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.

7 Empowering Female Characters

Do you ever read or watch something and think: oh my god, I need to be this woman?

Maybe she’s got her shit together, perhaps she’s super smart, or she might be so funny you had to spit a mouthful of tea back in your mug because you were laughing so much at her one liner.

Well, here are my 7 most empowering female characters,  from book, film and TV.

NUMBER 1 – Tess McGill from Working Girl. I love this film. Tess, a working class girl, from Staten Island works hard to follow her dream of working in the City despite her family and friends’ derision. I don’t want to spoil it if you haven’t seen it but she proves just how smart she is and never really wavers from her goal.

NUMBER 2 – Lorelai Gilmore. I thought about putting Rory on this list because she’s so smart and hardworking but then I thought Rory is all those things because of her mother. Lorelai is hardworking, determined and positive. She tries to do as much as she can independently and doesn’t take herself too seriously. She raised a daughter alone, put herself through school as a mature student and built her own inn. She just gets things done.

NUMBER 3 – Offred from The Handmaid’s Tale. Okay, so she’s routinely raped by the man who now ‘owns’ her under the patriarchal regime which took away her rights to a family, to read and to handle money but bear with me. Offred refuses to give up on her humanity. Throughout the book, and the TV series, she never gives up hope that one day she will be reunited with her daughter. She dares to love Nick, to form bonds, because she refuses to become suspicious and insular like the Gilead regime wants her to be. I think Offred in the TV series may actually be even more empowering to watch than she is in the book. Perhaps because we have more time to get to know the character, or perhaps because she says ‘fuck’ so liberally.

NUMBER 4 – Dana Scully. Whenever I’m feeling a lack of motivation, I like to channel Dana Scully. This woman. She’s a doctor, an FBI agent, an owner of a fabulous assortment of pant suits AND she manages to get Agent Mulder out of a multitude of scrapes and disasters. Every time a man mansplains to me on Twitter, I am Dana Scully rolling her eyes at her partner’s insistence that Werewolves killed the victim, even though the autopsy she just performed using real medical science proves otherwise.

NUMBER 5 – Flora Poste from Cold Comfort Farm. Few women are as single minded and determined as Flora Poste. She sets out to move in with distant relatives and completely change their way of life and that’s exactly what she does.

NUMBER 6 – Hermione Granger. She’s smart, she’s sure of herself, she’s not afraid to make herself heard. She also knows that you get from life what you put into it – I can’t tell you how many times I’ve tried to imitate Hermione when I’ve had a test or an essay deadline looming.

NUMBER 7 – Julie Guille from The Blackbirder. I love Dorothy B. Hughes’ books. And Julie Guille makes this one so special. She is in trouble but she doesn’t just wait around for it to find her, she goes on the run. She knows how to handle herself. She takes risks and uses her intelligence and just plain bravado to get herself across the country for the chance of a better, safer life.

Which characters do you turn to when you need to feel empowered? Let me know in the comments.

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.

Cringe Culture: Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine

Cringe Culture is a weekly post in which I’ll look at books, film and TV and discuss the particular elements that make the audience, or characters, cringe.

Eleanor Oliphant

Recently, I read Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine which is the astonishingly brilliant debut from author Gail Honeyman. I’d heard and read all sorts of wonderful things about it and was so glad to finally get around to reading it that I inhaled it in two days flat. It did not disappoint.

Without revealing any spoilers, Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine is about the titular Eleanor, who is a bit of an oddball to say the least. As we are introduced to her life at the start of the book we learn it is one of routine and pragmatism. For instance, Eleanor eats the same meal deal every day and wears the same clothes. She reads voraciously but often chooses the first book she sees in the shop because she doesn’t see the point in hunting for something just right. Her weekends are similarly regimented and she spends them catatonic on cheap vodka and notes that she often doesn’t talk to a single person for the duration.

We come to understand that Eleanor is lonely and perhaps because of her significant lack of social contact she’s developed a few quirks. These quirks lead to the novel’s cringiest and most uncomfortable moments.

Eleanor Oliphant is not a character who particularly feels embarrassment and it is perhaps her lack of shame, or social graces, that causes the reader to cringe on her behalf. She often misreads social cues or is completely oblivious to standard social etiquette. On one occasion she gifts the host of a party with a half drunk bottle of vodka and a packet of cheese slices, reasoning that all men like cheese. It is her steadfast belief that this gift is entirely adequate that makes the reader grit their teeth with embarrassment for the poor soul.

