THE COLLEAGUE

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People often talk about how important their friends are.

We so frequently recall fond memories of those we have known since university or school and we praise our families for being wonderful- and don’t get me wrong, these people are the people I turn to first. I do feel, however, that we need to give our work colleagues a little more credit for the crucial part that they play in our everyday lives.

Hear me out.

I get that your boyfriend/girlfriend/lover has to endure a run down of the last eight hours at the end of a long, hard day. I know that your girlfriends are the ones nursing your broken heart when things don’t quite work out as planned. Your mum and dad will no doubt be the ones to get you through a really rough patch, it was your grandparent’s job to spoil you rotten and your brother or sister are there to let you know that you’ve put on a bit of weight when no one else will. But the people you work with? They’re the ones who see you everyday, come rain or shine. On a good side of the bed day or on a bad side of the bed day. There’s no respite for those you share a desk with and they have to look at your face for at least six hours a day, whether they (or you) like it or not and this is why I feel it’s high time we celebrate these people we find ourselves spending most of our time with.

Don’t get me wrong, I know that a good work colleague is hard to come by. In fact, starting a new job is a bit like an arranged marriage: you just don’t know what you’re going to get, but what I can say, with some certainty, is that knowing that I can have snippets of great conversation and a laugh at some point between the hours of 9am and 5pm is what makes me stop hitting snooze on my alarm each day. Aside from loving what I do, of course.

More to the point though, post-education, where else do you get the chance to meet and make life-long friends anymore? As a twenty-something, you can’t just approach people in bars and ask them to hang out with you as a mate. Nor do apps intended for this purpose ever really work. Friendship groups are set in stone by 27 and work is the only place you get to meet anyone new. Yet another reason why work colleagues are the bomb.

This positive outlook on desk mates, however, isn’t always agreed upon. In fact, I’ve heard tales-a-plenty about torturous co-workers in the last few days and I recently listened to a podcast by The Pool where someone had written in to ask for advice on how to handle their god-awful neighbouring teammate who chewed really loudly at their desk and sighed a lot. First of all: really dude? personal space, please. Secondly, it made me realise how lucky I have been. Although I’ve had some awkward romantic encounters and have faced both healthy disagreements and a couple of disappointments throughout my working life, I have always managed to find people I click with within my team, company or school and it is those humans who I would like to celebrate today. The ones who put up with my incessant need to talk things through, the ones who help curb my habit of writing endless lists and those who spend hours after work chatting, just because.

So, colleagues of the world: although we might have to make small talk with one another on impromptu tube rides home, spend lunch times working next to each other instead of eating across from one another and we may get a little inappropriate at after work drinks, you are what makes the 9-5 bearable, so let’s be grateful for that.

Tomorrow, take the time to offer a colleague a cup of tea or fetch them a diet coke from the shop. If you have a bit of spare time, offer them a helping hand with something they’re working on, or just get blind drunk on prosecco after hours for no reason at all.

You never know, once you get to talking to people, you might go from being colleagues to life-long friends.

Lord knows, stranger things have happened.

THE SUNDAY PAPERS

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As my month of love continues to grow, I thought I would stick to all things relationships and sex for this week’s Sunday Papers post. Here’s my round up of romance from the last 7 days.

Sex Myths Decoded

Single and Proud

Going the Distance

Dating at 30

Sober

For When Cupid Doesn’t Strike

A Love Story

Bag a Bargain

Addicted to Love

Ridin’ Solo

Couples Living With Couples

When Divorce is a Good Thing

Women Enjoy It Too

I can’t get no…

Have a great week.

THE BEST FRIEND’S BOYFRIEND

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No, I haven’t done the unthinkable.

I am simply here to celebrate how wonderful it is when your friend falls in love with someone that you do too. It’s like a sigh of relief you didn’t know you needed to take. A realisation that you can relax now; they’re being taken care of.

To be quite frank, the men who have chosen to be in the lives of my six besties are super human. They must be for having to put up with not understanding a single joke from our school days and still making the effort to laugh at every single one. Not to mention tolerating the squeals, tears, tantrums and mini (and also incredibly rare) fall outs we have.

But despite the list of reasons to love them, you don’t realise quite how much you appreciate your best friend’s boyfriend until they bundle you all into an Uber after a night out. Until they’re giving you life advice at 3am in the corner of the BBC Introducing Tent. Until they offer you pizza on a hungover Sunday after letting you sleep in their bed whilst they snooze upstairs with their housemate. When they cope for 5 days in a tent with 6 of you girls with no other boy company in sight. When they put you on their shoulders at a gig even though you probably weigh more than they do. When they nurse your mate when she’s definitely over the limit. When they invite you to their birthday without knowing you because they know it’ll make her feel better. And when they write you a blog post when you’re short on Tory opinions.

