THE NEW YEAR

large (19)I feel like I have learnt more about myself in the past year than I have in the last 26 put together.

I started 2015 on what can only be described as the lowest I have ever been. I had no job, my relationship was hanging on by less than a thread and I was suffering quite severely with anxiety and low self esteem. I looked to the year ahead and couldn’t see past March to be honest. I felt as though everything I knew about myself was wrong, I didn’t know where I was going to be by the following January and, when things were really bad, I didn’t care.

But here I am. With a job I don’t love but I need, not for the money but peace of mind, a relationship that I wouldn’t trade for anything and a healthier outlook on the future.

Cliché or not, I genuinely can’t believe how much can change in a year.

Back in January, those closest to me kept saying that time was a healer and that things would change. They would remind me that nothing is permanent and that I wouldn’t feel this way forever. As you can imagine, I didn’t believe a single word of what they said. Instead, I chose to just bury my head in the sand and carry on with things by ignoring the stuff that was bothering me. This, of course, only made things worse. Until I decided to hit the reset button, chill the f out for a bit and start again.

And then just like that – or rather, six, quite long, quite difficult months later – on an ordinary day in December as I walked home from work, I realised that I didn’t feel sad, anxious, hurt or disappointed anymore. In fact, without knowing, I had grown in confidence, I was happier, more optimistic and driven than ever, but I didn’t feel these things outwardly, overwhelmingly or life-changeingly. I felt them in the most beautiful way possible: I simply felt okay again. And that’s exactly what I wanted to achieve when I hit the reset button back in July. I just wanted to feel like I was in control again and – finally – I do.

So, although I have friends who are joining me on a high of happiness at the close of the year – from engagements and career moves to pregnancies and new relationships – I also have those around me who have recently lost loved ones, who are caring for those who might not be with us for much longer and those who are nursing not broken, but completely shattered, hearts. And it is to those people who I am dedicating this New Year’s post to. Because I was you this time last year, waiting for midnight, hoping for a fairy godmother to appear and wash all of my troubles away with her magic wand. So, although you know as well as I did that she’s never going to come, I am here to remind you that, over the next few months, your luck will change, that there is still time to fix whatever it is that is broken and that by this time next year you will look back and almost be grateful for what you’ve just endured. It will take a few months of cutting yourself some slack, a dash of hard work and a whole lot of me time, but I promise, you will get there.

So, whether you’re excited, apprehensive or nervous about the coming year, be sure to surround yourself with the people you love tonight and give thanks for the things you do have, because that’s really the only thing that matters in this life.

See you in 2016 for another adventure.

Happy New Year.

THE SUNDAY ROUNDUP – 2015

large (20)I started The Sunday Papers a few months ago when I decided that I wanted to share my favourite articles of the week with you. The idea was to get people reading, generate discussions around important topical issues and discover some great online magazines along the way. However, when I sat down to write my final Sunday Papers post of the year, I decided that – instead of sharing my media highlights of the week with you – I would share my personal “life highlights” from the last 365 days.

I am a great believer in gratitude, optimism and glass half-fullness, so I’d like to share these moments with you in a bid to celebrate the goodness of 2015 rather than dwelling on the negative that sometimes seems to surround us.

So here goes.

Falling in Love with my Blog Again

Back in March, restless before my 26th birthday and impending nose-dive into my late twenties, I decided to invest in a new web layout. Although I will soon be able to do this myself, web design was out of my reach at the time and I chose to use Pipdig who were an absolute dream to work with. I was so happy with the design and ease of application and would recommend them to anyone looking for a change. The fact that I am still loving the layout after 9 months is testament to how pleased I am with the result. Best investment of the year.

One Room. All of my Favourites.

After a bit of a tumultuous few months, I decided to have a low maintenance birthday this year and invited all of my best ones to my boyfriend’s flat for drinks and a jaunt into Tooting. The best birthdays are the ones spent with food, drink and good people. Nailed it.

Watching Florence + The Machine at Glastonbury

By far my favourite moment of 2015. I’ve seen her perform before and since Glastonbury and I’ve never felt the way I did when watching her on the Pyramid Stage that night. Magical.

10 Year Reunion and the Realisation that Life is Good

My school reunion made me realise that things rarely change between good friends. After nervously teetering in stilettos, arm in arm with the same friends I’ve had since my school days, I had an epic evening catching up with the women of my past and celebrating our achievements. From engagements and travel to babies and career moves, we had all moved on but still shared the same (hilarious and sometimes shocking) memories that shaped us and even managed to find time to sing a rendition of Whitney Houston’s The Greatest Love of All – a song close to my year group’s hearts – one last time. Ten years on, we were all still a long way from where we had predicted we’d be in our year books, but it was still reassuring to know that everyone was doing okay after all these years.

