1:1 Creative Writing Virtual Tutoring

Lifestyle, Mental Health, Writing

If staying at home is getting you down and you need something to focus your mind, I’ve got just the thing…

I’m offering some one-to-one Creative Writing tutoring sessions for kids, teens and grown-ups! Prices are totally flexible and can be negotiated between the two of us, and all ages are encouraged. At the moment, I’m teaching a handful of teenagers, a couple of ten-year-old’s (adorable) and a few grown-ups as well. So far, everything I teach is focused on writing fiction rather than poetry or short stories as I’ve more experience in that area (but if you’re desperate for a poet, drop me a line and I’ll see if I can point you in the right direction…). I’m currently offering three different Storytelling courses for these ages:

children (8-12)

teenagers (13-17)

grown-ups (18+)

Together, we’ll look at the basics of writing a story; how to create realistic characters, settings, and plots. You’ll have control over how many times we’ll meet (for most of my students, we have between 1-2 hours a week), how long you’d like to meet for (this can be anywhere between 2-6 weeks), and what you hope to learn by the end of the course.

The course is focused on getting you inspired and motivated to write the story that you want to write. For one of my current students, we’re also looking at what to do after her book is written; for example, how to write Agent Query letters and how to network as a writer. This is also something we can cover if you already feel confident in your writing but just need a little extra help with what comes next.

I’m also offering a number of free classes to children (8-12) from low-income backgrounds.

One to one tutoring is perfect for children who enjoy literacy, reading and writing, and who are missing having this creative time without school at the moment. It’s also ideal for teenagers who are looking to improve their writing, or maybe are even looking to continue creative writing at a higher academic level.

Classes will take place via Zoom, so access to a laptop and a half-decent internet connection (as well as a notebook and pen!) are required. ♡

As well as having first class degrees in Creative Writing (BA Hons) and Writing for Young People (MA), I’ve been leading freelance writing workshops for just over 3 years and have been tutoring kids & teens for 2 years with Oxford Summer Courses. I am also fully DBS checked and have worked with young people for many years.

Please do get in touch if you’d like to chat more about courses, dates, prices, or anything in-between. If you’re interested in specific course details, I can whizz my syllabus across (for 8-12s / teens) for you to look over. My email is tomlin.bethany@gmail.com and I aim to respond to every enquiry within 48 hours.

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Update: places are filling up quickly for June and early July, so drop me a line if you’d like to reserve a slot in the next few weeks.

long live the night owl: taking advantage of the witching hours

Lifestyle, Mental Health

It’s one a.m., and you’ve been lying awake for hours. Already, the anxiety of the coming day has started to creep in through the curtains and the racing thoughts are making your body restless. Unfortunately, the only logical thing to do is to lie back and force yourself to get some shut eye… Or is it?

For years I’ve been a self-acclaimed night owl, but it’s only recently that I’ve started to embrace it (admittedly because self-employment often means I can plan for an afternoon nap). I remember during my master’s, I had a job in a bookshop, one doing freelance festival production, and I had my manuscript to write at the same time. On top of this, I really wasn’t sleeping well (looking back now, I’m not sure how I managed). I’d be lying awake at at two or three in the morning planning the next opportunity I’d get to sleep — what time would I start work, get home from work, how much uni stuff did I have to do, etc… Eventually, I just started using those hours in the middle of the night to get stuff done.

I fell out of habit of embracing the night time for a little while when I was working in a cafe with regular hours, because I had time during the day to utilise and get my work done – and I fell into a good sleeping pattern because of the regularity of work. But there will always be periods of my work life and personal life when sleeping patterns are irregular; often I get enough sleep – just not at the same time as everyone else!

Who made up the rule that we have to sleep at night, anyway?

I mean, getting a decent amount of sleep is just common sense. But if our jobs mean our day starts at ten a.m. instead of seven, surely we don’t have to sleep until later either? As long as we get the classic six to eight hours, does it really matter when we do it?

Maybe it does. I’m not a scientist (or a doctor), but my tried and tested theory (albeit on just the one test subject) is that we don’t have to waste hours trying to sleep if it isn’t coming naturally. This isn’t to say that you should be running marathons or taking up a new hobby in the middle of the night, but you can do things that require movement and actually set yourself up for the next day and maybe even wear yourself out at the same time.

I’m writing this in the middle of the night, just for context, so doing a little blog post is my way of feeling productive, getting some creative juices flowing, and hopefully tire my brain out at the same time. Here are some other things that I’ve personally deemed appropriate night-time activities:

  1. Put the washing on. Do you know how nice it is to wake up with a load of washing done in the morning? What’s that, you have a life? Whatever — stick the washing on and wake up to one task crossed off your to-do list. (I’m also sad and find folding and ironing very therapeutic so this is a fun morning activity for me. Shut up.)
  2. Listen to an audiobook — or a podcast! My audible choice this month was the last Harry Potter book (again, I find this super therapeutic and it’s like forty hours long so I feel like I’m getting my money’s worth?) I’m up for podcast recommendations if you have them, but I listen to an eclectic mix. Favourite at the minute is the ten minute TED Talks series on Spotify.
  3. Read a book. Sounds like a boring old classic but it always does the trick for me. I can’t count the times I’ve woken up with the lights still on and a book balancing on my nose. Try to steer clear of the thrillers and pace-y page turners and go for something a little lighter that won’t leave you wanting more. My favourites for nighttime reading are non fiction books because I feel kind of like I’m learning something but, most of the time, I’m happy to put it down when my eyelids start drooping.
  4. Tidy your living space and then sit on Twitter for an hour. Light some candles (not if you’re super sleepy, let’s be sensible), make yourself a snack, curl up with a (decaf) brew and scroll on the internet. Tweet the other people who are still awake. Make a friend. Have an interesting discussion (steer clear of politics if post midnight). Be kind.
  5. Watch the stars. Sorry if you’re in a city. At the minute it’s pretty stormy here and cloudy at nighttime, but I still always have my curtains open (I’m optimistic that the neighbours aren’t creeps) so that I can have a cup of herbal tea whilst watching the moon and pretend I’m in a period drama or something.

You’ll have your own list of nighttime activities, I’m sure. But my point is – under the assumption you live with people that don’t mind a bit of rattling around the house at night, or you live alone – take advantage of the time you’re awake. Don’t lie there and become heavy with anxiety as you overthink every tiny detail of your life. Don’t let your bed – a place of comfort, rest, and Netflix binges – become somewhere laden with worry and fear.

Distract yourself from your racing mind (we’ve all had that if I go to sleep now, I’ll have this much sleep, if I go to sleep now… thought) and do something that makes you feel better. Sometimes it’s nice to just open your window, breathe in the witching hours, and know that you are one of the special few who are awake to witness them. There’s something really magical about being one of the few still awake in the dead of night. Everything is at a standstill – but you.

You don’t have to sleep because everyone else is sleeping — not every night, anyway. The world won’t end because you decided to do your dishes at three a.m..

Anyway… I’ve got tea to drink, edits to make and, if I’m honest, probably a bit of laundry to do, too.

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Comment with your favourite podcasts and audiobooks at the moment — I always need more.

transient vs long-term: redefining friendships as a grown-up

Lifestyle, Mental Health

Over the last couple of days, I’ve had the chance to reconnect with some friends I haven’t seen in a while. With my oldest friends, there’s rarely any awkwardness to stumble over, even if it’s been years since we last caught up. We had time to speak about friendships – and the extra value we’ve started to place on our closest pals as we approach our mid-twenties.

This last year has felt quite a transient one, friendship-wise, with some of my closest friends moving geographically further away, and some of the friends I saw every day turning out to be less reliable than I thought. I’ve started to realise that perhaps, in some circumstances, I’ve set myself up for disappointment by expecting more of people than I should have. Some of the friendships that I’d valued the most last year, for example, I’ve had to re-evaluate this year – asking myself, do I mean as much to this person as they do to me?

On Saturday, I met up with my friend Josie, who has been one of my closest friends since we met in high school, aged eleven. Our friendship has spanned over a decade, and she is one of my most trusted and valued friends. Meeting up with her made me think about the other friendships I formed in high school, and how most of the people I used to be so close to in those pivotal teenage years I no longer keep in contact with. I think the reason behind that is probably because so many of my teenage friendships were based around convenience. I was put in classes, year groups, after school clubs – and if I didn’t get on with at least some of the people I had to see every day, I would have really struggled.

