IS 'SELF CARE' JUST A TERM WE USE TO JUSTIFY OUR SELF INDULGENCE?

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I've found myself wondering recently if 'self care' is just selfishness rebranded in a favourable light. Don't get me wrong, I'm as up for a bath and a pizza as the next girl, but I do wonder if the rush that we are in to justify the me-focussed activities we are engaging in at the moment, to both ourselves, and our Instagram followers, is just serving as an excuse to get away with doing exactly what we want.

Again, I hold my hands up, I'm as in favour of making yourself happy as anyone and firmly believe that you, as the master of your own happiness, have the right to take care of number one first and foremost, but I'm not sure that you need to justify it, particularly not in a way that feels so, well, self indulgent. 

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It's the connotations, I suspect, of the words 'self-care' that I have such a problem with. In the same way that I can't abide passive aggressive comments on Facebook: 'now I know who my true friends are', which FYI, translates, roughly, to: 'if you don't know what I am talking about then you, dear reader, are NOT a true friend', I find the use of these particular words to be loaded with connotations. 

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'Tonight I am partaking in self-care'. Is it just me that hears 'since no one else is taking care of me, *SHAME ON YOU ALL* I suppose I'll need to do it myself.'? Maybe. Probably. I've always been sensitive like that, reading too much into everything and a full time adopter of the very British stiff-upper-lip-must-crack-on attitude. Not helped by the fact that I eat pizzas pretty often anyway and rarely feel the need to justify it to anyone.

I love the idea of self care. Of course I do, I promote it all the time. Baths are good. Early nights are good. Walks are good. Meditating is good. Eating chocolate is good. Creating a safe space is good. Keeping your mental health in check is paramount. And that does of course require putting yourself first; it doesn't take a genius to work out that if you work hard all day, are out every night and are constantly on the receiving end of everyone's elses' problems, that you will, after a while, burn out. Sometimes you need to say: no, not tonight. Tonight I want a glass of wine in the bath and to tuck up in bed and watch Gossip Girl until I fall asleep at 8.30pm. 

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But did we really need to label that? And if we did, did we really have to label it with such a loaded term??? A.... "I'm so selfless ALL THE TIME, is it really too much to ask that I take thirty damn seconds to look after number one?!?!" way of 'getting away' with doing what we want?

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I know that I'm very quick to justify any self indulgent activities in my own life. It's all too easy to feel like a slob after your fourth night eating take out in front of the television and even easier to feel like a princess as you sit in the hair salon for the fourth time in as many weeks. All of a sudden you read that there is a name for what you are doing and relief rushes through you: "I'M NOT A SLOB AND I'M NOT A DIVA, NO!! What I'm doing is important, what I am doing is self-care, and I deserve that." Girls, I'm with ya. It's perfect. It's genius. But it's also bloody annoying. 

Because the fact of the matter is this: we don't owe anyone anything and we don't need to justify ourselves to anyone either. As I write this I am sitting, alone, in a coffee shop having just paid for a soya latte that I definitely could have made at home. A home which, incidentally, has a bunch of flowers on the side that I bought for myself last night. Flowers that I didn't need, but that I bought because I thought to myself: I deserve these flowers. A thought that faltered slightly, by the way, when the guy at the check-out asked me if they were for anyone special and I had to say: why yes actually, they're for me. It would be all too easy to describe my actions of the last 24 hours as 'self-care', it would be easy too, to describe them as a bit self indulgent, but easiest of all, I have found that it's easiest to not think that much about them at all. 

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Loving yourself is important, and to have an abundance of 'self love' is wonderful. I'm so on board with that. I am also, despite everything said thus far, a big believer in caring for yourself, it's just the bloody label that I have a problem with. A label that feels more self indulgent, actually, than the act of just doing it.

We, as women, feel that we have a lot to prove. Particularly as millennials. I NEED to be busy, too busy, and I definitely need to tell everyone about it. Having an 'easy life' feels like we're cheating somehow, and no one wants to be accused of that. So rather than portray ourselves as having an easy life; slobbing, relaxing, or being selfish in anyway, we have found a way of justifying our behaviour. Of telling the world that we don't spend every night on the sofa, and when we finally do, that we deserve it. That this isn't normal for us. That the decision to buy a pair of £50 shoes that look exactly the same as every other pair in our wardrobe did not just spring out of midair, rather, it was part of a well calculated plan that involves our well-being. No one's going to accuse you of being selfish once you play a card like that. 

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Someone asked me on Twitter this afternoon what self care actually was. Was it washing? Was it checking for lumps? And I found myself a little lost for words. I didn't really know... What is self care exactly? Surely it's just taking care of yourself isn't it? Washing, lump checking, and eating out of a carton for good measure. Something that people have been doing for, well, ever. 

Guys that doesn't need a name. And it certainly doesn't need to be an excuse. No one thinks you're selfish for doing any of these things, and if they do, you aren't going to help your case in anyway by telling them that you've named your selfishness. Look after yourself. That's fine. That's important. Buying yourself flowers, spending a night in, running a bath, that's just life. And it doesn't need justification. 

A WEEK ON A BIKE FOR HELP FOR HEROES

Last night I returned home from a week's cycling; 350 miles across three countries in five days with a group of wounded, sick and injured servicemen and women, and 200 fundraisers, who have been raising money for Help For Heroes on the Big Battlefield Bike Ride 2017. It has been a life changing week and one that I will treasure for the rest of my life. Despite the lashing rain, the gale force winds, the early starts and punishing hills, I have had more fun this week than I could have imagined, I have learned things about myself that I didn't know, I have made friends for life and I have done something that I can be truly proud of. 

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Sunday 

We all met at St Pancreas station at 10am on Sunday morning. Since I have been involved with Help For Heroes for the last 11 years, and this was my fifth Big Battlefield Bike Ride, I had a lot of hellos and hugs from new friends and old friends, people that I haven't seen all year who come together for a week of pain for a great cause. We load our bikes onto a big lorry and collect our tickets before making our way through security and boarding the Eurostar train to Lille in France. For many this is their first ride and you can feel the sense of apprehension hanging like a cloud over the carriages. For many though this is a reunion and the bar cart is filled with old friends raising a glass to what is undoubtedly going to be a great week.

Later that day we check into a hotel and come together for a big team dinner. Beers were drunk, reassurances were dolled out from old hands to nervous new comers and stories were shared from H4H CEO to it's proudest supporters: how our money and efforts were going to change the lives of those that have paid such a huge sacrifice for our freedom. It was a great night but by midnight we had to accept that riding the next day would definitely be easier without another glass of wine, and we headed to bed.

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Monday

5.30am and we're up. A hurried breakfast, padded shorts everywhere and a sense of subdued panic from those who have absolutely no idea what to expect. We board a coach to our starting point and listen to a service given by the 'Pedalling Padre' in a beautiful church. He tells us that our life is out of our control. And, since we're about to follow the infamous orange arrows laid out by the Discover Adventure team for five days across strange lands, I can't help but agree with him. Then we're off. With a wave of the Help For Heroes flag, the Pedalling General starts the ride and 200 lycra-clad people wobble their way through the streets of Lille.

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Before we knew it we'd made our way up some fairly considerable hills, were fifty miles in and eating lunch out in the sunshine. If we had known that clouds were making their way to us at an incredible speed perhaps we'd have departed quicker, alas, we set off again slowly and by the time we had reached Brussels, at rush hour on a Monday evening I hasten to add, the weather was beyond belief. My friend Sophie (poor Sophie to any podcast listeners out there) lived up to her name and went flying off her bike after underestimating the depth of a puddle and the Traffic-Gods looked down on us a with wrath we didn't deserve; every light turned red as we approached it, busses seemed to go out of their way to drench us, driving through puddles at remarkable speeds and the tram lines caused accidents left right and centre, landing two people in hospital.

We had a bit of a sense of humour failure, Sophie and I. The shoes that you wear to cycle in are called 'cleats' and they mean that you are attached to your bike. They are very useful on long open roads, since you can pull up on the pedals as well as pushing down, but in towns they are a nightmare; if something jumps into your path you can't just put your foot down to steady yourself and falling off seems an inevitability. We walked over the tram lines (all 1000 of them) and eventually made it back to our hotel soaking wet and a bit grumpy (so of course I bit Alex's head off when he told me that he'd forgotten what room we were in which resulted in an examination of four floors). We drank lots of wine that night and pretended that we didn't have to do the same thing again the next morning. 

Tuesday

Another early start to allow time for another 75 miles. Knowing that since the town had been terrible to arrive into on Monday night during rush hour, we allowed plenty of time, since Tuesday morning rush hour probably meant more of the same. The weather was better this morning though and plenty of others had had the same idea; we left as a group of fifty or so and made our way out of Brussels. (My friend Ross was knocked off his bike by an angry Belgian driver who had no doubt had enough of the lycra wearing lunatics who had taken over his city but other than that we escaped relatively easily). 

At a service that morning, at a cemetery deep in the country side, we heard from one of the Band Of Brothers (the name given the 75,000+ Help For Heroes beneficiaries) who described with beautiful and brave honesty his battle with alcoholism and PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), it was both humbling and inspiring and reminded us why every single wet and windy mile was worth it. The rest of the day was perfect; windy but bright and the roads were flat. We passed the time with word association games and at the 65 mile mark we were allowed to stop in a brewery; a couple of ciders made the last ten miles almost easy.

Wednesday

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Thank God for another sunny day. We made our way out of Belgium (something that really couldn't have come soon enough as the place was definitely not made with cyclists in mind) and arrived in Holland (which by stark contrast is a cyclist paradise). Another very humbling day visiting cemeteries and remembering those who had fought so bravely for our freedom during Operation Market Garden, where my grandfather had fought and won his Victoria Cross, in 1944. The wind today was reaching speeds of up to 40mph and the act of staying upright on our bikes was becoming a real challenge. 74 miles later though and we were all safe and sound and in the Holiday Express in Eindhoven celebrating the wonderful Dutch. 

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Wednesday morning, by the way, is ALWAYS the hardest. Your bum is at peak bruising and your legs spend a lot of time asking you what the fuck you think you're doing making them do more work. When Wednesday is over, it is a great feeling, because you know that by day four you will be totally numb. 

Thursday

Here comes the rain. Famously, Thursday on the Big Battlefield Bike Ride is 'fancy dress day' and the theme this year was 'airborne'. In 2013 I made the mistake of taking dressing up very seriously indeed and ended up doing 85 miles dressed as a medieval wench; corset, bonnet and even two enormous fake hips. That had been the hardest cycling of my life and I was not going to make that mistake again so opted this year for a humble t-shirt. Others had a bit more fun with it and two of our members, both big blokes, riding a tandem, did it as fairies in charity shop dresses stuffed with false bosoms. Thank god for the laughter, it kept us warm. 

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People tell you that Holland is flat and they're not entirely telling the truth. Nijmagen is home to some hills and by 4pm we were soaking wet and making our way up them. At the top of one we heard another great sermon by the Pedalling Padre and remembered yet more of the brave men who had given their lives for our freedom. A combination of not enough food and the pouring rain started to get to a few of us by the point and I did the last seven miles with tears streaming down my face and my jaw chattering, I think that might have been the coldest that I have ever been. I've never got to a bar faster in my life.

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We spent the evening playing silly games and helping one of my best friend's Ross celebrate his 26th Birthday. He says he had a great birthday but I'm sure there were a few things that would have made it a bit better: dry socks for example, or maybe not having to do 65 miles on a bike. 

Friday

It's the last day and it's raining HARD. Since my mum was going to be honouring her dad today as we cycled to our finish line, the bridge at Arnhem, we thought we would do it as our team of twelve. The rain was so bad however, we literally could have been riding with anyone, not being able to hear each other over the sound of pounding rain or see each other through the dark. Thankfully by 9am it had eased and the sun was starting to make it's way through the clouds, the damage however was done and, soaked through, 200 of us squeezed tougher under a bridge for warmth. Desperate to enjoy our last day however we pinned our smiles on and continued. This was by far and away my favourite day.

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Following the route that 12,000 allied troops had followed 73 years ago had been an incredible experience and cycling the streets on which my grandfather had fought was an experience I will treasure forever. We had a truly moving service and my mum spoke beautifully about her father and the man behind the medal. By the time we reached the bridge and our finish line it was raining again but we didn't care, our week was over. 

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350+ miles cycled was coming to an end and there is no describing that feeling. As one team we cycled through the city and laughed and smiled and cried as the wonderful Help For Heroes support team cheered us in. We were thankful for the rain, after the week we'd had it wouldn't have been right to finish in the sunshine. 

We had dinner together that night, all 200 of us; we ate, we drank, we celebrated, we hugged and we learned that as a group we had raised over half a million pounds for this incredible charity. It's hard to complain about the pain in your legs when you've got a hero at the end of the table who completed the ride with no legs and only one arm. It's impossible to moan about your sore bum when you see a father pushing his son in his wheelchair up to the stage. You can't take this as a personal achievement when you look around the room and realise that what it was was a team effort.

