On comedy, depression & You’re The Worst

kristen-bell-youre-the-worst

In the space of a week or so this spring, I blazed through seasons one and two of You’re the Worst, and have now (unfortunately) caught up in time to poodle along at the rate of one episodes per week of season three. Sad face.
And I am utterly obsessed. I picked it up as something light to watch in bitesize twenty-two minute chunks, but soon found that as LOLingly hilarious as it is, it’s also bitingly real. It’s real-life romantic instead of rom-com romantic AKA close to zero romance, but still tender in all the right ways. It features a very realistic number of CARBS. But mainly, the characters. The emotionally-stunted, self-involved, fucked-up characters. For the purpose of this post, let’s talk about Gretchen, played by Aya Cash.
Gretchen’s clinical depression isn’t introduced until season two, when she starts sneaking out in the middle of the night to cry in her car (while playing snake on her burner phone; she likes to play snake while she cries, so what?). Are you saying, a whole season in, they just dropped in a storyline about the main character being ‘suddenly’ depressed? Err, yeah, and it was great, and honest. She’s had it for forever, she tells Jimmy. Because depression can come and go, and it doesn’t always manifest as crying in your car, or lying in the foetal position like Gretchen does for large chunks of season two. Perhaps she just reached crisis point, and had actually been in a bad place all along. And perhaps it came out of nowhere and mowed her down. Either way, a storyline like this featuring so heavily in what is essentially a comedy is something I just had to talk about, because I friggin’ love it.
Comedy is funny for being real; for taking circumstances and situations we can all recognise – or at least imagine – and picking the lens through which we see them. You’ve got one of these lenses yourself, called your perspective, but despite the number of times you’ve probably been told that it’s the (not so) secret of happiness and the only thing that matters, it’s not such a doddle to control. Don’t feel bad. Everyone’s too close to their own problems, and I would bet you anything the ones who tell you to ‘turn that frown around’ in a faux helpful/low-key passive-aggressive way are the biggest messes when they’re having a bad day.
My point is, anyway, that film and television present a way of being able to examine the circumstances of our own lives from one step removed, and in whichever light the creators choose. And it’s safe to engage wholly and passionately with these narratives – and you know you’ve cried over the fake pains of fake people – precisely because they’re not real, and yet at the same time they’re more intimately told to us than those of the real people in our lives.
Because as the adage goes, ‘you’ve got to laugh’. Maybe not at yourself. Definitely not at other people. But whether you’re clinically depressed or just premenstrual, if you find yourself sobbing inconsolably because you hairsprayed your underarms and doused your ‘do in deodorant, know there’s a giggle in there somewhere. It’s ok if you can’t see it – that’s what TV’s for.
What’s more, anything that frames mental illness as something other than scary/potentially dangerous/awkward to acknowledge or deal with head on/contagious maybe??? is a very, very good thing. Take it from someone who knows that speaking openly about your depression can garner any number of responses, and many of them are less than chill. And that’s tough. My depression is a huge part of my story, especially as far as explaining my current circumstances goes, and if I can’t introduce it into conversation even passingly without being seen to be ‘oversharing’, it kind of puts me in a bind. I end up using euphemisms like ‘burnt out’ or ‘struggling’ or even the splendidly ambiguous ‘learning to be easier on myself’.
I can recommend You’re the Worst on so many levels, but in particular the level on which they handle mental illness without kid gloves and squeamishness. Besides Gretchen, the character of Edger is an Iraq veteran and PTSD sufferer, and as of the beginning of season three he’s made the decision to come off his meds – uh oh. I have everything crossed that they handle this story arc as classily as they have done Gretchen’s.
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This is not careers advice

