Health · Personal · thoughts

My body is home

When I was 18, I barely ate. It wasn’t that food was the enemy like it is for so many other girls – and indeed, like it was for me through periods of my early teenagehood. It was more that it took up so much energy to cook and depression had a firm hold on me. I started university with good intentions: I’d cook regularly, I’d join the gym. Instead, I found myself in an endless cycle of lectures, Cup-a-Soup and naps.

Without even trying, I became the thin girl I always wanted to be. The one that I felt pushed into being thin by the rigorous body policing that went on at school. I didn’t even notice how unhealthy I’d become, all that mattered was that I was a size 10. I paraded my thinness around my hometown like a badge of honour in the hope that those who had put me down for being chubby and unfit throughout school would see this new, thin me and feel guilty for all the pain they put me through. I was untouchable.

My relationship with my body image fluctuated endlessly throughout university. Finally giving in to the advice that exercise would be some sort of panacea for my mental health problems, I joined the gym in 3rd year and within two months, ran a 5K to raise money for Health in Mind. I finished it in 32 minutes – not the best by any stretch, but my best. I don’t think it was the exercise itself that improved my mental health per se, but rather the fact that I knew I was challenging myself and smashing little goals every day. The knowledge that I was strong enough to do something incredible like that carried me through the next six months.

And then 4th year hit and everything changed. To put it in perspective, I just wrote that it went wrong, but on reflection, I don’t think it was “wrong” – just different. I comfort ate my way through my dissertation, drank way too much cider as a “reward” for my hard work (okay, I’m just making up excuses now – I drank it because I love it, and it’s still like my kryptonite), and gym time was practically non-existent because my workload was just too exhausting. I piled on so much weight and it wasn’t even until I’d graduated and took a long hard look at my selfie that I realised how much of a sedentary lump I’d become.

But recently, I’ve noticed how totally badass my body has become. I truly think it’s all because of roller derby. You never truly shake off mental illness, even if you’re “recovered” in most aspects of your life, and there’s still this voice in my head telling me that I should lose some weight, get those razor cheekbones back, get back into my size 10 jeans. But then, I look at what I’ve become. Would I trade my strength and newfound muscular thighs and DDs just for cheekbones and a sense of pleasing those that don’t matter? On some days yes, but most of the time…no. Because I’m gradually beginning to embrace this lucrative thing called “self-worth”.

My body is home. It’s strong. It can do so many things. I can skate at top speed for five minutes without getting winded. Other things I can do on skates include jumping, weaving really fast around cones, hitting people, getting hit by people and recovering in seconds…the list goes on. I cycle just under eight miles every day. I can power up hills on my bike without getting off to push like I used to. I can run 5k with barely any walking breaks – I’ve not quite beaten my 32 minute personal best, but I’m down to 35 minutes after not running for two years so I’d say that’s awesome, and even more awesome when you consider it used to take me half a 55-minute PE lesson to do the 1600m at school because I’d be so out of breath. I can hold onto my toes without bending my knees. I can leg press over half my body weight and I’m constantly building on that. I am the queen of squats, if I do say so myself. I’m far from ripped, and I’m carrying a bit of belly, and there are so many days I weigh myself and think “how on earth have I gained weight when I exercises SO MUCH?” (muscle, that’s how). But I know I can do amazing things. I refuse to believe anyone who tells me otherwise.

In the end, it’s not what your body looks like, it’s what it can do. Every day I’m amazed by how far I’ve come and I really hope that by striving to do more and more badass things every day, I’ll finally be able to conquer the demon that tells me that my looks and how others judge me are more important than my own happiness.

Our bodies deserve more than to be war-torn and collateral
Offering this fuckdom as a pathetic means to say,
“I only know how to exist when I am wanted.”

Girls like us are hardly ever wanted, you know
We’re used up and we’re sad and drunk and
Perpetually waiting by the phone for someone to pick up and tell us that we did good
Well, you did good.

I know I am because I said I am.
My body is home.

Mary Lambert

very important
December 2012 vs. May 2017
Miscellaneous · Personal · thoughts · Uncategorized

Generation Busy

This post has been a long time coming. I unfortunately lost my job last month, and while I’ve been offered another job, it doesn’t start until the end of the month. What that means is that I’ve had a lot of time to sit around and think. At times it’s been frustrating and boring and, let’s be honest, having an income is nice, but on the other hand it’s given me pause for thought about what it means to be busy.

At the moment I’m listening to Brené Brown’s lecture series ‘The Power of Vulnerability’, inspired by her TED talk of the same name. It’s been one of my favourite TED talks since my counsellor in third year of Uni recommended it to me, but the full lecture series is even better. Honestly, in that classic “who would you invite to a dinner party, dead or alive” scenario, Brené would be top of the list – she’s insanely clever, sassy without being snarky, and I just generally think we’d get on pretty well.

One of the things she discusses is our fascination with being busy. How we get a kick out of being able to reel off a list of things that are taking up our time and attention, how we brag about the hours we’ve put in at work, and how, if we admit that we’re feeling pretty relaxed about life, people don’t seem to know how to respond. In western culture, being busy to the point of meltdown is something of a status symbol. We endlessly compare ourselves to our peers and beat ourselves up if we suspect that we’re not making the most of our time.

It’s something that I witnessed all the time as a student. “How many words have you written yet?” was a hot topic of conversation and people would loudly moan about spending full days in the library and not leaving until they were thrown out at 2am. I don’t think these comments are helpful to anyone. Beneath the complaints is insecurity. Often people say these things not to vent their own genuine frustration or to encourage empathy, but to assess the competition. To find out how hard others are working. To see where they sit in the pecking order. To quell the universal voice of shame that insists we are only worthy of feeling joy if we’ve suffered the hard graft and “earned” it through tangible “success”. The culture of studying to the point of exhaustion is something that’s only going to get worse as Universities like my own introduce nap pods and 24/7 opening hours.

My main cause for excitement upon graduation was the thought that I could finally leave my work at work and have time to indulge my passions outside work hours. For the most part, I’ve been able to do so, but I can’t help but suppress that niggling feeling that I should be doing more. It makes me feel so stressed when I see people my age without an inch of wiggle room in their daily schedule, because I can’t help but compare myself to them. It think it’s a generational thing. There’s much more competition among us millennials to find full-time, emotionally rewarding work, and we must resort to filling every second of our time with activities, projects and courses that will enrich our employability. All this is often on top of paid employment that pays the bills in the mean time. Is it any surprise that, in a recent worldwide study of young people (defined as being 15-21 years old, but probably with similar trends just outwith this age bracket), Britons exhibited the second-worst mental wellbeing?

