Sneaky, Sneaky FOMO

I had heard of FOMO (or “fear of missing out”) a lot over the years as various bloggers on my feed lamented not going to Ibiza for the first Summer in 5 years, or not going to the music festival that EVERYONE was going to. I saw colleagues totally burn themselves out drinking many nights in a row because they couldn’t bare the thought of not being at the party, just in case – but honestly, FOMO was never a big part of my life.

As I think I’ve talked about a bunch on here, I was never part of the in-crowd as a kid – like it or not, that was something that just wasn’t an option for me – so growing up I missed all the parties, all the scandalous happenings, the drunken outings and the ‘squad’ holidays. As time passed, I never did go out to da club and I never did get something pierced.  I never got sunburned, never had a crazy fling, never kept up with the chart music, the TV shows or the celebrities.

Part of this, I think, was falling in with an older crowd at college – as in, they were in their 40s – and then also being in relationships with older men – all people who had done all the typical “young” stuff and had moved on – so I think I just sort of moved on too. That and the fact that as time passed, I felt I had sort of missed the boat on a lot of it: getting drunk at 18 for the first time and making a fool of yourself may be excusable and pretty normalised, but I felt it would just be a bit awkward at 25 or whatever.

So yeah, I kind of marched to the rhythmn of my own drum, I guess: I had my interests, my music taste, my Netflix list, and I didn’t really care if they were “cool”. In a lot of ways, I suppose I didn’t know what I was missing out on. Colleagues at work would initially spark conversations with me about current goings on, but after a few rounds of; “no, really, I don’t own a TV”, and “Yeah, I’ve never been on a night out”, or even, “what’s One Direction?”, and people soon gave up on me and moved on to chat about the weather – now that I can do, have you seen the rain lately? Occasionally my sister would look at me like I had three heads as we listened to music together, but other than that, basically everyone knew I was on my own path.

Now though, having started this new barista job, I am surrounded by lovely young folks who are so nice to me, and don’t seem to be giving up on me easily either. We’ve had lots of chats about what the nightlubs in Glasgow are called, what Grindr is, what the bands I listened to when I was 14 are doing now (hint: it’s not good), and why Love Island is such a thing (I still don’t get it). But, despite how nice everyone is, as time passed, I started to feel really out of it, I felt “uncool” and like I was really missing out on a lot. I started to want to keep up with the things they kept up with, I vowed to participate on the next night out and I would grimace at myself when I was just so out of the loop with EVERYTHING.

Eventually, thankfully, I had a couple of realisations – brought about by a guy at work talking about “dabbing” and the awkwardness of us just staring at each other for about 10 seconds after we realised I had no idea what that was. The first realisation was that I am older. I am 26, my fiance is 35, so of course my life does not look the same as my 20 year old colleagues’. They’re out partying and eating instant noodles (I mean, probably not at the same time, although as I’ve covered, I actually have no idea what goes on at parties), and Kenny and I spent yesterday at Dobbies choosing out compost (honestly. not. even. joking). Our idea of snuggling up to watch something does not involve the dramas of random singletons on an island (‘cos I think that’s what Love Island is… right?), we’re currently rewatching David Attenborough’s The Private Life of Plants, and you know what? We love it. While age certainly shouldn’t be something used as a rule – as in I don’t think every 26 year old is too old to hit the clubs, I just know I am – life does move through natural chapters, and I am not in the same chapter as my workmates are.

That sort of leads me onto my second realisation about why I was all of a sudden drowning in the FOMO. More than the fact I felt out of touch, and like I was missing out on things now I think it was the realisation that I am truly past the point of a lot of things happening in my life. I am an adult. I am a pet-parent. I’m getting married. I think working with all these young people who are so free made me freak out a little about the fact I’ll never be like that again. I will never be able to just “crash on someone’s couch”, I have a cat who would spend the night sharpening her claws for when I did come home. I will never use a dating app, heck, I will never have another first date. I’ll never have a holiday romance, an awkward morning after or a love affair with Aragorn (although that might be mostly because he’s ficticious). I’ll never know who’s on TV, I’ll never keep up with the Kardashians. I can’t go back and have a massive 21st birthday party, I can’t get a drunk tattoo and regret it when I’m older, I can’t… well, I can’t be 20 again.

It has to be said that I have a history with struggling to accept things like this: that my life has passed some sort of threshold I can’t go back from. I spent much of my 11th birthday in tears becuase my Hogwarts owl never arrived (I sat up half the night with my window open, waiting for it), and on the eve of my 16th birthday I had quite the freak out about my CHILDHOOD BEING OVER, prompting my mum to rush out and buy me several My Little Ponies. So, yeah, I think this is another example like this: something I just need to build a bridge and get over. Because let’s face it, I have a lot to be grateful for; I shouldn’t be sitting around feeling jelly (that’s something young people say) of my fellow baristas.

