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4. Mental Health: The Good, The Bad and The Iffy

Unrelated image to grab your attention – I wrote this on a beach in Spain
It was July of 2017 or thereabouts. London was melting in another heatwave and the office air conditioning had broken, which wasn’t helping anything. I was eight months into my dream internship in the music industry and it was even more ridiculous than I could ever have imagined. I had all manner of stories to tell from the past year, from running around the corner shops of Maida Vale trying to find Fiji water for a band who wouldn’t drink anything else, to sitting next to Oli Sykes in a cinema while eating a quinoa salad and drinking free whiskey. To anyone else, it sounded like I was having the time of my life.

But my every day reality was 127 unread emails, 13 missed calls on my personal phone, a desk covered in pink post-it notes that said things like ‘URGENT’, ‘CALL MANAGER’ and ‘SEND BEFORE 3PM TODAY’, and no concept of what a lunch break looked like. On this particular afternoon, I’d just been asked to do the impossible yet again: find a room for twelve people for a meeting in half an hour’s time (when all of the rooms in the building were already booked and no meetings could be moved). Compared to other things I’d been tasked with before, this was not an outrageous request – but it was one thing too many for my brain to handle that day. I couldn’t feel my face and my heart was hammering so hard against my ribcage that it felt like somebody was punching me repeatedly from the inside. ‘Feels’ was playing on the radio for the fifth time that day and it was clashing horribly with some indie electronic noises coming from the A&R room. I couldn’t pick one single coherent thought out of my head, couldn’t remember what day it was, and before I knew it I had walked out of the building, past Whole Foods on Kensington High Street and into a sweltering Hyde Park.

I laid down under a tree and stared at the cloudless blue sky. Anxiety had no business bothering me when the weather was this lovely. I rolled over onto my stomach and picked at the grass, imagining I was plucking the bad stuff out of my head. All I ended up doing was making myself sneeze. I must have done this for a while, because when I got back to the office my fingers were green and dirty. I remember scrubbing my hands in the sink until they were red raw. I don’t remember anything else from this day. I have probably blocked it out of my memory, because I imagine it didn’t end very well, considering I bailed mid-task. The next thing from this month that I remember is sitting in my GP’s office, with a cheap fan wafting hot air over my sticky thighs. She made lots of sympathetic “hmmm” noises and signed me off work for two weeks. 

I felt like a failure. I spent the fortnight pottering around the garden at my parents’ house, baking raisin flapjacks and re-reading old books outside in the sunshine feeling shame. Everyone working in music is stressed and stretched beyond their limits; I had no reason to be hyperventilating in the work toilets and dissociating in label meetings. I was doing a job that thousands of people would have killed for, and things were going well for me. As everyone kept saying.

I returned to work gradually, on reduced hours. It was awkward and painful. People hovered by my desk silently when they wanted to ask me something. My phone stopped ringing. Nobody asked me anything that wasn’t strictly work related. I wasn’t involved in office jokes any more. I sloped around taking promo CDs to the post room and processing invoices from festival season wishing I’d just stayed away.

I was acutely aware I hadn’t handled things very well. I should have spoken up earlier, asked people not to call me on my personal phone after 7pm, or said that I needed time to walk around the block at lunch time each day. But firstly, I was at the bottom of the food chain in a very big, very fast-paced and very loud industry – I’d signed up for stress. I had no right to ask for peace and order. Secondly, this bout of anxiety was not something I saw coming. Mental health problems, in my experience, are not as simple as spraining your ankle, looking down and realising that it’s purple and puffy and concluding that you should ask to work from home for a few days. I was aware that I was under pressure, but the anxiety symptoms crept up on me so quietly that they’d dug their claws well into my skin before I felt any pain. By the time I realised that I had checked into room 303 at The Iffy Place, I was far too scrambled to handle anything in the proper way. I just had to get out of the chaos.

It shouldn’t have been uncomfortable to talk to my family and friends about this. I had taken an extended trip to The Iffy Place’s sister resort, The (Very) Bad Place, in 2013, when I had a nervous breakdown and was diagnosed with Generalised Anxiety Disorder and Major Depressive Disorder, which almost resulted in me dropping out of university. This was no secret, and I’d always been open about my mental health from that point onwards. But it was the very fact that I’d had a bad bout of anxiety and depression before that made this time round so much harder to explain. I felt ashamed and silly. Hadn’t I beaten it? Wasn’t I stronger now?

