2016: Turning 30 and why for me, the year wasn’t so bad (sorry)

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OK, so 2016 was pretty awful. Some of the greatest actors and entertainers we’ve ever known are dead. Half the country hates the other half. Half the country got us into a massive mess that we apparently won’t be getting out of even though the whole country is pretty much agreed that it’s a bad idea (understatement). An orange man who hates anyone who isn’t a rich white man, who goes through life with what looks like a bleached ferret on his head despite being rich enough, surely, to see a decent hairdresser, is in charge of America despite not actually having the majority of votes. No one likes Johnny Depp anymore. Brangelina have split. And then there’s the TV. The X Factor has gone beyond so-bad-it’s-good territory and is now just embarrassing. EastEnders’ biggest storyline up until New Year’s Eve seemed to be about the bins. We’re still waiting for the next season of Homeland. The John Lewis Christmas ad was so shit that it didn’t make you laugh OR cry*. Everything, frankly, is fucked.

HOWEVER. 2016 was also the year that I turned 30. And while I had a feeling it was going to be a huge, momentous year, the above wasn’t quite what I was expecting. Screw you 2016.

Nonetheless, *whispers* a few good things did happen in the year of my very big THREE OH, and just in case the world imploding gets in the way of me remembering that, I thought I’d write a few of them down.

Don’t hate me. I had an awful 2015 and really needed 2016 to be nice. And it was, because…

– I only went and went to NYC, didn’t I

OH YES I DID. I have wanted to go to New York since I sat in front of our little telly as a kid and watched all the films. Film after film after film; I never did and still never do get bored of films, bonus points if they’re set in NYC. I went with one of the greatest people I know for an entire week, and from the second I got into one of those yellow taxis I felt like I was starring in my own little movie. It was everything I dreamed it would be and more, and I can’t wait to go back one day. Just thinking about it makes my knees weak with love.

– I only met THE Carrie Bradshaw, didn’t I

OH YES I DID. Not in New York, funnily enough, but right here in London. My job has given me many wonderful things (hyaluronic acid, my favourite mascara and an award no less) but meeting THE Sarah Jessica Parker is by far and away the greatest gift of all. I stood next to, shook hands with and spoke to this utterly beautiful, kind and gracious woman at the launch of her infectious new unisex fragrance, Stash. She was everything and more. I love her. I think she thinks I’m weird (not that she’ll remember who I am) but that’s ok because I MET HER AND IT WAS EPIC.

– I only went and wrote an ebook, didn’t I

Yes, yes I did. Yes, it was while at work as it was part of my day job (it’s kind of hard to not do something when it’s like, your job) but I wrote my first ever ebook, a Beginner’s Guide to Sensitive Skin. It’ll never be top of the Amazon bestsellers list (it’s not on Amazon, you fools) but I’m still damn proud that it exists and can’t quite believe people have bought something I wrote. And none of them were even bought by my mum, because technology.

– I only went and got myself a date, didn’t I

Ok that’s getting annoying now isn’t it. But yes. A tricky summer and various ‘life is too short’ moments made me take the leap into dating again and I just so happened to find a normal one. It even went well for a while, until it didn’t. But for a few short months it was fun (and anxiety-inducing, obviously) to like someone again and sort of think that maybe they might like me back.

– I (ok, my parents) only went and got a bloody kitten

Which I named! Rocky is the friendliest, cuddliest, most affectionate cat I think I have ever met, and he earned his name on the first day they brought him home when he looked like he was trying to box with his little paws when I dangled some string over his head. He is adorable. He has brought so much happiness into my parents’ home in such a short amount of time, I just wish we’d found him sooner.

