Making Sense of My 20’s: Turning 20

In the run up to turning 29, I had a retrospective look at my 20’s so far, in order that I might make a little sense out of them. So far, my 20’s have been all about figuring myself out. Often chaotic and sometimes infuriating, this series will examine each year of my 20’s, addressing the mistakes I made and the things I found out along the way.

couple stood on a pier, wrapped up warm

My twenties started in the same vein as the last years of my teens. I didn’t know myself well enough not to be ashamed of preferring a quiet night in to a roaring night out. I felt massive and stupid and less than everyone else. To stop myself feeling this way, I’d drink huge quantities of Asda Smart Price gin and spew all the thoughts I’d repressed to the people I felt had wronged me. At the time I was in Falmouth at Uni, and felt like I was at the very end of the earth, teetering over the edge into absolute nothingness.

On my 20th birthday I threw a Rod Stewart themed party in the pebble dashed student house I lived in with three people I barely knew. There was Sam the surfer who had once had pneumonia (the only exciting thing about him). Sara the heavy metal lover I’d shared a flat with in first year, who had a tendency to whinge about how many boys liked her (something I found irritating as a girl who often felt completely invisible), and Ada, whose father had died the summer previously. Her sadness was impenetrable. I didn’t know how to be around her, which perhaps goes to show just how naïve I was.

At my party, me and my friends, who lived across the road, wore silky leopard print boxer shorts over thick black tights and we made our own iron-on Rod Stewart tee-shirts, each with the wearer’s favourite photo of Rod on. A photography student friend Photoshopped my face over that of Patsy Kensit, in a photo where she stood, bikini-clad, next to Rod, who wore very skimpy trunks. This photo was iced onto a chocolate cake – the best birthday cake ever.

At the party I drank too much, like always. I have one vivid, cringe-worthy memory of saying in naïve earnest that my to do list before turning 20 had only included falling in love and going travelling, and that I had only fallen in love.

“Surely falling in love is the most important,” a Scandinavian guy that we hung around with occasionally said, kindly indulging my sentimentality.

I nodded and sank another plastic cup of gin mixed with Robinson’s barely water. I did have a boyfriend. He lived in Leeds and made hardly any effort to come and see me. He had visited Cornwall once and we had got a take away. I had reached for another chip and he had sighed dramatically,

“Are you really going to eat more?”

I put the chip in my mouth in defiance, but later I fretted about it. Why was I so greedy? I couldn’t relax for the rest of his visit. I vowed to never eat in front of him again. A promise I was doomed to break.

At the time I thought I loved this boy but I worried constantly that he didn’t love me. In fact, when a group of lads we hung around with arrived at the party, they asked where my boyfriend was and made a few well-worn jokes about him not actually existing. I laughed along but inside I was flooded with worry; why didn’t my boyfriend ever visit me? Why was I always the one to go to him? When I read my diaries from that time all I’m concerned about is how I can make myself more loveable by being a better person, and how I can make myself more loveable by losing an immense amount of weight. In hindsight, I wasn’t in a great place.

In the hours before my party a boy who lived across the street sent me a text saying he couldn’t make it that night. I ignored the heaving sense of disappointment and pretended it meant nothing. I told myself I had only invited him to get the numbers up. So what if he didn’t come, I barely knew him. I had a boyfriend who I loved, who cared if the boy across the street couldn’t make it?

Everyone got drunk. Liz got alcohol poisoning and spent the following day in A & E hooked up to an IV– always a sign of a good party. We slouched on my floor, leaning on my grotty suede beanbag and sloshing punch about while we sang Kate Nash songs loudly. I talked about a cartoon I watched as a child where a football team go back in time and take the places of King Arthur and his knights and was thrilled beyond belief when two other guests had fond memories of it too. I was passed shots of sambucca and when it was time to knock them back I threw them over my shoulder (and on to my own living room wall) because I was already so drunk I couldn’t see. At the end of the night we made a huddle of about 20 people and we all bounced around in a pulsing circle, yelling Mr Brightside at the top of our lungs.