I’m sure to some, this kind of lifestyle provides good motivation and is perhaps even desirable. But in my opinion, it’s sad that the economy has gotten to the point where this is seen as a normal way to survive. Where’s the time to reflect? To be kind to ourselves? To work smarter, not harder? We often have to push ourselves to exhaustion just to be seen as competent, but with no support system to keep our wellbeing afloat. Mental health services are vastly underfunded, meaning not only a lack of services, but less money put into campaigns that encourage us to be open about our mental health. The vulnerability required to reach out and say “actually, I think I’m overworked” or “I need some time off to get my mind in order” is seen as weakness when really, being able to tap into your own emotions and ask for help is one of the bravest things you can do.

It’s time we stop glorifying this kind of exhaustion. I’m fed up of feeling a deep sense of shame when I’m not “busy enough”, and I’m sure I’m not alone.

Health · Personal

This Girl Can…Kind Of

This post is brought to you by Deep Heat! Well, not really, but it ought to be for the amount they’ve saved my ass (literally) this past week.

The reason for this? I’ve taken up roller derby!

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At least, I’ve joined my local league’s new skaters programme. It’ll be a while before I “play” the sport, but you need to learn the skills before you put them into practice. This is true for any sport, but I’d say it’s a potentially steeper learning curve with derby because, you know, other sports usually involve your feet being directly on the ground – not strapped to eight wheels that will slip out from underneath you with astounding speed if you’re not careful.

I’ve never been “sporty”. I was an incredibly unfit teenager and was always picked last in PE. I had major body confidence issues growing up – I always thought of myself as the “fat one” and I had a bit of a love-hate relationship with food. Basically, I resigned myself to never being able to play a sport. I had no interest, because to me, sport equalled being laughed at by peers and patronised by well-meaning PE teachers who only exacerbated my feelings of “otherness”.

But then I discovered roller derby.

I think, like many newcomers to the derby community, I discovered this wonderful sport through Whip It. Drawn to the film by Ellen Page, I foisted it upon all my friends at my 16th birthday “movie and food and chill” session (I am reluctant to call it a party. A party animal I was not. I am not). Fast forward a few years down the line, and I’m an 18-year-old fresher struggling with a brand new depression/anxiety diagnosis. Spur of the moment, I decide to buy a pair of skates.

I think I wore those skates about once; I totally freaked out because OH MY GOD SKATING IS REALLY SCARY AND THE GROUND IS SLIPPY, and then tucked them away in my wardrobe. I have proper derby skates now, but perhaps when I’m home I’ll take my old Rios out for a spin. After all, skates meant for casual recreational skating are built with much stickier wheels than those on derby skates. If I can skate on derby skates, I’m sure those ones will be easy peasy.

Anyway, after three years of obsessing over roller derby and watching YouTube videos and just generally being a bit of a geek, I finally plucked up the courage to go to my first bout a year ago. It was a bit intimidating, because I went alone and I often feel quite awkward and anxious when I don’t have a buddy to tag along with. What awaited me was something even more amazing than I could have ever imagined.

I immediately felt like I was with family. I remember watching one of my local league’s teams skate out and feeling the music and the exciting, fast-paced, witty commentary pulse through me. I think my jaw hung open the entire time, I was just so awed by the whole experience. I actually cried a little bit at just how overwhelmingly positive the atmosphere was. For the first time, I saw athletes who looked just like me. Chubby arms, wobbly tummies, tattoos, visible muscles, crazy leggings, short women, tall women, women of all ethnicities. All of them offered a unique blend of talents, and the crowd went wild for every single one of them.

I’m not religious, but I assume this is how a spiritual awakening feels. I knew I had to get involved. After all, this was a sport for the girls who grew up feeling like the underdog and, at times, the outcast. There was space for everyone – why couldn’t that be me? Unfortunately, this was not a good time for me to start my derby journey. I was a poor, unemployed student, and I had a dissertation to work on. Besides these fairly legitimate excuses, there was also this niggling voice inside my head telling me that I was like Bambi on skates and it would be ludicrous to even try.

In November, I went along to a full-day of derby bouting, and once again I was overcome with this feeling that I had to be doing this sport. Until then I’d told myself “maybe next time…” and “maybe once I’ve taken my skates at home out of the wardrobe and proved to myself that I can actually do it…” but this time, I realised that if I didn’t commit sooner or later, I was just going to keep making wussy excuses and I was never going to learn how to play my favourite sport in the world. I was never going to be able to create that joyous, exhilarating atmosphere for other fans. I registered my interest in Auld Reekie Roller Girls’ Skate Skills programme in December. Unfortunately, life got in the way, as it is wont to do, and I never pursued it further because I just assumed it would be too difficult to fit it around my work rota (see what I mean about creating excuses just because I’m a wuss?).

And then, one evening at the start of this month, when I was having a really horrible day, an email found its way into my inbox that said there was a space for me on the programme, should I want it. I immediately burst into tears. I had been growing increasingly frustrated with my lack of work-life balance, mainly due to the fact that my anxiety had gotten so bad that I had shunned any notion of having a social life. I wasn’t doing any clubs or activities outside of work because it just seemed like too much effort. I was convinced I had become a boring person. But derby felt like a lifeline, and I decided to grab it with both hands, an open mind, and my heart on my heavily-padded sleeve.

Fast forward a few weeks, and I’ve completed two weeks of the Skate Skills programme. I’m not a natural skater. I still feel like Bambi, especially when I take those first few strides each training session. But you know what? I think I’m getting the hang of it. I’m slow, but I’m motivated. Nothing feels better than getting home after a training session, having a nice hot bath, and reflecting on how much I’ve accomplished in just two hours. Last week, I was the slowest skater, I fell a LOT (my tailbone still hasn’t forgiven me), and I was so convinced I would never improve that I had to take ten minutes out just to have a good blub and vent to one of my fellow freshies about how stressful I was finding it. I can’t knee tap or glide on one skate yet, and my skull crushing is patchy (note to non-derby readers: this is not literal skull crushing. I know derby is a contact sport, but crushing an opponent’s skull would definitely see you sent to the sin bin. Skull crushing is actually just a way of skating without lifting your feet from the track), but since then, I’ve learnt how to pick up some speed, stop in two different ways, fall safely (i.e. on my knees, not my bum!), and recover quickly from my falls. Nothing feels better than jumping straight up onto my feet to continue skating, to continue pushing myself. If I pass no other minimum skills in this block of Skate Skills, I know at least that I am “recovery queen” (a new derby friend’s words!) and will pass that section!

