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. 

FAILURE IS A PART OF LIFE. BE OKAY WITH THAT.

How many times do you fail at things? Whether that's an exam, a job interview, or just oversleeping your alarm *again*, failure is a huge part of day to day life. But despite the fact that failure is a thing that happens all the time, it is something that a lot of us are very afraid to do, it is the thing that stops so many of us from doing so much. "But what if I don't get it?" "But what if I get it wrong?" "But what if I embarrass myself?" are just some of thoughts that we have on a daily basis, thoughts that prevent us from trying something new or going after what we want simply because we are concerned that we are going to fail. 

I fail all the time. I oversleep my alarm, I get rejected or turned down, something I do isn't good enough, I give up on something before I have given it a chance. Some days are successes, some days are failures. But most of the time, my days are a combination of the two. You win some, you lose some, right? Take this morning for example. I overslept. Already I felt like I had failed before the day had started, so when I went for a run, or attempted to go for a run I should say, I was not even slightly surprised that I gave up. I stopped running after 1.4 miles. Why? Because my head told me that I couldn't do it. And since my brain lives in my head and the rest of me is nothing more than muscle, fat and organs, I allowed my body to do as my brain said: it must know better, it's my brain for Godssakes. 

So I walked home in a bad mood, I was angry with myself, disappointed that I had failed at something. I felt like I had let myself down, that I was stupid and pathetic and worthless. But then I got home, turned on my computer, made myself a cup of coffee and checked my emails. There was nothing particularly exciting there, mostly just the Monday morning press releases but amongst them there were things that cheered me up: comments on articles that I had written, messages from readers, an email from a friend, all making me feel like what I was doing was important. And I took these little victories and ran with them, the shame that had come with quitting this morning ebbed away as I realised that it wasn't the end of the world and that today might be more of a combination day after all. 

The fact is, most days are combination days. You would be incredibly unlucky if every single thing you did went wrong. If you overslept, put your pants on inside out, got rejected from a job that you wanted, maxed out your credit card, lost your keys, crashed your car, spilled your lunch down your shirt, set fire to the kitchen, lost your television remote, dropped your phone down the loo and broke up with your partner. That would, admittedly, be a failure of a day from start to finish. But mostly, things don't happen like that, Mostly, we win some and then we lose some. So we oversleep, but then we get to the tube just in time to catch our train. We have a fight with our other half but find a fiver in our jacket pocket. We spill coffee down our shirt but then get an email from our boss telling us to keep up the good work. We smash our phones but then get home and make the best damn spaghetti bolognese the world has ever seen. Sometimes it feels like the bad has outweighed the good, sometimes it actually has, but most of the time, something good happens every day. 

And we need to learn how to not just see the good, but to accept the bad too. It's all too easy to feel like the world is ganging up on you, to let yourself feel hard-done by, to blame yourself and beat yourself up for various short comings. Trust me, I do it all the time. But that's not right, and it's not fair. Why do we talk to and about ourselves in a way that would be TOTALLY unacceptable for someone else to do?

When we fail at something, we feel that we are letting the world down. Despite the fact it was only me and Bua on my run this morning, when I stopped I just remember thinking: everyone will be so disappointed. But now I'm looking back and thinking: who are these other people exactly? Who even knows that I'm here? What business is it of theirs? When I get an email back from an editor, or worse still, no email back from an editor or a PR, telling me (using one of the two methods) that they don't think I'm a good fit, I find myself feeling really embarrassed. Again, why? Does it affect anyone else in anyway at all that I've missed out on something? Nope. The email was meant for me, it was about me and it was read by me. The only person who has to deal with that, is me.

And I have to stop being ashamed of that, we all need to stop beating ourselves up and punishing ourselves when we 'fail' at something. No one thinks any less of you, not least of all because most people don't even know that you've tried - let alone failed. Most of us are so scared of this feeling that we say no to things because of the chance that we are going to be rejected and lose face, it's tragic and it's such a waste. Failing is nothing to be ashamed of, so why do we keep feeling that it is???

It's no secret that we are too hard on ourselves. We are mean to ourselves all the time, we talk ourselves out of doing things and beat ourselves up when we get things wrong. But we need to stop doing that. We need to remember that failure is all part of being a human being. Just because we have failed at one thing it does NOT mean that we are a failure. And it definitely doesn't mean that we won't succeed another time. "If at first you don't succeed, try, try and try again." That's something that my mum used to say to me so much and something that I never really adhered to. But I realise now that it's perfect, sure I didn't succeed at first today, lots of us don't succeed first time, but we try until we do. And we will. 

We need to stop being scared of failing and for beating ourselves up when we do. Failing is NOT a sign of weakness, all it actually is is evidence that we tried, and isn't that so much better than not even trying in the first place? 

 

I'M NOT SURE THAT I'M A VERY GOOD BLOGGER

I never saw myself as a blogger. I don't think that anybody I've ever known would have seen me as a blogger. Slightly uncool, hopelessly unfashionable and always the last to learn any beauty 'hack', I don't think this is a path that I ever envisioned myself on. But then I started a blog. At the time I literally did it because I had something to say and I needed somewhere to say it. Thankfully, some people listened and now I have a blog and I have a book coming out and when the people at the airport ask me what I do I tell them that I am a blogger. But despite this, despite the fact that I RUN A BLOG SO I AM BY DEFINITION A BLOGGER, I still don't feel like one at all. And it is something that has really started to stress me out as of late. 

When I started Pretty Normal Me I was totally unaware of how massive the blogging community was. In fact, when I started it, I didn't even get a Twitter page, instead opting to share it all over my personal Facebook Newsfeed. I was very late to the party with Instagram, don't understand Snapchat and still don't have a PNM Snapchat. I didn't really see it as a forever job, or a job at all, I literally just thought it was a place where I could write without fear of rejection (as does happen when you pitch pieces to newspapers and magazines). Slowly I got into the swing of things, but totally in my own way. I still hadn't really opened my eyes to what other people were doing and I continued looking inwards, writing what I wanted to write, uploading it with photos that I had taken on my iPhone. 

And then the book thing happened and it all got a bit mad and, in part due to my research and in part because I was suddenly having to up my game (trying to make blogging my full time job), I realised QUITE how massive blogging is. In that, I realised how many millions of bloggers there were out there. As far as I can tell, everyone is a sodding blogger. And yet, in my own personal life, I don't know a single one. 

This threw me off I'm going to be honest. All of a sudden I looked up from what had become quite a self-focussed little life and realised that there was a LOT out there that I didn't know about. I had NEVER taken a flat-lay photo in my life. I did not use hashtags. I didn't follow blogger-RT Twitter accounts, I didn't know what #OOTD was and had never recommended any beauty product in my life, on account of the fact I wasn't entirely sure what to do with most of them. And it scared me. I went on a huge following rampage and started manically stalking every account on there, flat lay after flat lay, red lip after red lip, Lush bath bomb after Lush bath bomb and I panicked. 

All of these women were SMASHING their blogs. They all had SO many more followers than me, they were collaborating with brands, they were wizards when it came to photography and they had the most beautiful damn Instagram 'themes' going. I was also aware that these bloggers all seemed to know each other, they go to the same events (events that I have no idea about), they talk in the same blogger-chats (ones that I don't know about until they are over) and comment on each other's BlogLovin' pieces (I don't understand BlogLovin'). 

This is when I started to find blogging stressful, this is when I started to feel myself falling out of love with it. How am I ever going to make it my full time job (which it has kind of needed to be since the book thing took over) when I don't know how to get in touch with PRs? How am I going to get noticed by anyone when I have the shittiest Instagram feed out there? How will anyone take me seriously if the only time they see photos of me on the blog are when they're selfies on my iPhone rather than candid ones set up and posed for against a wall with an ice-cream in a #primark dress with a #charlottetilbury lipstick and a #girlboss face on? I started to really feel the pressure.

So, slowly but surely, I tried to change the brand a bit. To update it. To take some good photos and start posting content that I thought other bloggers might be interested in and that would make me more marketable and relatable and popular. I basically did everything that I did at school, changed myself ever so slightly, in the hope that I might fit in. 

And just like at school, it's done nothing good for me at all. Rather than suddenly seeing me being invited to hang out with amazing bloggers who will fall in love with me and take candid photos of me sipping soya-lattes, I have instead found myself surrounded by doubt: why is no one reading this? Have my hits gone down? Why didn't she reply to my DM? Is it weird to post this? Will this make me unpopular? My blog had gone from something that I totally adored doing and something that I NEEDED to be doing to something that I felt wasn't really good enough. And it has been heartbreaking. 

It has also, interestingly, racked in the lowest number of hits that I have had for the last year. By almost half. And I think that has happened because I have not been doing things MY way. Sure, they're all posts that I love and that I am proud of and that I have worked hard on, but they are also ones that I think I've thought too much about. Rather than just exploding words like I used to do, I've been waiting for the right time, trying to find the right picture, doing my best to make it Instagramable.

And it's exhausting. I realise now, after writing this, that I've got to stop trying so hard. I didn't start Pretty Normal Me so that I could be just another influencer, I started it because I was genuinely passionate about what I was saying, desperate to make a difference, however small, to somebody's day. And I think it's time for me to stop trying so hard. I think it's time to take it back to basics.

BY THE WAY. Here's what my kitchen looks like behind the beaut marble shit I took ages trying to do....

Sure, I'm billy-no-mates in the blogging community, I don't get approached by PRs and yes, my flat lays are a little bit shit. But so-be-it. I'm not sure that I'm a very good blogger but I'll be damned if that will stop me from doing what I love. 

THE ODDLY MEANINGFUL LIFE LESSONS I LEARNED WHILST MAKING A BED.

Today has been huge. It shouldn't have been. For normal people, today's task would literally have been the easiest thing in the world, but for me, for a number of reasons, it has been massive. You see, I made a bed today. A couple of weeks ago some of you may remember, I did the Stratford Half Marathon and, in a moment of madness and exhaustion, I bought myself a bed that afternoon as a congratulations present. I've had my old bed for ages and before that it belonged to my parents, it's ancient and SO uncomfortable and has meant that, every night for the last umpteen months, I have complained to Alex about it. So, after ordering my new one (because Feather & Black had a half price deal and I saw this to be a sure sign) I have been counting down the days (at one point telling Alex that my excitement for this was on par with the excitement I felt about my book coming out). 

So when the Feather & Black delivery men called me at 6.30am this morning to tell me that they would be here in half an hour I was not angry at having been woken, as I would have been for any other delivery, but excited. I jumped out of bed, had the quickest shower of my life and got to work taking apart the bed that I had just got up from. (It was literally a wooden box in two parts so took very little work).

