Posted in Lifestyle, Self-Discovery

The Uncluttered Life

This week I decided to take annual leave from work. I had no plans in mind, and no budget for further travelling, so I mostly stayed home (if I wasn’t doing an extra shift to fatten up the aforementioned budget) and chilled.

Today I suddenly got the urge to clean my room and get rid of the clutter that I’ve managed to accumulate in the five or so years that I’ve been living in my flat. Within an hour I managed to fill up three bags full of papers, boxes, old letters, forms and other useless junk. I reread old cards from old friends, some of whom I barely talk to anymore, and even found a love letter addressed to my brother that somehow made its way to me by mistake (oops!).

I found a closet full of clothes that I don’t wear anymore, as well as designer bags that have been hidden away in obscurity after I’ve paid such a hefty sum for them. I found so much rubbish, and while I’m no Marie Kondo (and never will be) it did make me think about what a metaphor it was for the way I’ve been living my life these past couple of years.

I think that our lives only have a finite number of spaces for a finite number of things, and we should be careful about the things we keep, the things we allow to accumulate, the things we allow to hold us down. Take designer bags, for example. They are nothing but status symbols that people use to indicate to other people that they make a lot of money and can therefore afford luxurious items. It’s the feminine version of a pissing contest, and for a while I allowed myself to buy into the hype.

The truth is, I use a maximum of two bags in a month: my work bag and some kind of purse for the rare occasion that I need to dress up to go out. I don’t need any Pradas and Guccis, nor do I really need a Louis Vuitton. I need a bag that works, and one where I can fit my laptop, my Kindle, a couple of books and a small notebook for writing. And because of this fine weather we’ve been having lately, an umbrella. Those limited edition LVs are undoubtedly lovely, but I can barely fit anything useful in them. Plus, if I use them, I might as well have a neon sign flashing over my head saying: ROB ME, ROB ME.

I have a friend who hasn’t bought any new clothes since we graduated from college. She believes in living a minimalistic life, and she doesn’t see the value in buying new things when the old ones still work. It just takes up room that she doesn’t have. I found that kind of mindset admirable, and I wish I could be evolved enough to adopt it. I wish I could be the kind of person who is able to differentiate the rubbish and the clutter from what really matters in life.

I took a moment to reflect and write this blog after I’ve finished my cleaning frenzy, and I thought about this book I read lately called ‘The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck’ and I realise that I am getting far too old to let every single thing bother me, to let unimportant things distract me from everything that’s good about my life. Just like my closet full of clothes and my drawer full of unused bags , I need to be better at choosing what to value, what to let in, what things to give importance to, and what things I’m better off not giving a fuck about.

Taylor Swift once said that she only wants to be defined by the things she loved. I looked around my room when I finished cleaning and I realise I’ve already subconsciously chosen the things that are most important to me from the things I prominently put on display: my to-do list for work to represent a career that I genuinely enjoy (and which gives me enough financial stability to pursue my other dreams!), my books, which represent my love of discovering new worlds and learning new things; my writing stuff, as a symbol of my lifelong dream to be a published author; my passport, for my love of travelling and exploring new places; and a family picture.

At the end of the day, I don’t need anything more than that. Everything else is just clutter.

Posted in Books, Careers, Health and Well-Being, Lifestyle, Reviews, Self-Discovery

Book Review: The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck – Mark Manson

It’s not very often that you find the kind of book you need at the exact same moment in which you need it. Call it fate, call it kismet, call it in act of divine intervention, but this book found its way into my loving arms just when I needed it the most.

I was in the operating theatre one day when I got into an argument with a particularly obnoxious Fellow over specimen labels, of all things. She thought she was right and I was wrong, and I was just as convinced of the opposite. I was so enraged that she wouldn’t just do what I told her to do (because I was right, goddamit) that I went storming into the manager’s office, ranting and raving like a lunatic, begging them to please do something about this stubborn incompetent fool.

On my way back to the theatre I felt the faint stirrings of pain on the centre of my chest and (I imagined) somewhere on my left shoulder (or left back, I wasn’t really sure). Bearing in mind that I’ve been having blood pressure problems for a while now, you can see why I would suddenly feel anxious and almost panicky. I became so convinced that I was having a heart attack right then and there that I very nearly excused myself from theatres so I can go to the A and E.

As you can probably tell I did not, in fact, have a heart attack thank goodness. Shortly before this incident, I had two large sausages and a piece of bacon for lunch. And because I was in a hurry to scrub for the next procedure, I had inhaled all this food in a hurry and was finished with my lunch break in five minutes. So what I probably had was a mild case of indigestion (although the hypochondriac in me still believes there’s merit in assuming and being prepared for the worst).

That moment really opened my eyes and made me think about a lot of things. Like the fragility of life. Like how much I let what other people think affect me emotionally and psychologically. Like the number of things I give a fuck about that I will probably forget in five years or less. Like how fucking pissed I would be if I died because of a bloody specimen form and miss out on all the wonderful things I have to look forward to this year, like my parents coming for a visit, and the Tiu Family Reunion we’re planning on Christmas.

