The Best Non-Fiction Books I read in 2018

I’ve always been a total bookworm – a lot of my childhood memories centre around a leg going completely to sleep after I’ve been sitting in an odd position, reading for too long. Ah, the good ol’ days. I’ve always read primarily fiction, I love getting lost in new world and falling in love with people who don’t exist (Aragorn for life <3). In 2018 though I’ve read far, far more non-fiction than I ever have before and I’ve been absolutely loving the conversations its encouraged me to have with other folks and the ideas it’s caused me to churn over in my little noggin. I thought I’d share my absolute favourites with you here, in case you’re looking for some inspiration.

Stuffocation non fiction books favourites reading

I’ve linked to the books on Amazon in case you’re looking for more info/reviews/to purchase (they are affiliate links), but remember you can check with your local library before purchasing, I was pleasantly surprised by how many were available through Glasgow Libraries.

2018 was the year I found Caitlin. For those of you who don’t know, Caitlin runs a YouTube Channel called Ask a Mortician, and throughout the year she has become my favourite content creator. Her ability to talk about some of the topics considered most taboo in Western culture, and to do it with humor, sensitivity and transparency is truly incredible.

A lot of her work is centred around creating Death Positivity; encouraging people to have conversations about death and what we want to happen to our bodies. Smoke Gets in Your Eyes is Caitlin’s memoir about her time working at a crematorium – it covers everything from little things you might always have wondered about (“what exactly IS embalming anyway?”) to discussions of much deeper topics that maybe we don’t often wonder about.

While the book is certainly emotional in places, it also made me laugh out loud and yeah, start having some conversations with family members about death. If you’d asked me at the start of the year if I thought I needed or wanted to read a book about working in the death industry I’d have firmly said “no”, but as it turns out, of all the books I’ve read this year, this has been the most valuable and thought-provoking.

Book flip through

I know, two books by the same author – but I honestly couldn’t pick just one! From Here to Eternity follows Caitlin on a journey around the world to find out how death is treated in all different cultures. She visits places where death is treated with the utmost clinical attitude, to places where people are a lot more comfortable with death and corpses. Again the book is wonderfully written in Caitlin’s voice, with her humor and absolute passion for the subject shining through. Such an eye-opening read!

While I do have a huge amount of interest in the concepts of mental wellness, self-improvement and living your best life, I also generally have quite a lot of skepticism about books or programs that promise “miracles” or such in those fields, especially those, like this book, that talk about them happening pre 8am! I am not a pre 8am person!

Had I just picked this book up in a store, or seen the title as I was scrolling through Amazon I’m honestly not 100% sure I would have picked it up, however, I saw the lovely Kay from Living the Life You Love talking about it, and the way she described it actually made a lot of sense to me.

What I like about this book, as opposed to some other books I’ve come across in this genre, is that yes, it promises big results, but it also gives you very tangible, logical steps to get there. This is not some airy fairy wishy washy thing, but rather an actual concrete program of simple things you can do in your own living room without buying anything. The Miracle Morning involves you completing six steps – you can do it in 5 minutes, or 2 hours or anything in between. You embrace silence, you vocalise affirmations, you visualise, you exercise (don’t panic, yoga is fine), you read and you write.

Each of the steps is enjoyable and I do genuinely find them to be enhancing. Have I started getting up at 5am? Uh, no. But as someone who used to start work 5 minutes after I got out of bed and was a ball of stress by mid-morning, this book hs given me a lot to think about in terms of establishing a strong mental foundation for the day.

Tesco refreshing mint dark chocolate

James Wallman is a trend forecaster who has worked with massive organisations like The New York Times, The Financial Times and GQ to analyse and predict upcoming trends. In Stuffocation, he looks at our current consumerist lifestyle and why it’s bad for the planet, the economy and why it’s leaving us all feeling Stuffocated.

I really enjoyed this book (though I’ll admit I lost interest a bit towards the end), as Wallman seems to be coming at things from a very objective point of view. He’s not a card-carrying minimalist or a die-hard consumer, he’s simply applying his huge amount of expertise in trends and forecasting to our current consumer climate and talking about how and why we got to this point and what on Earth the solutions could be.

Fun fact, I am incredibly squeamish. I grew up with a mother (and many of her friends) who worked in operating theatres, ICU’s, Accident and Emergency – all the gory places. If I’ve heard one intense description on what can happen in a motorbike crash, I’ve heard a thousand. If I’ve eaten one plate of pasta while listening to a step by step walk-through of a tricky surgery… well I think you get the point.