Another bonus of roller derby is that EVERYONE IS SO DAMN NICE. Our league’s motto is “it’s nice to be nice”, and this definitely shows. Even when I think I’m doing the worst job ever, there’s always someone skating past me saying, “hey, that was really good!” and the coaches are incredibly patient. After all, it feels incredibly unnatural to wear skates when you’re starting out, and they really understand this. On top of this, everyone in derby is encouraged to take part in other ways as well, such as helping at bouts or joining a committee. Yesterday I did the music for a bout and it was great fun – plus everyone commented on how much they enjoyed my playlist! It’s something that a few people suggested I could do again in future, which is really pretty exciting! This community feeling extends beyond just the league – there’s a Facebook group for derby skaters (particularly freshies) worldwide, which has been an incredible source of emotional support and practical advice.

In a way, skating feels a like lot therapy. I can go in there each week the most tense, anxious person in the world, and by the end I feel like someone has given my brain a massage. I find I skate best when I employ some of the skills I learnt in therapy last year. For example, I know how to recover when my confidence takes a knock and I just want to curl up in a ball and cry (my solution is to take a quick break to re-formulate my thoughts, take several deep breaths and some water, then keep going with even more vigour – and that’s fine by the coaches, so even better!). I know that to skate my fastest, I need to go into a semi-meditative state, where I’m not thinking about my actions, I’m just staring ahead with deep focus and letting my body take over.

I’ve so far found that derby has reinforced these lessons from therapy more than anything else in my life has. It’s made me realise how to feels to want to persist, rather than doing something out of obligation to an external party.

Who knows where this new mindfulness technique will take me next?

Personal

Reflections on the “university experience”

So. Hello again. I’m back, after not blogging for over a year, but I’ve been having a lot of ~feelings~ recently that I just need to get out. On top of that, I feel that I’ve lost touch with some of my creativity since I started working full time and I need to reconnect with that aspect of my personality. Ideas come to me in fully formed sentences and let’s be honest, it would be a shame to waste that kind of inspiration.

Anyway, enough of my spiel. This isn’t a post about why I should or should not blog. It’s about a subject that I feel deeply passionate about.

I’m talking about the expectations of the “university experience”.

I graduated in June this year, and since then (and for a few weeks before graduating, actually) I’ve worked full-time in a bookshop. When I tell people this, I’m often met with confusion – not so much from my peers, who understand what it’s like to be young and break into the working world, but often from older people. After all, I got a First in my degree. Why on earth would I decide to go into retail? Why am I not doing something more “high powered” or even degree-related? And the truth is: I just don’t want to.

My time at university was full of ups and downs. On the downside, I suffered from (often crippling) depression and anxiety from the very outset. I decided to study music because I had aspirations of being a professional singer, but was soon put in my place by the voice in my head that told me I could never be good enough, that I didn’t have the energy levels to push myself to that kind of ability. And it’s true, I didn’t. I soon learnt that it was causing me far more mental fatigue and damage to my overall experience of university than was necessary. It was for that reason that I decided to pursue music psychology and community music instead. I really enjoyed these elements of my course, and it was definitely that enthusiasm that amounted to my overall success. But I won’t pretend that my experience here was without issue.

Along the way, I faced even more competition than I did when I was more performance-orientated. I had lecturers who would constantly pit us against each other, whether intentionally or not, and to be honest, my whole two Honours years were riddled with bias. It hurt. It really hurt. Constantly getting mixed messages from different faculty members and peers meant I rarely had any idea who to trust. I had lecturers who would pretend to be my friend, support me through my illness, then cut me off with no warning, suddenly ignoring me in favour of louder, more confident students. I wasn’t the only one who felt this way. None of us would ever be offered any additional development opportunities, because they would be exclusively offered to the “favourites”. For someone like me, who had aspirations of studying for a Masters in community music and hopefully setting up their own social enterprise one day, it hurt that I wasn’t given the chance to prove myself and gain experience. In fact, when I visited my Masters university of choice to sit in on a day of teaching there, I was astounded at how democratic it all seemed. Of course, it may not have been as wonderful underneath the surface, but it definitely appeared as if all students and staff supported each other on a much more emotional level. Everyone there had different backgrounds and different ambitions, and they were there to learn from each other and develop their own ideas rather than being told, categorically, what “community music” was or was not. There was no “my way or the highway” attitude at all.

Unfortunately, I felt so disillusioned and exhausted by my whole undergraduate experience that any ambition I had to do this Masters soon dissipated. I left my course thinking, “I don’t know if I can ever go back to music if this is what it’s like. I don’t know if I was ever a musician”. Because honestly, I felt so constantly undermined that I felt like a totally different person from who I was when I had started university and had such big ideas for myself. The toxicity around me completely killed my passion.

Of course, there were some real highlights to my university experience that I wouldn’t change for the world. These highlights have made me the person that I am today. My involvement with the music society basically ruled my social life for four years. All my best friends – and the only people from uni that I still see on a regular basis – are music society people or coursemates of music society people. Being on committee for two years proved challenging at times, but gave me employability skills like you would not believe. Similarly, I absolutely adored volunteering at the student advice centre. The camaraderie between volunteers and staff was amazing and I loved going in for my shifts each week, not to mention all the outreach (including therapet sessions! PUPPIES!) I did with them. The advice centre was basically my second home. I actually had quite a few advisor and student support job interviews, but alas, none of them were meant to be. Ultimately though, I didn’t mind because I know that just volunteering did so much for my self-esteem and gave me invaluable transferrable skills.

Which brings me back to my original point. I love my job. I love being a bookseller. Sure, I’ve encountered a lot of red tape and hoops to jump through in the name of bureaucracy, but there is nothing better than talking about books and putting books into the hands of customers who I know will really enjoy them. And my colleagues could not be nicer. I’ve recently moved branches due to staffing demands, and I’m even happier in my new branch, where I’m working in a really small, supportive team. Much as I would like to do a Masters in a year or two (I’m now thinking maybe librarianship), I’m glad I’ve taken time for myself after my degree to really think about what matters to me.

What matters to me is my happiness. What matters is helping people in a way that feels nourishing to me. It’s not about making more money, or doing something “relevant” because there’s pressure to do so. I take great pride in my work and enjoy telling those who scoff about how tough it can be (my God, it can be tiring to be endlessly smiley to customers for 40 hours a week, find books based on the vaguest of descriptions, unload hundreds of kilograms of books every day, take everything off towering shelves to dust every little corner, rearrange toy animals only to have a small child take them out to build a cow army on the floor moments later…The list goes on but the good far outweighs the bad, and the “bad” is never really any more than a bugbear or two). I relished the opportunity to fill out the recent university graduate survey with “yes, I got a First, yes I work in retail, yes, I fully intend to still be in this position in a few months”.

