The Approaching Apocalypse (part the second)

To recap: everything is terrible.

Everything is terrible, but being miserable about it is only acceptable for so long. I’ve lived through terrible before. It didn’t kill me. In fact, I have had to devise a list of things I can do so that I stay alive and not just a shell of a person moving around.

On the off chance that they might help any of you, here’s what I do when I’m afraid of falling under:

Do nothing
Ironic, no? I stop everything. I stop trying to be everything to everyone and doing everything. I turn off my phone, I reschedule plans, I pause my to do list. I take Some Time For Myself and feel a little bit Oprah for a while.

Comfort food.
This includes anything with cheese and or potatoes. Particularly Mac and Cheese (ideally home made with at least four cheeses), or my personal favourites mashed potatoes with either Philadelphia and baked beans or chopped sundried tomatoes or cheesy mash and baked beans. The key is CARBS and CHEESE. And please do remember that mashed potatoes must be made with butter. Keep your milk and your olive oil away.

I also underline puddings. Not desserts. Those are a bit too fancy. Puddings are for when you are too sad to appreciate a nice fancy pudding. We’re looking for stodge here. Bread & Butter pudding (essentially bread, custard and sultanas baked) but with a possible chocolate upgrade (butter becomes Nutella, custard obviously has melted chocolate as a main component). A good apple crumble where the apples are tart with plenty of brown sugar and the crumble comes from a packet (you’re too sad to be trying to rub butter, flour and sugar together. Plus, that’s grim. Chopping apples is about the most you should be trying to do here).

Ideally we’re staying away from pre-packaged food. Sure, you can have a takeaway, but really the minimal work in this cooking is soothing and undemanding. Also it’s slightly healthy. Or involves fewer unpronounceable chemicals.

Comfort viewing
I have a lot of DVDs. They’re out of their cases and stored in Muji binders. I have a finder of Favourites and a binder of series. When you’re very sad and or your mental health is under threat, you want solid reliable images to fall back on.

My standards are romantic comedies, spy series and feel good films.

Recommended series:
I find Alias to be particularly good. Whatever is going wrong in my life, it can’t be worse than having my boss murder my fiancé, my dead mother to be secretly alive and working for the KGB, working with my estranged father as a double agent and wearing some dodgy wigs. I also enjoy the NCIS franchise where every episode sees a murder solved, disaster averted and some good male role models deliver puns. Gilmore Girls never fails to deliver humour and strong female role models. Mad About You is perfect for a role model marriage and comedy.

Recommended Films:
Is my life terrible? Can’t be worse than Annie’s in Bridesmaids. Do I want to feel supported without having to actually see anyone? I’ll live vicariously through Meg Ryan’s friends in The Women. Do I need to be cheered? Time for Jennifer Garner in any film at all. When I’m particularly under the weather, it’s time for Sabrina with Harrison Ford. I can’t really explain it.

When someone dies, I highly recommend the cooking channels – minimal investment, very little to upset you.

Make a list
I make lists daily, even hourly. I have over a hundred lists on my phone. When I’m particularly stressed I take an A4 page and write down, without categorising, all the things I need to do or remember or get organised. I write everything down, regardless of how major or minor. When I’m sure I have at least 90% of what’s in my head on paper, I then draw a table and categorise the items into

– PEOPLE (to see, to contact)
– CORRESPONDENCE (people to email, to text, to send a package, to call, to facebook, to whatsapp)
– DO
– HOME (everything in the flat that needs done)
– BODY (is my acne out of control? Do I need to sand my goat feet? Could I knit something from my body hair?)
– SHOPPING (everything I need to buy, be it now or in the near future)
– QUICK (something that will take fewer than five minutes to do)

Having an overview of everything I need to actually do gives me some semblance of calm. I can then work through the list as required.

Do something
Sometimes the sheer act of completing a task is enough to buoy my mood. And so I do something practical. Cleaning the bathroom or kitchen sink is very rewarding with immediate visible results. Organise a drawer. Dust something. Batch cook something for the freezer. Clearing things off the list gives me back some control and allows me to feel less unbalanced.

