Perspex-tive

Let’s be honest, this has been a terrible year to be anything other than a Kiwi. For those of us with incompetent governments, it’s been a bizarre dystopian nightmare in which the world has regressed to a time before human rights, where Jacob Rees-Mogg fought a good-hearted footballer and a major charity about whether or not children should be allowed food, we haven’t hugged anyone in nearly a year, and we all have fucking chapped hands.

I haven’t written much this year because when life hasn’t been overtly shit, it’s been about as interesting as the Queen’s speech is to a five-year-old. If I had written any more blogs, I probably would have started detailing the day that I cleaned every single bottle in our shower to get on top of the mildew problem (okay, I’m sorry, I just had to get that humble brag out of the way).

I tend to hold off on positive annual reflection until the year is over, because while I am too super intelligent and amazing to be governed by something so silly as superstition, the last time I had a terrible year and said, ‘at least it can’t get any worse, Satan,’ my house burnt down on Boxing Day and a fire alarm flipped me into a three-hour panic attack on New Year’s Eve. However, I do think it’s now safe (touch wood) to say it’s possible to end this rotting puddle of bin juice we call 2020 on a relative high (no, really).

I recently had my last session of the year with my therapist. One thing we’ve been working on over the course of this year is what she calls my ‘dark box’ (in my brain, you filthy animal). I get stuck in the bad thoughts in my head and I can’t see what’s going on in the real world outside of my box, or what I can see is obscured and catastrophised until I believe that the reason my girlfriend yawned when I was talking to her was because she no longer loves me, and I should in fact just die already so no one has to deal with this egregious bore for a second longer. And not because she like, has a physically demanding job and yawning at 11pm is perfectly acceptable. It’s very toxic and unpleasant in that dark box, and frankly the other residents of it are all bastards.

This year has gifted lots of people with a dark box.

I think it’s important to remember here that the super villain mega-capitalists haven’t remotely taken a 2020 reprieve. They are constantly trying to wring the pride right out of us and throw us into dark boxes by forcing us to downplay our achievements, so we buy more things to make happy chemicals, rather than telling us that just getting through the days is more than enough right now (spoiler, it is).

In our last (Zoom) session, my therapist mimed handing me something and said, ‘My Christmas present to you is a clear box. Perspective, so you can see in and outside.’

To which I responded, ‘Perspex-tive?’

She did not laugh. I assume she did not get it, because obviously that was hilarious. Instead, she showed me a lame poster she’d seen on Facebook that said something like, ‘The person you were five years ago would be so proud of the person you are now.’

While I’d rather epilate my nasal hair than hang a poster like that in my house, it did make me think about my life in a broader Perspex-tive. I don’t like listing my achievements, because it makes me look and feel like an arse, but to help you fight capitalism and realise how far you’ve come if you’re feeling a little un-proud of yourself right now, I’ll just lightly vomit and do it. In the last five years, I have graduated with a first despite wanting to drop out several times, learnt how to loudly be a lesbian, lost my childhood home and learnt in the process that stuff is just stuff, travelled the world, made and maintained some very important friendships, lived in Canada, learnt that being alone isn’t necessarily worse than being dead, sort of learnt a bit of French, learnt to (sometimes) hold my own boundaries, managed nine months of long-distance, and survived 2020 while doing a masters in Zoomtopia. Which is quite a lot of things, actually. I can guarantee that if you look back on the last five years, your list will surprise you, too.

So, while I don’t condone using perspective to make yourself feel bad for feeling bad (you’re allowed to be low even though there are wars happening in other places), perhaps a little internal perspective is what we all need right now. You’ve already proven how strong you are. Stronger than a box, that’s for sure. Though it may not feel like it right now, you’ve come a long way. You’ve got this, friend.

p.s. Happy New Year!

p.p.s. Good riddance, 2020. You suck.  

Kindness

It’s Mental Health Awareness Week! I’m trying to say that in a cheerful tone to lull you into a false sense of security, because this post is about to get very dark **finger guns**. The theme of this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week is ‘Kindness’. Which is very fitting, because today, in the spirit of Awareness, I wanted to talk about how deeply unkind I have been to myself over the years.

I feel like this year it’s particularly pertinent to talk about self-directed unkindness, or ‘being an unrelenting dick to yourself,’ because amidst these strange times, even the ‘normal brain’ types (aka people with typically good mental health) are currently experiencing depression and anxiety for possibly the first time. 

I imagine, for a person not used to finding the mere weight of being alive so crushing that you often wonder if anyone would notice if you drowned in a puddle, that it’s probably quite scary to feel so out of sorts. This is because you are used to only experiencing these symptoms when there’s a tangible reason – a break-up, the loss of a loved one, an important and consuming project, etc. Whilst you may think of C***d-19 as a tangible reason, for many of us it doesn’t feel that way. Because in modern society we are punched so consistently in the face with impending doom, we have developed a disconnect from the pain of news. When we became humans, there was no way to comprehend the existence of people and suffering outside of our immediate bubbles – because seeing literally was believing. Unfortunately, we have exactly the same capacity for grief and information as we did then.

So, we disconnect. We feel like everything should be okay, because we’re so adaptable. We get used to it, sure. But it isn’t okay. We’re used to safety in numbers – and now we’ve had to adapt to danger in numbers. We are having to learn to protect each other by fearing each other, because people are visible and the virus isn’t. That’s not just an adaptation, that’s a complete reversal of our most basic instincts. I think it’s fair to feel pretty fucked up about it. 

