Stepping Stones

It’s a funny old thing, isn’t it, this life business?

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In a little under a month, it’ll be three years since I graduated from university. That got me thinking. Dangerous, I know.

The older I get, the faster time seems to go. I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in that one. But sometimes the nostalgic question “Where the f*ck did the last three years go?” twists and distorts until it becomes something much more sinister:

“What the f*ck have I done with the last three years?”

This is the question that creeps into my mind right before I fall asleep. It’s the question that guilts me into making plans when staying home would make me happier. It’s the question that sparks the constant desire for “self improvement”, even when I’m exhausted and would be better off pouring a glass of wine, lighting a candle and reading a book.

I don’t think I’m on my own here. Twitter has opened up our inner monologue to each other like never before and the prevailing theme for almost everyone over the age of 20 seems to be “What the hell am I doing and is it what I’m supposed to be doing?”. Having spent the entirety of our teenage lives fighting to get out from under the control of our teachers, our professors, our parents, a lot of us find that we miss the comfort of having someone tell us “This is what success will look like and these are the steps you need to achieve it”.

All through my life, I’ve had stepping stones to hop between. Markers of success to tell me when I’m doing a good job. Things progress logically, one milestone fluidly melting into the next. Pass your exams, move out, graduate university, get a job…as a child, and even as a young adult, the path is laid out. But once you reach the end of that path, once you step off and wander into the unknown, the world is suddenly your oyster. You can do literally whatever you want. And I know I can’t be the only one who sometimes gets vertigo from that realisation.

It’s not so much that I want somebody to tell me what to do. It’s more that I want to be reassured that I’m doing something. Anything. I asked Niall the question quite recently, “What the f*ck have I done with the last three years?” and he pushed me off of my chair. Affectionately, of course. Because I’ve done lots of stuff in that time. I started this blog and gained an amazing band of people who actually enjoy reading my words. I moved to London and survived there. I have raised almost £3000 for Cancer Research. I wrote a book. I have baked countless apple pies. I have made lots of people laugh. I have made a few people cry too. I have taken joy in a thousand tiny moments that no one will ever remember. When I really think about it, I know that I have done a million things in those three years since I graduated. So why does it sometimes feel like I have failed?

I think it’s because as an adult, milestones are few and far between. Maybe you get married, buy a house, have a baby. But I’m not planning on doing any of those things any time soon. So what do we cling to in the vast space between the last milestone and the next? How do we keep from drowning without that reassuring pat on the head, without the checklist to be ticked off?

We’ve all seen the articles on social media:

50 things to do before you turn 30
What your twenties are really for
7 signs that you’re really a grown up
The 5 secrets to getting your shit together

We devour them, pick them apart and swallow them. Turn our lives into bucket lists, a neat little path of experiences with “adulthood” glimmering at the end like a pot of gold. We create fake milestones, which we collect and wear like trophies: the Mulberry bag, the glamorous holiday, the ten thousand Twitter followers. We hoard them like misers, using them to tell ourselves stories about us. The truth is, once you step off the path that’s been laid out for you, there is no next step. There’s no grand scoreboard in this game of life, no quantifiable measure of success or adulthood.

It’s hard, to come to terms with that. To realise that you’re the only one who can assure yourself that you’re doing a good job. That you’re living just as you should. That you are meaningful. It takes real courage to strive for happiness, to stop trying to measure yourself up. What the f*ck have I done for the last three years? I’m not sure. But I’ve lived. I’ve tried.

Two Years On

It’s that special day again, folks. The Escapologist’s Daughter is two years old today!

*cue marching band, over order flowers and drinks, weep drunkenly about how fast they grow up*

This time last year, I was reflecting on my recovery from a pretty blue period of my life, which had inspired me to start a blog. In its first year, my blog encouraged me to stop being ashamed of who I am and how I’m doing. In its second year, my blog encouraged me to positively shout it from the rooftops.

The second year of my blog saw me ask myself “Well, why the hell not?” over and over again. And if the answer was “Because I’m scared to”, for the most part, I went ahead and did the thing.

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I went viral after accidentally creating the perfect storm of feminist rage and a funny idea. Dealing with going viral made me want to hide under my duvet and never come out or try to do anything ever again. Instead of doing that, with the help of my nearest and dearest, I rallied. I went on breakfast time TV. I organised an event to share the love I was feeling around. I spoke at a feminist conference. I started writing for one of my favourite online magazines. Why the hell not? Why the hell not? Why the hell not?

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As my blog gained a little more traction, I was invited to speak at a couple of blogging events. I felt like the world’s biggest fraud. I felt like they had somehow invited me by accident and when they realised their mistake, I’d be shunned forever by the Grand High Blogging Police. I took a deep breath, put on my big girl pants, painted my lisptick extra bright and went for it. People told me I was inspiring. Why. The hell. Not?

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I decided to throw my own blogger event. I had no experience. I had no budget. I had no idea what I was doing. I threw it anyway. It was a tiny little event. It lacked any kind of finesse or elegance. But you know what? It was brilliant. Everyone had a great time. There were sweary doughnuts. People stuck transfer tattoos all over their faces. Everyone drank slightly too much and we raised over £200 for Cancer Research. Why the hell not?

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I wrote a book. Something I’ve always wanted to do. For my entire life, I’ve been hiding behind the excuse “I’m too busy”, when in reality, I was just afraid that I wouldn’t be able to do it. How do you face up to the reality that you actually might not be talented enough to achieve a lifelong dream? I didn’t want to. So I just didn’t try. Then, in November, I sat myself down, gave myself a stern talking to and started to write. 28 days later, I had a draft. I’m not saying that you guys should be putting the Man Booker prize on hold just yet. In fact, it might never even see the light of day. But I wrote it, and I am world endingly proud of it. And I was able to do it for one reason: because I got out of my own damn way.

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Of course, I haven’t done this on my own. I’m lucky enough to have the most entirely brilliant boy by my side, who will no doubt be livid that I’ve even mentioned him.

Back yourself, baby, he tells me every day. No fear.

