#FreedomFriday Vol. 1: INDEPENDENCE

#FreedomFriday

In this first issue, E.F. McAdam talks ditching the career job to benefit her mental health, Alice Bethan Thomas explains how CBT helped free her from anxiety, and we have fresh, emotive artwork from Dayna Ortner‘s latest exhibition – as well as top tips for first-time solo travellers.

Breaking free: the dreaded Career Job
by E.F. McAdam

I got a job in an office, because that’s what I was supposed to do.

I went to my sixth form because that’s what my parents wanted. I went to university because all my friends went; Bath Spa to do Creative Writing. Don’t get me wrong, I loved it and met some amazing people, found my independence and grew up a lot, but I didn’t really need to go.

Either way, when I graduated and moved to Manchester, I was looking for office jobs. Nothing in particular, and I was given a job within a company doing invoices.

It was boring as hell. And I was told that was normal.

No one likes their jobs.

It’ll lead somewhere.

It’ll get better.

But it didn’t get better. It slowly got worse, making me spiral into depression, until I finally realised;

What am I doing this for?

So I quit. Commence the first stigma I faced – unemployment.

It’s one thing to face a bit of worry from family and close friends, but a whole other to have peers telling me I was a ‘leech’ to the system, even when I didn’t even go on the dole. I didn’t want to – I had savings and very supportive family to help me out for the few months I didn’t have a job.

Of course, I found another easily enough – in the service industry. Enter the second stigma – that a service job isn’t a ‘career’ job, an ‘adult’ job… a ‘real’ job.

Where has this come from? Who decided that the service industry was lesser than the regular 9-5 office job? When did working eight to ten hours a day, on your feet, helping people, smiling and serving food and coffee, become lesser than sitting on your arse and answering the phone?

Who did I help in my office job? A handful of people who happened to use the company and wanted a refund, or to tell me the invoice was wrong, or to tell me I was useless and unhelpful and want to ‘talk to my manager’.

In my current role, I make people smile. I give out free drinks and make someone’s day. I spread a smile and happiness and good food. I haven’t met an angry customer. My team are my friends and my managers super supportive. In the few months I have been here, I have been told how great I am, how smiley and happy, and have been put on progression pathways.

Still, my friends and family think my job lesser. How? Why?

I just don’t understand. Our generation is stuck in service industry roles, and I get that it’s not for everyone. I get tired, I get fed up of it. But to think of my time in an office, the monotony, the upset, the feeling that I just didn’t want to get up in the morning – I’m better off.

And it upsets me when people say that they have to get an office job. Like it’s the only way to progress. To ‘move forward’. To ‘be an adult’.

What I say is – think for yourself.

I’ve found I work better on my feet, meeting people and having a changing environment. By all means, if an office job suits you better, do it. Just don’t follow the conventions and dismiss something as ‘going backwards’ or ‘beneath you’ because that’s what you’ve been taught to think.

Do what you love. Be independent. And please, be supportive of those who feel differently from you – we’re all individuals, after all.

E.F. McAdam

http://www.efmcadam.com

instagram: @e.f.mcadam



No! by Dayna Ortner. Instgram @winnow_by_day

Just don’t follow the conventions and dismiss something as ‘going backwards’ or ‘beneath you’ because that’s what you’ve been taught to think.

E.F. McAdam

*

Independence from anxiety: a journey through CBT
by Alice Bethan Thomas

When I say I have anxiety, I mean that I wake up every morning with a ball of tangled thread for a brain. I don’t know what will unravel when I choose a string to pull on. I don’t know what else will be caught up in that mess. I don’t know what I’ll be afraid of today.

Well, it wouldn’t be that hard to take an educated guess. There are often a number of repeat offenders in there.

You are not enough

                                It’s your fault this terrible, awful thing happened

You never do the right thing. Everything you do goes wrong

It’s taken me years to understand these are anxious thoughts, because they weren’t always this little voice in my head telling me how terrible I was. They looked more like this:

                I’m not good enough

This awful thing is my fault. It must be. I did something to make it happen

                I never get anything right. I always do the wrong thing

There’s only a two letter difference from the word ‘I’ to the word ‘You’, but it changes everything.