Stream of consciousness
When I’m very very stressed or very very sad, I get my James Joyce on. I’ll get out a pen or a blank page in Word and write or type everything that comes into my head. Usually I start off with sentences beginning with “I feel” and try and work out what I’m feeling and why. Inevitably a list of things I need to do or remember becomes intermingled, but it’s good to get my thoughts out of my head and into black and white. Sometimes I will ask myself questions, like a counsellor would, so I can work through those. If I’m not up to talking to a human person about what’s going on, sometimes talking to myself is enough. If I don’t trust my emotions or don’t have the words, I’m less likely to speak to someone I love. I’m aware that I have Issues With Control and don’t like to be unnecessarily vulnerable in front of people, so I can do it on my own and not worry about how someone else will respond or how I will appear.

Sometimes the sheer act of writing it all out is enough to make me feel better. Sometimes it is enough to give me distance on what’s wrong and I realise how much or how little I can do about the problem.

Talk to someone
Sometimes when I feel most miserable I make myself see a friend or pick up the phone. I have a core group of people (predominantly women) who I can trust to be there for me. I know they’ll not judge me, they’ll listen to me, they’ll advise me, they’ll make me laugh, they’ll tell me just how ridiculous I am being. They are worth their weight in gold, platinum and diamonds and I will be grateful for them my whole life.

Get outside
After my dad was diagnosed with brain cancer, I signed up to the Shine Night Walk Marathon. The training schedule meant I walked through London and wore out many pairs of Everlast sneakers. However even before that, I was one for walking when I needed a break. I’m not especially co-ordinated, I don’t want to commit to a team sport, I have no wish to own specialised kit and I don’t really like sweating. Walking is something I can do in any and all weathers, wherever I am. In all seriousness, walking saved my life. I walked miles and miles, listening to Capital Radio and Radio 4, while my brain simmered away in the background. Being outside in the fresh (London) air, feeling the rain or sun on my face and IN the world makes a difference. You feel in and of the world. You realise what your body can DO and how the ground will always be there and that the river will run without you.

Do something for someone else
Giving back to the community, donating money to a cause in which you believe, helping someone with their shopping, giving someone directions, looking after someone else’s kids for an hour, defrosting someone’s freezer – there is something you can do that will distract you from your problems and thoughts and give you the gift of helping someone. Do that.

Colouring in
Before the adult colouring trend, I was a big advocate for the soothing ritual of colouring in. I liked to draw a wiggly line over an A4 page until the two ends met and then colour in the huge shape with the same pen or pencil. I have a number of colouring in books (geometric shapes and patterns are particularly pleasing to my eye and brain) and two boxes of colouring pencils (Crayola and Staedtler). A sharp sharpener is a must, plus a small plate or try to collect sharpenings.

Have a drink
Obviously not to excess (there’s a time and a place for that. If you are very very sad, that’s not the right time. One “very” is a good level of sad for alcohol), but just a little to lift your mood and help you sleep a little. Yes, I know alcohol is a depressant and won’t help your sleep in the long term, but in the SHORT TERM, it’s great. I suggest a good scotch, a nice fizzy prosecco or a glass of wine.

Alternatively, a large mug of steaming brown rice tea or a deluxe hot chocolate will provide a similar effect. Something soothing and distracting.

Email someone
I am a big fan of correspondence. I like letters and emails and staying in touch in a particularly old-fashioned way. My letters tend to be about what I’m up to and what’s going on with me and asking about the recipient. Sometimes I will write about something that’s happened to me and how it made me feel and then deleted it all after reviewing it. Sometimes I don’t especially want someone to read about what’s wrong. It’s not essential and in deleting it, I remove some of the sting. I like being connected to people and I like asking about their lives. I like that an email or a letter says “I was thinking about you enough to sit for twenty minutes and write things down for your eyes”.

Spa day
Some days this is harder to do, but often really looking after my body helps me. Putting things that smell and feel good on my body, putting on a deep conditioner and shaving my legs, making funny faces in a sheet mask, doing my nails, taking time to make myself look and feel good from top to toe reminds me that my body is miraculous. It works and it carries me through life. It mightn’t be perfect, but it’s perfect for me.