So I picked my friends based on who I liked best from the people that I was stuck with – as harsh as that might sound. And some of those people, the ones I had a real connection with, like Josie, have stayed in my life since we left school and parted ways. Josie and I only really see each other once or twice a year, now (sometimes not even that much – adult life is busier than we’d anticipated it being), but every time we meet, we pick up where we left off. There is no awkwardness to stumble over, no small-talk to tiptoe around; the love is just there.

Even though I’d come to this realisation about my younger self’s friendships, I’ve noticed that I’ve fallen into similar scenarios in adult life. Sometimes, the genuine connection with people you see every day is just there, and sometimes… Sometimes, I think I’ve forced friendships that might have been better off as passing acquaintances. I think I’m learning that I’m someone who is quite eager to make meaningful connections with people — and this means I often find myself committing my time and energy to one-sided friendships. It’s time I learnt that not every person who comes into my life is meant to stay. Sometimes, people are just there to teach you something about yourself (or vice versa) that you can take on with you into the next stage of your life.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been asking myself questions whenever I feel a friendship might be a little one-sided, problematic or, frankly, not really a friendship at all. Being able to analyse my motives and emotions towards certain situations is a skill I’m still developing, but one I’m proud of. I’ve found it helpful to ask myself these three questions.

~

What does their friendship mean to you?

Sometimes, I can go months and months thinking I’m really close with someone. We see each other most of the time circumstantially, so their friendship is convenient to me. We seem to care about each other an equal amount. Sometimes I find their views and opinions problematic – but they’re always there for me. Then, I’m out of the city for a few weeks. That time passes, and I don’t think about that person once. Chances are, they aren’t thinking about me, either. Our friendship certainly served a purpose, and we were there to be each other’s crutch when we needed it the most – but perhaps neither of us was as invested in our relationship as we thought we were.

~

What does your friendship mean to them?

Are you just a placeholder for when their other friends are busy? Don’t let people use your friendship to pass the time. Do they just see you as a colleague, whereas you thought they were a really good friend? Sometimes it’s hard to recognise that you might only play a small part in someone’s life – someone who has turned out to be quite a big part of yours. Reevaluating friendships like this can often feel like going through several painful break-ups at once, but it’s necessary. It’s unfair for you to be pouring time and love and affection into someone’s life that doesn’t recognise or give back the energy you’re putting in.

~

How easy is it to maintain this friendship?

So many of the people I consider closest to me are the ones that I don’t have to speak to every day. The ones that, when we meet up, regardless of how long it’s been, nothing seems to have changed between us. I feel that the best friendships are the one’s that are relatively low-maintenance. I don’t want to have an argument because it’s been a week and I’ve forgotten to message. I don’t want to feel like I’ve been a terrible mate because I didn’t have time to meet you for a drink this month. I want to feel there’s mutual love and respect between us, even after we’ve grown up and into better versions of ourselves.

~

Friendships, in my eyes, should be the light of our lives. Sometimes, it’s good to acknowledge that we – or they – might just need that light in a moment of darkness. Some friendships are transcient, and that’s okay.

But some friendships – the best ones – don’t just serve a purpose for a little while. They are the ones that stay and bloom and adapt around each other’s changing lives and circumstances. They are the ones that, now, at this point in my life, I value the most.

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I was heartbroken to hear about the death of Caroline Flack on Saturday. Please, take this opportunity to reach out to your friends and check in with them. Tackle the tabloids by avoiding click-bait and celebrity gossip, taking extra care about how you present your opinions online, and – as Caroline would say – #BeKind.

Guest post: ‘LILAC’ by Alex Jones

Mental Health, Writing

A short piece about mental health, self-discovery, and reaching out for help through counselling. Guest writer Alex Jones shares his story in this profound piece of autofiction.

~

“And stay, my dear

stay…

forever, as my quiet song,

in my lilac dawn.”

Sanober Khan, A Thousand Flamingos

~

Lilac by Alex Jones

Every Thursday at 7.30pm, I would climb the stairs of the Cowley Children’s Centre, following my counsellor up to a beige room. I would always very visibly keep my eyes focused down on the way up, I did not want to appear to my counsellor that I had been staring at her bum. That week was the first time I noticed the sign ‘Lilac Room’, a laminated, lilac lettered sign stuck to the wooden door. 

I have been working to rebuild myself for four years now. Mindfulness, counselling and hobbies all in the pursuit of re-finding the identity I had lost under the collapse of my ex-girlfriend’s mental health. Six brutal years of caring had taken their toll and I found myself an insecure shell, shattered and delicately dancing on the edge of a dark depression. 

In the ‘Lilac room’ I found myself sat upright, switching from gently stroking to tugging my arm hair depending on the levels of discomfort I experienced journeying into the folds of my personality. In all the personal delving that was done, I found myself reminiscing on someone who, for a short while when at my lowest ebb, sat at the centre of my world. 

I remember the excitement of sleeping on a dirty brown sofa on a bitterly cold night in November. It was exciting because she was there, and I lay next to her with my face at her waist height. As I needily tried to hug her, probably unsuccessfully, my mind became caught up in the excitement of how I adored this woman. My nostrils seemed to fill with a distracting sweet and heady scent of flowers. The drone of fear my mind was usually preoccupied by had halted for that moment.

Being around her reminded me I was still an interesting person, with passions and an identity that wasn’t just a ‘carer’. It was inevitable that I would have fallen for her; I adored her beautiful dark brown hair and her love of film. I had tried to kiss her a few times, failing miserably. We played a game of pretending it never happened. By Christmas, I decided I had to remain the only possible ‘saviour’ for my much in need Girlfriend. I had chosen to remain alone in a battle for someone else’s survival, at the expense of my own. I concluded that I would purge this wonderful new woman from my company and thoughts.

My approach to that was simple, I hunted out every flaw in her behaviour and amplified them with my general contempt for human behaviour. I remember clearly late on Christmas Eve, sitting up in bed, writing in my little green ring-binded notebook. ‘Not very intelligent – not Oxbridge enough for you,’ ‘she is only friends with you because she is lonely’, ‘she has no friends’. I didn’t believe a word I wrote. 

The words I wrote were bloody useless. The part of me that lay wounded from the previous years craved to be seen and affirmed by her, and come January, I again found myself with her out on a drunken night. This one was to end with a lot of pain and ultimately the unravelling of any closeness we had. 

On that night we found ourselves floating from bar to bar swigging bottles of red wine we had managed to buy barely before the bell of last orders rang. The world spun, I fell off Nelson’s column at one point and eventually we found ourselves in a tourist trap bar on St Martin’s Lane, near Leicester Square. I barely took my eyes off her or my thoughts away from how to impress her. I didn’t want to go home that night or her to leave.  She didn’t seem to either, but perhaps that was for very different reasons. 

Things went downhill from the point when I had returned from the bar to find her passed out. Panic set in, and I took up the mammoth challenge of booking a cab on my phone with drunken eyes and fingers. I dragged her into a cab and ventured through the orange flashing lights of south London to Brixton. But we didn’t get there before I decided to vomit the contents of my drunken guts into my own favourite leather postal bag. On arrival, the passed out woman miraculously rose from the dead and ran into her house, I just wanted to clean the mess I had made in the bathroom upstairs. 

I was struck by sinking feeling in my gut when the misery of scooping cold sick into the sink suddenly turned to fear that water was no longer going down the plug hole. Time exponentially expanded  as I tried to scoop the already scooped sick from the sink to the toilet. It was chaos. The things covered in sick, including my favourite copy of Ernest Hemmingway’s A Moveable Feast, workbooks and headphones, were bagged up. For the life of me I am not sure why I didn’t bin them, but instead I put them on the side in her bedroom. 

The other housemates approached me just as I was about to finally let this painful night end. They didn’t know who I was, and their housemate was passed out on her bed. The kind smaller Welsh guy tried to counter the aggressive taller guy by explaining why I should consider just sleeping on the lounge sofa. But my drunken impulsive brain only felt only irrational self-pity and accusation, so I stumbled out of the house into a taxi home. I ended the night seventy quid down, hung over and full of existential dread. 