An all-girls BBQ in Beckenham and the night of a thousand Old Fashions

On the hottest day of the year, a friend of mine threw a birthday party in her back garden, which just so happens to be the size of a football pitch, with her parents, who just so happen to be some of the best around. A few Hungarian shots, home grown food and potent wine later, we hung out in the evening breeze, arguing over whether to have Kisstory or Magic on the radio and trying to make sure Helen (the birthday girl) was still standing (she wasn’t). That day spent in her garden was the most carefree I had been in a while and, just to add to it (because Summer evenings have a knack for surprising you) a friend and I ended up crashing a boy’s night out in Brixton and discovered a secret bar where we drank Old Fashioneds and talked until the early hours. For some reason this ordinary day became one of my highlights of the year.

The 4th of September 2015

Just a very good day indeed.

An Engagement to Remember

Finally, and most importantly, one of my oldest friends got engaged just before Christmas. IN NEW YORK. I cried, I screamed, I did all of the things that I thought I would do if I were to get engaged. I had no idea that someone else’s joy could bring me so much happiness, but it turns out it can. When you’ve grown up beside someone and shared their boy history along the way, seeing them so happy with someone you adore as much as them? Priceless. And the perfect end to 2015.

So that’s it from me and my year. What were your highlights of the last 365 days? Be sure to write them down and be thankful for them. Who knows what the next twelve months might bring…

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THE JOB CENTRE

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I know how hard it is to land your dream job straight out of university.

In fact, it’s near on impossible.

I worked bars, retail, and mundane temp jobs after graduating, heck I even proof read market research reports for a living at one stage. I struggled with knowing what I wanted to do, why it was mandatory for people to get up before 7am, why grown ups behaved so bizarrely at office parties and why people insisted on bringing their own mugs into the office. But I also interned at magazines, publishing houses and kept my blog alive.

The working world wasn’t all it had been cracked up to be, but I made it work. With no direction.

All I ever wanted – pre and post graduation – was for someone to write down a list of jobs for me to choose from, let me pick one and then usher me into said industry. But it wasn’t that easy, of course. First of all, I hadn’t considered my future a priority between the hours of Monday Mosaic and Thursday Arena, which meant I had no work experience under my belt. Secondly, I knew I wanted to write and there’s no clear route into that. And thirdly, I had no real guidance or practical advice to follow.

It’s very easy for people to tell you to ‘pursue your dreams!’ and to ‘do something you love!’ but unless that thing is saving lives, putting out fires or sorting out accounts, there no clear cut path for you. You have to forge it yourself. And I ended up doing what many creatives do when they aren’t sure what else to do and led myself down the garden path into teaching. Don’t get me wrong, some days I loved it, but mostly I felt like I was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Admittedly, I learnt lots, but I could’ve learnt a heck of a lot more completing a writing course or looking into doing an MA.

However.

Learning the hard way not to let yourself get washed away with the tide has led me here. To this campaign. To help others to think about what it is they want to do. And then expose them to one person’s way of getting there. Because they might have some tips for you, they might inspire you, or you might just want an insight into the working world. Or a different industry. Whatever the reason, I hope it’s helpful.

Throughout September, I will be introducing you to lots of women who are doing their thing. And doing it well. Be it journalism, finance, marketing or surveying for a living, I’ve got it covered. These aren’t women who were handed their jobs to them on a silver spoon, but women who actually worked hard to get to where they are today. And I have a lot of time for that.

So listen to them. Ask them questions. Start a conversation. Network, even.

Being an adult isn’t easy, so let’s help each other.

Welcome to The Job Centre. The first post will be up tomorrow.

THE DIARY OF A TEENAGE GIRL

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Completely unnerving and overwhelmingly awkward is how I would describe it, which pretty much sums up my teenage years, so I guess they’ve nailed it with this one.

When you’re faced with a title like this, you’re likely to assume that it’ll be filled with ungainly, first-time sexual encounters, one too many references made to ‘puberty’ and a bucket-load of angst. Although you would, in fact, be correct in assuming this, I can assure you that this film is actually so much worse than that.

Having not seen the trailer, the plot line was a little unexpected, if not a little shocking. But it was also really great. And confusing. Because it was sort of funny in an ‘I definitely shouldn’t be laughing at this’ sort of way, but I definitely laughed out loud a lot. As did my two companions. 

Kristen Wiig is amazing, as always, and it’s great to see her taking on a more serious role. Bel Powley, who takes on the role of protagonist Minnie, plays the part of a teenage girl in a way that no man ever could, which sounds completely ridiculous and nonsensical, but if you’re a woman, you’ll know what I mean. And as for Alexander Skarsgard, he couldn’t have been any less attractive in it if he tried. You’ll see why when you watch it.