And then I picked up The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck. This is a book that generated a lot of buzz when it came out last year (I think) and numerous friends and acquaintances have been encouraging me to read it for a while now, but I’ve always been kinda skeptical about it. I’m not into self-help books to be honest, I’ve always found it kinda hokey, and the authors always came across as being self-righteous, not to mention self-congratulatory.

This book felt more like a friend. It was funny, endearingly self-deprecatory and perhaps more importantly, extremely relatable. I identified with a lot of the situations Mark wrote about, and with the experiences he’s shared. I’m not saying it’s perfect, nor do I agree with all of it (I think something in me rebelled at the thought of accepting that I will always be ordinary). But in the three weeks it took me to finish it, I have made some changes that I think will be healthier for me in the long run.

While reading it I’ve been forced to think about my values, and to examine the metrics by which I measure success. I went for a run last week and my calves were hurting the whole time, which reduced my speed from slow to turtle pace. I felt so discouraged by the whole thing and nearly gave up on running altogether. But then I asked myself how I defined a successful run. What were my metrics? Was it finishing a 5k within a certain time frame? Was it being able to run longer distances every day? Was it being able to run pain-free? Because realistically speaking, if I only focused on those three things I’m almost guaranteed to fail at least about half the time.

What about the fact that I managed to wake up at the unholy hour of 5:30 in the morning four times a week and get my lazy arse off my comfy bed so that I can run before work? It’s currently averaging between 1 and 5 degrees in London at the moment, and those are temperatures that make you want to do the opposite of getting up and going outside.

But I do it every. single. time. And you know what, I realised that by doing that, I was already winning.

I made the executive decision that from that point onwards my metric for a successful run would simply be me getting up in the morning and showing up physically as well as mentally. And that’s when things changed. Every day I felt like I was winning a race. Every day felt like a triumph.

I stepped on a weighing scale two weeks after I started running and nearly wept. With abject misery. Because no matter what I did, no matter how much I tried to stick to a healthy diet, counting calories like a miser counts coins, I just can’t seem to get that number on the scale to go down. What was the point of putting myself through all of it if I wasn’t achieving results?

Then I started monitoring my blood pressure twice a day, once in the morning and once in the evening. For the first time in a long long time, the readings were steady, and if not always normal they were not as astronomically high as they were this time last year. More than that, I’ve started feeling more positive, both at work and life in general. I’ve been able to deal better with difficult conversations, uncompromising colleagues, unfair criticisms and all the other curveballs that your personal and professional lives throw at you on a daily basis.

An anaesthetist saw me yesterday and noted that I seem more chilled and relaxed. Was that not some better measure of success than the number on my weighing scale?

In a way, the book was very liberating. One of its fundamental beliefs is that we would be much happier if we stop placing all these unrealistic expectations of ourselves to be something great, to be extraordinary, to make a lasting impact on the world, to be so amazing that we are immortalised and allowed to live on even when we’re dead. Jesus, that is a lot of pressure to place on our teeny tiny human bodies.

Apparently, the more we accept that we are just a tiny fraction of the world at large, that it is not always about us, and that we are not special and unique, the better off we will be. For someone who’s always been a bit type A, for someone who has always been ambitious, for someone who was groomed from childhood to draw happiness from other people’s approval of my achievements, this is quite a difficult pill to swallow.

But Mark Manson argues that the feeling we get from other people’s approval are only temporary highs, it’s not true happiness. In fact, we’re actually making ourselves unhappy by constantly chasing the feeling we get when people give us praise, whether in real life or in the form of likes on social media. When we seek validation from somewhere outside of ourselves, we’re planting the seeds of our own discontent and eventual unhappiness.

True happiness, he says, is actually borne out of suffering. Pain and struggle are necessary ingredients to happiness because “to be happy, we need something to solve”. And when we find that solution, it then creates a whole host of other problems for us to solve, forever and ever and ever, Amen. And this apparently is what keeps us happy. This is what defines us. We are defined by the pain we’re willing to sustain, the things we’re willing to struggle for.

I don’t know about you, but I kinda want a pain-free life where I don’t need to struggle.

But I see his point. To expect a life free from suffering is to be delusional. Instead, you need to choose what is worth struggling for. For example, is it really worth having daily arguments with a colleague just so you can prove you’re right? Do you take that job that offers a bigger salary but also comes with a whole host of responsibilities that take you further and further away from the thing that you really want to do? Are you willing to struggle through frustration, insecurities, and the fear of failure just so you can finally fulfil your lifelong dream of publishing a book?

I think about the pain I feel when I go for a 7k run: the lactic acid being released from my muscles causing pain in my legs, that feeling of being slightly out of breath – that I’m willing to endure. Because waiting for me on the other side of that pain are the endorphins released after a good run, the sense of achievement from simply being able to finish, knowing that you gave it your best effort, and of course, the prevention of a potential heart attack (sorry this is going to be a recurring theme).