While everyone else couldn’t wait to turn their backs on 2016, I was sad to see it end – I was lucky enough to have a pretty good year, with things going well in my little life, and a new year just brings new fears of what’s to come. But now it’s 2017 (already. How did that happen? I’m 31 in 3 days. Oh god). Who knows what’s around the corner? EastEnders might find their scriptwriters. Trump might accidentally board a spaceship to the moon. Homeland will most definitely be back. Whatever happens, I just hope it’s a happy and healthy one. And I wouldn’t mind meeting SJP again either, in case the gods are reading…

 

*I just have to explain this. We needed you, John Lewis. We needed the little hare and bear back. We needed a cute penguin. We needed an adorable child who wasn’t a materialistic little bastard like those ones you see demanding toys from their exhausted mums on the high street. We needed the advert equivalent of little fluffy puppies playing with little fluffy kittens while a log fire roars, Mary Berry makes us cakes, David Attenborough reads us a bedtime story and Buble sings us a lullaby. We needed a giant cuddle of an ad. And what do you give us? You give us nothing. NOTHING. This year’s ad was so devoid of emotion that it just leaves you cold, confused, and angry at what the world has become; that even John Lewis can’t bring us joy anymore. YOU HAD ONE JOB, John Lewis. You fucking failed.

For a start, the dog isn’t very cute. The dog needed to be cuter. No offence, dog, you’re lovely, but you’re not Christmas-cute. The song is a terrible choice; it’s depressing. Saving grace, almost: the wild animals are sweet. But then comes the finale, and the dog, and you almost want to laugh, but the family aren’t laughing, they look horrified, and it’s as if the dog has ruined the girl’s Christmas, only you can’t understand why because surely, SURELY, if you loved your pet (as one should), seeing it jump on a trampoline for the first time with such gusto would surely make you laugh your head off. Or at least reach for your iPhone to capture the moment and share it on Instagram for #lolz. WHAT IS WRONG WITH THAT FAMILY?

What’s the rush?

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I know I live in one of the busiest cities in the world and that Londoners are rather known for having no time, charging through life at speed whether ‘life’ be a Tesco queue or a tube gate, but still. I am utterly exhausted. Not by everything that I have to do (which is quite a lot, when I think about it… *doesn’t think about it*) but by always, forever, every day being in a rush. Everything is a rush.

I leap out of bed in a rush. I eat my breakfast in a rush. I brush my teeth in such a rush that sometimes it hurts. I get dressed in a rush (and this is probably clear from what I am wearing and the fact I’ve recently decided trainers are totally OK for work). I cleanse in a rush (and I write about beauty for a living, this is not OK). I rush through the three tubes it takes me to get to work, sweaty and heart racing, as if my life depends on it. To be fair it sort of does, since I need my job, but you get what I mean.

I send emails in a rush. I pee in a rush*. I go and get my lunch in a rush and then I eat it at speed at my desk. Often followed by an anti acid for obvious reasons. I talk in a rush and work in a rush, hoping that I’ll get home in time to pop to Sainsbury’s in a rush before I power walk home and then cook in a rush, choosing the fastest and easiest thing to make so that the precious few hours afterwards are mine to rush through as I please.

One of my most upsetting rushes is the shower. I usually have this while my dinner cooks (read: heats in the oven). Living in a shared house aged 30 means it’s one of the only times in the day that I am truly alone with my thoughts and doing something for ME (and the benefit of anyone in whiffing distance). It’s soothing, too, or should be, shouldn’t it? But no. I have to shower in a rush, either because a flatmate jumped in before me and now my dinner is burning, or simply because I chose the fastest thing for dinner and surprise, surprise it’s nearly done. Then I forget whether I even did the shampoo (did I?) because I must get dinner finished before the house burns down, must watch that programme that I’m really into, must get X Y and Z done in between rushing through 40 WhatsApp notifications before rushing off to bed come midnight.

I can imagine certain people reading this and thinking, ugh, London life. But I don’t think we can blame London for this. I certainly don’t. In fact I’m fairly sure I was exactly the same when I lived in my little idyllic village in Sussex and worked at my local leisure centre. Everything fast, everything a little furious, too much to do, too little time. When has there ever been enough time?