But, despite having so much medical chat in my life, I still grew up with the inability to handle the sight of my own blood. Or any medical procedures. So it’s safe to say that I wasn’t drawn to this book for the potentially intense medical details – it honestly isn’t very gory at all – but rather to hear the account of a junior doctor, having read so much about their plight in recent years.

It definitely was interesting to hear about how Junior Doctors are treated, really it was, but I got so much more from this book. I burst into fits of the giggles, I got the sensation of my stomach plummeting, and I cried very genuine tears. To use a cliché, this book is an emotional rollercoaster; a very personal account from someone who felt very passionately about the work they did.

It is on one hand so very human and relatable, and at the same time, so alien to think of the pressure that doctors – who’re just humans like you and me – have to work with.

Candle and Stuffocation book

This is the first book from The Minimalists that I’ve read, though I’ve been a long time follower of their podcast and blog. I really enjoyed this book, after years of hearing The Minimlaists discussing various issues, it was interesting to actually hear, not just their thoughts on something else, but their own stories of how and why they came to minimalism.

I feel like this book came at a good time for me, as while I could remember the “whats” of minimalism, I was losing touch with the “whys”, and with minimalism, it’s not really about the “what” of, have less stuff, it’s about “why” you would do that and “why” it matters.

The book was an easy read, it flowed like a conversation, and every so often I would read a paragraph or a sentence that resonated with something deep inside me, and it was like hearing a little bell chiming and feeling like, “oh yeah, I remember this feeling”. For all it felt like quite a casual read, it definitely had a lasting impact on me and left me feeling a lot more centred than I had been in a long time.

So that’s it then, the best non-fiction books I read in 2018! What about you? Have you read any of the books I mentioned? What did you think? Or, since I now well and truly have the non-fiction reading bug, do you have any suggestions for me?!

What’s on your reading list for 2019?

Best Non Fiction Books 2018 flatlay

 

 

Dark Winter Nights | Mindfulness for the Seasons

Rainy Weather Winter Scotland

Depending on where you live in the world, winter may or may not be a big deal. Here in Scotland, while we don’t typically experience heavy snowfall and absurdly cold temperatures, what we do get instead are months (and months) of very little daylight, it almost always raining even when it actually is daylight, and a colour scheme that features 17 shades of grey and bleh. It can be kind of tough. And then, once you get to the point of it being tough, you realise it’s only November, and it’s only just getting started.

So, why is it so tough?

We have electric lights, we have central heating and waterproofs; we’re not exactly camped out on the hills at the mercy of the elements here. For some people, clinical depression and S.A.D come into play of course – and just to clarify, while I have a long history with clinical depression that is typically worse in the winter months, I have never been diagnosed with Seasonal Affective Disorder (S.A.D) – so know that this post, as ever, isn’t intended as medical advice, just well-intentioned stories of experience and some suggestions.

I think there are a few reasons why it’s tough, especially here in the UK:

  • Looking out the window, words you might use to describe the view in winter might be “bleak”, “grey”, “lifeless” or something like “grim” – none of these words really hold positive connotations. We don’t get a lot of the blue skies, and crisp frosty mornings – it really is months of dullness, or as we would say in Scotland, it’s dreichit.
  • It’s all everyone talks about (Or at least it feels like it). I go into the Post Office and the lady at the counter greets me by grumbling about the bloody rain being on again. I call my Dad, who regales me with a story of how he had to put the lights on before 4pm (that’s BEFORE 4pm, Kitty). Even if you yourself are trying not to focus on the rain and the wind, it is constantly discussed and put to you – and it is almost never in a positive light.
  • It feels like it makes your world shrink. Some of this is real – like for me, as a petite woman, I can’t go jogging in my local area in the dark… so that’s anytime before 8:30 and after 15:30 then. Wow. And some of it is more of a perception, I think. A lot of the things we might enjoy or fill our time with in the lighter months, suddenly aren’t so enjoyable or viable. It’s all too easy to fall into a rut of just sitting in front of the TV every night.

rain winter cars traffic city

So, how can mindfulness help?

I think there’s actually a few ways that practicing mindfulness can help us not just  endure, but in fact, thrive in the winter months. If we apply some of the core principles of mindfulness, like slowing down and practicing awareness, and focus them on the winter season specifically, I think we can make a big change in the way we perceive and therefore experience things.