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Nursing hangovers and stiff bodies, we made our way back to the UK yesterday and by 9pm I was asleep on the sofa with drool sliding down my chin. Although I'm happy to be home; I'd give an awful lot to do the same again. Because the Big Battlefield Bike Ride is an experience like no other. To take part in something so massive, so challenging, so humbling, is something that I feel very lucky to have done. I wouldn't change a thing, I wouldn't swap a minute of it. Even if I could have done, I wouldn't have even stopped the rain. Every single second of this week was a memory that I will treasure forever and was very lucky to live. 

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Sean Connery, star of the film A Bridge Too Far, which told the story of the Battle of Arnhem, once said: 'there is nothing like a challenge to bring out the best in a man' and he was right. Sitting at dinner on Friday night I was surrounded by the very best of 200 people who had done all done something extraordinary for the people that need it the most. I am incredibly proud to support Help For Heroes and am very grateful to them for bringing out the best in me this week. 

If you would like to donate anything you can do so here: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/emandalex

THE WORLD IS TOTALLY OBSESSED WITH INSTAGRAM, AND I'M BORED OF IT.

The world is totally obsessed with Instagram, and I'm bored of it. Not of the app. The app is bloody marvellous. Photography and being nosy are two of my all time favourite things; they literally invented Instagram for people like me. No, I'm not bored of the app, long may it reign over us. What I'm bored of is the world's obsession with it. It's driving me up the fucking wall.

Gone are the days of uploading every grainy photo you took at last night's party with a 'hipstamatic filter' and a dodgy border, that's like so 2012, we're over that now. We barely had a moment to enjoy it in it's infancy stages before it was conquered and exploited, monetised and manipulated into the influencer playground that it is today. For many people, the platform that we fell in love with all those years ago is now a full time job for and as such it must be taken seriously. For those making money on the site, or building a brand using Instagram as a tool, their pages are now well curated art-pieces that require time, effort and well, hard work. 

Even for those that just use it recreationally, the time spent thinking about what goes into an Instagram post is longer, I suspect, than most people would readily like to admit to. Despite most my friends being pretty cool and seemingly chilled people, I can't pretend I haven't noticed changes in their behaviour when Instagram is brought up. Teenagers readily admitting to deleting posts if they fail to secure more than 100 likes, couples talking quietly about the best hashtags to use on their images so as to accumulate more followers and the awkwardly transparent texts I receive from people who like really need me to send them that photo today so they can show their 400 followers that they looked 100% fuckable at the weekend are not rare occurrences, in fact, they're all too common.

I'm not exempt from this. I wish I was. I can hear the 'tragic-o-metre' in my mind rattlingly loudly between my ears whenever I vocalise any Insta-related concern I might be having, but it doesn't stop them from coming out. I can pass most of it off as work, I'm lucky like that, being a blogger and all, but it doesn't stop me from feeling like a twat; not least of all because I'm fairly shit at Instagram anyway. Not as shit at it as I was at Angry Birds, but nowhere near as good as I am at Candy Crush, just in case you were wondering. I can't get away from it though, it's not just a case of keeping the app closed, because to a certain extent Instagram is my job, or an extension of it at least. Not that I should be complaining, at least I'm not a teenager, for many of them, Instagram is their life. And this is not a patronising pondering of someone who remembered a time before applications even existed, this is concern from a woman who is watching the black hole that is Instagram suck us down a rather dubious path. 

On average the 700 million active users of Instagram 'like' 4.2 billion photos a day. That's a fuck-tonne of activity from a population who probably ought to be out earning a living or doing their homework. Knowing this as we do, it's hardly surprising that people feel a little hard done by when they only secure a handful of likes on a photo that they look amazing in. It's even more frustrating for people who are trying to make a living out of their Instagram accounts, they feel that this must be a personal attack. It's the classic: why does nobody care about me?!

For the average user, uploading photos to keep their friends up to date, and if we're honest, a little bit jealous, this isn't a massive problem. Of course we want to make sure that we look our best, show our exes that we're over them, make last night's party look much more fun than it was all the while giving off an air 'of I'm pretty fucking cool but the best thing about me is how ridiculously chilled I am' vibe, the other users are not the problem. The prime objective of the plot behind the post is to ensure that the people we already know see it, although we all dream of Insta-fame and endless likes, most of us will settle for a 'like' from a guy who's just let slip that they were stalking your profile.

But for the 15 million bloggers out there, there is a serious feeling of: it's not fair!!! right now, the cries are echoing around every channel I look at. We're hearing lots about the 'algorithm' (which I don't understand) and the fact that apparently Instagram is 'shadow-banning' (whatever the hell that is) people's accounts and causing them to lose followers. The 'flat-lays' that have always served these people well in the past are boring people and the 'content' that they have spent hours pre-planning and creating in a fool-proof manner are not accumulating anything like the likes that they deserve. My Twitter newsfeed is full of it: people are genuinely upset about this. And it's sort of fair enough, a girls' gotta eat. It's hard enough being a blogger in this day and age, pitching to brands to sponsor our Instagram posts when we're competing with women who had sex on Love Island and rose to Insta-fame overnight, without a flat-lay insight, without feeling that somehow Instagram is trying to fuck us up too.

The one thing I can't get away from though, whether in my personal life or my private one, is the conversations. The constant conversations that start and end with 'Instagram'. Friends of mine who are frantically looking for signal so that they can check to see 'how their post is doing' (a direct quote from a friend of mine at a festival last weekend), girls who are unashamedly posing for hundreds of photos in the hope of getting one good enough to be uploaded onto this platform, and then the grown women everywhere who are taking the fact that they are being unfollowed seriously to heart. 

It's got to stop. The reason that Instagram was so fabulous in the beginning was because it was fun, it was a breath of fresh air. There are no political rants or homophobic messages, as we so much of on Twitter and we are spared the passive aggressive 'now I know who my true friends are' status' on Facebook that we have become accustomed to. Instagram is a snapshot into a person's day, it's inspiration, it's laugh out loud, it's motivating, inspiring, pretty. And then the minute it stops being any of those things you have the greatest gift of all: the power to unfollow the person responsible for making you feel anything less than what you want to feel. 

The hardest lesson that any creator can learn is that not everyone is going to like their stuff. For artists that is an easy enough lesson to learn, since they learn it early and know it's coming. For the rest of the world it perhaps comes as a shock, not least of all because most people don't even realise that they are creators at all. But whether you realise it or not, you have created something with your Instagram profile and now you need to work out what you want to do with it. You can work at it, using it like a portfolio and see how far it takes you down a career path or you can accept that it's private, a representation of your life and not the business of everyone else. What you need to stop doing though, is worrying about it. Because it is boring. And Instagram isn't supposed to be boring. There isn't supposed to be pressure. It isn't supposed to be stressful.

I am one flat-lay away from throwing my phone out the window most days. Whilst I tip my hat to any woman who can take such a perfect photo of a lipstick without getting her shadow in the image, there are only so many that I need to see in a day. I don't unfollow people, that's not really in my nature, but I can't blame people for doing it, and nor should you. It's not a personal attack and it's not the world's way of telling you that your blog is shit or that you are ugly and unloved, it is nothing. A number on a screen.

Assuming your Instagram account is not your business and it is purely personal, ask yourself this; what is this hashtag going to achieve? More people will see my photos. Maybe more of them will like them. Maybe more will follow me. BUT THEN WHAT? More followers, more likes?! Who gives a fuck? It doesn't matter. It's not real. It's not FUN. And if it's not fun anymore then I really don't understand the point, of anything really. For Godssake. Just try to have some bloody fun. 

I'M SCARED TO WALK MY DOG

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I find walking my dog absolutely terrifying. There is very little in this life that makes me happier than making Bua happy and yet some days that takes all the strength I've got. What if she runs away and onto the road and I never see her again? What if she gets attacked and killed right in front of me? Worse still, what if she turns into a savage and kills another dog while I watch and then the police arrive and have to take her away from me and put her down? These fears consume me.

It hasn't always been like this. When she was a small puppy, and arguably at her most vulnerable, we would be outside all the time; I would encourage her to play with as many other dogs as possible and I'd be really disappointed if I went into the park and we were the only ones there. These days things are somewhat different. Other dogs come near us and I run away with her. If there is a big group of dogs all playing together I'll hide round the corner praying that they don't notice each other. Sometimes I'll arrive only to turn round and take her straight home again.

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It kills me to be like this, not least of all because I am all too aware that this is so unfair for her. Although she isn't actually particularly bothered by other dogs when we are in the park, too distracted by her ball, I know that what I'm doing isn't in her best interest. In my heart of hearts I trust her not to run away and her lack of interest in other dogs makes it extremely unlikely that one would attack her. I also know that Bua wouldn't say boo to a goose; she would never attack another dog. I KNOW all of this. I KNOW I'm not being fair. I KNOW that by being neurotic all I am doing is projecting that onto her. I know it, but I can't stop it. 

This is one of the ways in which my anxiety presents itself. 

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I can generally gauge the state of my mental health by how easy I find it to walk Bua. If I am able to take my audiobook out and sit in the middle of the park playing without having to stand up in a panic when another dog comes towards us or rush her home after five minutes because the park is full then I know that I am doing okay. Recently I haven't been okay. Our walks have been short and my panic has been crippling. What if... what if.... what if?????

What Em? What's going to happen? Seriously. She's fine. Just breathe. BREATHE. 

I can't. I'm scared. I'm really really scared. 

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In lots of ways dogs are very very good for people suffering with anxiety, or a mental health issue of any kind really. They are company, something that as a self employed person I crave. She is also my reason for leaving the house on days when I don't think I can face it. She gets me out and gets me moving, she keeps me living on the days when my bed seems like the safest place. In lots of ways she keeps me well. 

And it's not that walking her makes me ill, it's that walking her makes me realise that I already am. 

People don't understand it. Why would they?

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"She's such a good dog!" "Stop worrying, she's fine!!" "What's wrong with you? They're just playing?!" "Oh for Godssake Em, she's a dog, it's what they do" "Animals can sense your stress you know, you need to relax." 

These aren't nasty comments from people who mean to insult me. These are comments from people who don't understand. Who can't understand. Because anxiety doesn't make sense, not even to the sufferer. If I knew WHY I felt like this, I would do everything that I could to prevent it. I don't like living like this. I love walking my dog, I genuinely love it, I just find it so hard. 

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And I hate that. I hate myself for it. I hate the knot in my stomach. I hate that it doesn't make sense. I hate I'm doing this to her. I hate that people don't understand it. I hate that I don't have more faith in her or in myself. I hate my brain for doing this to me. I hate the woman who suggested to me that I was doing Bua a disservice by being neurotic around her because I wouldn't let her play with this woman's yappy little west highland terrier (what if Bua just snapped and decided to EAT it?!). I hate that that doesn't make sense and I cannot explain it.

But that's anxiety really. It's unexplainable, at least for the sufferer. I'm sure there are all too many experts out there who are just desperate to tell me why I feel like this, and I'm sure that one day I will want to listen. But for now it is just a part of me that I don't like, that I cannot explain. Anxiety is unexplainable and it is often unjustified and unfair. 

It's a small thing really, being frightened to walk my dog. It is not the end of the world. But it makes me sad, because it is something that I want to enjoy, and more than that, it's something that I want to be able to explain. I don't want to put my hands over my head and look away when another dog walks towards us. I don't want to irrationally play every worst case scenario in my head every time I unclip Bua's lead. I don't want to spend time worrying about things that won't happen when I could be enjoying time with my friends or my dog or even myself. What I want is to be normal, rather than reminded every time Bua needs a wee that my mind is letting me down.

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But that's just the way it is for me, that's just the way I'm wired. I'm not saying that I'm never going to get over this, I am sure that I will. When I am settled and happy walking Bua is one of the things that gives me the most joy, it is the reason I love and need her and in time I know I'll work this out. This has been a chaotic summer for me and as long as things are up in the air in my life, as long as I am out of my routine, I know, as an anxiety sufferer, that I can't expect to find things easy, and I'd be a fool to hope for anything else. I also know though, that I'll be alright in the end.

I just wish I could explain it. Not just to someone reading this with no concept of this particular mental plight, or even to my friends and family who can't stop their eyes from rolling to the sky when I begin to panic the minute Bua sets off in the direction of a squirrel, but really, to myself. I wish there was rationale, I wish I understood it. 

In the meantime though, I will settle for talking about it. Because these are the things that we need to talk about. It may seem trivial, but to me, it is important. And so just in case there is someone else out there who fears the big green spaces in London as much as I do, I'm prepared to talk about it. For the coming months I intend on being more open about anxiety and the fears that live inside of me, in the hope that maybe one person out there might read it and think: oh thank fuck for that, I'm not alone in my crazy. 

AS LONG AS WE CONTINUE TO SLUT SHAME, WE CAN NEVER BE EQUAL.

For as long as I can remember, I have lived in a slut shaming culture. I'm not proud to admit it, but at times I've noticed myself being part of the problem. It happens quietly, subtly, but regularly in my own mind: I'm a product of the society that I have grown up in and looking around, I realise that enough is enough.