cercei-lannister

It’s now been fifteen months since I left my job. I planned to write an honest, laid-bare, in places humiliating account of why this is, but I’m not sure how to yet. I’m consistently in two minds about whether it’s nerve-wracking and uncomfortable but essentially a positive thing, or whether it’s nerve-wracking and uncomfortable because it’s a very bad idea and an awful failing. When I have a solid argument to pitch, I’ll let you know, but until then here’s one reason I don’t have a job: choices, or rather, a lack of having made any.
To illustrate this problem, here are the jobs I’ve given moderate to serious consideration this week alone:
Childminder
Because: easy hours that compliment my writing schedule, limited interaction with the public, potential of changing a child’s life as they change mine, and then being played by Mandy Moore/Emma Roberts/Gemma Arterton in the movie version.
Obstacles: parents tend to want a person who can drive their kids around, and a license is another adult thing I do not have. However, I do have around twelve years’ experience with children from way back when I was one.
Likelihood verdict: something like this could work, just not this.
Funeral director
Because: I actually applied for a funeral director position once. I guess I like idea of it forcing me to feel, of never having the opportunity to get complacent, and of connecting with people when they really need it. That, and Six Feet Under.
Obstacles: driving, again, is a bonus. Plus I failed this situational test the job I applied for had me do, so someone thinks I’m not suitable.
Verdict: I’m going to listen to the universe. Probably not a good idea.
Prison guard
Because: I worry about those guys. I want to know everybody’s being nice to each other in there.
Obstacles: would very likely not be able to overpower anyone at a crucial moment. Also I have this pitchy, little girl voice that demands no respect whatsoever. Fair surprisingly well under pressure, however.
Verdict: may find it very fulfilling, may also die.
Park ranger
Because: I like the outdoors.
Obstacles: in the dream scenario, I’m doing this in the hundreds of square kilometres of Yosemite National Park, California, where I am not.
Verdict: I think my park ranger fantasy might be the ultimate manifestation of my wanderlust coupled with this little voice in my head that tells me to go toss my phone in a river and be at one with nature. Maybe someday.
Sommelier
Because: drank some wine, liked it, did indeed detect notes of red berries and chocolate.
Obstacles: have worked in hospitality before and it’s the fucking worst. This job is probably less drinking for a living and trips to Tuscany than paying for people’s dry-cleaning once you’ve spilled Merlot down them.
Verdict: already over the idea.
Drug dealer
Because: learned that Pablo Escobar was worth $30 billion.
Obstacles: would have to research how one gets into this line of work. I have a feeling it’s more of a who you know than what you know type situation, in which case I’ve fallen at the first hurdle, but correct me if I’m wrong (my DMs are open). Also sales is something I usually find a little intimidating but your audience is more or less captive with this one. The most profitable drug operations tend to be family affairs, but I’m fairly certain I can get the other Mathewsons on board.
Verdict: is promising.
Astrodynamicist
Because: watched The Martian. Would like to be able to save Matt Damon from space should the need present itself. Astrodynamics is what Donald Glover does in that movie, and the idea of something called the ‘Hannah Mathewson Manoeuvre’ appeals to me immensely.
Obstacles: skills I don’t have.
Verdict: realistically, this would be tough. But if I had the time, the money and the inclination, I could go back to school and get the A levels I don’t have in maths and physics, and then a second degree, and a masters, and a doctorate if I need that too. Our only limitations are the ones we place on ourselves or whatever. Going to put this one in the maybe pile.
Drug dealer it is then. But as much as being the next Pablo Escobar sounds like a perfect fit for me, my stomach does turns at the thought of committing; to anything from life as a drug lord to a weekend admin job. It all feels like admitting defeat, or an opportunity to get too comfortable again. Maybe all this job anxiety is an invaluable tool that keeps me pushing forward. Maybe my indecisiveness is confirmation that, really, I know which job I want. I just picked a bad one.
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About your A level results

