I Wrote a Book Now What?

papers spilling from a typewriter

I have wanted to be a writer all my life. I am always writing in some way or another. Mainly it’s in my head, narrating my each and every action, elaborating on my feelings, but I’m writing. My life is the story and I tell it to myself as I live it.

Eventually the story in my head wasn’t enough. I knew deep down I was a writer but to be a writer I needed to put words on a page; one after the other until they formed an entire thing. Last year I started doing just that. I started out with a rough idea that wouldn’t go away. It was just a flicker of a thing. It would keep me awake or occupy me on my commute to work. I started writing. I didn’t have a plan, I didn’t shape the thing, I just kept putting one word after another until it was finished.

I had the first draft of a book.

On the 24th of November when I typed ‘The End’ because I didn’t know what else to do to give me closure, I expected to feel euphoric but I didn’t. I felt agitated. I couldn’t relax. For months now I’d been occupied with this thing, this book, and now I didn’t have it any more. When it was in my head it was wrapped in possibilities. It could be perfect. It could be anything. On the page, I could see it was not perfect and it was this one particular thing instead of the many possibilities I had once wondered about.

A first draft is messy. It’s not meant to be perfect. You put the words into the first draft in order to have something to shape, to edit, to polish. Still, I expected to feel accomplished when I wrote the last word, or when I saved the document (backed up in triplicate), or when I told people, “hey, that book I was writing? I finished it.”

But it didn’t feel like that. As I put the draft away so that I can forget about it, let it grow blurry in my mind over Christmas and then return to it with a red pen, I only felt an overwhelming sense of what was left to do. This book needs tearing apart and putting back together again. It needs rounding and sharpening and tightening and tuning. The prospect of all this work is both alarming and exciting. I can’t wait to work this novel into something worth reading and at the same time I worry I am not worthy of the task.

Then there’s all the other ideas. Notebooks full of them. How I went 26 years nearly free of ideas for any creative projects is unfathomable, because now they crop up all the time. Most of them are faint glimmers that I transcribe into the ‘notes’ section of my phone and vow to go back to later. There are so many things I want to make – books, scripts, poems, blog posts, that often I am frozen by the overwhelming massiveness of it all. When will I have the time? Will I be good enough?

The answer is: you make the time, you make yourself good enough.

Adventures in Joblessness

Unemployment

Where have I been?

Well, lots of places and also nowhere at all.

I lost my job and have struggled to find another and with that I’ve been feeling a lot of uselessness, and hopelessness. When a fourth rejection comes in, for a job I know I am more than qualified for, it’s easy to sink into feeling like I’ll never get a job. It’s easy to blame myself – I must be too stupid, or not good enough and that’s why no one will employ me.

But that’s not true. I’m a qualified and capable individual. I live in a small city where there aren’t many jobs going at all, let alone ones I match the (increasingly more detailed and complex) person specifications of.

I know that a job doesn’t give me identity, but it does give money and money begets freedom. The freedom to do as you choose, the freedom to eat, and wear, and go where you like. And identity is very tied into the things you choose to do. When you don’t have a job, you don’t have money and when you don’t have money your choices are limited.

Now that my choices are limited, I feel limited. I used to feel limitless. The world was mine to conquer. I would travel all over it, I would buy things from it. The space I occupied was wide and open and expanding all the time.

But being unemployed is very claustrophobic. I’m hemmed in. Narrowed off. Limited. I occupy this house which is in turns my home and my prison. Which is a dramatic way of saying: I feel stuck and bored.

Anyway, onwards and upwards. A job will come along and when it does I will complain that it takes up too much of my time and energy.

In the meantime, I have acres and acres of time to fill with blog posts and Netflix.

You Deserve It

Self care you deserve it

I always thought I had self care down to a fine art. I take baths, drink copious glasses of wine and take time to watch trashy TV. I’ve been known to make myself a faaaaancy latte. But recently I’ve realised those things are just surface level ‘self care signifiers’ and what I really needed was something much deeper and more difficult to achieve.

This week has been hard for me. Nothing awful has happened but there have been a few bumps in the road and each one has left me more depleted and less resilient. Each evening I’ve got home and tried to do something nice for myself, to be kind to myself. I’ve soaked in the bath, had an early night, and eaten more biscuits than should be humanly possible. In the moment, those things have made me feel temporarily better but they have been like wallpapering over a crack in a wall.