The other day I found myself watching the Jeremy Kyle show (no judgement please, I was interviewed for Lorraine and JK popped up just after) and as so often happens with shows like this, I was hooked from the off. The conundrum that Jezza had to deal with was a DNA test. A woman had come on, a mother, who was asking the man that she was 99% sure was the father to be more present in her child's life. He had found out when she was pregnant that she had slept with someone else within a two week period of having slept with him. Well, you should have heard the audience react: they couldn't believe it. How very DARE she?!

She knew that the baby was his. He probably did too, deep down. And of course when the results came in, it was confirmed: he was the dad. It should have been a happy ending, had it not been for the fact that because of this 'revelation', her name was tarnished, worse than it was anyway for appearing on the Jeremy Kyle show in the first place of course. She slept with two men in two weeks: she's a slut. 

This is not a new notion, for as long as I can remember, the double standards surrounding this issue have been rife. When I was at my junior school I remember a photo of a boy's 'bits' shared around the school and, apart from a few titters from my friends and I as we goggled at it on the tiny screens of our Motorola flip-phones at the back of the classroom, nothing was really said about it. If anything, he was praised. Around the same time a video of a girl in the year above me masturbating (clearly meant for her boyfriend) did the rounds and the reaction was enormous; she was judged, heavily and ostracised, totally. 

The boys would have competitions at the parties: 'who could snog the most girls?' and lad points were awarded left right and centre. Some of them would manage to kiss as many as twenty girls in one night and yet that one time I kissed two boys in the same evening? I didn't hear the end of it for months.

For as long as I can remember 'slut shaming' has been a massive part of our culture, of my life, and since as I'm as guilty of it as the next girl, I think I am within my rights to say: enough is enough now. 

It's only got worse as we have got older. Since kissing turned to shagging and grainy phone photos turned into revenge porn and sex tapes, we've found ourselves in a whole world of trouble. 

My male friends are shagging like it is their sole responsibility to continue the human race and that has never been a problem. We roll our eyes, but we don't say anything, we don't even really think anything. But recently I have noticed that a few of my girl friends have been following their example and enjoying regular, casual sex. For a while it was great to see: my girls shaking off their shackles and unashamedly enjoying sex, until of course, their behaviour was identified as anything other than fun, it was becoming a 'pattern', and that's when it becomes a 'problem'. 

The thing that comes up time and time again are their reputations. As if they were ever our problems anyway. They're talked about in hushed tones and plans are made, conversations are had, interventions are staged. We do anything we can to stop our girl friends from damaging their reputations, all the while laughing, mocking, blissfully ignoring the same behaviour when exhibited in our male friends. 

I cannot take the double standards. I'm bored of it. I'm tired of it. I've had enough of it.

Because sex is one of the most natural things in the world and sexuality is one of the most beautiful. And the fact that women are still made to feel embarrassed about it is ridiculous. This stigma attached to sex is affecting us all. It affects the way we perceive sex. it affects the way we have it. It affects our confidence, our thoughts and our attitudes, whether we realise it or not. 

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'No I can't wear that, people will think I'm easy...' 'I can't get with him, I snogged his brother six years ago and it wouldn't really be fair...' 'I will wait until the third date because you know what they say about girls who put out on the first night...' Of course we bloody know. We're the ones saying it. 

Slut shaming is happening on our watches and that is what annoys me the most about the whole thing. We don't just enable it, we enforce it. 

A few weeks ago I heard a story from a friend of mine: she really liked this guy and he knew, he clearly chose to ignore this information. At a party he had sex with two of her friends, in the same night. I couldn't catch myself before I heard the words falling out of my mouth: 'do these girls have no self respect?!' I was livid with them. I judged them. I went so far as to question everything about them. Meanwhile the man, who had spent the evening bed hopping and breaking hearts in the process, walked away totally judgement free. He's just the lad that shagged two girls in one night. What a hero eh?! 

Despite my carefree nature and my overwhelming feminist beliefs, I was all too quick to question the behaviour of two women I didn't know, all the while ignoring the man who was just as guilty. Maybe it's because I spend so long encouraging girls to support one another, the idea that women could do this to their friends was the thing that shocked me. Or maybe I'm just not used to women enjoying sex as freely as men. Maybe it's both. 

This might be bad example, since feelings have been brought into it. But I won't need to think for long before another one pops up. These things pop up all the time. And it's not okay. It's not okay that women are punished for sex and judged for sex. It's one of the biggest problems women are facing, it's one of the remaining great injustices. 

We can do something about this. And we must. 

It is our responsibility. This needs to change. It needs to end. And we need to end it. 

We are so used to waiting, to protecting our reputations, to being cheated on, to saying sorry, to making excuses, to hiding ourselves, denying our wishes and being embarrassed that I worry that it's just too engrained in us: this moronic and ancient notion that we must 'do the right thing' and maintain a clean image whilst our male counterparts explore the many beds of the UK spearing their seed. But that is all it is: a notion.

Because in reality, we can do anything that we damn well please. But that perception will only change when our own perceptions change. When we, as women, as mothers and as friends, stop raising our eyebrows. When we stop talking in whispers and planning interventions. It's more than simply shagging who we want, it's being who we want. It's the promise that we can live judgement free, that we can do what the men do: it's the right to be equal. 

LEARNING THAT I AM ENOUGH

How many times do you shy away from possibilities? How often do you bite your tongue for fear of sounding stupid, or let an opportunity pass you by in case you embarrass yourself? How many things do you say no to because you are frightened to say yes?

So many times in our lives, even in our day to day, we make ourselves smaller so as not to upset anyone, do something that others might judge us for or embarrass ourselves. And I've had enough.

I've spent the last however many years ever so slightly ashamed of myself. At times, mostly throughout my teens, I was cripplingly self conscious about my body; I felt overweight and unattractive, awkward in my own skin. I was also embarrassed of my brain (can you imagine such a thing?) I was nervous to speak out, to be true to myself or go out and get what I wanted for fear that other people would look at me and think me to be stupid or ignorant. I was terrified, truly terrified at the idea of making a fool of myself. 

Perhaps it was growing up. Perhaps it was leaving school and finding people who actually loved me and let me feel like myself around them, but I seem to have grown out of my 'downer mode', in that now I love my body, actually love it, and adore my brain. I'm passionate about so much and have finally learnt how to vocalise it, I no longer bite my tongue and am not scared of my own opinions.

At some point I made the decision that I am enough.

And that decision was liberating, in so many ways. 

The negative thoughts didn't stop. The overwhelming urge to squish myself into a box or cower away from an inflammatory conversation didn't go away. The anxiety that eats away at me didn't leave. But I made a decision. I made the decision to be happy with who I was and to use the negative thoughts as an incentive, an incentive to do better, to make myself proud. 

It's not a decision that I can make every day. Confidence doesn't just happen. But confidence is something that comes with practise. It's something that comes with time. It's something that you have to fight for. 

So prepare yourself for a fight.

A fight worth fighting.

See this as a challenge. Make self-acceptance and self love the goal. Fuck the gym, fuck the diet you've been thinking about, fuck hoovering under the bed. 

Let's create a challenge worth working for: let's teach ourselves to believe that we are enough. 

It starts with saying yes:

Yes, I'll do it.

Yes, I'll go after what I want.

Yes, I am enough.

If you would've told me five years ago that one day I would voluntarily upload photos of myself in a bikini onto the internet, I would have located a dead fish to whack you over the head with. 

I spent my entire life believing that being proud of your body was something that was only permitted if you sat down and didn't get stomach rolls or if your legs went up to your shoulders. I was the girl that couldn't wear a bikini, and if she did, covered her stomach with her hands at every moment.

I was the one that didn't breath out on holidays. I was the one that wouldn't have photos taken or stand next to skinnier people. 

How boring was I?

Do you know how easy it is to start loving yourself when you accept that that is OK? And do you know how good it feels when you do? 

I don't want to be boring anymore. I don't want to waste time hating myself and my body. The body that, coincidentally, allows me to live the most amazing life. The body that does incredible things for me every single day. I want to love it. I want to be happy with it. 

And it's about time I owned that: I AM WHO I AM. AND I AM ENOUGH.

We constantly feel the need to change. We feel that we are not good enough. We worry that people don't like us. Self doubt is laced in nearly everything that we do. Being a human can at times feel like you're on stage and that the world is staring at you, and judging you.

And you know what? Sometimes, they are.

But it's up to you to decide what you are going to do with that. 

It's always up to you.

Are you going to spend your whole life feeling undeserving and embarrassed and guilty and self conscious and judged, or, are you going to realise that you are worth so much more than the opinion of people who either don't know you or don't get you. 

Why do I need to change myself to keep other people happy? Where have I got this crazy notion that I'm not good enough from? And what exactly is stopping me from doing exactly what I want to do? 

It's the fear of what other people might think. 

Other people. Who are these other people

"Those that care don't matter and those that matter don't care."

God I wish I'd heard that sooner. 

You come into this world on your own and ultimately you leave it alone too. That doesn't mean that you don't need other people and it doesn't mean that you should only ever look after yourself. No one man is an island. But it is worth remembering that as you live your life: you're the only one that can make the change. Every decision that you make needs to be made by you and for you. You have to look after number one. 

Don't allow self doubt to dull your sparkle. Don't put yourself down. Don't be the reason that you don't reach your full potential.

It's okay to be happy and it's okay to be proud of yourself. And it is imperative that you learn to accept that you are enough.

FESTIVALS: TOTALLY LOADED WITH EXPECTATION

‘Glastonbury is so amazing, you have to go’. 

A sentence that I repeat time and time again to friends looking for a good time in June. I tell them great tales of how I met my boyfriend there seven years ago, of the atmosphere and of the incredible performances put on by the likes of Ed Sheeran. I tell them that I have the best weekends ever there and I’m not lying. 

By the time I get home, wash away the dirt and spend a night in my own bed, the memories of trudging for hours through the mud, the constant dull ache in my feet, the time wasted looking for people miles away, unfindable due to a lack of signal and phones running out of battery too fast, the unimaginable queues, the disgusting loos and the fact that the place is so big I missed basically every artist that I went there to see, have ebbed away. 

I am left reminiscing over a weekend that I can only remember the highlights of, as if I am watching the BBC coverage of my own weekend. 

And it’s not just Glastonbury. This is an affliction affecting festival goers up and down the country. It's almost as if there is a Mystic Meg type creature waiting by the gates ready to brainwash you on the way out of every bad memory. Whenever anyone looks back at a festival, they do it with rose-tinted glasses on. This weekend I was at Wilderness Festival and haven’t wasted a moment in telling every single person I’ve seen since it ended how much fun it was. 

I had the best weekend ever

I arrived on Friday night having just returned from Mallorca. Whilst on the plane my dad had been admitted into hospital with pneumonia, which meant that from the minute I found out, I was left with a painful stab of guilt that I was about to embark on such a great time when I really should have jumped on the first plane back out there. Deciding that there was nothing I could do in that moment however, and after extensive backs and forths with various people, I booked a flight back to Palma on Monday and tried to make the most of the weekend. And like I say, it was really good fun. 

Friday night was great, except for the fact my mind was firmly on other things, we missed all of the music because we were so busy trying to find our friends, it absolutely pissed it down with rain and, after a bit of a shit day, I was knackered and ready to go home by 10pm. 

When I think back on Saturday using the highlight reel that I have created for myself I think of the following things: covering myself in glitter, great shopping, a delicious sushi roll, so much dancing, a trip to the ‘valley’ (the ultimate afterparty held down by the lake), drinking with friends, meeting heart-throb Kit Harrington, watching some amazing acts on the main stage (can’t remember who), great outfits, great people, great fun. 

When I really think back to Saturday, the memories differ somewhat: the £6 tequila shot that I had out of the paper cup made me want to be sick. The ‘valley’ that was horrible since I wasn't on drugs and was freezing and sober after an hour in a queue with no idea how to dance to music with no lyrics. The stupid argument that I had with Alex because I wouldn't do up my coat, the hour long walk back to the taxi rank made my feet hurt and the feeling that, as I sat, shaking with cold, seven miles away from home and taxi-less, all I wanted to be was at home. 

Sunday was great, it was. But it’s all too easy to remember how tired I was and how, not long after Grace Jones started the closing set, all I really wanted to do was give up on the weekend. Not because she wasn't great and not because I wasn't having fun, but slightly because I was getting bored of trying. 

Of course, the good times did outweigh the bad. It was fun and it was funny. Watching Alex slip over in the mud was hysterical, playing a drunken game of Odds-On, which saw us all partake in ridiculous dares was wonderful. Crouching down with a crowd of total strangers dressed as lampshades as we danced to Fat Boy Slim’s music so that we could rise like a wave when the beat dropped was an experience I’ll treasure. The photos tell me it was fun, my friends tell me that it was fun and so do my memories.

But the trouble is, as with lots of things in life, it’s often hard to appreciate the good stuff, until it’s over.