I have my wonderful fiance who is just honestly like the other half of me, I have my beautiful fur-baby who I love more than I would ever have thought possible. We own our awesome flat, I’m lucky enough to be studying again and at 26 I can finally use a can opener with at least some competence. With so much to be thankful for, it’s time to let go of some things too – and to accept I’m the outsider at work, and that’s actually okay.  So here’s to propogating aubergine seeds, shopping for a new matress, listening to Bach and still not having a fucking clue what dabbing is.

A Simple Way to Help Fight Daily Anxiety

There are a million posts like this on the internet, and, generally speaking I’m not that into posting ‘tips and tricks’ for anxiety or depression because I feel like they’re complicated illnesses that a) there’s unlikely to be a ‘quick fix’ for and b) I’m probably not that qualified to give out advice on the subject, BUT, I had to share this idea…

And what makes this one different? Why share this one? Well it provides almost instant gratification, doesn’t require any prep work (or require you to happen to own a full set of healing crystals, or live next to lake you can swim in…), and I think it’s pretty risk-free, you don’t like it; you stop it.  

With my anxiety, I definitely need to feel organised and in control – I make lists, I catalogue eyeshadows, I have a Spreadsheet for what I eat in a day and one that lists all the bras I own, but sometimes, I end up feeling like I’m being controlled rather than like I’m the one in-control but I still need to track things, I need to make that list. (And yes, it would be great if one day I could tame that need and not feel so out of control if I haven’t planned for something, but honestly, one battle at a time…)

So every night before bed I make a to-do list for the next day – I’ve done this for as long as I can remember. Now when I’m ‘well’ this list will consist of bigger, more impressive things like:

– jog 4 miles in the a.m.
– work 10am – 7pm
– dinner with Dad after work
– going to the cinema @ 10pm

You know, normal life stuff. And then, when I started to get mentally worse recently, I adapted the to-do list so it looked more like:

– get up before 9am
– wash hair
– eat either breakfast or lunch
– text someone

Really simplified right? I thought I would set myself super achievable goals and that would allow me to easily tick them all off and feel really accomplished and proud of myself, gold stars for me. But let me tell you, when you deliberately write a list of four ridiculously easy things to do in a day and then, because you’re so unwell you can’t do any of them… that is not a healthy or a good feeling. I was going to bed every single night feeling more like I was failing, like I was falling further down into the depression  BECAUSE CLEARLY I COULDN’T DO ANYTHING SO WHAT EVEN IS THE POINT. Seriously, for every one thing I managed to tick off the list, there would be three or four I just couldn’t face (sometimes, for days at a time), and those to-do lists would just rub that in my face, day after day.

So it was time to regroup and try and find a way to still make those lists without those lists making me crazy and I remembered something I’d learned on a training day in some job or other (you know, the sort of days where there are ‘team games’ and ‘creative exersises’ *shudder*) and the tip was actually given as a tool to motivate staff when you’re running a particularly difficult shift, but hey, it applies here and the idea is… to write a done list.
So simple, and so widely used by people in all sorts of settings, it’s potentially not that surprising that it would help manage daily anxiety, but what’s interesting to me is that it doesn’t seem to just be a tool to help me cope day to day, it actually seems to be improving my overall mood. Having the list to look at at the end of the day is cheering, but having a week’s worth to look back at lets me really see how all the little pieces come together. Sure I only managed to study for 2 hours a day instead of 3, but you know what – that means I’m still 14 hours closer to achieving my dreams than I was at the start of the week.

It also helps me plan my time for the week ahead (because yes I do still need to have a rough plan of my time or else I just feel so lost). I can see realistically what I was achieving each day and I can be more gentle when structuring the week ahead – it means I can see I can usually study for about 2 hours a day, so I plan for 1.5 and then I’m proud of myself for doing more, rather than planning for 3 and ‘failing’ every day. 