Stay away from social media and the news
There are times when the outside world is too much. Good news doesn’t sell papers, so bad news will always have more airtime. Over the last few months I have only scanned the headlines for a sense of what’s going on, because a deeper exposure has left me feeling very vulnerable and miserable. This weekend I have stayed away from the news entirely. I couldn’t read any more about how people hadn’t realised their Leave vote would actually count, or how the leave campaign won’t actually put in the millions they pledged to the NHS. Reading these things will not make me happier or change the situation. I can’t be on Facebook reading posts from my friends where their racist auntie makes some heart-stopping comment. It makes me want to burn everything with fire and that’s not helpful.

When life is too tough, it’s time to take to bed. Good pajamas, a cool room, a candle or two and solid sleep is the only thing that will help. It’s easy to become distracted and think “well, I’ll just do this one thing first” and find that it’s midnight. When I’m really miserable, I try and be in bed before nine pm and have the lights out by ten at the latest. Things are better in the morning. And if they aren’t better, at least your mind and body have been sufficiently rested to be able to handle it for another day.
When I’m particularly depressed or miserable, these are the things I do to try and combat the fear and frustration I feel. They are obviously no substitution for medical assistance when you need it, but as a first step, they’re pretty good. Immediate remedies, for when I can’t take a day to myself, include taking some deep breaths, listening to some good music, drinking a few glasses of water, having a bowl of fruit (with preserved ginger as an extra hit), going for a walk around the park or having a quick chat with a friend.

It feels like the apocalypse is coming. It feels as though the sky is falling. It isn’t, but we need to prepare ourselves for the challenge ahead. We need to be ready. We need to look after ourselves and each other.

The Approaching Apocalypse (part the first)

Reality is Broken
Reality is Broken

As I type this, I am fighting off the end of a migraine. I’ve slept for over eighteen hours, thrown as many tablets down myself as is medically advisable and not seen daylight in over twenty four hours. My sleep mask and I are very much AT ONE today.

This was entirely to be expected. This month has been horrendous. Personally and globally. A few days ago the UK voted to leave the EU. Before that Jo Cox MP was murdered. Before that the tragedy in Orlando. My dad’s commemorative bench was stolen from his golf club. My family had the anniversary of my uncle who was killed and my dad who died of cancer. These are just the fist things that spring to mind. There are many many more.

The last four days I have been ON. I’ve had a lot on at work and a lot on socially. I try not to plan too many things in a week, because exhaustion tends to take a toll on my health, but this week was non-optional. People were in town and it would have been unfortunate and rude to have opted out of seeing them, just because my weekly quota was full. Friday, when the results of the referendum were announced, broke me but I had to carry on.

The UK voted to leave the EU. Or rather, England and Wales opted to leave the EU and Scotland, Northern Ireland and London are being dragged along for the ride.

In a hundred years, I did not expect this. Until I had my ballot papers in my hand, I didn’t appreciate how much this political debate meant to me. I’m from Northern Ireland. I have both a UK and an Irish passport. I live in London. I have lived in Northern Ireland, England and Germany. I work for a German company. I have friends and colleagues across Europe. I identify as Irish, British, Northern Irish and European equally. I voted remain because I had a good understanding of what a leave result would have on our trading future. I voted remain because I understood how EU funding affects our health service, our arts industry, the Northern Ireland peace process, our scientific community and our culture. I voted remain because I felt that to be European was more than just holidays and cheese. I voted remain because I’m a woman and the leave campaign didn’t appear to value women but the remain campaign would keep us protected. I voted Remain because I strongly believe that we have a duty to help those who are less fortunate than us and the leave campaign didn’t give that impression at all. The Leave campaign felt like it was “Us, not those people” and the Remain campaign felt like it was “Us and those people also.”