You see, self care is more than a manicure and a glass of wine in front of this week’s episode of Dr Foster. Not that self care can’t involve manicures and alcohol and TV. But it has to also be more than that or else it isn’t going to give you real lasting benefits – or I’ve found it doesn’t with me, anyway.

I noticed this week that while I may decide to have a ‘relaxing’ bath, or ‘chill out’ watching telly, or to do some yoga, I do these things like any mandatory item on my to do list but with an added side of guilt. Whilst I’m floating in the bath I’m counting down the minutes until I have to go and tackle the monster pile of dishes in the sink, or I’m listening to a podcast to better utilise my time. Whilst I’m watching TV I’m also reading a newspaper, or I’m feeling guilty about the 34657 more ‘important’ things I could be doing.

Self care is being kind to yourself. Berating yourself for needing to veg out on the sofa, cocooned in a blanket, for an hour is not kind. Feeling your stress level intensify each minute you soak in the tub because you actually need to be doing something more ‘worthwhile’ is not kind. Never listening to music in the morning because you feel like you really should be watching the news is not kind.

Doing kind things only works when you cut out the internal monologue that tells you you only have five minutes to read that book, that tells you that you should be cleaning, not painting your nails, that whispers ‘this is essentially just procrastination’ as you curate your very own 90’s love song playlist.

Enter my new mantra: you deserve this.

When you deserve something it’s a reward. It has been earned and here it is, a lovely gift in recognition of all your hard work.

“You can squeeze in a quick bath but afterwards you need to clean the kitchen,” does not have the same ring to it as you deserve a deep, hot bath and a bath bomb.

Then I started thinking about what I truly deserved. What did I deserve in my life? What did I deserve to experience as part of my day.

I deserved a glass of wine but also, I deserved a healthy green smoothie because that was going to help me feel energetic.

I deserved to listen to cheesy pop music on the way to work. I deserved a long, hot bath followed by enough guilt free time to moisturise both my arms and my legs in one session. I deserved an early night without worrying I was sleeping my life away (I’m tired dammit!)

As the week wore on what I felt I deserved evolved. I deserved to speak up in that meeting. I deserved not to spend hours second guessing a decision I made at work. I deserved a night off the house work – to leave the dishes in the sink and the laundry in the hamper. I deserved to take the time to read poetry. I deserved to write and to do so without apology or shame.

Today, I ended up having to walk home. The walk is long (an hour at least) and through winding country lanes. I spent a lot of the day dreading it. But when the time came, the clouds parted and the sun came out.

I deserve to walk home in the sunshine, I thought. And I did deserve it and it felt so unbelievably good as I stood looking into the valley where my house is, all lit up by golden autumn sunshine. I turned my face up to the sun and the fresh air hit my skin and I smiled. I realised the thing I had been dreading all day was something I actually wanted to be part of my life, it was something I felt I deserved. Do I think I need to walk an hour in the rain? No thank you, I’m not insane.

When I got home I realised I deserve to live in a clean house and I cleaned it. Was it glorious and life affirming? No. But it felt like I was doing it for me and not just because it was something I had to do. Sometimes I feel like I only ever do things I have to do and it takes all the joy out of living.

These are the things I want in my life: poetry, love, wine, music, writing, long walks, slouchy jumpers, singing and dancing, laughter, cooking, doing my job well, being a good friend, helping make the world a better place, eating cake, drinking tea, long baths, candlelight, terrible period dramas, a good book and a better blanket.

And I deserve all of these. I deserve them.

I earned all those things and I have a right to claim them and in claiming them I have the right not to feel guilty for carving out the time to enjoy them.

We all deserve to live the best lives we can. We’ve earned this, you deserve it.

Messy House, Messy Mind.

messy house messy mind

Can you function when your house is a mess?

I can’t.

I try to, because I am an incredibly messy person. I leave things lying around, I don’t get to the washing up until there’s a thick layer of scum on the water I filled the sink with and ignored, intending to get back to it later. I leave the laundry until it’s overflowed the basket and taken over most of the landing. I leave little piles of clutter; books, pens, nail varnish, hair bands, wherever I go.