Please, let’s stop perpetuating this idea that university is supposed to be the “best years of your life” and that you’ll come out of it with a comfortable 2:1, immediately be picked up for a lucrative grad scheme, and have a blast earning your first million. University is an experience that will change you and that’s never to be discounted, but it’s okay to not enjoy every little bit. Although I’d still say that my experience was more positive than negative, there’s definitely elements of it than I can categorically say I did not like.

By pretending that university has to be one long party and the best years of your life, we’re silencing students who would benefit from speaking out about their mental health, course concerns and the plethora of other issues that are constantly glossed over by this amped up “UNAAAAY” myth. I’m so happy that students are becoming ever more political, and while many bemoan my own student union’s political moves – never have the words “safe space” been so divisive – I think it’s fantastic that we, as students and recent graduates, finally have decent platforms to make our voices heard. We will never stop shouting out the message that our generation are the generation who want to make society fairer and improve wellbeing, rather than craving power. We are the generation who understand how tough breaking into a career can be, and applaud and recognise the value of hard work of any kind.

The phrase “you do you” has never been so apt.

Personal · Travel

“When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life…”: Solo Adventures in the Big Smoke

A few months ago, I decided that I needed to take a break from everything – Edinburgh, my friends, my family, the stress of my (then-upcoming) festival job – and explore somewhere new, where I could completely dedicate my time to doing things that I wanted to do. So on Wednesday morning, I got up at the crack of dawn to set off to the airport…I was on my way to London, after many years of dreaming! I’d been once before, but admittedly it was for a single day in 2009 so not exactly the stuff that lasting memories are made of; my dad and I flew down early, quickly had a look at Buckingham Palace, ate some pizza, saw Wicked, then flew home again. This time, I wanted to try to cram in as much as possible to get the full London experience.

First of all, let me point out that London need not be as expensive as one might think! My flights were around £42 in total with Ryanair (Edinburgh-Stansted, booked three months in advance), my hostel (London Backpackers, next door to Hendon Central) was £12 per night, and £25 on an Oyster card was all I needed to get around without a hitch in the three days I was there. On top of this, many museums are free so there’s no need to worry about losing out on culture either!

Hostel

It was the allure of cheap rates that drew me towards booking in at London Backpackers, an 18-35 hostel in Hendon. Sure, it was a bit out-of-the-way, but to be honest, I quite liked this – personal preference, I suppose, given that there are a few negative comments on Hostelworld about its distance from the city centre (you’d think it was a remote island for the way some people gripe!). For me, I liked being able to go out in the evenings then travel back to somewhere a bit quieter. When I arrived, I was greeted by a lovely guy on reception, who had good banter and offered me a big bucket of sweets that I could pick a little something from. The whole hostel had that cheap and cheerful vibe, with a book swap, games room, quirky London-themed decor and the biggest VHS collection I have ever seen outside of Blockbuster (RIP). However, my one gripe would be the shared kitchen. I am totally anal about washing up standards – as in, if I can’t see my face in a spoon, I will rewash until I can – and unfortunately, the state that some people had left the communal dishes in was enough to turn my stomach. It was easily resolved though by simply getting food on the go instead! Rates at London Backpackers start from £9 per night.

Live Entertainment

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Shortly after checking into the hostel, I took off to explore Foyles (more on that later), but before I could get that far, I stopped off by one of the Leicester Square half price ticket offices to see if I could get a cheap ticket to see Matilda that night…Let’s just say London and I disagree on what “cheap” is, as what was offered as a £31 ticket came up to £48.5 once VAT and fees had been added. Although a bit of an unexpected sting, it was definitely worth it and I would wholeheartedly recommend Matilda to any literature lovers with a sense of fun! The music is so witty (thanks to the magical skills of Tim Minchin) that even those who don’t usually like musicals will find joy in this wonderfully funny, exceptionally British production.

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The next night (Thursday), I went to the BBC Proms! It’s been an ambition of mine for quite some time to see something at the Proms, so when I booked my trip back in June, I was sure to pick up a £7.50 ticket as well. Thursday’s performance came from the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, with a programme consisting of excerpts from Nielsen’s Aladdin, the world première of B. Tommy Andersson’s Pan, and Mahler’s Symphony No. 4. It was the Mahler that really sold it to me (I bloody love Mahler), but I actually really enjoyed the Nielsen as well and I’ll definitely be checking out more of the Danish composer’s work. As an added bonus, there were lots of seats left in the stalls so I got a free seating upgrade – result!

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I had anticipated visiting a lot of museums, but as time wore on, I actually only had time for two. On Thursday, I went to the Wellcome Collection, which was quite quiet despite its fascinating array of exhibitions – perhaps it’s one of London’s more hidden gems?! The first exhibition I saw there was Alice Anderson: Memory Movement Memory Objects (on until 18th October 2015), consisting of objects that had been “mummified” (the artist’s choice of words) with thin copper wire; in fact, visitors could take part in this process themselves and as I entered, a couple of people were helping mummify a Mustang. The idea behind Anderson’s work is that “both the making and display of works pose challenging questions about the comforts and consolations of creating and sharing memories.” Years ago, I would have told you this wasn’t my kind of thing, but I have evidently changed a lot as I felt really inspired to reflect on these objects…it even gave me an idea for a short story. I then moved onto Medicine Now (permanent), which explored current medical topics of discussion like obesity and genetics, as well as general anatomical information, and finally The Institute of Sexology (on until 20th September 2015, so be quick!). This finally exhibition not only covered the history of human sex and how it has been viewed in both artistic and sociological terms, but also more modern themes like the AIDS epidemic and what feminism means to young women nowadays. One of my favourite artefacts was a huge spreadsheet that one London artist had kept in the 1970s recording every minute detail of her every sexual encounter – ranging from physical description of her partner and their occupation, to frequency of sexual activity, to orgasm noise! I also quickly scooted around Medicine Man and the Reading Room, but I was short on time so had to cut my visit short.