The good news is that, at least where festivals are concerned, I know how it works now. I know that when I look back on the experience, even hours later, that I will remember nothing but the good times. I know that no matter how many festivals I go to, that this is a once in a lifetime experience, (because really, everything in life is), and I know I really need to make the most of it. 

But I also know that I shouldn't ‘force’ the fun. That by very nature of standing in the middle of a field, surrounded by men so drunk they can’t stand up and women with nothing but glitter covering their nipples, with my friends, in the sunshine, that I am having fun. This is what fun is. This is what we’re here for.

The thing is, and the lesson that I've learnt is this: nothing, and I mean nothing, can match up to your expectations of a good time. A festival is a case in point. You imagine yourself floating around, un-judged by the masses as you skip through the crowds in a skirt so short there is no other time you could realistically get away with it, as full of energy as if you had a Duracell charging pack on your back and drinking in the experiences as you feel that you should. 

The minute it starts to rain or you end up resenting one of your friends for getting too drunk *again*, you lose your phone and find a hole in your wellies, you feel that you’re not just letting yourself down, but you're letting festivals everywhere down too.

Must. Have. Fun.

Those are the rules. 

But good times, fun, can’t be forced. The good times just happen, often when you are not looking. 

Arriving at that festival on Friday night after a pretty shitty day, I was dreading the fact that I was going to need to have fun. I was angry that it wasn’t acceptable for me to just curl up in a ball and keep to myself, or duck out early like I would have done if it was a regular party. People expect you to have fun at a festival and you feel like the Negative-Norah of the group if you’re the one who can't fathom the energy to bob up and down on the spot for hours in the cold ‘dancing’ to music that you don’t know and that hasn’t got any words.

I don’t like my fun to be organised. I’ve always said that, about everything really. And I suppose a festival really is the definition of organised fun, along with New Year's Eve of course. They come loaded with expectation: the expectation that you’re going to make memories that will last a life time and have more fun than you could possibly have anywhere else. And that might be true, but you’d do well to forget that for the entire time that you are there. That way, when, the bad stuff happens: the stuff that happens every single day in every other area of our lives, we don’t feel that every ounce of fun is ruined.  

You need to remove the expectation from it all. The minute any pressure is applied to a situation, the fun is gone. If you’re constantly looking round the corner for the next laugh and the best Insta-shot, you’ll ruin any chances you had of a good night and you’ll be left, your own worst enemy: wondering why the world is having more fun than you.

Festivals are great.

It's the expectation that's too high.

TIREDNESS KILLS. BUT ONLY IF YOU LET IT.

Daily I find myself complaining about how tired I am. I use it as an apology, perhaps when I feel that I am lacking enthusiasm for something that others had expected me to jump at. As an excuse, when I want to get out of something or avoid a task. As a mask to disguise other things going on, as a way of making me appear more busy or hardworking than I actually am and sometimes I just say it, and in doing so, I become it. And I'm not alone. From where I am sitting, everyone it seems is tired, all of the time.

My mum always told me that yawning was rude. While at school some of my smarter friends would tell me that yawning was a natural thing, totally out of our control that saw our brains,  starved of oxygen, use it as a strategy to wake us up, increase our heart rate and our blood pressure. I would tell my mum this, time and time again: 'it may be rude, but it's the only thing keeping me alive right now.' I exaggerated a bit I think, but the scientific element of it interested me. There have been numerous tests and theories done on yawning. The physiological need for it and more interestingly still, the social element. The fact that yawning is contagious is something that has fascinated scientists for years. It also the reason, I suspect, that so many of us find ourselves complaining about tiredness when surrounded by a group of less than enthusiastic people, despite the fact we've got a solid nine hour sleep under our belts and are three coffees into a pretty promising Wednesday afternoon. 

I have been lead to believe that one of the theories on yawning and it's contagious nature, is that we do it out of empathy, even on a sub-conscious level; if we see another person, or even one of our pets, arching into a yawn, we often unknowingly find ourselves doing the same thing as an empathic reaction. It's been suggested that we are most likely to 'catch' a yawn from someone that we love, a member of our family maybe, and that interestingly psychopaths are normally exempt from the curse of the contagious yawn, something to do with their lack of empathy. (So are babies by the way, but only because a person only develops empathy aged about four, not because babies are psychopaths.)

So basically, what that boils down to is: when people around you are tired, you find yourself tired too, both on a subconscious level and on a real life one. It's the drains and radiators theory. If you surround yourself by drains, the tired people, you will soon feel zapped of energy. If you surround yourself by radiators? You know the rest... But what are you supposed to do when everyone around you is tired? Or at least telling you that they are. 

I'm currently on holiday in Majorca, surrounded by a collection of people, all differing in ages and jobs and stages of life, and despite our differences, the cry that echoes time and time again is the one that we can all relate to: "I'm just so tired." The irony of hearing it, or indeed saying it, after a lazy morning spent rolling between a sun lounger and a pool has not escaped me. But after the seventh hundredth yawn, followed by the all too familiar sheepish excuse, I have found myself wondering how on earth we are getting away with this. This is a complaint we're seemingly just pulling out of our arses that we haven't got the right to use, not in front of this back drop anyway. I'm also trying to work out if we're being rude in our exploitation of an excuse that I'm not sure we deserve. 

It's unsurprising that everyone is tired on holiday. Not only are you giving your body a chance to relax for the first time in God knows how long, a combination of long hot days and actually doing nothing, totally has the power to knock you out. Doing nothing IS tiring. But it can be bloody annoying on holiday, not just to be and feel tired, but to be forced into it by the people around you, not least of all because with only 21 days off a year, most of us really don't want to waste the whole thing yawning and then sleeping. 

It's also unsurprising that everyone is tired at home. The seven-o-clock alarm every morning, something that our teenage brains found to be an unfathomable concept become a daily reality for us; there's money to make, kids to feed and life to get on with. Made all the harder with our ever later bed times, resulting mostly from a love to socialise, an enjoyment for drinking and too much to choose from on Netflix. 

And then there is the mental health side of things. Life is pretty exhausting and not just because of the summer weather that we dream of in the depth of winter and the alarm that we curse every morning. The stress of work, the toil of heartbreak and the exhausting nature of mental health conditions bring on a new wave of fatigue and for many of us, a cloud can hang above us for years, making even the brightest of days dark and the most exciting of tasks mundane and a struggle.

It seems impossible to escape tiredness. As humans we start tired and we end tired. As children we adamantly tell our parents, through exhausted tears, that we're JUST NOT TIRED in a desperate bid to convince them to leave the television on for another half an hour. As adults however we tell anyone that will listen quite how tired we are. We're just so tired. And we need to tell people about it. To justify ourselves really, and everything that we do. 

But being tired is, in itself, tiring. Which complicates the situation further, as you become a drain in your own brain. (The rhyming there was not intentional). If you tell everybody that you meet in a day just how tired you are, and reiterate to yourself one hundred times a day that your yawns are the only thing keeping you alive, you'll be exhausted by lunchtime. 

When you're driving down the motorway in the UK you often see signs reading 'TIREDNESS KILLS'. They're not wrong. Tiredness causes car crashes. But it kills other things too. A zest for life, enthusiasm, excitement, conversation, dreams, hope, plans, parties. Tiredness really is a bugger. And it's something that we can't get away from. We're all so bloody tired. 

And you know what? I think it might be time that we shut up about it. Seemingly our energy levels are something fairly out of our control, or so we say when we don't want to admit to too many late nights, not enough vegetables and a general boredom with our every day existence. So much like we get angry at traffic, the weather and politics, we complain that we are tired. Fitting it into the ready made bank of annoying things that we can't do anything about. But I think it's time to do a little reshuffle, at least of our perception. We need to make a decision. We need to decide if there is something that we can do about our energy levels, in which case, we need to do it. Or we need to work out if we can't, in which case, much like with traffic, the weather and politics we ought to accept that since there really is nothing that we can do about it, isn't it best to just crack on?

Tiredness can be, in a lot of instances, a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you drag yourself into the office in the morning bleary eyed and moaning you will become what you said you would before you were. And once that pattern starts to form, it's a bastard to escape from. Tiredness is often all-ecompasing and depressing and a very real affliction. And then sometimes tiredness is just something we tell ourselves when we can't be bothered to be excited, and isn't that such a waste? Pour another cup of coffee, turn the music up and remind yourself that life is what you make it. Don't feed the beast and make it powerful enough to kill the good things around you, instead, wake up in the morning and leave it in your bed, leave it behind and allow your brain to get on with enjoying your life. 

23 THINGS IN 23 YEARS

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On Friday I turned 23 and, since I'm currently older and wiser than I have been at any other point of my life thus far, I thought that now was as good a time as any of share 23 of the life lessons that I have learned over my 23 years on this planet... 

1) Don't waste time being unhappy.

This is easier said than done, but normally, where happiness is concerned, there is a choice. There is always a silver lining and always something to smile about. Look for the silver lining and find that thing that will make you smile. Wherever possible, find it. Be happy. 

2) Love your own company.

Having always been a needy person I never thought I would be happy on my own, even for a minute. But learning to spend evenings, days, even weeks on your own and not just get through them, but enjoy them; being totally happy alone, is one of the most important lessons.

3) Moisturise.

You have one skin to get you through your life, take care of it. Don't neglect it.

4) Say yes to nearly everything.

Don't be scared, follow your heart and jump right in. Regret is not something you want to have when you get old and if that means sacrificing a night on the sofa to go to a scary party, or on a holiday you can't *really* afford, then do it.

5) It's okay to say no sometimes too.

A little contradictory maybe BUT sticking to your guns and putting your foot down is important too. If something doesn't sit right with you, it's okay to turn it down. 

6) Work in a job that you love.

Do what you love and you'll never work a day in your life, that's what they say. It's not that easy, it is a risk, but it is important to love what you do. SO important that you don't dread your Monday morning and spend your life doing something that you hate. Don't settle for a job that you don't adore.

7) The worst thing that anyone can do is say no.

Don't be afraid to ask for what you want. At the end of the day, the worst thing that can happen is a person says no. It is just a word, don't be scared of it. 

8) Exercise can be fun.

Yes, a few years ago I would not have believe it either, but it can be. It's rewarding, it's empowering and it's so good for you. Both your mind and your body will benefit time and time again. Push yourself and learn to love it.

9) Slow down.

Not everything can be done at break-neck speed, stop from time to time and slow down. Smell the flowers, cancel your plans, walk places, actually see the things around you. Chill. 

10) Create a space you love.

If you can't turn your house into an interiors catalogue for a lack of either time or money, then try to fall in love with at least one room. Candles, flowers, art you love. Create a space that is all yours and enjoy it, breathe in it, relax in it. 

11) Eat breakfast.

We are told that it is the most important meal of the day by the powers that be and they are right. It's important to set yourself up for the day, it's good for your body and if done right it is delicious. Eat breakfast.

12) Your friends are so important.

Friends are the most important thing in the world. The people who love you will grow with you and, if you will let them, make you into a better person. Never take them for granted and love them with all of your heart.

13) You only get one family.

Your family can drive you up the bloody wall and disappoint you in ways you did not think possible, but through it all they are the ones you have and you don't want to live life with regrets. Love them, treasure them.

14) It is never too late.

To fix something, to try something new or to make something right or change your mind. There is always time, you just need to make it. 

15) Don't fear change.

Things change. You never end up where you thought you would and basically nothing ever goes to plan. Don't be afraid of that, learn to roll with it. More often than not, change is really really good, if you can just give it a chance.

16) Wear what you want. 

Fashion, and more specifically clothes, are a part of your identity. Don't feel that you shouldn't wear something just because it's not 'flattering', it's different to what your friends are doing or it's too bright, dark or short. Wear what you want and, quite frankly, fuck the haters.

17) Life is too short to hate your body.

Obsessing over your waist size, weight or cellulite is a horrible waste of time. It will always be what is on the inside that counts and, to the people that matter, your weight is irrelevant. In the grand scheme of life, it is just so unimportant, love what you have and embrace your beautiful body. 

18) Never give up.

If it's something worth fighting for, then fight for it. Don't let your fear prevent you from chasing your dreams and don't let doubt stop you from having what you want.

19) Fake it 'til you make it. 

If you don't think that you can do something then you can at least pretend that you can. It's hard to be confident but much easier to pretend that you are. In life, sometimes that best thing that you can do is fake it. 

20) It's okay not to be okay. 

No one is okay all the time and that is nothing to be ashamed of. Admitting that you are struggling is not only important and brave, it is critical to a happy life. You can't be alright all the time and there is no shame in that.

21) You're stronger than you think.

When you're going through hell, keep going. You can do this. You might be tired and broken, but you are here and you are strong. So much stronger than you ever thought you would be.

22) Be kind.

Always. Kindness is the most beautiful and important thing. Don't underestimate it or lose sight of it. To strangers, to your friends, and most importantly to yourself, be kind.

23) Love unconditionally. 

To be in love is beautiful and to open up and love with all of your heart is brave. Love is what keeps the world going around, it is magical, it is life affirming and without it we would be nothing. No man is an island, nor is any dog, fish or indeed woman. We need people and we can't do it alone, let them in. Love people, trust people, adore people, with all of your heart. 