Some people who have nervous breakdowns may have treatment, recover, and may never be visited by a mental health problem again in their lifetime. And good for them. But that wasn’t the case for me, and isn’t for a lot of people. I have an anxious brain. Sometimes it gnaws at me for days on end. Sometimes it doesn’t. I am not fixed, but I am not broken either.

I’ve shared my own writings about my anxious brain several times before, and every time I’ve received overwhelmingly positive feedback. People have told me I’m brave and strong and an inspiration. And that’s very kind and nice of them to say. Really it is. But nobody called me brave when I cancelled dinner plans because I didn’t feel present in my own body. Nobody called me strong when I left halfway through a gig without saying goodbye because I felt the walls closing in on me. Nobody called me inspirational when I dug my nails so hard into my arm that it started bleeding.

Everybody wanted a reason for my for my anxiety, and more often than not I didn’t have one. I don’t have a list of triggers. I don’t particularly like big crowds or noisy clubs, but they don’t always make me have a panic attack. And on that, panic attacks don’t take the same form on every person, and not everyone with anxiety has panic attacks. (Some people have anxiety attacks, which are different to panic attacks, and can last for days or months). Anxiety is a big, umbrella term which encompasses several disorders, including Panic Disorder, OCD and PTSD among others. Anxiety is not just feeling worried, just as depression is not just feeling sad. I have been diagnosed with both anxiety and depression, but I don’t actually feel worried or sad that much, which often makes me feel like the things I experience aren’t valid. For me, the symptoms that affect me the most are:

  • Depersonalisation and derealisation (I have depersonalisation constantly – it is a matter of how much or little I notice it)
  • Brain fog
  • Irritability
  • Emotional detachment
  • Intrusive thoughts
  • Health anxiety
  • Memory blanks
  • Tingling fingers
  • Numb face
  • Heavy head feeling
  • Heartbeat that feels too hard and too fast

The same mental illness can be experienced differently by everyone who is diagnosed with it, and there is no one treatment or way of helping someone that works in every case. Medication didn’t help me – it only exacerbated some of my symptoms – but I have friends who’ve really benefitted from it. I’ve seen some people be very comforted by a hug during a panic attack, but I personally don’t like anyone coming within a metre radius of me because it makes me feel trapped, no matter how well-meaning their intentions are. If five people sprain their knee playing football, you can be pretty sure they’ll all respond well to the RICE method, and recover at about the same rate. Mental health is as important as physical health, but it’s a completely different field to navigate. You can’t RICE someone’s brain.

The conversation around mental health is slowly improving, but we are well behind where we should be. Mental Health Awareness Week/Month/Day is great, but it’s not enough. Congratulate people for sharing their mental health struggles and successes this month by all means, but remember to check in on them next month too. Try to understand and offer support if someone cancels plans on you – I can guarantee they aren’t happy about doing it. Feel how you’re feeling and let others do the same. The bad and strange feelings will barge their way into your brain one way or another; it takes more energy to force them out. There isn’t always an obvious reason for feeling a certain way and there doesn’t have to be. You can feel sad watching your favourite band play at a festival with a beer in your hand. You can feel worried sunbathing on the most beautiful beach in Barbados. You can feel irritated sitting on a plush lounger at a spa in a fluffy white robe.

I won’t end this by saying that everything is fantastic now and that I have no iffy feelings at all. That’s the narrative everybody wants, but it isn’t real. I do mostly hang out in The Good Place. I’ve been spending most of my time there this year, after deciding to hold the door open to my life and let some good things walk in and some other bad things walk out. But sometimes things get sticky. I have been to The Bad Place and The Iffy Place, and I may visit there again. This is the way of life. Things happen. Brains are wonderful and complicated. I won’t always be fine. And that doesn’t make me a failure, it just makes me human.

3. Food: A Story of Hate and Love

I don’t remember how it started.

I couldn’t do it the first time. But it didn’t matter, because I would persist and get better. I would learn how far I needed to stick my fingers down my throat. I would learn not to drink water with meals. I would sit, eat, say thank you, walk to the bathroom, turn the taps on, and throw up my insides. I would wait for my eyes to stop streaming, pat my face dry with toilet roll, brush my teeth and gargle and spit. If I was at school, I would go and run around outside to disguise the redness of my face. People are less suspicious of you when you are running. They don’t have time to ask questions.