The month that followed that night was painful. The initial thankfulness for getting her home morphed into annoyance about the sink and then finally developed into a confusing anger directed at me. We left it with her messaging me about what to do with my sick covered items left in her room, before she started to act clearly angry at me. I retaliated with my old passive aggressive tactic of ignoring her to her face. The truth was I just felt deeply sad, it was painfully confusing as to why I was being punished. I just wanted to be close to her again. I missed the beautiful dark hair, the exploration of film and art, but most of all I missed feeling affirmed and alive. 

The month came to ahead when we ended up, despite actively avoiding each other, sat next to each other at work drinks. We sat back to back to each other, and did not speak until we realised we had decided to get up and leave at the same time. As we walked to London Bridge tube station, our mutual anger grew in to a shouty argument. I can’t remember everything that was said that night, but I remember her back against the entrance wall, looking into my eyes and saying something very odd and out of place. “I guess I am just too stupid to get that, Alex!”. The argument travelled down the Dantean layers of the station, it would develop into a point and then she would run away to the next layer and shout something like “This isn’t a movie, Alex”. By the time we reached the platform, where we would part for the tube home, I begged her to tell me what I had done wrong. Her tone changed and her frustration changed to something more vulnerable…”

“You don’t get it, do you?”. 

“I don’t get what?”

“You don’t get it…”.

“Then just tell me…” 

“I read it Alex, I read your notebook….”

I cringed as the words I had written that Christmas Eve shot back into my mind, along with the memory of putting the notebook safely in my brown postal bag. Fuck.

The truth is I have never told this story to my therapist. It never really felt relevant to things I was working on in sessions. This is not to say that this person was not part of the 26 weeks of exploration and healing, of course they were. But this has always been a story better to tell new friends in the pub; you get to enjoy the notebook shaped penny drop in their eyes, whilst letting the humour misdirect them from asking how I really felt about this awful time.

The reason this story really matters to me is not because of the drunken antics, the story’s notebook punchline or even because it was a night out with the woman I desperately wanted to be with.  But because of the path that this ruinous time in my life put me on. At the same time the drama of this story was taking place, by some coincidence, I was really into Jeff Buckely’s album Grace and listening to it on repeat. Track 4 was Lilac Wine, a beautiful song about being intoxicated with the memories of a lost love after drinking a heady lilac wine. The meaning of this song became more and more pertinent as I also became intoxicated by the memories of a lost love that I wanted back. 

One afternoon, I went with the dark haired woman to explore an exhibition at the National Gallery. I felt completely engrossed by the unusual feeling of excitement and fun I was experiencing from joking and playing around the paintings with her. Suddenly, and very unexpectedly, we were joined on the staircase of the gallery by someone I felt I knew. He was attractive, fun, very curious and passionate. I found him entirely likeable, and not just because it was determined by the neediness of those around him. He was stirring to be around, and yet just like me he was surrounded by unending destruction. It occurred to me that perhaps I used to love him. 

She and I eventually stopped hanging out, but he stayed around. His presence turned into intoxicating nostalgia, and acknowledgement of my painful present. Being with him was powerful, and I allowed him to be with me more often, to care for me, and to guide me. First he encouraged me to start learning mindfulness and to enter into a short therapy course with the NHS. These built the foundations that led me to a longer term therapy, where four years on he was still there holding my hand in the ‘Lilac room’ as I struggled through. I had regained my lost love, he was I, and in remembering and not letting him go I started to care about myself once again.  

Therapy recently came to an end, and I no longer have to worry about averting my eyes on that staircase every Thursday. When I left the Cowley Children’s centre, walking to the bus stop for the final time, I reflected on everything I was taking away with me; an education on self-care; a brighter world to inhabit and a story of progress worth sharing. I boarded the number 5 bus, climbed the stairs, sat down and as I continued to reflect on therapy I reached into my bag and found a small bunch of lilac flowers. I proudly pinned them on to my lapel, decorating myself like a Victorian widow intent on being reminded of a love lost. In that moment I decided I would wear lilac every day, for never again shall I forget that I am someone worth loving. 

~

I really love this piece by Alex. I think capturing experiences that mean something to you and managing to pin down past emotions on paper is a really powerful therapeutic tool. One of the things that makes this piece so evocative is Alex’s sheer honesty: his admittance of the mistakes he made and his ability to evaluate the situation – after time – to have a more objective view. ‘Lilac’ really does explore the positive impact that counselling, therapy, and being brave enough to reach out for help can have. Throughout the narrative, it’s clear that the once hesitant, second-guessing voice of Alex develops into someone who knows themselves. Who trusts their own voice. And, as Alex says, someone who is ‘worth loving’.

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seeking permanence in creativity

Lifestyle, Mental Health, Writing

For most people, deciding on a career path will often determine their physical location – or at least give them a nudge in a certain direction. If I was pursuing a career in nursing, for example, my location might be determined by which hospitals are closest to me geographically, or maybe which institutions, regardless of distance, had vacancies. With writing, it feels a little different. Particularly freelance writing, or writing when you haven’t yet been published, means that – as long as you’ve got somewhere to write and something to write on – it doesn’t really matter where you’re based.

Hence: impermanence.

It’s the same kind of deal with freelance writing (or, let’s be real, any kind of freelancing): there isn’t often permanence when it comes to steadiness of work or financial income. Most of the writers I know in this situation, myself included, pin down a few different jobs a year in order to support their creativity. But since these jobs often come second to writing, the permanence of part-time work is often not really necessary.

For me, impermanence is something that I’ve struggled with for about a year now. My housing situation is rarely secure (I’ve stayed on countless friends’ sofas and even when I had my own flat it was short-term), my financial situation is rarely secure (between cafe work, festival work and teaching, I don’t often know when the next load of cash is coming in) and my creativity is not always reliable (I sometimes have weeks when words just… don’t work). But permanence – however temporary – is really important in order to have a baseline for good mental well-being so that we can juggle everything else life throws at us.

So, how can we seek reliability in something which is, for the most part, pretty unpredictable?

Something that I started doing this year (new year, new me or whatever) is trying to create some kind of accountability for myself and my writing. Each Sunday, my friend Callen and I (Callen is a wonderful writer and one of my closest friends) are sending each other a weekly email. Our weekly email updates mean that we’re constantly creating a structure for ourselves and keeping each other in the loop with our writing progress. This doesn’t mean that we have to have written a hundred thousand words every week, but it does mean that we have to have done something that contributes to our creative work. For example, this week Callen sent over a really beautiful mood-board for one of his characters, and I sent back a blurb and a couple of chapters of a new project. Knowing that every week I’ll be telling Callen what I’ve been up to means that I’m mindful during the week. When I have a spare couple of hours, I feel more motivated to get something creative done, because I know I’ll be catching him up about it on Sunday.

Finding friends in similar situations and staying in regular contact is one way I try to find some stability in my writing and my creative life – but it’s not the only way. Setting realistic goals is also a great way to create creative structure. I’ve never been a fan of the ‘x amount of words a day’ approach, but looser goals that involve less pressure and more motivation. For example – I want to have at least 2 hours of creative time a week. I can spend my creative time planning or doodling or writing – being creative in whatever form I feel like on that given week. Finding writing competitions to enter or setting time aside to read books that have been on my list forever are also ways of managing my creative time.

I guess the thing I’m trying to change this year is my own mindset towards how I feel about my creativity. Maybe writing will never bring me financial or geographical stability, but there are ways I can make it a constant driving force in my life. I can afford to work five days a week as long as I have time to commit to my creative life. I can afford to say no to going out for a drink if inspiration strikes, as long as I’m managing my creative and social life well. For me and so many others, my mental health is dependent on having a handful of constant things that make me happy and bring out my inner passions. I feel motivated and committed and more like myself when I’m writing: surely this means I should make time for it among all the other things life demands I make time for?

Let me know how you’re finding permanence and structure in your creativity this year. (On another note, tune into my Instagram to join my girl gang and fight against toxic diet culture / the patriarchy / whatever else I feel like rioting about).

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andante, andante: notes on recovery

Mental Health

It’s been nearly two weeks since I took the plunge into honesty, and I want to continue sharing my struggles and successes with you all. Though recovery will never be completely rainbows and butterflies, this week I’ve found love and laughter in unexpected places.