Feeling so consistently beat down and simultaneously on the brink of a heart attack, unable to produce work, communicate effectively, embrace each other, wash your clothes, or even yourself, all whilst surrounded by consistent evidence of human mortality, is enough to fuck with anyone’s head. Fortunately, I have a lifetime of experience dealing with the inevitable mental by-products of a pandemic. As a person with a lot of therapy under my belt, I’m here to offer a helping hand to those of you struggling to get by. To tell you what I’ve learnt from being so unkind to myself for so long.

I grew up in what my therapist calls a ‘chaotic household.’ That being because I grew up in two wildly different environments. In one house, I was consistently told that I was brilliant and perfect and loved and respected, but that we had no money because I have three siblings. In the other house, I was consistently told that there was money, but to deserve it, I had to become useful. I was told to grow up fast, because I wasn’t worth cooking for – I was a girl, I should do the cooking. That I was only worth as much as my physical appearance, that I didn’t deserve privacy, that my thoughts and feelings were wrong, and that my body was something to be ashamed of, whilst simultaneously an object to be desired by men.

The blend of these two environments made for one very confused and very sad Olivia. As my affirmations of self-worth came from either the former household, or were followed by my own acts of service in the latter, I developed the notion that my worth came only from what I could do for other people. That unless I was useful, I was a burden. Because of this, as the youngest, I inferred that my existence was the reason we were poor. That if anyone should have to leave, it should be me, because, well… Last in, first out. If you think about it, this pandemic is treating everyone that way – telling you that you should be volunteering, getting fit, baking, creating works of art, working full time, basking in the glow of family time. And if you’re not, well, you’re not worth as much as those who are. Which is a frankly very rude and steaming pile of bullshit. You’re every bit as valuable now as you were before shit hit the fan, you’re just adapting to a new version of yourself.

I first considered suicide when I was about fourteen (I told you it was dark). I slept for about twelve hours a day. I ate whatever was put in front of me. I woke up each morning disappointed that I hadn’t died in my sleep. The idea that I was a burden, that my thoughts and feelings were wrong, had been festering in my mind for a long time. I was the problem, I didn’t deserve my place of privilege on Earth. I would be lying if I said I didn’t still believe that a lot of the time. At that time, I didn’t feel like I even deserved to place the burden of me dying on my family. In my mind, I stayed alive because I didn’t want them to have to pay for a funeral, to have to grieve for me. So, I started self-harming. Anything from sharpener blades to incense sticks to plastic clay sculpting tools (the bluntness made it last longer). I was very unwell, and very addicted to pain. Again, I would be lying if I said I didn’t still fantasise about being beaten up and left for dead sometimes – I’m just a lot faster to recognise it as a feeling and not the truth about what I deserve.

As I’ve grown and had therapy and seen my world through clearer lenses, I’ve realised that I was wrong about myself. It wasn’t just the fact I didn’t want to burden people with my death that kept me alive. As vomit-inducingly cliched as it may seem, it was kindness. Both others’ and my own. My friends and (most of) my family have always been kind to me. Small acts like hugging me every day, listening to me. Huge ones like loving me when I couldn’t love myself. I have always done my best to be kind to other people – I let everyone know that I’m here if they need someone to talk to. I love people when they can’t love themselves. That keeps me going. A slightly younger version of me would have you believe that no one cared about me, that I deserved to suffer, and that was why no one realised I was in so much pain. But people did realise I was in pain, they just didn’t realise the extent of it. No one realised the extent of it, not because they didn’t care to, but because I didn’t want them to. I was very, very good at hiding my pain. It was kindness in the form of a friend pushing a little harder, asking the extent of it, that led me to get help. It was kindness that kept me alive before I got help. Can you see where this is going?

Despite this, I took a lot of the horrible ideas about myself forwards into early adulthood. Because I felt so worthless so much of the time, I entered relationships purely on the basis that they gave me affirmation of my value. I allowed myself to be manipulated. I was sexually assaulted. Because the sex itself was consensual (or as consensual as it can be in a relationship built on manipulation), it took me a long time to come to terms with what happened. I tried to take my consent away, but the thing didn’t stop. After that happened, I self-harmed for the first time in over a year. Talking about it and allowing myself to accept what happened has made it seem so much smaller. The kindness of people lending their ears has allowed me to form relationships built on trust and happiness. That was the last time I self-harmed. It has been four years, now.

This virus is treating us all like I used to treat myself and believe I deserved to be treated. Like I still treat myself sometimes. This could cause lasting damage, if we don’t intervene a little. It might cause you to believe very unkind and very untrue things about yourself, even after it’s over. But when we show people that we care about them, that they matter, it helps them to be kind to themselves. It helps them to stop listening to those feelings.

You don’t have to train for a marathon, learn to bake sour-dough bread or even shower today, but if you can send someone a text to show them you care – well, you might just make their day. You might just make them feel valuable. A worthless person couldn’t do that, now could they?   

 

BE KIND, EVERYONE.

For What We’re Worth

Is it just me, or is this pandemic really starting to feel like the first few times you try using tampons? You’re told you have to relax, by people who sort of know what’s going on, because if you don’t relax it’ll only hurt more. But of course, the more you try to relax, the less relaxed you become, because you have absolutely no idea what’s going on down there, and it starts to hurt so much that you think maybe you don’t even have a vagina and maybe that vaginas are a myth. Or maybe that you do have a vagina but yours is a lost cause, and you may as well give up now, because the panic isn’t going anywhere any time soon and this misery will definitely never end and define you for the rest of your life. 