Needless to say, I really really REALLY like this book. I would give it as a present to everyone I know if I could. There’s so much more I want to say about it, and there is so much more to discuss, but this post is seriously starting to reach dissertation lengths. I’d just like to end by saying that the best compliment I could give for it is that it forced me, a notorious speed reader, to slow down and really reflect on the messages that the author wants to impart: that you need to have better values, that sometimes even the littlest things are a measure of success, and that if you do have to give a fuck, choose what you want to give a fuck about.

Posted in Lifestyle, relationships

Personal Boundaries

I read something the other day that really made me think and reflect on my self and how I interact with others.

People with strong boundaries are not afraid of temper tantrums, an argument, or getting hurt. People with weak boundaries are terrified of those things and will constantly mould their own behaviour to fit the highs and lows of their relational emotional roller coaster

Mark Manson

What this means for me personally is learning how to be myself and how to stand my ground. It means being true to my values and principles no matter what situation I find myself in.

I don’t think anyone would call me spineless, not by any stretch. But I still find myself in situations where I’m either giving in and giving way in an argument, or I’m twisting myself into a pretzel just so I can minimise the threat to the general peace (and my peace of mind).

Awhile back I was involved in an issue that required me to make a stand. It was highly contentious to say the least, all parties on either side of the argument felt quite strongly that they were right and the other was wrong. I was on the fence because, to be honest, I really didn’t care one way or the other. I personally didn’t see why there was even a discussion about it when the outcome was inevitable, but some people felt the need to pick a subject apart before coming to a decision.

Instead of examining my own values and standing up for something, instead of speaking up for what I thought was right, I went out of my way to be everything for everyone, hearing out each side in an effort to be fair. I allowed the people involved to tell me all the ways in which the other side was screwing things up. I vacillated between agreeing and disagreeing, bending over backwards trying to placate everyone involved until I was so exhausted that I lost the will to live (figuratively speaking).

I’ve always been like that. Probably because a) I care far too much about what other people think and b) I don’t want to risk choosing a side and ending up being on the wrong side, because I hate being wrong. PERIOD.

In conclusion, I have very weak personal boundaries. I like to think of myself as quite a strong person but what I am, in fact, is very malleable. I have a tendency to bend to the will of stronger forces. I probably change some if not all the aspects of my personality depending on who I’m with and what their position is in relation to mine.

This needs to stop.

Getting into arguments, being wrong, failing…these are all inevitable aspects of life that help us to grow, and from that growth comes true happiness and contentment. Also, if you never take a side, if you never allow anyone to see the real you, then you can never really trust in their love or respect because you know deep inside its based on false pretenses.

You will never really feel secure, and you will spend the rest of your life compensating or maintaining that façade.

Which isn’t to say that you now need to spend the rest of your life getting into arguments with people. You don’t want to be up in arms with pitchforks up in the air all the time. I think there’s a balance that can be achieved, and if other people respect you enough (which should be the only kind of people worth keeping in your life, BTW) they will be capable of disagreeing with you without things turning into DEFCON1.

And if they’re the kind of people too stubborn to consider that they might be wrong, that there’s merit in looking at things from another person’s perspective, then leave it. It’s not worth the stress trying to convince them otherwise.

Its easier said than done. After all, who doesn’t prefer a peaceful life? But the next time you find yourself setting yourself on fire to keep other people warm just to avoid the inevitable drama and confrontation, think about what doing that does to you.

Does it make you happy? Is it exhausting all your personal stores of energy, leaving too little for you to do things you actually care about? Is keeping the peace better in the long run or is it a temporary Band-Aid hiding a festering wound?

I leave you all with that cheery mental picture. :p

Posted in bloggers, Careers, Lifestyle

Learning to be more comfortable with criticism

Everyone’s a critic.

One of my greatest fears has always been that of being tried and convicted in the court of public opinion without being given an opportunity to defend myself. I have had unpleasant experiences of this nature before and it was so traumatic that its instilled a deep-seated fear in me of people talking about me behind my back, twisting my words and misinterpreting my actions to use them against me.

I don’t think you’ll ever find anyone who could honestly say they were comfortable with being criticised, especially when the basis for it is founded on false or incomplete information, in which case it becomes a judgment. There are people who are better able to cope with judgment than others, but anyone who claims that they don’t get just the teensy bit upset when they hear other people saying untrue and unfair things about themselves or their work is a liar.

I feel like this is a blog entry that I’ve done before. I feel like I’m singing a remixed version of the same chorus and I seem to be singing it over and over again. For someone so afraid of criticism and judgement you’d think I’d learn by now to keep more of a low profile. After all, the less you do something, or the less you’re seen to do something, the less material people have to talk about you.

Well, sorry, I’m just not a low profile kind of girl.