  • I think it can be easy for winter to seem to represent death, or the end. The trees are leafless, so many animals are hibernating – or keeping a low profile – and we ourselves may feel sluggish in the cold weather. I like to take the time to re-enforce the idea of winter, not as a time of dying, but as a time of resetting. It can be a time for looking into ourselves and doing some resetting of our own – of using meditation, and the wonderful stillness that winter brings, to work on closing some now un-needed chapters within ourselves, and preparing for a time of growth, of blossoming and of change.
  • Winter is easily seen as a time “without”. Without sunshine. Without warmth. Without the buzzing of bees or the fluttering of bats. It can be easy to feel that winter has a lot “wrong” with it; as if Summer is our norm and somehow winter is the antithesis of that. I find that it helps me to focus on the idea of impermanence – that everything is fluid and without a fixed state. Like the seasons, like my thoughts, my feelings and my very existence. The cycle of the seasons creates balance, and we can relax and know that this cycle will continue – whether we moan and resist and fight it, or not. Winter may feel difficult sometimes, but as with all struggles, it will pass – and I think being mindful of this fact can be a big help in keeping things in perspective.
  • Create light and joy for yourself. Don’t get me wrong, as I’ve mentioned above, I am usually all for trying to embrace winter for what it is and to love it, but sometimes, as the rain lashes against the window and the wind howls, it can be nice to draw yourself inwards instead. Close the blinds, light some candles or fairy lights (or, “winter lights” as my dad insists on calling his), make a hot beverage and take time to be still. At these times, I like to meditate on feelings of gratitude – which can be abundant in winter, if we give it a little thought. That I have a warm, safe house to retreat into, that I don’t have to worry about a bad winter leaving me without enough food, that I can have the time to simply sit and breathe when outside the weather is in such chaos – all of these things are huge blessings, and I do my best to stay mindful of them throughout the season.
  • Keep busy. As we spend more time with ourselves, perhaps reflecting more than we do in the busy Summer months, pay attention to ideas that may spring up. Winter can be an excellent time to pursue a hobby. I’m not suggesting that November 1st you go out and buy a shop’s worth of yarn or anything, but, if we slow down mindfully – rather than zoning out in front of the TV each night – we may find we have time, and the desire to learn something new, or return to neglected creative practice – whether that’s baking, playing the drums or crochet.

Rainy weather winter Scotland rain

But, we’re all still human…

Let’s be honest, while the points I’ve listed seem (I think) sensible and fairly logical, we’re all human and we will all still have days where we show up at work soaked to the skin, or when our heating breaks during the coldest week of the year. And what then?

Yup, winter does suck sometimes. It just does, and honestly, I think it’s perfectly okay to feel that way –  the one suggestion I would make though? Don’t be the person that greets strangers on the street with a “morning, horrible day, isn’t it?”. Try and remember that most people struggle with the long winters here, and honestly, contributing to the constant moaning about it isn’t helping anyone – although I’ll hold my hands up and admit I totally do this myself sometimes. I’m not suggesting you stand there in torrential rain and gale force winds with a slightly manic smile on your face as you declare, “BEAUTIFUL DAY ISN’T IT!?!?”, but rather that, when possible, we adopt a Thumper approach. You know, if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all – about the weather or lack of daylight, anyway.

I hope you found this post helpful, or that it gave you some food for thought. I’d love to hear from you on what your winter experience is like – are winters hard where you live? Have you typically struggled a bit in the winter months? Do you have any suggestions for me, or other readers, as to what we might try?

 

 

4 Amazing Ways Doing Yoga Everyday has Changed Me

I’ll admit that I’m not normally someone who buys into the “New Year New Me” vibe in a big way – years of living with anxiety and depression has taught me that setting really high stakes for myself and forcing sudden, sharp changes in routine is more likely to lead to a feeling of overwhelment or failure, than to trigger real, lasting changes. However, in 2018 (I think mostly because January 1st was a Monday and that just really made me feel great), I decided to really try and take back control of my life. This manifested in many different ways, which I’ll write about in the future, but today I want to talk about one of my favourite and most beneficial changes that I’ve made: I started an (almost) daily at-home yoga practise! I’m not going to lie, I’ve missed days here and there, but for the first 110 days I showed up for myself every, single day, and I want to talk about how that’s made me feel and the difference its made for me.

close up of someone in a yoga pose

1. I feel like a part of something – I feel connected.

I joined Adriene from Yoga With Adriene on her 30 day “True” series which ran from January 2nd – January 31st (but you can start any time!), showing up on my mat every day and knowing that people all around the world were doing the same, gave me a feeling of connection and strength that I didn’t expect. Following along with other people’s journeys in the comments – knowing if I was struggling, I wasn’t struggling alone, and knowing that if I became emotional, I wasn’t crying alone. I honestly never expected to feel a sense of community as I sat doing downward-dog in my pyjamas on a rainy January morning, but thanks to Adriene’s kindness and inclusiveness, I really did. Even after True ended, the feeling continued, which was a beautiful surprise I couldn’t have seen coming.