In the morning my kitten, ginger and perfect, walked into my bedroom with a cigarette butt poking out of his tiny mouth. It was time to stop smoking in the house. Feeling the first hangover of my twenties, I dragged myself out of my narrow, single bed and walked to Penryn McDonald’s where I had an eight hour shift. So this was what being a grown up was all about.

The rest of that year passed sort of weirdly. I taught my kitten to be a full grown cat and fell asleep each night with him curled up on my belly. I existed in a constant state of loneliness – wishing my boyfriend was there, or that I fitted in better with the few friends I had managed to make. I saw Facebook post after Facebook post of my friends from high school meeting up and hanging out, but I had no inclination to join them. Instead, I wished they wouldn’t see each other if I wasn’t there. I tormented myself with imagined thoughts of what they said about me behind my back. I would tell myself that I would go back home when I had lost the final stone, when I had better clothes, when my skin was less dry. I counted every calorie I consumed, apart from on Sundays when I would binge eat, chug a litre of banana milkshake and then make myself throw up in the shower. I took long walks along the coast, my favourite songs blasting into my ears. I continued to worry that my boyfriend didn’t like me and I carried on chatting to the boy across the street and sometimes we would watch films together. I read books, and took long train journeys, and daydreamed of a time when I had everything figured out.

In the summer I moved into a house on a hill with a sunshine yellow door, with people that I knew and liked. The stairs were varnished wood and I fell from the top to the bottom hundreds of times before I learnt to stop running round in my slippery socks. Some people went back home, but I stayed and got a job as a waitress at a big white hotel overlooking the park. I had no money. Me and my housemate Erin lived off peas and instant gravy. On Sundays, as a treat, we made unsuccessful Yorkshire puddings. We got drunk every night for three weeks. We started hanging around with some local boys Erin met in one of the shabby nightclubs. They hung around her like moths round a flame. I always felt insignificant next to her. One night, we got invited to a street fight but sadly were too drunk to take up the offer and went home instead. We smoked roll ups for breakfast and drank black coffee. Our days centred around Eastenders. We wore leggings and men’s jumpers that we picked up at the charity shop.

One night we went to a grotty pub a few doors up the steep hill we lived on. It was filled with locals and two huge pool tables. I got incredibly drunk and then we went home and threw a trifle all around the kitchen with the local boys. Covered in cream and custard, I took to the internet. On MSN Messenger I broke up with my boyfriend, the one I was pretty sure didn’t love me (MSN was the only way he’d speak to me). He wasn’t really bothered. I had half been hoping when I suggested the split he’d be reminded how much he wanted to keep me around, but it wasn’t to be. I was too stunned to cry. My housemate slept in my single bed in case I suddenly needed her in the night. I put Practical Magic on my laptop; I had been watching it every night to fall asleep for the past six months because I found the darkness and silence overwhelming.

The next day I met the boy from across the street, only now he lived across town. I was hungover and shell shocked. We walked to the beach. I gasped great lungfuls of sea air to stop me throwing up. I felt grey and greasy. My dad rang to chat, asked something about my boyfriend and I told him we’d broken up,

“Oh well,” he said, “he was rubbish anyway.”

I stared out at the grey line of the sea against the sky. I thought, I’ll probably just be with the boy across the street now, forever. The thought had an inevitability to it. It was fact and had always been so. Here was the rest of my life. It wasn’t scary, it wasn’t momentous, it just was. I thought back across the past six months; the times we had walked to the beach after a night out and watched the drunken skinny-dippers, the stupid things I had said to him whilst inebriated, the time he passed my doorstep as I taught my kitten to jump up and down it and he commented, “my flatmate had a rabbit and it died. Your kitten will probably die too.” The films we had watched, curled in front of his dusty laptop screen, when I wondered if he was leaning his head against mine on purpose. The walks we had taken all around the coast together. The time he’d asked me,

“What does your boyfriend do that I can’t do?” and I had thought a while then said,

“He reminds me to take my necklace off before I go to sleep so I don’t choke.”

“Well I can do that,” he said with certainty.

There was the awkward cup of tea we drank when he came round to mine once, before I knew him well enough to have a cup of tea alone with him. The time he wouldn’t come to my birthday party, and how disappointed I’d been. It seemed like we’d lived a whole life in those six months and now we were here on a deserted beach staring out into the rest of forever together. He didn’t seem scared at all, just ready.