Mugs multiply whenever I am near. They spring up in their hundreds, half full of cold coffee or soggy herbal teabags, crescents of lipstick mark them like a brand. Post is collected eagerly from the door mat and then neglected on top of the microwave until such a huge pile has amassed that it warrants its own escort out to the recycling bin. Speaking of bins, the kitchen bin is left to overflow until its lid hangs off at a jaunty angle, pushed out by all the rubbish.

All of this I hate.

If the carpet is gritty with dirt, if the couch cushions aren’t plumped evenly, if my desk is smeared with mug rings and fingerprints, if the bath is not pristine, if the windows are snotty from the cat rubbing his little pink nose on them, if the laundry is not dealt with, if the bedding is not fresh, if the kitchen floor has not been mopped, if the cobwebs in the corners have not been dusted and the spiders humanely rehomed, if there is clutter and envelopes and tiny pieces of amazon parcel tape adorning every surface, I cannot concentrate.

If the house is a mess, my mind is a mess. Ironically, if the house is a mess, the mess so overwhelms me that I can’t summon the energy to clean it.

I read an article recently that said creative people are often on the messier side. Well, I am messy but I can’t be creative when my environment is messy. I can’t do anything when there’s a mess around which seems very unfair for someone as adverse to tidying as me.

I think what makes it worse is seeing people’s houses on Instagram looking all beautiful and neat. People with tidy homes seem to have their life together in a way I wonder if I’ll ever achieve. I wonder how much more productive I would be if instead of this doomed cycle of mess the house up, stress about the mess, resist cleaning until the house is incredibly messy, spend an entire day cleaning, I just kept it clean. I could wash up after every meal, do a load of laundry whenever enough dirty clothes accumulated, vacuum every few days, take the mugs downstairs instead of letting them fester in my bedroom. If I kept on top of things, I’d never have to waste time thinking about how I’m incapable of keeping on top of things, I wouldn’t ever have to eat cereal out of a measuring jug, there would be no slumping on the sofa whilst rendered almost catatonic by the sheer filth of my home.

But where would be the fun in that? Like the old adage says: you haven’t lived unless you’ve had to wear your bikini as underwear because you haven’t done laundry for four months.

Are you messy? Can you function when your home is a mess? Let me know in the comments or at hello@terriblypersonal.com

Back to School

fresh start September - back to school

There’s something about September. The dip in temperature, the need for jackets and scarves (and brollies – this is England), the shortening days. And,of course, the sense of a fresh start. I love the feeling of Sundays spent organising for the week ahead, of good intentions, of a renewed sense of purpose.

I am a fresh start junkie. No, I am an addict of planning a fresh start. In preparation for a week of healthy eating I could spend the whole weekend clearing out cupboards, collating recipes, writing shopping lists and imagining the new wardrobe of clothes my trim new waistline will require. At Christmas, and new year and on every birthday I write copious amounts in my diary about how I’m going to be a shiny new person once this imaginary line in the sand has passed.

September is the best of all these fresh starts. For me, someone who actually works in a school, it comes after a long break so that I feel excited and ready to resume my routine. I’ve had long enough off to come up with some really solid plans of how I would like this school year to go. Usually my plans involve wearing excellent jumpers and not crying in December when the flu and Christmas shopping stress converge in what I like to call: HELL. I might also throw in something about drinking more water and being more productive (a blanket term that implies I will stop doing all the things that make be a bad person). I write all these things down in my brand new notebook using my brand new pen and my best handwriting. Then I put them into my handbag which I have cleared of all receipts and hoovered the biscuit crumbs out of.

For the first few weeks of September I lay the clothes for the following day out the night before and I pack a nutritious lunch before I go to bed. I start each morning with, dare I say it, excitement and due to my efficiency everything runs smoothly and nothing seems hard. Because I’m on top of the housework, when I get home I’m able to enjoy reading, watching a film or writing without worrying that I should really be cleaning the kitchen before the mouldy dishes become sentient. I go to bed early and happy and prepared for the next day.

Then, one weekend I might leave the washing up and the laundry to fester because I drank too much cheap white wine on Saturday night and now I want to be in a completely dark, completely silent sanctuary where nobody touches me. I might have to scramble around on Monday looking for clean tights and a blouse that goes with the only pair of trousers that don’t have yoghurt on them. I end up rushing to work because I left late, my whole day feels flustered and hurried. I have a red, sweaty face and my fringe sticks to my forehead. When I get home, the satisfaction of getting things done and being organised can’t offer me the same solace as a slab of lasagne and a glass of wine in front of Bake Off. Heavily carbed and half-drunk, I crawl into bed without taking my make-up off. And so I go back to my old ways; I do things half heartedly and at the last minute.