One thing I would say is that I think these lists are pretty personal – and of course, completely relative. For example, here’s my list for yesterday:
– Managed to cook dinner
– Managed to text my sister to say good luck for her interview
– Managed to do some programming
– Managed to listen to my body and sleep when I needed to
– Managed to speak on the phone

So… for me, that was a pretty alright day actually, based on how my life is at the moment, but clearly to almost anyone else this list would look ridiculous: ‘I mean okay, so you managed to take a nap, stuff your face, mess about on your phone and what even does ‘some’ programming mean? Did you call the doctors? You know that’s important. Did you eat anything before dinner? You know you need to eat…’ and so it could go on. One thing I’m really learning with my mental health is how personal the journey is. My done list is (usually) for my eyes only and that way I can choose to attach only positive feelings to it. I’m learning to measure success by my own standards and to notice all progress, not just significant progress and sometimes even though the people around us might only ask because they care, it can be hard having to say over and over again; “well no, I … I didn’t actually manage to do that today…” and have them look shocked – that always makes me freak out about why I didn’t do it. 
Every journey starts with a single step, and the journey to mental wellness is no different, it’s just that while from the outside, the first step might be “eat breakfast each day”, depending on your starting place your daily achievements might be “was able to consider eating today, and was able to open the fridge”, and there is nothing wrong with that. Even the smallest step is a step in the right direction and so I think the done list is a great idea as long as you remember to count everything you’ve done as an achievement not just the big stuff, and you know what it’s okay if all that’s written down some days is “kept breathing” because I know that sometimes, that can feel like a battle in itself.

The Cabinet.

When Kenny and I moved into our flat we didn’t have a lot of money and so we were incredibly lucky that the previous owner left us all his furniture (actually, he just packed a suitcase and moved out so he also left cupboards full of food, his slippers by the bed and 72,000 containers of shoe polish, but that’s a story for another day…). Anyway, yes, we were very, very fortunate not to need to worry about buying furniture or appliances for the flat at all initially, however, as grateful as I am, there were two big downsides to this. 1) I got kinda lazy about the furniture. I really didn’t like a lot of it, but hey, I mean, it was there. Even when I did have decent money coming in, I kind of didn’t bother to even look on GumTree or anything for something I liked more (we live on a third floor flat, so moving furniture in and out is not the most fun thing ever), so I was never really happy with how the place looked. When people came round I often felt uncomfortable. 2) You know how they say that fish grow as big as their pond/tank allows them to? Well, I did that with my posessions. If there were 8 drawers to fill, I just kept shopping and filled them. Whereas if we had initially had zero furniture, and everything was in bags on the floor, I think I’d have been much more aware of what I owned.

Over the 2 years we’ve been here, we’ve been able to swap out almost everything in the living room and kitchen area (except the sofa, which is filthy underneath the 20 blankets covering it, but I swear it is the COMFIEST sofa of all time…), but until very recently there was still one hold-out from the original storage-set. The Cabinet. It was actually one of a pair, which, for most of the two years we’ve been here were JAMMED full of stuff – to the point where I couldn’t close the drawers a lot of the time. Then, when my KonMari-ing hit full swing last Autumn, we finally got rid of one. FINALLY. The other one was still an absolute mess though, in fact, I think I somehow smooshed contents from the first cabinet into The Cabinet, just so I could actually get rid of one. It was just this huge, unworkable mass of stuff that for whatever reason, I just could not break down. I mean, I think I knew, even then that most of it was ‘junk’ (as in, dead weight, things that didn’t add any value to my life, not actually broken things) but I just couldn’t see how I could possibly reduce it. Eventually, after a lot (and I do mean, a lot) of discussion, Kenny and I decided to pick up a set of the tall Malm drawers from IKEA to replace the cabinet – a lot shorter and neater, and more in line with the other furniture in the room, but still a lot of storage. We picked a day to go and get them and on the day I just shrugged off the plans. Time, and time again.  Day after day.

I don’t even know why the whole thing bothered me so much. Given the size of the room, it certainly wouldn’t have looked ‘too much’ to have the Malm drawers there, and let’s face it, if we ever didn’t need them, we could shift them on GumTree or Free Cycle, really quickly. But it bugged me. I would just stand and stare at that cabinet. Then open a drawer. Then close the drawer.

Over the Christmas period I managed to pick up some retail work, which saw me doing a lot of hours and I swear, literally every day I would come home and stand at the doorway and just glare at that stupid Cabinet, filled with all my stupid stuff. Knowing I had no time to deal with it, suddenly lit a fire under me to face up to it at the first possible opportunity. So January 1st rolled around, the tree came down, my contract ended and I had time to finally take care of the thing – finally.

Going through this Cabinet is the only time I’ve really been angry or frustrated with myself during the whole decluttering process. Usually, even if I feel inner turmoil or I’m just not thinking rationally, I’ll just kind of let it go that day and go back to it when I’m in a better zone. But not this Cabinet. Inside it was my ‘memories’ drawer, my art supplies, my documets (which actually, if you consider the fact I’m a collage artist who works in quite a frenzied manner, perhaps storing necessary documents right next to scrap paper for collage was a really bad idea…), just paper, paper, paper. Piles of it lying about the floor, stacks and flurries and the cat making a nest with some. I was so angry; angry at myself for keeping SO MUCH PAPER, angry at the fact I’d moved almost all of it into this flat with me two years ago, angry that I didn’t practice my art much any more, angry at finding that document I thought I’d lost… for some reason, this Cabinet just took me to a bad place.

