where the heart is: re-imagining the concept of home

Lifestyle

Picture this: I’m on a train from Glastonbury to Oxford. Having been away for a few months, I’m finally heading home. I have no contract on a house – no roof over my head to return to – though, somehow, things don’t seem daunting. I’m heading home.

Isn’t it strange how a place can feel like home, even when you’re not necessarily returning to a bed in a room with material possessions? A few weeks ago, I was sitting on that train with a bursting-at-the-seams suitcase and a backpack twice the size of me, knowing that I’d spend the next few weeks on the floors and sofas of my friends. Even though the concept of being without a physical home was, at times, terrifying, I was so ready to be back in the city I love, surrounded by friends that feel like family.

It’s safe to say, I’ve been thinking a lot about my own concept of ‘home’ recently.

I suppose, for the last few years, physical ‘homes’ have always felt quite temporary to me. I mean, I lived in a tent for a little while – one of my favourite homes so far – but I always knew that it couldn’t last forever. It was a great few months, whilst the weather was good and our jobs permitted us to travel, but then it ended. After a rocky transitioning period of maybe-living-in-a-caravan and maybe-ending-up-sleeping-above-a-pub-in-Witney, we finally found our little studio flat. Even then, though, Beth and I shared such a small space, and I stayed on a pull-out bed on the floor; that home, too, felt temporary.

Maybe that’s how physical homes always feel, though? I’ve always been a little jealous of friends that still have parents that live in their childhood homes, because that idea feels a little more solid to me. A little more permanent. I had one main childhood home, but from the age of fourteen, we moved house a bit – always in the same village, but still different houses. When I moved to university, my family grew with my mum’s new partner and his daughter, and they rented a few different places before buying the house they now live in. Sometimes, I’d go home for Christmas to a house that I hadn’t even seen before.

Yet still, when I say I’m going back to see my family, even though I’ve only been to their new house a handful of times, I say I’m going home. Because home is not a physical place for me. It never has been.

If I’m heading back to the North to see my family, I’ll always be going home. I have connections to every village neighboring the one where my family now live: school days in Chorley, sixth form and nights out in Wigan, day trips to Manchester, iced coffee on park benches in Bolton… When I head back to Bath – the city that I lived in for four-and-a-bit years – I say I’m going home. Of course I am, because there are still people I love there. Maybe if I go back to Glastonbury next festival season, that will feel like going home, too – because of the people I met and the connections I made there.

Bunkabin living: a metal box in a field that my sister made cute and cosy for us

Edinburgh is a city I’ve always been to alone; a city where I finished my first book and found so much of myself in the cobbled stone streets and teetering stacks of well-read books. It will always feel like home, maybe not because of the friends I made there, but because of the characters I created, the scenes I painted, and the conversations I wrote whilst travelling on my own.

Maybe I’m fortunate enough to have left pieces of my heart in cities all over the world.

So, here I am. Back in Oxford. I’m home. I’ve been sofa surfing with some wonderful friends for a few weeks, and I’ve finally found my own flat. It’s a one bedroom apartment in a building due to be demolished (not in the near future, don’t worry), so I’ll be a property guardian, which essentially means the rent is cheap and they can give me a month’s notice -as can I with them. It also means I have to commit to 16 hours of volunteering a month, something I’ve been wanting to do for a while anyway, and I can decorate however I like.

It’ll be the first time I’ve ever lived alone, and the first time I’ll have the freedom to paint and decorate and furnish my own place. I can’t invest too much time or money into it, because I could be given my months notice at any time, but that doesn’t mean I can’t make it my own. It will be temporary, like all of my other homes so far, but that doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy the time I have in it. I can make it cosy and unique and a place where I can relax and write and grab a few hours of peace at the end of a long day.

I’m slowly learning that just because things are temporary, it doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy them.

Another example of something temporary but wonderful: a two-week creative writing course I led with these talented young writers

If I’m only in this flat for a few months, that’s fine. It’s impermanent, but still special. Time will pass and things will change and I will still have a home. I will still always have a home, because I don’t just have one.