I’m the kind of girl who wears my heart on my sleeve. I am an open book. I am so transparent I make Casper look corporeal in comparison. I am passionate about the things that I love and I won’t hesitate to talk about them in front of anyone who will listen. This makes me a target for the cynics and the naysayers who have nothing better to do than to bring people down because they think they can do so much better. Spoiler alert: they probably can’t.

I am not going to rehash things that I’ve probably already written about in a previous blog about how hurtful it is to be the object of petty gossip. I will instead focus on affirming my beliefs and setting my intentions for how I am going to cope with criticism, unfair or otherwise, because the nature of what I do guarantees that I will experience this from time to time. So here’s what I know.

  1. Take anything you hear from other people with a pinch of salt. Being somewhat of a gossip myself, I know that the teller will always put his or her own spin on the tale. The version that reaches your ears is vastly different from the original message and some things get lost and added in the retelling.
  2. Amidst the negativity, find something helpful that you can work on. Consider it an extreme form of feedback. After all, everyone’s feelings and opinions are valid and worth listening to. Who knows, office gossip and catty comments might even be a catalyst for positive change. Although, at present, I am not in the mood to be quite as magnanimous as to thank the haters for their hurtful comments. Can I please be allowed to be petty for five more minutes? Thank you.
  3. Resist the temptation to do damage control. Its so so tempting to explain yourself, to justify your actions, to clear your name. I’ve had enough life experiences to know that this will not make the situation any better. All you’ll be doing is adding fuel to the fire. Besides, if they don’t already appreciate your hard work and effort, chances are they never will, so efforts to change their mind is an exercise in futility.
  4. Filter what you let in to your life, choose whose opinions you opt to listen to. Honestly, the thing to ask yourself is whether you should even give credence to the opinions you hear in the first place. Is it coming from people you respect? Is there any truth to the criticisms (if so, see number 2)? Do you really care? Will it matter six months down the line when we’re all running from our lives because there’s been an outbreak of war? Which leads me to point number five.
  5. Life is too short to be pissed off all the time. Honestly, the amount of energy needed to sustain a bad mood is infinitely higher than the energy it takes to just smile, and, in the words of one Taylor Swift, shake it off. And if you can’t shake it off just yet, do what I’m doing now, which is –
  6. Channel all that negative energy into something good. I happen to write better when I’m upset about something. Some of my best work is borne out of my darkest moods. Maybe because when I’m writing about them I open up and make myself vulnerable, and in doing so I’m at my most authentic. Upset? Post a blog, write a song, or better yet, sing your heart out and keep your neighbours up by screaming the bridge of Welcome to The Black Parade at the top of your lungs. I can almost guarantee you’ll feel better.

Let’s be honest here. I will probably spend the next twenty four hours dwelling on the situation and nursing my hurts, but I can promise you that I will have mostly gotten over it by tomorrow. And if you’re in a similar situation or if any of the tips above have resonated with you or if you have other strategies to share that might help others, please comment. I’d love to hear and learn from you.

Cheers.

Posted in Careers, Health and Well-Being, Lifestyle, Writing

How You Get Your Groove Back

Over the weekend my sister and I finally had the chance to watch the London production of Hamilton. I have to say that although its general knowledge by now that this show is a cultural phenomenon, its a different thing altogether to actually experience it yourself.

This isn’t a blog about how great the show it was though because I wouldn’t be telling you all anything you didn’t already know. It would be redundant for me to say that Lin Manuel Miranda is a genius, and as strange a concept as hip-hop musical theatre may be, he somehow made it work, and as a result he gave the Broadway and West End industry a badly-needed face lift and brought a new generation of theatre goers to the fold. We already know all that.

I suppose I wanted to talk about what watching Hamilton and listening to its music meant to me personally. For the past 6 months now I’ve slowly been resigning myself to the fact that this was it. This was all that’s going to become of my life. I would spend the rest of my days working for the NHS, doing a job that at best barely satisfies me, counting down the days until I collect my salary at the end of the month, breaking up the mind-numbing pattern by having sporadic dinners and catch-up sessions with friends every once in a while. Eat, Sleep, Rinse, Repeat.

It got to the point where I couldn’t even muster enough interest to pick up a book, I was sleeping longer, eating more – which is always indicative of my state of mind as I am a self-confessed stress eater. I could barely be bothered to put on make-up. I lost the will to even open a dating app. I spent most nights hunched over a 500-piece Disney Jigsaw Puzzle in a feeble attempt to find something that stimulates my brain. I start watching random shows on Netflix only to lose interest halfway through because I just could not be bothered.

Looking back I think I probably had the beginnings of – if not depression, something close to it. It’s like I lost some vital part of myself, the part that always enabled me to look forward to tomorrow, the part of me that believed that something exciting was always waiting to happen around the corner. I sometimes found myself in the middle of doing something and I would suddenly stop to think, what’s the point?

