THE BREAK

I’d always thought Instagram was pretty innocent, as far as social media went.

Whereas Facebook has always been a bit shit and Twitter seems to be where all the angry humans like to hang out, Instagram (when it first started) was a really nice, untouched creative space to simply share photos and like other people’s content.

But now?

It’s not only become a massive time sink but also a source of anxiety for me.

Listen, I have no self-control when it comes to something I enjoy so falling out of love with Instagram is partially my fault. I go steaming in, full pelt and rinse whatever it is for all it’s worth. Such was the case with Instagram and I realised at the start of the year that I’d slowly replaced all the things I loved with scrolling. Instead of reading, I was liking posts. Instead of writing, I was saving outfits to copy. Instead of calling friends, I was sending memes to them. And instead of watching films, I was ogling people’s Instagram stories. I realised I’d probably read about three books and written no more than five blog posts last year because I was spending so much time on Instagram. And by anyone’s standards, that’s not great.

But Instagram hadn’t only been stealing time from me, it had been taking a hit at my sanity, too.

Of course, there was the comparison you get with all social media platforms, but Instagram is on a different level to Facebook. Over on Zuckerberg’s creation, we tend to compare our lifestyles with those that are similar to our own. You might feel a twinge of jealousy that someone managed to go on an extra holiday this year or tried out that restaurant before you did, but with Instagram, it’s so easy to start comparing our lives to completely unattainable ones. Ones where buying a Gucci Soho Disco bag is as affordable as nabbing a New Look pleather clutch in the sale. Or where wintry weekends are spent heading off to Bali as opposed to wandering around Borough Market.

Before, people knew that lifestyles of the rich and the famous were hard to come by, but because we have access to tiny windows into their amazing houses, luxury holidays and walk-in wardrobes on a daily basis, we start mistaking that for the norm and are left feeling dissatisfied with our own, actually pretty great lives. We start wanting for things we don’t need (multicoloured faux fur coats and tartan trousers being a fine example of this for me); we feel fat even though we’re not and nothing is ever good enough.

If you think these feelings sound ridiculous, they’re actually not. They’re a product of the changing face of the platform.

Hear me out.

Instagram’s sole reason for being has changed. It’s no longer about sharing pretty pictures but has instead become more about influence marketing and ads. We’re being sold lifestyles instead of products. Don’t get wrong, I have nothing against it. I work in blogger outreach so understand the benefits of it, I’m just saying: there’s a reason Instagram can make you feel this way and it’s not all in your head.

But it isn’t just distraction or comparison that are the thieves of joy when it comes to social media. It’s the exposure of our own lives that can cause us some anxiety, too.

Although in my right mind I knew the people who followed me over on Insta weren’t fussed if I posted or not and didn’t think much when they were double tapping (or not double tapping) my posts, I’d become so interested in everyone else’s lives I started to believe everyone was really interested in mine, too. Might be embarrassing to admit or make me sound like a dick, but so be it. I’m fairly certain I wasn’t alone in thinking that way.

Anyway, a combination of all the above meant that a week into the new year, I decided Instagram wasn’t making me happy anymore and I quit it for a while. There was no epiphany or moment of realisation, I just decided I didn’t like how it was making me feel and so I logged out. I thought it would take a while for me to feel the benefit and I assumed I’d miss it straight away, but I instead felt an immediate thud of relief that came quickly and all at once.

That’s when I knew I’d done the right thing.

So, if you’re thinking of logging out of Instagram or Facebook or putting down those fashion magazines because they’re not making you feel so good, then do it. You don’t have to set a deadline, just see how it goes. I said I’d log out until the end of January, but it’s been around a week now and I actually don’t miss it one bit. I’ve started to seek inspiration in the everyday as opposed to carefully curated grids filled with half-truths or extreme privilege and I’m reading and writing again. It feels good.

I’d ask you to wish me luck in my endeavours, but the way I’m feeling, I’m not sure I’ll ever log back in again.

Let me know if you’re going #instafree at the moment – would love to hear your thoughts.

THE SCARE

There’s nothing more sobering than facing the prospect of cancer, let me tell you.

Just over two weeks ago, I got home from the gym and called to complain to mum about a painful lump under my armpit. It was sore and red and everyone says cancer doesn’t hurt, so I didn’t worry too much about it. A few days passed and it hadn’t budged, so under the instruction of mum, a friend (thank you, Jessica) and the lovely Lauren, I called my GP. I spoke to a doctor on the phone who booked me in for an appointment later that day.

Cue an immediate onslaught of anxious thoughts arising from her urgency.

I turn up to the surgery and am seen right away. The doctor takes one look at the lump and decides it’s nothing to worry about, but because of the healthy relationship my family has with cancer, she did a full examination of both boobs. First boob, swift and breezy. She’s talking about work and the weather. The second boob, she stops talking and runs her finger over the same spot, over and over again. At this point, I feel sick. She asks me to put my clothes on and join her at her desk.