My homes are in the company of those I love, scattered across cities where I lived and loved and left and came back.

Home is where the heart is – and my heart is, truly, all over the place.

23515602_10214873369765239_1349060607_n

#FreedomFriday Vol. 1: COURAGE

#FreedomFriday

In this second issue, we have poetry from Danny Steele, artwork from Sophie Victoria Rowe, and I talk openly for the first time about creative writing and mental health recovery.

every time with you matters



I wonder what it’s like for you
I say wonder as sometimes i don’t know
or can’t hear
or don’t hear
or won’t hear

I carry on, like an elephant trampling through the wild grass
thinking ahead

time waits for noone
spending time as us has been toxic,
‘us’ has become toxic, reactionary, defensive
the kryptonite cutting through the ice, a blackened flower wilted in the heat.

rage
pain
rage
repeat

in this, in this there is hope, there is potential through the pain:
There is always room for celebration, there is always room to hear what is really being said

growth
love
growth
repeat

every time with you matters
you are important, we are significant
i enjoy it most when we just be

by Danny Steele


‘G A L A X I E S’ by Sophie Victoria Rowe
Instagram: @sophievictoriaroweart

*

Writing yourself well: my creative journey

It’s so easy to lose ourselves. There are always things that need to be done, relationships we need to maintain, responsibilities we just can’t escape. Not to mention, holding on to the essence of who we are is becoming harder and harder as technology develops. We create different versions of ourselves to present on social media, to our bosses, our friends, our parents. So how can we find the courage to be truly ourselves in a society that tells us who we are isn’t good enough?

I struggled with my identity for many years. I was such a perfectionist, and so desperate to be equal parts successful and likeable in whatever pursuits I chose, that I created so many personalities I couldn’t keep track. At work, I wanted to be a loveable colleague and a valuable employee. At university, I wanted to be effortlessly successful and get the highest grade I was capable of. At home, I needed to be a perfect daughter and sister, always available to help and love and support.

But I was spreading myself too thin with all of the things I wanted to be. I’m a perfectionist anyway – a risky trait that I’m still trying to work on – and maintaining the high standards I’d set for myself just wasn’t realistic. My mental and physical health was suffering, and I had to find a way to get back to myself before I forgot who I was completely.

At nineteen, I was diagnosed with depression and began to develop an eating disorder. It started subconsciously, and without any effort to lose weight, but soon began to snowball out of control. Because I’d have periods of restriction and eating normally, my weight fluctuated, and this made it hard to ever admit that I had a problem. Somewhere inside, I knew I was grasping at control by using food and exercise, but I never fully understood why. As long as I wasn’t stick thin, I didn’t have to admit to myself – or anyone else – that there was in issue at all.

Over the next year, as my University workload increased, and I pushed myself to continue getting top grades in every assignment, I became more restrictive with my eating. People began to congratulate me on my weight loss, and this only fuelled my disordered thinking – leading me to believe that this was something else I was succeeding in. Every day, my disordered behaviours were more prominent, and the illness felt more and more like a part of my identity.

I continued my cycle of revolving personalities until I couldn’t anymore. A friend convinced me to go to the doctors, where I was diagnosed with Atypical Anorexia and assigned weekly weigh-ins, blood tests and ECG’s to monitor my physical health. But there was no psychological support available, and this lack of resources only convinced me I wasn’t ‘sick enough’ to receive treatment: something that I realised, much later, was a common belief in anorexic and bulimic patients. I was put on a waiting list for a specialist treatment program. I waited eleven months and was underweight by the time I was admitted.

It’s my first time writing about any of this, and terrifying as even most of my family and friends have yet to hear my story. It’s strange writing about a time when I was so unhappy, when to the outside world, it probably didn’t seem that way at all.

The ten weeks I spent on the program at an eating disorder unit in Bristol really were beneficial. The girls I met there were incredible, and I’ll always treasure our heart-to-hearts at the end of every session. Group therapy was something I’d never done before – in fact, I’d never done any kind of therapy before – and I was surprised to find that most of the sessions involved writing of some sort.

Spoiler alert: the story is less depressing from here on out.