The iPhone doesn’t help. Sometimes I’ll get to 6:15pm, standing and waiting on the tube platform wishing I could just be home like RIGHT NOW, and realise that I’ve barely looked at anything all day. You know, really LOOKED and *seen* it. And then I will put my phone away smugly, looking at everyone else who is neck-bent and hooked on their phones around me, thinking how silly they are; I’ll step onto the tube and stand next to a bunch of strangers and think, as hot and crowded as this is, at least I’m not doing anything, because I can’t. I have to just stand here and wait for four whole stops. Enforced slowness is the only way to slow me down.

Of course, someone who plans things, those weird, organised planners, probably wouldn’t have this problem. They probably waft through life on a perfect schedule of timed appointments, timed lunches and blissfully long showers, while I find de-stressing solace in four stops on the Circle line.

Wait, so is the tube – unreliable, clunky and expensive as it is – secretly keeping me sane? Now there’s a scary thought…

 

*This one is a worry. Please do tell me in the comments if you can relate to this, or of course anything in this post. Make me feel better. Thanks!

Looking in, or looking out?

Pic: Someecards

A mere few years ago, struggling with anxiety, I read every self-help article going. And, while I can’t remember the details of each and every one, there was a common theme. Look outward, they said. You’ll feel better if you stop over analysing yourself, overthinking everything, and simply look out at what’s around you. Friends, mentors, helping others, travelling, seeing what the world has to offer. There was an overriding theme of self-help: stop being so damn self obsessed and look at the bigger picture.

It’s struck me recently that our culture has moved in the opposite direction. We’re now selfie obsessed instead, constantly looking at ourselves, critiquing ourselves, adding filters to our faces before allowing anyone to see us; health retreats that tell you to look inwards; improving one’s self is about looks, followers, your brand, being strong not skinny, eating the right foods and filming every step you take, being at the latest ‘cool’ place and photographing it in the right way. Turn 30 and you’ll have endless people and articles telling you that this is the decade of being wonderfully selfish, of taking control, of doing what you want and to hell with any kind of people pleasing. While the latter is liberating, and I’ve definitely noticed a difference since turning the big 3-0, I’m not sure it can be so healthy to live in this ‘it’s all about me’ way.

Don’t get me wrong; I know we have to get to know ourselves, and to move with the times, and I probably sound older than my years already in mourning the past, pre-Instagram Stories and Snap-bloody-everything. But I’d bet money on the rise of this kind of self-promoting, self-obsessing culture being linked to the rise of anxiety and other mental health issues. Though I thought it sounded terribly hippyish at the time, I think those mags and books telling me to look ‘out’ were much more on the money.

If anything, it’s about distraction. Of course being overwhelmed is never good for anxiety and doing too much definitely triggers mine, but having regular plans, pushing myself to stop fretting and get out and do something, to distract myself from the detrimental thoughts that run constantly through my head, is what really helps me feel better. Having an interest in travel, reigniting my love of being creative be it with a piece of charcoal or an iPhone and a great view, listening to new music and learning things I’d never pay attention to before are the things that make me feel smarter, inspired, interested and interesting.

The more I look in, the less I like; the more I find to hate, criticise, obsess over, compare to others. Sure, that’s an issue in itself, but I’ve always believed being up yourself is a terrible trait and I’m not sure constantly looking at yourself is any better for you. In some ways I’m a hypocrite; having a personal blog like this one is probably the equivalent of self analysing, talking about myself or overthinking, only on screen – but I only post when I feel the need or feel it might resonate. In fact, recently, I’ve found it much more rewarding to write for myself, keeping unpublished posts in my precious Evernote app, purely for the joy of writing and getting the words out rather than to seek approval from readers (something which will often leave me feeling anxious, and yep, you guessed it, criticising myself again if the numbers are low).

I’m not slating those who do all the above – I’m part of that scene thanks to the career I’ve chosen – but it feels like the current trend is to be narcissistic, dressed up as self-development. I don’t think it’s going to change for a while, particularly as social media and blogging continues to grow and develop – but already it does feel like the tide may be turning when it comes to self-care. The sudden popularity of all things hygge, the move to video rather than images, or instant photos rather than ones that have been filtered and doctored beyond belief on social media – I think they’re a subtle reaction to the pressure to be a perfect person who has it all, and a step in the right direction for loosening the grip a little, looking up, and looking out. Here’s hoping, anyway.