‘Of course it will end. I mean, it’ll keep resurging every month to varying degrees of catastrophe for many years, but you’ll get used to it,’ they say. ‘Sort of. Just try thinking about something else. But also don’t get too distracted. You need to be pretty aware of what’s going on.’ 

‘Thank you for your information-free advice,’ I say. ‘But do you know how difficult it is to think about knitting patterns whilst trying to shove a wad of absorbent fibres into an unyielding void at a very specific angle?’

‘How about embroidery?’

With that very apt analogy in mind (you’re welcome), it seems insane to me that we’re still managing to beat ourselves up when we find it too hard to be productive. We’ve all become so hard-wired into defining or worth through our productivity, that even during the scariest, most life-altering period (pun intended) of most of our lifetimes, we still tumble into fits of self-destructive rage when we can’t do anything more than watch Netflix. 

Worse than that, we don’t congratulate ourselves when we can. I, for example, am writing a novel. Most days, I stare blankly at the screen and can’t write anything at all, which results in me falling into anxious misery pits on an almost daily basis. Then some days, when my brain chemistry is aligned in exactly the right order, I haven’t watched the news in about a week, I’ve spent a lot of time talking to loved ones on various video platforms and the moon shines pink in the sky, I can write a little. I write as much as I can for the day, and afterwards I sit back and joyously pull my hair out, screaming, ‘HOW DID IT TAKE YOU THREE HOURS TO WRITE 500 WORDS, YOU ABSOLUTE SHITE-WAGON? THERE ARE MILLIONS OF PEOPLE THAT LITERALLY CAN’T GO OUTSIDE, AND THERE YOU ARE, IN YOUR GARDEN, UNABLE TO DO SHIT ALL, BECAUSE YOU’RE A WORTHLESS MEAT BASKET.’ Which isn’t very kind.

Of course, it’s very important to recognise your privilege and acknowledge the awful ways that this is impacting other people. To ensure that you aren’t taking advantage of your privilege in a way that takes away from those less fortunate. But finding it difficult to ‘achieve’ what you’re usually capable of, regardless of your situation, isn’t something to be ashamed of. And it certainly isn’t a way to define your own worth. Just getting through the days, when the days are so wildly different than you could ever have prepared for, is a huge achievement all by itself.

Another thing we seem set on ridiculing ourselves over despite the dystopia we now live in, is our physical appearance. Whilst most of us have accepted that hairy bits can run wild in the absence of public scrutiny, and that wearing jeans is a hilarious concept at this point, we haven’t quite got a handle on the ‘governmentally-mandated period of inactivity and stress-eating may result in some perfectly acceptable weight gain’ thing. Not helped of course by the endless supply of fat-phobic memes, jokes, and capitalist super villains looking to make some quick cash by idly strumming at your insecurities from their rickety castles made of treadmills and hatred.

First things first, the attractiveness of a person has nothing to do with their value, and the weight of a person has nothing to do with their attractiveness. Now that we have that out of the way, bodies changing in ways you aren’t used to can be uncomfortable (sort of like your first period). It’s almost impossible to be a human in the media-explosive world of confusing, contradictory and unachievable ideals we live in and not have feelings about your body parts and the degree to which they jiggle. 

So, during this terrifying time, I am on a slow journey towards ignoring my brain’s aggressively negative musings about the carbon-based lifeform it inhabits and what that lifeform achieves. To do this, I’m trying to consider all the ways I value the people I love. I do not value any of them because of the way they look. I would never even begin to value them less because their appearance changed. I couldn’t give the faintest air of a fuck how productive they’re being in the normal world, and right now am in awe of anyone achieving anything. I value them because I can talk to them about anything without being judged. I value them because they try to make a positive difference in the world. The worth they have to me is incalculable, because they make me smile, and in so doing, keep me alive. And I do the same. That’s what you are to the people in your life.

The world is a bent tampon right now, but eventually we’ll find out what fits. We’ll move onto menstrual cups or sanitary towels, and though this thing will continue to alter our world for a long time, we’ll learn to manage it. And someday soon, we’ll reconnect in our slightly different but still amazing bodies, give each other extra hugs and have a very large gin. You’re doing brilliantly, I promise.

P.S. This blog took me the entire day. And that’s okay.

Tomorrow

As you may have noticed, the world has gone a bit tits up. If you haven’t noticed, I am truly in awe of you and I’d like to know your theories on why you can’t find bog roll anywhere. I’ll give you a clue – it has absolutely nothing to do with diarrhoea, nor with a global desire to self-mummify. 

Before I begin my more serious note, I’d like to add a disclaimer that though this post starts a little gloomy, it is going in a positive direction, I promise. Hold tight, chums.  Now, I shall place upon my head my serious hat. Imagine something very sombre like a bowler hat or a trilby, and definitely not a fez…

For those of us with mental illnesses, this tits up situation is absolutely terrifying. Legally mandated cabin fever is something we never even imagined having to deal with – stuck inside with our thoughts, the daily fear bucket of Death News, and a million sharp objects. And no hugs. What kind of mega-Satan would take away our hugs?