Back on the EDU last year, one of the nurses told me the average time it takes someone to recover from an eating disorder is seven years. At the time, I thought she was depressing and disheartening. Now, I realise she was just trying to warn me: there is no quick fix, and even when your physical health stabilizes, there will always be emotional issues to tackle. It’s never as simple as ‘just eating’: it’s a long, winding road of learning and un-learning thoughts and behaviours.

This being said, the last week has been a good week for me, recovery-wise. After the initial sharing of my story for the first time (which was equal parts terrifying and liberating), I started the week positive and motivated. I’m currently on a 16-month waiting list for one-to-one therapy (tell me NHS budget cuts don’t exist, I dare you), but I’m lucky enough to be in regular contact with the EDU here in Oxford, and I’ve found their support really helpful so far.

A few days ago, I had an appointment with my new dietitian. It’s always nerve-wracking meeting a new member of my key support team, but she was a cracking lady; really supportive and down-to-earth. We had a ten-minute conversation about our shared love of sourdough, so that was great. I thought it’d be helpful to share some of the processes that I go through with my recovery – for those still suffering who have yet to seek help. Seeking help for your ED is the first step – and the hardest one – but I’d like to raise awareness of the fact that, although it’s scary, it’s vital in order to get the freedom you deserve.

So, my appointment with my new dietitian lasted about two hours. This is totally normal for dietitian appointments, though sometimes they vary and can be a little shorter. Usually for this kind of thing, I’ll be expected to go up to the eating disorder inpatient unit – though some units will have separate buildings for outpatients, and sometimes I might meet my dietitian at the main hospital. We talked about my current situation and how we could work together to make small changes that would benefit me in my recovery. While I’m still waiting for psychological support, it’s important to have a steady intake and sleep schedule, and to try and drop some of the unhealthy coping mechanisms my little brain has been clinging onto.

Because I’ve made some progress with my diet and weight over the past few weeks, this meeting was different from the others I’ve had. My dietitian has given me some timetable-come-meal-plan sheets that I have to use to keep track of intake and compensatory behaviours, and I’ve also been given a little CBT hand-out to help me remember the ‘new rules’. I thought it might be helpful for you guys to see:

You may find it totally bizarre that there are times when anorexics are ‘not allowed’ to eat – but this is a big thing in recovery! Even back in group therapies, we weren’t allowed any food or drink (aside from water) inside our sessions. There’s always been a huge emphasis on eating at the *right* times, and this is because a) it’s important to get into a good routine, for physical things like your metabolism, as well as psychological impact and b) it allows you to listen to your hunger signals.

Hunger signals are another big thing, let me tell you. For your average non-disordered person, they will feel hungry around lunchtime, and they’ll eat. For someone with an ED, feeling hungry is almost constant; sometimes we might feel hungry even after we’ve eaten, and sometimes we’ll feel so hungry that this can lead to periods of ‘bingeing’ which damages our stomachs – constantly shrinking and swelling – and our minds. So, until we’ve learned to train our minds and bodies to expect food at certain times, we’re unable to trust when we’re hungry and when we should be eating.

As you can see from the handout I was given, there are rules about the flexibility of mealtimes (1hr max), using compensatory behaviours (that’s a no-go) and eating outside of these set times (totally forbidden). So, my new rules are pinned up in my bedroom and I’ve jumped head-first into trying to achieve my goals. Also, my dietitian has clocked on to my competitive-ness and is definitely trying to provoke me in any way she can. She’s a smart lady (I hate that).

Another thing you can expect when recovering with the help of ED services is a lot of scans and blood tests. You kind of get over the needle thing after a little while! This week I didn’t have any blood tests, as I had them the week prior, but I did have a good old ECG and a DEXA scan.

So, for those who don’t know – an ECG is where you go (to your GP) and they stick lots of sticky pads all over your body and measure your heart rate. This is because those with ED’s will often have heart irregularities, like a heart-rate too quick or too slow. Deep in my disorder around fourteen months ago, my heart rate was very slow due to over-exercising (yeah, that can happen!), but this time, it was looking pretty healthy (#winning). It’s important to ask for an ECG if you think you may have an eating disorder – even if you feel you don’t ‘look underweight’, your heart can suffer from lack of nutrients, and it’s important to keep an eye on it.

A DEXA scan scans your bones to check their density. When people develop ED’s whilst their bones are still growing and developing (aka teens – twenties), it can lead to osteopena and osteoporosis. DEXA scans are super quick and easy – you lie on a table and put your legs on a raised block. It takes maybe ten minutes, if that. It does not involve getting in a tunnel. But, if you’re very lucky (and you forget to wear a non-underwired bra), you might get to rock one of these cool hospital scrub gowns.

My radiologists were hilarious and super interested in my writing: in fact, both of them jotted down my name and book title to ‘buy it when it’s published!’. So, uh, I guess I have to get it published now, if only to save me the embarrassment…! It’s always lovely to have good chat and banter with hospital staff: they make a routine check-up an actual enjoyable experience.

So, that’s my week for you! Lots of appointments, kind, friendly nurses, and laughter with some rad radiologists. It’s been wild; and I’ve mostly stuck to my new plans, so I’m calling this week a Recovery Win.

I also just want to throw it out there that my diagnosis of Atypical Anorexia Nervosa means that for most of my disorder, I was not underweight. A common misconception – and one that AAN sufferers often internalise – is that you have to be underweight to be ‘actually sick’. This isn’t true. If you can relate at all to what I’m talking about, I’d urge you to seek help. One of the nurses at the Bristol EDU once told me that AAN can often be more dangerous than other eating disorders, because your internal organs are suffering, but you might not ‘look the part’ and therefore not seek treatment. There’s a reason it has the highest mortality rate of any mental illness. You’ve nothing to lose by speaking to your GP. Trust your instincts and find freedom through honesty.

Thank you so much for your comments on #FreedomFriday’s COURAGE issue, it does – and always will – mean the world. As always, questions and feedback can be shot my way at tomlin.bethany@gmail.com – as can submissions for #FreedomFriday.

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7 new year’s resolutions (that don’t involve losing weight)

Lifestyle, Mental Health

It’s January; the dreaded ‘diet season’, and the worst month for those of us already struggling with negative body image. But guess what? It’s not too late to make New Year’s Resolutions – and we can resolve to ignore society telling us that shedding a few pounds is the only way to have a great 2019.

So, here are some resolutions to make this year that might actually change your life because, trust me, losing weight won’t change a single thing.

  1. Stray away from routine. When your body is bored, your brain is bored. Walk a different route to work in the mornings. Go to a different cafe for your morning coffee (and, as a barista, I’d recommend going to your local independent, rather than your local Starbucks!). Change what you have for breakfast every day: there’s more out there than toast and cereal, I promise.
  2. Keep a journal. I can’t stress enough how much writing can benefit your mental health. It’s something I’ve been studying (and practising) for a few years now, and I’ve found that sometimes, even just scribbling down a few lines about why I’m so irrationally angry can really help me find rationality. Writing your feelings down validates them on paper, and suddenly makes this invisible emotion visible again. And if it doesn’t work for you therapeutically – it’s always funny to read back over and wonder what the hell you were thinking…!
  3. Try something new each week. This is a classic resolution for me, but it’s a great one. Similarly to straying from routine, trying something new once in a while stimulates your brain and keeps you from falling into dull, repetitive actions. Trying new foods, reading new books – even buying a new item of clothing. Keep life exciting by keeping it unpredictable.
  4. Speak to strangers. I’ve made some great friends at bus stops. You’d be surprised by how many people are quite happy to be spoken to – and actually how many people’s days you can truly improve with a simple hello. Working in retail and hospitality can be a great way to do this (hear me out – every cloud has a silver lining…). Barista-ing is such a nice way to have an excuse to talk to people. And let’s skip the ‘how’s your day going?’ and start asking more interesting questions. Where’d you buy your shoes? What’s your favourite dairy alternative? Etc, etc…
  5. Listen to more podcasts. Podcasts are a great way to learn things without even trying. I’ve started listening to podcasts instead of music before I go to sleep, now, and every so often I’ll play one on the bus into work in the morning. Some of my favourites are Fearne Cotton’s Happy Place (great inspiring, funny conversations with celebrities on real-life topics) and The Guilty Feminist (hilarious, motivational – give it a go!).
  6. Revel in your independence. See the latest #FreedomFriday for an expansion of this – but really, you are your own person. You could change your life in a single day if you wanted to. You are in charge of every decision you make – and you should enjoy every bit of independence you have. Be proud of the choices you make. Try not to second-guess yourself. Be brave.
  7. Realise that the only person who needs to think well of you, is you. I’ve spent most of my life so far worrying about what people think of me, and trying to get people to like me. Recently, after moving to a new city, I decided to see what would happen if I just let myself choose, what to do – rather than let others’ opinions of me decide. Let me tell you; I’ve been wearing the same pair of dungarees for weeks and I’ve ditched all make-up aside from my eyebrow pencil – and I feel great. If you feel most confident when you take time to do your hair and make-up in the morning, then start setting your alarm earlier to make sure you have time to feel good instead of rushing around at 6a.m. If you feel good about yourself and your appearance, that’s all that matters. Nobody really cares what you look like, they all just care about what they look like to others; but you only start to truly realise when you stop caring, too.

