Schmoozing and Boozing: #IRLPanel

My favourite thing about the internet is having the ability to surround myself with people who are smarter than me.

My Twitter timeline is constantly full of amazing, inspiring women; women with stories to tell and brilliant, brave voices to tell them in. Women who are grabbing life with two hands and making it work for them. Women who have overcome unbelievable, devastating things. Women who really, really give a shit.

I’ve written before about Laura Jane Williams, one of the best and most beautiful writers I’ve encountered. I’ve followed her blog for a while now and had the pleasure of hearing her speak at a Debrief event a couple of months ago. So when she and fellow fabulous person Emma Gannon decided to throw a real life get together for these great Twitter women, I basically fell over myself in my hurry to get a ticket.

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Fittingly, the theme of the evening was friendship, so I took a deep breath, put on my big girl pants and decided to go along on my ownsome and make as many friends as I could. I had chatted with a lot of the folks who were going on Twitter, but I suffer from that eternal writers’ conviction that I am infinitely funnier and more charming on the page than I could ever hope to be in person, so I was pretty nervous.

I headed into the room, made a beeline for the prosecco and spun around to introduce myself to the nearest person before my confidence had the chance to desert me. Reader, the Universe sent me an angel. Halfway through our introductions, I realised I had met the woman I was speaking to before but hadn’t recognised her, due to my vision being impaired upon our first meeting by a knight’s helmet. We were taking part in a non-sexy pants photoshoot. No, really, we actually were:

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Me being unsexy in some pants.

She was the excellent Daisy Buchanan, whose writing you will probably have read if you have picked up literally any newspaper or magazine this year. Spurred on by this realisation, I introduced myself to another bunch of ladies standing nearby and spent the next half hour pouring prosecco for people and enthusing about how great Daisy’s writing is.

The panel of speakers took to the stage and I quickly scurried to an empty seat. I smiled shyly at the girls beside me, only to have one of them ask “Sorry, are you Fiona?”

Turns out that curly red hair and a big Scottish accent are good identifiers. My favourite thing about events like this is that everyone introduces themselves with their Twitter handle.

“Oh hey! Aren’t you @EscapologistGl? I’m @flo_robson!”
“SHUT UP, it’s so nice to meet you!”

The panel was made up of Nadin Hadi, Lucy Sheridan, Jade Coles and Emma and Laura themselves. The five women were strikingly different but equally excellent as they picked their way through the thorny topic of friendship.

Wisdom was doled out in bucketloads:

People come into your life for a reason, a season or a lifetime.
A good friendship is one where you don’t both fall out of love at the same time.
You can have unrequited love, but not unrequited friendship.

But the wisdom was cut through with fast-paced, biting hilarity: Lucy recalling how her husband falls in friend-love at first sight, Nadin outing herself as Helen from Bridesmaids, Laura exclaiming Oh god, I’m Kristen Wiig and I HATE YOU.

I frantically tapped half nonsensical, typo ridden notes into my phone and nodded furiously at every word spoken. The truth is, these women could have been talking about anything in the world and I would have listened. There is something so uniquely wonderful about a group of women who are absolutely owning it. I wanted to stand up and high five everyone in the room when Nadin followed up her Bridesmaids comment by saying “People are intimidated by me and that’s fine. I am intimidating.”

In no time at all, the panel was over and people started to mill around the room. Self-consciousness soothed by prosecco and shared experience, we poured out our stories of love and loss, of friendship breakups, finding your tribe and whether or not you always want to sleep with your friends just a little bit. Scrolling the hashtag on Twitter, I found that a couple of my favourite bloggers were in the room and went around squinting at people’s faces until I found them. Once I met them, I tried to be cool, but ended up snuggling them instead. Such is life.

Snuggling Katie from Scarphelia.

Snuggling Katie from Scarphelia.

Snuggling Grace from Almost Amazing Grace and Hannah from Hannah Billie Perry.

Snuggling Grace from Almost Amazing Grace and Hannah from Hannah Billie Perry.

There’s always something a bit magical about meeting people you admire and this night was absolutely no exception. If you didn’t get a ticket for this one, make sure you come along to the next. But be warned, I’ll probably snuggle you.

Sister Act: High Five

It’s that time of year again, when a familiar message whispers through the trees, dancing on the air, pulling us in.

Stay very still. Listen carefully. You’ll be able to hear it.

“…ssssserrrr…fffuu…answer…pphhhh…kanser…ffffuuuuuuuck canceeeeeeer”

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That’s right folks, it’s Race for Life season. If you have followed our journey from the start, you might want to skip the next few paragraphs – you probably know the story better than me at this stage.

For those just joining us…welcome to the party.

This is a story all about how
my life got flipped and turned upside down.
So why don’t you take a moment, just sit right there
and I’ll tell you how cancer tried to kill my mum and ruin my life.

*dance break*

When I was sixteen, my mum was diagnosed with cervical cancer. My sister Sophie was twelve. I had never been so afraid in my entire life. I don’t think any of us had. Luckily for all of us, advances funded by Cancer Research in early detection and treatment meant that my mum made a full recovery and celebrated her five years clear a few years ago. She now spends her time drinking cocktails, compulsively booking cruises and throwing dance parties in her kitchen.