The Leave and Remain campaigns were tough. Figures, facts and fiction were tossed around by both sides. It felt very much as though it boiled down to Them versus Us. It still does. It felt like the Leave campaign wanted to bring back The Empire and rid themselves of people who weren’t white, middle class and middle aged. Obviously there was a lot more to it than that, but after a cursory look at Facebook or the headlines and that’s what you felt. The Remain campaign tried not to scaremonger but their message felt like we would be doomed if we left the EU.

Even now, three days later, as I type this, I am choked up. We chose to leave Europe and to waltz into the unknown. Travelling through London on Friday felt eerie. No one made a sound on the tube. But not the normal London respect-the-personal-space silence, but the silence you have when someone dies. Shock. Grief. As I walked across Vauxhall Bridge with Westminster on one side of me and Battersea Power Station on the other, David Cameron announced his resignation. Passing through Westminster and the lack of noise was palpable. TV crews were quietly interviewing MPs against the backdrop of the Houses of Parliament.

I’d gone into work early that day because I had press releases to put up and our website to organise with our statements. We’d prepared two and laughed about it at the time. Before I had even taken off my coat, I’d written a sign, in red block capitals and stuck it to my door, so that my colleagues, all from Europe, would read it as they signed in that morning.

I’m sorry about the result today. We’re not all mad racists.

And then I burst into tears again for the third or fourth time that day. My Italian receptionist came in to me and cried that I was crying. There are only three of us who are British in my company. We were stunned. All day people came to check on us, to see how we were and to reassure us that it would be alright. These people who my country had chosen to end a decades long political friendship with. They’d lived through the Leave Campaign declaring British Jobs for British People and that immigrants were unwelcome and still had the grace to care for the people who hadn’t managed to protect the result.

On the tube on the way in to work I had a moment of clarity. The vote was in. It was horrific, but it was in and it wasn’t just about us feeling shocked. I, like most of the people I knew, am white, middle class, well-educated and I’ll be fine. I’m not an immigrant. I don’t need to worry about a visa to stay here. I don’t have the skin colour of someone who may be a target for rhetoric. I don’t have to worry about my job or my family. These are the people we need to protect. So I wrote something on Facebook about how we can do something tangible and practical today to make these people feel less worried and alone today. It made me feel better for about ten minutes. It’s what I fell back on when I became overwhelmed.

All day I wept. I didn’t care who saw or who knew. I couldn’t make a joke. I couldn’t be light-hearted. That’s who I am at work. The one to lighten the mood and be practical. I didn’t have it in me. That’ll take a while for me to get back. I’m devastated (and constantly reminded that I always spell devastated with too many Es).

That evening I met with the boyfriend of a former colleague and his nephew. We went out for a (British) curry and I tried to be as chipper as I could. It was an effort. On Saturday I met with a school friend, who is also a European languages teacher, and we despaired and laughed over fancy French sandwiches and cakes.

Then I went to babysit some delightful ten year old German children who asked me what I thought of the referendum (I would not have known that word as a ten year old, never mind in a foreign language!) and we wondered if Voldemort and Nigel Farage were similar. We concluded yes, there was a certain something both in attitude and around the eyes.

Yesterday I met with a former colleague from Germany and her nephew and watched some football over (British) fish & chips.

And that was it. That was all I could do. I’d been crying and apologising and panicked and afraid and horrified and chatting and friendly and upbeat for as long as I could muster. I couldn’t text any more Brits abroad or former colleagues or family members about what happened, how it happened, how we could fix it, how we could move forward, how A GrownUp (possibly the Queen?) could step in and sort out this mess. I hit the wall and my brain caved in. Migraine wise.

If I were a proper adult, I’d be able to do shoes.

THIS BOOK DIDN'T HELPEvery summer I am flummoxed by the weather and my footwear. I don’t exactly know how this happens, because I have lived through 32 summers now and you would imagine I would have had sufficient practice. Apparently not.

Every year, the summer rolls round and I pull out my shoe-drobe.