Since Alex was at the gym the delivery guys really sweetly helped me carry all the boxes up to my room before wishing me luck (get fucked if you think I'm paying £50 for someone to do something that I am more than capable of doing myself, am I right?!) and leaving me to it. 

I started, as I felt that I should, by hoovering the skirting board. If I'm honest, this seemed like a really grown up and boring job, but one that seemed appropriately sensible. When Alex got home from the gym he only had twenty minutes to gobble down some eggs and head off to work so I told him that he mustn't worry, that I literally do stuff like this all the time - (in the four years that we've been together, when exactly?!) and that he should head off to work. Six hours has passed since Alex left, eight since the bed was dropped off. And boy have I learned a lot in that time, some of it, surprisingly deep. Here are just some of the life lessons that making my bed taught me today:

It's OK to ask for advice

This applies to any DIY situation and most times in life wherever it is available. Instructions are there for a reason and advice is accessible by the bucket load these days: UTILISE IT. Without it, I'd have been screwed this morning.

Talking to yourself is legit fine.

I spoke out loud ALL morning, before I even headed over to my Instagram to publicly air my frustrations I laughed and I cried and I chatted everything through with myself a million times and it was so liberating. Chest stuck in the hallway? Talk it through. No one answering? Come up with the solution yourself. 

Fucking up is a-OK.

The main reason that today was a total shit show was simply because I fucked up. I put half the pieces in upside down and did not have the foresight to measure the bastard thing before buying it and then building it. There were lots of times today when I fucked up and every time I thought to myself: ah, we can fix this. And fix it we did. 

Improvisation is important.

Chest stuck because the knobs/handles (what are they called) are catching on the bannister? Light bulb moment. Take them off. As it transpired that wasn't enough in the end but that little bright spark was great and allowed me to carry on optimistically for at least half an hour.

Whether you go above it or below it, you can get around pretty much anything.

I spent a good 10 minutes physically stuck in my office today after getting the chest jammed in the doorway. After the initial claustrophobia and panic that I would be stuck there until Alex got home subsided I realised that if I took off my socks and scaled the wardrobe like a monkey then I could get out. Similar thing happened during the slat-laying in the bed, I trapped myself in but worked out that if I lay on my stomach and bear-crawled out then I could be free. There's always a way out it often just takes a change of perspective.

Your friends are very important

For two reasons. One, some of them will literally work things out for you using a scrap piece of paper and a pen (as shown above), two, they give you the best reaction ever when deliriousness leads to typos and all you can do is laugh until you can't breathe anymore. (below)

A positive mental attitude is everything

After four hours I had finally rearranged everything in the bedroom, laughed, cried, sweated and swore and I thought that I had made it onto the home straight, only to discover that there was a piece of the bed missing. Thank god I laughed. It was a 50 50 and tears felt imminent but, altering whipping out my PMA I realised that actually, in the grand scheme of life, everything is alright.

You're much more capable than you give yourself credit for

Had Alex been here this morning, today would have been totally different. I'd probably have given up and definitely left more to him than his fair share. Since there was no Alex and I was totally on my own I smashed the damn thing in a much more capable manner than I would have thought possible. Lots and lots of times it would have been VERY useful to have a second pair of hands to help but since they weren't there I had to do it solo and I surprised myself with all that I managed. 

Nothing worth fighting for is ever easy

OK am I taking it too far with the exaggeration now???? Maybe. But SERIOUSLY. Today was a bloody struggle and, had it been easy, I would not appreciate quite how wonderful everything now is nearly as much. I will sleep better tonight than I have in ages because I worked really really really hard to ensure that my bed even existed. All worth it in the end eh?

OK. Maybe this is ridiculous. Maybe I'm dehydrated and reading too much into an epic DIY fail. Who knows. I feel like I might have learned something and sort of had to share it. 

To see the whole ridiculous debacle, head over to my Pretty Normal Me Instagram story. 

GOING TO BED IN A GOOD MOOD

How often do you go to bed in a good mood? For me, I don't think it happens enough. I normally find something to complain about (right now I'm banging on about how much I hate my bed, but I have a new one coming tomorrow so that'll be a void complaint soon!), I will moan that the bed is either too hot or too cold, I'll have a lot on my mind, sometimes I'm still working and then there are just those times when nothing you do will put you in a happy place. 

But going to bed in a bad mood can actually be SO bad for your mental health. If you get into bed in a grump, the chances of you waking up in the morning in a state of bliss is incredibly unlikely. Chances are you'll actually wake from a bad night's sleep in a messy-ish room that you all of a sudden hate, with a headache cause you ground your teeth too much and all the same stresses on you that you felt as you closed your eyes the night before. 

Going to bed in a good mood however can make the world of difference. Finding something to be positive about before you go to sleep or spending time in an environment that makes you happy can seriously alter not just how you sleep but how you feel when you wake up in the morning. When I go to bed in a good mood I notice the difference almost immediately when I wake up; I don't snooze my alarm a million times and I pretty much jump out of bed actually excited for the day.

But how do we do that? Surely, if it was that simple, then we'd all just do it right? Well, kind of. It does take a bit of work, but, since my teeth grinding got to the point where it kept Alex awake at night, I've had to explore my options to find things that will put me into a good mood before I go to sleep. Here are some of the things that I have come up with:

Make your god-damned bed.

(Lots of cushion inspo at the bottom of this piece)

(Lots of cushion inspo at the bottom of this piece)

Even if you didn't get around to making it this morning, make the thing before you get into it. I KNOW it seems counterintuitive but trust me, this will make the world of difference. Getting into an unmade, as my mother would call it, 'sordid' bed just puts you into a sloppy state of mind. I know it looks glam as hell in the movies with all those crisp white sheets but in real life there isn't much better than getting into a bed that you are proud to call your own. It only take a couple of weeks for something to become a habit so start now and by this time next month you'll be pleased as punch with your bedroom. Trust me, it helps.

Read.

I don't care what it is, but always make sure that there is a book next to your bed. I'm currently reading Emma Gannon's Ctrl Alt Delete and I am LOVING it. I'm only really being able to do a couple of pages a night at the moment but it doesn't matter, it's SO much better for me than scrolling through Instagram and it's so nice to have a bit of a routine when I get into bed. Sure I won't get around to it every night but as long as your book is on your bedside table you will start seeing it as an option more and more often and it will really help you to switch off. 

Find a little bit of positivity.

I suppose, if you really wanted to you could do this on Instagram but I'm old school so I do it with The Little Book Of Positivity that stays next to my bed. I don't do it every night but whenever I feel that I need a bit of a pick me up I open this book and read a quote or story that will cheer me up, make me laugh or actually, just give me a boost of positivity. This was a great present that I got from one of my friends a few years ago and it's probably one of the things I use the most in the world. Keeping a source of inspiration next to you in bed is so useful.

Look back at your day.

Similar Diary.

I always thought, if I'm honest, that this was horse shit. If I'd had a bad day the last thing that I would want to do would be to look back on it BUT recently I've started keeping a diary of sorts and it is changed everything. So now every day I write out the date into my diary and describe the day in one sentence. Sometimes it's literally "lost my glasses in the park, spent two hours looking for them" (last Friday) and then sometimes it's "had the best meeting of my life with my publishers and am so excited for my career right now" (last Wednesday). Even if it's been a really boring day finding one thing that was noteworthy or memorable has really helped me to look back at my day with a much nicer outlook on things.

Get it smelling like a candle factory.

White Company Diffuser
Jo Malone (similar and this one is out of stock)

Tell me this, is there anything worse than getting into a bedroom that just smells of sleep? You know the smell, and you know that it's minging. I'm a really big 'smeller', as in, nothing makes me happier than a house that smells delicious. I'm candle and diffuser obsessed and think it is very good for your mind to be somewhere that smells great. The bedroom should be the room where this applies the most. My White Company diffuser (highly recommended) makes the room smell ah-mazing all the time but when I know I really need to de-stress I'll go up to my room and light my candles before going back downstairs to do my teeth, wash my face etc. That means when I get back into my room it is candle-lit and smelling heavenly and to be honest it works fairly well every time. 

Back away from your phone.

What do they say about practising what you preach? I'm the WORST for this BUT I have noticed a huge change in my mood and sleep patterns when I spend a bit of time away from my phone when I get into bed. Although it took a lot for me to do it, being a blogger I would argue that everything that happened on my phone was work, I realised that actually nothing that was coming in at 10pm at night was urgent, nor was it going anywhere. I would therefore leave it until the morning and actually spend a bit of time doing the things that help put me in a better mood. (Reading, spending time with Alex, cuddling Bua etc.). If you're really struggling with this one then plug it in at the other side of the room and remember what I said about habits, after a couple of weeks you'll be so used to not being on it and you'll sleep so much better. 

Take care of yourself.

I know you think that sleep is the answer, and it very often is, but you need to remember that there is a connection between the mood that you go to bed in and the state that you are in when you wake up. If you can actively remember this when you get into bed then your mind might surprise you and you can work together to ensure that you get into a good place before drifting off. Taking a bath, watching a movie or doing a face mask are all great options and it's really just about doing the best for you. Be aware of your mind though and remember, where you can, to think positive thoughts. 

Nothing is greater to me than waking up in a good mood, excited for the day and I know for a fact that it is all connected with the state that I am in when I go to bed. I would not be surprised if it was exactly the same story for you. So here are some of the things that I do when I get into bed that help get me ready for a better and brighter day tomorrow. 

Oh just btw, here are some cushions that I think will really help you go to bed in a good mood, you're welcome...

I'd love to hear what you do, let me know in the comments! xxx

MAKING FRIENDS AS AN ADULT

It's a funny thing isn't it, the idea of making friends as a grown up? At school, or as a child, we talk about it, we actively work on it and we ultimately are expected to do it. But making friends as an adult? It's not as easy and for some reason we find ourselves feeling so different, so tragic even, asking if somebody wants to hang out, asking if someone wants to be our friend. All the inhibitions that we just didn't have as a child, inviting people to our birthday parties left right and centre are here en masse now and we are left feeling lonely. 

You feel like the only one, like everyone else is paired up and you're the sad loser who is left begging people to hang out with you. But you need to know, that you are NOT the only one, that actually this is a problem that effects so many more people than you might think. People move cities, countries even, people who hate school, people who feel like they have changed or people who's friends have let them down. So what can you do? How do you make friends when you are an adult?

MeetUp

We look for partners online, so why not friends? The app/website is available anywhere in the world, events happen everywhere and it allows you to meet up with people with similar interests to you. Cycling/gardening/site-seeing/dancing/cooking/board games, you name it. And the best thing is, if, on the day you find yourself too nervous to go, it won't be the end of the world as no one is relying on you.

