Facing Fear

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Anxiety and me go way back. I’ve worn the war wounds, cracked my knuckles and freaked the hell out. These days my anxiety is less of an iron belt cinched tight around my chest and more of a nagging great aunt who comes to visit once in a blue moon. I nod at her, smile and say, ‘yeah, yeah, sure. I’m just going to carry on, okay?’ On the rare occasion it does return full throttle though, those heart palpitations are pretty hard to ignore.

My default remedy is a duvet day, cups of tea and copious amounts of Netflix. It’s understandable to want to hide away from whatever it is that’s making your stomach tie itself in knots, but it’s not necessarily the best approach. I’m a firm believer in the be scared witless and do the thing technique. It might not work for everyone, but for me it’s tried and tested. Switching your phone off and ignoring the world might sound desirable but trust me, you’re going to have to turn it back on one day and the longer you leave it, the harder it’ll be. Ignore those somersaults, let your feet do their own little nervous dance, relax about your heart going ten to the dozen and then keep on going. Grab the bull by the horns and confront it with a shedload of sass.

I know it’s a hell of a lot harder than it sounds, and sometimes you do owe yourself a break, but the more you keep doing things that make you anxious, the easier they become. Try being scared of heights when you’ve climbed a God-knows-how-high wall thirty odd times. The nerves just start to wear thin. Whether it’s applying for a job, sending a text or even leaving the house. Try it. One step at a time. What’s the worst that can happen? Chances are it won’t be anywhere near as bad as you imagined.  

When I was at secondary school I had to make a speech as part of my English coursework. I literally couldn’t even read it out to just my teacher without shaking, blushing like a beacon, and having a full on anxiety attack afterwards. I could have given up there and then but I knew it was something I had to conquer. I started volunteering for any opportunity to practise public speaking. Cut to however many years later and I delivered a talk on employability to a lecture theatre full of freshers without even breaking a sweat.

If you do end up panicking it’s not the end of the world. Just stop, take a minute, breathe deeply and take a look around you. Recognise what is going on. One of my problems was that I didn’t even realise my anxiety was anxiety until years down the line. When you’re having a panic attack it’s easy to just think you’re ill. There were so many occasions when I was at school or college and my stomach hurt, I felt sick and dizzy, I couldn’t breathe. Instead of taking a moment and waiting it out it I panicked myself even more by wondering what the hell was wrong with me. I’ve walked out sick so many times only to feel better the second I’m on the bus home, or in the comfort of my own living room, it’s unreal. Your best bet is to stop and think. Why am I feeling like this? Am I really ill or is it purely anxiety? Am I safe here? Take deep breaths, drink some water, have a quiet word with yourself. Hide in a toilet cubicle if it makes you feel better. Tell yourself everything is going to be okay. Then go back out there and carry on winning at life.

The age old ‘feel the fear and do it anyway’ theory is truth. Preach it and reap the benefits

 

 

P.S. It’s not always going to be possible. If you’re anxiety is too bad, don’t beat yourself up about it. Give yourself room to heal, time to pluck up enough courage to face the big wide world. Everybody works in different ways. Just do your best and the rest will follow.

Young + Beautiful

Kiran. Cake-Maker and Brainy Lady. 24.

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Describe your relationship with your body.

I have a very difficult and often confusing relationship with my body. There are days when I love the figure I see in the mirror and then there are times when I avoid looking in the mirror altogether. There are days when I feel beautiful in everything I wear and days where I feel like nothing in this world fits me right. There are days when I feel confident and comfortable in my own skin and days where I want to bury myself in the ground because of how I look. There are days when I wouldn’t change a thing about myself and times when I wish I could chop and change bits of my body until I was someone else. Like I said, it is confusing. However I am wholly aware that learning to love oneself is one of the world’s hardest tasks, especially when you are living in a world which makes money from individual’s insecurities and often works hard to make sure that people do not love themselves. I am slowly and painfully learning to love myself, every curve, spot and stretch mark and also working hard to remind myself that it is okay to look as I do.