About your a levels finding nemo

It’s almost A level results time, and I have an awful lot to say about that, but it could be summarised as you could not pay me enough to go through that shit again. Not millions. Not social media mogul numbers*. You. Could. Not. Pay. Me.
Now, I’m really not one for doling out advice. When the need presents itself, I like to be as vague and unhelpful as I can conceivably manage, because what the hell do I know? You’re really asking me what you’re doing wrong? Like, have you read my blog? But when it comes to you poor seventeen-year-olds, shackled to the UCAS conveyor belt your schools would like you to believe is the best and only way to plan your future, I have words of wisdom up to my eyeballs, so here are some things you should consider.
  1. You’re a foetus.
There’s a high chance you’re not sure of your choices, but you’ve had to make some anyway. I wish someone had told me it was okay to be undecided. I wish someone had told me there was time. It only takes a few short years to be able to look back on your A levels and realise nothing was as dire as you thought it was, and all that pressure was artificial, and that it’s actually pretty hard to fuck up that badly when you’re seventeen.
  1. Believe it or not, you DO NOT HAVE TO GO TO UNIVERSITY.
Your school is probably being judged on how many of its graduates get into great universities, and you have become a pawn of that system. Here’s the kicker though: if you go to university for you and you alone, and not to bolster your school’s reputation, then you can go whenever you want – there is no upper age limit on tuition fee loans in the UK. I cannot stress how confident I am of this next bit of advice: take a couple of years out. Not one year; that’ll barely get you out of the system for a couple of months before applications start again. Take some real time to grow into the adult you’ll become; to explore life outside of education; to realise that you don’t have to like what your friends like or want what your parents want for you. Maybe you’ll realise your future doesn’t lie in higher education at all. If you want to deliver pizzas or paint houses or walk dogs for a living, guess what? YOU CAN. That is not a lack of ambition; you’re only guilty of that if you decide what you want isn’t worth the effort involved. There’s value and joy to be found in a whole plethora of jobs that absolutely do not require a degree. Personally, I love me a bit of heavy lifting. I love being on my feet for an entire eight-hour shift (yes, future me is guilty of the purchase of one of those pretentious standing desks). What’s more, I believe thoroughly and whole-heartedly in the value of a little customer service experience, preferably when you’re young and malleable. Oxford might make you a brilliant academic, but working in a cinema for six years made me a better person, which is infinitely more valuable and didn’t cost me £36,000.
  1. It’s not the end of the world if you make the wrong decisions
Getting your A level results and a spot at a great university just reeks of finality. I know it feels like the be all and end all. Now that you’ve hopped onto the successcalator (Trademark Hannah Mathewson) the only way is up, and if you fuck up, it’s all over. Well, it doesn’t work like that. If you ask me, you’ve come out of sixth form a success, not if you bagged straight As, but if you survived without having fashioned yourself a little Pit of Worthlessness and crawled up in it to die, the way I did. My point is, anyway, that you will probably wonder if you shouldn’t have studied a science instead of English Lit. Maybe you’ll question whether Sheffield would have been a smarter choice than Southampton. Perhaps you’ll come to rue the day you talked yourself out of that Erasmus Programme. And maybe it’ll be too late to change those decisions, but it’s okay. Life goes on, and you will find other ways. Whichever way this week and the coming months go for you, you will continue to make mistakes for your whole life, and the trick isn’t to try and help that, it’s to learn to deal, to keep moving forward, and to see open doors instead of missed opportunities.
If you’re wondering about my credentials for dispensing this wisdom, then here they are: I’ve lived through it. I flunked half my A levels, then much later on I got a first class degree from a great university, and you know what? Neither of those things has mattered. I mean, sure, if you’re dead set on becoming a doctor, or an architect, and you know what you’ve got to do to get there, then go for it. But if you’re floating about, waiting for something to drop, then cut yourself some slack. It’s more important to learn who you are, what makes you tick, and how to be happy and self-confident, than it is to be starting some £30k graduate job by the time you’re 24.
Just be brave, be curious, be open-minded, and apply yourself to whatever you do, because there’s more to learn from every single experience – A level physics, three months in Asia, a retail job – than a skill or knowledge set you might never use again.
It’s okay. It’s all going to be okay. Proud of you!
*alright I’ll think about it.
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Depression and exercise