Volunteer

I know you're busy as hell with work and stuff but volunteering is a great way to make friends. You'll find something that you are passionate about and meet people that are passionate about the same things, so you already know that you have something in common with them. Even if you don't make BFFL, you're still out doing a great thing with your time so either way you will win something. 

Use social media

How many friends do you have on social media that you never ee? I have LOADS. But recently I have started to ask people to meet IRL for no other reason than that I would love a catch up and a drink. I know that this takes balls but sometimes it really will pay off. Social media is a very useful tool and I've actually made some great friends throughout Twitter. This isn't for everyone, but it might be worth trying. 

Join a club/group near you

Let's take running for example. Near me there is a great running club that meets on Sunday mornings at 9am in the park for a 5k jog. This might be scary but I promise you, even if you hate running, you will not be the only one who is nervous or a beginner, so this might be SO worth your time and effort. Even if it's not running, have a look online to find events near you, I'm sure that you will find something that you'll enjoy and it's so worth trying. What have you got to lose?

Night school

This might not be for you, you might be done with school or not have the money or the time but if you do, this can be a great way to make friends. It won't be like school the first time around with the bitchiness and competition BUT there is an element of unity that you did have at school and psychologically it might be easier for you to do it there. Worth a try eh?

Talk about it

Don't be ashamed of not having as many friends as you would like to have, it is a much more common problem than you might think. Saying to a friend or family member: "can you introduce me to some of your friends? I want to meet some more people" is not embarrassing or a weird or unusual thing to do. They will not laugh at you, it's so worth trying.

I know that the idea of making friends as a grown up is scary and I know that you feel that by this point, you ought to be established with hundreds of cronies, but you DON'T. This is not abnormal, I promise you. I moved to Dublin a few years ago to live with my boyfriend and I knew no one, I went through all of these emotions then and, when my boyfriend came to live in London with me, he experienced the same thing. People grow up and change and it's not uncommon to lose touch with your school friends, I did with lots of mine. And it's definitely not something to be ashamed of to find yourself alone on a Friday night because somehow you grew apart from your school friends.

If this is something that you have/are going through, could I please ask you to leave what you do/did in the comments section so that anyone else going through the same thing might be helped? Don't feel isolated or go this alone, it's totally normal and it is something that you can change. 

TO TRULY END THE STIGMA AROUND MENTAL HEALH, WE NEED TO HELP PEOPLE UNDERSTAND

This week is Mental Health Awareness Week. So far I feel that 2017 has been an incredible year for Mental Health awareness. The London Marathon's chosen charity last month was Heads Together and the press surrounding that was truly incredible, most poignantly of course being the interview that The Telegraph's Bryony Gordon did with HRH Prince Harry about the therapy that he got after the death of his mother.

With 1 in 4 of us now struggling with a mental health illness in some form, there has never been a more important time to have this conversation, to do what we can to rid the world of the stigma that has somehow attached itself to illnesses that we can't 'see', that aren't 'physical', that are all 'in our heads'. 

Doing what I do I am lucky to see the work of some truly incredible people fighting to end that stigma. My Twitter feed is full of the most inspirational women talking honestly about their issues and friends of mine regularly send me news stories and pictures that they think I will be interested in relating to these issues. Through my work with Help For Heroes I have learnt about PTSD and the extraordinary things that the charity are having to do to help the 70,000+ sufferers of it. I have known friends who have been consumed totally by eating disorders and watched others battling with the darkness in their mind that is depression. And me? Well I'm incredibly anxious. All of the time. Parties scare me, people scare me, the worry that something has happened to my dog/mum/brother/sister/dad/boyfriend/neighbour/dog-sitter/childhood friend when I can't physically see them safe and well in front of me? That TERRIFIES me. I have read incredible stories from people, had some heartbreaking conversations with people and negotiated the whole thing out in my head over and over again. Mental health is very important to me. 

And so that is why I have loved 2017 so very much. I can feel the change this year, something feels different, conversations are being had, we're being more open, I can't pinpoint the change exactly but deep down I feel that something magnificent is happening. And about time too. For so long we have battled mental health illnesses, alone. Suicide is the biggest killer of men under the age of 45. The BIGGEST KILLER. More men are taking their own lives than dying of cancer or being killed in a car accident. They're suffering in silence, afraid to speak out until they physically cannot go on anymore and they take their own lives. Eating disorders, anxiety disorders and OCD would go undiagnosed for years as the sufferers either got a) too good at hiding their conditions or b) were brushed off as attention seekers or weirdos. Depressives were told to get a grip, were assumed to be going through a 'phase' or were ignored and undermined. And all of this happened because we didn't know how to deal with it.

We still don't really. Despite the fact that we will all know someone who is struggling with a mental health problem in some capacity, many of us still don't have a clue what to say to them. We're out of our comfort zones and out of our depths. It's not simply a question of telling someone to pull themselves together and dust themselves off, nor is it a question of trying to heal everyone with the same stroke, every condition is complex and differs massively from person to person. The NHS is overstretched, assuming that people feel that they can ask for help in the first place and the combination of all of these things? Well it makes conversations about it difficult, to say the least. What do you say to someone who is starving themselves to death? How can you say ANYTHING to a person fighting a disease so powerful that it is killing them? A person who perhaps doesn't want to die, who wants to be better, but who physically can't bring themselves to eat? What do you say to someone who's mood fluctuates so massively that over the half the time they can't control what they are saying? How can you be angry with them or reason with them or talk to them when they can't hear what they are saying, let alone what you are saying? How can you help someone that doesn't know how to accept help?

So how can we blame people for not understanding? For lacking empathy or compassion? I can't. I get frustrated with them, I get angry with them, but I can't blame them because our total lack of understanding has come about as a result of a complete lack of education. And that's what needs to change, that's, to my mind, what Mental Health Awareness Week and every week after this should be dedicated to: helping people who don't understand, to understand. 

I asked people on Twitter to tell me the one thing that they would say to people who didn't understand their condition and the answers all struck a similar theme: "please be patient with me", "please don't be too frustrated with me" - this is people feeling like they need to apologise, that they need to ask for you to understand them, they're having to make an excuse for their behaviour, for their ILLNESS. And I shouldn't have received these answers to this question. People shouldn't have to feel like this.

Would you say to somebody that had broken their back that they needed to just 'get over it'? Would you fuck! Would you say to somebody in a coma that the should 'stop attention seeking?' NO! Would you say to someone who had lost their leg that you 'understand what they're going through' because one time your whole toenail fell off? Not unless you were an actual and literal moron you wouldn't. So why do we think it's okay to say these things to people who are suffering with mental health issues? Telling people with depression to 'get over it'? Telling someone who is having a panic attack that they are 'attention seeking'? Telling someone who is experiencing an episode that you 'know what they are going through' because when your cat died twelve years ago you were like, SO bummed out? Because these things happen, so much more than you might think.

"Just because I don't look ill, does not mean that I am not struggling."

This was a response to my question on Twitter and this is something that we need to understand. We really don't know what anyone else is going through, until you have walked a mile in a person's shoes you can neither understand what they are going through, nor can you comment on it. But that does not mean that we cannot try to be more understanding and more compassionate. 2017 is going to be the year that attitudes towards mental health issues changed, I can feel it.

But we really need to work together to ensure that the hard work of not only the people that ran and campaigned in the London Marathon but of all of those who took the time to read a story about a mental health condition or open their eyes to these issues over the last four month hasn't gone to waste. Now is the time to talk, to help and to try to understand. 

A NOTE TO ANYONE TAKING PUBLIC EXAMS RIGHT NOW

It's exam season, which often translates to: hell on earth. My sister had her first 'academic' A-level today (she had her photography exams a couple of weeks ago) and so this is a blog post inspired by her but that I would like to share with everyone facing the pressure of exams over the coming weeks. 

I took my A-levels five years ago. I took English Language, History, Politics and Photography and I did OK. I was supposed to get a lot of As, (AAAB I think?) but things did not go to plan and instead I got A*, B, C,C. (A* Photography, B English, C Politics, C History). Despite the fact that I had worked SO hard revising and thought I loved what I was doing, when it came to the exams I choked. 

And although they weren't 'fails', the results that I got meant that I did not get into university to study what I wanted to study which was, weirdly, politics. When I got the results I was in America on a family holiday and I felt two things: 

1) Crushed. I had thought I would do so much better, my friends had all done well and this meant that everything that I had planned to do could now not happen. I was so disappointed with myself and felt that I had let everyone down.

2) Relief. This came a little bit later and I didn't recognise it at first, too busy being mortified I suspect. But come it did, and after a while I embraced it. When I was told that I now couldn't go to university the following year, I realised that I actually didn't even want to go, and definitely not to go and study politics in Leeds. All of a sudden I was off the hook, the pressure wasn't there, I was technically free to do what I wanted.

We debated with the idea of re-sitting my exams and I looked at colleges in London that would allow me to do that. After getting home though, and really thinking about it, I decided that I really didn't want to do that. I didn't know what I wanted to do instead, but I knew I didn't want to go through all of that again. 

So I didn't and instead I threw myself into work, I got a job at a charity in London and, after I had saved enough I went travelling for a bit with my friend Tom. When I got back I bounced around a bit before moving to Dublin to go and live with Alex (who had dropped out of uni after just a year to join a boyband), where I did every single shitty job that you can think of: waiting tables, delivering Thai takeaway food, pulling pints, working at the races. In truth, I didn't love all of that, not least of all because I couldn't keep a job for more than about two shifts. Eventually Alex and I decided to make the decision to move back to the UK where once again, we pulled pints. But then, after a bit, we both settled into 'career' jobs. Him, with the charity that I had worked at the year before and me on a marketing internship. After time I started my own social media business (2014 was a GOOD time to be doing that freelance) and Alex got a job in PR. Since then he has stayed with the same company, despite having no official qualifications he has moved up the ranks and I went on to start the blog and then a few months later, write the book and now here we are. 

When I got the news that I hadn't done as well in my exams as I had hoped I would it was an incredibly difficult thing to get my head around. I hadn't really thought about what would happen if I just didn't get the grades. I had had it drummed into me throughout my whole life that, after school, you do well in your exams and you go to university, that was the path that I thought I had to take. And when I was told that I literally couldn't go on that path, it was scary. What was I going to do? I didn't know, but I trusted the world, and it sorted me out. 

Now I am not saying that you are going to fail your exams, of course you're not, I suspect you will all do much better than I did (my sister definitely will), but I just wanted to tell you my story so that you realise that life will carry on after these exams, no matter what happens. If you pass, if you surpass your expectations, then that is great and I am so happy and proud of you. But if God forbid, you fail? The world won't stop spinning, of that I assure you.