He went back home to Wales soon after. We struck up a surreal correspondence where we hardly ever wrote as ourselves but as alter-egos. I read and reread his letters. He created a magazine all about me. I sent him ironic fan mail. I waited for him to come back with an empty longing in my stomach.

In August I took my younger cousin to a festival I had intended to go to with my ex and all my school friends. I drank boxed wine all day and tried to stop a 12 year old from contracting a disease in the unsanitary toilets by constantly pumping antibacterial gel into her open palms. Separated from anyone I needed to impress, I had no idea what music I actually liked. I let the 12 year old pick the bands we saw. I let her dictate our whole weekend. One day me and my cousin sat on a hill, watching a band play below and my ex and a few friends from school walked past. They all ignored me, looked out at the horizon and strolled by like I was invisible. My heart stopped. I told my cousin we should go to the funfair. We rode on the huge swings for ten turns. I looked over the top of the world and pretended I wasn’t a real person. I knew that those people didn’t belong to me any more, that I couldn’t count on them for anything. At night the boy from across the street would text me to check I was okay and, huddled up in my two man tent, I would reply that everything was great. It could not be better. I was miserable.

When I returned to Falmouth everything there felt so much more important than it had before I left. I now knew I had nothing waiting for me at home. My entire life was there now. It saddened me that housemates wanted to stay home with their school friends instead of resuming their university lives. I would pointedly call the yellow-doored house ‘home’ and challenge anyone who did not agree. The boy from across the street returned. I couldn’t get enough of him. He made me feel like I was absolutely fine exactly as I was. I stopped making myself sick on Sundays because there was no room in my life for misery any more. He joined me on my once solitary coastal walks. We talked and stared out at the sea. He would grab hold of my hand and my heart would miss a beat. I snuck him into my house at nights, scared of my housemates judging me for moving on so soon. Every morning on my way to work I would check the hall way was clear and sneak him out. It was exhilarating; we would burst into fits of giggles in the fresh morning air and go our separate ways.

There was a problem though. Erin didn’t like him. Or, she liked the boy, but she didn’t like me with the boy. If the boy came round to our house she would ignore us, but if I went to the loo and came back I would catch her talking to him. I began to worry about things; I worried the boy liked her more than me, I worried that she liked him more than me, I worried I was obnoxious with him, and because of all this worry I treated everyone poorly. At parties, if I was with Erin I would ignore the boy. Even if he was stood ten feet from me, I’d avoid his gaze, which seemed silly given that I’d already accepted I’d be spending the rest of my life with him. Over the course of the evening, I’d get so blazing drunk that I’d say something horrible to Erin and crawl into bed with vomit in my hair only to wake up the next morning full of dread and remorse. No one was happy with me, not least myself.

One night, I kissed the boy goodbye at the door. It was a new romance so the kiss went on and on and on in a way I can’t imagine now. Erin’s bedroom was next to the front door. When I went back to my room having seen the boy off I saw she had tweeted, “GROSS, people kissing at my front door.” I felt disgusting for a week afterwards. I never kissed the boy at the front door again. He laughed at me for it, when did you become such a prude?

Over the course of the year things began to even out. My relationship with the boy solidified into something real and permanent that my friends accepted. I stopped worrying that it would suddenly be pulled away from me. The new security made me feel able to be myself a little bit more. I still counted calories and woke up in the dead of night to do sit ups but I no longer cried in front of the mirror whilst grabbing centimetres of fat. I stopped making myself sick. I ate full meals. Me and the boy spent all our time together, we walked miles and miles along the coast, the sea on our left, glistening out forever. I introduced him to my kitten, who hated him and would hiss whenever the boy walked into my bedroom. After nights out we would return to find the kitten sprawled across my single bed as if to say, there’s no room here for you.

I still worried about what my friends thought, and wanted to please them but I started to realise this was unrealistic. We struck a new balance – I stayed home most nights and we would make a pot of tea, sit around the kitchen table writing essays and arguing over which Bronte sister each of us was, and then for a couple of nights I would go to the boy’s flat and we’d lock ourselves away in his bedroom.