I know all this. That somewhere at the end of September, or the start of October if I’m really lucky, all my energy for being organised will slip away. Though I might try to get it back it will elude me – seeming only to work in conjunction with a societally acknowledged ‘reset’ time – like the beginning of September, or a birthday. I won’t be able to properly get myself straight till the new year – the most widely accepted fresh start of them all.

These ‘fresh start’ dates don’t hold any special power that I know of. I know that this Monday is as good as any other Monday to start being a better version of myself. I also know that making a mistake doesn’t mean you should give up, you can have a weekend off, or start the week with a bump and turn things around on some unimportant Wednesday. But it never has the same sort of gleeful energy when you do it that way.

And even though I know all this will come crashing down in the near future, I’m still excited for my September fresh start. I’m still approaching it with joy and a fresh notebook and a neatly written to do list that is not written on the inside lid of a tampon box. I’m enjoying the fact that I used fabric conditioner and all my clothes now smell like tropical flowers. I keep staring at my impeccably organised handbag with wonder. My nails are painted, my eyebrows are plucked, my bookshelves are tidy.

I feel like I can conquer the world, or at least the next two weeks.

Do you love a fresh start? What do you like to do to get organised? Let me know in the comments or email hello@terriblypersonal.com

Online Friendships – Should we GIF a F*CK?

online communication

It can sometimes seem like this is the age of the introvert. The internet makes it increasingly easy for us quieter people to function and recently there’s been a slew of introvert promotion from Susan Cain’s Quiet, to Rebecca Holman’s Beta: Quiet Girls Can Run The World 

I’m a typical introvert and as such I find it easier to communicate in writing than I do verbally. I’m also very sensitive so when I’m engaging with written communication I can sometimes read texts and emails in the worst possible tone, assuming someone is annoyed with me when they actually were just busy. I don’t struggle to make friends but I do find it difficult to foster big ‘group’ friendships (I was never part of a clique) and it used to be something that really worried me.

Recently, I’ve noticed some introverts crediting the internet with enabling them to create huge friendship networks from the comfort of their sofas and I wanted to investigate how that works and whether an online friendship can equal an offline one.

Continue reading “Online Friendships – Should we GIF a F*CK?”

City and Country: Place and My Problems

I’ve lived in the countryside for two years next week.

In those two years I’ve exchanged convenience for wide open views of hills and trees. The air is cold and crisp here. When you crane your head towards the dark night sky, you can see the stars as clearly as if they were painted on your ceiling – there is only one street light in this village.

There’s no pub here, and there’s no shop, not even a post office that sells single pints of milk or the odd Crunchie, so there is nowhere for the villagers to congregate, unless you count the two churches, and because of this we hardly ever have to speak to our neighbours.

At first I approached this change of scenery as a giant, fresh-aired adventure. I dug my wellies out of storage, I walked, I spotted hares and badgers and woodpeckers. I felt safe, cocooned by a blanket of rural space that deterred most visitors. I relished the quiet head-space. I curled up with books whilst the wind whipped round the sides of the house and the road flooded outside.

The first year of living here flew by in a caffeine fuelled haze whilst I struggled to complete my PGCE. I barely noticed my surroundings and since I was heading to uni or school most days, I didn’t feel the isolation of my country retreat.

country and city

But eventually the fog cleared, the honeymoon period ended and I began to notice that country life wasn’t all The Archers had it cracked up to be. There were surprisingly few jam making competitions and only on one occasion has there been loose livestock on my driveway. I resented having to plan the shopping meticulously because running out of toilet roll late on Sunday evening could be disastrous. I started to lament never being able to walk down the road for a quick pint, or a pub quiz, or just to get away from the four walls that, after a week of thick rain, had become oppressive.

It didn’t help that for months and months I was unemployed, stuck in the house with no occupation, or money, or friends nearby. The fields became claustrophobic – the sheer expanse of green seemed to be hemming me in, keeping me away from jobs that I could have had, or successes I could have achieved. Instead, I became increasingly frantic, stomping up and down hills, cleaning the gazillion spiders out of the high corners of my rooms, praying the cat didn’t bring home a dead baby bunny clamped between his teeth like a prize, all the while thinking, “what am I doing with my life?”