By this point you have done everything that you can. You might be sitting there, as I am sure I did thinking 'Jesus Christ why did I not study more? Why did I miss so many classes or sleep for so much of my holiday?' You might be regretting all sorts and pulling your hair out that you haven't done enough, but I'm going to tell you now, that that is totally pointless. By the day before, or the morning of the exam that you are due to take, you realistically know as much as you are going to know. You can't stop time or really do much about the situation, other than just to do the best that you can. I know that school have put a LOT of pressure on you, you might have a lot from your parents too, but you need to know that all anyone can ask of you at this point is that you do your best. 

I thought, before I took my exams, that if I failed, that would be it for me. My parents would hate me, all my friends would ditch me and call me stupid and that no one would give me a job. I was SO wrong about that. Yes my parents were disappointed, but FOR me, not OF me. My friends? They were gutted on my behalf but didn't patronise or leave me, instead I think most of them just gave me tequila. And the job thing? Granted, I haven't tried to be a nurse or a lawyer but no one, and I mean no one, has ever asked me how I did at Alevel. And GCSE? I can't even remember. 

At this point, you can only do your best. No one wants any more from you than that. I am sure that they will go so so well and that you will be fabulous, but you need to know that whatever happens, you're going to be alright. Enjoy this time if you can, I know that sounds mad, but THIS is what you have worked for your whole life. This is your chance to show off, to throw caution to the wind and to show the world what you are made of. You'll be absolutely fabulous, breathe deeply, sleep, treat yourself and do your best.

Good luck! xxxxx

THE PRETTY NORMAL ME PODCAST! EP #1.

Hello and welcome to the first ever Pretty Normal Me podcast.

I am SO SO excited to announce that after yonks of fantasising about this, the day that I have been waiting for is finally here!! 

So what can you expect? Well, this podcast came about totally by chance after a Twitter friendship blossomed between myself and the wonderful radio presenter Louise Hulland. I can't believe we've pulled it off (or have at least got the first one under our belt's!) and am so excited to be sharing it. So, this is the Pretty Normal Me Podcast - half an hour every week of chat, advice and general oversharing.

We want it to be chilled as hell and would love for you to consider us your friends in your phone, your pals in your pocket, and your mates in an emergency. We’re here, bringing everything you love about the website to life. From keeping your head in a crisis, to getting what you want out of your time on this great planet - life can be a challenge, and we’re on this journey with you.

The podcast will be coming out every Thursday at 5pm from here on out and I canny wait! Please enjoy. Big love to all xxxxxx

THE OVERWHELMING KINDNESS OF STRANGERS

Today I was brought to tears by kindness from a stranger. Although I technically run a blog, I'm not sure I count as a proper blogger yet as I very rarely receive any post, (so can't partake in #POBoxOpening, #Haul, #FreeShitAllTheTime trends) and so today, when something arrived from AMERICA of all places I was so beyond confused. I hadn't ordered anything and I don't really have any friends over there, and definitely not ones that would be sending me some fairly weighty packages. I opened the box to find more gorgeous stationery than I know what to do with which was sent by one of my B.E.A.U.T.I.F.U.L readers because, she explained in the card attached, I once tweeted asking where I could get some great stationary from. I honestly don't know what to say.

I know that the world is full of good people, of course it is, but we would be forgiven for forgetting that sometimes. America is run by a lunatic, the news is awash with terrible stories and living in a city like London it is easy to feel isolated. We don't often see the goodness that is around us. But today someone did something so sweet and so kind and so thoughtful, unprompted and unasked, just because she could, and it has given me faith in people that I didn't think possible.

The person responsible for this kindness, by the way, is called Chelsea. Chelsea has supported the blog for a really long time and I'm not sure if she will ever know how much her presence and kindness, even before today's parcel, has meant to be. Receiving kind tweets and messages means more to me than I think anyone will ever understand and receiving something like this? Well it's got me in tears. Happy tears. Tears that have reminded me how truly wonderful people can be. How great the world can be. 

To my mind, there is nothing more magical than a random act of kindness. Than doing something nice for someone, just because you can. We forget, I think, the potential that we have to bring joy to other people. How much it means to someone to know that you are thinking of them. How much it means to them to know that you care. 

We're the social media generation; we're the: 'why send a card when you can send a text?', 'why waste money on an invitation when you can make a Facebook post?' creatures of the world. The postal system has taken a battering since the invention of Facebook and we, we have become lazy. But today I was inspired. Today I realised what a difference that effort can make to someone's life. My life changed today, because someone did something so kind for me. My day is better, the sun seems brighter and I'm overwhelmed by the warmest, fuzziest sensation in my tummy. 

A sensation that I want everybody in the world to have. And so I am going to set you a challenge. Next week we all need to be a bit more like Chelsea. A girl who I have never met, who I do not know, who went out of her way to not only buy me presents but post them the whole way across the world. A girl who has written me a letter and made me cry with her kindness. What Chelsea did today was the ultimate random act of kindness; I did not expect it and I certainly do not feel that I deserve it, but it was so truly beautiful. 

So I wanted to use this space to say two things really. One, thank you Chelsea, thank you so much for being so thoughtful. And two, to everyone else, let's take some inspiration. Let's be more like Chelsea. Let's scoop together the addresses of our friends and do something randomly wonderful for them. I promise you, it will mean more to them than you could ever know. 

A 'NO' FROM YOU IS NOT NECESSARILY EASIER TO TAKE

"But what if they say no???" - the question that prevents us from doing pretty much anything. We've all been there, we all do it all of the time, we have a great idea, we believe that we have worked hard enough for a promotion, we are sure that we deserve more money for a job that we are doing and we're so ready to question it, to ask for something, to DEMAND it even, and then we have that thought: "but what if they say no???" and all of a sudden that idea dissolves, the hope that we had fizzles out and before we've even had the chance of being rejected, we've convinced ourselves that the idea wasn't worth having in the first place.

We hear this scenario a LOT where women in work are concerned, they say that the reason that we are unable to move ahead in work is because we just can't ask for what we deserve. And to a degree I am sure that there is an element of this in play: I know for certain that this is something that happens to me all of the time, I never ask for money in work, convinced that the person who receives my request is going to run for the hills and label me as a danger and the idea of asking for MORE money, should someone have offered me some in the first place? Well don't be ridiculous, that's just unthinkable. 

This is something that Alex is constantly on my case for, when a PR gets in touch with me and offers me something to try, he begs me to ask them for money, to send them my rates. I always explain to him, patiently, why I can't: 'it doesn't work like that', I tell him. 'You don't just ASK for money, are you insane???' Of course, I'm wrong. That's exactly how it works. But in MY head, in my totally irrational mind, the one that is totally terrified of rejection in any form, well that's a different story entirely. So I say no, I say it for them, I save them the bother and us all the embarrassment and shoot the idea down just as soon as I have had it. And then my feelings are spared. And for a short little minute, that feels pretty good. I haven't asked for money and I don't get it, but at least I don't have to sit and watch the minutes go by on my laptop until I realise that my money talk did in fact scare them off and there will not be a return email. 

But is that really the answer? Is this idea of saving myself from rejection, even if it means shrinking myself down at every turn, the solution? Is it making me happier? You know, I'm not sure that it is. Because I don't think a 'no' from me is actually any easier to take in the long run, than a 'no' from a stranger would be. 

I know a girl who literally does not take no for an answer, ever. She is fearless. I've watched her march into a kitchen before now to ask where our food is an hour after we've ordered it. I've watched her get out of her car and move a whole load of cones so that she can park where she wants to park. I've watched her do pretty much everything. She EXPLODES confidence and when I'm with her I am left feeling half mortified (because I am the type of girl who would say no to a free box of doughnuts) and half totally in awe of her 'won't take no for an answer attitude'. She runs an incredibly successful business, has a husband that she both adores and respects and is generally a very happy person. And so every time I leave her I think: I'm going to be more like that. It's working for her, why can't it work for me? But then the opportunity presents itself and I'm back to my old ways, hiding behind my hands and talking myself out of everything. 

I am not happier that I say no to everything, in fact, I think I'm missing out on a huge amount of life because of it. Because it's not just the unanswered questions, it's my whole attitude. It's this fear that surrounds me, this uncertainty, this belief that I am not worth very much. The belief that leads me to telling myself 'no' before I've given anyone else the chance to. And that is a belief that a lot of us have, that a lot of women have. Sure we're told all the time that "if you don't ask, you don't get" and that "the worst thing anyone can do is say no", both true enough sayings, but we just don't hear it like that. No, I think we hear those expressions as something like this: "if I don't ask, then I won't be rejected" or "yes the worst thing anyone can do is say no because that IS THE WORST THING IN THE WORLD" and fairly quickly we've talked ourselves back into our totally debilitating mindset. 

Albert Einstein once said: "A ship is safest at shore, but that's not what it's built for" and this is a quote that I not only love but can totally relate to this piece. Much like a ship I am so much safer at the shore, clinging onto the side for dear life BUT that is absolutely not what I was built for. I have massive dreams of things that I want to do and directions that I want to take this blog and my life and career, I have all of this ambition and that is what I was built for and it seems that for the most part, the only thing that is stopping me from getting where I want to be? It's me and my obsession with saying no to myself. 

I have got to stop holding myself back. I have got to stop assuming that everybody is going to say no to me and I've really got to stop beating them to the punch. I don't want to lie and pretend that I won't feel a crushing blow next time someone turns me down but what I do need to do is give them the chance to do that. And that's something that I would encourage you to do to. A no is a hard thing to hear, I do appreciate that but it is so important to remember that a 'no' from you is not necessarily easier to take. 

SURROUND YOURSELF BY FLOWERS- IT IS PROVEN TO IMPROVE YOUR MENTAL HEALTH

Up until recently, I did not 'get' flowers. I didn't love them and need them in the house to make me feel zen, Summer in the UK has me sneezing like there is no tomorrow and in terms of keeping them in the house? I found that I either forgot to water them (if that's what they needed) or didn't throw them away in time and they'd end up stinking out the house and then the bin. Pollen would get on my clothes, dead leaves would fall over the floor and there was nothing more annoying than constantly rubbing my eyes. 

Perhaps it was blogging, or perhaps I grew up, but recently that has changed. I've started to appreciate them more and now love having them in the house. Anti-histamine pills have become a massive part of my life, but that's been a small price to pay for a home that I love looking at. We now have an orchid that lives in our bedroom and two huge house plants in the living room. I have little cacti plants coming out of my ears and even bought my first vase last weekend for all the flowers that I will now start buying for myself (because if that's not self-love then I don't know what is?!). 

So last weekend, along with Alex and two of my closest friends, we bundled Bua and their dog Sid into the back of the car and headed down to Richmond Park. I have heard a lot about Petersham Nurseries in the past, seeing it in various vlogs and blog posts and seen some lovely photos popping up on my Facebook and Twitter feed. So while we were in the area we decided to pop in. GUYS I FELL IN LOVE WITH ALL OF IT. 