From buying the leather jacket I don’t think I can pull off or dying my hair purple, to putting myself out there and taking the big chances when they come, he’s the world’s greatest cheerleader.

But no amount of cheerleading makes a difference unless you’re willing to actually make the jump and do the thing.

Back yourself, Fiona, I’m learning to tell myself. No fear. Do the damn thing.

For the most part, the scariest thing about all of the things I did this year was the first step. The there’s-no-going-back-now moment. Putting the bikini photo on Twitter. Answering the phone when the BBC called. Stepping onto the stage, in every sense. Everything that followed was terrifying, but I was never more terrified than I had been in those few seconds where I had to decide between following through and backing out. A deep breath, a few seconds of crazy, unthinking courage, that’s all it took. To quote a great philosopher, bravery isn’t about not being scared. It’s about being scared and doing what you have to do anyway.

If you recognised that quote from the Mary Kate and Ashley film, Double Double Toil and Trouble, hit me up. We’ll get on just fine.

This year, I’m going to be brave. I’m going to back myself. And I am going to kick some arse.

The Happiness Project: New Year Edition

Happy New Year, wonderful readers!

In my experience, those words are never more heartfelt than when they come from the lips of a Scot. Maybe it’s my own bias talking but I don’t think anyone does New Years like the Scots do it. For me, New Years isn’t about clubbing somewhere glamorous or going to the gym five times a week the second the bells have rung or promising to swap out all your bread for lettuce (although fair play to you if that is what it’s about for you, different strokes, different folks). New Years is about being with the people that I love, about reflecting on how quickly time passes, on how much has changed. That bitter pang when you notice a face is missing from last year’s celebrations. The sweetness when the clock strikes midnight, heralding a moment of glorious, infinite possibility. It’s about becoming, rather than changing. About grabbing your loved ones close during the madness of Auld Lang Syne, drunk on happiness and strawberry daquiris from your mum’s blender. About getting the first kiss of the New Year from your grandpa, rather than from a handsome stranger. This is about as spiritual as the Scots get so of course, it comes with whisky and dancing.

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For me, it also holds a special significance: New Year’s Eve is my birthday. I was due in February, but even before I was born, I guess the lure of those bells was too much to resist. This means that every year, on January first, I start a brand new year, a brand new age, a brand new blank page to be written.

It might be for this reason that I don’t make New Year’s resolutions. I know a lot of people don’t make resolutions because they don’t see New Year as being a very big deal, they can make changes any day of the year. For me, it’s sort of the opposite. I feel like this new start, this fresh chapter is too important to waste with promises of joining a spin class or eating more greens (again, I don’t mean to suggest that these things aren’t both great ideas). I make goals instead. I’m not saying that my goals are particularly noble or life changing, but for me, they represent some of the things that I’ve always wanted to do but never had the excuse. Or never had the time. Or never been brave enough to attempt.

Last year, around this time, I published a little sample of some of these goals. I’m not going to pretend I did all of them, but I’m not going to beat myself up about that either. Here’s some cool stuff I did in 2015:

Go somewhere I’ve never been.

Nailed it. Totally smashed this one. Not only did I go to lots of new places, I had the chance to experience some genuine bucket list level stuff.

From seeing the Northern Lights and drinking wine in a geothermal pool in Iceland…

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…to sipping vanilla hot chocolate and watching the golden leaves fall in Krakow…

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…to stumbling into a dog festival in Guernsey. Yes, a dog festival is entirely worthy of being on your bucket list.

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I’ll be crossing this one of this year’s list next week, when I’m jetting off for an adventure in Oslo! I’ll keep you posted.

Do something terrifying.

Man, oh man, past Fiona. If you could see us now. This year, I did probably the scariest thing I’ve ever done. Having protested against the heinous SludgeDrinks adverts, I suddenly found myself going viral. I was quite unprepared for this to happen, but decided to just go with it and see where it took me. I ended up being on breakfast TV twice (this was so terrifying that I was genuinely concerned I might hurl on Eamonn Holmes), having my arse photographed by the Daily Mail (not on purpose) and organising a big assed body positive party with the help of my utterly divine partner in crime, Tara.

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Once the craziness had died down, the terrifyingness kept right on going. I started writing for one of my absolute favourite websites and was invited to speak at a bunch of different events. Tara and I were even named in Stylist magazine’s fearless feminists of the year list! Well let me tell you, I wasn’t fearless. I promised to do something terrifying and I really, really did. It’s amazing what can come of taking a deep breath, squaring your shoulders and saying “why the hell not?”.

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Eat baked alaska.

This is obviously very important. I’d never eaten baked alaska. Always wanted to. So on the list it went. This one, I ticked off while cruising from Southampton to Guernsey in a fabulous fashion with my mum.

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Most excellent. Tick.

So what does this year have in store?

More of the same. Big things, little things, but all important things to me.

Get an agent for my book.

This is probably my biggest, scariest, most pie in the sky one. As I’m sure you guys noticed (because I wouldn’t shut up about it), I wrote a book as part of National Novel Writing Month in November.

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This in itself was a lifelong dream. I can’t describe how it felt to print that out and have something that I’m so proud of just sitting on my table like it aint no thing. But I’m hoping that it’s just the first step in a journey. So on the list an agent goes.

Make one new cocktail a month

I have so many fabulous cocktail books lying around the flat and I never make any cocktails because I don’t have ingredients. This year, I’m saying no to that and I’ll be trialling one new cocktail a week. These will undoubtedly be catalogued on Instagram, so go hang out with me there. Life is short, buy the Chambord. That’s my motto.

Make chocolate eclairs

This is one in a similar vein to eating baked alaska. I love chocolate eclairs. I haven’t the foggiest idea how to make them. I like to bake. So I’m gonna make chocolate eclairs. If you have a failsafe recipe, do tweet it to me or leave it in the comments!