So this was the only time I broke the ‘hold each item and see if it sparks joy’ criteria. I just couldn’t. Not with this Cabinet. Not with this paper. I separated the documents, because I had to, and then with all the art paper I just grabbed chunks and bagged them to donate. I filled bags and bags. I kept barely anything at all actually; sitting deliberating between shades of salmon paper just seemed so ludicrous all of a sudden. Honestly, I still have no idea what I all got rid of – which I think says something in itself. All that paper, all those pens that over my years as an art student I researched and shopped for, cared for, used, shared and loved. I sat there looking at it all, and realising that I couldn’t even tell you specifically what a lot of it was for (I mean, I still know what a pen does, but I couldn’t tell you why I liked a certain brand or which ink was the blackest), and it made me really sad. I didn’t just study art at university, I freaking lived it for years. I made art every day, almost subconsciously, as naturally as breathing and now, it would be about as natural as that scene where Bambi takes to the ice. I do still draw, sometimes, sort of, but the person I was years ago at uni was in that Cabinet and in a lot of ways I was saying goodbye to her. I don’t understand what changed and why I broke away so much from my art, and I think I just sort of froze everything in time, hoping that someday I’d figure it out, and maybe I will, maybe one day it’ll all come flooding back, but for now, it hurts too much to look at it all everyday and wonder why I lost what I did. So it’s almost all gone.

The Cabinet, the empty shell that it was in the end, is gone too, and nothing was bought to replace it. I moved over drawers I already had, and we got a lamp (because our ceiling light is as atmospheric as grocery store lighting) and now that corner feels like me, like part of my home. I have claimed that space and banished The Cabinet. But it still makes me a little sad. Yes, it feels like me now, yes I no longer spend time glaring at that corner of the room, but I guess it raises other questions too, about who ‘me’ is. About why I don’t practice my art much, about the feeling of disconnect – of trying to understand if I’m meant to say goodbye to that part of myself, or dig her out from under all the makeup and candles. Art student me would have hated this room. But I am not art student me. I’m mid-twenties me, I’m enagaged to be married me, I’m anxious and minimalist and Glaswegian me. Or am I? How do I know? How can I tell? Who the fuck am I?

So the Cabinet is gone, taking it’s prescence; it’s weight and shadow with it. Out of sight, out of mind I guess. I hoped emptying it out would close the chapter and let me move on – that making a firm decision would have earned me some closure. But it hasn’t. The Cabinet is gone but the doubt remains. I don’t regret physically letting go of… well, whatever it was that went, but I do wonder where the path is taking me now. To loop back around to my art with fresh eyes, and someday end up with another cabinet of paper, or to continue to move further away from one of the keystones of my identity.

Stupid Cabinet.




The Meaning of the Word "Can’t"

There is a whole other vocabulary that comes with anxiety and depression, phrases that loved ones get used to hearing and friends learn to interpret. “I’m feeling panicky”, “There is no point”, “I’m too awake to sleep and to tired to be awake”, are phrases that can all be tossed out like lead weights and be intimidating and frustrating for those close to us to try and respond to. But I’m not here today to talk about anxiety-ridden declarations, or depressive pondering, I’m here to talk about a very, very simple statement: “I can’t”.

I’m not sure when it happened, but somewhere along the way, we seem to have lost touch with what the word “can’t” actually means. To start this off I thought I’d go look it up in a dictionary, then remembered it’s 2016 so I don’t own a dictionary, but anyway, Google defines “can’t”, as “cannot” -*sigh*, should have seen that one coming – and “cannot” is defined as “the negative form of can”. Okay, so not quite the powerful, carved in stone sort of definitions I was looking for, but I think we can all agree on what “can’t” means really. It means unable to. It’s not possible. It doesn’t mean “won’t”, it doesn’t mean “will not” and it doesn’t mean, “I’d rather not“, right?

A couple of times recently I’ve found myself being asked to do something (and I’m talking non-essential, more adulty-life things, not like “please move your car, you’re blocking the road” type situations.), and I’ve had to respond with “I can’t”. On every occasion the person has then responded with a number of rational, completely correct reasons as to why I should. Right, but that doesn’t matter, because I can’t. It wasn’t that I just wasn’t sure and now you’ve swayed me, and it’s not that I think you’re wrong and I think I know better it’s that it’s all completely irrelevant because I can’t.