I thought about people in cities, people in London and when I did that I felt my life was very small. “What is happening here, in this tiny village, in this rainy valley?” I wondered. And then I would worry that because nothing was happening here, because there were no people here, because some days I feel like I’m a small mouse tucked into a crack in a wall, hiding whilst all the world thunders by, that nothing would ever happen to me.

I’m from a small town and all through my childhood and teens I was desperate to escape it. I spent rainy afternoons sat in my attic bedroom imagining a future where I travelled the globe. I saw myself in New York, London, Paris. I dreamt of tropical beaches, frozen lakes, writing at a small wooden desk in a narrow room, overlooking a green canal.

When it was time to go to university, I picked the one that was the furthest away which happened to be in Cornwall. The distance was exhilarating, the proximity to the sea a delicious, ocean scented bonus. After three years it was time to move on. London dazzled tantalisingly in the distance but was always out of reach – too expensive, too far from anyone who could help me. So I moved back home briefly and then to Manchester, where the jobs were.

city or country

In a city I felt more possible. There were options. Things were close – even far away places were easily accessed. Jobs could be lost and new ones found. There was never any anxiety about where to go for a pint, or a decent curry, or a roll of toilet paper on a Sunday evening. But we soon filled our tiny, expensive house with things we didn’t want to throw away; heavily annotated books, bundles of vintage dresses, unusual cookware that was hardly ever used.

I missed the salt air of the seaside. I missed walking up marshy hills. I missed seeing wide open spaces.

The countryside, then, seemed like the solution. A bigger house, with more space inside it and more space outside, uncluttered by buildings and people and cars. There will be space to think, I told myself as I loaded up the moving van. I could dream up a thousand possible selves and become the best one.

But your possibilities are limited in the country. You can have the job that is available, not the one you want and it will take you forever to get there and back on public transport so eye-wateringly expensive it’ll put a dent in your finances so severe you won’t be able to enjoy any of the few lack-lustre leisure activities available in the area (mainly pubs and the park).

So what’s the answer? I lived in a city, decided to move to the country and wasn’t satisfied with either. Very Princess and the Pea of me, I know. Well, I think I just want to do it all. I want to travel but also settle down, I want a high-flying career (that ship has likely sailed) and a relaxed, sedate life, I want the beach and the mountains, I want bright lights and a thatched roof, I want to be surrounded by people and at the same time surrounded by a silence only penetrated by bird calls.

living by the beach

Here’s the thing though: you can’t have it all. And it’s exhausting and unfruitful to aim for it. I spent three years setting up a life in a city, then I tore all that down and moved here. Two years later, I contemplate ripping it all up and starting again. But what if after another two years of getting to know a new area, the sea, the mountains, the moon, wherever I decide to lay my hat next, I find that’s not right either?

Where will it have got me? I’d be in a new place facing down the same old demons – that somewhere else would be better. That I would be better in a different place. That the things that are wrong are wrong because of location – because of the distance to the sea, or the nearest place that serves really good Japanese food.

Sooner or later I have to admit that the problem isn’t place. The problem is me. By constantly yearning for somewhere else, something else, I’m missing out on enjoying my here and now. I have a real issue with wanting to run away, or ‘start over’ as I put it whenever I float the idea of moving house again to my boyfriend.

My favourite daydream to indulge in is one where, on a bad day, I step onto a train and out of my life. I get out somewhere down the line, far away, and start again with a completely new identity, in a new place, where everything is possible.

For now, I’m going to try not to fret about whether I live in the right place and what’s possible for me here. Instead, I’m going to work out what I want and how to get it. There is no perfect place that I can pack up and move to and all my problems will be solved. Problems get solved because you sit down, and do the work and solve them.

How about you? Do you live in the city or the countryside and which do you prefer? Where did you want to live as a child? Let me know in the comments or email hello@terriblypersonal.com.

Things I Wish I Could Tell My Teenage Self

Once, when I was 19 I turned to my friend and said, “I was so worried last night that I haven’t slept at all.”