But perhaps the scariest thing, at least for those of us with depression and anxiety, is the removal of tomorrow. We are always told to live in the moment. Forget about yesterday, don’t think about tomorrow. Live in the now. Which for many people, is a lovely, helpful sentiment that makes them feel very zen and chill. For us, though, it’s bullshit. The problem here is that our brains already spend every day trying to take tomorrow away. They focus on the bad things in the past and paint them into our futures, to keep us stuck in our worry wells in the hopes that one day, we might disappear completely. 

We cope with this bastard voice in our heads by ignoring it as best we can and making plans. Maybe not for the distant future, that’s always been a little overwhelming. But things within a year. Plans to see friends. Plans to go out and see that the world is still turning. A holiday, maybe. We shape our lives so there is always something to look forward to. But recently, a lot of those things were taken away from us. Taken away from everyone, so we’re told we’re not allowed to be upset about them. Someone else has it worse. Someone else lost their job, their house, someone they love. Which is devastating and we need to acknowledge.

But I think we are allowed to be sad about what we’ve lost. I think we’re allowed to take the time to grieve our plans, because they were what kept us going. I, for example, was supposed to go to Canada in May to see my partner. I was supposed to meet her family and catch up with the friends I made when I lived there myself. My partner is supposed to move here in June, but even that seems unlikely right now. And it sucks. And I’m sad about it. And I’m sad for what you’ve lost, too.

So, here is me giving you permission to grieve. Take a moment. Take several. Breathe, cry, breathe again. Shout at a brick you’ve named Stephen Corona. Punch a pillow called Patriarchy-19. Sleep. It’s okay to be overwhelmed.

Now, here is where we get a bit recklessly positive. I have found a way to keep our tomorrows. Not the tomorrows we planned, perhaps, but tomorrows nonetheless. As well as doing the living-in-the-now once daily walk, reading books, watching Netflix, working from home, etc. we can plan things in our bubbles days ahead. We can do things that take several days. Weeks. Months, even.

Here’s a little list of things I’m doing to keep me looking ahead. Maybe they’ll work for you, too. 

  • Planting seeds. If you’re lucky enough to have a garden, this can be an extensive project. You can start to grow flowers and food. You can watch these tiny blobs sprout and become tangible things that you have nurtured, and that you’ll have to nurture tomorrow. If you don’t have a garden, you can use a window box for herbs and flowers. You can get these things delivered by the brave soldiers continuing to bring us our material desires.
  • Start a 30-day yoga or meditation course on YouTube or similar. I know, I know. It sounds terrible. But I have just done my 3rd day of a yoga course and I know that I will do it every day for the next 27 days. 27 is a lot of tomorrows. Plus, if you choose meditation, you don’t actually have to do any bending.
  • Start a big creative project – one that you can’t possibly finish in one day. Paint a mural. Create an album. Start one of those one-a-day colouring mandala books. I am writing a novel. It’s important to note here that your creative project doesn’t need to have any pressure behind it. Don’t beat yourself up on the days you don’t write, paint or sing, just know that it’s still there, to be continued on some of your tomorrows.
  • Do that DIY thing you’ve been meaning to do since the dawn of time. Paint your walls. Put up shelves. If, like me, you lack the skills and equipment for actual building, try rearranging some rooms to see if you can better utilise your space for things like 30 day yoga tutorials.
  • If we get a bit simpler, a bit shorter term, you can simply plan your meals for the next few days. Plan some Skypes for a few days’ time. Look up what’s on live telly this week (what a concept) – and plan to watch things when they air. A lot of people are taking their events online – check with your friends what you can virtually attend (there’s everything from drag aerobics to operas). 

 

Enjoy your today, but keep looking for these little tomorrows in your bubble. Check on your friends and family. Sing like an idiot. And if we keep planning our tomorrows, on one of them this will all be over. 

Treat Yo Self

It’s officially March, which means winter is nearly over but isn’t quite over enough and is still keeping us all indoors for far too long. Serotonin stocks from October ran out weeks ago, and we have reached a state of full-blown panic about the world ending, or the fact we haven’t shaved our legs in months, or which milk is the most morally sound this week. Or perhaps all of the above. That means as a base level, it only takes the supermarket running out of Yorkshire Tea, or stepping in a slightly-deeper-than-expected puddle to result in hysterical public crying and/or kicking over toddlers (they’re so unsteady on their feet, they’re asking for it really). 

With that in mind, I thought it would probably be a good time to share how I plan to get through the last vestiges of winter, until we can all set up shop like Wall-E and recharge our Vitamin D batteries. And maybe save a plant from a power-crazy spaceship, who knows. Much as I’d like to get through this weird time of year by simply having a healthy brain or pushing unsuspecting Tories into puddles, I’ve had to do it the hard way – by actually working on myself and my habits. Gross, boring, I know. But necessary, unfortunately. 

My therapist asked me the other day what acts of self-care I engage in every day. I said things like: ‘Sometimes I have a long shower and use a body scrub, then roll myself in so much moisturiser I could slide through a letterbox’ and ‘I’ve started going to exercise classes despite my loathing for exercise, other people and being out in public’ and ‘Pouring paint onto canvas and smearing it around, in the hopes of one day being featured on Terrible Art in Charity Shops’. Those were all the things I expected her to want to hear. But she countered me by saying I don’t necessarily do those things every day. Those things are, in some way, treats. Even the exercise classes are treats, which seems ludicrous and wrong and satanic. But it’s true. Much as treating yo self is definitely self-care, it’s important to notice the sustainable, consistent things you do for yourself always.

