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?”

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

The First Time I Saw Dahlias – Escaping My Anxiety

The first time I saw dahlias, I was walking from my new house (rented, I’m a millennial) to the job that I hated.

I had moved weeks before, driven out of the city and towards the suburbs in search of the extra space I thought I needed. In the weeks, perhaps months prior, I had been feeling almost drunk with stress. Nearly every day I would reach a point of such high anxiety that my heart would race, I’d feel breathless and dizzy. More and more frequently, I noticed I was forgetting things.

I wasn’t just misplacing my keys, or walking into a room and forgetting what I’d gone in there for. I was losing great swathes of time. Hours would pass and I would recollect nothing about them but the palimpsest of panic and misery like the after taste of bitter coffee. And on top of it all, I was desperately, desperately unhappy.

Moving house, I decided, was the only way to shake the feeling. I became obsessed with the idea that a fresh start in a fresh place could solve all my problems. Incessantly, I badgered my boyfriend who quite liked the very reasonably priced flat we already rented until he agreed to my scheme.

Now, when I felt the familiar panic edging in, I would get out my phone and look on Right Move, or I would make lists of things we needed for the new house, or I’d pin beautiful décor ideas on Pinterest. I invested all my energy in the idea that a new address would banish my anxiety.

We moved, and the logistics of shifting all my possessions (which are many, I’m a hoarder) from one side of the city to another kept me occupied and The Bad Feelings at bay. Then the novelty of a new home, getting used to it, finding a place for everything, buoyed my mood a little. I’ve done it, I thought, I’ve escaped the gloom.

But I hadn’t. A couple of weeks later I was crying on a colleague’s shoulder in the office as I explained I felt such anxiety at doing one aspect of my job that it kept me awake at night. I was tired and I was terrified of everything. Here I should make it plain that my job was nothing to be anxious about, and the part that kept me awake was a simple administrative task that a toddler could have tackled.

I plodded on, losing days to my stress-drunkness, crying on the bus to work and having heart palpitations. At the weekends I would sleep for hours and hours but never felt rested. When I was awake I was in a kind of trance. My brain was recovering from the anxiety of being out in the world in the week.

I decided to start walking to work. It would take forty minutes but I thought a shot of exercise induced endorphins each morning wouldn’t hurt. I slipped on my head phones and turned Bob Dylan up loud. I walked miles and miles over those mornings, listening to Idiot Wind on repeat, stomping an angry rhythm as I attempted to outrun The Bad Feelings.

Summer came, the days got longer and lighter. I still felt miserable. Most days all I remembered was my walk into the office, the songs that had become my soundtrack, the ponies I passed that now knew me enough to come to the fence and nudge my outstretched hand, the feeling of air filling my lungs. Even now, that and the shadow of sadness is all I retain from that time.

One day something caught my eye as I walked past a garden. Big, round, full, joyful flowers. They were in all the colours under the sun. They looked like something out of a child’s drawing, giant and happy and gorgeous. Dahlias. I’d never seen one before. I smiled. It was a genuine smile, not hampered by worry or regret or panic and it was my first in a long, long time.

Soon, the dahlias became the high point of my day. I would look forward to passing them. I slowed my pace as I walked by the garden so I could luxuriate in them for as long as possible. I began to walk home, so that I would see them twice. I thought about a future where I could grow dahlias too, and that thought excited me.

The dahlias reminded me that there were things I wanted to live for. Not that I had been even remotely close to suicidal, but I had been numbly wandering through life, accepting my unhappiness and doing nothing about it. That hadn’t been living, it was existing. The possibility of a future filled with dahlias, or any number of beautiful things, things that made me smile, gave me back a sense of hope.

My anxiety didn’t vanish. I didn’t magically become happier. But I did begin to think about the life I wanted. I realised I wanted to find enjoyment every day. I didn’t want to cling to the job that made me cry every morning just because it was safe, I didn’t want to continue to pretend to be someone I wasn’t to fit in. I wanted to go after the kind of life I wanted to live, actively and intentionally.

That’s a journey I’m still on, and while I’m not growing my own dahlias yet, I am finding beautiful things that make me smile everywhere.

Lies I’ve Told During Awkward Social Interactions.

I’m an introvert. Most of my social interactions are catastrophic, especially if they involve more than two other people and dancing.

I think we’ve already established that when my back’s against the ropes I become a little economical with the truth. I’m not an out and out liar…but on occasion I have pretended to be something I’m not. Why? That’s a question I’m still trying to answer. It’s not that I’m ashamed of who I am. It’s more that I don’t like the idea of someone who’s practically a stranger knowing all about me.

Here are 5 lies I’ve told whilst out in the world existing with other people:

1) I can play the cello.

I actually told my boyfriend this when I first met him. 8 years later I hope he’s noticed that I do not play the cello, or any musical instrument for that matter. The worst thing about lying to new people is that new people sometimes become your all the time people and you have to back track on all the fiction you spun when you were too nervous/drunk to be your real self.

