulge in a bikini at the beach.

See, I find it too easy to see myself as just a body. No matter the wonderful things I do, the places I go and the things I learn, I’m no more than the sum of my body parts. And it certainly isn’t some Instagram model’s fault that I feel that way. I ought to be celebrating her, and women like her, for the work they put in to get the bodies they have. For their apparent confidence, for their strength. But at the moment, I’m not always a big enough person to be all YOU GO, GIRL. At the moment, I’m too prone to comparison and letting myself feel not-good-enough because of other people’s so-called lives. At the moment, I too easily slip into seeing my job not as bettering myself on the inside, but as, in Lindy West’s words, “being decorative (and within a very narrow set of parameters).” (And yes, it pains me to even type these words.) So I’ll just keep policing my own Instagram use. I’ll try to laugh with friends when I even think about berating my body (I mean, it might have bulges but it’s still pretty amazing). I’ll channel the six-year-old girl I look after, who once got out of the bath, stuck her protruding tummy out even further and said, beaming, “Look at my belly; I’ve eaten so much food!”

And for god’s sake, I need to get more sleep. Sleep makes almost everything feel better.

On burning diaries and why I still write

I really enjoyed Lena Dunham’s essay in Lenny last week, about rereading (and now publishing) excerpts from the diaries she wrote aged 20.

(I mean, this is Lena, and I wouldn’t be a cliche millennial if I didn’t enjoy most things she does. Although let’s gloss over the fact that I’m catching up on Girls lately and am aware that, out of the group, I DEFINITELY relate to Hannah the most, and I am CRINGING about it.)

I kept a meticulously regular diary between the ages of about 13 and 16. I wrote almost every day. Sometimes only about where I’d been and what I’d eaten, but always about what I’d been feeling. About my friends, about my first boyfriend, about getting together with him and then breaking up two years later. About people I liked, people I didn’t like, school and jobs and reinventing myself (it never happened). My life was painfully simple, but painful nonetheless. Isn’t every 14-year-old’s?

Lena said this of looking back at the inside of her 20-year-old mind:

“There is something so pleasurably painful about reading old diaries, like picking a scab or waiting for a sneeze or asking an ex to explain, in graphic detail, why they don’t want to f*ck you anymore.”

Eh, I think I get it. Except when I used to read my teen diaries back, all I got was drippy and sentimental. I’d read them wistfully and wish for the times when things were (retrospectively) easy and happy and I knew where I stood in life. Before the pretence of being a grown-up kicked in and I had to have it all together even though I really didn’t. You’re allowed to be an emotional mess when you’re 14. It’s expected of you.

I’m purely postulating here. I don’t know if these are the reasons I used to read my teen diaries and wish time travel was real. I don’t know why I’d long for those days so damn hard. But I do know that when I saw an article a few years back which championed (shock horror) the burning of old diaries, moving on, focusing forwards… it made sense.

My teen diaries made me feel homesick every time I read them, like a golden time was lost and I could never get it back. Which is true. But to intensely nostalgic me, that’s the worst. It’s a recent revelation, this whole ‘doing life looking forwards’ thing. It doesn’t come naturally to me. I like to cling and reminisce, possibly too much.

But after that article got me heated, I stopped clinging. I ripped every page out of those old diaries, and I put them in the recycling bin like the good little rebel I am.

That was about four years ago, at a guess. The relief was actually kind of something. I didn’t have to hang on to that painfully awkward teenage girl with her doubts and self-consciousness if I didn’t want to. I could just hold onto the good stuff, like being the nice kind of sensitive, and being utterly in love with my family. Because that’s who I am regardless, and no destroying of old diaries can change that.

I realise this all sounds nonsensical given that I’m writing this post on my very personal yet very public blog, the content of which is what I’ve been thinking/feeling/eating. What makes this any different? I’m not sure it is different, not really. If this is my diary these days, my posts are just way more rambling, and hopefully more eloquent.

I’ve read past posts on here, dating back almost two years, and it doesn’t feel anything like as painful. Perhaps I’m just different now. Happier with where my life’s heading, not feeling that I need to look back. Actually quite proudly fond of the person who was writing, rather than regretful that I didn’t nurture her right. No longer feeling like something’s missing – because reading the words of teenage me, it was always only clear what I’d since lost, rather than what I’d gained. Whatever the reason, I’ll continue to post as long as stories bring me sense. Because when my friend recently applauded me for posting every day, said she wouldn’t be able to do it because her thoughts aren’t coherent enough, I said that’s exactly why I write. Because my thoughts are never coherent until I write them down. It’s not the writing of the diaries that got to me, but more the reading them back. So, how long these here pieces will stay online, I don’t know. But I need to write them. And I have a feeling they’ll last longer than the scrawling, pained words I wrote in my Bang on the Door diaries 15 years ago.

When a bathroom selfie will have to do

Royal Windsor HalfToday, I slyly ran a half marathon. I say ‘slyly’ because my place was kind of booked on a whim a few weeks ago and I didn’t really tell people about it. (I guess there’s a lot of ‘getting out of my own way’ that I still need to do when it comes to just sharing bloody good news.)