(Let me be clear before I continue: I have never been diagnosed with any form of eating disorder, and I do not claim to have ever suffered from one. But my eating was disordered for a long time, as was that of many of my classmates and friends).

I was in Year 8 at an all girls’ secondary school. This is significant not because eating disorders or disordered eating are in any way gender-specific, but because of the intense atmosphere it created. It was 2007 and the only thing that magazines were selling was skinny. Fat was the worst thing you could be, and muscular was just as bad. We devoured those magazines, sitting cross-legged on each other’s beds on Saturday afternoons lamenting how our arms would never be as thin as those of the thinnest girl in the glossy pages. We swapped ludicrous diet tips at break times, picked apart our bodies in front of the locker room mirrors, and spent hours on MSN sending each other pictures of waiflike girls who wore ripped fishnet tights and dark eyeliner by way of thinspiration.

The school was onto us. In an attempt to get us eating, they introduced sign-in sheets for lunch, and for breakfast and dinner for boarders. These were hardly an obstacle. We took it in turns to sign our friends in, fuelling each other’s self destruction. If you came into lunch late and someone’s signature was still missing from your form’s list, you’d forge it. If you’d eaten lunch that day but hadn’t meant to, there was an understanding that when you heard another girl throwing up in the toilets, you would stay inside your cubicle until she had finished and left. You would not say anything to anyone, and you would not even try to guess who she might be. We had each other’s backs.

When the school realised that the mealtime sign-in sheets were doing nothing, they introduced the more drastic measure of weighing us every term. We lined up resentfully in the nurse’s corridor, passing around stones and cigarettes. Stones in the pockets for those who didn’t want a worrying letter sent home to Mum and Dad, cigarettes for those who didn’t want to eat again after seeing the number on the scale. The sad thing is that we had an incredible school canteen filled with so many different options – pasta bar, soup, sandwiches, fish or meat dish, salad station, fresh fruit – but enjoying any of it was a dreadful sin. Bread was bad, pasta was worse, biscuits were unthinkable. We didn’t want to know what full felt like. We wore our hunger like the mascara we weren’t supposed to, fluttering our dark eyelashes and hoping people would notice.

It wasn’t just in school that this was going on, it was following us home too. I remember going to the park with one of my friends, with the sole purpose of trying to attract one of the skateboarding boys that hung around there. She laid out a picnic rug on the grass, sat down and took out a small tin with pink flowers on it.
‘What’s that?’ I said.
‘Diet pills,’ she said.
‘Where did you get them from?’
‘The Internet.’ She swallowed one.
I didn’t say anything. I was thirteen, I didn’t know what to say.
She pointed unsurrreptitiously at a boy in the skate park with floppy blond hair and snakebites. ‘He’s cute.’
‘Yeah,’ I said.

I never mentioned the pills again. I never bought any myself, and I’m glad that I was thirteen in 2008 and not in 2019, where appetite suppressant lollies are as easy to get hold of as a Mars bar. But I did think about it. I thought about it a lot. I sat up at night slicing my thighs with a razorblade because they weren’t the skinny ones I wanted. I spent hours standing in front of my bedroom mirror with a bulldog clip, attaching it to the sides of my legs, backs of my arms, stomach, and anywhere else I could see too much skin, fantasising about what I could be if I was smaller. If you’d asked me what I wanted to be when I was thirteen, I would have said a ballerina or a journalist. But what I really wanted to be, more than anything else in the world, was skinny. When I was skinny, I would be a better dancer. When I was skinny, I could wear the purple drainpipe jeans with the skull handprints on the back pockets. When I was skinny, I would get a boyfriend. When I was skinny, the popular girls would invite me to their parties. When I was skinny, I would be happy.

Things got a bit better over the next few years. I moved schools, I learned how to cook a few meals and I stopped making myself sick. But I still wanted to be smaller. I still felt guilty about feeling full and eating dinners that contained over 500 calories. In Sixth Form, whenever someone had a birthday and brought in cake, I used to hide so I didn’t have to explain why I wasn’t having any. I wasn’t the only one struggling. There was always someone not eating carbs or fats or sugar or another food group because they’d read somewhere that it was the new bad food. We’d spend free periods sitting around and talking about how much weight we needed to lose before summer and what we needed to sacrifice in order to fit into a pair of size 8 jeans. I don’t think there was a day when the idea of thinness didn’t cross our minds at least once.