BOOK PUBLICATION: THE HIGHS AND THE UNEXPECTED LOWS

This week has been insane. On Thursday my first book: Can I Speak To Someone In Charge? was published (I will shut up about it at some point) and I don't even know what to do with myself. This book has been everything to me for the last two years. It's been a huge labour of love and I cannot believe that after all of this time, it is done. It's out there. My secrets, my heart and soul laid bare for all to see.

(Just because people keep asking, the jumpsuit is from Asos and you can get it HERE!)

For the last four weeks especially, this project has been at the forefront of everything that I have done. There has been a countdown on the kitchen wall, it's been the focus of every conversation I've had with basically everyone I have met or seen and as for my working life? I have been pretty much incapable of doing anything else. 

The last two weeks in particular have been mad. My first chapter was published in The Daily Mail's You Magazine, another one was published in The Sun, I even made the front cover of The Times Magazine last Saturday alongside an interview that I did with them. I never expected anything like this, not even close and I haven't really known which way to turn. 

There has been a lot of love and support and for that I will always be incredibly grateful. People sending me photos of the book, telling me that they have pre-ordered, finding the blog and connecting with it, taking something from it. I cry, a LOT about this, the kindness and support, it means so much to me. There has also, obviously, been a lot of hate, 'cos, you know, it's 2017 and that's how the world works. For years I have been running this blog and during that time I have done my very best not to shout about my surname. It never really seemed relevant to my project, being the daughter of a motoring journalist, but obviously now the secret is out. A lot of people didn't care, a lot of people have shown their support and then lots and lots of people are really really pissed off with my career choice.

I don't need to explain it here, I don't want to give people the satisfaction but you know the drill by now 'nepotism got me there', 'I'm totally talentless', 'I've never worked a day in my life'. Some of it has been much nastier but mostly the consensus amongst certain comment sections was that there was no way that I would have got a book deal if it had not been for my name. That hurts, if I'm honest, because of course that is a worry that I have carried with me for my whole life. Maybe I wouldn't. But there is no way for me to know that now. I'm trying to help people, with this blog and this book, I can't imagine doing anything else. I've been working in a fireplace shop to fund it, it's been so weird but I am so in love with my job that I couldn't imagine doing anything else. I would have done pretty much anything if it meant that I would be able to run Pretty Normal Me. I worry a lot that people are going to assume that I've taken the 'easy path' but I suppose we all know that they say about people who assume. 

So back to this time last week. It was mad. I had just seen myself on the cover of The Times Magazine and I was packing a bag to run away with, it wasn't that it was too much, it was amazing, I was just starting to become a little overwhelmed and had basically stopped sleeping.  I wrote about this last week, the fact that I ran away. I'm really really pleased I did it. It was just for a couple of days and it meant that when I got home on Tuesday night (after a ten hour drive), I was filled with so much positive energy. I was so excited to be back and found myself so grateful to be home and ready for the madness that was about to ensue. 

I don't ever really remember what I did on Wednesday, although I know I definitely drank too much wine that night because Thursday morning, the biggest day of my career, started with a headache, two aspirin, three coffees and more water than you can imagine. The day was great, despite the hangover, people on Twitter were being so lovely and I basically just glued myself to my phone. My friend Omey took me out to lunch (where she poured a glass of water of her brand new and just signed book!) and then the afternoon flew by.

Before I knew it I was in a cab on the way to my launch and was so nervous that I thought if I opened my mouth I would throw up. Why? Fuck knows. As Omey pointed out, I'd done all the hard work now and THIS was the easy bit, but it didn't really feel like that. My hands were shaking, I couldn't face talking, this is what I had been waiting for, working for. 

Unsurprisingly my nerves ebbed away when I got there and realised that I wasn't the only person who was going to show up. I gave a little speech, which was terrifying, signed some books, which was totally surreal, and then headed to the pub and got very drunk with my friends, family and wonderful team. I fell into bed at 2am on cloud nine and then the weirdest thing happened.

I woke up at 7am the next day (yesterday) and I felt SO low. I've now decided to label it as my 'book comedown'. Despite the fact that the comments (that I was reading anyway) were overwhelmingly positive, the night had been amazing and I had fucking book out(!!!), for some reason yesterday I felt so flat. My anxious mind was not helped by my hangover and the fact that I had hardly slept at all and I basically couldn't bring myself to get out of bed.

What if this was it? What if this was as good as it got? What if no one read it? Or worse still, what if they read it and hated it? For years I have thought about nothing but this book and during that time I didn't spare a thought for what was going to happen afterwards. After it was published. I cried a bit, which made me angry with myself. I was also lonely but too consumed with it all to even get out of bed to do something about that. I actually just lay in bed and ate sushi watching Gilmore Girls and tried to make it look more glamorous for Instagram's sake...

Thankfully, after ten hours and several pep talks from friends and family I got up and left the house. I decided to leave London and go and stay with my mum for the weekend. Alex is in LA at the moment and I din't think I could do the whole weekend alone. The drive, as it turns out, was great. (I'd been scared about it all day because my brain is weird). I started thinking about the future, making plans and being excited again. I got home, had a good night's sleep and have woken this morning so excited for life again, for everything that is coming next. The next few days are going to be amazing, I've got a lot on and it's my birthday on Friday. 

I feel like I am supposed to feel again, happy, excited, positive. Yesterday knocked me for six and I didn't expect it, but I did want to talk about it. Because I think the comedown is quite normal, no matter how unexpected, and not just for authors, but for anyone the morning after a night that they have spent a long time planning; I suppose it's how a lot of people must feel the morning after their weddings, they know that they should be SO happy but for some reason they find themselves feeling a little bereft: it's all over.

Please don't assume for a minute that I am not so grateful and excited about this, I am, I really really am. It's beyond anything I ever thought possible and I cannot say thank you enough times. The fact that I am talking about the lows does not stem from anywhere bad, I only wanted to do it because I found it so fascinating.

The whole process has been such a rollercoaster, one that I am still riding, I'm not sure that I will ever really get off it. I'm sure that there will be times when it nose dives, like it did yesterday, but right now it is on the up again. Such is life eh?

I'm so lucky and I am so happy. To those of you who have read it/bought it already THANK YOU, your comments mean more to me than anything. 

IF IN DOUBT, RUN AWAY. (EVEN IF ONLY FOR A MINUTE...)

I’ve run away. Perhaps due to the fact that I never even attempted it as a child and feel that I’ve somehow been missing out on something, yesterday i gathered my best mate, my dog and a few spare pairs of pants, got in the car and headed north from London. 

My book, Can I Speak To Someone In Charge is coming out this week. I’ve been working on it for two years, it is everything to me, my heart and my soul laid bare for the world to see and after what seems like forever, and no time at all, it’s July and publication is imminent. As part of the madness i have been lucky enough to see my face in places that i never thought i would see it: namely on the front page of The Times newspaper yesterday. If i believed it to be real i think i’d be in shock, as it stands i’m in denial. There’s no way that yesterday was real. 

I’m not really running away. In that, i am coming back. And my phone is on and i did get it OK’d with my publishers before i left. I haven’t done a vanishing act, i’ll never be that cool or reckless. But i have run. And i am away. Because i think if i had done another day in my flat on my own, hanging in suspense, ominously twiddling my thumbs to pass the time of the calm before the storm, i think i would have gone insane. I’m so busy at the moment but i’m also at a loss for knowing what i should be doing with my time. I can’t write. I can’t really sleep. I can’t focus on things properly, constantly panicking that i should be doing something, anything, else.

There’s no guidebook for this process and no instruction manual. Part of me wants to carry on as normal but the rest of me is left wondering what the hell normal was in the first place. This isn’t helped by the fact that Alex has gone away this week. He’s had to go to LA for a couple of weeks with work and, because life isn’t fair, will be missing the launch. We’ve lived together for nearly four years and, as much as it saddens me to hear any woman admitting to needing a man, i’m not ashamed to admit that i find being apart from him difficult. Not least of all because the rest of my life is so NOT normal at the moment, not having him there to talk to in the evenings is strange as anything.

So i had to get out of the flat. Out of my own head really, away from the feeling of expectation that surrounded me at home. I’d wake up in the morning, get ready at lightening speed, wolf down my breakfast, take Bua out for a walk, make my way into my home office all before 9am. I’d sit down, open my laptop and then find myself wondering what the bloody hell i was meant to be doing. There’s plenty to do: when you run your own blog and are totally in charge of your own workload and income there is ALWAYS plenty to do, but my brain, my pesky brain, it hasn't let me focus on anything that isn’t the ticking time bomb. 

Now i am sitting beside the sea. i’m very very lucky that my mum has a house in the Isle of Man, the place that she is from and grew up. I grew up here too really. As a child we would spend a lot of time here visiting my grannie and in more recent years, since she died, we have taken every opportunity (school holiday at first and weekends now) to visit this wonderful place. I’ve had every birthday of my life out here, i’ve made some of my best memories here, i’m so happy here. It’s like nowhere else on earth, it’s always windy, always beautiful, both calm and wild, it’s home to me and I love it. So when i realised that i had three days before my next London based commitment and that my mum was out here on her own, i seized the opportunity for fresh air and booked the next ferry. It’s not even been 24 hours and already i feel like a new person. I can feel the knot in my stomach easing with every second that passes, a knot that i had started to think would never not be there. 

I know that this is the best time of my life. That i will look back at now so fondly, that i must drink it all in and be so careful not to miss a moment. But i am also so aware that i have been letting the world get on top of me. That the pressure i was putting on myself, well, the pressure in general, was going to get too much if i didn’t do something about it. And i didn’t want to burn out. It would have been all too easy to burn out. It can happen when you’re not really looking. 

You wake up every day and go to work and do your job and eat your lunch and travel home and cook some dinner and watch Love Island and call your mum and do your teeth and go to bed on Monday and then before you know it it’s seven months later and the routine hasn’t changed. Other than your television choices of course, because if Love Island went on for seven months of the year i think they would need to rename the ‘villa’ the ‘zoo’ and it would all be a bit weird. You're busy, all of the time. Even when you’re not busy, you’re so busy; that’s life these days. Because if you’re not busy then you should be and that in itself can be something that you can busy yourself worrying about with no trouble at all. And that is a hole of self-perpetuating hell that you need to get out of, even if just for a moment. Which is why i would suggest that you run away. Even if only for a minute. Even if it is just to the end of your garden. 

This is the best time of my life and i don't want anyone to think even for a minute that i am not incredibly grateful for every single minute of it. I am, i really, truly am. I’m more grateful than you will ever know. But I needed five minutes, literally just five, to gather my thoughts and work out what to do with myself. I still don't know, i don't think i will ever know, I don’t think anyone ever does. But thanks to a fabulously spontaneous decision on Friday i know that i will return to London on Tuesday with the enthusiasm that this time of my life deserves.  

THE MOST IMPRESSIVE DINNER PARTY I'VE EVER THROWN: RECIPES & INSPIRATION

Yesterday was Alex's 24th birthday and on Saturday night I threw him a surprise party to celebrate. Not only have I never pulled off a surprise in my life, I'm also not famed for my cooking (I once had a house full of people over for supper and didn't realise until 10pm, after the sound of stomachs rumbling could be heard four streets down, that I had forgotten to turn the stove on...).

So having 10 people over for dinner on Saturday, as a surprise in my own house no less, was no easy feat. But damn. I somehow pulled this one out my arse and was so proud of myself that I had to share my recipes with the world in a desperate bid to help anyone as hopeless as me make a culinary masterpiece. 

Not wanting to have to make everything whilst I had a house full, I needed to take the opportunity of Alex being at work on Friday to pre-prepare as much as I possibly could (and then borrow the fridge space of all of my local friends and ban Alex from visiting their houses...). This wouldn't have worked with a roast chicken (my normal party go-to) and I was loathed to do spag bol again (I do it all the time), so with my best friend Omey's help, we got to work on a collection of salads. (More interesting than they sound, I PROMISE you) catering for the 6 normal eaters, 3 veggies and of course me with my no gluten and no dairy requirements. 

Trust me, I know that thousands and thousands of vegetables thrown to gather in a plate don't look particularly exciting and they don't exactly scream Pretty Normal Me (Omey and I literally couldn't believe that these were the kind of people that we had grown up to be) BUT I promise you, this shit actually tastes good AND makes you look more impressive than you can imagine to a house full of people with complicated dietary requirements. 

So for anyone who a) wants to get way better at making healthy/summery food b) has a million people coming over for dinner and wants to show off c) doesn't really like salad but feels like they ought to, I got your back. 

So here's what I made and how I made it!

Raw Slaw

THIS. THIS. This is my pride and joy. Literally, the most impressive thing I have ever done, up to and including the book that is being published next week. It's heaven in a bowl. I originally made this after a friend made it for me, she had found the ingredients on the Daylesford website but made a couple of amendments. I don't love red onions or red peppers so I decided against those and I forgot the coriander but it was heavenly. The recipe is HERE and I really recommend it.