Depression and exercise

I sprained my ankle three weeks ago, and I’ve gone full Jimmy Stewart in Rear Window; peering covetously out at the mobile world, blinds drawn against the sweltering heat. Remember that summer I was so desperate for? Yeah, it’s happened and I’m missing it all.
For the most part, it’s been fine. A blessing, almost. Being bound to my desk with my foot up on a cushion has been good for my productivity at a really crucial time, when I’m trying to market my e-book all by myself. But it also fucking sucks. I’m going to be a bridesmaid in September and I was supposed to have a supermodel physique by now. Instead I’m slowly getting squishier, like the contents of the butter dish – just replace ‘hot weather’ with ‘consolatory Dairy Milk’. Also, I’m not sleeping well. It’s hard to get tuckered out when your biggest exertion over the course of the day is hopping one-footed up and down the stairs.
But my biggest complaint isn’t my lack of ‘thigh gap’ or the quality of my sleep. It’s that exercise is as good for my mind as it is for my body, and for a while I’m going without.
Let’s get one thing straight: the idea that you can put on your running shoes and go cure yourself of depression is ignorant and misguided on so many levels. For a start, it implies that depression is a symptom of laziness or inertia; that it’s a character flaw of sorts. Suggesting a simple, one size fits all solution that reduces a potentially life-threatening illness to a matter of lifestyle is, to put it mildly, unhelpful.
Maybe you know a depressed person whose exercise is limited to shuffling between the sofa and the fridge, and you’re thinking ‘but of course getting up and about would make them feel better! That’s how endorphins work!’ And perhaps you’re right. It’s just science, after all. It’s also nearly entirely beside the point. Let’s imagine you have polio. Your muscles have degenerated to nothingness, and you can barely stand. That’s not to say you wouldn’t get a boost of endorphins from a little jogging, and who wouldn’t benefit from that? You should do it; it’ll be good for you. Yeah, that’s pretty much what you’re saying to your friend with depression.
Your depressed friend probably knows that if they could pull themselves out of bed and get their heart rate up a little, then sure, maybe they’d feel a bit better for a while. And maybe they wouldn’t. Don’t assume. Don’t assume that they don’t want to. Don’t assume that they haven’t spent all their mental energy that day just working up to the idea. Don’t assume they never put their running shoes on, and get as far as the front door before they’re hit with the heart breaking fact that they’re kidding themselves; that their body and their mind don’t care what they want; that they’re just not capable.
And if you’re not sure, then don’t assume your depressed friend isn’t even more active than you are. Save from these last few weeks, I work out three to five times a week, and guess what? Still not cured. In my case – ‘recovering’ is guess you could say – I can usually find it in me to get moving, and it’s as useful as part of maintaining a routine and personal confidence as it is for my brain chemicals.
It’s never comfortable to make changes like this one when I don’t know what the effect will be on my precarious health, but you know what? I’m fine. I think I’m as good as I’ve been all year. Maybe I’d be even better if I was still routinely working out, but I think it just goes to show that there’s nothing make or break about a little cardio; that you can’t cure yourself with exercise any more than you can induce clinical depression by skipping it; and that you should probably watch where you’re stepping if you don’t want to spend your summer imagining the murderous plotting of your shady neighbours.
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The quarter-life crisis