We were sat on our filthy rented house sofa. I was wearing a huge baggy jumper, clutching a glass of vodka and blackcurrant squash, I was exhausted. I hadn’t slept. I’d been up worrying about the three things that took up most of my brain space as a teenager: how fat I was, how stupid I was, how uncool I was. It had taken an immense amount of courage to utter those 12 words.

My friend rolled her eyes and let out an exasperated sigh.

“You’re always worried,” she said without even looking at me. She was on her laptop, looking at impossibly cool things on the internet because she was cool.

Then she went back to being her apparently self-assured self whilst I continued to worry, now with the added anxiety that I was annoying. I would worry that I worried too much for the next three years.

I spent most of my teens being a scared little mouse. I was scared about who I was, I was scared about what I might never be. I worried about fitting in and to combat that, I decided to just be like everyone else. I listened to the music they liked, I watched the films they raved about, I wore the clothes the magazines told me to wear and I spouted the same opinions my friends did.

Another worry crept in to my nightly rotation: that I didn’t like this person I had created. I didn’t like these bands, these films, these opinions, these clothes.

Looking back on poor, scared, teen me with the perspective of a decade, I wish I could go back and tell her a few things and save her a few dozen sleepless nights.

Firstly, your body is so much more than something for other people to look at and assess you by. The width of your hips is not a visual representation of the depth of your kindness. The gap between your thighs will not diametrically increase your confidence. You are not just the rolls of flab on your stomach and swell of your buttocks.

The hours and hours you spend now, looking in the mirror, pinching inches of fat until your skin goes red and sore, writing down calories, frantically doing sit-ups in the dark, those hours could be spent doing something worthwhile. In the time you spent agonising over your body you could have written a book, learnt to play the piano, watched Gilmore Girls a third, fourth and fifth time through. All these things are more enriching than measuring your thighs with a tape measure and worrying that the tap water has sugar in it.

Also, this is the thinnest you’re ever going to be, so have sex with the lights on, wear the crop top, take up space – be proud of your body, don’t punish it.

Secondly, you are a person all in your own right. You have your own likes and dislikes and talents and weaknesses. If all your friends are pretending to like the same band, same hairstyle, same thoughts then let them. There is so much value in being different, being the one voice saying something true. There isn’t safety in being the same – it just leads to the panic of being caught out as an impostor and misery over denying your true self.

Even when I did ‘all the right things’ – wore the correct clothes, listened to the right music, went to the right bars – I couldn’t enjoy myself because I had the constant fear of being found out. That any second someone would turn and scream, “she’s not meant to be here! She’s not one of us!”

Finally, just because somebody else says something with certainty doesn’t make it true. I’ll tell you what sort of people speak with authority about matters that do not concern them: MORONS.

People will tell you that you are too worried, that you are too boring, that you should hang out with your boyfriend less, that you should hang out with your friends less, that you should go to festivals (you hate festivals!). You will tie yourself in knots trying to please everybody and you will rarely please yourself. Don’t. As long as your actions aren’t hurting you or anybody else then the correct thing to be doing is WHATEVER THE HELL YOU LIKE.

What I’d really like to say to teenage me is this:

Be brave. There are lots of things to worry about in this world but what people think about you should not be one of them. I’d say, eat the cake and don’t worry about it, wear the weird dress that no one likes but makes you feel like Kate Bush, decline invitations to parties you do not wish to attend, if you want to see your boyfriend then see your boyfriend and if you don’t then don’t. I’d say, listen to the song you like on repeat, go for a long walk on your own, cry if you’re sad and do not feel compelled to wear low-rise jeans just because everybody else is.

This is your life, I would say, it’s yours to make what you want out of it and you won’t do that by letting other people make your decisions for you.

Alone Not Lonely

About four years ago, I lived near to a Buddhist Temple that offered a ‘meditation for beginners’ course one evening a week. I’d recently attended a meditation day course with one of my friends and this seemed like the next logical step. I wanted to learn more about meditation and deepen my practise, and most importantly this course was free.

I knew that my boyfriend, who believes that meditation is a nonsensical waste of time, would not want to go with me. My friend who I’d gone to the last course with was busy on Thursdays and I didn’t think any of my other friends would enjoy it. No matter, I thought, I’ll go on my own.