2. It helps me leave the house

A large part of my anxiety has, for a long time, hinged on a fear of leaving the house and as a result I have gone weeks at a time without doing so (thank heavens for online grocery shopping)! Fortunately, this symptom seems to be easing and I have no doubt that it is in part due to doing yoga in the mornings. Starting each day slowly, but intentionally, focusing on my breathing and how I’m feeling allows me to really check-in with myself. It gives me time to focus on what I want to achieve in a day, and to feel motivated by that, rather than engulfed in the fear and the “what-ifs”. By the time I’ve finished my practice I feel centred and focused – and don’t get me wrong, some days the anxiety still wins – but much, much more often I have this little fire lit within me of determination and drive and it spurs me on to achieving more in a day than at times I’ve been able to do in a month.

 

3. It helps me stay in a good routine with eating and drinking

Similarly to how taking time on my mat each morning gives me focus for work and for leaving the house, it also starts the ball rolling with good eating and hydration habits. I exercise, so I’m hungry and thirsty, but because I’m also in tune with myself I’m much more likely to take the time to make something properly and eat it, rather than ignoring the feeling of hunger until I’m “starving” and eating three Pop Tarts. Ditto with hydration, I’m listening to my body and hearing that I’m thirsty and so I drink – simple, no? But I find that once I start a day eating and drinking “properly” like this then I am much more likely to keep it going as the day goes on: because let’s face it, if your day starts with 3 Pop Tarts and chocolate milk, it’s much easier to just call the whole thing a write off!

extended child's pose

 

4. I no longer feel like my back is being subjected to some sort of medieval torture device on a 24 hour basis

Perhaps least shocking of the things listed here, it has never the less been revolutionary for me! Thanks to almost lifelong anxiety, I definitely have some issues with muscle tension and sure, asking Kenny for a quick neck rub alleviates the symptoms temporarily… but within a couple of hours I can feel the pain and tension returning because I’m not taking the time to *properly* relax and stretch my muscles.
Doing yoga each day can sometimes be tough mentally. Some days I’m frustrated with myself, or tired, or worried about things off the mat and yes, in an ideal world I’d always be able to shut those things out and commit 100% to my practice, but I’m human, you know? So sometimes showing up for myself means a deep, meditative practice, sometimes it’s a time for emotional release and other times, it’s just a good stretch and all of that is OK.
At first I watched a video of Adriene’s every day, learning so much from each different routine, but, as time went on I came to learn my “favourite” poses, the ones that really work for me, and now I love being able to freestyle and create routines that really pay attention to the areas I need to work on, – hello cat-cow.

I feel like I could have written something more formal or cohesive than this, but honestly, I can’t really help gushing about my yoga experience – it has changed so much for me, and not only that, but it’s helped me things I never thought it could! I did yoga on happy days like my birthday, and on sad days like the day we thought we were going to have to put our cat to sleep. Every day was different, but every experience left me stronger at the end. I can’t imagine not doing yoga now, and honestly, if you’ve ever been curious, I really recommend giving it a go – Adriene’s channel is a fantastic way to start, I’ll see you there!

My 5 Simple-Living Steps for May

I’ve never really taken part in a specific minimalism challenge before, though I know there are a few fun ones out there, but as April turned into May I was sitting here with the feeling that I I’ve dropped the ball a little with my pursuit of a simple life. In some ways it’s not hard to see why; life has been a little emotionally charged lately with illness, Kenny finishing his degree and a near-loss of my beloved cat, all playing a part. When things are ticking along and I’m in a little routine, I find it much easier to centre myself and to remember why I wanted to pursue a simple life in the first place, but, when sleeping is a rarity, or it’s hard to eat anything it can be harder to keep the momentum going with working towards simplicity. My personal stand point, is that I feel we’re all human, and everyone will have an off day, or have their arm twisted by circumstances on occasion and just kind of need to do whatever to get through a situation, so I’m not prone to give myself too hard a time for the occasional slip up, but I feel like over the past couple of months, it’s been one slip-up after another to the point where I’m struggling to see where the path was in the first place.