Go to a museum late

I have wanted to do this FOREVER. The National Museum of Scotland used to do these when I lived in Edinburgh and I always meant to go. But I didn’t. And now I’m in London and I have no doubt that these swanky museum parties are going on all the time all over the city. But I still haven’t been. So I’ve written it down. I’m not totally sure why but writing things down seems to really work for me. I’m much less likely to avoid doing something if I’ve written it on a to do list.

2015 was a hell of a year. I’m hoping that 2016 is going to be even better. My lovely, gorgeous readers, I wish you a very, very happy New Year.

Now here’s a haun’ my trusty friend, and gies a haun’ o’ thine. 

The Happiness Project: September 2015

The Happiness Project tracks my efforts to live a happier life by relishing in the little moments of joy. Inspired by Only Do One Thing, I’ll be doing monthly roundups of my favourite happy moments from the month. Part one can be found here!

I think we’re just going to have to accept that this is going to be late every single month. But it seems fruitless to make myself miserable about a blog being late because you were too busy doing the happy-making things that the blog is about. September was a bit of an odd month, to be honest. Lots of glorious highs, including my first ever cruise, but lots of wandering around listlessly and feeling a bit aimless. So I was very grateful for my happy things. They help me to put a little bit of sparkle in each day, even when I’d really rather sulk.

Here’s what September brought!

Cosy up.

I could have cried with happiness when this came up as a nudge. I hate the cold, dark nights but I absolutely love the chance to come home, light my candles and wrap myself in a duvet. Double points if I have a pot of soup on the boil. Triple points if I have a glass of wine in my hand. On this night, we went hell for leather and, inspired by that Edinburgh cafe that went viral on Buzzfeed, made ourselves hot chocolates with a big scoop of caramel ice cream in. Yes, you do have to drink it quickly otherwise it gets cold. Yes, it is delicious. Yes, you should try it. Get a spoonful of ice cream, dunk it under the hot chocolate and shove the whole melty mess in your mouth.

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Eat the most delicious thing you can imagine and enjoy every bite.

Oh, Only Do One Thing, you don’t have to tell me twice. In my house, virtually any disaster can be soothed with the question “Shall we make meatballs for dinner?”. Once, on a particularly bad day, Niall literally scooped a miserable me off the sofa and gave me a piggy back to the shop, chanting “Meatballs! Meatballs!”. Based on the Londoner’s lovely recipe, these meatballs are best eaten scalding hot on a huge hunk of crusty bread.

Not the most photogenic dinner but definitely the most delicious.

Not the most photogenic dinner but definitely the most delicious.

Love fiercely.

This nudge made me giggle because I read it while on a totally packed bus, which I had had to get on because I was running late, having run back from my front door to give Niall another kiss goodbye. I love him fiercely, with all of my heart, every single day.

Book tickets to something.

This was a good one! I love having something to look forward to, so booking things always makes me happy. We fancied getting a bit of culture about ourselves, so we booked to see a panel featuring Yanis Varoufakis speak about alternatives to austerity. I know, check us out. It was most excellent. The man can talk.

Practice stillness.

This nudge just so happened to fall on the day of my first yoga class in months. I’m planning a whole post about why I love this class, so I shan’t say too much, but basically it’s amazing to spend a whole hour really being present in your body. To go “Oh hey body, so that’s what you’re doing now. That’s great. Well done you. Well done us. That’s how far we can go? Awesome, let’s rest there for a while”.

Non-Only-Do-One-Thing Happy Stuff

These weren’t nudges, just things that made me happy!

Going on a friend date.

Me and one of the girls from work finally broke the office-friend barrier and went out and drank a frankly obscene amount of wine. We talked about vastly inappropriate things and laughed until my face hurt and when we got peckish, we ordered a baked camembert each and a bowl of curly fries. It was glorious.

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Going on a Fiona date.

Again, I’m going to post about this, so I shan’t post too many spoilers. But Niall went away for a long weekend to visit his family, so I got all dressed up and took myself on not one but two romantic dates. If you can’t love yourself, how in the hell are you gonna love somebody else?

What made you guys happy in September?

The Happiness Project: August 2015

The Happiness Project tracks my efforts to live a happier life by relishing in the little moments of joy. Inspired by Only Do One Thing, I’ll be doing monthly roundups of my favourite happy moments from the month. Part one can be found here!

Hiya pals! It’s time for another Happiness Project roundup! I appreciate that it is no longer August and so this is officially late. I’d love to say it’s because I’ve been swamped being busy and important but truthfully, I’ve just spent most of September so far drinking wine and watching Luther. And it’s been wonderful. No regrets.

So what did I get up to during August?

Picnic, Famous Five style.

This was the very first Only Do One Thing nudge of the month and I was utterly delighted. There’s a gorgeous park near me and I like to drag Niall around it at every available opportunity. We loaded up with sandwiches, apples, crisps and lashings of ginger beer (the kind that the Famous Five weren’t allowed) and parked ourselves on the grass for an afternoon. It was blissful. Apart from the bit where a big green spider dropped from the tree we were leaning on and dangled in my face. That bit was rubbish. But 10/10 for boozy picnics in the sun with my favourite person.

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Good news, I saw a turtle. Yes that is an Elf reference.

Good news, I saw a turtle. Yes that is an Elf reference.

Play air guitar like you mean it.

Man, every single day. My mum instilled the value of occasional dance breaks in me at a young age. There is very little that isn’t made at least a bit better by shaking your thang to You Shook Me All Night Long.

Challenge someone to a game.

I badgered Niall for about a bajillion years to play Monopoly with me because I love board games. He was all like “Oh, I don’t know, I don’t really know how to play Monopoly”. He ended up with SIX HOTELS and I ended up with £60. You better believe I threw all the Chance cards at him and flounced off. But up until that point, it was a totally brilliant way to spend a lazy Saturday. I’m already bugging him for a rematch. Love a board game, me.

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Hang out with an animal.

There is a little white cat who lives in our courtyard and I stop to pet him every time I see him. On this day I sat down to play with him for a little while and he climbed into my lap and started batting my pigtails and then went to sleep. I LOVE HIM AND I’M PROBABLY GOING TO STEAL HIM DON’T TELL ANYONE.