When there isn’t a separate voice taunting me, but an echo that looks like my conscience observing, these thoughts begin to sound like the truth. They master the art of imitating me until they’re near impossible to separate from the actual truth. And I believe them.

I have believed them for most of my life, not realising it was not myself speaking but an anxiousness instead. I thought I must just be the worst person in the world, and nothing I tried would ever change that. I thought I deserved to feel this way, that it was normal, that I was fine. This is just what it feels like to be alive.

If you’re far enough from the shore, drowning can look like treading water. The chains around your ankles – well maybe they’re not weighing you down but holding you in place.

So, sticking with the water metaphor, how did I learn to swim?In real life it takes time and patience, a good coach on your side cheering for you, and it’s probably best to start in the shallow end.

The first step I took in defiance of anxiety was admitting it existed. I accepted it was there, and I had a mountain to climb. And then it took me far too long to accept I also needed to ask for help. My GP referred me for cognitive behaviour therapy. CBT is a talk therapy; you talk through your negative patterns, find the roots and triggers for them and learn new techniques that rewire the way you think and react.

One of the worst parts of anxiety can be the lack of control you have. You cannot control what thoughts come into your head, or the physical way your body might respond to it, or the things you’re unable to do today.

However, CBT did help me see that I had a choice over my reaction, and how I chose to treat that thought when it took up residence in my head. To be honest, not everything I learnt in anxiety helped me and I don’t remember all that I should. I wasn’t in the most stable place when I started therapy, so probably wasn’t fully prepared to begin recovery properly.And in all honesty, it didn’t ‘fix’ me, or send me back home anxiety-free.

But, slowly, word by word, it did start to help me. I learnt that everything that had made a home in my head did not belong there. I understood that I had the power to remove what should not be there, and to write a clear line between truth and lies.

One of these sessions became the forge where I built my most effective weapon against anxiety. It was an exercise called ‘Judging Thoughts’. This kicked off a visible shift in my recovery journey; I left feeling the change for once, feeling that I wasn’t just going through  the motions, stuck in whatever cage anxiety had chosen for me that day. I had dug down into the dirt and found a key.

My therapist described this exercise as putting your thoughts on trial. In a court of law, the side defending and the side prosecuting will each present their arguments, with credible evidence to back up their claims. Based on these arguments the judge or jury present a verdict.

And this is what I did. We created a table with whatever hideous thought that was plaguing me in the first column. Next, I had to present the evidence for this thought being the truth. It couldn’t be a feeling or a ‘just because it must be’. It had to be solid and actual fact. Next we thought of the evidence against this thought. I had to grade how much I believed the thought, then based on the evidence whether this was a truth or not. If it was not, I had to amend it for the actual truth.

The more you do this exercise the quicker you’ll get at it, to the point that you won’t need to write them down and can just judge their worth as they appear. But the effect of seeing the words I had accepted as absolute truths discredited beyond doubt, to see them written down next to a stark, white ‘Evidence For’ column was life-changing.

This is not my truth. This person whose skin I have lived in for so long is not me. I am free.

The biggest question the universe can ask you is probably ‘Who are you?’. It’s all we ever look for, the light we chase from ocean to ocean. It’s why people have passions, why they move cities, why young adults leave their parents and home behind. The search for independence is an act of finding yourself, or at least the version of yourself you most want to be.

But I had no chance at finding independence while I was a prisoner to anxiety; it didn’t want me to learn who I should be. Anxious lies latch as closely as they can; they will find a truth and nestle beneath it, they will bite it apart and take some of it to wear as a coat. Hiding in plain sight, they pass as a truth.

CBT was difficult and scary, but it was also a torch I was able to throw into the dark places of my mind. The more I used it, the more the lies began to splinter and run. The more real truth I uncovered, the less hold anxiety had over me and the easier it became to spot.

I know what anxious thoughts sound like now. I can catch them and judge them before I begin believing them too deeply. It’s no longer allowed to speak to me in my voice; and it’s so much easier to tell an independent thought to shut up than yourself. With a calmer mind, the reality of who I am whispers clearly.