For example, being able to predict the Lottery numbers for tonight is something that would benefit me: I’d win a fortune, never have to work again, could focus on my health, right? No arguments there, so why not predict the Lottery numbers then? Oh yeah, because I can’t. I appreciate that’s a pretty hyperbolic example but it gets the point across: no matter how great the possibilities would be if something could be  (think teleportation, never-ending Pringles tubs and the return of Firefely) it doesn’t change the fact that it can’t be right now, and thinking and listing and planning for otherwise won’t make it so. In fact, it hurts.

That’s right, even though I think most often people feel they’re being encouraging when they list the reasons I should do something, as though giving me some incentives will help with my ‘lack of motivation’. The reality is, it hurts me when I know I am failing at something. When I’m letting my relationships slide, when I’m unemployed – I am not sitting here thinking I have everything under control and might just call it a day and chillax with a Kinder Bueno, trust me, every reason you are about to list as to why I should do something, I have already thought of. I am aware of my short comings, and that I’m letting people down, I am aware this is not where I should be at age 26 but you know what, I am doing everything I can to heal and to move forward if you find there is something I’m not doing, it’s because I can’t, and making me feel like I should be doing more, or should be doing differently, isn’t helping. At all.

If we’re sitting in a restaurant and I order the steak, you don’t turn to the waiter and say, “okay BUT, she’s mentally ill, she meant to say ‘chicken'”. You don’t second-guess me when I say I like that t-shirt or that I’m looking forward to Christmas, you don’t assume I’ve lost control of my vocabulary when I describe the current state of my cuticles as “ratchet” so why when I say “I can’t” would the appropriate response be, “okay, BUT…”.

“I can’t” is not short for “I can’t be bothered”, or “I can’t think of what to wear”, or  “I can’t even“. It just means I can’t.  

Having experienced mental health problems consistently for 20 years, I can honestly say I’ve spent a lot of time inside my head, working on and with myself. I’d wager that I know myself and my deep, scary inner thoughts, fear and abilities far better than most others in my age group – it is the silver lining of life with anxiety and depression and therefore, when you present me with a challenging situation or proposal and I process it all and respond with, “I can’t”, please, please trust me on this. It means “I can’t because I’m barely staying afloat right now and I can’t take anything else on”, or it means “I can’t because I know what’s best for me, what path I need to be on and this isn’t it”, or it just means “I can’t even begin to deal with this at the moment”.

I’m not brushing you off without much thought, I’m not turning down your invite flippantly, and I’m not expecting my illness or my actions to be well understood, but seriously, please listen; if I say I can’t, I mean it. Just assume that even though you can’t see the working for the equation, that this is the correct answer to it. You know I’m really not a big fan of writing posts with tips to guide those with anxiety through it, or help those close to them to figure it out – everyone’s experience is unique and far be it from me to imply I understand yours – but I feel I can confidently say that one thing that needs to happen to support someone who’s suffering with mental health issues is to listen to them.

It takes a lot of courage to suit up and go into battle, of course, but when you live with anxiety and depression you’re doing this every day and you get used to the fight, almost. One thing I’ve come to learn is that sometimes, it actually takes more courage to be standing on the battle-field, heart racing, war paint on and to realise that this isn’t a fight for you to face right now, to  drop your sword on the ground and walk away. Saying you can do something is scary when you’re not sure if you’ll be able to psyche yourself up for it, but saying you can’t  do something and knowing you’ll have to see the disappointment in a loved one’s face, hear the sadness in their voice, the judging, the worry, the coldness – I’m telling you, it’s not a whole lot of fun either. 

I can see why, from the other side, it must be frustrating to have a loved one who all of a sudden can’t leave the house, and can’t make a phone call when you know fine well they can, heck, they’ve been doing it for years. But remember anxiety is a disorder, not a decision and much like someone who’s run 10 miles a day for years suddenly can’t if they break their leg, so too can someone who’s eaten in restaurants and gotten on trains and gone on holidays suddenly become unable to if something snaps.

Is Minimalism Like Camping – minus the bugs and the rain?

I’m talking wild camping; load up a backpack and trek into the wilderness, spend the day gathering firewood, wash in a lake, kind of camping, and I know it seems like a strange comparison, but heare me out. 

When you go camping like this, you spend a couple of weeks before the trip writing lists. You think of everything you could possibly need for every eventuality – from the obvious stuff like flashlights and first aid supplies, to trying to work out how to look ‘cute’ when you’ve been away from indoor plumbing for more days than you want to think about. Normally I end up making a list a mile long and I rationalise it all too; it does make sense, Kenny. Then, we get the drybags out and Kenny ‘helps’ me pack, which basically involves him packing all the essentials (afformentioned first aid supplies and, y’know, food) and then telling me I have the rest of the bag to fill. That’s it. There is no other possible way for us to transport more than I can fit in that bag and if you’re like me, you see this as a challenge rather than a limitation. 