So for May, I’m going to be doing 5 small, easy things to try and help myself centre back in on what’s truly important to me. Please feel free to join me in this mini-challenge, or any part of it that appeals to you, and be sure to let me know how you get on in the comments below, or over on Instagram!

A mug of peppermint tea, and some banana on toast

 

1. No phone checking until after breakfast

For quite a while there I was in a great routine of spending the first hour of the morning reading a book, drinking some tea and hugging my cat… then all of a sudden I was the person who rolls over to turn off their alarm and simultaneously opens Instagram. Why?!? I understand for some people the struggle is real because they maybe have work emails they know they need to get to, or their job involves having a solid social media presence… but not me. Literally my emails exist to notify me that something from my Steam Wishlist is on sale and that Pinterest has realised I only spend 14 hours a day on their site and so, they’ve suggested some more content for me, because it’s time I started showing some real commitment.
So, knowing all this, why do I still feel the need to check RIGHT NOW, and once I have checked and discovered it’s just the usual spam in my Inbox… why don’t I just put the phone back down? It’s like once I’ve started, I just can’t stop checking, slowly working my way through each app until I’m sitting there trying to catch my 600th Pidgey on Pokemon Go.
The thing is, I’ve always really enjoyed that quiet time with Meeko in the morning (it’s usually before Kenny’s up), sitting with the window open and a warm cup of tea and a good book- somehow, I just forgot this a bit along the way, but almost losing Meeko this past month really drove home just how important time with loved ones, furry or otherwise, really is. Instagram can wait.

a paperback book, some banana on toast and a mug of tea,

2. Oh yeah, and actually eat breakfast

My previous point was about the importance of time before breakfast, which I guess heavily implies there is a breakfast, which admittedly, not so much recently. I’m sort of hoping that by slowing down my mornings again, pre-breakfast,  I’ll actually realise I’m hungry and so this problem sort of correct itself, but, in order for that to be possible, I do need to make sure I actually have suitable breakfast food in the house. I have eaten so many biscuits for breakfast recently that I’ve had to switch myself over to rich tea biscuits because they’re the least horrendously bad of all the biscuits.

While, of course, breakfast is nutritionally important, and than in itself should be all the motivation I need to get into, and stick to, a good routine, for me, it’s also an important part of the simple life I want to live. It’s taking the time to start the day with some self care in the form of feeding myself, it’s really a win-win… if only I can get back into the habit.

3. Plan outfits the night before

When I started using a capsule wardrobe system at the beginning of March, I also made a Spreadsheet to help me plan outfits and track how often I’m wearing certain pieces, amongst other things. While I can appreciate that this probably sounds really over the top to a lot of people, I find having everything logged on a Spreadsheet makes it a lot easier to keep track of things, and to quickly put together outfits, however, I really want to get back to doing this the night before. Why? Well, for some practical reasons, like if something is going to need ironed, I’d rather do it in the evening when I have plenty of time, rather than turning on the iron in the morning and spending the rest of the day wondering if I switched it off. But, even aside for the distinctly practical aspects I do better planning outfits the night before. If I leave it until the day of, I am much more likely to be in a rush and grab the same, basic, comfy outfits over and over again – meaning large chunks of my wardrobe go unworn, and I sometimes end up out of the house feeling not very put together at all. Given that it takes about 10 minutes of an evening to check the weather forecast and fill in my Spreadsheet, it’s something so easy to do that really helps lower my stress levels, and keep things running more smoothly for the next day.

assortment of different fabrics and jewelry

 

4. Resume Bullet Journalling

I took up Bullet Journalling at the beginning of 2018 and I loved it. I was initially drawn to it more as a creative outlet than as a life-organisation tool – mostly because after years of trying every method under the sun to try and get my shiz together, I was pretty much resigned to the idea that nothing would work for me. However, I was wrong. Bullet Journalling turned out to provide not only a great source of fun, but also the easiest, most effective method of organisation that I’ve ever come across. I think, though, I made a bit of a rookie error about the whole thing – through January and February I put together very extensive and elaborate spreads that yes, took quite a while to do, but hey, I enjoyed it. March rolled around and I had a lot less time all of a sudden, so pages got left unfinished throughout the month, which made me pretty unhappy. Then, April hit, and I hadn’t left myself enough time to put together the most basic of layouts, so I dropped the ball completely… and April was a pretty disorganised mess for me me! I think I just need to find a balance with how much time I invest in creating the spreads versus how much time and stress they allow me to save. I want to strip back the amount of time I was “having” to put into it, and to use it more as a tool, because honestly, it really, really helps me keep calm and focus on the things that are important to me.