Stuffed Peppers

So I don't love peppers but I made these for my guests but they went down a treat and were super duper easy to make. We boiled some wild rice and mixed it in with a jar of pesto sauce and some chopped cherry tomatoes. We prepped those the day before and then popped them in the oven for about 20 minutes before the party and drizzled them with balsamic vinegar. 

Pesto Wild Rice 

To be frank, we made too much rice for the peppers so this is just the leftovers. Wild rice and pesto combined. Yum. yum. yum.

Minty Meatballs 

Easy breezy. Got myself some lamb mince which I mixed in a big bowl with an egg, some flour, some mint leaves, salt and pepper. I prepared these on the Friday and fried them on the Saturday night, they don't take long at all the dip is literally just mayonnaise mixed in with some more mint leaves (which considering it was easy, went down SO well.)

Summer Green Salad (with bavette steak as an added option for the meat-eaters!)

This was actually made by a veggie friend about an hour before the party. A friend of mine always makes a bavette steak salad which is heavenly and I wanted to copy her. This salad is literally just made up of leaves, (spinach, rocket etc etc) which some green beans and asparagus dressed in oil and lemon. The steaks were just fried on the night and were an additional option for people who weren't vegetarian. 

Sweet Potato Fries

Forgot to take a photo of these as they were the last thing out of the oven but they were super easy. I chopped them the day before and then just shoved them in the oven after covering them in oil and salt.

Vegan Chocolate Mousse

Not my recipe but golly I wish it was, I got this from the Hemsley and Hemsley recipe and I love love it. SO healthy and you genuinely wouldn't know that it was made with avocado and banana rather than sugar, cream and chocolate! Try the recipe HERE

Lemon Drizzle Cake

OK. I confess, I didn't make this. I roped in my baking wizard mate for a bit of help because we slightly bit off a bit more than we could chew with getting everything done during Alex's office hours! But it was delicious and pretty easy (at least Evie made it look that way...). We made it with dairy free butter and gluten free flour but otherwise the recipe was totally normal. 

250g butter, 250g flour, 250g caster sugar, 4 eggs and the juice of 1 lemons. (This was a double tiered cake so we doubled up and made two mixtures). The icing was made with icing sugar lemon juice and a splash of water. Mix the butter and sugar in a bowl and add the eggs, sieve in the flour and then mix in the lemons. Bake at 180 degrees until you can stick a fork in and pull it out without any goo on it. Leave to cool for a couple of hours and, like the title suggests, drizzle the icing on top and add the decorations. 

So there you have it! My first foodie article because, well, it was pretty much my first triumph with food! I hope you have taken some inspiration from it and will soon be wowing your pals left right and centre. Good luck! xxxx

PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEEEASE GET YOUR LEGS OUT.

June has been outrageously hot. The weather of the last week has been particularly scorching, with temperatures touching nearly 40 degrees in London on Wednesday. Despite the fact that I have complained about it, along with every other Brit alive, I sort of loved it. But in the same way that I find myself desperately worried about animals in thunder storms, I was unable to truly enjoy the heatwave, painfully aware that for so many it was so horrible. And I don't just mean for dogs and grass and pregnant ladies. 

The weekend before the one we just had, I was in Stafford watching my boyfriend do his half Ironman in the boiling heat and was surprised to find that my sympathies were not just with the athletes, putting themselves through hell in ridiculous temperatures. I found myself cripplingly sad to see how many of the spectators were really struggling. Struggling not just because there wasn't an ounce of shade around, but because of what they were wearing. Tights, leggings, jeans, cardigans, heavy maxi-skirts and jumpers. Women putting themselves through hell so as not to show their bodies.

I used to feel like this. My sister still does. As a teenager I would truly dread the holidays, properly frightened at the prospect of having to sow my body. Entire summers would go by and I would not part with my jeans. I'd look at everyone I knew in beautiful floating dresses and hate them and hate myself that I couldn't do what they did. I convinced myself that my legs were the worst thing in the world and would do anything to avoid getting them out. My sister tells me regularly how much she hates the summer. I haven't seen her this week to know how she got on in the sun but my money is on her having suffered through it in jeans. 

For anyone not exploding body confidence, the summer can be a truly horrendous time. In the winter we can hide everything; cellulite is a problem only for our mirrors to deal with, the fact that our razors are gathering dust is something that only we notice and our lack of any tan at all is totally normal, no one is glowing in February.

But then the sun appears and BAM. Overnight we are expected to banish our layers, boast a glorious sun-kissed complexion, have smooth, toned legs and have hundreds of adorable sundresses at the ready, or so the theory goes anyway. And that thought, that fear, that theory, is enough to leave us feeling totally inadequate, inferior and ultimately, too embarrassed to put our comfort first.

At this point we do one of two things:

i) Put our comfort first and begrudgingly wear the closest thing we have to anything summery. We reluctantly shave our legs and leave our houses utterly convinced that everyone is staring at us and spend the whole day paralysed with a self-conscious fear and find ourselves pulling our dresses down about ten times a minute.

ii) Opt to suffer. Ashamed of our arms/legs/stomachs we pretty much stick to our winter uniform, choosing sweat over exposure. It's still black and it still covers everything, with jeans and cardigans being the usual torture instrument. 

Guys do you remember how long the summer went on for last year? It remained crazy hot right the way up to September. If the trend continues, we've got another three months of this and I cannot bear the thought of people suffering because of something as trivial as an exposed leg. Don't get me wrong, I do NOT like getting my legs out. In fact, last summer was the first time that I ever really did. But I finally realised that nothing was worth the discomfort of battling 30 degrees in jeans. 

(I'm not saying that you have to sell your soul to the marketing gods to find body positivity but just so you know, there were three things really helped me: fake tan, I use St Moriz, I did a piece about it HERE, wearing different types of skirts that weren't all teeny tiny, piece about it HERE and I started epilating, surprise surprise, piece about it HERE).

Now, let me ask you this. When was the last time that you noticed a stranger's legs?

Despite the fact I have probably seen over 1000 legs in London over the last week, I don't think I could remember what a single one of them looked like, literally, not a one. 

I know that in your own head getting your legs out is the biggest deal in the world, but I remise you, I promise you, that to everyone else it is nothing. Not just 'not a big deal', it's literally nothing. Your legs are two out of fourteen billion legs in the whole wide world. Our being worried about them is about as necessary as a grain of sand worrying that it is one shade darker than the ones that surround it.

I PROMISE you, it will be okay. 

So please, for me, don't suffer through this summer drenched in self-consciousness. Eliminate your risk of passing out and get your legs out. They're beautiful, you're beautiful and after feeling a bit of a breeze between them, who knows, you might just start believing me...

GIRL POWER: WE'RE SO MUCH STRONGER WHEN WE STAND TOGETHER.

T-shirt: http://bit.ly/2sPuOKe
Trousers: http://bit.ly/2ssrS3M
Shoes: http://bit.ly/2sHgBP5

My worry for women's happiness, or the lack thereof, has often come from other women. Although *most* the time we are pretty good at building each other up and supporting one another, there are times when I can do nothing but look on in horror as I see women slag each other off or worse, beat each other down.

There is nowhere that you can see this more, to my mind, than online. Even before I started blogging and basically living on Twitter I had concerns. I'd notice at school how being a girl was being made so hard by OTHER girls: I'd witness bullying, I'd partake in competitiveness, I'd see women, girls really, being trodden on or over looked or beaten down by their 'friends', by the very people who were supposed to be supporting them. A lot of the time, being a girl at school was really hard. Although many of my female friendships were beautiful and I came away with some of the best memories of the best people and the best times, I remember feeling let down by friends, by girls, a lot. Girls who picked boys over me, who talked about me behind my back, or ditched me in an attempt to be cool. You know the drill. Just 'being a kid' stuff right??

It seems not. In more recent years, since I've started blogging and the world has become social media obsessed, my concerns, these issues, have become more prevalent, or more noticeable at any rate. I have watched Twitter fights between bloggers and influencers, I have seen the subtle digs that appear in the shape of GIFs and I've been on the receiving end of some, often quite nasty, comments.

I've written in the past about the online trolling that I have been a victim of, and have expressed my shock and sadness that so many of the comments written about me have come from women. A couple of weeks ago I wrote about how much the election made me hate social media after watching bloggers and twitter users go batshit crazy at others if their followers didn't agree, word for word, with their adoration of Jeremy Corbyn or their belief that Theresa May ate babies. And then of course there is the stuff that happens every day to all of us; the small stuff, the subtle stuff. The ignored tweets, the passive aggressive jabs directed mysteriously at "some people", the stuff that gets anxious, and somewhat insecure, people like me worrying at a rate of knots. 

When done right, a female friendship can be the most beautiful and powerful thing in the world. When done wrong, it can be the scariest. Because, whilst we might not like to admit it, we have the power to be absolutely brutal, to destroy and break one another. The same power that, when channeled in a better direction, is unbelievable, unstoppable, truly beautiful. When we work together, amazing things can happen. Yet so often we do it so wrong. 

At a time of true uncertainty in the world, as we are witnessing now, it is understandable that we want to shout a little louder than we normally would. We see injustices in the world and we want to call it out, we believe that our opinions NEED to be heard, because the solution that we have found seems so obvious and we can't believe that not everyone has realised it yet. We are angry and we are passionate. And we are shouting. But God I wish we were more careful with what we are saying. The right to shout about whatever we want is good, it is fair and it is deserved and important. But the right to abuse others, publicly, for not agreeing with us? I don't think that's good or fair or deserved or very important at all. 

Not everyone is going to agree with me and the day I realised that was the day that my life changed so much for the better. Was I really going to change a person's opinion of me, or of anything, using 140 characters of cap locks and emojis written with the intention of shaming someone in front of all of my Twitter follower? No. I might hurt them though. Has being nasty to another woman, no matter how much I disagreed with her, ever brought me any joy at all? All it's ever done is hurt us both.

Stupidity and ignorance exist online, don't get me wrong. You'll find it by the bucketload, but it does not necessarily have to be your problem. I'm not saying that we shouldn't debate and discuss, but to use our voices to ridicule and humiliate in response to perceived 'stupidity'? That's not OK, nor is it a good way to channel energy. Energy that could be used a million different ways to bring other woman up.

Empowered women, empower women.

God I know this to be true. I am constantly empowered by empowering women. Friends, bloggers, celebrities, people on the bus, even Camilla on Love Island. I am empowered my amazing women, by passionate women, by powerful women. And I realise, there is one thing that all of the women who inspire me have in common: it's kindness. 

I have had heroes, followed bloggers, adored friends who have let me down so massively I couldn't believe it. Over the last few months people who I genuinely respected have turned on other women in a way that leaves me so disappointed. Seeing negativity thrown around, showering women left right and centre is so depressing, it's so not empowering. It's just wrong. They might be empowering in a million ways but the minute they use their power to deliberately hurt and humiliate another woman is the day my respect falters. It's the day I unfollow, give up and walk away. 

Be Strong. Be Kind. Be You.

The Pretty Normal Me mantra. Be true to yourself. be passionate, but always, always, be kind.

To me, kindness is the most beautiful thing of all. To me, kindness is inspirational. To me, kindness is so so powerful. 

And I want to be powerful. I want us all to be so damn powerful. please don't underestimate how importance kindness is on the journey to success. It is lonely at the top, or so they say. So don't go there alone. Women are their most powerful when they stand together.

We are so much better together than we are apart. So please, rather than let trying times in the world right now divide us, let's work together, let's stand together and be strong together. Let's use our voices for good, pull each other up, educate each other and let's show the world what girl power, done right, really looks like. 

ONE MONTH UNTIL MY BOOK COMES OUT: PRE-PUBLICATION ANXIETY.

I don't remember the last time I didn't have butterflies. In my stomach I mean, not in the house. I don't have loads of beautiful insect pets. In exactly a month today my first book, Can I Speak To Someone In Charge? will be released and the anticipation is controlling everything that I do. An anxious person at the best of times, ahead of publication I find myself unable to stop random bursts of excitement and nerves bursting out of me at the weirdest times. Making my coffee this morning I actually had to stop myself from squealing with joy when I realised the date. Walking Bua an hour later though I allowed every nerve inside me to bubble up so aggressively that I had to bundle her up and rush home after convincing myself that she, like the rest of the world, would declare me a terrible writer and want to run away. My sleep pattern is fucked, my mood is violently turbulent and my worst-case-scenario setting has reached a whole new level. I am also more proud of myself than I have ever been, more inspired than I thought possible to write better and am working with a hunger and passion for the blog that I haven't had before. It's a really weird time to be me.

I've ben given an opportunity that so many would kill for, I know that, I am so painfully aware of that. So I do kick myself as I feel anything that isn't ludicrous excitement. I think of all the amazing hard working bloggers and writers that I follow who I know would love this opportunity and I think: why did I get so lucky? I know to a lot of people it's just a book but to me it is my everything. When I have thought about quitting blogging and going out to get a normal job it has been the thing that has kept me going. When I have thought about my future, it has been everything really. It is the thing that I have been working towards my entire working career and yet for some reason now, I'm getting cold feet. 