And off I went, alone, to the first class. There was an introductory talk and then a short guided meditation that to my untrained mind seemed to last forever. Afterwards, there was a chance to meet the other people on the course and have a drink and a snack. We all crowded in the small kitchen space, grabbed cups of tea and biscuits and formed small groups. I stood on the edge of one of these groups, cupping my mug of tea, staring off into the middle distance in the hopes that no one would talk to me. But someone did. Someone always does.

“And who are you here with?” A lady of about forty, with short, shiny black hair asked me.

“No one,” I answered.

The lady looked aghast. She went on to tell me how she absolutely could not face coming here on her own,

“I’ve come with a friend, would none of your friends come?” She asked rudely. Something in her tone implied I didn’t have any friends.

“Er, well I don’t have that many friends locally. My boyfriend and I have just moved,” I felt the need to explain to the lady. She was so shocked at my lone attendance that I felt it was my fault.

“Couldn’t your boyfriend come?” She persisted. When I explained that meditation wasn’t really his thing, she said that if it were her, she’d have forced him.

“If no one would come with me, I wouldn’t bother coming,” she said, shaking her head at me.

Trying to placate the lady, I told her I did lots of things alone and I was used to it. I explained that I’d recently been to Norway on my own and really enjoyed it.

Well, her head nearly exploded right then and there. No matter what I said she never lost the look of absolute pity she regarded me with. To her I was friendless and lonely.

But to me, that lady who couldn’t go anywhere alone had the shitty end of the stick.

Imagine being unable to go to an event or a place just because you had no one to go with you? Imagine never knowing the quiet pleasure of sitting outside a bar in the sunshine, ordering a massive glass of wine and pulling out a book. Imagine never experiencing the smug satisfaction of navigating an airport and a foreign public transport system completely alone and arriving, intact, in your desired destination.

When I told people I was going to Norway alone, they generally reacted in shock. Why on earth would I want to go anywhere alone? But some people understood me, my brother’s girlfriend was inspired to spend a weekend in Belgium alone – not because she didn’t have anyone to go with but because she wanted to feel the sheer joy of knowing she, a woman in her early twenties, could travel the world alone. Another friend of a friend who had heard my story gossiped over across a sticky pub table decided to go on a solo trip as well.

I realised that people actively want to travel alone. Women actively want to travel alone. It’s empowering to know you can navigate the world by yourself, that your own company is enough, that you can make all the decisions.

Since that lady stared at me, aghast, in the Buddhist Temple, I’ve done plenty more things perfectly alone. I’ve relished a quiet weekend exploring London, taken myself to restaurants, enjoyed glasses of wine in total solitude, and visited museums, galleries and cities.

I’ve got lost and found again, I’ve stayed in tacky hotels and hostels on the sides of mountains, I’ve wandered around familiar places and new places – all quite alone.

This alone time to me isn’t a hindrance or something to be wished away. It isn’t time to kill. It isn’t something to be waited out from the safety of my home. It’s precious independent time. It’s time to luxuriate in, time to crave, to seek out, to cherish.

Sometimes you want someone there with you – to take photos of your gorgeous outfit, to laugh with when things go a bit wrong, to ask, “is this the right train?”

But sometimes, you want to be alone to experience the world through your eyes only, to spend as long as you want in a gallery looking at only the paintings you like, to read your book and drink your wine and to not share your Danish pastry.

I’m no expert on solo travel, other women have been far further than me for far longer – but the small amount I have done has convinced me that I want to take more trips on my own in the future.

Have you travelled alone? Do you spend time by yourself regularly? What’s your favourite thing to do by yourself? Let me know in the comments or email hello@terriblypersonal.com.

I don’t want to go out (in defence of staying in)

I have learnt a few things during my 28 spins round the sun. Don’t wear black and brown together, always use conditioner, don’t cut your own fringe, how to make a delicious bolognese, and this:

I do not like going on nights out.

It took me many years to learn this lesson. Years of standing at the bar sinking an eighth gin and tonic. Years of dancing awkwardly to songs that I hated but every single one of my friends professed to love. Years of carrying a ten pack of Marlboro Lights and a novelty lighter in my handbag for the sole reason of being able to escape to the smoking area when the dancing and noise got too much for me (which was frequently).

During my time at university I repeated the same dull routine every week:

I would spend agonising hours getting ready and worrying over how I looked. During that time I would drink most of a bottle of gin because the only way I could get myself to be excited enough to go out was if I was plastered.