Almost every group therapy had us writing something. Sometimes it was letters to our future selves, to our bodies, to each other – but the biggest piece of work we produced was our Life Map. Each week, one of us would present our life to the rest of the group. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to write (harder than this post, even!), but after reading my story to the rest of the girls, it was like a weight had been lifted that I didn’t even realise was there.

The treatment ended with us writing letters of encouragement and support to each other and taking home a little envelope of kind words. I still have mine now, and I hope I always cling onto it. At the end of the day, that envelope holds more than just kind words: it holds hope for the future, for all of us.

Figuring out that I could use writing as a form of therapy was an epiphany for me. The end of treatment was scary and isolating, but I had something that I could take with me and use in my recovery. This will sound like greeting-card levels of cheesiness, but I really did get back to myself through writing. Having that initial courage to explore my emotions and problematic aspects of my personality on paper was the hardest part, but once I’d started, I never stopped.

Around the time I finished the program, I had just started my Masters degree. Had it been a few months earlier, the anorexia would have been pushing me to get perfect grades, never hand in anything that would get less than a First, attend every lesson… As it happens, I started my manuscript for the course with one thing in mind: to get back to who I really was.

I started with an exercise that I now teach in my writing workshops for mental health recovery: splitting the self. 

When I was starting my Masters, I was still clinging onto my eating disorder. If there was one thing I learnt in hospital, it was that eating disorders develop for a reason, and often that reason is to help you cope. They are helpful, in a twisted way, and that makes them hard to give up. Writing about my disorder was still too raw – and I knew, somewhere, that it would do me more harm than good. So, I took my writing in a different direction: not autobiography, but fiction.

Exploring yourself through fiction is great. Honestly, it’s wonderful.

I began by taking two identities I had: Beth, who, let’s be real, I was kind of losing sight of, and this disorder. I took them away from myself, separated myself completely from them, and made them into two different characters: Etta, and Violet.

My manuscript I AM ETTA was born. I began with a writing exercise that I’d encourage you to try yourself, if you’re looking to do a little soul searching. 

It starts with picking an identity. 

I am a daughter.

I am a writer.

Et cetera. Pick your identity, and split it.

I am a good daughter, and I am a bad daughter.

I am a motivated writer, and I am a lazy writer.

You have two different identities now, but they’re so much more than that. They are two different characters. The good and the bad. Or, as one of my students described it, “Myself, and my shadow self.”

The next thing you do is give your two identities names. They aren’t you anymore. They are completely separate. It’s important to humanise these characters, and to make them into fully independent, fictional beings – because it’s hard to examine our flaws on paper. It’s hard to admit that we might not be so great in aspects of our personalities, but when you think about these characters, you will start to realise that there is a motivation behind everyone.

Even the worst parts of yourself have joys, loves, goals. Every antagonist is the protagonist of their own story, in a way.

Once I’d given my characters names, I started to jot down some words, images, and phrases that I could associate with each of them. I made two little tables, looking something like this:

Etta – “Well self” Violet – “Ill self”
Childlike curiosity
Stacks of well-read books
The colour of the sky
Kindness
Chalky poetry on pavements
Bravery
An unexploded bomb
Manipulative
Hailstones on bare skin
A cloudy sky before a storm
Flashes of manic laughter
Neon colours that hurt your eyes

Do the same for your characters. Think carefully about emotions and descriptions.

With my writing workshop groups, I usually get students to put their two characters into different scenarios. Where might they meet? How might you think about bringing them together through a narrative? 

What might they learn from each other?

Writing I AM ETTA helped me to explore my own emotions and motivations through a completely separate and fictional narrative. More than that, it helped me paint a picture of recovery for myself. I walked with Etta through her darkest moments, cried as I wrote about her suffering, but then I brought her up. I watched her grow. I was right there with her as she started her first steps towards recovery.

Through writing my manuscript, I was able to write myself well again.

I brought the focus that was on my eating habits onto my writing instead. Through nourishing my body, I had more time and energy to put into honing my craft. I graduated my Master’s degree with a Distinction, and feedback that I AM ETTA was a deeply moving and publishable piece of work.