Reading chapters of it back (after it's gone to print and there is nothing I can do) I convince myself that they are rubbish. I stare for too long at the cover and convince myself that I look like a lunatic. I wake up at 2am in a terrible panic and think: holy shit, what if it's terrible???

I suppose this IS normal, part and parcel of being a first time author. But like I say, to so many people, it's just a book. So finding reassurances is difficult. My non-writer friends are proud as hell but don't necessarily understand how intimidating and intense the online community can be and my writer ones, well I feel like a total d-bag for complaining about what is ultimately, the dream for so many of us. There isn't really anyone out there telling me that it's normal. So I'm just left feeling kind of weird. 

On the flip side though, there really is so much excitement. The anticipation and work that has gone into this thing is beyond anything I thought possible. I've been supported by an amazing team of people who have my back, I get tweets daily from people who ask me about signings and pre-orders and that's just crazy, and then there is the little 'omg I've got a book coming out any minute' cloud that is permanently under my feet, reminding me how unbelievably fortunate I am.

When I wrote the book, I didn't write it for the haters. I didn't write it for the press and I didn't write it for the sad fucks who sit commenting on Mail Online articles. I wrote it for all those women who I thought might need it, all the young girls facing crippling anxieties, I wrote it for the me of 10 years ago who was calling out for something like this. And that is something that I need to remember as the countdown begins. I KNOW that not everyone is going to love it as much as my mum did, I KNOW that the assumption is that I can barely write my own name and I KNOW all too well that some people just love to hate and won't even give me the benefit of the doubt. But this book isn't for THOSE people, it never was and I need to remind myself that they don't matter.

This is my life in word form and whilst that's scary as hell, it's also the most exciting thing I have ever done. In the past I have let criticism ruin my day, trolling ruin my week and anxiety ruin my bloody life but I don't want to do that with this. I want to reap the rewards of two very long years.

And I also wanna say thanks, to everyone who has supported me. My mind does do weird things sometimes and the positive affirmations, telling me that I'm not a raving loon with a dream too big for her gives me more confidence than you know. This is the most exciting time of my life and I have got to remember that no haters (whether in my head or outside of it) are going to dull my sparkle right now. 

To everyone that has pre-ordered it already: THANK YOU. For those of you that would like to, please do so HERE

THIS ELECTION HAS MADE ME HATE SOCIAL MEDIA

I was raised with some incredibly British values, namely the idea that there are some things that we just don't talk about: sex, politics and money being the obvious ones. The sex thing I've slightly disregarded, since my job consists of me constantly providing TMI, the money thing isn't a huge issue since I very rarely have any but the politics, I get. I was always told as a child that you shouldn't ask a person who they were voting for. As such, I've never done so. In return, I've never been asked. (Apart from by the nosey guy with the red rosette outside my polling station today). 

But it seems I may be an anomaly, alone in my British tendencies, in the blogging community at least. Because over the last few weeks everyone, and I do mean everyone, has been talking about the election. Smear stories are being shared left right and centre (see what I did there???), hashtags are popping up by the thousand and statuses, tweets and Instagram posts alike are coming from people determined to share their opinion, whether we want to hear it or not. Finally it seems, us young people are here and don't we just need to shout about it. 

This election has been different, even since Brexit I have noticed a change. Most of us didn't really want to leave Europe. But since the young people didn't vote, it happened. We'll be damned we let that happen again. Labour have therefore been relying heavily on the young vote and it seems like they might just have it. The last day of registration in May this year saw 245, 487 young people register, meaning that 1.05 million 18-24 year olds have registered since Theresa May called the election on April 18th. Notoriously us young people haven't voted, we've had total apathy, it's gone above our heads. But this year we are passionate. This year we are using our voices. This year we are going to change the world. But good God aren't we being horrible about it?

I am not going to tell you who I voted for today. I am not going to ask you what you chose. But don't get used to that. I will probably be the only one. Influencers are using their voices to not only tell you who they voted for and to tell you what to do but to actually shame the living shit out of you for doing something differently to them. I've yet to see someone stand up and admit to voting Tory online but they must be doing it somewhere as Labour supporters have been kicking off. I saw one tweet this morning saying: 'How disgusting to see influencers using their platforms to encourage people to vote Tory. Selfish c*nts.' I didn't point out the irony that since this girl's Twitter name was #GetTheToriesOut she was being just as bad as the selfish Tory c*nts. It didn't seem worth it. In truth, I was a bit scared.

And that's a feeling that I've felt a lot on social media over the past few weeks. Scared. The language has been terrifying. The messages have been terrifying. The intimidation, the bullying, the shaming, it's been terrifying. We women haven't even had the vote for 100 years and look already at the things that we're doing with it. Our foremother's would be rolling in their graves watching us turn on each other like this over a privilege that they fought so hard for. The privilege of CHOICE. 

Look, don't get me wrong, I LOVE that we are talking about politics. I love that we are passionate.  I love that we are being activists, that we are doing something. I love that we are all different. But I think I might be the only one. I genuinely haven't used Facebook in the last week. I haven't wanted to see what people had to say. Politics makes them ugly. It makes me hate my friends. Not for their political persuasions, but for their desperation to be heard. I can't stay away from Twitter, it's my job. Without it I'd have nothing to do with my days, but God I wish I had, I wish I'd been on holiday. People I respected I now can't stand. I've had to unfollow people who's work I really liked. Because they were SO intent on shoving their opinions down 4000 people's throats that they became someone truly unpleasant. 

Ultimately when it comes to voting, we want to get it right. We vote, as advised, for the party that we genuinely believe will help us and our loved ones. For so many, that is Labour. God I understand that, it's so wonderful to see such a societal burden being taken on by the young, it's important, so important. We don't want another Brexit, we don't want another Trump. We want to know that we have done everything that we possibly can to get the outcome that we think will be best for our country. 

But we have GOT to learn the etiquette here. Sure, I'm old fashioned for the 'let's not talk about politics stuff', I'm part of the over-sharing generation, let's not be bloody stupid. Tell who you want. But this shaming and bullying is disgusting. This is new territory, I get it. There are more young people voting than ever before, young people all sitting in their own little bubbles on the outskirts of the internet who need to get their points of view across. Young people who need to have their say. Young people who absolutely should. 

Young people who need to learn that there is more to a person than their political persuasion. That their opinion is NOT the only one. And that social media, whilst it can be an incredibly powerful tool in elections, should always be fun and always be safe. 

Either way, I hope you voted today.

CREATE AN ALTER EGO AND ADORE HER

Loving yourself is an annoyingly difficult thing to do. Whether it's a full blown affair or just the simple act of paying yourself a compliment, self love is pretty hard to come by. I wish it wasn't, for all of us, I really do, but sadly there's no magic wand that I can wave. So what do we do, in the absence of a little pill that we can take that will provide us with an abundance of love for ourselves?

How many times a day do you compliment another person either on their appearance, what they are wearing or on a skill that they have that you are envious of? Once a day? Five times a day? 10 times a day? I think I probably surpass even that. I am the ultimate compliment giver, they explode out of me. I think something would be very wrong if I didn't tell a person how fabulous they looked the second I greeted them. And I don't do it just for the hell of it either, I do it because I really do believe it: other. people. are. great.

And yet for some reason, "you look ah-mazing" is not a thought that springs to mind when I first see myself, whether that's in the mirror in the morning, in a shop window as I walk down the street or in my forward facing camera as I prepare to update my Instagram Story. How great would it be if I could project at least some of the love and adoration that I had for others onto myself???

My sister has created an alter-ego. She calls her Candice. Candice is her 'fat friend'. Katya says that when she wants to make some bad food decisions, it is Candice that is responsible, in her own words: "she is one fat bitch, that Candice, she can get away with that shit." Candice makes eating pancakes easier and although Kat does sound a little crazy, I sort of love that she has Candice. That she has created a person that she can 'blame' if you like, for the decisions that she wasn't ready to own.

And this got me thinking, if Kat can create an alter-ego who she can blame her sweet-tooth on, what's to stop her, me, or any of us from creating one that we can protect all of our love onto? We already know that it's easier to compliment somebody else, so what's to stop us creating that somebody else as an extension of ourselves? You still with me? I'll continue...

For argument's sake let's say I made an alter-ego for myself and called her Sandy, (think Grease both before and after the makeover). Sandy could, in theory, be anything that I wanted her to be. She could be funny and confident and pretty and kind, she could have a nice smile and gorgeous eyes, she could be an amazing blogger and writer and be so incredibly productive. She could be anything that I wanted her to be. Because if made her, she would be mine, she could be me. 

I don't want to have to spend my life waiting for the positive affirmations of those people around me. I don't want to have to rely on a 'like' or a wolf-whistle to feel attractive. I don't want to have to tentatively publish a piece into the world and wait for the round of applause. I want to be able to congratulate and celebrate myself. I want to be able to tell myself that I look good, that my nails are a great colour, that my outfit is amazing, that my gym classes are working wonders. But for some reason I can't do any of that, or I won't at any rate. And so I plod on, choosing instead to focus on my flaws, my cellulite, my swollen stomach, my singing toenails, my hopeless spelling, my bad skin, crap photos or annoying voice. I talk about THOSE things all the time, to anyone that will listen. And it is beyond depressing. 

But let's bring Sandy into this, let's imagine that I was saying EVERYTHING to her. I'd have to stop this... Not least of all because I am far less likely to critique a person that wasn't me for all of their tiny flaws. I can just picture poor Sandy's face when I tell her that her hair was looking really dry and that her t-shirt made her look really fat. Stuff I'd say to myself in a heartbeat, but something I physically couldn't say to another person. To some poor sod like Sandy. 

I appreciate that I might sound a *bit* mad here, perhaps boarding on schizophrenic, but I can't help but feel that I might be onto something. 

It is SO much easier to be nice to other people than it is to be nice to ourselves. So really, with that in mind, what would be the harm in treating ourselves like somebody else from time to time, at least until we can start to master a little bit of self love. 

We all have so many great qualities that other people identify in us all of the time. Why we are ashamed to identify them in ourselves I don't know, but it's got to stop. So let's try it shall we? If you can't face the idea of looking at yourself in the mirror and telling YOU that YOU look wonderful, why not they to channel your inner-Sandy and say it to her instead. I think you might be amazed by what you find....

PLEASE STOP JUST WALKING BY....

Sitting in traffic yesterday afternoon I saw no fewer than ten people walk past a guy sitting on the street as if they hadn't seen him. One perhaps could have been a mistake, but when you take into consideration the fact that he was asking 'any spare change please?' loud enough for me to hear in my car, I think it's fair to assume that these people knew exactly what they were doing. It is a story that we hear all of the time in London, it's a story that I have helped to write and one that I read every day.

And it's almost understandable, our immunity to it. Between 2015 and 2016 it was estimated that 8000 people were sleeping rough and more than that were sitting on the streets every day asking for money. I don't remember the last time that I went ANYWHERE in London where I didn't see at least one person. On the average trip I maybe see five. When I'm in central London, Oxford Street, Piccadilly, Covent Garden, it's more. And whilst that is of course a huge worry, the thing that is proving most concerning of all of, is our reaction to it. 

People don't choose to live on the streets, not often. Normally this happens to people after something has gone really wrong in their life, maybe they've got ill, maybe they've lost their job, their house, maybe their partner left them or they got caught up in an addiction of some kind. The perception is of course that everyone on the streets is there because of their own doing, that they're drunks and drug addicts who don't deserve help. But that's just not the case. (And even if it were, who are we to say that we won't help them?). 

Take Gary for example. A couple of years ago Alex and I were walking down High Street Kensington quite late at night when out of the corner of my eye I spotted a man in a sleeping bag using the light from the window display in an electrical shop to read a book. He didn't look up as we walked by, he didn't ask for money or a cigarette, he just kept reading his book. I don't know what it was but something about that really affected me. This man was not what I expected at all, he was not what I thought of when I thought of homelessness and that tiny action nearly moved me to tears: could you imagine not having the ability to do something so simple as to read a book?

I couldn't just walk by. Instead I diverted course and went to the cash machine where I took out £50. Was that enough for a bed for the night? This was a lot of money, taken out of my savings, but this man clearly needed it so much more than I did. I went back to the man and offered him the money, he was shocked and refused to take it. We fought, I won and eventually even persuaded him to let me do a grocery shop in Waitrose for him. I asked if there was anything that he fancied, he told me that he 'had a real hankering for a scotch egg' and I spent the next twenty minutes filling my basket with as many non perishable, light objects that I could. I also raided the deli area of all of their scotch eggs. 

We went back to the man, Gary, and sat with him as he ate. I think we probably stayed there for three hours in total. We heard his story: how he had suffered a mental breakdown following a battle with depression and after he lost his job, his wife had left and taken his children. With nowhere to go, he moved to the streets. Within a few months he started noticing a pain in his stomach and was coughing up blood, a trip to hospital told him that he had stomach cancer. Unfortunately, it was untreatable and, since there no beds available for him to stay, he was once again moved out onto the streets. This is when we had met him. A dying man who had fallen through the cracks. A father forced to sleep round the back of the cinema where they store the popcorn because it was warm. A human being forced to sleep on London's filthy streets because he literally had nowhere to go. 