  • Hello, scuffed ballet flats that give me blisters and through the sole of which I can feel every grain of stone in the pavements.
  • Hello, sandals with an ugly heel, so that I can walk in them, but straps that give me blisters, so I can’t walk in them.
  • Hello, trainers that have a tiny hole in the lining material in the heel, so they cut up my feet.
  • Hello, shoes I cannot wear socks with, but also cannot go without socks because apparently I have the sweatiest feet known to the human race (you’re welcome).
    And I tried those little beige-coloured canoe-shaped non-sock things that hide under the shoe and they did not stay on my feet long enough to put my shoes on. I cannot speak of them, it makes me too angry. Especially as I bought a five pack.
  • Hello, winter ankle boots which are suddenly no longer water tight, so my feet become drenched when it rains because which other shoe could I possibly wear?
  • Hello, shoes which cannot be worn with skirts (because clunky)
  • Hello, shoes with tiny spindly heels (so impractical for walking as often and as far as I do, yet I continue to purchase them because PRETTY)
  • Hello, shoes which I bought online and DO NOT FIT, despite valiant attempts on my part to remedy this fact with multiple insoles.
  • Hello, flip-flops which are NOT SHOES, but are in fact instruments of injury (see: losing the top of my big toe, summers of blisters).

I’ve actually taken to looking at every stationary woman on the escalator as I march past, checking out the options available. How on earth are other women doing shoes?

I’m particularly intrigued by women who are wearing proper high heeled shoes in the tube. Taxi shoes, yes, I understand, but these women are getting themselves to the tube and then leaving the tube to go onwards by foot. Sometimes through a park. They aren’t all carrying trainers in their bag. How on earth are they travelling through London in heels?

This did not used to be my reaction. I don’t know what happened. One moment, I was 18 in purple suit trousers and a red velvet halterneck (horrified when my friend Dan pointed out that this didn’t “go” – he may have had a point. I have never been one for the full-length mirror) and running along cobble stones in strappy black sandals with a four inch heel, the next I was 32 and clutching at hand rails like I’d broken a leg and the floor was made of glass in shoes with a clumpy two inch heel.

I’m fairly tall, but have short legs and I take long, stumpy strides like a giant man, making skirt-wearing a challenge. Anything less than a circle skirt is a belt on me within 2 minutes.

Once I made the mistake (scratch that, this whole story is filled with many many mistakes) of wearing a bodycon dress to a work event with heels. I had to walk from Westminster tube station to St James’s Park – about a ten minute stroll. Half way across the bridge I was *incredibly* grateful to be wearing a long coat. My dress had slithered to my groinal area. Completing the look were the lurching steps I took in the heels I had stupidly chosen to wear that day. It was an utter disaster. The only solution was to be in stockinged feet and stay behind the welcome desk, where neither my feet, nor my skirt could be seen.

Big strides don’t work in heels. I have no idea what happened to me, but now my feet won’t stay in heels, my legs won’t co-operate with the height and my torso is VERY unhappy at being this unstable. It’s upsetting, to say the least. I’m a very stable, sturdy sort of girl. There’s nothing of the Bambi about me. And yet, heels might as well be ice-skates.

Are women only walking short distances in heels? Are they changing their shoes? Are they practicing more? Are their feet different to mine? Is it because they go to the gym? How are other women breaking in shoes so as to not have blisters? Have my feet become ridiculously sensitive with age? Is that a thing?

Adulting: May Roundup

How is it June already? Okay, let’s do this.

Delightful living conditions
At an antiques market in Toronto I bought some gilt rimmed glasses I do not need. That’s about the height of it for May. I stayed on top of the washing and have kept the place clean and aired. That’s a win, I’m counting it.

Fabulous friend
In May I did a bit of skyping, sent a lot of messages and caught up with some friends over email. I wouldn’t say I was a spectacular friend, but I gave it a shot. I helped a friend sort out her leaking washing machine by looking up youtube videos.

While I was in Canada I met up with some people I hadn’t seen in years. There are a few people in Canada who I was friendly with, but I didn’t want to announce I was there and demand to see them. Instead I announced I was in Canada and was delighted when some people got in touch. I was touched that they would go out of their way to see me, when I hadn’t seen them in years.