My mum is the bravest, strongest person that I know. I talk a lot about her kicking cancer’s ass. But the truth is, cancer doesn’t give a toss how brave or strong you are. Bravery and strength isn’t what saved my mum – although her bravery and strength saved the rest of us a million times over.

Twenty-four years ago, my dad lost a mother who was just as brave and as strong as mine. The leaps forward that Cancer Research have made meant that I didn’t lose mine.

Every year, I think this story will get easier to tell, but it doesn’t. I will never forget that it is because of Cancer Research that my mum was around to do my makeup for my prom, and for my sister’s. She drove us both to University and cheered at my graduation. We got to walk her down the aisle, and maybe someday, she’ll return the favour. I will always and forever be indebted to Cancer Research, to everyone who has donated, to the amazing scientists, nurses and carers who meant that my mum stuck around and stayed the amazing, sparkly, wonderful person that she is.

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So I figured, I’d better work off some of that debt. This will be our FIFTH year of Race for Life, which I think definitely deserves another dance break.

*dance break*

It’s been a crazy, amazing journey, featuring bucketloads of tears, a lot of seriously bad dancing, me in the papers dressed as Hit Girl, support from actual superhero Mark Millar, doughnuts with “fxxk cancer” printed on them and a dog in a t-shirt. We have raised a total of £3700 over the last four years. That’s pretty damn amazing.

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But cancer still isn’t getting the message. It continues to steal away people that we love. There is so much more to be done. And I won’t stop until no mother ever has to sit down her children and tell them that she has cancer.

We’ll be having loads of fun here on the blog over the next month, keeping you updated on fundraising progress, super-strict training regimes and all the ridiculous things that I’ll do to get your money.

Seriously, I’ll do whatever. I’ll write you a poem, I’ll hand illustrate you a postcard, I’ll record a song for you and put it on Youtube, I’ll bake you a cake, I’ll draw you a (dreadful) portrait. Name it. Whatever it takes for you to click that lovely donate button, it’s yours.

Cancer messed with the wrong family. It’s going down.

Support us here! Or, if internet pages ain’t your thang, you can text your donation by texting “SOFI57 £5” to 70070. 

Tiny Acts of Self Care for When You Just Can’t

I write about self care a lot. I started this blog to chart my decision to choose happiness, at a time when I didn’t feel like anything could ever make me feel happy again. I write to remind myself why I made that decision, and how I continue to make that decision. And sometimes I think maybe I’m helping other people to choose it too.

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A lot of people seem to be struggling right now. I think that happens a lot in the springtime. Things start to change and for better or for worse, change always dredges up the dirt that’s lying under the surface. And when you’re struggling, every single step you take feels heavy and impossible and pointless – even the ones that you know might help. How are you supposed to summon the energy to start an inspiration journal when you can’t even face taking a shower or cooking a proper dinner? I’ve been there, and I promise it gets better. But until then, here are a few teeny tiny little acts of self care for when you’re genuinely not up to joining a yoga class, starting a healthy eating plan or taking up knitting.

Put On Some Clean Socks

I’m not even joking, I feel like a new woman when I’m wearing clean socks. If I’ve been travelling or if I’ve had a really rubbish day at work, I come home and put on a pair of clean, comfy cotton socks. Boom. Ready to face the world again. I told you they’d be teeny tiny. But it helps.

Breathe

Go somewhere warm. Lie down on your back with your arms by your sides. Close your eyes. Concentrate on your breathing. Don’t try to alter your breath – you don’t have to be doing deep, mystic, yogic breathing, just let your body do its thing. Cry if you feel like you have to. Let your thoughts come and go and try to be gentle with them. If you feel like you’re working yourself into a frenzy, stop. Being still works for some people, being active works for others.

Make Your Bed

Okay, this can be a hard one, I know. I wrote an entire post shortly after starting this blog about how the hardest thing about feeling like the world is falling apart is dealing with the fact that it actually isn’t. You still need to wash your clothes and pay your bills and do your dishes. Pick just one thing. Decide to go and make your bed right now. Or empty your bins. Or wash your dishes. Let yourself take pride in having done it. Self care isn’t always a bubble bath or a trashy movie. Sometimes, it’s doing the thing that has to be done, even when it makes you hurt. You’ve got this. I promise, you’ve got this.

Cuddle Something

I’m a very tactile person and I sometimes feel like I get an actual high from a good hug. Hey, if people are allowed exercise highs, I’m allowed hug highs. But if you’re not into touchy feely people, it doens’t need to be a person. Cuddle your dog. Dogs are great, and they always know when you’re sad. Wrap your arms around a big pillow, or around your duvet and give it a big squeeze. I have no idea why this works, but it does.

Wash Your Face

This is similar to the clean socks in that it makes me feel like a brand new person. I’ve obviously internalised the idea of a clean, fresh start very literally. Grab a facecloth, run it under a very hot tap and place it over your face. Breathe in that steamy goodness. Enjoy the feeling of something warm and soft on your skin. Now wash your face in gentle little circles. No vicious scrubbing, we’re loving ourselves, remember?

Come take my hand, my darling. It’s okay not to be okay. Recovering from depression or anxiety doesn’t mean that you have to be a gigantic hose of positivity and hope all the time. It’s okay to feel rubbish sometimes. It’s okay to just survive, if that’s all you have the strength to do. Look after yourself, survive, give yourself the chance to fight again tomorrow.