Anyway. That totally went to a darker place than I thought this blog would go. Funny what introspection can dig up, huh? I haven’t given myself the chance to reflect on the past year because I didn’t know if I would like what I saw when I did. But happily I’m the kind of person that doesn’t have it in within herself to be down in the dumps for so long. I’m genetically engineered to be bubbly and happy and for the most part that is my default setting. It was very eye-opening for me to realise that even the most seemingly well-adjusted and happiest of individuals could also go through mental health issues, mild as they may be.

You’ll all be happy to know that I reached a turning point last week leading to a series of activities culminating in the Hamilton show this weekend. First of all, I started reading again. I have always had an avaricious appetite for knowledge and stories. I went on a shopping spree on both Amazon Kindle and Waterstones, diversifying my bookshelves with an equal mix of fiction and non-fiction. Among my most recent purchases include two feminist books, Julie Andrews’ memoir, a book on the Lost Princes of the Tower and two of Yuval Harris’ books Sapiens and 21 lessons for the 21st Century. Plus the usual romance novels of course.

I’ve started a workout regimen that challenges me but also allows for, shall we say, my physical shortcomings. I think I’ve finally accepted the fact that I will never be an athlete, and that I will never be skinny, but I can still be active and healthy in my own way. My sister bought me a new pair of Nike’s over Christmas, which to be honest was probably the main catalyst for my renewed interest in training. Personally I think the right pair of shoes has enough power to change a person’s life. Quote me.

2019 was a struggle for me financially. I was still reaping the repercussions of having made questionable decisions in 2018. I probably should have limited my purchases to those that were strictly necessary, or perhaps travelled less, but I can’t really bring myself to regret the experiences I’ve had. So I worked a lot of extra shifts between September and December to make up for it. That probably contributed greatly to the feeling that my life was all about, and only about, work. I was spending too much time doing it, getting caught up in office politics and the drama of working in a slowly-dying NHS, plus working extra shifts that were both physically and mentally taxing.

I’m not sure how to express my feelings about this matter without sounding ungrateful. I’m lucky to have a job that on occasion still brings me something that might resemble joy, and my career trajectory is something that I’m really proud of. But. Part of me wishes I had the courage to give all that up to finally focus on something I’ve been wanting to do all my life: write a book.

I made several attempts to last year to write a story. Any story. I told myself that it doesn’t have to be good, the point is simply to finish. I bought books on everything from creative writing to grammar (and wished like hell that I paid more attention to subject-verb agreement in high school). I made a list of things that inspired me, tried to find a genre that suited me and filled notebook after notebook with ideas. I was determined to at least have a draft by the end of the year.

Yeah, that didn’t happen.

Every time I wrote something and reread it a week later it just felt shallow and superficial, and I didn’t think it measured up to a real writer’s work. I couldn’t find my voice, and I wasn’t sure what message I wanted to send to the world with my book. Basically, just finishing a story doesn’t and will never work for me. It didn’t inspire me. If I was going to tell a story, it needed to be a story worth telling, even if I’m the only person that thought so. I needed to be able to believe in my own creation.

In addition, “real life” got in the way. I work 37.5 hours a week, sometimes more. Each time I move up the career ladder I take on more responsibilities, which meant it was difficult to switch off from work even when I wasn’t at work. It was difficult to change gears, to put myself in the mindset of being a writer when part of my brain is still dwelling on whether we had enough bed capacity to operate on all our patients tomorrow.

So I lost the will to write. I gave up on that dream and told myself it’s never going to happen. I need to be content with what I have, be grateful to have stability and to be alive. But I was wrong.

This is the first time I’ve used my laptop for writing in a long while, and the first time I’ve had any interest in sharing my thoughts and feelings in a blog. It’s very therapeutic and it’s made me feel more like myself. I love being a nurse educator, I really do, but I think I realise I need both it and writing in my life. I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t use my words to communicate, just like Alexander Hamilton.

Just two days ago I bought a notebook and a pen, sat down in a cafe and wrote a story that really meant something to me because it was my story, with a little bit of embellishment. I don’t know if I’m ever going to finish it, I really hope I do. I think I’ve found a way to tell the story I want to tell from a unique perspective, everything I need to complete it is within me, I just have to find the strength and the perseverance to keep at it even when it starts to feel like a pipe dream.

I think that’s why Hamilton resonated so much with me, and it will probably continue to do so in the months to come. Its a story about a revolution that founded a nation, sure, but at the core of it, it’s a story about having a dream AND having the drive to make that dream a reality. Its not enough to make castles in the clouds, if you want to achieve something you have to work for it, be willing to fight for it even if the odds are stacked against you.

I can only hope that if I ever put something out there, it can be as inspiring and life-changing for one person as Hamilton has been for so many others. Kudos, Lin Manuel Miranda.