The first was a girl (well, woman, she has a family and a career and some amazing glasses now) who I lived next to in Oxford, but wasn’t actually friends with. Amusingly, we’re a lot closer now through Facebook – talking about home décor, Toronto sports teams and feminist comedy writing. It was so lovely to meet with her and actually get to know her now. We had some shared background history, but that was only a small part of the conversation.

The second was a couple who my ex-boyfriend and I were friends with. He’d gone to university with the husband and we would often have gone to dinner as a four. They moved back to Canada, where the wife is from, but as my ex-boyfriend wasn’t especially keen on people with children, they dropped by the wayside.

For all that my ex was difficult, he did have some wonderful friends and I was sad when he would lose touch with them. I felt a little awkward because I would still be friends with them on facebook. I’m actually still friends with most of them on facebook, even though he and I haven’t been together for years.

It was lovely to see them and delightful to meet their gorgeous, smart, funny children. It was almost as though nothing had changed. They also let it drop that he has since gone on to marry some woman (which was a surprise as he swore blind he never wanted to get married – not just to me, but to anyone) and were more than sympathetic when I requested another glass of wine. It was an odd moment for me- I wasn’t sure how to react. They didn’t need to be so good to me, but they were. They said all the right things, which were better for being true.

Both my Oxford friend and my ex’s friends are going to be in London this summer and I will make an effort to catch up with them.

There’s a saying about people being in your life for a season and I think it’s true. I think it’s also good to try and stay in touch so the seasons come round a little more often.

Great hostess
I did no hostessing in May. But I did go to the library and stock up on books for research.

Confident in the kitchen
The first half of May was spent in Canada eating doughnuts and pie. The second half has been spent trying to recover from Canada – at least an hour of my day is spent washing, chopping or eating vegetables and fruit. I don’t think I actually cooked anything that would resemble a “meal”, but I have eaten well.

Good husband
Everyone is engaged or married but me. This isn’t true, but it feels true ENOUGH. On a good day, I think “fine, at least I won’t accidentally marry those people who should be married to someone else” and “okay, at least I’m not divorced.”

In an attempt to try something new, I booked some speed-dating events for myself, may flatmate and a friend. It’s really hard to MEET men-people if you don’t socialise with strangers. I’ve done it before and found it exhausting, but am willing to give it another go for the other two. That’s something, at least. I feel like I’m putting in the leg work.

Brave (braver)
I WENT TO CANADA ON MY OWN. That was pretty good. I navigated with maps and common sense (God bless the grid system! Why on *earth* don’t we have that?), I tried food I didn’t know, I played mini-golf!

Healthy Mind & Body
Well, obviously all the vegetables. I’m trying very hard after Canada to eat better (more F&V, only one treat per day, a lot more water) and to move more. I did a lot of walking in Canada (I basically walked everywhere, every day). I haven’t done spectacularly on giving my brain a rest or getting enough sleep, but I’ll work on it.

I also played tennis once, for an hour, with a nine year old boy and didn’t die. I forgot how much running is involved. It’s basically a marathon, right?

I have a stock of sunblock though, so Future Me is grateful for not being sunburnt.

Art and culture
CANADA, OBVIOUSLY with museums, art galleries, sites of historical interest, chipmunks, grocery stores and Tim Horton’s.

Most of this month was CANADA, so the culture was a little lower than usual back in London. The top tickets were musical and visual. First up was Space Spectacular the The Royal Albert Hall. I’m not musical. I wish I was. I’d love to like operas, but they mainly intimidate me. I like pop music more than I like classical music. I like something I can sing along to, you know. Something I can scrunch up my eyes to and tunelessly belt out some huge emotion. Classical music doesn’t provide me with much in the way of “my life as a music video” as much as I wish it did. Still, anything with SPACE in the title gets me in my heart. When I realised a lot of the pieces were from TV or films set in space, I was IN.

Needless to say, it was fantastic. I had a cheap ticket in the very very back row and I spent the whole time grinning. I mean, Darth Vader made an appearance and the audience chanted the beginning to Thunderbirds. Plus there were fireworks and lasers! I mean, it was F. A. B. Unsurprisingly, I also liked the straight classical pieces by Holst and two Strausses. It’s made me want to look into that.