Through the novel, Eleanor has many awkward encounters, though she is rarely aware that they are uncomfortable. When she first orders a pizza she wonders if the delivery man will bring a comically large black pepper grinder and passes him his money in an addressed envelope. When a helpful shop assistant tells her to go and get a make over at the Bobbi Brown counter in a department store, Eleanor asks where Bobbi is, expecting to see her. Perhaps the most painful encounter of this sort is when Eleanor, having had her nails manicured allows the nail technician to delve into her ‘shopper’ and grab her purse,

I remembered the unfinished remains of the egg sandwich which lay within – she gagged ostentatiously as she removed my purse. A slight overreaction, I felt – yes, the odour which escaped was somewhat sulphurous, but still, no need for pantomime.

This is the closest Eleanor comes to being embarrassed (deep shame is another matter though) but she soon recovers enough to inform the technician that she won’t be returning as she could do a better manicure at home, for free.

The way others treat and react to Eleanor is on the most part heartbreaking but there are moments that make you cringe too. Eleanor refuses to let it bother her though, at least outwardly.

Early in the novel she overhears her workmates talking about her, an episode that is repeated later in the novel, neither occasion phases her but when her colleagues realise she’s in earshot the reader does cringe for them – is there anything worse than talking about someone and then realising they’re close by? Did they hear anything? How should you proceed now, do you act like nothing’s happened or apologise? Well, no one apologises to Eleanor.

Eleanor’s formal way of interacting with her peers, perhaps a way of keeping them at arms length, or a result of not enough practise, makes the reader squirm. There are countless examples of her rather superior, naive way of talking to other people.

There’s the time she goes for a bikini wax and dismayed with the results berates the technician, though the entire interaction is cringeworthy, not just Eleanor’s eruption. There’s also the way Eleanor, herself judged on her looks by others, snobbishly judges others, especially poor Raymond. The first time she meets him she remarks, “A lot of unattractive men seem to walk in such a manner, I’ve noticed.” Later, there’s the time she appears to buy Raymond a drink only to corner him as he sets off home to request her £4 back. What makes you cringe isn’t that she requests the money, but the way the whole exchange comes about and Eleanor’s obliviousness to the idea of buying rounds because she’s never been in a position to witness what most people consider normal, social behaviour.

Even Eleanor’s references are strange, betraying her lack of social interaction and showing how she lives in her own little world in her head. She chooses a nail polish colour that reminds her of a deadly, poisonous frog. When she has her make up done she remarks that she looks like “a small Madagascan primate” and is thrilled.

The unfortunate Eleanor also has a facial disfigurement and through her eyes you see what it’s like to be stared at and shied away from for reasons beyond your control. It’s the normalcy Eleanor treats the negative reactions of others with that really make you sad. When she first enters the nail bar she notes that the technician

and her companion were both staring, their expressions a combination of alarm and…well, alarm, mainly. I smiled in what I hoped was a reassuring manner.

and later at a party,

She didn’t smile at me, which is the normal state of affairs in most encounters I have with other people.

On these occasions I don’t cringe on Eleanor’s behalf, but for the way other people, so concerned with outward appearances, treat her as though she is completely devoid of feelings and intelligence.

I could talk about so much more in relation to this book – it’s one that makes you snort with laughter on one page and punches you in the gut with sadness on the next.

Have you read Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine? What did you think? Let me know which parts made you cringe in the comments.

My Liebster Award 2017

Liebster Award 2017

I’m very new to the world of blogging, in fact, this is only my second week. So I was delighted that the lovely Holly from Holly with a Why nominated me for the Liebster Award last week. Check out her blog, it’s awesome.

Being new to blogging is kind of intimidating. I for one am just finding my feet and getting used to things. There are new terms to learn, posts to write, and technical minefields to cross. But by far one of the hardest things, in my opinion, is to fall in with the blogging community. When I first rocked up on Twitter last week, it seemed like all the bloggers I followed were seasoned veterans, who knew everything about blogging and had no time for little old me. But the Liebster Award is specifically aimed at bloggers with less than 200 followers on Twitter and through being nominated I’ve discovered some amazing bloggers who are also newbies, just like me.