The manuscript now sits on the desk of my agent, awaiting feedback, but it won’t matter to me if a publisher doesn’t decide to pick it up. Writing that book was the therapy I needed; a piece of writing that healed me in ways I might never fully understand.

The point of this essay is not only to shed light on a story that I’ve kept in the dark for so many years, but to show others that writing might be the way to wellness for them, too. Now several months into my recovery from depression and anorexia, I’ve been running workshops in Oxford on writing for mental health recovery. I’ve received wonderful feedback from students on all the different ways they’ve found pieces of themselves in their writing, and I’ve hope for the future that I’ll find more ways to heal myself and others through the simple act of creativity.

You can read the blurb for I AM ETTA on the Bookshelf website here, and in February 2019 you’ll be able to read an extract from the first few chapters of the manuscript.

Thank you for reading my story. It took courage to write, but that’s the whole point of #FreedomFriday. If you have your own story, poetry, artwork or creative writing to share, contact me at tomlin.bethany@gmail.com.

*

‘L I V I N G’ by Sophie Victoria Rowe
Instagram: @sophievictoriaroweart
23515602_10214873369765239_1349060607_n

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.

23515602_10214873369765239_1349060607_n

#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.

23515602_10214873369765239_1349060607_n

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!

Interviews with Aspiring Writers: Charlotte Rhodes

Aspiring Writers Series

Young writer Charlotte Rhodes talks to us about where she finds inspiration, her own writing process, and her brand new blog, Teacup Chapters.

Firstly, why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself and your writing?

I’ve loved stories for as long as I can remember, whether that’s reading them, making them up in my head, or actually writing them on paper. I always knew that writing was something that I wanted to pursue, so that’s what led me to my current degree in English Language with Creative Writing.

My writing style has changed slightly over the years, but my intentions have always been the same – to uplift the reader in some way and hopefully make them smile! Reality has a habit of being grey sometimes, so if we’re given the opportunity to create brand new material, why not make it positive?

I do of course, for realism purposes, touch on sad topics too, but when I do I try to end on a positive note as a reminder that there is always a sliver of hope to hold onto, no matter how small.

What was the last book you read that you really loved?

All Our Wrong Todays by Elan Mastai. I picked it up on a whim when I was using Waterstone’s as an escape from uni stress (the best way to select a book), and it exceeded all of the expectations that I never had. It’s set in the future and is essentially about time travel, which was completely new reading territory for me. I was wary that it might be far-fetched or unrealistic, but I can honestly say that it is written so beautifully and flawlessly that every word is believable.

Can you describe your writing routines and how you find inspiration?

The best inspiration usually comes when I’m not looking for it. And it can come from anywhere. You know when you watch a film and there’s a minor character in it who’s just brilliant and you kind of wish you got to see more of them and how their story pans out? Or they hint at a storyline but you don’t actually get to see it happen? I might take these seedlings of ideas and turn them into their own story. Or it could also be as simple as a stranger who gives me inspiration for a character, a name that I overhear, or maybe I see a kite in the sky and decide to use it as a symbol in a story.

Ideas usually start as a cluster of words, (I use Google Docs on my phone to jot them down), and I slowly develop these into a loose plot outline and eventually a piece of writing.

Reading also plays a huge part, particularly if I’m lacking the motivation to actually begin a piece. I can spend hours reading, usually material from the same genre that I’m writing in, (e.g. articles if I’m doing a blog post). Watching films/TV shows about writers can also give me a boost to start writing. It sounds like procrastination but I consider it research.

Where do you feel most inspired?

I like to be somewhere with a window. My flat at uni last year was the perfect spot because my desk was right under the window overlooking a lovely canal. If I got a bit lost with a sentence or couldn’t find a phrase then I’d just sit and watch the trees and the water for a while. Sometimes I’d open the window too so that I could hear the birds and the leaves rustling – it was the perfect set-up.

What piece of advice would you give to other young aspiring writers?