I’m no longer paddling in the deep end; I’m walking towards the shore.

Alice Bethan Thomas

http://www.alicebethanthomas.com

twitter: @ofboatsandbees



Cleaning by Dayna Ortner. Instagram @winnow_by_day


The biggest question the universe can ask you is probably ‘Who are you?’. It’s all we ever look for, the light we chase from ocean to ocean. It’s why people have passions, why they move cities, why young adults leave their parents and home behind. The search for independence is an act of finding yourself, or at least the version of yourself you most want to be.

Alice Bethan Thomas


*

Travelling alone for the first time: tips and tricks

Whether you’re planning your first little solo holiday, or you’re ready to jet off travelling by yourself for a few months, make sure you’ve planned ahead. I’m all for spontaneity, but travelling alone requires a little more thought than when you’re off out with the squad.

  1. Check the safety of your location, especially if you’re female. I know, I know. It’s 2019 (!) now, and us ladies shouldn’t have to take extra precautions. But we do. If you’re off alone – particularly if you’re off for the first time – make sure you do some research online. The first time I travelled to Italy, I was totally naive about the *cough* forward-ness of Italian men. I didn’t realise British girls are immediately targeted and flirted with – and at 18 it was quite scary. The second time I went to Italy alone, I had already memorised how to say ‘I have a husband’ in Italian, and I felt so much safer and in control.
  2. Try and master the basics of the language beforehand. Following on from before: a few key phrases can put you back in control when you’re by yourself and feeling vulnerable. Learning the phrases for ‘No, thank you’, ‘How much is this?’ or ‘That’s too expensive’ could save your life in a crowded market, when vendors try and get you to buy things you don’t want. We often feel guilty when we’ve no one else with us, and it’s easier to be backed into a corner. A firm ‘No, thank you’ in any language should get them to back off without you feeling rude.
  3. Pick activities & places that will help you grow. When travelling with friends, we have to go sightseeing and shopping and make sure everyone has okayed all of the days itinerary. When travelling alone – it’s all up to you. This means you can pick things that will not only look good on instagram (because, really, who cares?), but will make you feel good. How amazing will you feel if you manage to climb that mountain, or explore those caves? Plus, if your plans fall through, and you’ve no mates there to say “Let’s just head back to the hotel, then…”, you often have more adventures. You have to figure things out for yourself. It opens up a whole world of opportunity.
  4. Talk to people. Talk to strangers. Talk to everyone. People love it – and once you’ve jumped over that initial fear, you’ll love it to. The biggest boost to your confidence in your own independence is randomly speaking to someone and making a friend by accident. In a small mountain village, I heard two Australian’s chatting, and they were the first people speaking English I’d heard in days. I started chatting to them, we had lunch, then spent the whole day together. In Venice, I asked some Americans when the bus was, and it sparked a friendship that is still going now.
  5. Be brave. When you’re alone, you need to grow ten times more courage than you already had. There’s no one you know looking out for you, so you need to be aware of where to go for help, should you need it, and you need to be confident enough to ask for it. Speaking to people you don’t know can be hard, but one of the good things about travelling alone is the fact that nobody is there to watch you fail. It’s harder to be embarrassed when nobody knows you, or will ever see you again! Be brave, have fun, and speak up. Ask someone if you don’t understand something, speak to the group of people who look like they’re having a good time, and feel liberated by your independence.


*

Stay afraid, but do it anyway. What’s important is the action. You don’t have to be confident – just do it, and eventually that confidence will follow.

Carrie Fisher

Make it your new year’s resolution to feel independent this year.

Feel good about the decisions you make – not guilty. Take chances that effect only you, and do things that will benefit your mental health and personal development. 2019 is the year to become your own person, and feel confident in the choices you make.

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Thank you for reading this first volume of #FreedomFriday. Contributions are welcome every single Friday – from essays and articles to poems and artwork. Any creative work can live here. Just email it over to tomlin.bethany@gmail.com.

Big thanks to the wonderful fierce ladies who contributed to this week’s theme of INDEPENDENCE. Next week’s theme is COURAGE on the 11th of January. See you there!

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