This broke me. Leaving that night was hard and in the years that have followed I have never forgotten Gary. I did call The Samaritans the next day who promised they would track him down and take care of him (if you can provide them with the whereabouts and name of a homeless person they will go and pick them up) but that did little to set my mind at ease, really, because Gary's story I realised, although awful, was not just his. This was a tale that would be told by so many, if only we stopped to listen to it. 

Since our night with Gary my eyes have been opened to the homelessness problem in London like they weren't before. I'm ashamed to say that I don't actively do enough but I do at least now see the problem and do what I can, when I can. In the grand scheme of my life, what is £10 to me? A packet of fags? (Not even...). An extravagant lunch? One quarter of a new pair of jeans from Topshop? But to someone like Gary, that's a bed for the night. Sure, I can't afford to give £10 to the 8000+ homeless people in London or I'd be wanted by the police as the money that I would have been handing out would certainly not have been mine, but even by doing it just the once, I am making a difference to one person. A positive difference to another human being, who really, really needs it. 

Results found by the website Streets of London showed that, on average, a homeless person dies at just 47 years old, compared to the 81 years that the average UK citizen gets. They also discovered that a homeless rough sleeper is 35 times more likely to commit suicide than the average person. 35 times!!!! Shockingly it was also found that two thirds of rough sleepers said that they had been insulted by a member of the public and one in ten had been urinated on. Homeless people are 13 times more likely to be a victim of violent crime than the general public and are 47 times more likely to be a victim of theft. 

So people are not only ignoring these people, they're actively being cruel. They're urinating on them. They're stealing from them. They're abusing them. And that's leading these people to suicide, if they haven't already been killed by the very real dangers of living on the streets. How we can do this to one another is beyond me, it really is. Now I know that you will be reading this, like me, thinking that these findings are horrific, that you would never do something like that, that it is disgusting and that something needs to be done. But I also suspect that, like me, you have been guilty of walking past a person in need too. Perhaps, like I do, you'll smile quickly, mouth an apology and be on your way. Perhaps you'll do as the people that I saw yesterday afternoon did that inspired this piece and walk on by as if you hadn't seen them. At this point it doesn't matter, none of us are doing enough. 

With the election tomorrow the last thing that I want to do is blame any government for this problem or bring politics into it, the fact that it is happening on our own doorsteps in a wealthy country, to our own people is beyond belief, beyond comprehension even. I don't know where exactly the fault lies here, but we can all agree that it is a massive failing by a lot of people. Long term this is a problem that needs to be solved by the Government, whoever they may turn out to be tomorrow, but short term this is something that we can do something about, even if the difference is tiny. 

We can't get these guys off the streets right now - I don't know where we'd even start. But we can start doing our bit to make their time there better. Are we really in such a rush that we can't stop for two minutes to talk to someone and see if they are OK? Are we really so broke that we can't afford to nip into Sainsbury's and buy someone a £3 meal deal? Are we really so above making a tiny bit of time for another person? Please don't underestimate how important your time is to someone who is in this position, every day we take for granted how lucky we are just to have a roof over our heads, I don't want you to feel guilty for that, but I think we should at least try to remember it.

 

 

PLEASE STOP TELLING PEOPLE THAT YOU'RE JEALOUS OF HOW PRETTY THEY ARE

How often do you find yourself saying to someone: "Oh I wish I had your...."

I do it all of the time. I have friends with the most enviable boobs and hair and faces and skin, I have friends with great feet and strong legs and crazy long eyelashes and time and time again I tell them how beautiful they are and how I wished I had their [fill in the blank]. It is a huge compliment. What is it that they say, 'imitation is the sincerest form of flattery'? There is nothing nicer for a person to hear (short of that they have won the lottery) than that someone wishes that they had something that they had. 

Or is there?

I normally cannot help but compliment my friends in this way, usually because I am just telling them what I am feeling at any given time and I always assumed it was a really nice thing for them to hear: 'yes!' they'll think 'I must have REALLY great cheekbones if someone else is spending time wishing that they had them!' and that will surely, give them a great boost. What could possibly be wrong with telling someone that you are jealous of how pretty they are?

Earlier this week, I found myself scrolling through Zoella's Instagram feed (as you do) and then, because it's all too easy to get sucked into the black hole that is the internet, I started reading through the comments that were left on her photos (as many of the 40,000+ that would load anyway) and I was neither surprised or heartened by what I found there. Hundreds of comments along the same vein from, what I can only assume, is mostly young girls saying: "oh my god, I'm so jealous, I wish I looked like you, you're SO pretty."

And I'd say on the whole those are some really nice messages for Zoella (real name Zoe Sugg - duh!) to receive - I reckoned if I got messages like this, by the thousand, I'd be on cloud nine like the whole time. But then I started to really think about it, about the times that someone has said to me that they are jealous of the things that I have that they want, and actually about the pressure that Zoe must be under to be told these things time and time again. And of course, it's not just her. Any woman with an army of female followers probably receives similar compliments, and whilst they are so much better than the alternative, I do wonder whether that pressure starts to take it's toll after a while.

When I was younger I sort of had to 'girl crush' in secret. Although my obsessions with various women came and went throughout my teenage years, there wasn't actually a space that existed where I could air my feelings. Instagram wasn't a thing, Facebook was brand new and I was very busy trying not to make an absolute tit of myself in front of everyone I'd ever persuaded to be my online friend. So instead, I internalised my feelings. In many ways, this was probably quite damaging, I would sometimes wish SO hard to look like somebody else, to have their flat stomach or long hair that I would get myself into a state of total and complete misery; hating my own body. But since I only thought of these women when I saw photos of them or when they were acting in a film or as a gust on a panel show, I was lucky that I could get away from them, in lessons, in bed, walking down the street, I wasn't totally confronted with their beauty, I didn't have to compare myself to it all the time, and I certainly didn't need to admit it to anybody.

Don't get me wrong, my fan-girling hasn't stopped as I've got older, if anything I've just found more people to think are great, but thankfully, my overwhelming jealousy does seem to have stemmed and although I do tell my friends all the time how much I would like to look like them, I'm generally pretty happy in my own body. I am not so jealous anymore. Not like I used to be, not like the people commenting on Zoella's Instagram are. 

Now, I know that, particularly where bloggers and vloggers of this scale are concerned, they slightly count on people being jealous of them, without that they wouldn't make nearly as much money out of affiliate links and they wouldn't have millions of people watching their YouTube videos, but I do wonder if there is a line between people being jealous of their clothes and material possessions (an incentive for the viewer to work harder to get to that place) and a jealousy of the person themselves, the things that they were born with that make them special that they can't do anything about (an incentive to make people bitter and insecure.) I noticed a blog post that Zoe wrote a few years ago about her weight and how so many people tell her how jealous they are of how skinny she is - in it she points out that there is nothing that she can do about it, she physically cannot put on weight.

I notice this too sometimes in my life, obvi I'm no Zoe Sugg but people sometimes do say to me that they wish they had my figure or my eyes or my hair (take it!!!!) or whatever it is, and although that is obviously hugely flattering, I do sometimes end up with some slightly conflicting emotions, and mostly, it's guilt. Guilt that I have something that somebody else wants, guilt that I don't appreciate it enough, guilt when I don't love it, that I'm taking it for granted. And sadness too, sadness for that person that they are wasting their time wishing that they looked like me. 

It's weird isn't it, this idea of jealousy. They say that the colour green doesn't suit many people, and they're right. Jealousy IS an ugly emotion, but it's also human nature. I know that that isn't going anywhere, it's something as old as time so it's not the jealousy that I have a huge problem with here (since I'd be wasting my time fighting something so inherent), it's the vocalising of it that I'm worried about.

Because I'm not sure that anyone benefits from you telling someone that you are jealous of how they look. In your head all that happens, is you have validated a concern in your own subconscious and made it really real. Like when you're nervous about something and you say it out loud for the first time and then you become absolutely sure that you are going to totally fail at it. And then in their head, the person who is the focus of your admiration? I'm not sure it's very good for them either. OF COURSE it's nice to be told that you are beautiful, of course it is, but to have people WISHING that they looked like you, that they were you? It's a huge responsibility. And maybe not one that is very fair.

I don't know if I'm making a whole tonne of sense here and I might be barking totally up the wrong tree, who knows, but I think it is food for thought.....

YOU WEREN'T PUT ON THIS EARTH TO SPEND YOUR LIFE ON THE SOFA

I really need to get out more. Despite the fact that I live in one of the most wonderful cities in the world (to my mind, THE most wonderful), I spend an awful lot of time on the sofa. In fact, tonight will be the first night since Saturday that I don't eat my dinner on it. Granted, Alex and I have been on a money saving mission, Bua has not been very well and Line of Duty is THE BEST THING TO EVER HAPPEN TO THE WORLD but I think it's time for me to give my poor sofa a break.

According to a study done by UKTVPLAY, a typical adult now watches around 24 hours of television a week with one in 14 spending more than 40 hours doing it. And who am I to judge? Two weeks after starting it I'm already onto the fourth series of Line of Duty, so far this year we've watched all of Our Girl, Billions, Broadchurch and Fortitude to name but a few (all seriously recommended btw, but that's not really the point of this article). Living in London is expensive, having a dog can be a tad-o restricting and sometimes at the end of a long day, there is nothing more needed than a night in. 

But if we're honest with ourselves, really honest, how often do we SAY we NEED a night in, when in actual fact, we just can't be bothered to do anything else. And is there a difference?

Alex and I decided last weekend that we needed a whole week in. N-E-E-D-E-D one. Money is tight tight tight, we've been total social butterflies as of late and we both know that this summer is going to be mad busy so we need to make the most of our time together, and more importantly, if we're honest, the opportunity to get our teeth into several really good box sets. So, barring Tuesday night when I declared that we MUST go for an hour's dog walk because the weather was heaven and I was stir-crazy and heartbroken having not turned the news off all day, this week has been Groundhog Day, with only our dinner menus changing. 

And now it's Thursday and I've had enough. I work from home, I'm self-employed and as a result I spend a LOT of time at home. Although I could go out, like they do in the films, and work from a coffee shop for a couple of hours, it is a faff and when there is stuff to do, I'm generally better off just doing it rather than getting choosey about the location. Normally I try to at least organise something each day so that I'm not left totally devoid of human contact, but some weeks that's just not easy to do. I don't know many people doing similar things to me, I'm crap at networking and most of my friends work proper 9-6 jobs. So my socialising happens in the evening, I'm a bit of a loser during the day but by night time I can talk and listen and talk and listen until I've filled up my human interaction fuel tank. 

For Alex this is probably different. It's going to be hist fifth night in in a row for him too but I'm not sure he's had enough yet, he leaves the house every morning and is surrounded by people, he is exhausted by the travel and the stress and the polite smiles at people he doesn't know or like and so when he comes home, it's nice to be back, it's comforting and to a degree, still a novelty. And most people, you included probably, are, I suspect like Alex. Still needing your nights in and never imagining a time when you could become bored of your house or your sofa. But from someone who HAS become bored of it and has let it lose that novelty completely, let me warn you: you need to get out, now.

What do they say, distance makes the heart grow fonder? This expression describes relationships, traditionally, but I think we can apply it to this scenario as well. Let's pretend, for the purposes of this article that your sofa is your love interest. If you spend every waking moment of every waking day with them, they'll start to get on your nerves a whole lot quicker than they would if you only saw them a couple of times a week. If you find yourself busy as hell five nights in a row, by the time you get to see them on the sixth night it will be so much special than it would have been if you'd just flopped home again and fallen into the same routine. I love Alex every minute of every day but there is nothing more special than time together when we've spent time apart. And yes, I do realise that I just compared my boyfriend of 4.5 years to my DFS sofa. Sorry Alex.

Look, you know this already. But it IS all too easy to fall into a routine where your sofa is concerned. It's so easy to talk yourself into feeling that you NEED it and after a while, that relationship can become toxic. I've said it before and I'll say it again, on your death bed you won't remember the time that you watched every episode of Downton Abbey back to back. 

Some people are naturally introverts, I understand that. I don't think, by nature, I am one - I'm incredibly needy and do love to be out, but I am also very anxious and so do show a lot of symptoms of a hermit from time to time. So I do have to force myself to go out sometimes. Remind myself that I am absolutely NOT as busy as I think I am. That there is always time for an old friend and that ultimately, my sofa isn't going anywhere in a hurry. (It took four men two hours to get the bastard thing into the house, it can literally never leave.) 

I want to do lots of amazing things with my life, and as fun as it is to sit and plot my future from the comfort of my sofa, I'd gain a whole lot more by just going out there and DOING it. So if you are, like me, planning another night in tonight, perhaps it's time to pick up the phone and plan something else. Take your partner with you, take the dog, take the cushion if you must, but just get off the goddamn sofa.