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Before I left on Friday, I had just enough time for a flying visit to the V&A. Unfortunately, I only had enough time to see a tiny fraction of it (you could easily spend a whole day there!), but what I did see was amazing. My favourite section was theatre design, which featured costumes from performances of all sorts – opera, musicals, Shakespearean comedy, ballet, punk gigs… – alongside stunningly intricate set designs. I’m really glad that I dedicated a bit of time to wandering around this section before I left, as it was right up my street. On my way out, I also saw Jacqueline Wilson on a little day trip with one of her friends – she was my childhood hero and the first author I ever really considered my “favourite”, so I was a bit starstruck! I didn’t speak to her though; staring in awe from afar was enough for me. And of course, I said hi to David…

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Bookshops

Now, as a dedicated bibliophile, I deliberately only took a few items of clothing with me so that I could use my remaining 10kg luggage allowance to bring back a whole stack of books – and indeed, a whole stack of books I did buy! When I arrived, I decided to kill an hour or so wandering around Foyles‘ flagship store on Charing Cross Road. I honestly could have spent a lot longer here, but in an effort to save my money for a proper bookshop crawl the next day, I managed to limit myself to only two books – Sulphuric Acid by Amélie Nothomb and Tender Morsels by Margo Lanagan.

On Thursday, I ventured out on a proper bookshop crawl. My first shop was Ripping Yarns in Highgate, where the wonderful Jen Campbell works. Jen and I go way back, so it was lovely to finally meet and hug her (after first speaking online when I was 14)! I had intended on only buying a maximum of three books here, but because Jen is such an enabler, I ended up with four: Alison Wonderland by Helen Smith, The Mermaids in the Basement by Marina Warner (my new intellectual crush after hearing her in conversation with Kirsty Logan at Edinburgh International Book Festival a couple of weeks ago), The Finishing School by Muriel Spark and The Day We All Ran Away by Cassandra Parkin.

Next I went to Gay’s the Word, which was super friendly and lovely (and despite the name, good fun for bisexual women as well). Here I bought The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily Danforth, Herland by Charlotte Perkins Gilman and Hood by Emma Donoghue. On Jen’s recommendation, I then went to Skoob, one of London’s top-rated second-hand bookshops (and yes, it took me aaaaages to figure out that “Skoob” is “books” backwards). My purchases here were a little more horror-themed, as I bought The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham and Sliver by Ira Levin. I’m particularly keen to read the latter, as I absolutely loved both Rosemary’s Baby and The Stepford Wives, so I think that will be one for the short-term TBR. Finally, I rounded off my bookshop crawl with the beautiful Persephone Books. It took me a while to choose my books here, as they don’t publish particularly well-known titles so I needed to really read the blurbs and excerpts thoroughly to find out what each book was about. Let’s be honest though, their books are so gorgeous that if I could have bought them all, I would have. For those of you who don’t know, Persephone publish lesser-known titles from primarily 20th century women writers, and my oh my, are their editions wonders to behold. Not only do they feel lovely in your hands, with slightly waxy silver covers, but each one has a unique print on the end papers and a matching bookmark – and because the prints are unique to each book, the bookmarks also feature a blurb for the corresponding book on the back! Anyway, I took some chances with authors I’d never heard of and went with Cheerful Weather for the Wedding by Julia Strachey and Still Missing by Beth Gutcheon.

Thirteen books in little more than a day is my biggest haul ever – and best of all, I managed to get them all back to Edinburgh without any problems!

london books

General shopping

Before heading out to Highgate on Thursday, I spent a couple of hours mooching around Camden, where I got a couple of t-shirts as well as a lovely heather and wild berry scented candle from Camden Lock Market, handmade in the north of England. I honestly could have spent a lot of money here, as it’s possibly the best market I’ve ever been to. Forget the eponymous-yet-tacky Camden Market that you come to first when you get off the Tube, Camden Lock is where the real treasure lies. I got fantastic service from a lovely couple of women selling handmade Arabian perfume, but alas, I couldn’t part with £18 for 6ml of the scent I liked best…I do feel slightly bad about it now, and I wish I’d bought some, because they put a lot of time and effort into matching different perfumes to my preferences. Maybe next time! Camden Lock is also home to a mind-blowing street food market, so I had a curry box from Sonita’s – Sonita (the stallholder) makes multiple types of healthy curry from her mum’s recipes, and you can mix and match them as you like in a box with salad, rice, Indian yoghurt and pickles for only £6.

I saved the rest of my shopping for Friday, when I went to Covent Garden for the Moomin Shop; you may not know, but putting Moomins on anything is a shortcut to my heart. I treated myself to a pen, a coaster, a pretty metal bookmark and some stickers for my scrapbook. After a few more little London-themed scrapbooking purchases from Paperchase, I walked to Oxford Street to visit the world’s largest Lush and sample some of their exclusive products, and let me just say, their customer service was out of this world. I must have spent at least an hour there as the staff gave me so many personal recommendations and sample treatments. I was particularly touched by one sales assistant, Lara, who was so moved by the fact that I lead music workshops with autistic children that she gave me a free bubbleroon as a random act of kindness! I don’t think I’ll ever forget her utter loveliness.

bubbleroon

Other fun London adventures

My final activity before catching the bus back to Stansted was to go for a walk to take in all of London’s classic landmarks. Although I’ve seen Buckingham Palace before, I figured it was a good starting point so sat on the steps of the Victoria Memorial to enjoy some yummy vegetable gyoza soup from a local Japanese café (surprsingly filling for only £3.50!) before wandering along the outskirts of St James’ Park. It was like something from another era; there were pigeons landing on people’s heads and arms, hundreds of cheeky squirrels running around and eating from your fingertips, geese and pelicans (!) swanning around (see what I did there?) in the pond, and cute, anachronistic cottages perched on the water bank. I’m not exaggerating when I say I was dumbstruck – it was really that beautiful, and I couldn’t believe that such wilderness could exist right in the heart of the city. I then turned around to go down Birdcage Walk so I could get a good look at Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament and the London Eye, all before walking along to Waterloo Station to catch the tube back to Liverpool Street for my bus.

DSC01633


So all in all, I had a pretty damn spiffing time in London. In my head, I had built it up to be a buzzing, grey metropolis (for no discernible reason – maybe because I’m still getting over the sour taste Berlin left in my mouth…), so I was amazed at how picturesque most of it was – give me friendly indie bookshops, culture on every corner, ornate architecture, green spaces and efficient public transport, and you’ve won my heart, basically. My only regret is that I didn’t stay another day or two to take in even more – I really wish I could have seen more theatre and visited more museums, especially the Natural History Museum. However, with fares as low as those offered by Ryanair, budget hostels aplenty, and an Oyster card taking up residence in my purse, I have a feeling that future London adventures are calling…

News · Personal

From me to Ruby, with all the lady love

Last Thursday evening Ruby Tandoh, of GBBO 2014 fame, came out via Twitter, and to be honest, her timing could not have been better. Her revelation prompted a whole load of realisations and feelings within me – mostly positive, but at times, I saw a harsher reality as I had the rainbow-tinted glasses ripped from my eyes.