The summer I turned seventeen, I noticed that one of my friends from a different college had started losing weight rapidly. She was tall and had always had a fuller figure with boobs I would have died for. I asked her how she’d got so small when we were on the train to see a shouty band at a tiny venue in London.
‘Eating lettuce,’ she said.
We laughed. She was serious and it wasn’t funny.

I was tiny when I left school. I don’t remember much about my end of year prom, just that the dress I wore was a size 6. In the months leading up to my departure for university, my life was entirely ruled by my overwhelming desire to stay that size. The only impression I cared about making on my future flatmates was skinny. When I arrived in Southampton, I quickly filled my time with activities and threw myself into academic work. I’d often leave my halls of residence before 7am to go swimming or to the gym, taking with me everything I needed for the day. My rucksack was stuffed full with my laptop, spare clothes, dancewear, gym kit, water, toiletries and about 10 books (thanks, English Literature). I was walking easily 20,000 steps per day around campus, with anywhere between 5-10 kilos on my back at a time. Any spare hours I had between lectures would be spent in the gym, and I’d finish up each day at a dance class, or often multiple classes back-to-back. I survived all day on a Ryvita, low fat cheese spread, some tomatoes and a handful of nuts. I carried around an emergency cereal bar at the very bottom of my bag, but it was my mission never to touch it. I didn’t open it when black spots started appearing in front of my eyes on the treadmill. I didn’t open it when I kept falling asleep in lectures because I had no energy. I didn’t open it when my hands were shaking so much that I couldn’t type my essay. The unopened packet was my trophy. I have never touched an illegal substance in my life, but I started to understand how the high could be addictive. I was high on hunger and I loved it. I felt powerful, focused and reckless all at the same time. I scored well into the First grade boundary that year and ran the fastest 5k of my life. I thanked the hunger high. 

By mid-way through second year, I had managed to kid myself and everyone else that my relationship with food was perfectly fine. I was eating three decent-sized meals every day and two snacks, but everything about them was planned and policed. I was following a diet and exercise plan that promised to help me shed fat and build muscle. I absolutely did not need to be following this plan. I did not need to lose weight for health reasons, I was not an athlete, and I was not hoping to have a career as fitness model. To the plan’s credit, it did work. I got down to 16% body fat, had visible abs and people often told me I looked like I was in great shape. But everything about it was miserable. I could only eat carbs straight after I’d done a high intensity workout, I wasn’t allowed more than one piece of fruit each day, and I mostly had to have savoury breakfasts. I am really not a savoury breakfast person; all I wanted was a bowl of porridge with some raspberries. Savoury brunch is a different matter and something I highly approve of – but really, who wants cold hard boiled eggs and a wedge of cheese at 6:45 on a Tuesday morning?

I don’t remember exactly when or why I stopped following the plan. There was no lightbulb moment or inspiring quote that made me drop it. I started becoming more interested in plant-based eating and came across Deliciously Ella – and you can say what you want about veganism and smashed avocado, but I’d honestly credit her for getting me back to a healthy place with food. I liked the way she talked about ingredients. They weren’t bad things that you could only have 100 grams of, they were tasty and colourful and versatile. I tried new vegetables and different spices. I baked real brownies instead of tasteless fat free versions that used horrible replacements like low calorie mayonnaise instead of butter. I liked the sight of my fridge being full. I liked the feeling of being full.

Now, at 23, I think I have a good relationship with food. I eat chocolate most days, I meet my friends for tea and cake, and I honestly can’t tell you how many calories were in the chickpea stew I just made. It isn’t perfect, and I still have arguments with my brain when it tells me I can’t have my usual-sized portion of porridge because I haven’t been to the gym that morning. I still occasionally feel guilty when I have to unbutton my jeans because I have eaten enough pasta to feed a family of four, or when I offer someone a biscuit and they say no because they are “being good”. I get anxious when people at work see me heating up my lunch and say things like:
“Gosh, someone’s hungry today!”
“That’s a big lunch!”
“Are you carb-loading?”
I grew up with three perpetually hungry brothers, so there was no such thing as a small portion in our house. I am aware that I have a big appetite and have accepted this about myself now, but remarks like these still get to me, years later. I make a point of never commenting on people’s food while they are eating it, because you don’t know if that might be a difficult topic for someone, and if it is then it’s neither the time nor place to bring it up. If you are going to comment on what someone is eating, please think twice and choose your words carefully. It does not take much to send someone into a downward spiral.