How is your body different to what conventional beauty standards expect from you?

I feel as though my body is the complete opposite of conventional beauty standards. For one I am neither tall nor slim. Nor do I have long silky blonde hair and big blue eyes. I am average-short in height, on the overweight side and have medium length frizzy dark brown hair. My eyes are brown and of different shapes and sizes (making it even harder to get even winged eyeliner). I have scars on my face where I used to pop whatever pimples I used to get, I also have an uneven skin tone. All of this is far from the flawless complexion the world expects of me. I don’t have long skinny legs and neither are they perfectly shaved at all times, in fact they are stumpy, hardly ever shaved and also have ingrown hair. I don’t have a flat tummy (I have three rolls of fat actually) or perfectly long manicured nails (the last time I got a manicure was for my wedding over a year ago).

How do you feel about these differences?

I get frustrated and angry at these differences at times, especially if I am having one of those days where I hate myself. Having said that I also have the clarity to realise that I will never be able to fit into the conventional beauty standards because it is physically impossible for me and that is okay. I am a real working woman. My height is dependent on my genes along with the rest of my physique, therefore my hair, my length, the colour of my eyes even my weight to some degree is dependent on something which cannot be altered. I used to work in a locked rehabilitation centre which required that I had short nails and no polish. I am now a mother, therefore I do not have the time or the luxury to do my nails as I am constantly having to wash bottles and change nappies. My lifestyle along with my genes makes it virtually impossible to rise to the conventional beauty standards. I feel this is true for most, if not all, women, therefore it seems ridiculous to me that we even have a standard of beauty let alone one which seems so impossible to attain to most.

Do you feel the media has distorted our vision?

I feel the media has definitely distorted our vision. It has screwed up the way we view ourselves and others as well as distorting what our goals and priorities in life should be. I have seen young impressionable teenage girls more concerned about their looks and how many likes their selfies get on Facebook and Instagram instead of having goals and ambitions of what they want to achieve with their lives. This is such a tragedy to me.

Even for myself, while pregnant and even after I gave birth I have been concerned about my weight gain and how I will lose the baby weight, now three months postpartum it is still a concern to me. I often have to be reminded by those close to me that I should not worry about my weight as I am a nursing mother and to focus on my baby and that there is no rush to try to be slim. That I need to focus on being healthy. I feel as though the media has put so much pressure on us women that even after having given birth we cannot relax and give ourselves time to heal, we have to get back to trying to look good for the approval of others. This is especially true for women in the spotlight where every single thing they do, every single thing they wear and the way they look is scrutinised by the world. Such a shame.

 

What is your dream for the future

My dream for the future is that people will stop being judgemental of others, especially on the basis of their appearance. I want people to be able to live their lives loving themselves and not comparing themselves to others and other people’s opinions on what beauty should look like. I want the world to embrace everyone’s individuality and to focus on being healthy and kind and loving each other. God knows that is what the world needs the most right now. Frankly it shocks me that it is 2017 and that this is still considered a dream and is not already the way the world is.

Shrinking Violets

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‘The idea of shrinking is hereditary’ – Rupi Kaur.

For me it’s exactly that. Shrinking myself is a behaviour I learned from my mother. From growing up watching her front room workouts, and I’ll-start-on-Monday diets. It’s a behaviour I learned from the magazines left lying around the house, that I’d cut up to collage and instead admire the stick thin limbs of catwalk models. It’s a language I learned from the soaps I was brought up on. The adults I was brought up by. The books I read too young. Somehow, calorie counting was a rite of passage. It meant I was a grown up.

So Kaur’s poem hit me hard. Hit me because I, like countless other young women, wasted so many of my teenage years trying to shrink myself. Trying to avoid taking up space because I didn’t think I had a right to it. Trying to, ultimately, disappear. I tried to become invisible by starving myself, by standing up on a bus even when there were seats left to take. By staying silent in lessons, and truanting from school.