Because I myself am seeing a girl at the moment. I’m not going to dramatically pause there – it doesn’t seem necessary. I have dated men before, and now I’m dating a girl. I have dated nice people before, and now I’m dating another nice person. Who happens to have a vagina. And that’s what I feel a lot of other people see, rather than the fact that she’s incredible and lovely and I’m happy to have her in my life. We’re even going to Hogwarts (well, Alnwick Castle) together next week, so I guess you could say she’s pretty special. I don’t see why gender should make a difference, because at the end of the day it’s a huge, colourful spectrum and I feel saying “I will only be attracted to this gender” is restrictive; there are so many amazing people out there, and why wouldn’t I want to experience as many as possible? But whatever – in the words of T-Swift, the haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate.

So when I saw Ruby had come out, I was ABSOLUTELY BUZZING. Super awesome lady of similar age and interests (not a euphemism – I do genuinely mean baking) to myself? Check. Coming out around the same time I needed to tell my parents about the special lady in my own life? Check. Presumed straight because overtly “feminine”? Check. Fellow destroyer of patriarchy and its related heterosexism? BIG, GLOSSY CHECK. We even had the following chat and it caused a severe case of the warm fuzzies:

But not everyone was as happy as I was at Ruby’s newfound freedom. Luckily I didn’t stumble across and explicitly homophobic comments, but I was dismayed by the alternative. I saw plenty of news reports with comments such as “I don’t know who this person is, but why does she think we care?” and “Get over yourself – nobody cares whether you like men or women, it should be your private business anyway!”

And in a way, I feel this is almost worse than explicit homophobia, because there’s an underlying sense of unease that’s really difficult to interpret. Do they actual believe it should be private, or is it just thinly veiled code for “EWWW, DON’T MAKE ME THINK ABOUT WHAT YOU WANT TO DO WITH WOMEN!”? At least if the homophobia was explicit, we could say “wow, that’s rude and offensive” and challenge it. With these sorts of comments, however, how exactly are we supposed to respond? Is Ruby supposed to feel ashamed and say “I take back my comments, you don’t need to know about my private life”?

Of course she’s not. One of the reasons Ruby’s coming out, along with every other public figure who has revealed themselves to be part of the LGBT+ community, was so important was that it offered comfort and hope. Innumerable people, myself included, felt inspired to come out as well. It’s so so SO important that there are open, positive role models for LGBT+ people, especially those who feel trapped, unhappy and unable to come out. It saves so many lives and offers that old yet still-true message: “it gets better.”

A similar case arose last night when I happened upon the following video, a “bisexual makeup tutorial” and the epitome of sass:

Now, Amy Geliebter lays down some cold, hard facts about biphobia and bi erasure that for me, as a bi/pan person, caused many “ooooh, snap!” moments when watching this video. But of course, there were the inevitable comments of “great, you like men and women, now shut up and stop going on about it!”

One thing I wonder is whether a man would be silenced in the same way (for me, the whole comment reeks of misogyny and yes, it was a man who wrote it), but that’s a rant for another day. The point is that Amy has EVERY RIGHT to discuss her sexual orientation and identity, because it’s such an incredibly important part of life. She did not make this video for the purpose of saying “hey guys! I’m bi!” but rather because biphobia is such a prominent yet often overlooked problem. Bisexuals are often labelled as “confused”, “greedy” or worst of all, to use a word I loathe, “slutty.”

Perhaps the comment was a classic male knee-jerk reaction of “damn you’re hot – shame you’re more likely to be interested in a woman than my sexist ass.”

If we want to tackle homophobia, biphobia and general censorship of the LGBT+ community (which, yes, I would consider myself a part of), then we NEED to speak out. We need to educate, and it takes more than just a teacher to do so. When will people stop ignoring what we have to say, passing it off as oversharing about our personal lives, and become willing pupils of the world?

So here’s to you, Ruby – thank you for being so utterly fearless.

Personal

Opening up some old baggage

TW: self-harm

Well, it’s been a while since I had a vent about mental health, isn’t it?

On Thursday, I went back to counselling for the first time in two years. It was just an initial consultation, and I’ll still need to wait a few more weeks before being offered a regular slot, but it’s something. As my problems are more deep-rooted and longer-term, they also suggested I look into long-term psychological treatment, such as psychotherapy. I asked my doctor about it and she agreed to make a referral for psychiatric services so that I have the option of psychotherapy on the NHS once I finish short-term counselling. It’s got a long waiting list, but at least it’s a safety net for if I feel like I need something else beyond counselling.

But anyway, that’s not the point of this post.

Having to answer questions in my consultation about triggering factors in why I’ve been so down the past few months prompted me to dwell on issues from my early teenage years, and I realised that I have actually wanted to express what went wrong for quite some time, but have been unable to find an appropriate time and place. So here I am. I’m finally going to be honest with myself and put the words out there, because maybe I’ve been ill for a lot longer than I’ve convinced myself to believe.

Throughout my childhood, I was the “fat kid.” My parents said I’d grow out of it. I didn’t. Aged 11, starting high school and already over a year into puberty (yay for early developers and the poor support system that primary school offers…), I was still chubby. My parents continued to tell me I’d “slim down soon.” It wasn’t until I finally did hit my current size 10, aged 17, that they admitted they just told me that to comfort me and they did actually worry about my weight all along.

And I worried too. I was bullied all my school life; if it weren’t my weight, it was the fact that, in my early years, I was too outspoken in my “black-or-white” moral thinking, and in my later years, I was shy and socially anxious and wore Aldi trainers and discovered eyebrow grooming a couple of years after everyone else. At least my weight felt controllable, if I tried really really hard. I might as well try to match up to my classmates in some way, I thought.

I fell into some seriously worrying eating habits. At the age of 13, I was keeping a food diary and counting the calories every day. I lived off rice cakes and Heinz tomato soup, even when I was in a summer production of Oliver! and rehearsing 10 hours a day, dancing and running around all day; other kids nipped over to the University shop for tubs of Ben and Jerry’s, while I sat in the auditorium with my rice cakes, water and friend’s Nintendo DS. I lost a stone over the two weeks I was in that show and I was so proud. I knew that it was manageable and that I could lose more if I wanted. I can’t remember if it was that summer or the next, but I have vivid memories of spending time at my gran’s house (as I always did) and feeling absolutely sick with panic at the thought of the pizza baguettes, sausage rolls and biscuits she pushed my way. “I’m not that hungry, actually…” I’d lie.