So I said I don’t have anything that I do for myself every day. That some days I just can’t do anything good for myself. Which she kindly pointed out is actually bullshit. She said that something as simple as looking out of your window and noticing that the sun has come out, or that it’s setting, is a small form of self care. Taking that second to notice something beautiful outside of your own head helps to centre you. Something as small as asking someone else how their day was can help you to see that the world is still turning, that people are still living their lives. That maybe whatever is happening in your head isn’t as big as it seems. Getting dressed. Going outside. Eating real food. Pairing socks. Smiling back. It doesn’t matter what it is, you’re doing it for yourself, and that’s what keeps you going every day.

Since I started noticing these small things, they’ve almost always led to bigger things. Noticing that the sun has come out has led me to going outside and feeling it on my skin. Asking how someone’s day was has led to conversations and laughter. All of it has left me feeling like maybe I don’t actually treat myself like shit, and that helps me to get out of bed every day. So I’ll leave you with a PSA: you’re doing enough. I promise. Just think about it.

You Deserve a Break

Have you ever felt like you aren’t trying hard enough? If the answer to this question is genuinely, No, never, I always think I’m achieving everything humanly possible and I am excellent at everything, then good for you, chum, but could you kindly fuck right off, please? Thanks. I literally never feel like I’m doing enough, which isn’t helped by the fact that I’m generally not doing a lot and I have an unreasonably intelligent and extremely successful group of people around me.

But I have come to the conclusion, after much shit mulling and self-loathing, and with a lot of help from my very patient partner, that very few people make the active decision to contribute nothing to the world. Very few people wake up one day and think, You know what? I think the world would be better off if I was purely a leech and did nothing for myself or anyone else, ever. And even if they did, I would still question where that state of mind came from, because that’s clearly not a happy brain.

Everyone has reasons to struggle. Everything isn’t always peachy and sometimes everything is exhausting to even think about. Recently, I’ve really been struggling with productivity. The number of days I feel like I’ve achieved nothing is heavily outweighing the number of days where I feel accomplished. Which is a pretty cyclical state of affairs, because the more days I have that feel empty or wasted, the more futile everything seems and the more I feel justified in the self-loathing. And it’s pretty hard to get anything meaningful done when you’re too busy hating yourself.

I have been struck down this week by a bastard cold, which has made leaving the house and using my brain pretty difficult, on account of the fact that anything involving standing is exhausting and I can’t really breathe. But, true to form, I have still managed to be angry with myself for not writing as much as I wanted to, because… writing doesn’t involve standing? Other people are more ill than I am and still achieve things? Stephen Hawking managed to write multiple books using only his eyes? Something along those lines.

I was airing these concerns to my partner, informing her as I do on a semi-regular basis that I am, of course, completely useless and unworthy of love and that I would understand if she chose to leave me for someone who can do a handstand whilst reciting the alphabet in every known human language, and she asked if I could list anything I liked about myself and think of any reasons I might be feeling like this. My initial answer was, NO, I’M THE WORST, THERE IS NO POINT IN ME AND I SHOULD JUST GO AND DIE UNDER A ROCK BECAUSE I CAN’T DO ANYTHING AND MY ONLY EXCUSE IS LAZINESS AND THAT I SUCK. Which, upon reflection, was perhaps a little unfair. So, I decided to make a list of possible reasons for achieving less than intended and a list of small achievements to be proud of, that I hope you can apply to yourself. It made me feel better, at least.

Reasons you might not achieve everything you set out to today:

  1. You, ambitious as ever, set yourself too many goals for the day and they simply weren’t all physically possible.
  2. You have had a bad mental health day/ week/ month/ year/ life.
  3. You received some news that is or was hard to process, and it took more out of you than you realised.
  4. You haven’t been able to spend time around the people that make you happy recently. Those people rock and not being around them is just rubbish, actually.
  5. You are ill (or you are about to get ill and you don’t know it yet).
  6. You are exhausted.
  7. There are too many obstacles between you and your goals.
  8. You need a hand (you are allowed to need a hand, friendo).
  9. You haven’t been outside in a while.
  10. The services you require are under- funded by the shitstorm of a government.
  11. Someone in a more privileged position than you stripped you of the confidence you need to do the thing. Their privilege allowed them to do the thing with fewer obstacles, making it look easier than it is.
  12. The things you want to achieve are objectively difficult.
  13. There aren’t enough hours of daylight.
  14. David Bowie is dead.
  15. The patriarchy (see all of the above).

Little things to be proud of:

  1. Not being a cunt. Were you nice to anyone today? Did you compliment anyone or offer them some form of support? Did you smile back at a passing stranger? Did you avoid shouting abuse at anyone and everyone for no particular reason? If so, you are probably not a cunt and therefore your simple existence makes the world a little better.
  2. Eating food. Maybe you even made the food you ate. Maybe you even washed up afterwards. Looking after yourself is hard sometimes, so good job, dude.
  3. Did you manage to shower and put some clothes on? Maybe that’s all you need to have achieved today. Smelling good makes other people happy.
  4. Sometimes the world is terrifying and overwhelming and shit. So, if you can find something to laugh about, or even make someone else laugh, that’s pretty ace. Even just a little chuckle on a really rough day is a wonderful thing.
  5. Basic chores. For example, yesterday I ran out of clean socks and comfy pants, so I put a wash on. Now all my pants and socks are clean. It’s great. I also made my bed for the brief period of time I spent not in it. Maybe you paired some socks or walked your dog or wiped down the sink. Maybe you went to the shop and bought an onion. Or sent an email you’ve been meaning to get around to. All those things make your life a little tidier and easier to manage.
  6. Going outside. Maybe you just nipped to the shop or around the corner. Maybe you went for a proper stroll that you can count as exercise. Or just opened a window. Sometimes outside is a really intimidating place, so you’re allowed to be proud of going there.
  7. Talking to other humans. It can be really easy to shut everyone out when you’re having a shitty brain period, so telling people that you’re not feeling your usual shiny self is magical – it lets people know that you are thinking of them and would be more available for them if you were in a better place.