Next up was Vogue 100: A Century of Style at the NPG. Stupidly I had assumed I would organise a ticket before it closed. Predictably, I did not. I realised that I had two days left to see it and all the online tickets were booked up. To work around the problem, I treated myself (and having just declared that I needed to save money, the irony of this was not lost on me) to annual membership meaning I could just waltz in whenever I liked. And so I waltzed the next day.

I love Vogue. It’s beautiful. It’s a chunky, glossy, value-for-money monthly publication that taps into the culture from which it is published – US Vogue is very American, British Vogue is very British. You could never confuse the two, or any of the international versions. The articles are about things I rarely encounter and the photographs are stunningly accessible art works. I don’t see it as aspirational, because I know I’m never ever going to buy Crème de la Mer (I like blue Nivea (and find it hilarious that a rumour is going around that they’re basically the same) and drugstore cosmetics), wear any Chanel pieces or travel to Monaco for a weekend of stylish glamour. Vogue problems are not my problems. And yet. There’s always something in an article to take away. An artist to look into, a colour to think about differently, a new designer to watch out for and see how their influence trickles down to the high street. Fashion fascinates me and Vogue is at the forefront of that. Visiting the exhibition and seeing the covers spanning the decades, reading the history behind the editors and photographers, coming up close and personal to iconic images (I’m not a massive fan of Kate Moss as a person, but WOW is she good at what she does. There’s a reason the “new Kate Moss” tag is bandied about but there never really *is*a  new Kate Moss. She’s unique). I loved it with my whole heart.

Organised finances
Well, here I do feel like I made some headway. I came back from Canada aware that I spent a fortune. None of which I regret. This coincided with sorting out household finances for the flat. I have been incredibly aware of my account details this month. I now have a clear overview of my fixed outgoings and am trying to do my very best to bring down my variables.

I put everything on my credit card and pay it off each month. For the next few months, I am curtailing my spending (culture, travel and social events are exempt) to retrain myself and stop buying frivolous purchases because I feel stressed or in need of a treat.

I have a LOT of treats. My wardrobe is full of clothes I wear very little. I have a huge box full of cosmetics and beauty products that I have stockpiled. My snack box is insultingly large. It’s time that I actually enjoyed the treats I have, rather than add to them. It’s time I took a moment to appreciate the value of these things and the impact they have on me. To take a short break from constant consumerism (although, it must be said, that since doing this I have been at the library like free books are crack and I eye up free magazines like a truffle pig in a forest). Hopefully I will save a little money too.

To make sure I stick to this lofty plan, my friend Fee is keeping me in check. We’re both acting as accountability partners for each other. She has her thing, I have mine. Every Saturday morning, I will email her with a list of my spending, treats and near-misses for the week. Keeping a log has been quite remarkable already. It seems I go to a supermarket daily.

Decidedly relaxed
Walking has been the main relaxation technique, but I popped into a bookstore in Toronto and it reminded me that I find them very calming. I’d like to visit my library more and sit for hours there, but it’s exam time and so it is ALL DRAMZ AND LOLZ in there at the moment with hysterical students.

Career plan
Urgh. No. Do I have to?

Finishes projects
Urgh, again no. No time! I’ve made a lot of to do lists though…

You’re So Brave (to the tune of “You’re so Vain” By Carly Simon)

Bright Lights, Big CityI’ve noticed over the last few weeks that people, women people, have told me that I am so brave, when I tell them how I did something on my own. I went to Canada on my own to see my sister who lives alone. To me, she’s the brave one. She decided she wanted to go to Canada to live and work, did her research, jumped through hoops and got there. And when she got there, she was on her own. Yes, we have some family and yes, she had some friends out there, but ultimately, it all fell on her. Finding a place to live, a place to work, a grocery store, working out how the public transport system, managing to live in a culture that wasn’t her own.

Hopping on a plane and wandering the streets during the day between doughnut breaks? Not so brave.