I ran the race alone and there was no one there to support me. But that’s not me being self-pitying; when it turned out that my friend who suggested the race couldn’t run it after all (this was once I’d already signed myself up with the utmost enthusiasm), I actually relished the idea of making a weekend of it alone. The race was in Windsor, a good hour from where I live (and that’s being generous to London traffic). It made sense to already be in Windsor on the morning of the race. So I booked a hotel and called it a solo staycation (because why wouldn’t I?).

The start of the race was the most haphazard I’ve known. It went like this: 1. Turn up. 2. Cross the line, pretty much in your own time. It set the tone for the rest of the event, which was chilled and friendly and just really, really nice. I don’t think I’ve called a race ‘nice’ before. But this one was set in the most beautiful spot that it couldn’t be called anything but.

If ever there was an argument for moving out of London, Windsor offered a good one. I wish I could put into words the feeling of having genuinely fresh air in my lungs and getting among green grass and big trees and horses and swans… It’s the simple things. And it’s been a long time. The other runners in the race chatted among themselves, helped those who stumbled. Because a trail run brings its own challenges, like rocks and tree roots and random bumps in the path. Runners fell, and others stopped with them. But they dusted themselves off (literally – the countryside is a bit mucky) and kept going. Because that’s what we have to do.

Other than stopping to cross a busy A road and walking to drink my water at the energy stations, I ran the whole way. (Oh, apart from the times I had to slow right down to cope with the bottleneck effect of having 2500 runners all navigating narrow, winding paths.) I had to wait hours for my time to be announced – again, if the race itself was chilled, why would the results be rushed through? I eventually found out that I ran 2 hours 8 minutes. Sub-2 hours would’ve been huge for me, but considering the aforementioned bottlenecks, the new terrain, the stream of stunning sights for me to take in… I’ll let myself off. There’s always next time. And anyway, this run was all about the quiet (and there was a lot of it), about enjoying it, and as my friend put it, “running my own race.” I felt good all the way round, got so lost in the beautiful route that the time passed before I knew it. And that’s really all that matters in the end.

Riding solo meant there was no one to take my finisher’s photo after the race. But I still gotta have one, so I took my own. There I was, post-shower, in the hotel bathroom, holding the new medal I’ll add to my collection. Feeling smiley and fuzzy and all the excited adjectives that spring to mind. Because I like the feeling of having something to collect. But also, today showed me just how great it is to have people who care. People who are there, even when they’re not. People who are proud of the things I do. People who send me messages and tell me how proud they are. It helps me to feel proud of myself, too.

And after all the love and the pride, right now, I neeeeed to sleep (the exhaustion is real). That, and figure out where the next addition to my collection might come from…

A room of my own

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I’d never ordered room service before tonight. And even this first time, I deliberated for an age. Isn’t it a bit too much, the tray charge? I could just go down to the restaurant. I really don’t want to leave my room… But whatever, I’ll save the money and see more of the hotel.

Except there was a minimum half-hour wait for a table. Call it fate.

So I dialled the extension number for room service, with pretty much no idea of the protocol (it’s so painfully obvious that I don’t do this stuff), and ordered a pizza to my room. Added chips at the last minute, too. Because there’s a thing called ‘carb-loading’ that I felt was necessary tonight.

Tomorrow morning is the Royal Windsor River Trail Run. My third half-marathon in two months, but my first off-road. And I’m certain I don’t have the right shoes for it. But the route is promised to be “picturesque and scenic,” so I’m gonna attack/enjoy it in the shoes I do have regardless.

Because I have a tendency in life to simply wing it.

And in the meantime, I’m here, in a hotel, with lots of greenery out the window, and lots of q u i e t. I haven’t put the TV on, because to break the quiet would be sacrilegious. Instead I’m on the bed, stuffed full of room-service food, and typing this post on my phone as my eyelids get heavier and heavier.

And I’m completely alone.

I feel I’ve been in a cocoon lately. Supremely uninterested in small talk (or even much talk at all). Late responding to messages. Itching to stop and simply be. And tonight, as I munched on a goat’s cheese pizza, listened to the Modern Love podcast and, yep, felt blazingly aware of my solitude, I knew I wouldn’t have it any other way. Not really.

I feel like life is a series of phases. Sometimes I’m intensely sociable. I’m at every event, I make plans every night. And other times, I’m insanely introspective. I show up to places alone, don’t think of inviting others. Want to keep my head down. Just me, and it.

(I once learnt that I’m an “introverted extrovert,” so this switching of phases makes sense.)

The trick, I’ve found, is in going with the phase. Feeling into it, not resisting my own company. Not trying to distract from it by showing up to stuff my heart’s not really into, or by spending wayyyy too much time scrolling Instagram pictures that I know are staged (because who doesn’t arrange their room service on the hotel bed just so). Don’t get me wrong; it’s not always fun being on your own. But as I’m getting better at it, I find it is nearly always illuminating and important.

Especially when goat’s cheese pizza is involved. (I am SO about this room-service life.)

Virginia Woolf once wrote that a woman should have a room of her own if she’s to write. I’d attest that a room of one’s own, just for a night, especially one with a made bed and food delivered to its door, can provide blog-post fodder and just feel really, really nice.