This post is the only writing I’ve done in five days. It is by no means the best writing I’ve ever done (let’s be honest, it’s a bit crap). That would generally make me feel like a bucket of slugs. But that’s the whole point of this post – that’s all I could manage this week, and it’s enough for me and the people that care about me. I promise, whatever you’re doing is enough, too. Give yourself a break. You’re doing just fine, and this funk won’t last forever.

Winter Worthlessland

‘Tis truly the season for self loathing.

For those of us with mental illnesses of the SAD variety, the loss of the hour makes the suicidal thought count go up from two a week to about four a day. Suddenly that old school friend not responding to your wave goes from ‘Oh, fiddlesticks, they probably didn’t see me’ to ‘OF COURSE THEY DIDN’T WAVE BACK, YOU’RE AN EMBARRASSMENT AND THEY WISH YOU WERE DEAD!’ 

It just seems rather unfair that if you don’t leave the house before 3.30pm, which it’s entirely too easy to do, you don’t catch a glimpse of daylight. We like daylight. We are like sad daffodils and need to photosynthesise some serotonin. There is a reason that daffodils don’t show their yellow beaky faces at this time of year – they’re too depressed.

It also doesn’t help that all politicians seem to have gone insane at once, that the planet is dying, that the Christmas nightmare is rapidly approaching and that a decent sandwich is now over a fiver. It’s all a bit much, really. 

‘Well, Olivia, this sounds mighty depressing and unhelpful!’ I hear you cry. Fear not, brave sad friend, there is hope yet. And not just in the form of vitamin D supplements and blinding lamps (though I do recommend these things for at least placebo purposes and an excuse to sit by an obnoxiously bright light and feel oddly angelic and important).

Boosted by my own inadvisable sense of self importance, I have composed a list of things that make me feel better, and therefore I blindly assume will help you out, too. 

  1. The gay penguin phenomena is evolving. Whilst the couple in Berlin Zoo successfully hatching an egg abandoned by a hetero mating pair is adorable enough, another couple of gay penguins in the Netherlands have now stolen an egg and are raising as their own. A waddling heist of love in the face of biological adversity (don’t worry, the original pair have laid a new egg and are raising that instead).
  2. Since the election in the UK was called, 1.5 million people have registered to vote, including the highest number of young people ever. For what seems like the first time in our lives, real change is possible. It is actually possible that we will vote to not be governed by a bulbous, cotton-topped foreskin. Who knows, maybe we’ll even vote to save the planet from burning or something mental like that.
  3. If you’re struggling to find a reason to leave the house during the brief hours of daylight, I have discovered that it’s entirely acceptable to go to a park, alone, and watch other people’s dogs. You are also allowed to go to the park in company and watch other people’s dogs, but then you might be expected to talk to the person you’re with. So that’s a matter of taste. If you’re a cat person, then you’re probably used to rejection, anyway.
  4. You are probably the highlight of someone’s day. I know, I wouldn’t believe me either. I would also lean towards the ‘no one cares that I’m alive’ jig. But having done the market research, it turns out that a lot of other people have really, really crap days, too. And those of us that suffer tend to be just empathetic and amusingly nihilistic enough to get other people through. It makes everyone feel more sane.
  5. Whatever things have happened to make you wish otherwise, you have managed to still be here. Every day that it felt too much, you just went ahead and fucking did it anyway. Even if that entailed just staying under your duvet and attempting to disappear into your own pit-puddle, you survived. And that makes you pretty amazing, actually.

So be nice to yourself, friends, and if you need someone to talk to, there will always be someone willing to listen. And like, gay penguins, you know?