I didn’t feel any more grown up than I had at 19, but by the winter of 2009, I felt like I had a few things figured out.

Thin Me, Fat Me: Weight Gain and Esteem Loss

An overweight woman measures her waist with a tape measure

When I think of myself it’s as two distinct people. The me of before and the me of now.

The me of before is slim, energetic and able to wear what she likes. She chooses clothes because of how exciting they are. She is not scared of eating in public. The me of before loves exercising and runs for the sheer joy of it. Her body is a tool, a vehicle that transports her around all the fun things she wants to do.

The me of now is fat. I toyed with writing ‘overweight’ or ‘bigger’ there instead, but the truth of the matter is current me is FAT. She binge eats, a compulsion that she cannot put an end to. She wears clothes that are baggy, or that comfortably billow over rolls of pudge. She worries she smells. She feels rotten even in full make up and an expensive dress. The me of now is ashamed to enjoy food in front of others. She is sick of people explaining to her that the key to losing weight is eating less and exercising more like that piece of scientific wisdom had never been passed down to her before. She’s lethargic and full of loathing.

You see, I was a size 8 to 10 for the first half of my 20s. I liked to exercise and I enjoyed eating healthy food. I always felt fat regardless because I am a woman, but I wasn’t, not really. Then a few years ago I started a new job. It was night shift and it meant being away from home, in a hotel, for three nights a week. I ballooned. I didn’t have the energy to go to the gym, I wasn’t able to cook for myself for part of the week and for the rest of it I was too tired to make healthy choices.

I’ve quit that job since, but I can’t seem to rein it in. I go through cycles of good intentions; I eat healthily for a couple of days, or do some light exercise for a week and then it dribbles off to nothing. Eventually I find myself binge eating a multipack of hula hoops, or a loaf of bread with butter, filled with even more hatred for myself.

Here’s what I can’t understand; if I know that to lose weight I need to sustain a routine of eating healthy food and exercising regularly, then why can’t I do it? I know I need to do this, why is it so difficult to follow through? I’ve been fat for so long now that I have friends who have no idea I used to be a normal weight. I have begun to worry that this is me now, forever.

Some people say to embrace your body, whatever your size. I can’t do that. I don’t wear this weight well. I wear it like an unconvincing fat suit. I look at plus size women and they look great. When I look in the mirror I look unhealthy, slimy, ugly. And yet even armed with both my self disgust and my knowledge of how to fix it, I keep failing.

I didn’t put this up here for all the world to see in order to wallow. I put it here to say: this is me, this is my problem and it needs fixing. It might be the season of mince pies and hot chocolate but I can’t afford to wait until the New Year to get a handle on this. Starting right now (not tomorrow, not Monday) I am making a change for the better. Anyone with me?

Have you struggled with weight gain? Let me know in the comments below or by emailing hello@terriblypersonal.com

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

10 of my Most Pointless Fears

ONE:  That I will be wrongly convicted of a crime I didn’t commit.

TWO:  That my cat will sit on my face whilst I’m asleep and suffocate me.

THREE:  That I have slept for two days and missed a day of work – somehow without anyone calling me to find out where I am.

FOUR:  When I go to meet someone at a planned place, at a planned time, I worry that I invented the plan myself and they won’t show up, despite having proof on my phone that the plan was indeed made by both of us.

FIVE:  That I sleep talk all my secrets, even though I don’t have any secrets.

SIX:  Halfway through a really high note of a song (that I’ve already committed to sing) I worry that people other than my boyfriend can hear my caterwauling.

SEVEN:  That somehow what I’m listening to on Spotify is being broadcast on my Facebook page. Although is there any shame in Celine Dion and Lisa Loeb?

EIGHT:  Sometimes mid-conversation I am gripped with the fear that I have forgotten my accent and started using another one without trying to or being able to hear it. This has never actually happened (to my knowledge).

NINE:  That the way I have been pronouncing my name (correctly) for 27 years is incorrect and next time some administrator asks me it over the phone they’re going to erupt into laughter.

TEN:   That all my friends have gone to the trouble of creating alternate WhatsApp group chats without me to talk about me behind my back, or simply to avoid having to listen to my ‘jokes’.

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.