It was the most beautiful thing and I wanted it all. (It was probably a huge blessing that my car was too far away and I couldn't actually carry them all home, via the park, with a very over-excited labradoodle attached to a rope hooked around my wrist!). There were rows and rows of flowers and plants and vases and pots and leaves and all things great. 

There have, in the last few years, been a lot of studies that have been done that link flowers with improved mental health: A Rutgers University study found that the link between flowers and your satisfaction with life is so much more important than it had been first thought. Having flowers in your home increased happiness, reduces depression and anxiety and actually can increase emotional contact with friends and family. A different study by Harvard University found the same results – increased compassion, feeling less negative, and more energy at work. And then if all of that wasn't already enough, Texas A & M University found that flowers and plants in the workplace improve problem solving skills and increase creativity. 

Last Saturday, I TOTALLY got this. The four of us spent over an hour literally walking up and down various paths doing nothing more than stopping to smell the flowers. We left feeling SO calm, all of us. It was like we had all been drugged to be honest, smiling at each other and fantasising about a house so full of wonderful things. 

The trip gave me masses of inspiration, I've been plotting some Pinterest-Board worthy ideas for the house, most consisting of shelves covered in adorable doll house size plants, and I've also been planning as many trips as I can to various garden centres in the coming weeks to 'spruce up the house.

The thing is about plants and flowers is that they are not that expensive and they make a huge difference in a house. Whether it is the task of keeping one alive or simply the act of looking at something beautiful when you come into the house it is hardly surprising that the studies conducted found what they did. I see a noticeable difference in my mood when there are flowers in the house, I am so much more productive and generally happier in my own company. 

So basically my advice is as follows: First things first go out and buy yourself a bunch of flowers, even if it's just a shitty little one from the local garage. Next, point yourself in the direction of a garden centre, or Petersham Nurseries if you don't live too far away, and literally just walk up and down the aisles looking at everything. Finally, find some space in your house and routine for some plants, even if it just a cactus, which is basically impossible to kill. Trust me. I know. 

MY MARATHON STORY: IF I CAN DO IT, THEN SO CAN YOU.

On Sunday 23rd April 2017, I completed the toughest thing I have ever done. I ran the London Marathon, all 26.2 miles! Without sounding like a total ‘look what I have done’, so far in my life I have climbed Kimilanjaro, I have trekked 100K across the Sahara Desert I have done 400+ in a week on my bike, but the marathon was without a doubt the hardest thing I have done, physically and most of all mentally. I always knew it would be tough, I knew I would struggle, but that is probably what made me even more determined to complete it. Doing it has been on my bucket list for years and on Sunday evening I proudly ticked it off.

My journey was tough, it was emotional, but it was also fun:

May 2016 – After a gin fuelled evening with friends I put myself into the ballot for the London Marathon 2017 – I didn’t think I would get a space, I had entered before and hadn’t been successful so I thought: why would this be any different?

Monday 10th October – A letter arrived for me, one I will never forget… ‘Congratulations on your place in the 2017 London Marathon.’ I was due to get married 5 days later so this was a shock. At least I knew what I would be doing post wedding/honeymoon…. RUNNING and lots of it! 

November 2016 - I started my training, I was OK, I am not a fast runner, nor do I particularly enjoy it, I find it quite dull running on my own, actually preferring to ride my bike. I would be jealous when I was out on a run and I would see people on their bikes, I longed to be back in the saddle not pounding the pavements. 

February 2017 - I went to Las Vegas for 2 weeks with work, it was full on, all the training I had planned didn’t happen. I managed a few runs, but not as much as I wanted – this is where the fear set in, how was I going to run 26 miles? I was terrified, but without a choice in the matter, I kept up running as much as I could, doing sprint sessions on a treadmill, core strength sessions in the gym and occasionally running outside.

(I discovered at this point that the thing with the London Marathon is that because it is in April, the evenings are only just starting to get lighter. Most of your training has to be in the dark, cold months and realistically you just can’t get out after work. This meant that from the date I received my letter in October, right the way through to March, I was having a really hard time trying to cram in miles before it was too dark and unsafe to run outside.)

2 weeks to go…

I was out in Mallorca with my husband who was training on his bike, and again every morning I would find myself jealous that he got to cycle and I had to run! Despite this however I was able to get some great runs in, the heat was great to train in and I was clocking up the miles. Towards the end of the trip I began resting, I was eating well and generally feeling good, but it still felt like I had ages to go until race day.

10 Days to go..

The taper had started, I was struggling with this as I didn’t know what to do with myself, I had all of this energy (mostly nerves) and I couldn’t run it off. I had a sports massage and this helped, my legs needed it, they were tight and sore and afterwards I felt so much better – not least of all because I now kew that I had to look after my legs and not undo the good work that had been done on them. 

1 week to go..

I was so nervous by this point as until then I had been a bit in denial as to how long I had to go until the big day. I kept thinking ‘’I’ve got three more Sundays to go… Two more Sundays to go…’ and so when I finally realised that it was NEXT Sunday, it was terrifying. I felt sick, worried and was very restless. I knew I had to sleep as much as I could, eat well and relax as otherwise there wasn’t a hope in hell that I would make the 26.2 mile course. 

That week I packed, unpacked, repacked, checked my kit, packed it again and made more lists than anyone would ever need to in their life. I was so worried that I would forget something essential. I planned my nutrition, worked out where I would stop for water and what would I do if I bonked. (No no, it’s not what you’re thinking… it’s an expression meaning ‘to hit the wall’.)

2 Days to go…

Friday was an interesting day; I busied myself in my office, I didn’t really want to see anyone because I knew that they would all ask how I was feeling and if I was ready and in my head all I was thinking was: “I am not OK and I do not feel ready”. But then, something clicked. I don’t know what it was or what triggered it but all of a sudden I thought: I am OK and I am ready - I CAN DO THIS! 

The day before…

Oh wow, this was some day, I was a whole bag of emotions, one minute I was crying, then I was laughing, I was excited, I was apprehensive, but through all of that I was sure of one thing: I just wanted Sunday to be here, I wanted to get going and start ticking off the miles.

I went to the Expo which was great, there was so much to do and see, and it put my mind totally at ease; you see people as nervous and as scared as you are, you see people who look just like you feel and you think: well if they can do this then so can I.

I ate a huge lunch, I ate everything I could that day, I needed the carbs and the calories and I knew that come the evening I wouldn’t be able to eat thanks to a combination of excitement and nerves, so I loaded up when I could. 

I was right, that evening I had a very small appetite and I managed a bowl of soup and a few bread rolls, I had a glass of wine that calmed me down and I was tucked up in bed by 2130 – one more sleep to go! 

RACE day is here… no more sleeps! 

I woke up at 0545, I had slept reasonably well despite the fact that I had woken up every 2 hours thanks to the amount of water I had drunk the day before to hydrate myself.

I went to breakfast at 0630 and looked at all the yummy food and thought: I am not hungry whatsoever. Bugger! I need to eat. So I chose some scrambled eggs, toast and beans, I could get those down me for sure… It was a struggle but I got there, I even managed some porridge which I am normally not a fan of, but I knew it would get me around the course.

Off we went to Blackheath, I cannot even describe how many people were there, it was insane. I was so grateful to have my Mum and Dad with me at this point, I will never be able to thank them enough for being there with me as there was no way on earth that i could have done this on my own. 

I went into the ‘blue pen’ and had to say goodbye to my parents; a quick cuddle to hold back the tears and they were gone… eeek, I had one hour to go, my stomach was in knots, I needed a wee constantly and was all kinds of scared. I kept telling myself, it’s 26 miles, it will be over soon, you will be back home with your husband and in your own bed by tonight, you can do this. 

I was over the start line by 1014, we were told it could take up to 30 minutes to get going so I was happy with the 14 minutes, and off I went, 26.2 miles ahead of me. I felt good as I started and smashed out the first 10 miles, once I was in double figures it felt much more manageable and I was counting up the miles not down. 

At 11 miles in I met a lady called Nicola, she was running for Demelza, which is a charity that helps children who are terminally ill. Nicola looked like she was struggling, and, as I was sorting my shoe out at the time, she asked if I was OK and I told her that I was, before asking her the same thing. She had an injury to her hip and she didn’t think she could continue but when she told me why and who she was running for, I told her she had to finish and that we were going to do the next 15 miles together. We grizzled it out, she was so amazing and we had some great conversations on the way around.

At mile 17 I saw my mum and dad, my brother, sister-in-law and nephew and my best friendKim and her sister Lisa. Kim and Lisa, along with their brother, lost their dad to Parkinson’s in 2015 and I was running this for him, I had raised over £1000 for Parkinson’s UK and when I saw them it gave me the boost and encouragement to get to the end. Kim has been a huge support and has always believed in me, I was going to do her proud and her dad, I knew he would be looking down thinking: you’re mad, but good on ya! He kept me going. Seeing friends and family was the best bit, it gave you the energy to carry on, it gave you something to smile about, it was just fantastic! 

Everything was going great until mile 23 when I hit the wall, hard. Even now I am still amazed that I got myself through it and was able to complete the last three miles, I really didn’t think I could. Nicola was amazing here, telling me how I had to keep going. It was also at this point that I saw my sister- this was just what I needed. I couldn’t stop to chat though as I knew I would never get going again. I waved and carried on, the next three miles felt like another marathon in itself. 

Then in the distance I saw a sign reading ‘800M to go’… it was like an oasis, the end was in sight! I could hear ‘ANNA, ANNA, ANNA, ANNA SHAW, ANNA SHAW’ and I turned to see my family again, I grabbed Nicola’s hand and we smashed out the last few hundred metres, crossing the finish line together. Both of us burst out crying, we had done it, we had got round 26.2 Miles of the LONDON MARATHON, one of the most iconic marathons in the world… and we had done it. I met Nicola 15 miles ago but I couldn’t think of a better person to cross the line with, it was such a pleasure to do it with her, knowing how much of a difference we had both made to our chosen charities.

We picked up our medals and said our goodbyes so we could go off to find our families. 

I got to Horse Guards and sat down, big mistake…. I couldn’t then get up to go and find everyone, so they had to come and find me. I saw Kim and burst out crying, I couldn’t believe I had done it – job done! She wrapped me up in my foil blanket and just held me tight, I was a wobbly mess trying to eat an apple, (of all things?!), I needed food, and lots of it! 

I had vowed that morning that this would be my first and last marathon, even joking that I would announce my retirement at the end of the race, but now I am not so sure. I think I might have the bug, but a rest first is essential! I wish I could bottle up that feeling of finishing, of the journey home, reflecting on what I had achieved. I felt proud as punch at what I had just achieved, little old me had just pulled her arse around 26.2– you can’t forget the .2- miles! 