There is nothing remarkable about my journey with eating. Many of my friends fared worse, some a little better. I don’t know many people who haven’t had a difficult relationship with food at some point. I love food and I think I always have, but it can be complicated and all-consuming. Our society does not make it easy to maintain a healthy relationship with it, but I am trying, and I think I am doing fine.

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2. What I Never Learned: Lessons on Rejection

I learned a lot of things during my time in education. How to hem a pair of trousers (very useful), how to tell you all about mes vacances à la plage (somewhat useful), how to find the value of x (not useful), and what Ferdinand de Saussure means by the signifier and the signified (not at all useful, unless you are trying to boggle someone’s brain, or woo a brooding literary type at a bar in Dalston – in which case this may be upgraded to somewhat useful, but you should probably work on your chat-up lines).

Nothing I learned, however, prepared me for the fact that I was going to get rejected. A lot.

This is partly due to my upbringing, and, perhaps, sheer luck. I’m from a small town and I went to small schools, so I succeeded at almost everything I tried (apart from getting onto the netball C team in Year Five, but it’s fine, I totally didn’t want to play anyway). I got the parts I went for at my dance school, I got into the bands I auditioned for (because there were only two near me that wanted anything to do with female drummer), I got the Sixth Form post of responsibility I interviewed for (Public Relations Officer, because do I really strike you as House Captain material?) and I got offers from all five universities that I applied for. This meant that I actually went through most of my life as a naïve optimist – which probably sounds unbelievable to everyone who knows me now as a definite realist, verging on a straight-up pessimist. I’d rather be pleasantly surprised than constantly let down.

My first inkling that the real world was not as kind as I thought it was came when I had to arrange my work experience week at age 15. I wanted to be a music journalist, so I sent off carefully written emails and samples of gig and album reviews to over 20 magazines and newspapers, only to receive nothing back, apart from one Postmaster notification telling me that my email couldn’t be delivered. This is probably the worst type of rejection, because it isn’t even really rejection, it’s just silence. Wondering. Overthinking. Did they all sit around and laugh at my email? Did they even read it? What did I say that was so wrong?

It got worse, obviously. After I graduated from university, I applied for an entry-level role at a creative agency. The money was peanuts, but this was besides the point. I had a contact there, so I thought my chances were, actually, fairly good. I got the interview, and it still remains one of the best interviews I’ve had to date. I had to do a task, which my interviewer loved, and told me I should “frame it and hang it up on a wall”. By the time the final stage interview came around, I was picturing myself at my desk there and had already planned out what gym I could join nearby.

It goes without saying that I didn’t get it. The other candidate had “more experience” and had “just edged it” over me. I read the rejection email (nobody has the guts to reject you over the phone), sat down at the top of my staircase and cried. I am not a crier, but this had caught me off-guard. My first grown-up world rejection had a real sting to it, and it took a while for my skin to stop burning. I was upset I hadn’t got the job, but mostly I was crying tears of anger. I was angry at myself for having hope, for letting myself believe that I could have actually succeeded. Lesson learned: never get your hopes up.

More rejections followed like dominoes. I went for an unpaid internship, did a phone interview, a task and two face-to-face interviews, and never heard anything back. Not even a blanket rejection email. After weeks of calling the HR contact for any sort of answer, I gave up. Soon after, I applied for another internship and interviewed over Skype while I was on holiday. They sent me a task to do – which involved writing a month-long social plan for Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat for two different accounts, five Facebook ads, three scripts for YouTube content, two marketing emails and a presentation of one of my own campaign ideas. I spent nearly three whole days of my holiday working on it, because I really, really wanted this job – and because this was all the time they’d given me to complete it. They finally got back to me a week later than they’d promised, only to tell me that regretfully, I hadn’t got the internship because although my task had been better than the other candidate’s, she had more experience.