2) I can sew.

I say this to people all the time. I told my boyfriend this when we met. We have an unused sewing machine collecting dust in the spare bedroom as a direct result of this fib.

3) I’m from Wrexham.

I never pick anywhere exotic to pretend to be from. Just north Wales.

4) Yes, I love XXXX band.

This is a lie I told frequently as a teenager. Now I realise that it’s fine to love the music I love and that boys who love Dave Grohl more than life itself are rarely worth five minutes of your time.

5) I work as a teacher/a solicitor/doctor.

A few years ago I had a job that was so depressing I couldn’t bear to disclose it even to strangers. Instead I would tell them I was a teacher, or a doctor, or a solicitor as a way of avoiding my own misery.

So, how about you? What fibs have you told in the face of an awkward social interaction? Let me know in the comments or at hello@terriblypersonal.com.

Anti-Social Drinking – I’m an unfriendly drunk


I have a strange relationship with alcohol.

I’m shy and quiet. In a Brady Bunch context I’m much more Jan than Marcia. I don’t really enjoy social interactions. But, for some unfathomable reason, despite my proclivity for solitude, I still feel the need to socialize every once in a while. Whether that’s because of some human biological need or simply because today’s media, and social media, make it seem like if you aren’t surrounded by a big group of friends you aren’t living life, I don’t know. Either way, when the urge to socialize presents itself, I turn to the bottle.

A glass of red wine or two help to warm up my conversational side. After half a bottle of pinot noir I stop worrying that everything that comes out of my mouth is nonsense. A couple of cocktails might see me to the dance floor and keep me blissfully unaware of the awkward way my limbs flail about, slightly out of time with the music. If I ever hit the hard stuff (gin, in my case) I can be inclined to utterly lose my integrity.

It goes like this; a few glasses of something drive my social anxiety away. But a few glasses of something also usher in someone I like to call “Drunk Me”. Drunk Me doesn’t stop after a few glasses, she keeps drinking and drinking and drinking. The consequences are usually embarrassing and almost always lead to a headache.

So what, Sober Me doesn’t like the Kardashians? Drunk Me has found a group of impossibly well-groomed girls who look like they’re all about having a good time. They’re propping up this bar that serves brightly coloured drinks that all taste like sherbet. They love the Kardashians, in fact, they might be Kardashian-Jenner super fans. Drunk Me suddenly develops a deep love for the Kardashian universe and even squeezes out a hysterical tear when she tells her glossy new friends that, “Khloe’s weight loss just really inspired me, huns.”


Drunk Me won’t stop there, either. You like Love Island? So does Drunk Me. You only listen to Ed Sheeran? Drunk Me thinks that’s a spectacular idea (despite once declaring Ed Sheeran, “the worst thing ever, literally please take a hammer to my head rather than playing his record.”) You’re vegan? Here, hold my bacon, because Drunk Me is now vegan too.

Sober me is strictly monogamous and super loyal. She holds all her friends up to her own moral standards, because who wants to be friends with cheats and flakes and liars? Not Sober Me. But Drunk Me, whilst she would never cheat on anyone (just like she’d never murder anyone, she’s drunk guys, not a nut job) has no issue whatsoever with her friends cheating or lying. Drunk Me would happily listen to the details of a friend’s affair with as much enthusiasm as if she were listening to a recap of her favourite box set. Drunk Me would have no qualms facilitating an illicit rendezvous. She condones the kind of behaviour that Sober Me despairs over. Just like Andrea, the drunk psychiatrist on Kimmy Schmidt.

When I’m sober I’m private and withholding. Sober Me chooses to share her most intimate thoughts with only those closest to her. Even then she draws the line at her most secret secrets, “some things are for me to know and no one else,” she reasons. Drunk Me has no barriers and no social decorum. She’ll share and overshare whether the timing is appropriate or not.

I drink to cope with the anxiety that socializing places my introverted self under. But drinking doesn’t make me a friendlier person. Sure, after the first few sips of a crisp gin and tonic my confidence is artificially boosted and I become more smiley. Eventually, though, it turns me into a liar in the pursuit of acceptance. A liar for a good (if slightly pathetic) reason is still a liar at the end of the day. Alcohol makes me dismiss the values I consider important in order to feel more involved with people who don’t consider those values important whether they’re drunk or sober. Drink unleashes in me a self-centred child who must have attention at all costs.

Oh, it’s your birthday party? Let me be a complete downer by spilling all my sad secrets. Not because I want to share these with someone, in fact my sober self has already decided to keep this quiet, but because right now I want everyone to look at me and say, “aw”.

But Sober Me is a good person! Yes, a little shy, a touch reserved. People don’t count on me to be the life and soul of the party. But I’m kind, for the most part considerate and I’m honest to myself and the people I know.

Drunk Me might be louder, more dynamic and armed with enough temporary confidence to dance on a table, but she’s a bad friend. And the person she’s the worst to is Sober Me.

Perhaps it’s time I hung up my wine glass for good?