Bullet Journal food tracker

5. Make time for meal planning

Kenny and I both love our food, and even though we’re currently in a bit of disagreement over what we want our diet to look like – one thing remains the same, and that is that we both appreciate a good, home-cooked meal. Meal planning and prepping is another task like outfit planning for me, in that taking the time to really give it my full attention and get organised, really has benefits that last all week long. I love being able to make a meal that  will include leftovers which will feed us the next night too, or being able to make sure that we’re buying ingredients in the right quantities, and with enough flexibility in the types of food, that we won’t end up generating a bunch of food waste, even if our plans change slightly throughout the week. I feel very grateful that I have the time to cook meals for us, and if I’m organised and know what I’m doing I find it very theraputic, and one of the true simple pleasures in life.

So those are the little goals I’ve set for myself in May! I’m excited about taking this time to improve my quality of life and I can’t wait to see the difference it will all make. Let me know in the comments down below if you’re joining me in taking part in any part of this challenge, or, what would you suggest I try to get back to a more simple life?

Anxiety, Depression and Shame

I was Googling JK Rowling the other day – I can’t fully remember why, but most likely it was either to look at her sassy Twitter responses or to see if I could find an interview where she finally admitted Hogwarts is actually real #stillhopingformyHogwartsletter – but anyway, I actually came across what she had to say about her experience with depression, in particular, one interview she gave in 2008 to Adeel Amini for a student newspaper in Edinburgh (I truly cannot find the original article online anywhere, or I would link it) where she said: “The funny thing is, I have never been remotely ashamed of having been depressed. Never… I think I’m abnormally shameless on that account because what’s to be ashamed of?… I went through a really rough time and I’m quite proud of the fact that I got out of that.”

Upon reading this I had a total “huh” moment. You know, where you sort of stop what you’re doing, “huh” and sit back in your chair with a puzzled expression – this most commonly occurs after checking bank balances, but it can happen other times too. I realised that it had literally never occurred to me that it was possible for ME to not feel ashamed of suffering from anxiety and depression. I know I’ve written a lot, and in my life I’ve spoken out a lot, on breaking the stigma around mental health issues and about the importance of realising that anxiety and depression are illnesses and not choices, BUT, what I realised after reading the JK Rowling interview was that I think on some level a lot of what I’ve written has actually been about trying to convince myself that I have nothing to be ashamed of, despite the overwhelming feelings of shame I actually have surrounding my own illness.

Regarding other people suffering from depression or anxiety, I can honestly say that not a single part of me believes they should be ashamed of this – but my own health? Yeah, there’s a lot of shame there. The time I had a very bad panic attack whilst on holiday with my best friend and had to come home? Shame. Leaving my job because I was too ill to function in the work place? Shame. Every time I’ve missed an event, every time I’ve cried at the wrong time, every phone call I couldn’t answer and every friendship I’ve been unable to maintain? Shame.

I think part of the problem, particularly when you’ve been fighting anxiety and depression for a long time, is that you start to lose track of what’s illness and what’s personality flaws. What “can’t” I do and what “won’t” I do. Did I not reply to that text because I couldn’t face holding a conversation, or did I not reply because I’m lazy? Did I not eat today because I couldn’t cope with the idea of putting something in my body, or because I was subconsciously punishing myself? It can be really hard to pick a way through and find the answers, to know when to chastise yourself, and when to be kind to yourself. Undoubtedly part of my problem is that, by nature, I don’t like the idea that I’ve “misbehaved” and so if I’ve missed a call or skipped an event, rather than take time to listen to my body and my mind as to what’s going on, I just chastise myself every time. Just to be sure.

Also, I think the feeling of shame is quite deep-rooted in me: as a child, my anxiety interfered with my ability to go to, or to stay at school on an often daily basis. My parents, understandably, felt my attendance in school was important and so that was my goal in a day, to go to, and to last the day in school. Needless to say, on the days where I didn’t manage to do this: I essentially failed. Now of course, sometimes this is the case with panic attacks, that we try our best and we’re wiped out nevertheless, but the important thing is to not beat ourselves up and to keep trying, right? Well I did, I did keep trying – through school, college, University and adulthood, I have tried and sometimes it’s worked, and sometimes it hasn’t. But despite all of this, and all the theoretical awareness I have of “not beating myself up”, when I think back to my school days and having those panic attacks, all I feel is shame. If I try really hard to put myself back there, I can feel the fear and the worry, but mostly it’s just shame. It’s the look in my parents’ eyes when they pick me up from school, it’s the crying in my room knowing that I’ve let people down, and it’s the teasing from the kids in the playground the next day. I’ve definitely been conditioned by the world around me, and conditioned myself to feel ashamed of my mental health issues.