Non-Only-Do-One-Thing Happy Stuff

These ones weren’t nudges, they were just happy-making things that I did this month.

Bought myself a fancy cupcake and had 3pm afternoon tea at my desk.

Sure, I had one eye on my inbox but everything is better with half a cupcake in your mouth. Next time I’ll do a full cake stand with scones and stuff, see if anyone says anything.

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Took a detour on my way home to nosy down a pretty lane.

I walk past this lane every day and always wonder what lives on it. The answer was pretty fantastic: a creperie, a vintage clothes shop straight out of the movies, a million antique shops and general pretty things shops and more cobbles and flowers than you can shake a stick at. Definitely dragging Niall to the creperie for breakfast some time.

Made homemade peanut butter.

Okay, okay, my contribution to this was largely licking the spoon. And by largely, I mean entirely. Seriously though, this stuff is to die for.

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Overall, August was a pretty tasty month. Let’s hope September lives up to it! What made you guys happy during August?

Helpful Thoughts

So mindfulness is really having a moment, huh? It’s a word that, for better or worse (probably worse), I sort of zone out. It’s not that I don’t think it’s a good idea, it just always seems to come from the lips of women who spend their time talking about “toxins” and making sweet potato brownies, which by the way, are a MASSIVE HEARTBREAKING LIE. Awesome if you’re into it, but I struggle to see it becoming a part of my world. It seems like it’d be a lot easier to be mindful strolling down a beach at sunrise, freshly picked coconut in hand than it is standing at your sink at 10pm, chiselling cereal off the bowl that you didn’t soak this morning and trying to summon the fortitude to wash your damn hair.

I don’t live an especially glamorous or zen life. But one thing that I do believe in in a big way is happiness.

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Happiness is, at base, the thing we’re all striving for. It is the very definition of everyday magic. It doesn’t matter what you are doing, if you are bringing joy to yourself and others, you are succeeding (within reason guys, not condoning flagrant selfishness). One of the most important things I learned during my CBT was that happiness isn’t something that just happens. It’s something you choose. And sometimes, it’s really bloody hard to choose. I’m a pretty positive person overall but sweet jesus, I can sulk. Ask Niall. There’s something wonderfully maudlin about nursing a good grudge, even if it’s actually making you miserable. I’m not sure why this tendency is so strong because given the choice, who wouldn’t want to be happy over being miserable? I think it stems from that old chestnut where we’d all rather be right than happy. Everybody loves playing the martyr. But actually, the more I think about it, the more I feel like that’s a huge waste of time. The number of brilliant days I’ve wasted stroppily waiting for someone to recognise their perceived slight and apologise doesn’t even bear thinking about.

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Me being livid that Sophie is attempting to feed me a kumquat.

So whatever is to be done? Well, I’ve collected a bunch of principles that help me to live a happier life. I call them my helpful thoughts. Again, this is probably a throwback from my CBT, which focuses on getting rid of unhelpful thoughts and self talk. They’re basically affirmations for people who don’t do affirmations. And I promise, they’re just as relevant when your face is squashed against an oily rush hour bus window as they are on top of a mountain doing sun salutations. They’re specific enough to be helpful (to me anyway) but vague enough that they can be applied in a bunch of big and small ways to lots of different situations. I hope they help bring you some happiness.

“There’s no rush.”

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Little meaning: I sometimes feel like I’m in a hurry to get everywhere, all the time. I walk at an uncomfortable pace, even if I don’t have anywhere to be, driven by the innate feeling that I should be really busy. Sometimes tiny, insignificant things can happen to slow me down and this has an actual physical impact on me. A webpage takes more than a second to load. Someone walks slowly in front of me when I can’t overtake them. My kettle takes too long to boil. My phone charger gets tangled around the leg of my bed. When stuff like this happens, I can feel myself getting physically angry. I get hot. My heart starts thumping. My skin itches. And for what? For the loss of a couple of seconds. When I feel like this, it’s easy to see that too much stress is probably gonna kill us all. Every so often, I force myself to slow down and take my time. Whether that means taking a deep breath as the woman in front takes forty years to get her suitcase off the tube, consciously walking slowly or taking an afternoon to make an apple pie.

Big meaning: I am a huge worrier. “What, you? Fiona, surely not!”, I hear you cry. Alas, it is true. I am constantly measuring myself up against every arbitrary standard I can find and finding myself wanting. 30 things to do before you’re 30? Oh god, only seven years until I haven’t done these and am a TOTAL FAILURE. That girl has a book deal, so why have I been stuck on 5000 words of my novel for about a million years? Maybe I should buy a house. Maybe I should become an investment banker. Maybe I should get a sensible haircut. Maybe I should have a five year plan. Goals are awesome, and seeking inspiration from the people around you is awesome. Working yourself into a frenzy because you feel like your life is a failure at 23? Not awesome. I constantly have to remind myself that not only is my life not a failure, I barely even have a life yet. In most people’s eyes, I’m still pretty much a child. I’ve got so much time, and I’m wasting it by worrying that I’m not using it effectively enough. How utterly dull it would be if all the good stuff happened in the first 25 years. What on earth would you do with the rest? There’s no rush. Good things are coming, and they’ll get here in time.

“Let it go.”

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The little meaning and the big meaning for this one are pretty much the same, just on different scales. Remember the aforementioned sulking? This often means that a single, tiny bad experience can ruin my day. But here’s the thing: sulking about it doesn’t mean that it didn’t happen. In fact, it means that I’m letting a bad past ruin a potentially happy present. Take a deep breath, make like Elsa and just let it go.

Bus running late? Let it go. Stand on your favourite makeup palette? Mourn, and then let it go. Friend made a mean comment? Confront them or let it go. Boyfriend didn’t do the dishes? Confront him or let it go. Embarrass yourself at work five years ago? Everyone but you has forgotten, so let it go. Forgive others, forgive yourself. I stopped keeping a diary because reading my old rants was helping me hang onto grudges that would otherwise be completely forgotten.