In short, I loved it. But at a BBQ on our recent ‘am I in Spain or am I in South London?’ scorcher of a Saturday, a friend drew my attention to something I don’t love: the fact that the film has been rated as an 18. How can a film that is centred around our awkward teenage years be accessible only to the adults who have already survived them? The truth is, I don’t know, but apparently Powley is campaigning – or at least was campaigning – to have the rating lowered so that actual teenagers could watch it and feel a little less weird about their obsession with sex, not having sex and feeling older than their years. Yes, the film touches on what it’s like to have not grown into your face yet, but it also addresses some heavier issues from teenagehood. And that’s important.

Despite my minor gripe with the certification of the movie, I would still recommend that you take your girlfriends, along with a large bag of popcorn to go and see it. You’ll squirm from the comfort of your cushioned seat throughout whilst laughing uncontrollably, hoping that the people behind you aren’t judging. It’s a rollercoaster of emotions but well worth the ride.

I must warn you, however: do not, under any circumstances, take a parent. Or someone you wouldn’t want to watch a sex scene with, such as your nan. Or a work colleague.

No, seriously, trust me on that last one.

THE LESSONS

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I’m 26.

And, after discounting the days where I was busy working out how to walk, talk and eat and tactfully side stepping the years where my main concern was whether I was a saddo for using pads instead of tampons, I’ve got roughly around ten years’ worth of semi-useful, sort of adult experience under my belt that I’d like to share with you. You know, just in case you thought you were alone in this epic tragedy that they call our twenties, or in case you are 16 and curious about how to deal with the impending car crash of emotions, celebrations and failures that are to follow as you enter your adult life.

Here goes:

  1. You have freckles. SPF is literally saving your life. Slather it on like butter to a crumpet.
  2. You will spend quite a few days in bed, alone, watching TV on demand. Ignore anyone who says these days are wasted. They are but precious moments with the most important person in your life. And the residents of Litchfield penitentiary.
  3. You will really unexpectedly fail or really irrationally quit something. Only worry about the latter. Failing is fine; quitting is not.
  4. You will cut your hair short, trying to prove a point. The only point you will make is that you were wrong.
  5. You will lose friends. You will make new ones. Both are a good thing.
  6. You will be forced into taking an interest in politics due to a really shit PM being elected. It’ll be worth it. You will vote and actually understand your choices.
  7. It’s fine to wear jeans every time you go out. The same goes for wearing black. Accessories are your best friend.
  8. Men will rarely love an outfit you do. Wear it anyway.
  9. Your heart will get broken.
  10. You will get over it.
  11. It might take a while.
  12. Take advice from your mum. She had a life before you, you know.
  13. Yoga isn’t for skinny, chai drinking, twats. Stretching will sort your life-long back issues out. Put on a pair of leggings and suck it up.
  14. Spend less time worrying about irrational things. Gravity will not all of a sudden cease to exist and you will not disappear into a black hole. Also, stop watching programmes about space.
  15. Keep some opinions to yourself. Even if you feel like you should be honest all the time, take the time to taste your words before you spit them out. Not everyone needs your thoughts on everything.
  16. Never give an opinion on someone else’s relationship. Only listen.
  17. Tell people if you think they are hot/talented/interesting. Unless they’re Taylor Swift. She already knows.
  18. Hard work always pays off. As does asking for something you know you won’t be offered.
  19. Never arrange something for 9 o’clock on a Sunday morning. You will be hungover and your mate will, no doubt, be hungover too. It will inevitably lead to overeating, self-loathing and no future friend plans.
  20. Don’t be afraid to go into McDonald’s alone and order a large meal after a night out. That, dear friend, is practical independence.
  21. Learn to love your freckles. They aren’t going anywhere- and they’re actually not that bad.
  22. Make your frikkin’ bed in the morning.
  23. Don’t forgive your guy mates for being dicks to girls. Don’t ignore it when your girl mates treat men like shit. There’s no explanation for where your moral compass disappears to at times like these but be sure to give your friends a kick to the shins when they deserve it too.
  24. If you get turned down for a job, it’s not that you weren’t good enough. You just weren’t a good enough fit.
  25. You wear fake tan. Don’t buy white bed sheets.
  26. Men, although it might not seem it sometimes, have hearts too. Be careful with them.
  27. You will go on some really, really bad dates. That’s okay. They’re there to make sure you notice the good ones.
  28. Don’t not go in the pool because people will see you in a bikini. Literally no one is looking. They’re too busy worrying about which filter to use on their ‘Good Monday at the office?’ shot.
  29. You will look back on your zero-responsibility retail jobs with fond memories. Don’t. It was hell.
  30. Be a writer. Stop making excuses and take the risk. You’re just wasting time and money pretending you want to be, or do, anything else.
  31. You’re allergic to cats. Stop touching them.
  32. Don’t do shots. You know why.
  33. You will think you have been in love and then you will fall in love and realise you hadn’t been in love until then.
  34. Continue to forget to take photos on fun nights out and day trips away. It means you’re having too much of an interesting time and that is only a good thing.
  35. Realise that you actually don’t know anything and that you’ve got at least another 34 years’ worth of lessons to learn. Brace yourself. The next chapter is a big one.