This became a common theme in my rejections, to the point where it was almost comical. My tasks would get positive feedback from my interviewers, and often they’d tell me that my work was the best out of the bunch, but time and time again they’d go with another candidate who had more experience. Surely, you could work this out within the first two minutes of comparing our CVs, and save everybody a load of time and effort?

Apparently not.

My favourite job rejection story is from an entry-level role that combined knowledge of fitness, nutrition and marketing. I have a Gym Instructor qualification, Biology A Level, and had over a year’s experience in marketing by this point, so I thought I had a pretty good marriage of skills. The first interview lasted for – no exaggeration – two hours and forty five minutes. After two hours, I tried politely to ask to leave, because it was nearing 9.30pm and I had to catch a train home – but my interviewer was the most talkative and insistent person I’ve ever met, so I was going absolutely nowhere. She said, word for word, that she “loved the way [my] brain worked” and that I was “just what [she’d] been looking for”.

A couple of days later, I had a second face-to-face interview with her business partner, then a Skype interview with another team member based in San Francisco. I did a copywriting task, which took in total about 6 hours to complete, and then met my original interviewer again to go through my work. She said I’d done the task in the exact way she wanted, and we even talked about what projects I’d be working on in the role, and what copywriting courses she’d like to send me on. A week went by after this, then two weeks, and I’d still heard nothing, despite her telling me that they needed someone to start as soon as possible. I called the recruiter who’d got me the first interview, and I emailed my interviewer directly because she’d told me I was welcome to contact her with any questions. Almost three weeks later, the recruiter sent me a one-sentence-long email to say that I hadn’t been successful. I called her to ask why and to ask for feedback, but she dodged my calls and I never heard anything from her or the company ever again.

People will tell you not to take job rejections personally, but a lot of the time it is personal. Some things I’ve heard over recent years include:

“You’re well qualified for the role, but we just couldn’t see you fitting into team.”
“We’re looking for somebody a bit more outgoing.”
“We just didn’t feel that your personality came through in the interview.”

I had a particularly uncomfortable interview a couple of years ago. There was a long pause after my one of my answers, during which the interviewer looked me up and down with a face that was a mixture of disappointment and irritation.

“You’re not coming across as particularly friendly, Lizzie,” she said.
“Oh.” I looked around for a shovel to dig myself a hole with. “Sorry. I’m just a bit nervous.”
She frowned. “Yes, well. We are looking for a certain type of person, just so you know.”

Evidently, I wasn’t it.

You can read all the philosophical quotes you want about things happening for a reason and windows opening when doors close, but the truth of the matter is: rejection hurts. Literally. I read somewhere recently that the same areas of the brain become activated when we experience rejection as when we experience physical pain. Romantically speaking, I did figure out how to deal with this fairly early on. This was no thanks to the heinous teen girl magazines I devoured, whose only discernible objectives were teaching you how to look pretty and how to trap a man (which is a rather screwed-up thing to be teaching a fourteen-year-old, but this is a topic for another time). According to these, boys liked girls to approach them directly and do the asking out, because it showed confidence. Naturally, I followed this advice several times in my teenage years, and every time ended up getting rejected and looking like a monumental prat. (In my experience, the boys were far meaner than the mean girls ever were). The only way to stop this embarrassment from repeating itself was of course to never approach boys again, and to hope that the good old sticky eyes would do the talking. I am pleased to report a 0% success rate with this method.

By now I know that not everybody you fancy is going to fancy you back – and this is fine. A little inconvenient, yes, but… fine. (I do look a bit like a hamster from certain angles and this isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, so sure, I get it, thank u next). Getting rejected on your personality, however, is a whole different kind of painful. Especially when it’s not by someone you’re trying to date, but potential friends. It happened a lot when I was looking for house-shares a while ago, and now again that I’m looking for a new place. I know that I’m not a just-add-water friend, or the type that bounds into a room and immediately brightens up the whole place (you have no idea how much I wish I was) – but it’s pretty bloody difficult to come across as fun but not too fun, clean but not Monica Geller clean, friendly but not needy, interesting but not weird, to ask the necessary practical questions but not too many otherwise you’ll seem boring, and actually look around properly – all in the space of less than fifteen minutes. I’ve been rejected from places for all manner of reasons: too young, too old, too female, too busy in the evenings, not busy enough, too quiet, too vegetarian, not enough of a tequila fan, too much of a baking fan, the list goes on. Whatever the reason is, what people are essentially saying is that they just don’t want you around. It’s a hard pill to swallow no matter how you look at it.