My advice to anyone who thinks they might not be able to do something because they might find it tough, because they might fail: Get rid of those thoughts and do it! 

Try it, have a go, be you and be proud! 

ABx

STOP FEELING GUILTY FOR SPOILING YOURSELF.

When was the last time you got a massage? Or spent over £100 on yourself? (That wasn't a new pair of glasses or an appointment at the dentist?) When was the last time that you spoilt yourself? Honestly, I'm not sure when the last time I spoilt myself was. I've literally never paid for a massage before. My mum really sweetly booked me a pedicure a couple of weeks ago, but that is something that I have never, or would normally never organise for myself, and the idea of spending my money on an expensive pair of shoes or a handbag? It sends shivers down my spine.

Living at the moment is CRAZY expensive, particularly in London. Most of my friends are in debt, whether that's due to a student loan or an overdraft that was set up when they first moved here to help them cover the rent. As a result, we all make a lot of sacrifices. We don't drink when we go out for dinner, we say no to parties outside of the city because it's too expensive to get there, we wear our shoes until the soles are literally worn away. 

We've become master savers - Alex and I do all of our food shopping on a Sunday afternoon at one of those big Tescos because we know that we can save about £30 a week doing it. Alex cycles to work every day and we make our lunches the night before. My friend's do their own manicures, we wax our own vaginas, I can make a Lush bath bomb last about ten baths and we live for the complimentary cup of coffee that you can pick up at Waitrose. And for the most part, it works. It's a huge pain in the arse, lots of conversations that we have drift to either 'oh my God I'm so broke I'll never get out of this whole' or, 'I know, let's all look on Foxtons and play the "what would I buy if I won the EuroMillions" game.' We would love to be able to do it all, but, we can't. And that's the same story everywhere.

If we can't afford a starter at a restaurant then we certainly won't stretch to a new makeup palette. If the council tax bill leaving the account was a huge blow then how are we going to be able to afford to get the drink's in at a friend's birthday this weekend? If we can't afford the £2.99 Maybelline nail varnishes in Super Drug then how the fuck are we going to afford a manicure? 'Luxuries' are the first thing to go when it comes to saving money.

But that can be incredibly depressing. It's needs must for most people and we generally do plod along quite nicely, but every now and then, the opportunity for spoiling ourselves arises and it is incredibly difficult to turn it down. So sometimes we don't, we buy a jumper that we didn't really need, we decide to let a professional have a go on our eyebrows rather than butchering themselves with our tweezers, or one drink turns into twenty on a night out. But because we have got SO used to saving, to 'being good', to 'sacrificing', when we do break the rules, fuck it up a bit, we feel really, reallyyyy guilty.

It is not uncommon for Alex and I to wake up on a Friday morning with the hangovers from hell and shed a little tear over the fact that we had SO much fun that we slipped into our overdrafts. In fact, that's really common and that feeling of guilt and shame and anger is something that can cloud an entire day. We got to the point recently where we thought: why do we even go out anymore if the next day always feels SO horrible because we spent money that we didn't really have? All the fun that we had is ruined by a feeling of panic.

And that started to really piss me off, that feeling. The feeling that I didn't deserve my own money, that I wasn't entitled to it, the feeling that spoiling myself was selfish. That feeling that really, we all have when it comes to money. The last time I felt this feeling of selfishness was on the way home from my holiday where I bought myself a new foundation (£25) to match my now considerably darker skin and just as I was stomping round the house unpacking and being a in a grump with myself, I came across these ceramic eggs that had been posted as an Easter present from Alex's mum, one of which actually told me to pamper myself. Well, if the egg says I should then I definitely should right?

Well, maybe. But this did get me thinking. At the moment all of the money that any of us really save is for the big stuff; for a house, or for the rent or for a rainy day. It's all for big scary bills and boring expenses such as travel and food. Nowhere in our meticulously organised bank accounts or expense spread sheets does their exist a 'me fund'. A pot of money saved just for you. Correction, a pot of YOUR money saved just for you. And that didn't make any sense to me. That just seemed wrong. And so, taking inspiration from my eggs, which I love by the way, might I suggest that we look at the idea of saving a little bit of money for ourselves every month? It doesn't have to be hundreds. On account of the fact that these eggs are tiny more than anything else, I'm not expecting to be able to afford a pair of Loubitons anytime soon, but a couple of quid here and there? Just towards me and the things that I want? Might that be the way to stop myself feeling guilty about spending money on myself?

If I go out and buy a jumper on a whim, that's maybe £30 that I hadn't bargained on losing. That's £30 I could have put into savings, or spent on a dinner somewhere, or used to fill my car with petrol. That's something that I feel guilty about because it's come out the blue and I'm kicking myself for shitty will power. But if I had bought that jumper after collecting a pound a day for a month would I still have the same qualms about spending it? Probably not. By the time spending it came around, the money, to my subconscious mind, had already gone. 

The ONLY downside here that I can see is that I don't want to have to smash these eggs because they are adorable, so perhaps I might suggest a piggy bank, or a little pot somewhere or a flex saver account instead. I'm not saying that you need to take up having weekly massages and I'm not trying to suggest that having nice nails is more important than food (although....), but what I am encouraging you to do is to stop feeling guilty for spoiling yourself. Because apart from anything, and this is important to remember: by the time that you are feeling guilty, that money has gone. You can't get it back, and there is no use crying over it now. As Alex and I always have to say to one another after we fuck up and get drunk and order three rounds of jaeger-bombs for everyone that we have ever met: you can always earn more money.

TURNING YOUR SHITTY DAY INTO SOMETHING BETTER...

When I have a bad day, I render myself quite incapable of doing anything at all. I love my job SO much, I am so lucky to have this amazing blog and a book deal and that I can work so hard at something that I am truly passionate about. I am so lucky to have a lovely home and a dog and a boyfriend and all the lovely friends that I do but, just like everyone else in the world, I sometimes have days when I am really, really low.

Today was one of those days. I knew it would be from the off really, I was so tired when I woke up and that is generally a good indication that something isn't going to go my way. By 9.30 I had taken Boo for a walk, eaten my breakfast and been to the opticians but as I started to work, I found myself quite incapable of doing anything. I started the same piece over and over again and it wasn't until the sixth attempt that I realised that I was onto a non-starter. Looking for inspiration elsewhere I began to read, consult my notebook, make myself a cup of coffee, all of the things that I normally do when I need a hit of inspiration. It didn't come. I only got lower, more stressed and upset that I was being so useless. 

I started to obsess over the blog itself, over the pieces that I have written recently, convincing myself that they weren't any good. I compared my Twitter and Instagram accounts to those of much bigger, more successful bloggers and I was disheartened. From here it only spiralled, I thought back to everything that hasn't gone my way in the last year, opportunities that I missed out on or wasn't chosen for, things that have fallen through, disappointment. I convinced myself that I wasn't any good at anything and that there was no point to anything. 

This is a dangerous place for me to get myself to as it only gets worse from there. I find myself worrying about EVERYTHING, about Bua, about the house, about my future. I stop being able to be excited about anything and instead obsess about all the bad things, the bad things that haven't even happened yet. I tell myself that I'm not worth anything, that no one really likes me, that the blog is failing and that it is a waste of my time. 

I tell myself, a bunch of lies. 

So why am I writing such a wildly depressing piece I hear you ask, this is not what we come here for, this is not empowering or inspiring, really this is a bit tragic. Well, I know that, but I'm writing this because I know that I am not the only one to have these days and I know that when I have them, I feel like I am the only person in the world.

So I wanted to write this for anyone who also has these days, to let you know that you are most certainly not the only person in the world. They're horrid, these anxieties. This low feeling is truly crippling and it is very hard to get away from. When it comes it is like a cloud over your house and before you know it, it has spread to everywhere. What started as just a tiny bit of writer's block, or an essay that you didn't get in on time or a bollocking from your boss, soon becomes something so much bigger than that. Something telling you that you are failing. Something that is going to destroy everything in your life if you let it. 

But you can't let it. You can't let one bad thing take over your day, your week, your life. You can't let one shitty thing ruin all the other great things. You can't let that stupid ass voice in your head drown out the one that gets you out of bed in the morning, the one that makes you smart and funny and great, the one that allows you so many wonderful things in your life. 

Sometimes I walk down the street and I think, oh my god, being alive is the most amazing thing. I am going to take my time on earth and I'm going to do something incredible. I want to change the world, I want to create amazing content, I want to connect with thousands of people, I want to work so hard to ensure that I have done the best job that I possibly can. And then sometimes, on days like today, I walk down the street and think: shit, life is scary, what is the point of my time on earth? How the fuck am I meant to do anything amazing when I have no idea what to write about, such a small following and am basically doing a shitty job? And that is so annoying. Because the first me, the one that thinks those beautiful thoughts is the woman that I want to be ALL OF THE TIME. 

Half way through writing this piece my phone rang, my gorgeous friend Sophie called me suspecting that something was wrong after reading some pretty depressing texts and I took my phone, Bua and myself out into the park. It was freezing cold but so bright and beautiful and the blossom was out and the sun was lovely and, whilst off loading all of my problems, the real ones and the ones that I had made up in my head, into Sophie's patient ear, I realised that getting out of this slump and allowing the version of me that loves to be alive back into my body, was so much easier than I had first thought. 

It was like, by acknowledging how crazy I was being, how irrational and manic, I was able to take a step back and look at exactly where I was, which is, as Sophie put it, in exactly the same place that I was in yesterday. Nothing has changed, nothing, apart from me. And if I changed into this negative person this morning, what's stopping me from changing back into a positive one this evening? Nothing.

So that is what I have done. And honestly, it's worked. I'm excited again, I'm happy again. I've pulled myself out of the slump, simply by making the decision to make a change. And that's kind of what I want to say with this piece: it is possible to make a positive change in your day, so so easily. You don't have to write off the days that have got you down, the ones that haven't gone your way. All you really need to do is change the way that you're looking at them. And I know that that can be a nearly impossible thing to do, and I don't want to undermine any mental health illnesses or suggest that anyone just needs to 'get over it', sometimes I know it is SO much more than that, but what I am suggesting is for anyone who, like me, can find themselves very quickly spinning into a downward spiral of OH MY LORD MY LIFE IS TERRIBLE, to take a step back. To take a deep breath, to look at the day from a distance and see if there is any part of it is salvageable, you might just be pleasantly surprised. 

 

ONE KISS? TWO KISSES? HANDSHAKE? WHY IS SAYING HELLO SO HARD?