And yet. Travelling on my own is terrifying. I have a whole ridiculous history with travel (I’ve been diagnosed with travelphobia (apparently a thing!) by the NHS and had telephone counselling with a chap who, with the best will in the world, had no idea how to help me, because he didn’t understand. “You know that if you miss the train, you can get the next one, yes? So…where’s the problem exactly? I’m not sure how to help you if you already know that”) which I manage. The issue isn’t wholly the mode of transport – being on a plane is PERFECT. Once I’m in my seat (concerns about luggage aside), I’m grand. I’m safe. Everything that is out of my control is in someone else’s, I can do no more.

It wasn’t the flight that concerned me, it was the Being On My Own Somewhere Foreign. Somewhere Foreign Where They Speak English at that. How would I fill my days? To be clear, I am FINE (better than fine!) in my own company. I prefer it that way sometimes. I have noticed that I have started to speak to strangers, but I think that’s my Irishness finally kicking in, rather than an inherent anxiety of being alone. I like walking alone, going to museums alone, being alone.

I don’t know how to explain it.

I’d make a plan with my sister the night before. She was working every day, so I had to entertain myself until she was free to eat pizza and watch Netflix. I had a plan of where I would go and how I would get there (inevitably on foot because FEAR OF PUBLIC TRANSPORT, which is INSANE because Toronto has two subway lines and tokens and a designated my-token-is-fake-i-can’t-get-through-the-barriers gate. Granted, I never quite worked out buses or streetcars), she would leave in the morning and I would nap and pretend I wasn’t psyching myself up to leave her apartment.

I did not travel all the way to Canada to eat pie in an apartment.

Mealtimes were especially anxiety inducing. Coffee and a pastry in a coffee shop was fine, but going into a restaurant wasn’t something I felt comfortable with. There are whole streets in Wimbledon lined with restaurants I would like to try out, but I have no one to go with me, so I never go inside. I can see how ridiculous this is. No one cares. Once I’m sat down, the wait staff don’t even care. I’ve been a waitress – I know this to be true. As with most things and most anxieties, no one is thinking about it as much as I am.

On business trips I will grab a bunch of groceries from a supermarket and picnic in my room. Okay, I get more for my money and watch CSI in another language, which are ideal pluses, but I also miss out on the cuisine. I’m not entirely sure why this bothers me.

At home I will go to museums, art galleries, the ballet and the cinema on my own. It’s very hard to organise people in London because everyone has commitments and schedules and buying tickets for events can be hectic. So I just don’t. I fly solo. Okay, I miss out on a shared experience (as one Tinder date argued), but I don’t miss out on THE experience. I would have missed the Vogue exhibition at the NPG, but I went on my own.

Also, the time I have to spend with my friends is minimal because everyone has plans and schedules. I don’t WANT to spent what little time we have together sat in the dark not talking. I’d rather go to a bar or a café or a restaurant to speak to them and hear about their life. Going to the cinema alone isn’t brave, it’s time efficient!

I was discussing this with a friend last week – one of many who declared I was brave for seeing Star Wars on my own. I explained that I don’t go to stranger activities or some event where I am required to interact with strangers. That’s too far, I’m not that brave.

This afternoon I committed myself to going to a party where I will know only one person and wasn’t super keen to go (not because I don’t love the person involved, but I know I won’t have the emotional energy reserves to do that and the following week), because none of the rest of our group was going and I wasn’t brave enough to say “actually, I can’t go either.” The social awkwardness beat me to into it. I could have said “I hate parties and I’m nervous, but I still wish you a great birthday and will see you at a smaller event where I will celebrate you”, but I didn’t.

I feel such pressure from invisible sources to be and do and achieve things I don’t really want or feel necessary to me and I’m not brave enough to say “Actually, no thanks” and I’m starting to notice it now.

I want to be braver. I want to do the things that matter to me. I want to live life fuller and eat in restaurants on my own. I mean, I’d like to have someone to eat WITH, but I’d like that not to stop me.

My grandmother wouldn’t go to a restaurant without a man because it was unseemly. This was unfortunate because she was a widow and there weren’t a lot of spare men about. She got over it. I should get over this next hurdle. Maybe I need to dare myself.