You’d think that rejection would get easier but it never does. The stakes only get higher and life gets more and more complicated. I’ve learned how to drag myself up off the floor and dust myself down fairly quickly, but I feel more battered and bruised every time. I just get better at making it look like I’m fine.

I think a lot of us are good at this. The unspoken rules of our rose-tinted world mean that we have to be. Faking it til you make it is a useful skill, but the reality is that not everybody is doing as well as you think they are, and the best of us are spending a lot of time getting doors slammed in our faces. And you know what? It sucks.

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1. Starting and Being a Perfectionist

I have a problem with starting things. My brain is cluttered with half-chewed thoughts and burgeoning ideas which I never do anything with because I’m scared that they’re actually all terrible. If I don’t start, I’ll never have to find out.

That’s why I didn’t start this blog for a really long time. I had the idea and promptly sat on it, until it stilled and eventually went quiet. Not only did I fear it would be crap, but also irrelevant. And pointless. Why would you want to read this, when there are approximately 7,529,431 other blogs out there which are already fully fledged and written by people who actually have some kind of social status? What do I have to say that hasn’t been said already?

I don’t know. I don’t have a particular speciality. I like fitness but I’m not all about it. I like food. I like talking about mental health. I dance. I tried to write poetry for a bit. I wrote for some music magazines. I played in bands. I used to work in the music industry. I kind of still do. (I like to take on that identity sometimes, when I feel like I need to turn myself up a bit louder. Does that make me a fake? Maybe).

The brand I am trying to sell to you, I guess, is me. This is a terrifying concept that I think is wildly stupid, because I have no fame, position of authority or particular talent, or any compelling reason for being worthy of your time. I’m a hard sell. I’m a small introvert who is constantly told to speak up more in meetings, loves cleaning but hates tidying, still collects shells on the beach, says hello to cats in the street and was once described by a therapist as ‘cold and intimidating’. (Said therapist had made me a cup of tea a few minutes prior to this diagnosis and had committed the atrocity of putting the milk in first, so I personally would like to replace ‘cold and intimidating’ with ‘absolutely fucking horrified’, but who am I to make judgments about my own character?) I am still trying to work out what on earth I am doing, and most of the time I feel, quite frankly, like I am flying by the seat of my pants.

I know a lot of people feel like this. I know nothing and nobody is an overnight success. First drafts are called first drafts for a reason, you rarely get things right the first time round and perfection doesn’t really exist. I know all of this. But it’s hard to believe, when we’re bombarded every day with pictures of poreless faces and meticulously arranged living rooms with no cat hairs on the sofas. I work in marketing and I see new brands appearing out of nowhere all the time with their shiny new logos and three perfectly tone-of-voiced product points. A just-add-customer-equation.

The problem is that our world doesn’t allow us the space to mess up. There’s barely enough room to have a slight misfire or put something out there that’s still rough around the edges. And why would you, when you can delete the 47 selfies you didn’t like, and only post the one where the light fell on your face just right? I’m as guilty of this as anyone else. The perfectionist in me has gone into overdrive and I’m struggling to find the brake. I’m a classic overachiever with outrageously high self-expectations and I hate sharing anything that I’m not 135% happy with. I barely use Twitter any more because I keep typing out tweets and backspacing my words into nothingness, afraid they’re not witty enough. I’ve always considered writing to be a strength of mine, but ironically it’s this exact thing that makes it so difficult. One of my creative writing tutors at university once told me that ‘not everything you create will be a masterpiece, and that is fine’. We could probably all do with remembering this.

I intended to start writing when I felt I was more. More wise, more interesting, more sure of myself. But I never seem to be more. I never seem to be exactly where I want to be. I’m always too far one way or the other, missing things by inches and never saying quite the right thing. Life has been strange and sad recently and the universe appears not to be on my side. My brain has been gnawing at me with sharper teeth than usual, and things started writing themselves in my head.

So, here I am, forging out on my own and creating something that is most definitely not perfect and far from a masterpiece. And this, I think, is fine.