But they say that acknowledging a problem is the first step in solving it, and while there was a part of me that was ashamed to write this post today (oh look, there’s shame again – I actually only spotted that choice in wording when I read this post back) because I suppose I feel like a bit of a hypocrite: encouraging other people to be kind to themselves while I’m over here mentally attacking myself for having the audacity to have to modify my life because of an illness, I still felt this was important to write. I’ve become so used to having an almost defiant knee-jerk response of, “it’s an illness not a choice” when questioned about my mental illness – I’ve become so used to practically shouting that outwards – that I think at some point I forgot that the dialogue I have with myself is actually more important than the words I use with other people. It’s all fine and well holding my head high in public and knowing how I want mental illness to come to be understood in the world, but it’s all a bit meaningless if behind closed doors I’m hanging my head in shame and hoping nobody notices.

Life is a journey and we are all constantly changing and growing, so my discovering these deep-seated feelings of shame is a good thing, ultimately. Now that I’m aware this is happening, I can tune in to my mental dialogue and start gently, but firmly making some changes in there. While it is painful to go back and relive memories of the childhood shame, being able to bring them to conscious levels and work on the feelings of embarrassment and guilt that come up, is a huge step in the forward direction.

Anxiety and depression are illnesses, not choices and please don’t let anyone – especially yourself – make you feel otherwise.

The Difference Between Dead Time and Down Time

Growing up, I feel like I always had a lot of ideas; always had a bunch of projects I was working on, and a list of things I wanted to learn about. I wanted to illustrate books and I wanted to be bilingual, I wanted to travel and to write and to help people plan Walt Disney World vacations (I mean, I know that last one reads sort of specific, but it’s the truth so…). In short, I never saw myself as a lounging around watching VHS/DVD/Netflix (delete as appropriate for specific life era) sort of a person. But unfortunately, that’s what I’ve become.


Living with anxiety and depression has meant that there have been a lot of times when I’m not at my strongest; when my energy reserves have been low, my mood has been all over the place and my creativity has been entirely absent. The real problem with this is that I am REALLY bad at identifying and correctly managing these issues. Historically, I’ve pretended they’re not happening and forced myself onwards regardless; bullying myself for being weak or for failing at things, I believed that willpower alone should be enough to override the depression. I believed that getting blog posts or videos up was my priority and if I was missing my upload deadlines the solution was to skip other things; things like eating, bathing and relaxation time, in order to not lose face or to feel like my dreams were slipping through my fingers. Needless to say, this did not work out so well for me, and over the years I experienced some very big crashes which pretty much resulted in Kenny making me fish fingers and waffles twice a day for a week, while I sat in the same pair of pyjamas and watch Deadly Women on repeat on Netflix and cried into my teddy bear, wondering what Candice DeLong would have to say about me. I know it sounds like I’m joking, but honestly, I’ve experienced some really bad times.

I stopped believing anyone would ever read the blog, so why write it?

Over the last year or so though, things swung too far the other way. I think I gave up. I stopped believing anyone would ever read the blog, so why write it? I couldn’t consistently upload to YouTube so why keep disappointing people? The language I was learning wouldn’t stick in my head, the diet plans were abandoned when I had a ‘dark day’, I pushed and pushed at the few friends I had to try and get them to leave before I ruined things… what was the point in anything. I would only fail and exhaust and embarrass myself in the process.

The more I felt I was struggling the more I tried to slow down, so the more time I blocked out for myself. I needed an hour in the morning and three at night just to veg out and watch things online, to feel placated enough to somehow function throughout the rest of the day. Then when this didn’t work, I blocked out more time. Cancelled date night, stopped cooking, stopped reading, stopped painting my toenails – there wasn’t enough time for any of that. I didn’t have enough time. No matter how many hours I sat and did nothing, I could never relax.

Meanwhile, my Bookmarks folder and my YouTube watch later playlist were overflowing. I had a notebook bulging with thumbnail sketches and planned blog posts. I would jot down jokes, or prompts or things I thought might help people – if only I would one day be strong enough to do something about it. Then, one day, as I rolled over onto the third season of Suits, and realised I’d hated at least the previous 1.5 seasons of this show I began to wonder what I was doing with my life.