Of course, in the past, I haven’t taken a shining to all of their choices. There was the guy who cheated on one of them in front of me- I mean come on, I am standing RIGHT HERE. Then there was the one who didn’t only want one, but two girlfriends at the same time- I have to admit that (although an absolute creature feature) his ability to multi task was tremendous. Then there was the one who dumped her on her birthday. And the one who just stopped texting. And then there are the collective of those who were just a bit odd, a bit not right for them and the ones who used their hands a bit too much. Then of course there are the ones we all loved and are rather sad to see the back of. But such is life, let’s not dwell on it too much.

Your best friend’s boyfriends are an exclusive group of men who you can hang out with without the fear of them staring at your chest, giving you skewed advice or any of the other things single men do that are annoying. They are the friends you never knew you had. Or even wanted.

I might be tempting fate here by singing their praises – they could easily, of course, turn out to be five little beasties – but all I know is that right now I have a beautiful extension of my friends in the loveliest way possible, in the form of beards, great music taste and a whole lot of patience.

Never underestimate the value of your best friend’s boyfriend because, when it comes to her fleeing the friendship nest and diving into proper adulthood (i.e. marriage, mortgages and babies), you’re going to hope he’s a good’un.

Be thankful for the great men in your life. And more importantly, your friend’s lives.

BRIGHTON MARATHON 2015

My friend Imani is insane. She is insane because she ran 26 miles today. My friend Imani is also amazing. She is amazing because she ran 26 miles today.

Luckily for me, Brighton is a simple train ride away. Or so I thought. Meeting Jess, who almost didn’t make it due to unforeseen hungover circumstances and a desperate need for chicken nuggets, made for a somewhat flustered start to the day. But once we arrived in Brighton, found a good spot and ran alongside our bestie, we soon forgot about the drama of the morning.

Spending the day in this seaside town is always a pleasure. And although she didn’t get any chips and had to side step her way home after the race, I think even Imani would agree that it was the perfect way to spend a sunny Sunday.

Here’s what we got up to…

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A gazillion energy drinks and some almost-tears later, Imani completed the race in just over 5 hrs. Proud doesn’t even cut it.

Apparently it’s mind over matter, running the marathon, but I’m not so sure I could do it.

Could you?

A FOR ANXIETY – A GUEST POST

largeLast October, I fell in love. With a woman. The relationship lasted six hours long and was entirely sexless. However, the lasting effect it had on me was far from forsaken or frustrated. It did what all good relationships do- it taught me about who I am. More specifically, it created a safe and supportive environment for me to learn more about my mental health.

In my mid-teens I experienced bouts of clinical depression that have left me with the delightful legacy of an anxiety disorder. This disorder has been the bane of my admittedly sheltered life.

The woman I fell in love with was my NHS appointed psychologist and I hold her solely responsible for my calmer, braver and ultimately happier 2.0 self. My therapist tryst turned my angst-ridden stress story into a real life rom-com, if you will.

A lot is made in the press of the need to remove the stigma from mental health problems and the 1 in 4 of us in Britain who are affected by one over the course of the year. Undoubtedly, as with countless other issues, understanding how crucial it is for society to ditch discrimination is key to progression. But I have an alternate message.

What many people don’t realise is that mental health disorders can have a detrimental effect on surprising aspects of a sufferer’s life, such as their capacity to complete routine tasks or even sit still for 15 minutes. Personally, I knew it was time to check myself in for a mental once-over when I became so riddled with paranoia, self-doubt and a futile habit of taking every circumstance to worst-case scenario in my head, that I could not sleep. I couldn’t actually do anything. I couldn’t work (leading to relentless aspersions about my laziness), I couldn’t relax (even when plied with my favourite gin), and I couldn’t keep on top of my bills (the council get seriously ratty when you don’t pay tax on time). I also could not stem the bizarre Virginia Woolf style stream of overwrought consciousness my friends were becoming so frequently privy to. I was frenzied and unfocused. It had to stop.

All it took was talking to someone. A professional who could give me some perspective and clear a path toward self-acceptance. An entire specialised gardening and landscaping unit, armed to the teeth with pruning shears and when occasion called for it, chainsaws, was dispatched for that task. No mean feat.

My own issues aside, over the past couple of years I have seen several friends suppress symptoms and signs of an underlying mental health issue. These range from short attention span and lethargy to finding escapism in drink or drugs. As with physical symptoms, left untreated, these only lead to something worse. On the other side, in more extreme circumstances, I’ve witnessed the consequences of not taking prescribed medications for a diagnosed case of bipolar disorder in a bid to be ‘normal’- not for the faint hearted. This is where acceptance must come in. Acceptance coupled with awareness.

So what I’m saying is, absolutely try to be less afraid and uneasy of mental health disorders, definitely wade in to rid society of the archaic notion of freakiness it attaches to mental health problems, which subvert the origins of said problems. Because in this way, we are free to be aware of and undaunted by the state of our own – and our loved ones – mental health.