Posted in bloggers, family, Feminism, Lifestyle, relationships, women

Mind Your Own Business

We live in a society that is ever more conscious about being politically correct. We use gender neutral pronouns, we try and respect other religions as much as our own, we recognise that men and women were created equally and that the latter deserves as much respect as the former. Its an enlightened world where people have rights, they said.

Why then can’t the rest of us who live in this so-called enlightened world not enjoy the right for people (under the guise of concern) to butt out of our business?

One of my friends tweeted a few rules of politeness once, and I have never agreed with a tweet more. It said that one should never ask questions of a sensitive nature unless the other person opens up about it first. These sensitive questions include, but are not limited to, the following:

a. how much they earn in their jobs
b. marital status
c. if married, whether or not they ever plan to have kids
and other questions that are just damn intrusive, nosy and rude.

I personally feel fine and content with my lot in life, but there are a lot of people that struggle with not being able to fit into the mould that hundreds of years worth of tradition has created for us: mother, homemaker, wife. I struggle with it sometimes myself. Its not a very pleasant feeling to sit around a dinner table and have your friends talk about their respective partners and all you’re able to contribute was your latest trip to Croatia.

I get so angry about it sometimes. When people get together its like there’s a list of questions that they have to tick off to assure themselves that they’ve had a proper catch-up. Real friends don’t do that. Real friends catch up to listen and offer support. The people you should keep in your lives will not make you feel any less of a person just because the trajectory of your life happens to be different from theirs. I am eternally grateful that I still have a handful of those friends who, regardless of the fact that at most parties I am the only one not carrying a baby carriage, make me feel proud of everything else I’ve accomplished anyway. You guys know who you are.

The point is that the world has no right to your heart, to paraphrase a line from the brilliant song ‘Burn‘ from the musical ‘Hamilton’. The world has no right to your struggles, it does not get to judge you. No one gets to define or limit who you are especially if they can’t get past their own narrow worldview to remember that you are a person first. Not a girlfriend, a wife, or a mother. You are you: and that has, is and should always be enough.

Posted in bloggers, Careers, Lifestyle, london

A Moment To Reflect

This week, the sun’s finally shining over London after what felt like an endless winter. I went for a run around my favourite route near the river Thames, with no goal in mind except to enjoy the beautiful spring day. Although physically I’m not as fit as I used to be, and though I was huffing and puffing after one kilometre, it felt like the first easy breath I’ve taken in ages.

There’s plenty of reasons to be happy and content. This week I finally got my British citizenship approved, after six years of hard work, struggle, achievements and so much joy that I hardly know how to put it all into words. It felt like the culmination of a lifetime of dreams, and despite Brexit and the looming uncertainty surrounding the country’s future, I still find myself incredibly grateful to have made it this far.

That’s not to say its all been sunshine and roses these past couple of weeks. Parts of it were downright maddening, in fact. It’s funny how some things are magnified in your mind if you continue to dwell on them over and over, until a seemingly manageable molehill now feels like an immoveable mountain.

I am a champion dweller.

I really should rid myself of this habit of being unable to let go of things. I tend to obsess about certain issues or concerns to the point where it is the. only. thing. I. see. I get a kind of tunnel vision where I’m unable to move on until I’ve picked the problem apart in a hundred different ways trying to come up with a solution.

I need to learn to accept that there are problems that can only be solved by acceptance and compromise.

I need to learn that not everyone will see things the way I do, and that the choices we make are a product of past experiences and influences. There is no point in judging others according to the standards that you set for yourself. You will only drive yourself mad.

I think the only thing that will keep you sane is to continue to do you, and not to mind so much about what other people are getting up to, difficult as that may be for type A personalities like myself. Be part of the solution, not the problem.

Towards the end of this week, whenever I felt like pulling my hair out in frustration, I reminded myself that – just like everything else – this too shall pass. Life is too short to be pissed all the time, as a wise person once said. There are far too many beautiful things in this earth to appreciate; you can’t let problems that will probably be inconsequential a year down the line get you down.

Most of all, I remembered to breathe, to stay centred, to focus on the things that are important, and to remember that even though other people may let you down, the key thing is to not let yourself down.

Happy start of the week, fellow blabbaholics and bookworms! xx

Posted in Books, Lifestyle

My Winter-Spring Reading List

A friend was asking me for book recommendations earlier this week and it made me go back to my bookshelf to check out what I have, only to realise I have a freakin’ stockpile of books I’ve bought but haven’t had the time to read yet.

I need help. I have a disease. A disease where I need to follow the compulsion to buy books every time I go into a bookstore. I always leave Waterstones asking myself: WHAT THE HELL HAVE I JUST DONE?!?

(This is usually after having just forked over at least 50£ for a bunch of books)

I’ve now imposed a ban upon myself: I am no longer allowed to buy books until I finish the unread ones currently sitting on my shelves.

So, without further ado, here’s my 2019 winter-spring reading list:

Becoming – Michelle Obama

This one I’m halfway through, and I personally can’t wait to blog about this incredibly inspiring book. A must-read, especially for strong independent women trying to find their place in the world.