Every Body Has Issues

I’ve not previously dabbled in the art of body-positivity writing. Mostly because, much like every other person in the world, I have always thought of mine as an unfortunately knobbly, asymmetrical skin sack with a few orifices. So it’s always felt a little hypocritical, you know?
  Things started to change, however, when I turned 25 a few months ago. Not a huge birthday, 25. It’s the sort of birthday that makes you think, “They probably don’t need a present this year, I’ll just send them an unusually long text.” And you’re right. Well, I find one can never be gifted too many whimsical tea towels and black ankle socks. But aside from that, there are very few things I want.
  My usual birthday tradition is as follows: cry myself to sleep the night before, thinking about all the things I intended to achieve before turning whatever age I am about to turn and have once again failed miserably at achieving. I wake up the next morning and sob over my cereal, as I unwillingly leap through the annual aging-a-year-in-a-day vortex. Then I plaster a pretend smile onto my sticky face and go out into the world, demanding attention from the people that are already, begrudgingly, stuck loving me.
  I expected this year to be an especially bad one, as I was newly single at the time, newly living in Vancouver and working at a beige, arguably mafia-run ice cream parlour that doesn’t recycle its plastic spoons. The looming crisis seemed inevitable. Somewhat miraculously, however, I had one of the best birthdays I’ve had since I got old enough to understand that everything dies and most people are terrible. My sister lives on Vancouver Island and planned a few days of wonderful things for me. It was dynamite.
   For maybe the first time ever, I didn’t have my hearty cry. The whale watching and prosecco definitely helped, but also a couple of grand realisations I came to. I am lucky to be the youngest of four. I have had the opportunity to watch my siblings strive to achieve too much too young and unanimously have nervous breakdowns, resulting in sharp career path changes. Granted, I don’t think they enjoyed their respective emotional collapses quite as much as I did. But they all now do things that make them happy, which I really think is how we should define success. Because I am, in fact, wise as fuck.
  As I’ve been able to watch this happen, I have come to the mind-blowing conclusion that as long as I’m happy, I don’t really care what I’m doing. Which is a huge weight off my shoulders, because I’ve spent most of my life thinking that if I’m not objectively successful in a careery sort of way, I may as well hurl myself off a rickety diving board into pit of lava. Also, from my own experience and the experience of everyone I know, no matter what you do, your mid-twenties are mostly spent just running around in circles, on fire, filling out mountains of forms and running out of washing-up liquid. So you might as well calm the fuck down and assume any path you take will lead you to the mystical land of clarity – your thirties.
  The other thing I realised, just prior to my 25th birthday, was that I have spent far too much of my life finding things to hate about my physical appearance. I knew this before, of course, but I didn’t have the means to change it. Coming out had improved my body image enormously, but I could still name about 65,000 things I hated about my face and body at any one time. In the four years since I came out, however, I have developed an actually positive relationship with my body. This isn’t always the case, of course, but more often than not, I am able to recognise the fact that I would never think the things I think about myself about anyone else. I would never notice someone else’s stretch marks, hairy elbow moles, or cellulite. Even if I did, it would have literally no impact on how attractive I thought they were. So, seeing as I’m not an all-forgiving saint of a woman, logic follows that no one notices those things about me. Nor do they give the faintest whisper of a shit about them.
  I have also built a small collection of tattoos in that time. They are all beautiful (in my opinion) and mean something to me, and I therefore love the bits of my body that they inhabit. Until recently, however, I had only got them on areas of my body that I already had no issue with (my back, my bicep and my forearm). I didn’t want to highlight an area of my body that I found disgusting, so I avoided those areas, focussing on the bits of me that are smooth and flat. But this year, I said, “Fuck it”. For a long time, I’ve had an issue with my thighs. Both because of the unfortunately knobbly skin sack thing, and because I have self-harm scars on my right leg. So, I decided to get a tattoo over the scars. You can still see them a little, if you look close enough. You can still see my cellulite and the way my thighs jiggle and rub together. But the difference is, I no longer give a shit. What I see now is what everyone else sees – a thigh.
  Now, I’m not saying we should all cover our “flaws” in tattoos, but I think anything that can make you see your body the way everyone else sees your body is worth it. Whether that’s a tattoo, staring in the mirror every day telling yourself over and over again that you’re the fucking tits, or watching 900 episodes of Queer Eye, you deserve to know that your body is an excellent thing. Because you’re stuck with your body. It might fluctuate in its firmness, roundness and colour, but it’ll still be your body. And if you think about it, that body has allowed you to achieve some truly wonderful things.

  So, turning 25 wasn’t so bad, after all. Simply because I’ve finally made the decision to give myself a fucking break. I hope someday you can, too.