Be kind to yourself this January. Ignore everything you’ll see this month that implies your self-worth is based on your weight. You’re fine just how you are, and your confidence in yourself is both radiant and contagious.

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#FreedomFriday: a new movement on quills & coffee

Mental Health, Writing

Calling all writers, bloggers, and people who have something to say. From January 2019, I’ll be starting #FreedomFriday here at Quills & Coffee. Here’s a bit of info on what it is, and how you can get involved.

What is #FreedomFriday?

It’s a project I’m starting that I’d like to begin in the New Year. The basic concept is, every Friday, a blog post will be published on Quills & Coffee about something free and liberating. Feminism, mental health, and global activism are some great topics to start with, but all-in-all, I’d like to have a collection of personal stories and articles that will encourage, inspire, and motivate others.

How can I get involved?

If you have an idea for a story or article that you’d like to share, drop me an email outlining your idea, and we can chat more about featuring your writing on Quills & Coffee. Alternatively, if you meet one or more of the following criteria but don’t have an idea for a post, email me anyway and we’ll brainstorm together!

If you…

  • are a young person (17-25)
  • are able to write about independence (solo travel, finding a job, your take on university life, your struggles & achievements as a young person)
  • are interested in sustainability (talk to me about your sustainable lifestyles, from upcycling to veganism)
  • are a feminist (talk to me about being an advocate for equality, tips for those who aren’t sure how to speak out, stories from women about injustice they’ve faced, stories from men who are helping to fight the good fight)
  • are able to speak about mental health (particularly interested in stories of recovery, volunteering and raising awareness, or personal essays that are able to invoke strength and courage in others)
  • have something to scream and shout about (this is #FreedomFriday for a reason. What is that burning topic inside of you that you need to tell others about? There are no limitations here, as long as you write honestly and with kindness and intelligence. It would be great to hear stories that are able to bring out a fire in your readers. Anything that can make people feel something is great. Want to start a revolution? Your time has come.)

The deadline for dropping me an email is 20th December 2019 for January’s #FreedomFriday’s. After that, submissions will be taken on a monthly basis.

As a side note: if you are creative / artistic and have poems, artwork, photography, or flash fiction that you’d be interested in displaying on #FreedomFriday – I would love to see it.

Once again: tomlin.bethany@gmail.com . I look forward to hearing from you soon…

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Mental Health in YA: Top 5 Picks

Mental Health, Writing

I’ve had a lot of time to read this week (whoop! Unemployment!), and with my shiny new library card, I’ve been scouring the shelves for some beautiful, funny, and searingly honest YA reads to share with you. Unemployment ends soon (hopefully – keep your fingers crossed for my trial shift tomorrow…) as my bank balance is seriously dwindling, but hopefully I’ll keep finding time to read some of the wonderful YA that’s being churned out left, right and centre.

Side note: there’s so much great young adult fiction that’s being produced at the moment – a lot of it focusing on mental wellbeing – and I haven’t yet found the time to read them all. These are some of the books I’ve read recently that I loved – but don’t doubt there is so much more out there to be explored.

  1. Are we all lemmings and snowflakes? by Holly Bourne

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“I think real kindness, real compassion, is having the strength to stop and try and see where another person is coming from. To try and work out why they’re being the way they’re being. It takes time and patience. It’s not as easy, but that’s real kindness.”

Holly Bourne has been one of the big names in YA for many years now, and is really a spectacular writer who brings so much knowledge and experience of young people to her writing. I loved reading It Only Happens In The Movies a few months ago – so much so that when I was working as a bookseller, I was constantly recommending it to young girls. I’ve heard so many great things about Are we all lemmings and snowflakes? that I was a little wary going in to read it; but trust me, I wasn’t disappointed.

Now, I’m a big fan of ‘summer camp’ narratives. Don’t ask me why. Maybe it’s because, as a kid, it always seemed like such a far fetched, American thing (look, I went to Brownie camp, but it really wasn’t the same, okay?). The novel follows Olive as she heads to Camp Reset; a clinical trial aiming to benefit those suffering from mental illness. Olive’s narrative is so easy to get wrapped up in; I found myself empathising and hugely relating to her. One of my favourite things about Olive – and this whole novel, if we’re being real – is that her symptoms, behaviours, and thought processes are not glamorized in the slightest. This is a raw and honest novel about inner turmoil and overcoming psychological boundaries – and it’s also going to make you laugh ’til you cry. I was super emotional when I finished this one; it truly deserves it’s Bestseller spot.

 

2. What I lost by Alexandra Ballard

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“You have been through a war. And you’ve won.”

Here’s what Elizabeth has lost so far: 50lbs, a boyfriend, and her peace of mind. Then, she’s sent to a mental health unit for young people with eating disorders. Obsessed with being a size zero, and constantly influenced by her mother’s own eating difficulties, Elizabeth is in a constant back-and-forth narrative when it comes to her recovery. I think this whole narrative was hugely accurate when it comes to disordered thinking, particularly about food and weight, and it’s written in a very sensitive way.

After completing my MFA dissertation on eating disorders in young adult fiction, I’ve done an awful lot of research on this topic and was excited to read this one and really see how the author had chosen to approach it. Elizabeth is a relatable and fully-rounded character, and the other girls in the hospital were all so likeable and became some of my favourite characters. The only flaw in this novel would be the lack of diversity within this kind of environment – something I also researched into last year – but I don’t think this takes away from what this novel has achieved at all. The major demographic for eating disorders (particularly AN and BN) is young, white, women – and this is what we see in this novel. I’d like to see more diversity in the future of YA fiction exploring more men and BAME demographics: but Ballard has written a beautiful novel here. It’s heart-wrenching but often light-hearted; equal parts delicate and fierce.

 

3. Colour me in by Lydia Ruffles

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‘No such thing as just friends,’ says Mizuki. ‘Friends are more important than anything else.’

I know I don’t have to bang on about good old Lydia, because The Taste of Blue Light is still one of my all-time favourites and I know I’ve raved about it plenty to you guys. Needless to say, when I found out Ruffles had written a second novel, I snatched that UPC right out of the Waterstones staff room quicker than you can say, well… anything. Colour me in is such an important read – particularly  for lads, for once (down with toxic masculinity!) and I would recommend it to any teenage boy in a heartbeat.

We start the novel with unemployed child star, Arlo, who is living far away from his mum, and with his best mate. It’s clear from the get-go that Arlo is struggling mentally; he seems to be falling back into a pit of depression, but he’s desperate to keep up appearances for his fans and family. The only person that seems to understand is his best friend, but when he suddenly dies, Arlo is left alone. Grieving and mentally unravelling, he catches the next flight to wherever, and ends up on an unexpected adventure.

This one’s about friendship, and talking openly about mental health, and learning to ask for help, and letting go. It’s so very moving, and Ruffles’ descriptions and dialogue are as flawless as ever. It’s definitely worth a dabble (and look at the gorgeous cover!).

 

4. After The Fire by Will Hill

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“Bad and good, False and True: they’re the opposite ends of a whole spectrum of behaviour, not the only two things a person can be. Because life just isn’t that simple. People aren’t that simple, even though I’m sure things would be a lot more straightforward if they were.”