Mythos – Stephen Fry

The story of the Greek Gods told in Stephen Fry’s inimitably funny, humorous and tongue-in-cheek style. Mythology as seen and narrated from a 21st century perspective. This should be fun!

Heroes – Stephen Fry

A companion to Mythos, this time covering the Age of Heroes: Perseus, Jason and the Argonauts etc.

The Silence of the Girls – Pat Barker

This one intrigued me so much when I pick it up, because its the Iliad as seen through the eyes of the women who had to live through those turbulent times. For once, Achilles and his damned heel won’t be the centre of attention.

The Queen and I – Sue Townsend

What happens if the institution of monarchy were suddenly abolished and the Royal Family had to move to and adjust to living a life in the Midlands? It makes for great comedy, I’d imagine!

Fire and Blood – George RR Martin

The long and bloody history of the Targaryen dynasty, starting from Aegon the Conqueror to Aegon III. I love love love Game of Thrones, and although this doesn’t cover recent history (like the reign of Mad King Aerys) I still can’t wait to read this.

Time’s Convert – Deborah Harkness

Going back to the world of A Discovery of Witches, which, incidentally is now a major tv series! Haha

Nine Perfect Strangers – Liane Moriarty

As I understand it, nine people go into some retreat where nothing is at it seems and the retreat leader seems to have nefarious and sinister plans. Oooh.

Black Widow – Chris Brookmyre

About a woman who goes through husbands like I go through socks, except her husbands end up dead so maybe that’s not the most fitting analogy. Lol

City of Ghosts – Victoria Schwab

A book about a girl who can see ghosts, set in one of my favourite cities: Edinburgh

Middlemarch – George Eliot

Because I need to read a classic every once in a while.

The ABC Murders – Agatha Christie

Recommended by my sister and also now a tv series!

Victoria – AN Wilson

Because I love hearing stories about women who rise to the occasion, and Victoria has always been one of my favourite monarchs.

One Day in December – Josie Wilson

Rounding things up with a little story about love and serendipity.

Hope you all find something in this list to enjoy!

Posted in Horror, Lifestyle, Travel

The Tower of Terror

A group of people go into an amusement park and plan what rides to go on. They decide, just for shits and giggles, to go on the scariest and most thrilling ride imaginable.

If there are 5 people in that group, you can bet your entire mortgage that 4 of them genuinely want to go on said ride. And then there’s that one sucker who’s been peer-pressured into it because FOMO (Fear of Missing Out).

Being the sensible person that I am, I have never seen the value of paying big bucks to voluntarily put yourself in a room that’s been made to resemble an old elevator that will then drop over a hundred feet, simulating a free fall that once killed 5 people (or sent them into The Twilight Zone. Same thing).

Unfortunately, remember our friend who’s been peer-pressured into going on that ride? Yep. Most of the time, that friend is ME.

I am the sucker that inevitably finds herself clutching at the rails and asking myself, among other things, WHAT THE BLOODY HELL WAS I THINKING?

You know, when you’re strapped into a contraption that’s about to do a vertical drop of over a hundred feet, your life doesn’t quite flash before your eyes, but its a damn close thing.

So what was I thinking during those final moments before I plunge into certain death the bottom of the Tower of Terror? Let me illuminate you.

On the day of the BIG DAY:

Surely I don’t need to do this. My siblings and my cousin won’t disown me if I back out, after all we’re FAMILY.

When you see the windows of the tower opening and hear the god-awful screams:

Oh my god. What am I doing? Is it too late to back out?

When you realise what a Disney Fast Pass means:

Why are we jumping the queue?? I want to have time to contemplate my life before I go on this death trap.

When you’re ushered into the converted library for a video introduction:

Is it normal for my legs to feel like jelly?

When you see a little boy who’s about 5 years old excitedly waiting for the elevator shaft:

Seriously. Get a grip. Kids do this all the time, surely YOU – an ADULT – will be able to handle it.

5 minutes later:

Nope, no way. Kids obviously don’t know enough to make an informed decision. Theirs is the courage that comes from ignorance.

When the elevator shaft opens:

Oh God, I am going to pass out.

While strapping yourself into your seat:

Shit. Shit. Shit. SHHHHIIIIIIT.

When the ride starts moving:

Why? Why am I doing this?? Why the bloody hell am I doing this? Let me out!

When they “fake-drop” you:

Okay, that wasn’t too bad. I got this. I think I can handle this.

When they drop you FOR REAL:

Holy mother of Christ! Help me Jesus!!!!

When they drop you for the second time:

Go to your happy place. Go to your happy place. It will all be over soon.

When they drop you the third time:

Surely this must be over soon!

When the camera flashes to take a reaction photo:

You expect me to be photogenic at a time like this???