At one point or another in our lives, we will have had a greeting go horrifically wrong. We've all been there, you see someone you don't know that well at the party, you know you need to greet them and so you enthusiastically lean in to partake in the 'two kiss' ritual. This is what you trained for, this is why your parents dragged you to all of those parties, this is the polite way to greet someone. You feel confident, you feel grownup, and then. And then you see your hopes and dreams crumble around you as you feel the outstretched hand of your acquaintance being enveloped by your stomach rolls. They went for the handshake. That crushing feeling, as your cheeks burn red and the ground takes a little bit too long to swallow you up, is a feeling that we all know. I have felt it, and I have watched it. 

I'm a two kiss kind of gal. Always have been. As a woman it has always been rare for people to shake my hand, one kiss always felt too brief and a hug seems much too intimate, as a result I landed at a kiss on either cheek. Not everyone though, thinks like I think. If they did, the nightmare that was 'saying hello' to someone, wouldn't be nearly as stressful as it is. 

The idea for this piece came to me after a good friend practically begged me to write it. Arriving at the pub a couple of weeks ago this friend grabbed me by the arm and dragged me outside. "Oh my god, I've just had THE most awkward hello with your old flatmate's boyfriend. I went for the two kisses and he went for one and we genuinely nearly kissed. I want to die. Please write about this I can't be the only one who this has happened to..." "No Sophs", I reassured her, "you're most definitely not."

The amount of times I have gone to hug someone and ended up trapping them as they tried to lean back to go for the second kiss I can't even remember. Equally the amount of times I have gone to kiss someone for the second time when they weren't expecting it and basically kissed them full on the mouth is uncountable, this happened last Thursday as a matter of fact. I've watched it happen too. Bumping into a friend out for dinner last year I thought I would introduce the girl I was with to the guy I had just seen. She, a bottle of wine in, went for the hug, he, at dinner with his family, stuck his hand out. This is a moment that lives on in all of our memories as one of the most mortifying moments. Ever. EVER. (Not least of all because my friend did not see the hand in her stomach as a reason to stop the hug and with the enthusiasm with which she grabbed him, she probably risked spraining his wrist...)

So what is the etiquette? Who is in the wrong here? And most importantly, why are we all unable to sing from the same hymn sheet where the simple act of saying hello is concerned? Of all the things we have to deal with in our lives, why is this among the most stressful? 

A little bit of research and an awful lot of thinking has lead me to the following conclusions:

If you are in a work environment and greeting people that you have a) never met before b) only ever seen at work then GO FOR THE HANDSHAKE. If you are meeting the same people outside of the office then I can't help you, perhaps judge it on familiarity or just follow their lead, I'd say a kiss can't hurt but for godsake gauge the damn room. 

If you meet someone in a social situation I would suggest going for the amount of kisses that you are most comfortable with. From body stance it should be fairly obvious if your acquaintance is a one or two kiss kind of person so you'll probably need to gauge that as and when. Either way I would consider a party to probably be too formal for a handshake, unless it's a work do in which case I am confused again. The ONLY time I would say to absolutely not go for two kisses with someone is if you are in Tibet, as they commonly greet people by sticking their tongues out at one another, I don't need to explain why a miscommunication here could be mortifying. Whatever you do though, in any situation, it is VITAL that you keep your hands above waist height, in a confused moment it is all too easy to accidentally brush up against something that you definitely don't want to be brushing. 

For some reason, greeting people can be an utterly confusing and totally overwhelming thing to do. For a lot of us it can actually be something that causes us to lose sleep and hate social engagements and, although that seems ridiculous, I totally understand it. 

So, for anyone who has ever totally humiliated themselves during a casual hello, which is, let's face it, all of you, I have one vital piece of advice for you: do whatever you are going to do, with confidence. If you go for the two kisses where they only go for the one, explain it IMMEDIATELY. My latest thing is to declare it the second the red flag appears: "Oh God sorry I can't get enough, I'm a two kisser!" - so far this has gone down fairly well. If they go for the two when you only go for the one, apologise straight away: "oh so rude of me I'm sorry, why is saying hello so hard?!" - look you're relatable, hopefully they will get it and a conversation can commence. And where the handshake/kiss situation is concerned there is only one thing for it: LAUGH. Laugh at yourself, laugh at them, laugh like you've never laughed before.

Unfortunately, it seems, I do not have all the answers. Apparently nobody does as this is something that seems to happen a LOT. But if twenty odd years of social faux pas have taught me anything, it's that all you really need to get you through, is confidence. 

TAKING INSPIRATION FROM THOSE AROUND YOU

Yesterday one of my closest friends, Anna Boggi, ran the London Marathon. She has been training like a mad man over the last few months and yesterday, along with thousands of other SUPER-HUMANS, she completed the marathon. 

Every year, after I watch Wimbledon I find myself wishing that I could be like Serena Williams. Inspired by the ridiculous standard of play, I convince myself that inside this pathetically mal-coordinated body there is a tennis pro just waiting to come out and that by the following June I will have been scouted and will be the one on Centre Court being cheered on by the nation. A similar thing happens to me after I watch the London Marathon. Every year I watch it and think 'I COULD DO THAT'. I find myself weirdly jealous of the limping, vomiting, exhausted looking people and promise myself that the following day I am going to go for a run and that by the following April, I will be dressed in lycra, waiting on the start line, looking ah-mazinggg, ready to complete the famous course. Unsurprisingly, thus far, neither of these things have happened. 

But this year, something changed. Yesterday my friend ran the London Marathon and I was SO inspired by her that today, I put on a pair of trainers and ran until I physically couldn't run anymore. I have a half marathon that I am supposed to be doing next weekend and before today I was fully prepared to pull out. The furthest that I had ever run was 5 miles and training took a back seat whilst I was on holiday thanks to some sea lice bites on my feet that meant that I couldn't put on trainers. (That and one too many rum punches of course). Even this morning, despite wanting nothing more than to be inspired by Anna and the thousands of other runners in yesterday's marathon, I was still searching for a way to pull out of this thing without being beaten to death by my mother with a pair of trainers.

But then I thought about Anna and my friend Sally and my hero Bryony Gordon, all of whom did DOUBLE what I was nervous about yesterday, and I put my trainers on. I had a six mile route planned in my head and as I set off it occurred to me that that was probably a wildly optimistic plan, I've never run further than five miles without a break before. Normally I find myself overthinking running totally, I fixate on the distance, I worry about my time, I get bored of my music, I get grumpy with Bua for pulling on her lead, I hate my shoes and my legs and I get angry with my lungs. But today, all of that noise got cancelled out as all of my efforts and thoughts went to yesterday's marathon.

When I hit the first mile mark I realised that just the day before Anna would have done the same thing and thought, 'I'm only one twenty-sixth of the way through', when I got to five miles (normally my absolute limit) I realised that Anna would have been less than a fifth of the way through and when I got to my eighth (at about the point my legs starting crying) I realised that Anna would only have completely a third of her race. How could I give up now? When she did SO well? Somehow, inspired by my friends and thousands of strangers I pushed myself harder and harder and didn't stop until my body resolutely stopped working at the 10 mile mark. Guys. I RAN 10 MILES TODAY. (Probably would have been a more amazing thing to announce if your Facebook newsfeed wasn't still awash with stories of people doing 26 miles yesterday right?But STILL... 10 miles?!).  

Sometimes doing the job that I do can be very lonely, I don't have any other friends that are bloggers and so when I want to talk to my mates during the day, or ask their advice on something, I have to wait to do it when I know that they are on their lunch breaks. I often get lonely with exercise too, although my friends and family do a LOT of it, we are all at very different stages. My mum is a six-time Ironman and my boyfriend is currently in training for his first (and when I say training, I mean, this guy is a MACHINE). So although I am regularly impressed by them, totally in awe and adoration of them even, I often find it hard to deprive inspiration, not because what they are doing isn't inspirational but because it just seems so far away from anything that I could ever achieve. 

Over the last few months though, I have really watched Anna work. I have watched her train SO FLIPPING HARD, I have watched her put the time in, I have heard about the blisters and I know that she was so nervous but then, after months and months, I saw it all pay off. I saw her achieve something totally incredible, change her own life, I saw her be amazing. And that inspired me so much more than she will ever know.

In order to do extraordinary things, we need to be surrounded by extraordinary people. Sure, not all of us know the guy that is going to cure cancer, or climb a mountain, or row across the Atlantic or get to space. Not all of our best mate's trapeze professionally or take part in triathlons or organise fundraisers or start a new business. But we all know people who are defying odds, setting challenges and breaking barriers every day. We watch our best friends handle heart break, raise their children on their own, we watch them join the gym, learn to ride a bike or join a rowing club. We watch them work for charities, put others before themselves, overcome eating disorders or mental health problems, we watch them organise their cupboards and keep their houses clean and then sometimes, sometimes, we'll watch them run a marathon. And that's just amazing. These are the people that we need to be inspired by, these are the people to watch, the people that we see every day.

Yesterday Anna did something amazing and in doing so, she lit a fire within me that I am so excited about. Thank you lovely Anna, for being absolutely phenomenal, I'm so proud of you xxx

THE BOOKS THAT I READ ON HOLIDAY

One of my all time favourite things about holidays is the time that you have to read. I always take so many out with me and find myself devouring them in a day. There's nothing better than piles and piles of read pages with sand tucked into the spine and suncream finger stains on the cover. I had a bit of work to do this holiday so didn't get to read quite as much I would like. But I still managed eight wonderful books and so I thought I would share them with you guys in case anyone out there is on the hunt for a good book to get your nose into! 

Life After Life
Kate Attkinson 

I was reading this for a long time before the holiday as it took quite a while for me to get into it at home (I never have the time in London!) It's a very interesting idea for a book, looking a lot at the idea of 'what if...' Once on holiday I finished it in a day- all it took was a bit of dedication after months of struggling. It might be because it's not the most satisfying plot line but still a great book for anyone who likes Kate Attkinson or wants a book that will get them thinking. I was on the hunt for days after I finished for somebody to talk to about it.

Remains Of The Day
Kazuo Ishiguro

I think this is the kind of book that you would describe as a classic. My mum recommended it to me after we watched Dontown Abbey together. Although it's not the most thrilling plot line (it literally describes one guy driving across the country to visit an ex-colleague), it is so beautifully written that I just LOVED reading it. I also felt myself wanting to improve as a writer. Ishiguro also wrote the book Never Let Me Go, which is apparently just amazing so I've got that one on the way to me as we speak. 

How To Live
Peter Johns

This is a MUST READ. This was actually written by a friend of my mum's for his daughter who had been diagnosed with cancer at the age of nine. After beating all of the odds, Meg survived and by the time her 18th birthday came around, Peter decided that the most beautiful, meaningful gift that he could give her was a book, written by him. A User's Guide To Life. This book is so powerful and perfect and wonderful, you really must read it. 