Don’t worry about making your writing too ‘ordinary’. I can get struck with some pretty random ideas, and I used to fight them off for fear of people not understanding or thinking that I’m weird, but it turns out that they can make for great stories. I once wrote a love story about a clown and it developed into one of my better pieces. If you get an idea that you think is a bit odd – run with it. If anything, it will keep people intrigued.

Finally; you’ve recently set up a blog and I just loved your post How to be alone without being lonely. Could you tell me a bit about the blog and how you’ve found the process of starting it?

The blog is very new so I am still getting the hang of things, but it’s something that I’ve been wanting to set up for the past year or so. I was waiting for the right time, the right name, the right content, but this summer I decided to just set the plan in motion!

Choosing the name was the most gruelling process, but everything else seemed to click into place after. I had already written a couple of articles for Society 19, so that somewhat prepared me, and I knew that I wanted my blog to be quite a positive space to share my creativity, so I took that idea and went with it!

A big thanks to Charlotte for this wonderful interview – she really is a young writer to keep an eye on! Head over to Charlotte’s blog Teacup Chapters and have a little explore, you won’t regret it.

 23515602_10214873369765239_1349060607_n

From Bath to Bude: another day, another tent

No Fixed Abode

Well, it’s been a couple of weeks since I’ve written anything on here: I’ve been off in Dorset working as part of a festival production team, spent a few days back home in Manchester seeing my family, and now I’m back with Beth, living in Cornwall for the summer.

It was so strange being in the north again – not because of where I was, but more because I was spending the night in a real life house for the first time in what felt like ages. Sure, I was staying on my mum’s sofa, but still being in the confines of four walls felt totally bizarre! Even when I went to work on Larmer Tree festival, I was staying in a tent, so it kind of felt like a home away from home. Still, it was wonderful being home for a short time and seeing everyone again!

Even though it felt like nothing had changed in Manchester, it was weird to go to the same places I’d always gone as a teenager and see nobody at all that I knew. I went back to the town I went to school in, and didn’t see a soul that I recognised. How times have changed! I reckon everyone has moved on by now. Even my Nana had popped off to Skegness when I went back…

I managed to squeeze in some coffee dates with people that were still hanging about – like my best friend Josie who has just come back from backpacking around Indonesia (seriously, I’m so jealous!) and my ex-teacher and wonderful friend Fran, who gave me bags of writing advice and life-coaching, as usual. Recently, I feel as though I’m even more appreciative of the friends I have that I don’t see all of the time: even though our meetings are few and far between, the love is always stronger than ever.

My oldest younger sister, Lauren, and I, spent a lovely evening in a hotel in Manchester (a stay-cation, if you will), where we had dinner with her boyfriend, went out for some drinks, and I got another cheeky tattoo. I had a wonderful time seeing everybody again, and then I hopped on a seven hour train journey to meet Beth in Exeter, where she picked me up and drove me to our new home.

So now we live in Bude – for the time being anyway – which is probably one of the prettiest seaside towns I’ve ever visited. We’ve spent the last few days popping in to see all of Beth’s family (I really do feel like I’ve been meeting the in-laws… When you share the same tent and get invited to family barbeques, it’s no wonder people think you’re together). She’s taken me to some beautiful places (including an old, haunted church…) and every member of her family seems to want to feed us all the time, which is great for the old bank account (and they’re all super lovely!!).

38663675_1772778966131134_7939220237470138368_n

We’ve even managed to swing a great deal at the campsite we’re living on, where we essentially live for free by doing work on the site like cleaning, feeding animals, social media stuff… So, everything is lovely down this way! The weather has been perfect so far, but apparently we’re expecting some thunderstorms over the weekend. I’m so excited – I’ve yet to experience a thunderstorm in the tent and it’s bound to be wild.

Meanwhile, I still have that novel to write, so I’ve been working on my manuscript for a few hours each day, and I’ve also been thinking about more writerly things… I’ve had a lot of time to commit to this over the last week or so, and I’ve launched my plan into action today.

So I’m very pleased to announce that I’ll be running my own writing workshops from September onwards! My very first workshop will being Saturday September the 22nd in Common Ground, Oxford (UK),  and will be titled Mindfulness Writing. I’ve never publicly spoken about my experiences with mental illness, and it still doesn’t feel like the right time, but what I will say is that I have absolutely used my writing as a form of therapy these past few years, and I’m ready to pass on what I’ve learnt to others.