quarter life crisis frances ha
This thing came up on my Twitter feed a couple of weeks ago asking me to assess whether I was having a quarter-life crisis. That’s right, as well as spending the middle of your life in crisis (and by all definitions, that’s like a whole third of it, right?), it is also to be expected that the twenty to thirty period will be considerably rocky too.
I have always dismissed the idea that the quarter-life crisis is even a thing – despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Do I sometimes feel like I napped through orientation and have just woken up, been handed my adulthood credentials and told to hop to it? Sure. Do I experience physical nausea when I picture 95% of the potential versions of myself fifteen years from now? Occasionally. Am I having a full-blown existential breakdown? There’s a chance, yes. But it just seems so counter-intuitive. Our early adulthoods are so ripe with possibility that surely we should be loving the quarter-life; this chance we have to become who we want to be. But if possibilities are peaches, ready for the picking, then we’re grabbing at all of them in panic, casting them aside when we think better, and then, instead of climbing the heap to reach the choice fruit in the up-most branches, we’re being suffocated under the weight of our mulchy indeciveness. Or whatever.
So why the crisis? A quick Google search on the topic suggests that large numbers of twenty-somethings experience severe stress and anxiety that they attribute to the fear of not doing enough with their life; of missing out on something indefinable. In a nutshell, FOMO. We have real bad FOMO.
If the mid-life crisis is the realisation that you have more time behind you than ahead of you, and that it passed by in a flash, and that too much of it was spent poorly, then I guess the quarter-life crisis is the fear that you’re hurtling towards that eventuality and nothing can stop you. It’s the realisation that you’re heading down a path, and you’re not sure if you chose it or how many junctions you’ve already missed. Because you probably weren’t ready for any of this, and how could you be? Being a kid feels so much like you’re waiting around for this transformation, that of course you’re thrown for a loop when there isn’t one. No coming of age moment. No kid skin to shed. No chrysalis. This is it; this is your life. It will never suddenly start to feel like you think it should, so take what you have now and make what you can of it.
So yes, sure, the quarter-life crisis is a thing, along with the thing we catch at forty, the thing we catch at thirteen, and I’m sure the very serious thing we endure at eighty, on that bleak and fright-worthy home stretch. Crisis is, I think, just living. Maybe the moment when you suddenly feel like you’ve arrived – the moment the crisis is over – is the same one in which you die.
But all the same, I’ve decided I like the idea of the quarter-life crisis, and this is why: when I look around me, almost everyone else seems so sure. This is another unfavourable side-effect of living: that most of the time, you’ll be convinced you’re some kind of freak. But call your freakishness a quarter-life crisis and suddenly you’re not so weird. Yes, other people feel these things, so much so that we went and named it. It’s almost a little curative. Maybe you’re anxious and afraid, and maybe you don’t know where you’re headed from here, but you’re doing fine. Or at least other people are fucking up too and that’s basically the same thing.
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The weather has it in for me

Karen Smith The weather has it in for me

I’ve been doing well recently. I don’t think much about the dread, and for the first time in months and months I’ve been genuinely busy prepping to launch my e-book. The fact that it’s summer helps, although this year the British weather is endeavouring to be very little help at all. As if to spite me, it has started thundering at this very moment.
It’s no secret that sunny days are good for everyone’s mood, whether you suffer from depression or are just feeling a little blue, but no one fully understands why. It’s often chalked up to getting more sunlight, or some residual evolutionary function that has us winding down in colder months, kind of like hibernation.
Here are some unscientific observations on other things I think help:
  • Spending more time outdoors, surrounded by nature, instead of inside glued to a screen
  • Wearing fewer clothes, which makes us physically lighter (AND SEXIER)
  • Brighter colours, courtesy of blue skies and rapeseed flowers. Think Kansas versus Oz.
  • Ice cream – the universal comfort food. It’s like mood medicine.
Unfortunately, this year I’ve spent more days in slippers and cardigans than I have out of them, the rainclouds are casting a near-constant gloom, and ice cream just doesn’t appeal when simply glancing skywards is enough to make me shiver OK FINE I JUST ATE HALF A TUB OF HAAGEN-DAZS.
I confess, I am a hopeless victim of the seasons. I know it’s not an affliction specific to people with depression, but when you’re already teetering that much closer to the brink of cowering under your duvet in the foetal position, then like me, you may feel a little like summer 2016 is shitting all over you. This is meant to be my sweet spot; the annual genesis of enough inspiration and cheer to see me through the December-February danger zone. You could say I’m solar-charged, and I’m running low on juice.
The unfortunate truth is that for as long as I can remember, I get as much as 70% of my work done in the summer months. I know, it’s a joke. Why does a beautiful sunny day inspire me to hole myself away and write? But it’s true. And this year, I’ll be lucky to be a third as productive. If I’m totally honest, it’s only now that I’m getting around to publishing my e-book because I’m trying to distract from the fact I’m barely writing at all. Just look how spaced out these posts are getting!
I’m on edge. I feel I might trigger my own downward spiral by waiting a little to eagerly on a good stretch of summery weather; by convincing myself I need it.
I don’t need it. I need the people who love me. I need my creative outlet. I need my medication. The rest just helps. Besides, there will be other mood boosters. There will be other mood villains too. The key to handling my depression is to find ways to cope with both, without seesawing dramatically between rain and shine, like this terrible, terrible summer.
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An open letter to my dog