Obviously I’m not saying that you should be a pushover. If someone is treating you badly, you absolutely should not let that go. But I think all of us waste so much time being angry about things that really don’t matter that much. Take your time, process your feelings but don’t hold onto them after that. None of us are strong enough to carry all the baggage we’re dragging around. Ditch that old unhappiness. Travel light.

“Be here, right now.”

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This one really came to the forefront when Niall and I were long distance. Every time I saw him, I would ruin the last day by spending the entire time with one eye on the clock, becoming increasingly miserable that we’d be apart again soon. And the truth is, that deadline was coming, whether I had an eye on the clock or not. Being gloomy didn’t stave it off, it just wasted time that could have been spent making memories. I spend a lot of time with my eye on the next amazing thing. And a lot of the time I really have to stop and look around and remind myself that actually, this moment, right here, could be amazing if I let it. You know those awful people who talk to you at parties while constantly searching the room for someone better? I’m doing that, but with my life. And that is uncool because my life is lovely and excellent and fun and complicated and wonderful just as it is.

“What are you waiting for?”

affirmations self careLittle meaning: Stop saving your best stuff for later. I mean, don’t totally blow your load and spend all your money and burn yourself out or anything. But wear your pretty dress, even if all you’re doing today is cleaning out the fridge. Use that fancy, expensive candle your aunt gave you. Dance like a mad person when that song comes on, even if it’s in the background of a car advert. Sing in the shower. Make the cake. Ask them out. Book the holiday. If you’re gonna be living in the moment, why the hell not make the moment as wonderful as it can possibly be? Some of my best decisions have come from asking myself “why the hell not?”. This includes organising Take Back the Beach, going on holiday to Iceland, writing a book and bullying Niall into getting back together with me after he casually made the worst decision of his life. What have you got to lose? As someone very clever once said, none of us are getting out of here alive, so you might as well live while you’re here.

Big meaning: Again, the big meaning is really just an extension of the little one. Stop waiting for someone to give you permission. I’m like a labrador when it comes to desiring approval. I want someone to come along every so often, take a look at my life and say “Yes, well done, this is correct”. When really, correct is a great big massive lie. Not everyone is going to understand you and the decisions that you make. The only correct life is the one that makes you happy. Don’t try to find the textbook in the choose-your-own-adventure book. Do what feels good. Your life is yours and everyone else can just deal with it. Unless you’re Donald Trump, in which case, you should probably take a long, hard look at yourself.

I’m not going to pretend I’m perfect and live in a constant state of peace and serenity using these statements. They’re guidelines, not magic spells. But they’re a handy little map for the kind of person that I want to be and the kind of life I want to live. So take them, use them if you like. And have a ridiculously, beautifully happy life.

The Happiness Project: July 2015

Welcome, lovely ladies and gentlemen, to a brand new feature on the Escapologist’s Daughter: the Happiness Project! A little while ago, I stumbled on a website called Only Do One Thing, which gives you one tiny thing to do per day that could turn a bad day around. And I thought, why not give it a go? So, I’m going to follow their little nudges and at the end of each month, I’ll do a round up of the fun stuff that they’ve encouraged me to do.

I’m an absolute expert at turning fun things into new excuses to feel guilty and berate myself over (hence why I don’t keep a schedule for this blog), so I’m not going to beat myself up if I don’t manage to do it every day. But we’ll give it a go and see how happy I can get!

Are you ready for July’s highlights?

Schedule some serious time to look at the moon.

Girl, please. Scheduling time to look at the sky is a fundamental part of my day. Whether it’s watching grey clouds bruise a blue sky, watching the sunset paint my bedroom with golden light or gazing at the moon, wondering who else is looking at it too. And yes, it does make me happy. There’s something about the enormity of the sky that makes me feel like I should relax, because we’re all so tiny in comparison anyway. In one of my favourite books (The Attack of the Unsinkable Rubber Ducks), a girl comments to her date that the size of the sky makes her feel insignificant. He points out that when compared to something of that scale, everything is insignificant, and by that logic, them being there together looking at the sky is the most important thing that has ever happened. For the record, if you say this to me, I will marry you immediately, no questions asked.

Buy flowers for someone.

I was thrilled as when this nudge came up. I know they’re silly, really. But I love getting flowers and I love giving them. So I send a lovely bunch of orchids to my best friend Ruth, who I don’t get to see much since we live on opposite sides of this island. And I bought myself a big handful of freesia for good measure.

Snip20150730_1I got my text from Ruth being delighted with her flowers and went about my day, pleased as punch with myself. And then I got home to find these waiting for me:

Snip20150730_2I texted Ruth to find out whether Niall had rumbled me. He hadn’t. And as far as I know, she doesn’t even know the Only Do One Thing site exists. Having never sent flowers to each other before, we both spontaneously sent them to each other on the same day. Spooky. But wonderful.

Make something from scratch.

This was a good one, because it was one that I totally couldn’t be bothered doing. I was hot and tired and I would much rather have sat on the sofa and rinsed a few episodes of Gossip Girl. But I didn’t.

Snip20150730_3How do you like them apple pies? It may have been significantly too hot to make pastry, but I rolled up my sleeves and did it anyway. It turns out that getting out of your own head for a while and doing something that takes a bit of time and effort is really great for soothing jangled minds. In a world where we’re constantly rushing around, even when we don’t have to, it’s kind of nice to do something that only works if you do it slowly.

Wear your best underwear, just because.

Ahem. Done. In fact, I did it twice.

Enjoy this picture of a baby camel.

babycamel-hero2You bet your ass I enjoyed this picture.

Complete this sentence: “Love is like…”

Love is like coming home.

I can’t wait to see what August has in store!

We Took Back The Beach

So, this has probably been the craziest week of my entire life. Beginning with this photograph:

How to get a beach body-Take your bodyAnd culminating in a big assed party in Hyde Park, with a quick stop at Sky News, the BBC and Troll Bridge along the way.