The modern girl’s to-do list

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The other night on the way home on a casual Monday, I wrote myself a little to do list for that evening. I’d been so busy at the weekend and at work that there was a ridiculous amount of life admin to do and for various reasons it really needed doing that night.

But as I wrote the list I realised how tedious it was that I had to fill my precious, short spare time with such ridiculous things. ‘Shower and dry hair’ even made it on there that night, as I usually leave it to dry by itself (to save time, natch) and obviously this looks rubbish come 7am so I wanted to put some effort in for a meeting. By the time I had finished writing the list I was feeling utterly deflated – off went my hopes of putting my feet up and getting stuck into my new book.

It got me thinking about just how much there is to DO as a woman in 2016. Having it all (or attempting to) has essentially become doing it all, and it’s bloody exhausting.

I’m not suggesting we all stop washing our hair. But at what point is something going to give? Time has become so tight, and as I’ve got older it’s the thing I’m starting to treasure the most; I resent having to use it on commutes and on people who don’t reciprocate their time back when you need it. Time is really all we have, it’s the thing money can’t buy and the thing we are all running out of. So why do we fill it with so much life admin?

Stylist recently reported on the stats that revealed the average 30-year-old woman has just 17 minutes a day to herself. While I’m not sure I’m quite as time-poor as that, it’s not much better – the first 12 hours of my waking day go to commuting and work, which leaves me with about four hours to play with before I’m desperate for sleep. At least half of that goes on the aforementioned life admin, or something else that I feel I ‘should’ be doing.

Here’s everything I could think of that, as a single woman in 2016, I have on my to-do list:

  • Watch must-watch TV (on catchup, because who ever gets home on time for it all?)
  • Check online dating apps, bang head against wall, repeat
  • Go on dates if previous point is successful; most likely waste an evening on someone you’ll never see again
  • Read books, magazines and articles by all the brilliant people you follow on Twitter (this could easily be a full time job)
  • Blog (I try)
  • Have a hobby (it helps with the online dating chat, plus makes you a bit cooler these days)
  • Paint nails, go for a wax and other general beauty things (as a beauty journalist, this really has to happen)
  • Shower (yep, this has to go on the list now)
  • Food shop (worst thing on the list)
  • Cook (wait, no, this is the worst thing on the list)
  • Have actual chat with flatmates that isn’t just ‘Hi, I’m tired’
  • Chat to family so they remember you exist
  • Reply to 278 Whatsapp messages, 5 texts, 33 Facebook notifications and 18 messages on Facebook Messenger (why does it have to be a different app?!)
  • All the emails, all the time, on three different accounts
  • Wash clothes in order to attempt fabulous work outfits
  • Shop for clothes that I don’t hate
  • Return clothes that you inevitably do hate
  • Work out (HAHAHA)
  • Do the washing up (there is so much of it. Where does it come from? I don’t even like cooking?)
  • Keep an eye on finances and make mental note to get buses more when you see how many Ubers you’ve booked lately
  • Catch up with friends who are all in different groups and work different hours just to make it extra fun
  • Sleep (remember that?)
  • Look up, every so often. Tech neck is a bitch

So without sounding whiney… what about me? As it’s my 30th year (yup, I’m going to take the whole year) I’m trying to give myself a break, be a little more selfish and do a little more of what I love – without, hopefully, pissing anyone off. After last year’s health scare in my family and nearly 8 exciting years of working my arse off in startups, I need to focus on spending my time on making myself feel better, being with the people I love and generally be a better person.

Because doing it all won’t make us the best we can be – it’ll make us the most exhausted, and probably the most grumpy versions of ourselves. Don’t get me wrong; I love to say yes to things, to keep busy (my mum always says of me when I was a child: ‘You were very… busy, all the time, always doing something’) and to share those experiences with others. After all, we might not have much time, but we’ll only have it once, so I’m all for making the most of it.