Generally I squeeze, I fold, I roll, I crush and I swear a lot, before admitting defeat and asking Kenny to actually help me work out what a necessary item looks like – I can never get the hang of it really, you mean brow product is not a survival essential? But here’s the thing; once we actually get out wherever we camp, the feeling is like nothing else I’ve ever experienced (and not just because of all the peeing outdoors). I am calm in a way that defies every other day of the 20 years I’ve suffered with anxiety. I am content. I am in the moment. Every item in that bag is perfect for what I need it for – and I am grateful for them all. I want for nothing. There is no feeling of restlessness, no being pulled in 100 different directions by my phone beeping, or adverts on a web page – I am one person, in one place, doing one thing. 

The level of appreciation Kenny and I have for those few items we take with us is incredible – the joyous sensation of putting on clean, dry thermals after accidently getting soaked is almost impossible to sum up in words. Preparing the simple meals together over a fire; it’s a wonderful, heartening experience. And most curiously of all, I never reach for those clean clothes and feel disappointed I went for the black rather than the navy, we never cook together and then sit wishing we had a McDonalds – every need is attended to and because we know what we have out there is all we have, we give up feelings of dissatisfaction and instead embrace being there in the moment. 

I wonder if this is what everyday feels like if you live a minimalist lifestyle. That would be… incredible. Some parts of it sound appealing; the slower pace, the lack of decisions, the simple pastimes, and other parts sound really scary – the slower pace, the lack of decisions, oh, hang on. I can’t help but feel it’s a double edged sword for me, with my anxiety. Is cutting down everything I can’t deal with in my life a sign of weakness or is it a strong, conscious choice to live more happily?

Anxiety vs. Minimalism – Can I KonMari My Way to Happiness?


Like millions of others, I recently caught the organising bug after reading Marie Kondo’s ‘The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up’ – or should I say I eventually caught the bug as the book had in fact sat on my shelf for many months, not being very contagious at all really.

Like so many have done before me, I spent a week ripping my house apart, visiting the local charity shop to donate entire car loads (more times than I’d care to admit, frankly), showing my socks some love and having some really terrifying moments of wondering just how the heck I ever got to be someone who owned a huge box full of high heels. I moved to Glasgow two years ago. I moved with all these shoes. I have worn none of them since being here. What? How? Why?

The end result was, to be honest, mind blowing. As in, inviting family members round to see it (and then showing them inside every cupboard and drawer, smugly,) levels of impressive. Me, little ol’ ‘keep it just in case’ me had finally turned a corner, seen the light and I’d add some more cliches in here, but oops, I’ve decluttered those too. I was happy, actually happy sitting on my couch doing nothing, just breathing.

That last statement perhaps could use some context.

You see, I came to pick up the book one day when I’d been signed off work with anxiety and depression – I was, in other words, not in a good place. Not at all really. I wasn’t coping anymore; with my job, with relationships, with my home, or even really with myself, and reading this book and cleaning up was the first time I had wanted to do anything, or for that matter felt like I could do anything in, well… a long time. For the first time in forever (sorry) I had a purpose, I had something to work towards, I felt proud of myself – I was taking control, I was facing up to things, I was throwing out nail polish, damn it. My life was pretty much in tatters around me but I was taking those baby steps, I was achieving something.

So there I was, on my couch, breathing. My fiance was so proud of me (after he finished emptying all the discarded items from the flat ASAP, in case I changed my mind, of course), my mum pretty much thought I was a pod person, even the cat seemed more relaxed, although, admittedly, that’s hard to measure. I should have had nothing else to do but give myself some pats on the back and soak up the calm vibrations (and the dust, we had really kicked up a lot of dust). But I couldn’t, and I didn’t. Everyone else saw the job as done, but frankly all I had were more questions.

Sure, I can now safely say that each one of my sweaters brings me joy, great, but cumulatively, am I happy being someone who owns 15 sweaters? Why do I own 15 sweaters? I can, after all only wear one at a time. Do I enjoy walking into my closet and choosing between all the pieces of clothing that I love, or would my life actually be easier with fewer knitwear-based decisions to make? I could go on, but I imagine you can extrapolate the sweater situation in your mind by yourself. Ultimately, I was asking some big questions; why did I buy all these things in the first place? What is this void, this wanting I am trying to fill? If I don’t want this, what do I want?