When Tara and I took this photograph, I wanted to provide an alternative idea of what beach body means. To say “Sure, Renee is gorgeous, but you don’t have to look like her if you don’t want to. You can have a body like mine and be gorgeous. You can have a body like yours and be gorgeous.”

When I uploaded the photo to Twitter, I was conscious that Tara and I only represent two body types, so I thought, why not throw it open? Why not give people the chance to be part of a photograph with all different shapes, sizes, races and genders? So we decided to throw a bit of a party in Hyde Park. And despite my fears that I’d turn up alone in my bikini in front of the world’s media, it was totally awesome.

take back the beach protein world

Photograph by Michael Mendones.

I arrived just before 3, for a quick interview with Stephanie from the New Statesman, and shared with her my nerves that no one else would come. Our very deep discussion about why trolls feel the need to troll was interrupted by me yelling “OMG BANANA” in her face, as I spotted a group of women heading towards us carrying an impressive array of inflatables.We headed over onto the grass, and I suddenly panicked about how I was supposed to entertain everyone and make everyone feel comfortable enough to start stripping off. My worry, as it turned out was completely unnecessary. People didn’t even wait for me to catch up before getting down to their swimming costumes, cracking out picnics and starting games of “toss the inflatable stuff at each other”. Total respect to the guy who just stretched out in front of the cameras and read his book like it wasn’t no thing.

DSCF1205I met a mother who had travelled down with her two daughters for the event, and was quickly introduced to dad, who was preoccupied with blowing up a giant rubber ring, like a hero.

DSCF1200This, to me, was incredible. How inspiring, to have a mother who is that determined to teach her daughters that their bodies are perfect and wonderful and capable of miraculous things, and a dad who understands and supports that. Seriously, you guys are amazing. I was so pleased to have teenage girls at the protest, because I remember being a teenage girl. It sucks. Your body changes in a lot of weird and frequently alarming ways, and all anyone wants to tell you, from the ads on TV to the boys in your school, is how your body is wrong. And yesterday was about stomping on that idea and grinding it into the ground. Your body is perfect. No caveats. No “it would be perfect if you toned it up/got a tan/lost some weight/put on some weight”. It is perfect right now. If you want to do any of the things in that list, that’s great, go ahead and do them. It’s your body. You can do whatever you want to it, if that will make you feel amazing. For some people, that means losing weight. For some people, it means a quick swish of red lipstick. For some people, it means wearing a fabulous dress, For some people, it means covering your body in tattoos and body art. And all these things are great, if they make you feel great. Don’t ever let anyone tell you how to love your own body, because you’re the one who has to live in it.

I worry that nobody is telling young girls this, so I was beyond delighted when an enormous troupe of 13 year old mini-feminists appeared.

take back the beach protein world

DSCF1181This is unspeakably fantastic. To have a group of young women so confident and so intelligent that they can be part of a terrifying, complicated conversation like the one surrounding body image is amazing. I am so, so proud that this is the future of feminism. Seriously, if you guys ever read this, you inspire me. And sadly, I know that they’ve got a hell of a fight ahead of them. They’re going to take a whole lot of nasty coming from a never-ending parade of stupid, just like I have this week, for daring to stand up and say “We deserve better than this”. (Ladies, I’m always here if you need me. My email address is in my Contact Me page, please, please use it.) But to hear a thirteen year old girl stand among a group of adults and wax lyrical about what feminism means to her made me want to happy cry.

I actually did manage to hold it together and not cry. For most of the day. Until I spotted these guys:

take back the beach protein worldBoth of these women are in recovery from eating disorders. And speaking to them, seeing their absolute strength and seeing the love and support they held for each other, even as strangers, I couldn’t help bursting into tears. Just bawling, in my swimming costume, in the middle of Hyde Park. We had one guy come along solely to pick fights with us, and he stood and ranted at this woman about why being fat is unhealthy. Now, I have been extremely proud of how I’ve handled our critics. I believe it’s nice to be nice, even to the person who has just called you a fat, jealous attention seeker. But if I ever see someone make a comment as triggering as that, I will track you down and gouge out your eyes. Comments like this can kill.

A lot of people have contacted me since yesterday and tried to embarrass me or make me say that the event was a failure. To them, I have but one thing to say.

Have you lost your damn minds?

Over one hundred men and women gathered together yesterday to feel amazing about their bodies, display their confidence and demand better from our adverts. I’ve spoken before about how daring to have a body as a woman is a political act in itself, one which seems to invite comment and criticism. A woman feeling great in her own skin is not a small thing. It’s huge. It’s life changing. There were picnics, there were bubbles, there were inflatable dolphins, there was body paint, there were hugs and laughter and tears galore, and you’re asking me if I’m embarrassed by the turnout? To put it politely: have a word with yourself. I’ve never been prouder in my life. I am heart burstingly, mind blowingly proud of us, and I will not try to hide that because yesterday didn’t meet somebody else’s completely arbitrary expectations.

I met so many incredible, inspiring people yesterday, and I will never be able to express the love and gratitude I feel for all of you who came to support me. Did we take back the beach? You bet your ass we did.

This is what class looks like.

This is what class looks like.

Oh, just a typical feminazi chubster.

Oh, just a typical feminazi chubster.

These guys got totally hounded by the photographers. That's what you get for making good signs.

These guys got totally hounded by the photographers. That’s what you get for making good signs.

It was a varied and excellent bunch.

It was a varied and excellent bunch.

Beach body ready: different strokes for different folks.

Beach body ready: different strokes for different folks.

Yes. Yes that is the Gogglebox chicks.

Yes. Yes that is the Gogglebox chicks.

Broke Folks’ Guide to Self-Care

Money can’t make you happy. But a lack of it can make you pretty unhappy. Being skint sucks. It doesn’t matter how cool being poor becomes, how many warehouse bars you open, how many pairs of ripped jeans you buy, the realities of actually having no money are pretty horrible. Even if you’re not actually living in poverty, which I never have been, thank goodness, having to obsessively count your pennies and swither over every purchase you make can take a nasty toll. And it’s easy to forget about looking after yourself when you’ve got bills stacking up. But honestly, self care is the most important thing. The most important. If you don’t take care of yourself and be kind to yourself, you’re going to burn out. Here are some of the things that I do to keep myself happy and healthy, even when my budget looks bleak.