But I’d also love to read all those books stacked up on my bookshelves, to write more, to walk around London more without being in a rush, to not waste my weekends ticking off that admin list in the bank or the Post Office, and just generally to ‘be’. To have time that doesn’t feel like it’s already assigned to something I’m obligated to do. Now *that* is something I’m putting on my to-do list. Who’s with me?

 

Why my best Valentine’s Days have been when I’m single

Sex and the City Valentine

I kind of feel about Valentine’s Day the way that other people feel about New Year’s Eve – a bit too much effort, never as good as you hope and not really worth the bother. (I will never understand why people feel this about NYE – it’s an excuse to go dancing and partying with people you love, with a bonus free day off the next day – why on earth would you not want that?!)

This Valentine’s Day though, it seemed like everyone, whether single or coupled up, was making more of a big deal of it. It’s not that the shops were unbearably full with it (possibly even less so, this year) but more that people were actually asking others what their plans were, and making some of their own as if it was a real holiday to be celebrated.

Single or otherwise, I’ve never felt the need to even acknowledge it, but convention kind of means that if you’re a couple you’re supposed to mark it somehow. And that’s why this weekend, as a singleton, I got to thinking about what I would have been doing had I been with someone, and it made me realise: I’ve never had a great Valentine’s Day as a non-single. Not in a, get-the-violins-out-I’m-so-unlucky kind of way, but it made me see that a) I’m quite pleased not to be with someone for this ramped up 2016 version and b) if I wasn’t, I certainly wouldn’t be making plans other than maybe a takeaway and a DVD (piss off with your ‘Netflix and chill’, I’m old school).

In fact, it’s not so much that the years where I was with someone were bad (though they generally involved overpriced meals in horrid restaurants, severe anxiety because of the general pressure of it and occasionally, mild food poisoning), but actually that the single ones were just SO damn good.

I’ve got some brilliant friends, luckily, and from the time that a few of us went to a dating event in which a topless man and woman served us cocktails in little more than a thong to the night where we all went bowling and drank quite a lot of cocktails which makes it quite hard to throw straight, my single Valentine’s Days have been an absolute hoot.

This year was slightly less exciting – I stayed in, settled on the sofa with copious amounts of tea and a brilliant film (Ex Machina, highly recommend). I suppose company would have been nice, but there’s something wonderful about not having to please anyone but yourself for a whole day. Someone corny would call it self-love or something equally hippy-ish, but to me, that’s just a perfect Sunday. Same time next week, hopefully…

The alternative 30 before 30 list

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In three short days I will turn 30, and so I have just deleted the ’30 before 30′ list I optimistically wrote on my phone last year because frankly my heart was never in it and I only ticked off one thing. But do I feel bad? Not really. There’s plenty I could have done, but who says I have to do it before Tuesday? It’s just a Tuesday, when you think about it.

It got me thinking about everything I *have* done, though. Glass half full and all that. And I think I’ve done OK, all things considered. So here’s my alternative 30 before 30 list – what’s on yours?