An open letter to my dog

Dear Teddy,
Remember the other day when we went for a walk, and we found that field of wild poppies and Queen Anne’s lace, and you just lost your shit because it was so amazing? And I just stood there kinda grumpy (because menzies), while you literally frolicked through a field of wild flowers without a care in the world?
You don’t remember? Of course you don’t. You’re not one to dwell on the past. You’re so busy shredding the Vote Leave flyer I gave you to chew on and completely loving it that those flowers don’t even exist to you anymore.
What I’m trying to say, little man, is that you are GOALS. You’re like my life coach. You’re always reminding me to live in the now; to get excited by how amazing everything is; to NAP FREELY. It gets me thinking about how much better we’d all be if we were just like you. And then you start licking your balls and I think maybe not just like you.
You know what else I admire about you? The way you love. Human’s talk about unconditional love and selfless love and sure, we’re capable of those things, I think, but they’re not easy. They take work, and sacrifice, and sometimes that can lead to resentment. Our kind of love is so seldom perfect, but you met mum’s priest that one time and ever since it’s like Christmas morning for you whenever he walks through the door.
I don’t know if you know this about me, Teddy, but I’m really hard on myself sometimes. When I don’t do my best, and when I don’t accomplish my goals, and when I’m not the person I want to be, I feel worthless. And sometimes I try and talk about it with another human. And I’ll be honest with you, little man, most of them are smarter than you. They can have a lot of wisdom when I’m awash with sadness, and they can see me clearly when maybe I can’t.
But I look at you, and you have as much adoration in your eyes as you do when I’m feeling on top of the world. You don’t care about my successes and my failures. You don’t care if I’ve gained weight or haven’t washed my hair. You, too, see me clearly, and you never, ever judge. You don’t even know how to. Just imagine a world in which all we humans were as free from judgement as dogs. Is that the paradise you dream of when you bark in your sleep?
And there’s more. You never lie. You never hide who you are. You never hold your stomach in for a photo or pretend to agree with someone just to fit in. You are your complete, honest self, all the time, and you have never once worried about what the other dogs think of you. You know you don’t have to, because the other dogs are just like you. Just as wise to the simple rules for happiness and the best way to live: authentically, for today, with an open heart and endless wonder.
I think maybe, Teddy, you’re a human’s best friend because you’re so damn good for us. You remind us of our flaws and show us a better way. You’re generous with your joy. You bring us into the moment. You love us no matter what.
So thanks, for knowing how to relax; for being just so crazy excited to see me; for loving the outdoors and nature; for being fascinated by everything; for reminding me to live more like you.
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In search of inspiration