She tells me she’s found a lump somewhere else. A pain-free lump. The size of a grain of rice.

She tells me she’s referring me to The Marsden.

A week later and I’m waiting in the Diagnostic and Assessment centre at the hospital, bearded boyfriend in tow. There are women there of all ages. Some with hair, some without. Some sick, some might be, some are back for a second time. It’s all a bit overwhelming, but this story ends well, so I’ll cut to the chase.

I had an examination of both boobs by an amazing doctor. Putting me at ease and chatting the whole way through, she had a good feel and forwarded me upstairs to the ultrasound department for a second opinion. The scan took about 10 minutes and it showed me and the two (equally amazing) doctors in the room there was nothing to worry about. I did learn that I have dense breast tissue (the bit where the milk is made and finally an explanation for my permanently rock hard knockers) which was interesting, but most important of all, I learnt I didn’t have cancer.

For now, anyway.

You might think that sounds dramatic, pessimistic or distasteful, and the elation I felt leaving the hospital was incomparable to anything else I’ve ever felt, but in truth, I walked out knowing I needed to take this experience forward and use it as a catalyst to keep checking myself. I’ve come face to face with cancer – through friends and family – more times than I like to admit to. It’s scary, it’s heartbreaking and if this last year has taught me anything, it’s that cancer waits for no one, but the earlier you catch it, the higher your chance of survival.

Which is the main reason I’m sharing this story.

I used to think I was great at copping a feel, so to speak, but in reality, I didn’t know what I was looking for. I would put off going to the doctors and put everything down to glands, stress or the weather. Until Lauren (of Girl Stole London and now Girl Vs Cancer fame) came along and decided to change the face of breast cancer awareness for good.

Diagnosed with breast cancer last summer, Lauren has spent the last year in treatment, fighting to educate women and protect them from being bitten by the beast that is breast cancer ever since. In fact, the reason I was breast aware enough to check my boobs in the first place, notice the lump and head straight to my GP was heavily down to her and the great work she does, so head over and see what she’s got going on. She can explain how to be breast aware far better than I can. Plus, she’s selling some really quite fabulous t-shirts, so you might want to buy one of those, too.

My scare gave me the fright I needed to take care of myself a little bit better. To check my bits, to live a healthier lifestyle and worship the body I’ve been gifted instead of calling it names every time I looked at it.

So, if you take anything away from this post, let it be this:

Whatever you choose to call them, knockers, tits, mammaries or melons, make sure you get to know your boobs. In the bath, shower or standing in front a mirror: look at them, feel them and get to know your normal; knowing your boobs inside out might just save your life one day.

Happy groping, people!

THE BIRTH CONTROL APP (TAKE II)

In a world where it’s nigh on impossible to know which day of the week it is or remember a friend’s birthday without the support of our smartphones, it makes perfect sense to reach for our little pocket computer when it comes to our birth control, too.

As you well know, there are tons of different forms of contraception available on the market. From those you get surgically inserted to others you need to pull out the bedside table just before knocking boots. The benefit of the former, of course, is that you don’t need to remember to do or take anything. However, an IUD or implant isn’t for everyone and you might have opted for the pill, which is where a reminder app might come in handy.

Lady Pill Reminder is a great app if you don’t have time to remember to take your pill. It’ll simply buzz at you when it’s time, you take the tab and you’re protected for another day. Simple. It works with all different types of birth control pills, and you can even enter the number you have in each packet and it’ll buzz when you’re about to run out. It’s very easy to use, and you can even change the icon to something discreet if you’re of a particularly private disposition – although remember, ladies: protecting yourself ain’t nothin’ to be ashamed of.

If you happen to take other medications in addition to your pill, it’s going to be even harder to remember when and what to take each day. MyTherapy (iOS/Android) is a little more comprehensive and can help with that. Its database has pretty much every medication under the sun, so if you have a more complicated pill-popping regime than others, it can be a real life-saver. It tracks activities and symptoms too, which you can bundle together in a report to keep for yourself or show to your doctor if something isn’t sitting quite right.

Of course, birth control isn’t everyone’s bag these days, with some trying to get pregnant (eek! When did this happen?!) which is where Natural Cycles can be useful. It’s an app that uses your temperature to determine the days you are and aren’t fertile so you know when the best time to hop into bed is. I wouldn’t rate it as a method of birth control on its own, as it seems a tad risky, something I spoke about a few weeks ago, but of course, that’s up to you.

Choosing the right contraception is a very personal decision and can take years to find one to suit your body and lifestyle. If you do decide the pill is the method for you, though, why not allow technology to take care of the remembering, so you can focus on all the other, more exciting aspects of your life instead? Such as where your next margarita is going to come from?

Birth control doesn’t have to be a pain in the butt. You just have to do your research and figure out what works best for you.

This is a contributed post