Before I turned 30, I…

  1. Went to Disneyland as an adult and screamed on a log flume like a child
  2. Actually got into the career I wanted
  3. Won an award for my work in the career I wanted
  4. Went to a real festival and survived, just
  5. Camped in a heatwave and a thunderstorm. Yeah, I won’t be doing that again
  6. Got a First and threw my hat in the air like a proper cliché
  7. Became an auntie 3 times. Totally taking credit. I’m an awesome aunt
  8. Went on a flight by myself (this is a BIG deal for me, and it was horrid)
  9. Had a mini holiday romance
  10. Swam with dolphins (OK it was more standing than swimming but one has to be sensible when one can’t swim)
  11. Went to the top of the Eiffel Tower, twice, without fainting or falling off
  12. Climbed Arthur’s Seat, in sandals. It was terrible
  13. Was a maid of honour for someone completely awesome
  14. Went to a sex museum in Amsterdam. That was weird
  15. Partied all night in Ibiza (quite a few times, actually)
  16. Got drunk at Vogue with my best friends
  17. Wrote my name along with my first boyfriend’s on the wall in Verona by Juliet’s balcony
  18. Sang along to the actual Backstreet Boys in Hyde Park
  19. Learnt to drive. Not that well, mind
  20. Partied in a gay bar in Berlin
  21. Snorkelled. I may have been a bit blind but I saw some stuff and didn’t drown
  22. Saw Beyonce live. May have cried a bit
  23. Saw Five live and fell in love with Scott all over again despite not being a teenager anymore
  24. Sat within a few feet of an actual real lion as it played with a ball
  25. Could actually say ‘I’m with the band’ as we sat on A’s tour bus and had a little chat in Newquay, aged 18
  26. Read a LOT of good books. I’m practically Matilda
  27. Wore glitter at every appropriate opportunity
  28. Rode in a tuk-tuk (I’ve always wanted to do that)
  29. Learned Spanish. Well, some Spanish. And then forgot most of it but at least I tried
  30. Found the kind of friends that make everything better, and who made a lot of the above happen…

What’s on yours?

Image – someecards.com

Goodbye, 2015

Don't Look Back

Unfortunately, being a thinky Capricorn, I am one of those people who tends to get a little sentimental at New Year. It’s a bad habit of mine to look back, often, and of course as the year comes to a close and everyone lists the brilliant things they’ve achieved and their plans for the following 12 months, I’m all the more prone to too much reflection. But the truth is that 2015 kicked my butt so much that I’ve been avoiding looking back at all.

This morning as I woke in a post-NYE celebration haze, I actually felt relief when it dawned on me that 2016 was here. I know nothing has essentially changed in the past 24 hours, but it still feels like a new chance, a new start, and as silly as it sounds, like the pain of 2015 is finally behind me.  Which is perhaps why I now feel able to write about it.

As briefly mentioned in my last post, the last half of 2015 was kind of a disaster.

One Friday in September I got the phone call that I’ve been dreading my whole life: my mum had been diagnosed with cancer. I didn’t even know she’d been to see a doctor.

The moment I heard that word, that evil, bastard word, my world fell apart. And there really is nothing to say, nothing that anyone else can say, when something like this happens to someone you love. No words seem enough, and no words come when you feel like you have so much you should say. No words of kindness are big enough, no matter how lovely the intention. Nothing matters. My brain went to sleep, all except for four words which repeated on a cycle for days, weeks: my mum has cancer. Those, and ‘but what if…’, which are the most dangerous of thoughts for a fragile mind, and ones which kept me awake night after night.

Cancer was suddenly everywhere; I was reading about it everywhere I looked, everyone I saw knew someone going through it or had a story to tell or questions to ask, every advert seemed to be for cancer charities, every soap had a cancer storyline. It took over my life. I was overflowing with fear and anxiety yet completely numb at the same time.

But the thing is, and what I have to remind myself every day, is that we were lucky. We were so, so lucky. It was cancer of the womb, and two weeks later she was to have a hysterectomy to remove the lot. The surgeon practically guaranteed that everything was going to be fine (or at least that’s what my wonderful, brave, strong mum told me over and over). I was still an absolute wreck, of course, especially on the day of the op. But then we had another phone call – the one saying she was OK. My dad and I cried with relief and hugged, properly, for the first time since I was a child. We visited her in hospital as soon as we were allowed and her main concern was her eyelashes.

From start to finish, the whole ordeal was just a matter of weeks, from the diagnosis to the all clear. Two life-changing phone calls. It feels like a bad dream, and yet so real and so raw that the fear of it still plagues my mind on a daily basis. It pushed me to my limits and then some; but I’m also so grateful at the outcome we were blessed with, and can’t quite believe it’s really over. But it is. And, happily, so is 2015. I’ll never forget it, but unlike previous New Year’s Days I’m not going to spend too much time analysing it either.

So here’s to 2016, good health, and looking forward for a change. The view is better that way.

 

Find out more about this type of cancer here

Image: Heart and Willow Prints. Print available to buy on Etsy here