The Trouble With Goats and Sheep
Joanna Cannon

I ADORED this book and have since recommended it to everyone. The majority of it is written from the point of view of a ten year old who, with her best friend, starts to look for God in her neighbour's homes. The storyline is compelling, sinister at times, but written in such a beautifully innocent way you can't help but fall in love with it. I inhaled this book and seriously recommend it to anyone who is on the look out for a summer read. 

The Life Changing Magic Of Not Giving A Fuck
Sarah Knight

I have seen this book EVERYWHERE over the last few months and going on the title I thought that I would love it. Unfortunately I wasn't one of them. Although I love the idea, I personally found it to have one too many 'fucks' in it. I understand the appeal and really wanted to love it. For people who really do struggle to say 'no' and stop caring so much, I would say to give it a go. 

Now We Are 40
Tiffanie Dark

Generation X members: READ THIS BOOK. I am a millennial but I still adored it. Thiffaine is a journalist and this book is part memoir and part a look at politics and sex and society. It gave me a whole new perspective about pretty much everything and had me wishing that I had been born 15 years earlier. Seriously though, to anyone nearing, or over 40, I really would recommend buying and reading this fabulous book. 

We Were The Lucky Ones
Georgia Hunter

This. Book. Changed. Everything. I did not speak to anyone for two days as I demolished this book. It is an incredibly true story of a Jewish-Polish family in World War Two. It is incredibly harrowing, shocking and heartbreaking but so amazing. It's not an easy read but being a true story, I just found it to be so important. This was by far and away my story of the holiday, probably the year and I highly recommend it. 

The Anxiety Solution
Chloe Brotheridge 

Anxiety sufferers: this is a must read. Like a must must must read. I was sent this by Chloe and have never been so grateful for anything. It's practical and wonderful and it's important. If you are struggling with anxiety, please read this. Please. Chloe is a legend and I not only loved this book, but took a lot of practical advice from it. 

Can I Speak To Someone In Charge
Me!

Ahaha OK so I had to proof read my own book whilst I was away and without meaning to be a cheeky bitch I saw this as an opportunity to remind you that my book is available to pre-order now 💛 xxxx

GLASSES SHOPPING WHEN YOU HAVE AN ENORMOUS HEAD

There are a couple of things that I don't love about myself. One of them is that I have bad eye sight. Another is that I have an enormous face. The combination of the two things means that once a year I find myself in a sweaty panic at the opticians. 

Because opticians, it seems, don't cater for people like me. Those of us with wide set eyes and faces that take the shape of plates. Despite there being an apparently impressive number of glasses on offer, the variety, or lack thereof is pathetic. This can make my annual eye tests hell on earth as I stand, clutching my new prescription, frantically trying on every pair of glasses on offer, desperately looking for anything that doesn't make me look like I had stolen the spectacles off a toy bear.

This was yesterday for me. The actual eye test went pretty well, my eye sight it seems, is improving (didn't even know that could happen so high fives all round!), but the bit afterwards was everything that I knew it would be and worse. Knowing as I do that this was going to be tricky I dived in at the designer end (where the 'fashion' glasses are) as they are often bigger but had no luck. I then moved over to the men's section, then back to the women's, then to the men's again. After fifteen minutes and every pair of glasses that the shop had tried on, I began to sweat. 

Eventually I found a pair that weren't totally horrible, apart from the fact that they were brown with gold arms and some horribly flashy branding that I hated, and I showed my new friend, a very over enthusiastic shop assistant. They apparently were that horrible, I noticed, as he winced at me when I tried them on. "Let me help you", he said as he ushered me over to the men's section. I then tried on all of the glasses again. 

After another ten minutes and countless glasses we both momentarily conceded defeat. Is my face growing? Or are glasses getting smaller? Surely I cannot be the only one with these problems? Surely. And if I'm not, what the hell is everyone else doing? Finally, and I do mean finally, my new friend had a light bulb moment and dragged a totally mortified me over to the sunglasses section. It was at this point that I wanted the ground to actually and literally swallow me hole - was my face SO big that I was going to have to wear sunglasses to drive? To watch television? To read my bloody book? 

Pretty much, yes it is. 

The good news is, you can swap out the lenses, so I won't actually have to wear sunglasses all the time and thankfully, the much bigger frames do mean that I can at least now wear a pair of glasses that don't make me look like a total fruit loop, even if they did cost me £140 and more shame than I know what to do with. 

The fact is though, I am disappointed with Specsavers and with all opticians really, for making this unfortunate combination of my big head and bad eye sight worse than it already is. I have to wear my glasses quite a lot of the time, which doesn't actually annoy me an awful lot but I do appreciate that that is something that does affect a lot of people's confidence. We've all heard the nasty nicknames: 'specky', 'four eyes' and we've all heard the unkind rhymes: 'boys don't make passes at girls in glasses' - couple that with the fact that we don't actually like the glasses that we're wearing? Well that all seems rather unfair. 

So if you, like me, have bad eye sight and a big head, can I offer you some advise.

- Go to the opticians with a friend. That way, when you try on a pair that looks totally horrible you can laugh about it with them rather than having to do it on your own and die of shame when you catch the eye of someone peering in through the shop window.

- Go straight to the sunglass section. As I discovered yesterday, they can swap out the lenses for you and whilst it might be a little bit embarrassing, it might save a lot of time and get the whole ordeal over quicker.

- Take your current glasses with you. This way you can hold up the ones that you have against other ones in there before trying them on. If you can see straight away that the ones on the rack are much smaller than yours, then you can save yourself that embarrassing moment that we have come to dread. 

- Shop in the men's section. This is nothing to be embarrassed about and I don't know why they don't just make it all unisex. Men's frames are often bigger so it makes sense to look in there, my last four pairs (before the sunglasses) have all come from that side.

- Avoid Kylie Minogue like the plague. Not the actual woman, she will most likely not be in the opticians and if she is, at least ask her for a selfie. But her range, she has just released one with Specsavers and the things are so damn tiny I looked like one of the blind mice when I tried some of it on. Big heads, stay clear of that pint sized lady's designs.

I know that there are also options online for you to look into once you have established yourself in your new prescription and that is something that I will definitely be looking into. But I just wanted write about this for anyone who, like me, fears eye test day with a passion. I'm also sharing it in the hope that if enough of us make comments, then opticians will be forced to help the big heads of the world to see everything around us, without looking like total twats in glasses could well have been made for children. 

BRAVING UP AND STRIPPING DOWN

It often strikes me as odd, the things that we find ourselves doing on holiday. Drinking at lunchtime aside, the idea of stripping off to what is effectively our underwear, covering ourselves in cream and lying underneath an enormous ball of fire, risking third degree burns in the process, all to ensure that our skin changes colour is actually nothing short of weird. And yet, every year the tourist industry is kept alive by our pathological need to tan, just this week the Barbados tourist board are profiting from that desire in me. 

A desire that actually finds me doing things that are totally out of character. At home, wherever possible, I am a jumper wearer. I feel the cold more than most but I also feel safe in them, cocooned underneath layers of fabric, safe in the knowledge that the four Bakewell tarts I took on the night before can remain my secret and not be shown to the world in the shape of my stomach. I, like a lot of girls, don’t explode body confidence and so try, when I can, to keep said body, fairly hidden from the world.

But then, when we come on holiday, all of that changes. Not only can we not wear jumpers here on account of the fact we’d have melted by breakfast, we are actively encouraged to take off all of our clothes, showing all of our wibbly-wobbly bits to our friends, families, and countless strangers. And for a lot of us, that is not an easy thing to do at all. 

Since being here I have noticed self-consciousness everywhere that I have looked, less so in the blokes who mostly seem focussed on drinking beer and kicking a football around (the guys I’m here with really are playing up to a stereotype), but in every young woman that I have seen. When you see us all lying down you would not think that we had a problem in the world, flat tummies everywhere (thank you gravity), headphones plugged in and books held high. But after the sun gets too hot, someone addresses us or nature calls and it’s time to partake in the only exercise any of us have planned for the foreseeable future, a sit up, everything changes.

I watch arms jump to attention as they cross themselves around the waist, I watch posture change as people breathe in as hard as they can and I see wild groping as people search for their cover ups. Hell, I watch it, but I also do it. For the first few days here I was guilty of all of the above, as I look down and watch beads of sweat seeping out of various stomach rolls I kick myself for that third piece of toast and marmalade that I had at breakfast time and as I stand up, exposing my IBS bloated tummy to the world I’m furious at myself for giving up on the gym just when things were starting to get interesting. 

For the first few days of any holiday, the most confident woman in the world, I’m sure shares these feelings. It’s a massive shock to the system. Before last week no one had seen my legs in about four months and the only person to see me in my underwear since last summer, apart from Alex, was my unsuspecting neighbour who I flashed a few weeks ago. There are parts of my body that I spend a lot of time disliking, hiding, wishing weren’t there and in a bikini, there’s no getting away from them at all. 

It’s not surprising at all that many of us find stripping off for our holidays a daunting thing to do, it is therefore even less surprising to find people desperately insecure when they get here. But if six days in the sun, rarely hidden by anything more than a dress that cost a fortune but is basically pointless because it’s totally see through, has taught me anything, it’s that, for the time that you are away, you are given a free pass on caring. 

So here I am, perhaps not ‘bikini body ready’ in the way that society told me to be, but in a bikini nonetheless, feeling pretty well ready for anything. Of the 52 weeks that make up a year, I am spending two of them here. That’s a long time in one sense, but in the other, it’s a tiny flash. Before I know it I will be back at home, stressed af, busy as hell, hiding, once again, under a jumper. I will be longing for the days of rum punches by the sea, of being too hot whist basically naked, of being able to go swimming whenever I want to without having to worry about a) my hair b) my clothes c) the old guy who takes up half the pool. And with that in mind I decided that I was NOT going to waste my time in paradise. 

It is asking a lot to get a girl to take off all of her clothes and all of a sudden be totally cool with what she sees. If she dislikes it in England, chances are she won’t feel much differently 6000 miles away, but good God guys, to spend a whole holiday worried about what you look like has got to be the biggest waste of time and money that there is. YES, I wish I’d eaten less and worked out more but NO, there is absolutely sweet fuck all that I can do about it now. 

And so, instead of sitting with my arms across my stomach and forgetting to breathe for hours on end for fear of exposing my true identity to the world, I am going to do what one is supposed to do on holiday and enjoy every minute. And more than that, I am going to take what I have learnt home with me; the knowledge that right now, in this very minute, there is absolutely nothing that I can do about my body and that really, I would be a damn fool to waste a moment, worrying about something as small, as insubstantial, as my stomach rolls.