Sure, I can now safely say that each one of my sweaters brings me joy, great, but cumulatively, am I happy being someone who owns 15 sweaters? 

So I wanted to try and find other people who had felt this way. Other people who had become disillusioned with their very lifestyle and the core paradigms they had formed to guide them through adulthood. I learned that, shockingingly enough, my feelings were not unique to me – so many people had felt like this that the new lifestyles they had created for themselves even had a name: minimalism. So, I tried to take a peek at what living a minimalist lifestyle means. Unfortunately, like a lot of topics on the internet, there isn’t a shallow end where you can dip your toes in and look around, nope, it’s very much like falling down the proverbial rabbit hole into a swirling void of anti-consumerism, terror tales of fast fashion and stories of people finding inner peace after removing all their electical appliances. I read blog post after blog post, from people who can fit all their worldly posessions into a carry-on bag *hyperventilates into a paper bag*, and people sporting the most chic, loft style apartments, with drawers that had one t-shirt in them. But I couldn’t see where I would fit into this, I couldn’t see any of me in these lifestyles.

I want to live like me… just with less. I’m not suddenly going to become a back-packer and frankly, I do like all of my fluffy pyjamas. All the pyjamas. I spent hours, days in fact reading everyone’s definitions of minimalism – ‘lighter living’, ‘less is more’, ‘freedom from white noise’. I studied every aspect as an individual concept – capsule wardrobes, minimalist cooking, the environmental impact, the financial impact – as well as reading numerous accounts of how minimalism had changed peoples’ lives completely. And then, like a toddler who can’t open the bubbles, I got frustrated and threw them at my sister, or, err, wait this metaphor didn’t really work out… This was just something else I was failing at. What a shock. Something else I’m not cut out for, another thing I don’t understand – this is another phase my family will crack jokes about at Christmas dinner, another desperate and misguided attempt on my part to cope with long-term mental health issues. What a fool I’ve been, I’m no minimalist.

I want to live like me… just with less. I’m not suddenly going to become a back-packer and frankly, I do like all of my fluffy pyjamas. 

So I tried to shrug it off and go back to shopping for eyeshadow. I loaded up baskets, I browsed all across the web, I went to the checkout page and I just sat there; why? Why am I doing this? Why am I suddenly not doing this? I realised that whatever seed has been planted in my mind; it isn’t suddenly going away. I eventually stopped pouting, and began reading minimalist blogs again. Slowly I began to understand. I’ve been reading all these accounts from people who’ve been living as minimalists for years; who’ve had time to define what it means for them, how it fits into their lives. I’m looking at a finished product and putting myself on the spot to get there, now, when in reality, this is going to be a journey. Moving to minimalism, whatever that ends up meaning for me, looks like this terrifying leap – I cannot currently see anyway in which I can further reduce my possessions and re-wire my consumerist brain. But that’s okay. All I know right now is that I don’t want to keep living this way; nesting among my things, a la Smaug, and hiding from the bigger, psychological issues (because, maybe if Smaug had learned to KonMari, things wouldn’t have gone as far as they did). All I know is something doesn’t feel right anymore and minimalism is the direction I can feel myself being pulled. It’s in my nature, with my anxiety, to hate uncertainty and to want to feel in control at all times, and this, well this is like being swept off into the unknown. But something inside me is telling me to let go of the tree branch I am clinging to (*has nightmarish The Lion King memories*) and allow myself to drift along and see where I end up… hopefully not under a stampede of wildebeest. Or sweaters.

Anxiety Chat: Blue Sky Thinking.

I don’t know how the sky looks in your little corner of the world, but here in my home, I woke up to sunshine and crisp, still air coming in through the open window (and mercifully, not a single wasp). Lying in bed with the fresh air chilling my cheeks, I was so excited, so motivated to really do something, to really live today… but…

Sometimes, I think the hard days with anxiety are almost the easy days. It’s all a bit backwards really, but the days that I know will be a challenge; that I build myself up for, that I use my strength for, are often, in the end, easier to endure. I am big and I am brave and I get shit done; it’s easier to forgive myself little failures here and there, because ultimately they fall into meaninglessness when stacked against what I have achieved. Those are the days loved ones will say ‘well done‘ at the end of, that finish with a Snickers Bar after dinner as a reward – while in some ways the most challenging, those days also bring the most feelings of growth and of movement. Then there are the days like today. Days which should be marked as ‘good days’ before they even begin. I have the day off, the chores are done, the weather is beautiful and I am young, fit and able to get out there and soak up some rays (well, as much as they can be soaked up while wearing SPF 50+ obvs). These days are days to make memories, to enjoy life’s greatest gifts – these are the days for living. Unless, of course, you suffer from anxiety and depression, like I do. 