Okay, hear me out. This one isn’t technically focusing on mental health at all… But it’s about a girl who has recently left a cult, and trust me, the girl has got issues. From Chapter One, I was utterly confused about what had happened to poor Moonbeam, and this feeling will stay with you for quite some time. Determined not to give anything away to her new therapist and the FBI agent that accompanies him – the ‘Servants of the Serpent’, as she calls them – Moonbeam is constantly arguing with herself in her head.

This is a story about breaking free from what you’ve been conditioned to believe, and that’s why I think it fits in well with the list I’ve compiled here. This is a story about a girl who has been following the words of a false prophet for so long, she can’t distinguish between what’s right and what’s wrong anymore. The supporting characters as well – particularly Luke – are all so realistic, and haunting in their actions and beliefs. This book opened my eyes a lot, and I think it’s important, uplifting, and empowering. After The Fire is Moonbeam’s story, and her journey to, finally, finding herself.

 

5. The Rest Of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness

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“Feelings don’t try to kill you, even the painful ones. Anxiety is a feeling grown too large. A feeling grown aggressive and dangerous. You’re responsible for its consequences, you’re responsible for treating it. But…you’re not responsible for causing it. You’re not morally at fault for it. No more than you would be for a tumor.”

A friend of mine read this a while ago and wouldn’t stop singing it’s praises, but it took me a long time to get round to actually picking it up. When I did, however, it was finished within the day. Because… well. It’s pretty incredible. If you pick up this book and read the blurb like I did, you’re likely to be confused by the concept (I definitely was), so I’ll do my best to explain.

Protagonist Mikey lives in a town that seems to be affected by weird supernatural things. So much so, that everyone is just kind of used to it. There’s references to this ‘vampire outbreak’ they had last year, and weird things are always happening, and there are the “Indie Kids” (think, the “Chosen One’s” of Mikey’s town) who are running around fighting battles. But Mikey isn’t one of the Chosen One’s. He’s actually pretty normal – or he wants to be anyway. One of my favourite things about The Rest Of Us Just Live Here is that there’s an equal mix of contemporary, honest, deteriorating mental health plot, and supernatural, ‘we’re off to save the world!’ plot. It really helps lift the darker parts of the novel, and also offers so much in the way of subplot that there isn’t a single sentence in the novel that isn’t pushing the narrative forwards.

The idea of this book is: if you’re not the chosen one, and you’re kind of on the side-lines… what’s your story? Mikey’s story is full of obsessions and compulsions and heartbreak and sibling bonds and this desperation to just be good enough. I personally think this is Ness’s best book yet (fight me), and I think the characters and their delicately intertwining lives have been masterfully created.

The thing I took away from this book is: we are all the chosen ones, really. Even those of us blending into the background will always have a story to tell.

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Reminder: if you find yourself in Oxford, my ‘Mindfulness Writing’ masterclass runs every Saturday until December 1st at Common Ground Workspace, Little Clarendon St.

‘Selfish’ and other swear words

Mental Health

Here’s a hard pill to swallow: I’m not interested in how amazing your life is. I don’t care how many novels you’ve written in the time I’ve been trying to write one, how great your boyfriend is, or how your wonderful holiday was. Getting ready to call me bitter and a terrible friend? Hear me out first.

In hindsight, these past few months feel like some sort of sick social experiment I was playing on myself. It began by being bullied into joining a group chat with everyone on my course, to ‘keep in the loop!’ and ended with me having a breakdown over my Twitter feed. I’ll slow down, shall I? Let’s really walk you through why I’ve come to the end of my tether.

It’s a tough truth to learn, but sometimes people don’t always have your best interests at heart. Sometimes people will do things (inadvertently, often not because they’re the devil incarnate) to undermine you, because it makes them feel better, somehow. Whether people realise they’re doing this or not is not the point – the fact is, we all do it, or have done it at some point. But it has to stop.

This isn’t an attack, trust me, because I have been one of these people. Remember that girl who did really well in your high school English lit exam, and came out on results day asking everyone else what they’d got because she knew she’d beaten them? Yeah, that was probably me (or some other weedy, bushy-haired lookalike). But then, you know… I kind of grew up. Even now, I’ve had so many big things I’d love to announce to the world – on Facebook or Twitter or something – but not because I really want to. Just because my successes don’t feel like successes anymore if I’m not sharing them publicly.

Anyway – back to the story: the worst writing months of my life. I’m usually very committed to my writing; I treat it like a job; I set goals and targets and I sit down and write every single day. Yet, over these last few months (months!!) I’ve likely only sat down to write about five or six times.

“Why?” I hear you cry. Well, reader, because of the pressure.

The pressure that isn’t usually there, because I’m not usually so obsessed with what everyone else is doing. It started with the damn group chat, where people (wonderful people, who I imagine just genuinely wanted to support and share with each other) would post how many words they’d written, how many great writing days they’d had, etc… But then, when there weren’t messages waiting for me on my phone to tell me that everyone else had done more work than me, I was compulsively checking Twitter to see what everyone else was doing. Are they writing today? Does that mean I should be writing today?

I watched everyone else’s word counts climb up to our 40,000 goal, ready for our September deadline, and I was stuck on 12,000. I was hurt that some of the people so willing to remind me how well they were doing knew how well I wasn’t. The rest of my peers were swimming off ahead, and I was just bobbing on the surface, fighting to keep my mental health, university work, two jobs and finances afloat. Soon, I was drowning. And even when I reached out to peers and reminded them that hey, I’m not actually doing that well, I think I’m going to go AWOL for a bit and just focus on me, I was in turn reminded of how selfish that decision was.

So here’s my plea: can we stop considering it selfish to, uh, focus on yourself? In fact, scratch that, let’s call it selfish if that’s what it is. Maybe it’s not a bad word like we’ve been pretending it is. But don’t demonise people for wanting to take care of themselves. I’ve lost months of writing time, right before my deadline, because I allowed myself to care so deeply about everyone else’s successes. I had forgotten one very important thing:

People rarely post their failures online.

It’s true, right? Let’s take this out of a creative setting for a moment, and just all focus on our Facebook timelines: on all the wonderful things happening in everyone’s life. Sure, sometimes, we get something a little more truthful, but most of my time is spent scrolling through everyone’s vibrant successes and allowing myself to forget that these people must have other things going on. We do it all the time, but let’s be real: nobody’s life is that absolutely cracking all the time.

I don’t think this is the fault of our friends and family. I think we’ve been conditioned to behave this way. It often feels like (fight me on this because it’s true) if something isn’t posted publicly, it doesn’t really count.

Why did I type and retype and then delete the I have an agent now! status that I really wanted to share with my friends and family? Because I knew how self-centred it sounded, and although it was something I’d worked really hard to achieve, I kind of thought that maybe people would think I was just lucky or that I didn’t deserve it (Imposter Syndrome, much?). Which, hey, might’ve been true. But I could have shared that status and made the rest of my writer friends feel like shit, if I wanted to. I didn’t. You know why? Everyone that I wanted to tell could be contacted either by phone or face-to-face.

This is a hard point to argue, because there are certain things that we want to share on social media because it’s important to us, we don’t have any other way to contact people, we need to promote something, etc… I have nothing against it. Hey, I love seeing pictures of your new babies. Your beautiful weddings. The picture of your first book, shiny and fresh off the print – really, I love it. But I think we can all tell when someone is just boasting, brass and insensitive, about everything they’ve achieved. We can just tell.

I’ve come in circles a bit here, so maybe this is more of a rant than a post with a goal, and I’m sorry for that. But this is my PSA: I have to focus on myself now if I want to achieve my own goals. It’s doing me no good reading about how great your life is, for the time being anyway. The frustrating thing is, I know certain people are jealous and bitter and are literally trying to make me feel this way, and I know I’ve kind of let them win by wasting all of this time obsessing over how far ahead of me they are. But not anymore, pal. We all need to be more selfish once in a while, and take time to take care of ourselves, first.

The era of bragging is over. There are exceptions, of course, and sharing your success and allowing others to celebrate with you is rarely a bad thing (in fact, it’s a beautiful thing). But boasting for the sake of bringing yourself up and everyone else down is, to be frank, really bloody nasty.