The Liebster Award 2017 has been floating around the internet for a while now (I’ve struggled finding people who haven’t been nominated in order to nominate them myself!) Basically, it’s been created to allow new bloggers to promote their blogs.

As with most things, there are rules:

1) Recognise the blogger who tagged you on at least one social media platform.

2) Answer the 11 questions that you’ve been asked.

3) Tag 11 bloggers with less than 200 followers on Twitter.

4) Create 11 new questions for your nominees.

Here are the 11 questions Holly asked, and my answers:

What made you start a blog?

I’ve had a few blogs in the past but they never really went anywhere. For ages and ages I thought I had to write a lifestyle blog, because that’s the type of blog I typically read. The problem with that was that I just didn’t enjoy recipe posts, or fashion posts, or lifestyle posts in general. I really didn’t enjoy taking photos because I felt I was so bad at it compared to the great bloggers I saw out there and I felt a little discouraged. In the end I realised the reason I wanted to have a blog was to write and so Terribly Personal was born, to give me a platform to share my writing on.

What influences your blog posts?

My blog posts are largely personal. Be that a discussion of my emotional wellbeing or a recount of a massively embarrassing moment. It’s all about awkwardness and oversharing which is why I’m remaining anonymous for the meantime. I take my inspiration from all sorts of places, the news, film, TV but mainly it’s my life and things that are happening or have happened to me in the past.

Where would you like to see your blog next summer?

This is an exciting one because my blog is such a baby right now. By next summer I’d like my blog to have grown. By that I mean I would like to have maintained a consistent posting schedule and provided some great content. I want to expand the types of posts I do. I’m currently working on some book, TV and film reviews, all focusing on awkward, personal moments, that I’d like to feature regularly. I’d obviously like to see my readership grow and I definitely want to become more of a part of the blogging community.

Which blog have you been reading the longest?

I’ve read three blogs since university (and I’m 28 so that was basically forever ago).
Camp Patton.
Sometimes Sweet.
Cup of Jo.

Am I a creeper for reading parenting blogs when I don’t have children? Maybe. In my defence I started reading all three blogs before any of the collective children had been born and they are all so much more than ‘Mommy Blogs’. Grace of Camp Patton might be a Catholic mum of 5 (perhaps the opposite of me?!) but she is so witty and real that anyone can relate. Dani from Sometimes Sweet has excellent fitness advice and such a positive outlook on life and Cup of Jo has evolved into a fantastic place to find lifestyle advice without verging into the precious/preachy territory that some sites do.

Would you consider linking your blog to a YouTube channel?

I don’t think so. Never say never….but, you know, never.

What is your favourite hobby apart from blogging?

I love hiking. I live in the countryside so there are lots of places for me to explore here.

Where is your favourite holiday destination that you have visited?

My favourite destination is always the last place I’ve been. At the moment that’s New York. I actually went there a year ago today! It makes me so sad that I can’t go again this year. It was absolutely amazing (as you’d expect). I could easily go back every year forever.

Where would you love to go that you have never been before?

Japan! Me and my boyfriend are currently saving to go to Tokyo. I want to learn some Japanese before we go. If you’ve been before then please let me have any recommendations in the comments.

What is your favourite beauty product?

I love Liz Earle’s Cleanse and Polish face wash. I have sensitive skin and I swear by it.

What is your favourite blog post you’ve written?

I haven’t written many to date, but at the moment this is my favourite.

Why should we all read your blog?

If nothing else, it’s funny.

Now, the best part!

Here are the people I’ve nominated for the Liebster Award 2017. I just couldn’t find 11 but if you would like to be tagged, or know someone who would, then comment on this post and I’ll add you gladly.

1) Lauren from somefilmramblings
2) Mollie from Mollie Says
3) Rosie at Rosie Writing

Here are the questions I’d like to ask the bloggers I’ve tagged.

1) What is your favourite blog to read?
2) Has blogging made your life better?
3) What’s your favourite aspect of writing a blog?
4) What’s your favourite film?
5) If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be?
6) Where would you like to see your blog in the next six months?
7) How do you decide what to blog about?
8) What do you do when you aren’t blogging? Do you work/study etc.
9) If you could travel in time what era would you visit?
10) Do you have any pet peeves?
11) When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

Can’t wait to hear your answers!