I always start off so well on these days; I wake early, I make a cup of tea, put a load of laundry into the machine and make a plan for myself for the day. I feel energised and grateful for the day I’ve been given – I’m happy. But something happens, though I never quite see it, and I end up crying, still in my dressing gown mid-afternoon, not having eaten or washed my face- which is exactly the state I’m in while writing this in fact. And then of course comes the guilt for wasting the day, the inevitable, forced attempts to salvage it which invariably end in frustrated tears, the tiredness, the anger the feeling of loathing towards myself for screwing EVERYTHING up. You don’t need to be a psychiatrist to see that by putting that kind of pressure on myself, or by using that kind of language to speak with myself, it’s no wonder I end these days in a frustrated heap of tears on the floor, exhausted and confused. I’m normally very careful in how I speak with myself – on the ‘difficult days’, that is. If I was having a panic attack on a train I would never call myself stupid, or weak, I would listen to myself and help – I’d do what I needed to do to help ease the situation. But on beautiful days off at home, all of that goes out of the window – I seem to pit myself against, er, myself for some reason. Why? Well, because I should have had a great day today.

“But something happens, though I never quite see it, and I end up crying, still in my dressing gown mid-afternoon, not having eaten or washed my face- which is exactly the state I’m in while writing this in fact.

I’m sure you can clearly see already the mistake that’s taken me years to spot and in fact, still catches me out. Today should have been a nice day. I shouldn’t be crying, I shouldn’t be tired, I shouldn’t have spent all day in the flat. For some reason, on the ‘easy’ days, I try and force myself to behave logically or rationally, somehow forgetting that I suffer from a mental illness which is neither of those things (would be great if it was though really, then we could all  eat some Ben and Jerrys and cheer up by watching some Gilmore Girls). I think on days like today I long for normalcy more. To go out, to laugh, to be carefree. I think I get so tired and worn down by the ‘hard days’ that by the time a day like today rolls around I want to just shake all the depression off and be ‘normal’. And when that (shockingly enough) doesn’t work, I get very angry and very sad with myself. Things can all seem bleak – it’s bad enough to have such bad days sometimes, but when I can’t even enjoy the ‘good’ days, what’s the point?

It can all spiral to a dark place pretty quickly. 

It is somehow much harder for me to come to terms with being depressed on a sunny day when the world is my oyster than it is on a rainy day when I’m stuck in work. It is much easier for me to experience anxiety when I’m on a crowded train than it is when I’m tucked up in my bed at home. It just doesn’t seem to make as much sense on days like today, and what happens is that because I’m not as in-tune with myself today, because I don’t understand, I try and apply logic to the situation to try and find some way to proceed. I reason that cirumstances should dictate a relaxed, happy day and I march forward under this banner never stopping to listen to myself to hear otherwise – I stumble, trip,  crawl and end up waist deep in a metaphorical mud-puddle with a frog sitting on my head, mocking me. I rage and I lecture myself and I plead, bargain with and promise myself that the next time such a ‘good’ day comes along, I won’t make such a hash of it – somehow though, through it all, never stopping to try and really work out why the day went the way it did. Just stating repeatedly that it shouldn’t have.

It is somehow much harder for me to come to terms with being depressed on a sunny day when the world is my oyster than it is on a rainy day when I’m stuck in work.”

And so now in my mind I catch up to what I’m sure you worked out several paragraphs ago: that should and shouldn’t are not useful terms when living with anxiety or depression. They are belittling of the challenges I face on a daily basis; okay, so feeding myself shouldn’t be so difficult. But it is.  I should feel so excited to go outside and have an adventure. But I don’t. And all of how I feel is perfectly valid, and I need to accept that. What makes a ‘day off’ or a ‘good day’ for me right now might actually look nothing like the pictures of  smug 20-somethings in the magazines. I might feel better and gain more from cleaning, or meal planning or going for a walk with no makeup on, just by myself. It’s not to say that I won’t ever encourage myself to go out if it’s sunny, or eat healthier or try and be brave – but it needs to come from a place of listening to myself and hearing what I need rather than a place of arbitrary shoulds or shouldn’ts.

 Who knows, maybe if I’d gotten up today and sat quietly, listening to my thoughts, I might have realised I did want fresh air and have ended up going out. Or not. I might have cooked. Or not. I might have been able to write better, or concentrate on reading, or paint, or film or bake or shop. Or not, and that would have been okay. At least I think it’s safe to say I probably wouldn’t be sobbing in my pyjamas at 3pm over things that should have happened.