Be kind, be creative, be selfish once in a while.

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It’s okay to be a total flake: reassurance from a total flake

Mental Health

Recently, it feels like there’s always someone who needs a bit of my time. There are emails to be answered, appointments to be made, catch-ups and study-sessions and coffee dates to be scheduled… I’m starting to understand why my lecturer’s always seem to have their ‘Out of Office’ automated emails switched on.

It isn’t a bad thing when this happens. I feel very loved and grateful that there are so many people that want thirty minutes of my time, but there aren’t really enough hours in the day for me to do everything I want to do as well as everything I need to. So, if you’re one of the people who feels like I’ve been ghosting you or being one of those friends that forever says, “We need to catch up, it’s been too long!” but is never actually available: I’m sorry. I’ll get round to you, I promise. In the meantime, I need a little time.

Anyone that regularly reads this blog will know that I’m currently trying to juggle a Master’s degree, a part-time job in my local bookstore, and getting manuscript edits sent to my agent so that we can try to sort the novel for publication soon. There are always things on top of this happening as well: meetings with lecturers and authors and doctors that I really can’t postpone. So, yeah, I’ve been terrible at replying to messages, and equally bad about re-arranging our catch-ups to later in the month when I’m convinced I’ll have a little more free time. It even took my mother a few days to get a call back from me. It’s not just you.

But the point of this post wasn’t for me to rant and bitch about how much work I have to do and how annoying it is that I have so many friends – trust me. The point of this post is to call out all of the flakes and ghosters and say hey, it’s cool. We need time for ourselves, time to recuperate, time to think and reflect and pretty much just get our acts together.

It’s really easy for me to catch myself in a web of guilt when it comes to my friends, family, and other commitments – and I’m sure I can’t be alone. Sometimes I’ll spend an evening writing, Netflix on in the background, wondering how I’ve managed to turn down so many plans with people when this is all I’ve ended up doing. I feel like I’m prioritising the wrong things, neglecting friends to stay at home, trading in human contact for the company of my laptop screen… But I have to remind myself: some people work nine to five in their careers, and this is mine. I don’t have your average working hours, but as a writer I have to find time to commit to my writing. It’s so important.

I have to remind myself that when friends message at six or seven in the evening and want to go out for drinks or just come round for a coffee, that’s kind of the middle of my workday. And alongside my career of writing, I’m also having to support myself by working part-time and also do, that, uh, university thing we’ve talked about. I can’t let myself continue to feel guilty because I’m working doing the thing I love most.

“But, Beth,” I hear you cry. “You need time to socialise – to have a life!”

I do, I promise you. I tend to schedule my phone calls and quick catch-ups in my lunch breaks at work or on the occasional evening, but if I haven’t found time for you, please don’t be offended! Please understand my lack of time and total disorganisation! I know I always end up neglecting my friends that live far away, but that’s only because I’d have to commit more than an hour to come see you (and, in some cases, a fair bit of cash that I don’t have either). I’m so grateful for the friends that understand I’m useless at keeping in touch; the friends that are fully aware of my busy life and accept the fact that I care about them, I’m just a big ol’ Cadbury’s flake most of the time.

And I’m grateful to my mum, for coming to terms with the fact that I’m probably alive and well regardless of whether I answer her phone calls or not. Probably.

So here’s a message to all of my fellow flakes: you’re not alone. We all do it, even those of us who seem like they’ve nothing better to do with their time than spend it with you. Every so often, everyone needs time to just go MIA. Ignore your phones, turn on your ‘Out of Office’ emails, and try not to feel too guilty about it. Your time is valuable and it’s always, always, up to you how you spend it.

Stay flaky,

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“New year, new me!” and other lies we tell ourselves

Lifestyle, Mental Health

Before you sign up for your gym membership and book yourself onto the next skydiving course because you’ve always wanted to do it, let me offer you some advice on why changing yourself probably ain’t going to change your year.

Look, we hear the same thing every time it gets to this time of year. It’s routine by now. New year, new me! we all chant, arms laden with all the useless crap we’ve picked up in the Boxing Day sales; crap that will surely aid us in our self-development come January. We convince ourselves that it’s absolutely necessary to kit out our wardrobes – start the new year in style, right? The healthy eating kick starts then, too, so lets stock up on salad and those plastic water bottles with fruit filters.

We go through this whole charade every. Single. Year. And I swear – by February the gym membership is gathering dust and we’ve already lost the filter-thing for our water bottles. With this in mind, here’s how I plan to set realistic ‘resolutions’ that I might actually be able to keep… and ones that don’t require changing much about myself. If I did the New year, new me! every year, Christ knows who I’d be by now.

  1. Focus on realistic things that I want to do.

Not things that I think will make me a ‘better’, ‘prettier’, or ‘more accomplished’ person – just things that I want to do. Simple. If the things I choose to do help me grow as a person as a result, then wonderful. But I want to pick things that I feel genuinely excited about, rather than stuff like ‘Run a 10k.’ For some people, this is a huge source of happiness: for me, running a 10k is the equivalent of torture, so it’s staying far away from my list.

Beth’s List examples: Learn to drive, visit another country, find one dish that I like that involves avocado (I hate avocado).

2. Set several short term goals, rather than one end goal.

Okay, so, if your aim for 2018 is something like loosing weight, then you don’t want to stick ‘Lose 2 stone!’ on your resolution list. Because, let’s face it, your weight is going to fluctuate throughout the year and make you feel like a failure come NYE 2018. Set little goals that will change your behaviour and help you to lose weight – like ‘Drink at least three bottles of water a day!’.

Beth’s List examples: read a book every fortnight, write something small everyday, stop drinking coffee late at night.

3. Realise that NYE is just…. another day.

It’s great that many of us can channel our energy into this fresh start – a great change for us to start anew and really focus on our goals. But not everyone succeeds in seeing the new year as a blank slate. Let’s all sit back and realise that, despite the fact we now change one number when writing the date down, it’s just another day. Focus on the positives and don’t crumble under the pressure of what 2018 might become, or how you’re supposed to change yourself this year in order to make your life better. You’re great as you are; and regardless of how much you change, the year is likely to be wild and unpredictable either way.

My advice to you, then? Reflect on the year, party the night away, and carry on with your life the next day. Write your New Year’s Resolutions with your own happiness in mind, focusing on who you already are, rather than this elusive person you think you should be.

Party hard. See you in twenty-eighteen!

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Let’s stop trying to get our lives together

Lifestyle, Mental Health

You know what I realised the other day? Now that I’m in my twenties, the most common conversation I seem to have with my friends is how do we get our lives together?

You know when I had this revelation? Five a.m. I was trying to make a cup of tea for my friend and I, having been awake essay-planning for many, many hours, and I dropped a bag of sugar on his floor. He doesn’t have a hoover. There was bleary-eyed laughter and fumbling over the dustpan and brush and the inevitable conversation: when do we become real adults?

Will there be a time when we magically transition into adulthood? A time when we own sugar-jars and hoovers and have more than two forks washed up and ready to use in the kitchen? At what point will I know the words to God Save The Queen rather than literally every Taylor Swift song? When can I expect this magical transition to happen?

Every part of my life as a twenty-one-year-old is focused on trying to set myself up for the future. Get that degree, that Master’s under your belt, get a job, work experience, build up your writing portfolio, remember when the bins go out,  learn how to cook chicken properly… But I wonder when I’ll actually stop trying to get my Survival Pack for Real Life together and be able to enjoy everything that’s happening now.

When I was doing my BA, I was working towards getting onto my MA. Now, I’m on it and coming to the end of my first term and… where’s my sense of achievement, universe? Why is there always something else to work towards?

“I always wanted to be somebody. Now, I realise I should have been more specific.”

There’s nothing I hope to achieve from writing this post, as I realise this is probably something that most of us in our twenties feel (and, hey, maybe the Real Adults feel this way, too?). I just… I don’t know why we aren’t laughing at ourselves more! Why does it have to be such a worrying thing that we have no goals or direction in life? Can’t it just be hilarious? Safety in numbers, guys. And at this point, we can really only laugh… or cry.