Fast forward a year and a bit later, and another problem presented itself. I was just starting my Standard Grades when I became obsessed with my art teacher. She was everything I aspired to be: sharp-tongued, smart, artistic, thin. She wasn’t popular, but I admired her total refusal to take shit from anyone. I tried to emulate her catty attitude in front of her, hoping she would be impressed by my put-downs and mature attitude towards my peers’ wild behaviour (not a technique I recommend. I lost friends for that one, and it wasn’t even worth it). I longed for her approval, and spent almost all my waking hours thinking about her. Picturing us as friends. Alone together, where she would see me as an equal and not a face in a sea of pupils. I listened to The Art Teacher by Rufus Wainwright on repeat every day, bawling my eyes out as I stared at a blank wall. I had no idea what these feelings were, although I read about limerence and cried at how much it seemed to fit. Was I bisexual? I was so convinced I was, and it tore me up, because falling for your teacher at the age of 14 is not the ideal way to figure that one out. To this day, I’m still not sure – I’ve never really been sexually attracted to a woman, but I’ve had far more of these “squishes” on other women than is probably average.

(I mentioned my feelings to a woman in her 20s I was chatting with on the Holby City forums (because I was cool enough to pay a subscription), who was a lesbian and I thought might understand my confusion. Regrettably she ended up trying to initiate kinky Holby lesbian roleplay with me via text for years to come. Less support, more stalking.)

Anyway, I digress. My teacher announced she was leaving, mere weeks before she actually left. I don’t think I’ve ever been so distraught in my life; it felt like a part of me had died. I locked myself in the toilets for all of break, and some time around then, I self-harmed for the first time (and the last time until 2012). I took a pumice stone to the back of my hand and rubbed the skin away until it bled and flaked. My parents questioned it, and I pretended I’d spilt something on it in Chemistry. I thankfully managed to talk them out of having words with my Chemistry teacher about classroom safety. But then, my disordered eating returned. In one final attempt for her to notice and care for me, I skipped all meals one day, knowing that I might be able to make myself faint in her class, which was the last of the school day. I didn’t quite manage it, but I did manage to be sent outside the classroom with a cup of water and far too many tears. She brought me one of her cereal bars, and I challenged myself to the roll I’d skipped at lunch, but I was hyperventilating too much to be able to chew properly. I did get sympathy (and free food), but now I look back on it, I was just one silly pupil in a line of many. Starving yourself does not make people fall for you, although at the time, I pinned all my hopes and dreams on this flawed strategy.

Funnily enough, once she left, I bounced back surprisingly quickly. I still think about her now – when someone introduces you to those kind of feelings, can you ever really forget? – but in retrospect, it wasn’t as big a deal as I thought it was at the time.

What is a big deal, though, is how I became drawn to these harmful behaviours – friction burns, starving myself, obsessing over my body at such a tender age, punishing myself for taking things too seriously. Nobody ever knew. I’ve never told anyone really until now (and to be honest, I’m bricking it about pressing “publish”). I’m fairly sure I had EDNOS, even if it wasn’t diagnosed, and judging by the empty feeling I lived with for months and the self-harm, perhaps that was even the start of my depression, giving me a brief taster of things to come once life got a whole lot tougher and I got a whole lot weaker.

I wonder if and how it has impacted me now, years later? And if so…why have I never acknowledged its importance before?

Beauty · Personal

They put a needle through my nose!

After approximately ten years of going “oooh, they’re so pretty, I want one some day!”, “some day” finally arrived and I got my nose pierced!

noseI’d been mulling it over for a few days, and had researched the best piercing studios in the area as well as all the usual care instructions, “how painful is it” etc., so I guess you could say I was quite well-prepared. I was so sure I would chicken out but I went through with it – I had my heart set on getting it done today, and once I forced myself into walking to the studios, I found I couldn’t turn around so just bit the bullet and went in.

One of the things I made sure to do was to make sure I had some sugar in my system before getting pierced. One of my friends fainted when she got her nose pierced, and I was determined not to let it happen to me, so I went in there armed with Lucozade and a Twix. I was really really REALLY nervous and shakey, but having something to eat and drink while I waited for the studio to be set up actually made me feel a lot better.

My piercer, Sarah, was super lovely and put me right at ease. The last time I got pierced I was ten, and it was my ears done in Claire’s with a gun (a standard female childhood memory for many), so understandably I had no idea what I was about to get myself into! Sarah was so calm and friendly though, and clearly talked me through the procedure for my own peace of mind. I would definitely go back to her for any future holes (which could well happen, as I fancy a few more on my ears)!

And then came the scary part…Sarah told me to relax back and close my eyes while she put a metal tube inside my nose to catch the needle once it went through. I thought she was just doing that bit; turned out I was wrong, because a second later I felt a stingy pinching sensation. I’d read a lot of people’s reports saying that it was totally painless, so I’d been trying to comfort myself by saying “it won’t hurt! It won’t hurt!”…and well, it did hurt. Only a little bit though. Maybe a 4.5 on a 1-10 pain scale. It was more painful than I remember my ears being (they’d probably be a 2), but it was definitely bearable and the adrenalin rush afterwards, knowing that I’d been brave enough to finally go through with it, was absolutely amazing. It does still feel quite bruised, but that’s to be expected as swelling is completely normal.

So not only do I now have a lovely, lovely nose stud (complete with crystal!), I also have new-found knowledge that actually, getting pierced isn’t as scary as I had built it up to be. In fact, I might even be converted. Now, what should I get pierced next…?!

(I got my nose pierced at Tribal Body Art, just off Edinburgh’s Royal Mile. Ch-ch-check ’em out!)

Personal

Vignettes of 2014

Hello dear friends! I’m finally back after a looooong unplanned hiatus, and if you’re still keeping up with this then – can I take you out for coffee sometime? Because I admire your commitment and you’re clearly doing better than I am.

As you might have noticed, I’ve completely revamped the ol’ blog (new theme, new name, new URL etc.) in the hope that it will inspire me to actually want to write again. Under its old name and design, my blog was very much mental health-orientated, and while I continue to struggle with these issues and will undoubtedly post about them when I have something insightful to say, I thought it was time for a makeover. I don’t know, maybe it’s that I’m now in my twenties and ready to approach things in a different way. Same old problems, but with added panache, I guess.