I’m not trying to scaremonger here. I’m not telling you you’re all as mad as a box of frogs but if you notice that someone close to you is not themselves and might be suffering, or if you recognise something in yourself, do something. We owe it to ourselves to check up on our minds as well as those pesky STIs, even if just to get the all clear.

In the meantime, my top tips for sanity balm would be as follows:

1 – Leave that obsession with the social media platform that so torments you to just once a week. No, checking 73 times a day if he has updated his Facebook to ‘in a relationship’ with the girl in all of his photos won’t stop it from happening. Get on with your own stuff. Oh, and if you’re wondering, all those city slickers who are posting photos at pricey watering holes with unlimited champagne and statuses about bonuses? They won’t be able to afford a mortgage before you because they’re spending all that cash on extortionate booze and questionable ties.

2 – Meditate. Sitting in an upright position and clearing your mind, counting 1 as you breathe in and 2 as you breathe out for a whole minute does not make you a tired, old hippy. It keeps you grounded; away from the sheer drop over the ledge into Frantic Panic Valley, a terrible place rife with insomnia and unappealing sweating. Nobody needs that.

3 – Take charge. Remember that everything will be alright in the end. If it’s not alright, it’s not the end. Don’t be afraid of yourself.

And check out Mind.org’s mental health selfies to learn more from real people.

Written by the gorgeous (and ever surprising) Joanna Mackay

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My most recent guest blogger and newest recruit in the quest to understand – and help out – humankind. Find her on Twitter here.

THE FRIENDSHIP GROUP

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At school we were called cliquey, at university we were deemed long-distance lovers and now we’re not sure what people say because it’s just us, without anyone looking, or getting in.

Some might focus on the downside to surrounding myself with the same five women everyday; they might wince at some of the intimate details we’ve shared with each other from the bedroom… or bathroom; they probably think we should get out more and meet new people and some might not give a damn.

Don’t get me wrong, we have our own friends, a few of us have men in our lives and we spend enough time with work colleagues and university pals in our free time, but when the shit hits the fan, or we sky-rocket to success, we know who to dial (or WhatsApp) first.

Although I adore my home town, it can be a scary place when you’re growing up: being robbed is a reality; navigating the tube at eleven years old is the norm; bomb scares at school were a regular occurrence and being turned away from the clubs of Soho at 16 years old was a rite of passage. So, as opposed to growing up in the country, where the biggest threat is the nearest cow, living in the big city since birth means that there is more of an urgency to cement yourself within a group of friends- not only to listen to your tales of woe, but to make sure you make it home in one piece.

I’m lucky. The girls who surround me now are the ones that I have grown up with. From first loves, first times, and first Bacardi Breezers, to graduating, getting engaged and securing the perfect jobs; we’ve been there. These ladies aren’t just around when times get hard, nor are they only cheering you on as you complete your most recent triathlon or to welcome you home from a year-long adventure across the globe; they’re there all the time. When you’ve over-filled yourself on dim sum or when you’ve broken a nail: they’re interested, they’re present, they’re listening.

And that is why friendship is important.

Finding the perfect partner is a wonderful thing, but it’s not the be-all and end-all. I’d be perfectly happy spending my final days with this lot; reminiscing about teenage flings and that night in Mexico that we’ll take to our grave. Sounds like a much better option to me than watching your other half lose his teeth, hair and marbles trying to keep up with your progressive banter.

Although we never go to the bathroom in a bar without a hand to hold and are deemed to be the less independent of the sexes, men need friends too. My bearded buffoon has a group of friends so tight that I think they might one day combust. Secrets never to be divulged and infinitely fall-out-proof, this group of men make my girls look like we don’t even know each other. And that’s pretty cool if you ask me. People with friends are people to rely on and are the types of people you want to have relationships with: their loyalty has been tried and tested, they’re guaranteed to have some great stories and if you’re really, really lucky, their friends will become your friends too.

I know that with most things in life, quantity doesn’t trump quality, and friendship is no exception to this rule; one really good friend is far better than five average ones. But what if you have five epic ones?

I’m starting to think I’ve struck gold… until I remember that they too are flawed.

One tells me off for putting salt on my toast; one farts freely in my presence; one (I’m almost certain) is unsure of what planet she’s on half the time; one insists on getting the night bus home instead of a taxi and one nicks all the male attention on nights out. But for all of their flaws? They’re the most water-tight bunch of women in the world with a collection of the best brains and beautiful faces this planet has ever known. Without them, I’m not sure I’d still be standing.

So here’s to the friendship group; your very own handpicked family- a little shoddy, embarrassing at times, but arguably more important than your best friend or lover.

Two’s company, three’s a crowd, more than that is a fucking adventure.

Cheers to them.