* What I actually managed was this masterpiece:

And when its over:

I will never do this again. Its hard to conceive of anything that will motivate me to ever go on this ride again. Perhaps if the fate of the Brexit negotiations rest on it. And even then, I still say Nigel Farage and the other fools can literally take the fall for me.

Posted in bloggers, fitness, Health and Well-Being, Lifestyle, Self-Discovery, Travel

Life Lessons From Hiking

After a hectic four-day trip to Vegas, my aunt took my sister and I to a 15 kilometre hike around Silver Falls State Park in Oregon.

I’ve always considered myself a city girl, and I will probably never live more than commutable distance away from a major city, like London. If I have it my way I will be renting my flat in Soho (for the same price!) until I die.

But for some reason I’ve developed a strange fascination for hiking around nature this year. I’ve discovered how much I love to just walk with no particular destination in mind, to soak in the views around me and allow it to soothe my often anxious and high-strung city soul.

You learn a lot when you’re somewhere with no mobile phone coverage or Wifi, especially when you’re running low on battery and can’t even listen to music on your Spotify. In that instant, its just you and nature and whoever happens to be hiking with you (my family, in this case).

I’d like to share some of those lessons in the hopes that, like me, you find the time to get away from it all for a while and have the opportunity to enjoy the pleasures (and lessons!) of hiking.

Be prepared.

I’m very vain, and my instagram is filled to the brim with photos of me in various outfits. But there’s no room for vanity around nature. You have to be prepared for rain, sunshine, mud, water and whatever elements Mother Nature decides to throw your way.

For me, this really is a metaphor for life, and its something that I should really be sorting out now that I’m in my 30s. No one wants to think too hard about things like insurance and savings when life’s a party, but you can sure as hell guarantee they’ll be thinking about it when the challenges start pouring in like rain.

Disconnect and Unplug.

I’ve already blogged once about my increasing disillusion with social media, and yet I find myself still posting on Facebook and Instagram time after time after time. Its like I’ve been conditioned to think that anything I do in life is not worthwhile unless its validated by my “followers” in the form of likes.

Be honest. How often do you look around when you’re on holiday to find that you and your friends are all on your phones, racing to be the first to upload photos or post an Instagram story? Or wasting time trying to get the perfect shot that you fail to soak in the beautiful piece of the world that you’re fortunate enough to find yourself in?

Yesterday I had a phone that was dying and was without a Power-bank for a change. I also didn’t have mobile data or Wifi coverage. And I think it was the best thing that’s ever happened to me on this trip. To just be able to enjoy the experience without feeling the need to update the rest of the world about what I was doing, to really BE in the moment, was a gift.

I think for the rest of this trip I will try to be on airplane mode more often.

Put one foot in front of the other

I think of myself as a reasonably fit individual but I have to say I had reservations about the 15km hike, especially when I realised that a) there won’t be a toilet for miles and b) the trail will naturally have uphill, downhill and (did I mention?) uphill portions.

It requires stamina and good breath control, sure. But one should never underestimate the power of the mind. If you psych yourself out by thinking of all the ways it could go wrong, or decide that you’ll never make it before you even try, you’ll miss out on an incredible experience.

There were times during the hike that I thought a particularly challenging trail would never end, but eventually it evens out, and before I knew it I’ve made it to the finish line. It’s a lot like life, you really just need to keep moving forward, putting one foot in front of the other until you make it.

Breathe

I live in a city where life is so fast-paced that you wake up on Friday not knowing where the rest of the week had gone. I’ve built a career and most days I find that I actually love my job, but it does account for at least 30% of my overall stress and anxiety.

I attended a talk once where the speaker said that stress is really just a series of tasks that you need to do. You’re stressed because you’ve either procrastinated so much that tasks have piled up, or you’ve set unrealistic goals in the first place.

I’ll add to that and say you get stressed because you forget to sit still and just breathe. This hike was extremely taxing, but there were periods when we stopped to catch our breath, relax, enjoy the scenery and work up to getting our second wind.

Life should be like that. You should be able to press pause and look out for your physical and mental health. I think one of the things I could definitely do when I get back to London is to work less extra shifts and have more time for me. Since getting back from Australia I feel like the energiser bunny that just keeps going and going and going. I feel like I never have enough time to breathe, to just BE.

Breathe in. Breathe out. Nothing’s so important that you lose your health and yourself over it.

The journey is the destination

Finally, and I know this is such a cliche, but cliches exist for a reason. Winnie the Pooh once said:

We didn’t realise we were making memories, we just knew we were having fun.

We spend so much time worrying about where we’re going and what we’re going to do when we get there that we don’t stop to appreciate the journey.

I didn’t even realise we were nearing the end of the trail until my aunt pointed it out to me. I was having so much fun exploring the beauty of one of Oregon’s most beautiful state parks that I didn’t realise we’d walked 15 kilometres.

Whatever you do in this life, enjoy it. Make memories, make friends, try new things, push yourself. At the end of the day, where you go and when you get there won’t be as important as HOW you get there.