Now I know we’re almost a week into 2015 already, but seeing as I’ve been incommunicado since February last year, I thought it was only appropriate that I summarise some of the cool and not-so-cool things I did in 2014. *Draws deep breath* here it goes:

January: had the first and only fun NYE of my life. Got on the BBC. Met up with an old friend for the first time in eight years. Experienced the magic of Haruki Murakami for the first time. Officially began my first serious relationship.
February: properly experienced Valentine’s Day for the first time. Met my now-flatmates.
March: went to stay with afore-mentioned old friend in Dundee. Went to a onesie club night and was one of two people wearing a onesie, the other being my friend. Embraced the shame. Saw West Side Story. Had a disastrous choir audition so in typical Scottish style, ate haggis and drowned my sorrows for the rest of the day. Got elected onto the Music Society committee.
April: went up north to stay in the countryside and meet the boyfriend’s family. Went to a vegan art café in the middle of a forest. Bought shiny red shoes that I still never wear because ouch. Paid the deposit on our lovely little flat.
May: went to my friend’s amazing birthday barbeque. Anything that involves her family making food for me is automatically the highlight of the month and to be honest, my memory fails me for May. Oh, I sang a very brief solo in our chorus concert.
June: went on tour to Belfast. Visited the Giant’s Causeway. Got a job at the festival. Went to the zoo at night. Met Aubrey Plaza.
July: went up north again. Read a lot. Started trying to edit my novel. Gave up on trying to edit my novel. Tried to come off citalopram. Became a messy, horrible person. Went back on citalopram. Saw Boyhood, which had to be my film of the year. Went to an incredible contemporary circus where everyone was beautiful and it “snowed” shaving foam at the end.
August: “did” the festival for the first time. Worked at the International Festival and made the most of the free tickets. Saw lots both there and in the Fringe, from improv to plays to a Zulu ballet with Ladysmith Black Mambazo. Met a busker quite a bit older than me from Covent Garden with amazing dreadlocks, a taste for noodles and blues guitar skills, who invited me to visit him in London some time. Discovered the thrill of asking the barman to “make me something with vodka in it.”
September: worked at some open days and made the easiest £160 of my life. Got into Chamber Choir. Started third year. Went on an amazing scavenger hunt. Volunteered at the student advice centre in Freshers’ Week and loved it so much I decided to go back as a year-long volunteer. Started my Music in the Community placement, doing one session a week with children with learning disabilities. Saw Stephen Fry.
October: saw Nicole Atkins. Sang at some prestigious events and got a free bottle of wine. Went to a party dressed as zombie Beethoven. Discovered peach squash and Malibu is surprisingly nice. Got a Christmas temp job.
November: saw Chvrches. Designed a zine about saving money for “Moneyvember.” Had a mental breakdown and had to sit out half of one of my concerts. Upped citalopram dosage. Tried propanolol. First serious relationship came to its natural conclusion. Hated life. Quit Christmas temp job. Tried to make myself feel better by decorating advice centre’s Christmas tree.
December: felt awful all month. Realised propanolol was doing nothing for me. Got offered diazepam instead. Rejected diazepam. Gran had an accident and went into hospital. Became very familiar with the ceiling above my bed. Went for a really nice Christmas dinner with friends and it made me feel slightly better. Turned twenty. Celebrated by making guacamole.

It’s funny how, reflecting on this now, it seems my year was fine for the most part, but then got pretty bad towards the end. Perhaps it’s because I only choose to remember the good bits from earlier in the year, whereas the bad bits of winter are still fresh in my mind. The memory works in mysterious ways.

And even funnier is how looking back, my year wasn’t defined by the big things, like my relationship, but instead by all the small moments that made me smile: watching Despicable Me in my friend’s bed, making macarons for the first time, reading 56 books throughout the year…I hold out hope for many more.

Health · Miscellaneous · Personal

How I learnt to continue worrying and love the results

Whether or not you suffer from anxiety, I’m sure that almost everyone has experienced that fight-or-flight sensation of an adrenaline rush. It starts as a flurry of butterflies in the stomach, rapidly spreading to your head and infiltrating your thought process. Panic can set in. It’s in that moment you must make a choice which will either further your journey in life or make you miss your connection altogether.

I’m sure every anxiety sufferer will be used to living their life constantly on the edge of this sensation. From a more rational perspective, this nervous response can seem completely unwarranted, but when you’re trapped in the moment, it feels like one wrong move could end the world.

It’s funny how we use the word “suffer” when talking about anxiety. For the most part, that’s what it is. It can absolutely cripple you. But as someone who is on a steady path to recovery, I’ve learnt to embrace my fears and worries. Recovery is beautiful in so many ways, but the best thing about it, I’ve discovered, is that it clears your mind and makes you realise how your thought patterns don’t always reflect reality. Problems that once seemed to consume you can be looked at objectively, assessed, and ideally, overcome. It doesn’t always mean finding solutions, but rather ways of bending the problems to your will. It’s like standing up to your brain. You learn that it’s okay to turn around to that negative committee in your head and say, “hey, you’re not more powerful than I am. I gave you life and one of these days, I will kill you. So, you’d better shape up and do as I say, because I’m coming to get you!”. Embrace this, and it becomes easier to usurp power from the voices and command them, rather than them commanding you.

By playing this game that is recovery, I’ve levelled up and acquired the power of control. It’s a great power to have when defeating the boss. Whenever I feel anxious, and like I’m not good enough, I can now turn the situation on its head and say to myself, “what do I need to do to use this to my advantage?”. When I worry I’m not making enough progress with university work, or in my singing or piano, I thrive on this anxious need to be better and work harder, because I know I am capable of more. When things go wrong, I no longer wallow with my negativity and blame myself. I think, “what do I need to do to make sure I don’t lose out here? What do I need to do to gain experience from the situation?”. In small doses, which I have learnt to control myself, the anxiety of perfectionism can be healthy. I’ve made such great improvements in all areas of my life just by using my anxiety as a weapon with which to fight, rather than a monster from which to flee.

I realise it’s all very well for me to say “this is what I did and it really helped, so you should do it too!”, but in reality, recovery doesn’t work that way. Everyone goes through it at their own pace, and everyone has different coping mechanisms. But this is mine. And I really hope that I can help someone by putting it out there.

You are not your illness. You are your personality, your spirit. You are powerful and with perseverance, you are the master of your own mind. You are you. And in the immortal words of Melissa McCarthy in Bridesmaids, “you’re your problem, but you’re also your solution.”