Ch-ch-ch Changes

I, like most humans, over-plan everything. I have too many ideas about what I want from life, and spend too much of my time shouting obscenities into the wind when my plans are forced to change. So, I’ve decided to look at all the things that have shat all over my plans and led me where I am today, in the hopes that you can do the same and think “fuck, I’m amazing.”
From the moment I started secondary school, I made plans to follow in my siblings’ footsteps, merrily go to college, then university, then to start my career. In the midst of that somewhere, I was supposed to find a nice young boy (lol) to marry and have a bunch of terrible cherubs with. I was eleven years old when I originally mapped out my life like that.
 The first thing that shat on this idea of my life was Sgt. Puberty and the Mental Health Club Band. When I was 14, I was not only naturally hideous (why did no one tell me to stop getting blue and purple bands on my braces?), but I got a visit from the hormone monster and my brain dissolved into darkness. The “merriness” I was expecting disappeared with my sense of self-worth, and to this day I’m sure there has never been a person that hated me as much as I hated myself at that time.
In the midst of that though, I made friends with some of the most important people in my life. And they have all helped to push me along the sand in a wonky trolly to being the almost-person I am today. It still honestly baffles me that they have stuck around so long, but I know now that my mental illness is one of the reasons I am the empathy queen and actually a pretty bloody nice person- so for that, for them, in a way, I am grateful to the broken fleshy cauliflower in my skull.
 I did go to college, but my grades didn’t come out how I’d planned, due to a series of unfortunate period-and-not-wanting-to-be-alive-related events. There was a stage, somewhere in Baby Olivia’s plans, where I wanted to become a vet and/or marine biologist. Seeing as academia doesn’t mix very well with not sleeping and occupying 95% of your brain with things to hate about yourself, I didn’t quite make the grades for that to happen. So, I decided to take a year out, then go to university to do the only thing I ever really loved to do – write.
 Even though it felt like failure at the time, I am very happy that I took a year out and discovered a bit of how much world there is, and that in the end I didn’t turn out to be a scientist. Much as I still think Olivia Einstein-Darwin, Whale Whisperer, has a great ring to it, spending three years doing something I love instead of something I felt like I should do, meant that for the first time in my life, I didn’t always dread waking up in the morning. I learnt some self-respect.
 My final year of university was the point at which the nice young boy and career were supposed to happen. Unfortunately, instead, I had the worst year of my life (so far). I won’t go into too much detail, but due to an amalgamation of my own realisation that I am, in fact, a raging homosexual, combined with Brexit, Trump, the loss of Bowie, Prince and Alan Rickman, a fire that destroyed my childhood home and still gives me nightmares, nearly losing one of my closest friends, and a series of toxic individuals, all whilst trying to complete my degree, it is safe to say it was not an excellent year. Like, a 3/10 year at best, and the 3 is only awarded because dogs continued to exist that whole time.
 Now, I know it sounds absurd to think of that year as anything other than shit, but with all that going on, I still managed to graduate with a First, and was able to be proud of myself for the first time in my life. And coming out was the best thing that ever happened to me – I am so much happier in my own skin now that I know who I am and that I have a whole community of weirdos to hang out with. I was shown so much love and support throughout all of that, that I’m now about 99.5% sure that my friends and family don’t hate me. In fact, I’m pretty sure they’re actually quite big fans of mine. And having the worst year of my life meant that the following year I allowed myself to travel the world and have one of the best years of my life. Since then, I’ve pushed myself to live in Canada for over a year, moving from one side of the country to the other when jobs and my relationship didn’t work out, instead of giving up and going home like I wanted to. I’ve made more friends in the last two months than I had in the last five years.
So, in short, all the changes in my life that felt like the end of everything have led me here, to the best version of myself that I have ever been. And throughout all of the life-tumbling changes, the things that stayed constant (like my family, friends and Indian food) were all I needed to deal with the unexpected turns.

In the words of the late, great, beautiful Bowie, turn and face the strange. It has already made you pretty fuckin’ great, and we’ll still be here when it all seems to fall apart.

There’s No I in Better, but There is a Be

I don’t claim to know the root of every problem facing the world right now, but the root of every problem facing the world right now is superiority. Yes, it has the word ‘super’ in it, so it is confusing that it is in fact not super at all. But if you think about it, ‘awful’ should mean full of awe and look how that turned out. It’s awful.
 I have been thinking a lot recently about what qualities of mine I need to work on to be a better person. I have come to the conclusion, of course, that I am brilliant and perfect and everyone else should be more like me (kidding). Unfortunately, there are a lot of people out there that think that of themselves without an ounce of irony. And in case you were wondering, it’s rarely the ones rooting for climate justice and the crumbling of the patriarchy. It’s more likely the ones that are rich and white, but paint themselves orange.
 I was raised in a city built by slaves that celebrates people’s differences whilst celebrating the slave-owners. A city that puts on a carnival of culture each year in an area that shows, in literal black and white, that racial segregation is still very much a part of life. A city, in short, of massive contradiction wherever you look. But a city that I love.
 I was very lucky with the area in which I grew up. It meant that I could attend the some of highest-performing primary and secondary schools, with the highest level of cultural diversity (not a coincidental correlation, in my opinion). It meant that I grew up celebrating our differences. It meant that I grew up with a fundamental lack of understanding of racism and homophobia. Because, of course, it is impossible to be surrounded by people of global heritage your entire life and not come to think that all people are just people. Some people are amazing, other people will piss in your tea and steal your mayonnaise when you turn around.
 This has, however, caused me to have my own sense of superiority. Much as I like to sit on the sidelines and watch other people being terrible whilst I bask in my own brilliance, I have a lot of my own prejudices to deal with. My main prejudice is, and always has been, against the belief in a God of some description. I am an atheist, raised by somewhat spiritual people (my mum loves all deities and describes herself as on the hunt for the meaning of everything, and my dad believes in a Star Wars-esque ‘force’). As far as I’m concerned, I ‘know’ that there is no higher being than Beyonce Knowles. So I’ve always sort of scoffed at belief.
 I like the idea of religion when practised in a non-sexist, non-homophobic, non-racist sort of way. I like the idea of community and sharing something special and all of the beautiful celebrations that come with it. I like the parts of religion that teach love and acceptance and respect for the planet. That I can understand. But I have never understood the actual faith part. I have never understood the idea of completely trusting something utterly intangible, especially if that thing tells you to do hateful things to other people. And I don’t think I ever will understand it.
 But I have always tried not to tell other people what to believe. On my journey of self-flaw-finding, I have realised that one of my (many) flaws is that when a person tells me they believe in a God, I become awkward and sort of laugh. That is not nice and it’s something I am vowing to work on – it’s not my place to tell anyone what to believe. I don’t understand quantum physics, but that doesn’t mean other people can’t. This, however, brings me to my next contradiction. I understand that in doing so, one might believe they are saving me from some form of damnation, but I would really appreciate being offered the same respect of my (lack of) beliefs. I don’t like being approached by strangers to be told that I am wrong for being who I am. That I should be less gay, less female, or less free. It makes me itchy.
 I was raised in a city of community and contradiction. And over the years, that has taught me to be a better version of myself, not to be better than anyone else. So that’s what I’m going to try to be. Maybe you could join me.