THE SHOCK OF THE FALL

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I first heard of The Shock of the Fall at university. I only got round to reading it last week. And by Jove, it’s good.

A decent way into the book, I was convinced that it wasn’t for me. However, when a handsome chap on the tube asked what I thought of it, I felt like I had to smile and say, “Amazing, yeah”, mainly because of his eyes. But also because everyone had raved about it so much. But yeah, mainly because of his eyes.

So as I continued to wade through conversation after conversation about how great it was, inside I felt confused about why I hadn’t clicked with Matt – the ultimate untrustworthy narrator – and why I was decidedly unbothered about where his journey would take him.

Until about three chapters from the end, where everything clicked for me. I can’t say why it did, but I urge you to read it and find out.

It might not sit comfortably with you at first (because, why should it? it’s a story about mental illness and we’re still not over that taboo just yet) but hold out until it does and it will be worth it. Even for this quote alone:

“‘Really Matt. You’re your own worst enemy.’

That’s a strange thing to say to someone with a serious mental disease. Of course I’m my own worst enemy. That’s the whole problem.”

It’s very difficult for someone who has never suffered from mental illness to really get it. But think of it like this: as humans, we are used to fending off attackers and fighting to survive; it’s in our nature. But what happens when you are fighting with yourself? Not like cancer, where we can zap the bad stuff out and people can see what’s up. But when what you are fighting is inside your head where nobody except you can see it or hear it? I won’t insult those who do suffer by saying that I get it. Because I don’t. But what I will say is that it scares me and I would like to do all I can to at least try to understand it.

Set in Bristol, The Shock of the Fall is a story of guilt, loss and, most importantly, mental illness. Not only does Filer do what Haddon does in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time and create a voice for a voice in a head, but he sheds light on the reality of the struggles of someone suffering on a daily basis – from the very real effects of NHS cuts to mistaking a helping hand for something else entirely – a refreshing perspective and far cry from straight jackets and asylums.

Matt’s journey takes us from the point of trauma and ends somewhere between acceptance, freedom and succumbing.

By the final few pages I was sobbing and smiling. And I don’t cry.

Let me know what you think of it. I think it’s great.

THE FALL OUT

large (1)I’ve got a lot of hair.

It’s what people comment on the most about me. (Aside from my ability to eat more than most giants, of course).

It can never make its mind up whether it’s red or brown and is unsure if it wants to be curly or straight. But one thing it is sure of, is that it is falling out.

Yep, that’s right. I have alopecia. You wouldn’t think it though.

Luckily for me, I have an abundance of the stuff sprouting from my scalp so it’s really tricky to notice, but if you ask me nicely, I’ll show you that my hair is, in fact, evacuating my head piece. One bald patch at a time.

We had a falling out you see, me and my hair. It didn’t like how stressed out I was this time last year so, much like a stroppy teenager, it decided to kickback and run away from home. I think it was nature’s way of telling me to slow the f*** down and chill for five minutes, I just wish it had been a little more subtle about it.

Alopecia is one of those things, you see, that we don’t know much about. Great for specialists when I walk into their office, as they get to experiment with its hapless behaviour first hand; not so great for me as it’s far from easily treated and the life expectancy of my beloved follicles remains uncertain. The truth is, I may lose all of my hair, or best case scenario, I might not. That’s the thing with alopecia: it’s fairly untreatable and pretty goddam unpredictable.

Despite this, I remain defiant. My hair is my thing. We all have that one feature that we hide behind; be it a full face of make up, or a fantastic pair of knockers, and mine is my lid. I lose that and, much like old Samson, I lose everything. So topical steroids are my new best friend, head bands are my safety net and hairdressers are now my enemy. I’ve tried caffeine shampoos, Vitamins Q, R and S and have even considered implants. Thankfully, my hard work is paying off.

You probably think I sound surprisingly okay about the whole thing considering the fact that I might end up bald. For the record: I’m not. But at the moment it’s under control and I’m bald patch free, which is all I can ask for at this point in time- until life gets a little too stressful again and my body decides to tell me so.

The way I stay positive about having this condition is by remaining grateful that I’m losing my hair simply because I’m stressed out and not because I’m being treated for something more serious.

Look after yourself and listen to your body when it’s speaking to you. It actually has quite a lot to say.