1. Get the basics right.

Eat five pieces of fruit and veg a day. Drink two litres of water. Get eight hours sleep. Take 10000 steps.

Getting the basic stuff like this right is probably the easiest and most effective way of improving your physical and mental health. All of the things I listed up there are things that aren’t hard to do, they just take a little bit of effort. I know that I need to micromanage myself, or I would never do anything with my life. So I bought a 1.5 litre bottle for my desk. I fill it up in the morning and I make sure I finish it before I leave work. I have a pedometer which allows me to see exactly how much or how little I’ve done. When I’m feeling particularly organised, I make myself little lists where I can check off each glass of water or portion of fruit and veg. I’m basically a gigantic toddler, but I know how to make that work for me.

2. Make your space beautiful.

flowers decoration wellbeing

Not loving your home is absolutely rubbish for your state of mind. Your home should be somewhere that makes you feel safe and happy and…well…at home. But on a budget, a lot of us aren’t exactly living in Buckingham Palace. I’m really lucky that I found a beautiful flat in London, but I’ve dealt with some horror stories in the past. A university halls room with salmon walls, a resident tarantula and a carpet worthy of a penny arcade. A flat where the mouse infestation stopped us worrying about the seemingly unstoppable cracks in the ceiling and walls. An endless parade of heinous mouldy bathrooms. It might seem like putting lipstick on a pig, but dress your home up. I promise, it’ll make more of a difference than you’d think. I have an enormous, brightly patterned bedspread and it makes me smile every time I look at it. I love to buy fresh flowers and put them in my bedroom, even if it’s just a 95p bunch of daffodils in an old peanut butter jar. I put photos of people and places that I love on every surface, on pinboards, on the walls. A set of fairy lights across my desk took my halls room from magenta nightmare to cosy boudoir. Candles can change the whole feel of a room. Surround yourself with things that make you feel happy and peaceful. And try not to worry about that weird stain on the wall.

3. Move your body.

Most of the time, there is nothing that I want to do less than move my body. I sometimes think I was destined to be a large shrub rather than a person. And this only gets worse when I’m feeling low. But my very wise mother, who taught me most of the clever things that I know, taught me that everything feels better after a little dance in your kitchen. Grab your laptop and put on a song you love. You Shook Me All Night Long, Little Bitty Pretty One and the Power of Love (the Huey Lewis one) are my guaranteed brain pleasers. Now start dancing. Really dance, with your arms flailing about and everything. If you’re feeling down, this will probably feel totally contrived to start with, like some awful teambuilding exercise. But persevere, by the end of the first song, you’ll be loving it for real. Nothing gives me a bigger boost more immediately than an emergency danceathon.

4. Don’t move your body.

We spend most of our lives rushing around, doing a million things at once, competing with each other to be the most busy. This, shockingly, is not very good for you. Spread a blanket out on the ground. Put on one of those 10 hour meditation music mixes on Youtube. Lie down. Close your eyes. Take deep breaths. Let your mind wander. Don’t feel guilty about pressing pause for a little while. It’s amazing the good that taking ten minutes to be still and shut the hell up can do for you. Some of my best epiphanies come from lying on my floor with my rabbit licking my forehead and wondering whether he can start eating me yet.

5. Go outside.

clissold park london

Fresh air and sunlight and exercise and pretty things are all totally good for your wellbeing. Know where you can find all of these things? OUTSIDE. I know, outside sucks. If I was a shrub, I’d be an indoor shrub. But once you get off the sofa and through the door, outside is actually sort of great. If you live near a park, go and take a wander. Trees are good for the soul. If it’s a nice day, take a picnic. Food tastes better outside. Bonus points if the park has a pond or a lake…being near water makes me instantly about 42% happier.

6. Treat yo’self.

One of my favourite things in the world is a really scalding hot shower. Yes, I know it’s bad for my skin, but you can pry it from my crusty old hands. Buy yourself a really incredible smelling shower gel and take time to relax in the shower. I’m still eeking the last out of a Rituals shower gel I got for Christmas, but Dove and I Love have genuinely gorgeous scented products for brilliant prices. I’m a sucker for anything scented with peach, orange or jasmine. Cover yourself in gorgeous bubbles, close your eyes and pretend you’re in a Japanese spa. This is one of my top everyday pleasures, and I refuse to berate myself or feel silly for taking joy in such an insignificant moment. There are no little pleasures. There should be no guilty pleasures. Don’t be afraid to take happiness at every available opportunity. A lot of people might make fun of this, but that’s only because being cynical is the easiest way to pretend that you’re smarter than everyone else without actually having to learn stuff. Cynics suck. If people are trying to dim your happiness, it’s usually because they’re unhappy themselves. I will never stop being delighted by hot showers, long, long hugs, swipes of red lipstick, lazy cups of tea. I know I bang on about this all the time, but that’s because it’s important. Happiness is a choice, and you should choose it every single time you can. It’s also a habit, which you need to practise. And the more you practise, the easier and more reflexive that choice will become.

7. Feel grateful.

gratitude wellbeing

This one comes right off the back of the last one. Just because happiness is a choice doesn’t mean it’s an easy one. It is so, so tempting to mope instead. This seems like a fundamental flaw in the human psyche, but it’s true. We would rather be right than happy. We would rather be the martyr. We love a moan. For the past two weeks, I’ve been having a really rubbish time. With the exception of a completely life changing holiday, I have been miserable. Every little thing that could go wrong, did. Over and over again, and it really wore me down. These things pile up, and they can really get to you. So on my lunch hour, I went to a cafe, bought a hot chocolate and made a list of things in my life that make me happy. They ranged from travelling to new places, to having freckles, from Facetiming my mum, to baking apple pies. And actually, I found that I had a lot to be grateful for. I filled two notebook pages. Nothing had changed, the crappy things had all still happened, but suddenly the good was shining through. Lying on the floor like in number 4 is also an excellent time to have realisations like this. I don’t want to sound self righteous, or like I’m suggesting that if you’re unhappy, it’s your fault. It absolutely isn’t. And I’m no Pollyanna, it took me a fortnight of sulking and some very good advice before I got my head back on properly. But you can choose to see things differently. It’s really hard, and requires a bit of sacrifice, but it’s possible. Give it a go.