Then it would be time for pre-drinks. Oh how I wished pre-drinks could last forever! Just me and my housemates gathered in the kitchen, playing music we all liked to sing along to, drinking the rest of my gin and making jokes.

Inevitably though, the time came when my housemates would insist we left the house and went out. By this time I’d have drank a bottle of gin but the thought of leaving sobered me. It took all the conviviality out of my mood. As soon as we reached the club I’d be straight at the bar ordering another G&T just so I could face the dancing, the smiling, the lights, and even that wasn’t enough to stop me awkwardly swaying on the dance floor, staring off into the distance to a future where I could return to my home.

There was no one single element that caused me to feel so awkward. Yes, I had low self-esteem, but I didn’t feel embarrassed dancing round the house with my friends, when I went out for coffee I didn’t spend the duration worrying about how I looked, I didn’t have to drink a bottle of gin to make conversation with a few friends around a pub table.

Why did you carry on going out then, you might well be asking. Well, it seemed the normal, correct thing to do. Everyone else was doing it, and they loved it. If I ever got near to confessing my hatred for nights out I felt like it was misconstrued as a hatred of fun. When I tried to be more myself, it seemed like everybody thought I was boring and at 19 I absolutely did not want to be boring.

As I reached my mid 20’s I gave nights out another go. Perhaps I’d just hated them in uni. Surely now, when I had more disposable income and lived in a big city, I’d enjoy them more.

Nope!

I hated them just as much. I was just as awkward at 24 as I had been at 18, perhaps more so.

But here’s the thing: when you tell most people you don’t enjoy nights out they think there’s something wrong with you. First they might let out an awkward, disbelieving chuckle, then they might roll their eyes a little – eventually, as the veracity of your claim is understood, you see them mentally crossing you off their list of people to hang round with, you’re a dud, a dullard, a square.

I stopped going on nights out (pretty much) when I was about 26. I just didn’t want to do it any more – and it was freeing! I spent my time and money doing things that made me feel happy. If anyone invited me somewhere I didn’t want to go I would answer with a gleeful, firm “no, thank you!” And then I’d go home and do something I actually enjoyed like watch Murder, She Wrote, or read Cold Comfort Farm for the 60th time.

I felt really good about this choice until, one day, when my mum had had a bit to drink she told me she thought I’d become really boring in the last couple of years. My own mother! Not even a friend or work colleague, but the woman who had birthed and raised me, the person, who above all other people, should know who I am at my core.

“You don’t do anything,” she complained. What she meant was, “you don’t go out at the weekend like society expects a childless 27 year old to.”

Now, I’m a chronic over thinker and you better believe that this comment stuck with me for weeks. Months even! I’m not entirely over it now! It particularly stuck in my craw because I knew that some of my friends felt the same.

What hurt about people thinking I’m boring because I don’t like to go out to loud, obnoxious clubs and bars and drink too much overpriced gin and dance awkwardly at the edge of a circle of women hoping that my fake tan isn’t too patchy, is that I know I’m not boring.

I may not go ‘out out’ at the weekend, but my life is as full and exciting and rich as anyone’s. I spend my free time reading, cooking new things, walking in the beautiful countryside, spending time with the man I love, taking long, relaxing baths, writing the book I’m working on, seeing friends for coffee or wine and most of all, being myself and enjoying my time. It hurt that for some of the people in my life, that wasn’t enough.

Some ‘friends’ painted me as selfish for never wanting to go out and that upset me. But on reflection, I think that perhaps they couldn’t understand that not everybody likes the same things. They couldn’t comprehend that something they found so exciting to me felt like a chore. And I wasn’t yet articulate enough to explain myself.

These days, I explain myself better. When I meet new people I come right out and tell them I don’t enjoy nights out. I’m a ‘meet you for coffee friend’ or a ‘mix cocktails in your pjs whilst watching Clueless friend’ and many, many more iterations – but none of those iterations will ever ask you to hang out anywhere with strobe lights.

Look, if you like going out and having a good time with your friends then that is your right and I sincerely hope you enjoy yourself. When I go out to clubs and bars, I don’t enjoy myself, and whilst it may make my mother think I’m boring, I have decided to stay in instead.

How about you? Do you like to go out or are you firmly ‘team staying in’? Or perhaps you like a nice mix of the two? Let me know in the comments or at hello@terriblypersonal.com