In search of inspiration

I had some incredible news a couple of weeks ago: a short story I wrote has been selected to appear in an anthology. I’m getting published. There’s a pay check and everything. Are you freaking out? Because I’m freaking out.
To make the most of this, I decided it would be a good idea if people who read it and like it can then Google me and find more of my work. The only difficulty is, there is no more. Short stories are not my forte. My ideas are all too big and ungainly. I barely know how to contain a complete work within a few thousand words, but if I did it once, I can do it again. I just need to come up with something. I need inspiration.
Inspiration. What an exciting, promising word. It conjures thoughts of Pinterest boards and long walks in the countryside; of the beginnings of innovative, wondrous things; of art and creativity soaking into you and oozing out as if by osmosis.
Yeah, I should be so bloody lucky. I hate this part. It’s the ‘inspiration’ stage of writing that always has me questioning everything. Because a real writer’s head would be exploding with stories, right? A real writer wouldn’t be staring at the nonsense in her notebook – in the margin of one page I’ve just written ‘dessert’; was I hungry? Inspired? Who’s to say? – waiting for the story to jump out at her in 3D like that scene from Tangled. A real writer would be inspired by everything, and right now, I’m not inspired by anything.
And you can’t force inspiration – as anyone who’s tried to knows all too well. It’s like trying to remember a dream that starts to evaporate the moment you wake up; the harder you concentrate, the faster it fades to nothing, and the more desperate you are, the more inspiration plays hard to get. But what if you’re chronically drawing a blank? This is your career after all, you can’t afford to just sit and wait. Maybe you have a deadline. Maybe you really need to make a buck. So you have to dig deeper, squeeze tighter, maybe just *kind of* force it but seriously though don’t force it. Inspiration is the fucking worst.
In fact, inspiration as I described it above is nothing but a myth. Sure, maybe once in a blue moon a story will feel like it’s writing itself and you’ll figure you must be some kind of genius. But most of the time, inspiration will be a single line, or a turn of phrase, or a punchy first paragraph with nothing attached. Maybe you can picture a scene or an interesting conflict. But to capitalise on that little freebie, you have to do the legwork. You have to build around it, and keep building, even if the first and second and third attempts fall flat. Writing, like anything worth doing, takes hard work and persistence. That lump of clay and your own two hands are the only tools you’ll need – and the only tools you’ll get – and the rest is just you wrestling it into shape.
I guess the moral of this story is that if something matters to you, see it through. You’re not going to love doing what you love doing all the time, and you’re definitely not always going to feel good at it. But that’s okay, because being a natural at something – if such a thing even exists – is overrated. Your proudest achievements will be the ones you’ve worked for.
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On keeping a journal

On keeping a journal

I’ve been keeping a journal for close to a decade now. Why? Because it’s therapy I can do without getting out of bed, and I can recommend it to anyone that appeals to i.e. all of you.
I started when I was seventeen. I had always tried to put the things in my head on paper – either through writing or drawing – and had even tried to keep a journal several times before. But in the middle of sixth form, things started to go south for me, and depression set in. My subject matter went from I had a really great sandwich today to why is this happening to me, and for the first time journaling became a vital outlet for a hella lot of confusion and angst.
I try not to look back on those entries. I don’t think I ever will. When I started writing it was as a record, because I thought that’s what a journal was for, but if I wasn’t such a hoarder I might even throw the old ones away. They’ve served their purpose.
It’s almost like a mental cleansing ritual. I’ve never been much of a sharer, and even though I spill my guts to my friends and my mum way more than I used to, it’s still not always comfortable. Being vulnerable is hard, and sharing yourself with the outside world is scary. From the way you dress to your opinion on that movie you loved that everyone else hated, self-expression comes with the risk of judgement and consequence, and that can make us feel like we have to censor ourselves.
But in a journal you don’t have to. It’s an outlet for all your most brutally honest thoughts and feelings, whether they’re too dark, or too mean, or just incomprehensible to anyone else. There are things in my journal I’ve never said out loud; the only place they exist outside my head is on pages nobody else has seen. I don’t know why it helps to ‘get it out’, but it does, the same way it would to share it with someone, minus the complications that brings.
But more than just sifting through my emotional life, it helps me make sense of it. Something about the act of assigning words to intangible thoughts and feelings brings clarity. I don’t know how it works in your head, but if it’s anything like my noggin, your thoughts don’t come to you in the complete sentences you use to recount them to the next person. They probably don’t involve many words at all. For some, the drawback to keeping a journal might be the difficulty of getting the words out; of actually translating what you’re thinking into English. But that’s just the benefit. It forces you to think more clearly and slowly about what’s burdening you.
I don’t write every day, just when I need to, and I’ve filled more pages in the last year than I did in the previous three combined. In fact, I’ve been relying so heavily on writing down how I’m feeling that I started this blog as an extension of my journal, edited to include only the thoughts I think will most resonate with and help others. Maybe when my journal is filling up more slowly again, I’ll know I’ve turned a corner, but I’ll be sure to keeping blogging.
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Am I going to regret this?