Life can be hard. It can be really, really hard. And when it is, it’s tempting to think of yourself as unimportant, and spend time focusing on everything else. But taking the time to do something good for yourself is so, so vital. You are important. You’ve got this. You deserve to be happy. Be gentle with yourself.

One Year On

So today marks one year exactly since I started writing my blog! Happy blogday to me!

DSCF0593

DSCF0598

I have, of course made cupcakes, because any excuse, right?

But it’s also given me a really great excuse to look back over the past year, and it’s been amazing to do that. I know this blog is generally full of makeup, and my shoes disintegrating and me dressing up as Winnie from Hocus Pocus, but when I started, I wasn’t in a great frame of mind to think about any of that kind of stuff.

If you’ve never read my first post, here’s the short version:

I created this blog because I was depressed. I had been working for about a year in my “dream job”, and had known for quite a long time that it wasn’t making me happy anymore. But when I told people what I did, they would go “Ooooh, that’s amazing”, and look totally impressed. I had my big girl job, I was on the way up, I was A Success. I fell in love with this image of myself, and told myself that as long as nobody knew I was miserable, I’d be okay. Eventually, it got too much for me and I told everyone I knew, including the internet, in a crying jag that lasted about a week. I started this blog to let other people out there know that maybe it’s okay not to be okay, and to stop me shutting people out like that again. Two weeks later, I quit my job and signed up to an online counselling service. This was basically a collection of all the scariest things I could ever imagine doing, all happening at the same time.

Skip forward a year. How am I doing?

Well, I’m doing pretty great. I know lots of you have been following my blog and seeing me living it up in London, and to be honest, my life is going pretty damn amazingly. In the past year, I’ve seen this blog grow to be something that I’m really rather proud of, and it has charted my journey to being someone that I am really rather proud of. I’ve done some incredible things this year, and realised some really important stuff.

Firstly, don’t let anyone else ever, EVER tell you how you should go about being happy. People don’t come out of cookie cutters. Different things make different people happy, and we don’t ever get to judge someone’s success by our standards. Don’t ever be ashamed of what makes you happy, it’s such a waste of time and emotions and energy that would be better spent being smug about how happy you are.

Also, our idea of success is the most fucked up. The most fucked up. Apologies for swearing, most of you have probably noticed that my personal posts tend to get a bit sweary. I mean, how crazy is it that our primary, and sometimes only, barometer of success is the work that you do? Our careers have become the most important thing to strive for, we fall over ourselves to be busier than each other, to talk about how absolutely crammed our lives are with meetings and suits and serious-looking charts. Stop. If you have a high flying career that you adore, hats off to you. Seriously, that’s amazing, and I hope that it continues to bring you happiness. But what about the woman who spends her days pouring coffee and her nights making beautiful art? Or the guy who works a boring office job and struts out of the office at 5:01 every day, work forgotten. Or the stay at home mum whose life revolves around her kids. We look down on these people and we judge them because their lives don’t fit the specific image of success that we’ve spent so long building up. I did that to myself, and it made me really, seriously ill.

Doing stuff that scares you is incredible. This blog has pushed me to do so many things that I would never have done in a million years. I went to a champagne tasting in a skybar on my own. I handed my business card to a Radio One DJ. I blagged my way through countless beauty and fashion events where I felt in over my head the entire time. And it’s been one of the best years I can remember. Seriously, 2014’s photobook is gonna be an absolute corker. I try to say yes to things without even thinking, because I know that once I think about it, I’ll talk myself out of it.

The people who love you are the most valuable asset you will ever have. At points in this past year, I have had literally nothing. No money, no job, no self esteem, no idea what I was doing or where I was going. All I had were those people. They have mopped up buckets of tears, picked me up when I felt like I couldn’t take another step, forgiven me time and time and time again when I hurt them in fits of self destruction. I will never be able to express the gratitude and love that I feel for them. For my family. For Ruth. For Niall. For every single person who got in touch with me after I posted that first blog and told me that they felt the same. For the hundreds and thousands of hands that came out and took mine when I thought I was completely alone. People love you, I promise. Give them a chance to show you and you will be blown away by the kindness that they can show you. I know that I was.

Okay, I’m definitely crying a bit now.

When I started this blog, even when I started to get better, I was determined not to show you some squeaky clean, shiny, happy, perfect vision of my life. I wanted to be real, always. If people loved my writing, I wanted them to love my dark days, my mishaps, my swearing, my awkwardness, my everything. I wanted them to read it and go “Oh my god, thank god someone is talking about this”. Sometimes that means you have to write about porn. Sometimes it means admitting that you almost set yourself on fire taking your cute blogiversary photo. Sometimes it means you have to spill your entire heart on the internet. Social media is a god damn nightmare for making you think that everyone else has their life together. If I hadn’t started this blog and had people get in touch to say thank you, I would think I was the only one of my friends who felt like they lost control of their lives the second they graduated. We lie all the time on social media, and here, on my very own little corner of the internet, I don’t want to lie.

My life isn’t perfect. Depression isn’t the kind of thing that you just brush off and never think about ever again. There are days when I look in the mirror and all I see are flaws. There are days when I don’t look in the mirror because I don’t want to get out of bed. Despite everything that I went through, and all that very good advice up there, there is still a little voice in my head that goes “You’re working a nine to five? God, how embarrassing. You’d better say that quietly. You should probably become a space octonaut instead.” Seriously, I still have that fight with myself. But at least now, the bigger part of me knows that it’s bullshit. So I’m a little further along the path than I was. And I’m working on it every single day. I hope that some of you will stick around on this journey with me, thanks for coming this far.