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The Travel – A Guest Post

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Seeing The World: What Better Way To Spend Your Time?

Throughout my teenage years and early twenties, travelling was always something that I felt I probably should do, rather than actually wanted to. Being the painfully OCD freak that I am and so very attached to London’s home comforts, the grim logistics of backpacking oddly never appealed to me. Needless to say, not showering for days on end, scooping dinner out of a tin (if at all), and nursing foreign hair infestations was not on my list of things to do. Regretfully at the ripe old age of 27, I’ll happily say I couldn’t have been more wrong. It’s the best thing I’ve ever chosen to do.

Obviously there were holidays over the years: family trips to Spain, boozy city breaks with mates, South Africa with Seany, jollies with the missus and music festivals, all of which I’m hugely fortunate to have enjoyed and loved. This trip, however, is something else entirely. The places, people and cultures have been so dramatically diverse, heart-meltingly humble and astoundingly helpful, to the extent I often believed these encounters were an elaborate scam or robbery. They never were.

Views so beautiful they have literally taken my breath away, surroundings that no iPhone, digital camera or even SLR can truly capture and I can’t even attempt to describe in words the sheer size and scale of these places. And the beer, let’s not forget the beer; at any time of day and more wallet-friendly than water on most occasions; smashing three course lunches for about £1.50 in Bolivia and frankly inhaling the dirt-cheap steaks and red wine of Argentina, as if someone were about to steal them from under our noses. The people we’ve met along the way have also been (for the most part, I’ll get to that) terrific human beings and I wouldn’t think twice about putting any of them up in the big smoke.

But despite those seemingly endless praises, travelling does carry its darker undertones. So’s not to put you off, I’ll try and keep this brief. Here’s what those Lonely Planet books don’t tell you:

The Comfort Zone

Travelling with my girlfriend has been hugely rewarding both on a personal level and in terms of our relationship. We’re now so close, it’s become common place to discuss the consistency, colour and volume of our shit, after EVERY trip to the toilet. Sometimes it’s even reported through the bathroom door, bellowing with sheer joy and relief that it’s a, ‘SOLID ONE!’, having beaten the diarrhoea roulette. Your partner’s face is also seriously important, you better really, really, like it, for the only time you don’t see it, is when you’re asleep or during those brief milliseconds of respite when you blink.

Tossers

I’ve made a point of mentioning how amazing the people we’ve met are, and on the whole, we’ve been very lucky. Of course, as a law of averages, there are going to be exceptions, or, ‘tossers’, as I like to call them. Company so intolerable, that it makes you think perhaps you’re being punished for something in a past life. Wankers so unfathomably annoying, that I frequently found myself pushing an imaginary sock into their mouths, in the hope of putting a plug into the know-it-all, anti-government, anti-commercialism, anti-job, anti-McDonald’s, anti-fucking-anything to be honest chat. One chap in particular spoke at length to us at how large household brands and corporate companies were destroying the world and killing people, as in actually murdering them for land. The same cock sat there telling us all of this in a pair of Nike tracksuit bottoms, guzzling a can of Coke with his Marlborough Lights, showing us ‘proof’, on his sodding iPHONE. We got some comic mileage out of this knob though, so not all bad.

Dormz

Even after nearly thee months, the concept of this still unnerves me. “Hi eight total strangers, so we’re all just going to sleep in this hotbox of a room together, stacked like free prisoners, pretending like this is all completely normal behaviour?”. It has to be done at times and there’ll be a good few more to come I imagine, but I don’t like it. Not one bit. The sound of incessant snoring, persistent crotch scratching, phlegm-hocking and and bilingual sleep talking will always hold a dear place in my heart. As will the Venezuelan girls puking solidly between 3-4am, then ignoring their 5:30am alarm call for what felt like an eternity, until they were literally shaken to consciousness by my main bitch – she can get scarily Belfast when she needs to. Thankfully we’ve not bore witness (that we know of) to any camel-feeding, sausage-eating, todger-pulling or finger blasting. Yet. We did however come across one harrowing account of a dorm experience, where a charming Aussie girl insisted her new love conquest refrained from, “Spitting in her fanny”, at which point the neighbouring bed occupier had enough and threw them both out. Bravo.

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Having digested all that, I’m sure you’re busy clicking through Sky Scanner web pages with your calculator, and so you should be, it’ll be the best decision you’ll ever make. You won’t remember that car or designer handbag you bought on your deathbed in years to come, instead it’ll be some naked Slovakian boy on the opposite bunk, who in his sleep-induced state decided he was going to sit on the end of his bed and glare into your soul, while you pretend to be engrossed in the latest free download on your Kindle. Good times.

photoWritten by Alex O’Brien, my real life older brother. No we are not twins, yes I am the better looking one.

If you want to keep updated on his escapades, home or away, follow him on twitter here. He’s kind of funny.