ex aspirational sketch of me
When you’re lying on your death bed, your regrets aren’t going to be the things you’ve done, but the things you haven’t – supposedly. Because you get one life and you’ve got to live it, not just survive it. You’ve got to treat each day like it’s your last. Don’t put off until tomorrow what you can do today, because all you have is now.
The adages are too numerous to count, but they’re all bullying us with the same anxious message: Do things. See things. Go places. Start today. Don’t delay. Don’t stagnate. Don’t waste your precious time. Live live live.
Like, no shit, but could you stop reminding me? It’s getting a little aggressive. It’s making me tetchy.
Because I live at home. I don’t leave very often. I don’t meet many people or make new friends. I’m not doing a lot of things I want to be doing, in favour of one that I do. It’s a ‘lifestyle’ – if you can call it that – that closes doors all by itself. The harder I focus on writing, the more other opportunities fall away.
Which opportunities, you ask? Well, I don’t know exactly, but conventional wisdom tells me they’re out there, barely within reach, lurking, taunting me. The fact is there’s nothing in particular I’m lusting after. I’m just restless, and I blame being pressured to remember, at every waking moment, that I’m dying. Considering it’s the only thing any of us can be sure of, I’d really like if we could call this one a given and stop talking about it.
It’s not that I’m in denial; quite the opposite. Active choices led me to where I am now, and they’re choices I would make again. Choices centred on spending my time how I want to, and making my numbered days count. But between the me who’s living her best life and the me of right now – who probably won’t change out of her pyjamas today – is a lot of filler I wouldn’t exactly call optimal living. If I were really living this day like it was my last, I wouldn’t be trying to force out another five hundred words of my novel. Of the things I could feasibly make happen, I’d probably be eating two dozen custard doughnuts and skipping around the countryside with my dog. Maybe naked. Definitely with a bottle of Moet Chandon in either hand.
I love to write. I love it for its own sake. But to sit in front of your laptop at the dining room table all day, to work from home, and to have whittled away a year this way for the sake of questionable progress, feels an awful lot like stagnation, and sometimes I start questioning it all. Should I be doing something else with my twenties? Will I ultimately be happier not going after what I want, with all it’s compromises and downsides, at least until some later stage?
Because I bet as you get older, people stop telling you so insistently that life is short; after all, reminding your nan that YOLO is just plain cruel. But how many of us are being propelled through our twenties by a nagging sense that there’s life to be lived, seizing to be done, days to be spent with pain-staking, exhausting economy? Perhaps I would be happier trying to satiate that anxiety in conventional ways – travelling, life-building, exercising my still-new adult independence – rather than slowly moulding into the shape of this chair. Perhaps writing can wait until enough days have passed that people feel uncomfortable telling me to seize them.
I could pack it all in, and up and leave for Peru. But I see myself, looking across the mountains from Machu Picchu, anxious because I can’t help thinking I could be doing better; could be living harder; could be even more acutely aware of my own mortality. Before I know it, my life will have passed me by in a flurry of fear that my life is passing me by.
I need to finish my novel before I visit Machu Picchu. I need to finish being here, now, and I’d like to do so with some sense of contentment; with at least moderate confidence that I’m not going to regret it. Because if we have to talk about how to live before we die, then the most important thing is to foster a happiness that follows us from our childhood bedroom to the depths of South America, or from our childhood bedroom to the dining room downstairs, if that’s where we choose to be.
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