I had so many ideas and so many things that I wanted to do and to give back, I really believed that I could help other people with mental health issues, but I just felt so powerless to do, well, anything about it. Nevertheless daring to hope a solution was out there, I started looking into time management and productivity methods. I downloaded approximately 73,000 apps to help me, I tried bullet journalling, we bought a white board, but nothing really helped because I was so stuck in this feeling of needing safe time, quiet time.

I tried bullet journalling, we bought a white board, but nothing really helped because I was so stuck in this feeling of needing safe time, quiet time.

Then in my reading I came across the Tony Robbins concept of N.E.T – which stands for No Extra Time – and I’m not going to lie, on the surface this sounded like a scary thing for me. I felt like I could barely function, limping through mandatory tasks like food shopping, and now, I was supposed to do multiple things at once? Seriously? But yes, indeed this is what N.E.T is about. Basically, it’s the idea that we have all this time we have to sink into things such as cleaning the bathroom, jogging or commuting, but, while these tasks engage our bodies and in some ways leave us “stuck”, they don’t actually control our thoughts. Now I, like a lot of the population, used to use situations like this to zone out, or watch something trashy, to “relax”, I thought, my anxiety meant I needed to relax – but what else could I do with this time?

What if the half hour I spend washing dishes can also be the time I learn Spanish? What if I use my bath time in the morning to check-in with myself and visualise the day ahead? What if instead of watching Suits while I eat my breakfast I read or I learn something new through a site like Skillshare – I mean, sure, I’ll miss being #LittUp in the mornings, but you know, sacrifices need to be made I guess.

I’m here today not just to say that N.E.T really works well – because I think, probably, that’s been established already – but to talk about exactly what it’s taught me, and the amazing gift it’s given me. I started by making a list of what I wanted to do with my life, in specifics (as in not just “get fit”, but “run a half marathon in 2018”), and then made a list of things that I know to be true about myself and my needs, (as in, that I am a morning person who starts the day fired up and slowly drains throughout the day) and I set about working out ways that I could match up taking care of my needs with getting what I wanted.

I don’t want to too much into the specifics of the routine I made here as this post is already crazy long, but I do want to talk about the results. I worried that I would feel overwhelmed by giving myself more to do in a day; that I would feel rushed or pressured but actually it’s been the opposite. For example, if I am out a jog and I’m really low energy and I’m walking more than I’m jogging, I don’t find myself focusing on the negativity there because I’m also learning about life in Glasgow in the 1800’s, so even if I don’t run much, I’ve still come back into the house a ‘richer’ person. I could give a dozen examples like this, all of which would be true and, for me, a huge deal, but as I said, I think the benefits of using the N.E.T. method are well established, so let me just finish by talking about the biggest lesson I’ve learned of all.

I had previously thought that all the time I had spent lounging about in front of Netflix was relaxation time, time that I needed to recharge my batteries, but I can see now that I was wrong, it was dead time. I wasn’t learning, or growing or achieving anything, but I also couldn’t relax properly because I was so wracked with guilt about wasting my life away. It’s hard to relax when you have a list of goals you’re getting no closer to, and a pile of dishes in the sink you’ve not washed in days. I kidded myself that the time was good for me, I was listening to my body and showing that I was in control of looking after myself instead of pushing on to silly levels, but I can see now that it was the anxiety talking. After all, anxiety doesn’t want us to become successful, or to take risks or try new things, anxiety wants to keep us where we’re safe and in control – i.e on the couch with a cup of tea in hand. And I let my anxiety convince me that this was for the best.

After all, anxiety doesn’t want us to become successful, or to take risks or try new things, anxiety wants to keep us where we’re safe and in control…

Now, although yes, I am tackling much more in a day, I find that by structuring things well and pursuing things I’m genuinely very passionate about, I feel fulfilled rather than overwhelmed and by achieving so much earlier in the day, by the time evening comes around I’m ready for some ACTUAL downtime. Time where there is no guilt or pressure, where the dishes are done and I can take a little time to be proud of myself for the day before getting cosy under a blanket with a good book, or actually watching a whole film from start to finish.

Learning about the N.E.T method, as well as becoming aware of how I work and what I want as an individual, has meant that I am able to structure my days and make the most of my “good times”, so that when the times come that I’m sad, or I’m tired I have the ability to switch off and give myself some proper down time, rather than staring into space like some sort of zombie, shutting out the real world and my own thoughts. There is a huge difference between down time and dead time, and I am so glad that I’m finally able to tell the difference between the two and give myself the actual relaxation that I deserve.

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.