If you’re interested in coming to my very first adult workshop (suitable for ages 14+), and you happen to be around Oxford in September – or you know someone that might be interested – you can have a little look on the facebook event group, or keep up to date with this blog for more information.

Anyway, Beth’s lovely mother is cooking us dinner, so I must dash. It’s a beautiful Cornish evening here, and I hope the sky is as blue wherever you are.

23515602_10214873369765239_1349060607_n

2 weeks of tent living: things we’ve learnt so far

No Fixed Abode

Today marks the two week anniversary of our transition from city-living to, uh living-in-a-field living… Here are some things we’ve learnt so far.

Washing clothes is hard

You might think it seems simple. You have a bucket, some water, and some hand-washing detergent from Sainsbury’s. They did this in the olden days, right? Only, it doesn’t seem so simple when you can’t get all the detergent out and your white T-Shirt is tinted blue, or when you’ve scrubbed your clothes but they still smell vaguely of sweat and grass… Drying your clothes is a whole other kettle of fish: I washed a shirt a couple of nights ago that was still soaking the next morning. I ended up holding it out of the car window on our commute to work, praying that mother nature would be my tumble dryer, and it was still kind of damp when I got there…

75b66e87-6617-4856-b420-78101292ccfe.gif

Finding things is… also hard

How does everything get lost so quickly? It’s just one tent! Yet somehow – even when we’ve tidied – it’s a chaotic pit of shampoo bottles and plastic cutlery. Where is the hairdryer? A pen? Those earplugs you lost last week? We may never know.

_1483627595.gif

Don’t. Leave. Chocolate. In. A. Hot. Tent.

Seems obvious. Let me tell you, it’s easy to forget you’ve left that bar of Lindt under the table. (Though you do then get the absolute joy of watching your friend try and lick it all off the packet).

giphy.gif

Always put the bug net up

I can keep telling Beth but she’ll never listen and, at this point, I’m as bad as she is. Remember to put the damn bug net up or you will spend half an hour of your evening trying to chase a cricket out of the tent (it’s hard. They jump a lot).

giphy.gif

Learn to shower with spiders

It’s not that bad, really. They just want to hang out. Side note: don’t get attached to the spiders in the bathroom and start giving them names and saying hello to them every time you go in. Some other camper will squish that spider and leave out his body in a grotesque display of power. It will break your heart.

IPgtbqP.gif

There are many different ways to make salad

For reals. You can put salad with anything, and you’re going to want to make lots of cold evening meals to save you having to struggle with the gas cooker. (Beth chants Quiche! Quiche! Quiche! in the distance).

giphy.gif

Ear plugs are your friend

I did not realise this was a thing, but Beth gave me a pair last week and I’m never going back. Don’t get me wrong, the campsite is beautifully peaceful and quiet — but there are noises that seem much louder when you’re trying to sleep. Sheep, for example. Cows. Birds. Nature in general gets pretty indignant when you’re trying to catch some Z’s.

139.gif

Make friends with other campers: they might have dogs

Campers come and go all the time on our little site, and I would say a solid 90% of them have brought adorable doggos with them. If you want the opportunity to cuddle with someone’s cute dog, you make friends with them. Simple.

tumblr_mgj9b2mzky1rvbkqmo1_500.gif

Take lots of reading material

I finished my last book (it was so wonderful it barely felt like reading at all) in less than a week, then Beth finished the same one in a few days. So, now we’re out of reading material and have to actually talk to each other in the evenings (ugh, gross). The struggle is finding a book that was just as good as that one… Recommendations welcome.

giphy.gif

Do not expect to be satisfied with city living ever again.

We moan a lot, but it’s wild really. I love living in our little tent in our beautiful corner of the Mendips, and I don’t know how I’ll ever go back to living in a house in a bustling city again.

Luckily, we haven’t made plans to do that anytime soon…

23515602_10214873369765239_1349060607_n