Some of us still don’t know how to cook chicken without inadvertently poisoning ourselves. We’ve tried putting fairy liquid in the washing machine when we’ve run out of laundry detergent and ended up with a sea of bubbles coating the carpet. We’ve rocked up to lectures unprepared, sleep-deprived, still drunk from the night before. (These are all totally hypothetical, by the way. Totally.)

What I’m suggesting here is a group pact to not take ourselves so seriously. To not let the looming threat of Real Life force us into forgetting how much fun we’re having right now. We have to assume that at some point we will morph into Real Adults and we’ll know exactly where we’re going in life, so… we should probably enjoy this clueless-ness while we still have it.

So, next time I drop a bag of sugar at five a.m. and ruin my friend’s kitchen floor, I’m going to revel in that moment. Look how hopeless you are, Beth, I will say to myself. Look at how hilariously hopeless you are.

I will laugh, because that’s all there is to do. Life doesn’t have to be a super-serious, inescapable web of council tax and University fees. I reckon, no matter how daunting the future seems, if we try hard enough… we can probably laugh it off.

We’re millennials, for Christ’s sake. Everyone else is laughing at us, anyway.

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Why is it SO important for girls to be feminine?: A good-natured rant

Lifestyle, Mental Health

Oh, guys. It’s such an issue. Even when you think things are starting to get better in the world, and there are more toys and clothes and TV shows that are gender-neutral… it still isn’t enough. There’s such a pressure, not just on young girls, but on ALL WOMEN to be conventionally attractive and feminine. WHY?

Why, when my friend goes to work wearing heeled boots, does she have to hear from her female co-workers, “Wow, you look so nice today! You actually look really feminine!”, as if this is the be-all-and-end-all of what is considered attractive?

Why, even if I leave the house feeling confident with no make-up on, do I have that niggling thought in the back of my head saying I should have put more effort in today. What if I see someone I know?

Why do we compare ourselves to edited pictures of Instagram models EVEN THOUGH we know that standard of beauty just isn’t achievable?

“Is fat really the worst thing a human being can be? Is fat worse than vindictive, jealous, shallow, vain, boring, evil, or cruel? Not to me.” – J.K. Rowling

I don’t want to bang on about the whole ‘society is to blame’ thing, because we all know that’s true, for the most part. And I’m sure there are things we can do to combat this, but it’s easy to feel helpless when the issue is so above and beyond something that one person can solve.

Please know that this isn’t a dig at women who are feminine, and are comfortable and happy being that way – I am too. I wear make-up, most of the time. It makes me feel more confident, and I know it’s the same for a lot of women – but I find myself questioning on a regular basis… why? Why does it make me feel more confident when I’m, effectively, pretending to be something I’m not? Wouldn’t it be nice to live in a world where being attractive doesn’t even cross our minds? Where we can focus on our intelligence or our passion or our kindness and not have to think about which clothes we’ll look best in or whether we’re too spotty or fat or unfeminine to succeed in life?

That’d be Utopia, right? Totally unachievable. But is there a way we can at least try to bring other women up, instead of inadvertently and unintentionally bringing each other down? There’s nothing I can do to change society – let’s be real – but there are things I can do to change my own outlook, and self-monitor my thoughts when I’m subconsciously judging myself or others.

If I meet a friend, and they’re not wearing make-up, I’m not going to ask them if they’re okay or if they’re feeling ill, like so many of my friends, co-workers and even teachers have said to me in the past. I’ll compliment them in the same way I would if I liked their eyeliner, or the shoes they were wearing the other day. Better yet, I’ll congratulate them on their achievements and encourage them in their pursuits, because there is so much more to life than just. Being. Pretty.

I’ll never steer my sisters away from Action Man and towards Barbie, just because that’s what’s expected of girls. I’ll encourage them to be who they want to be, and they’ll know that if they want to be the prettiest, girliest girly-girl the world has ever seen, that will be their choice, not a requirement. It’s important for kids to know that every single person who has breathed and is breathing on this planet is completely different. We don’t need to strive to make ourselves carbon copies of what society finds beautiful.

Here’s an idea: be kind. Be confident. Be ambitious. Be feminine or be masculine or be whatever the hell you want – but do it because that’s who you are. 

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Set short term goals and create your own timetable for life

Lifestyle, Mental Health

Tonight, my wonderful friend and I were talking, and she was telling me about how she feels a failure when she has to ask for help with things, or when she isn’t at the same point in life as everyone else, because she’s in her mid-twenties now. Life can be so difficult when we convince ourselves we should be doing something or should have achieved something by a certain age – and there are so many pressures around us that we have to fight to create our own timetable in life.

Creating your own timetable means recognising your strengths and weaknesses, and being able to set realistic goals to achieve without restricting yourself with time limits.

Creating your own timetable doesn’t mean deciding you’re going to be married by twenty or have your first novel published by twenty-five. Creating your own timetable means recognising your strengths and weaknesses, and being able to set realistic goals to achieve without restricting yourself with time limits.

It’s also important to remember that your life isn’t just a big timeline of everything you’ve done. It’s everything you’ve learnt and achieved along the way – the little things that help you build the person you want to be.

Everybody marks success in their own different ways – and it’s vital to remember that when you’re setting your own goals for the future. I don’t want to be a chef, or an athlete – so I don’t need to train hard in the gym or spend my days preparing for my Masterchef debut. Someone else’s success of running a marathon might be my equivalent of eating a cheeseburger – our different achievements are equally valid, but rarely perceived that way by others.

It’s also important to remember that your life isn’t just a big timeline of everything you’ve done. It’s everything you’ve learnt and achieved along the way – the little things that help you build the person you want to be. Think about what you’d like to achieve in the long-term, and rather than setting a date you want to achieve it by, think about the steps you can take every day to get there.

For example, I want to write another novel. I’m not setting myself a date that I want to complete said novel by – because if I don’t meet my self-imposed deadline then all I’ll feel is guilt and failure. What I can do is set myself a little goal of writing 1,000 words a day. That way, I know that I’ll have a draft of my novel in less than six months, and then I have lots of time to edit and polish that draft before sending it to publishers.

Sometimes, even small goals (like 1,000 words a day) can be risky – any kind of goal can be risky, when you think about it, because it opens you up to the prospect of failure. It can be a vicious cycle, but I always remind myself; if I don’t set goals, I won’t feel like a failure… but I won’t feel like I’ve achieved anything, either. The only way to achieve success is to set yourself reasonable goals to achieve. You’re working towards something. Learning. Growing.

If little goals seem insurmountable (and they often do, depending on how we’re feeling), then set yourself a goal that has a little more flexibility. Another example – if I’m having a busy month with lots of writing deadlines and other commitments, I set myself a writing goal of 5,000 words a week. That way, I can get away with writing nothing on a couple of days, and 1,000 or 2,000 words on others. I can trick myself into meeting my target by making things just a little bit easier for myself in the short term.

When you take a break – from work, your studies, whatever is causing you stress or unhappiness – you have time to listen.

Moving on to things that aren’t wholly creative – those ‘real world’ jobs, for instance – we also need to factor those into our life timetables. Sometimes, we need to recognise when our mental or physical health is taking a turn, or when we just aren’t happy in the place we’ve ended up. Taking time off from your job, or taking a break in your career, can help you to truly understand yourself and your needs.

When you take a break – from work, your studies, whatever is causing you stress or unhappiness – you have time to listen. Listen to yourself. Listen to your body. Just by quieting the other things around you, you can learn when you need to sleep, eat, create – and let your body and your mind fall into a routine again.

Below are some little short term goals that I’ve set myself (with no time restrictions or limits to achieve them):

  • Write 500-1,000 words a day (more, if you feel like it!)
  • Read something new every week (a novel, a children’s book… even a blog post!)
  • Try cooking a new recipe once a month
  • Make your bed every morning
  • Clean the house (properly) at least once a week
  • Say yes to new opportunities (if they feel right)

I tell myself this all the time, so I want to tell you guys, too: there will always be people who seem ‘ahead’ of you in life. There will be people who are married with kids before you are, people who put a mortgage down on a house before you do, who get a dog before you do, who finish a novel before you do… and there will be people who complete these things way after you – or not at all. You are individual, unique, and worth no less than anyone who seems to have achieved more.

Your timetable for life will be just as unique as you are. It’s all about moving forwards.

What little goals have you set yourself recently? Let me know in the comments below.

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