Asking whether the patriarchy was at the root of my teenage anxieties, or whether my anxiety simply manifested itself in a gendered way is like asking what came first, the chicken or the egg. It was an ecosystem of self-hatred and I was the feast; utterly consumed.

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There are a thousand articles that start with the same story. It’s curious that even now we know just how damaging the desire to be thinner is, the message still pervades. We are still told day after day, advert after advert that we need to shrink ourselves. That we need to be less.

To keep all the money and all the power in one male-dominated place, the patriarchy needs us small and silent. So it sells us images of bone thin girls and it sells us the idea that if we try this one thing, buy this one product, we’ll be that much closer to good enough. And we fall for it. Of course we do. They throw millions at this shit. It’s even leaked into the medical profession. Not-thin has become tantamount to being sick. Doctors tell us we’re overweight, even though we exercise our arses off and are toned to high heaven. A nurse sneers at my size 8 sister and tells her to cut back. How can we argue with this? How many women would have gone home from either of these appointments and cried? I know I would have. My confidence knocked with one fell swoop.

Let’s face it, it’s genius. What a way to keep the status quo. What a way to weaken the opposition. Because, how can we fight back if we’re running on empty? How can we function in the workplace if we’re seeing stars from lack of food. How can we speak out about what’s right and wrong, if secretly we hate every last ounce of flesh we’re standing in? How can we unite and fight if we’re racked with jealousy and secretly we’re tearing ourselves apart?

My weakness lately is when I hear other people talking about their diets. It’s all very well throwing out the scales, and ordering in the pizza but when I hear other people saying how much they’ve lost this week, I miss that thrill. I feel guilty for being bone idle and even more, I feel out of the loop. That world used to be mine. But of course, I’m mentally healthier on the outside looking in.

It’s a hard one, and I’m no more enlightened than the rest of us. I’ve relearned a language. Forged a new lens to look at my body through. I don’t weigh myself anymore because it becomes an obsession. I don’t diet any more because it becomes a competition. But I still look at my body from time to time and wish it was better. It’s hard to break the habit of a lifetime. One thing is different though, even if I do slip, I know now I have a right to unapologetically take up space. I know I have a right to put my opinions out in the world, and not feel guilty about it. And I know I need to do more of it; we all do.

We need to stop shrinking, unfurl our wings and broaden our horizons. Outspread the manspreaders. Get on your soap box. Be like my sister who only calorie counts to see what new levels of greed she can achieve in one day. Be loud, be big, be bold, and don’t be afraid to inhabit your space. It belongs to you. Your presence isn’t an inconvenience, it’s a blessing. Own it.

The poem in the photograph is from Rupi Kaur’s Milk and Honey. 

Young + Beautiful

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Gold teeth, grey goose, trippin’ in the bathroom? Bloodstains, ballgowns, trashin’ the hotel room? It’s the life Skins sold to us as teens and the life Lorde shot down. What’s it really like being fresh-faced and fancy free? Here’s another look at the life of a 21st Century 20-something navigating all the obstacles that come with having a female body.

Becca. Peace Policer and Student. 21.

How confident would you say you were?


I suppose it depends in what way, I don’t have body confidence in the sense that I’m happy with how my body looks or comfortable with it. However, I am proud of my body for what it has been through and how it’s coped with it and I’m confident it’ll carry on coping and handling whatever is thrown its way.

When you look in the mirror what do you see?


An awful lot of fat and wobbly bits that I wish weren’t there, along with some not so nice stretch marks. Although I also see a rather nice pair of boobs too.

What do you say to yourself?


If I’m feeling pretty for some reason (sometimes I’m wearing makeup, sometimes my skin’s just having a great day) I think damn why can’t I look like this more often and then will be vain and admire myself and probably take some selfies. If I don’t feel pretty, I usually just pull at all the awful bits that I don’t like and feel sorry for myself.

What is your favourite part of your body and why?


Probably my boobs. I think they’re a good size and just look pretty nice for a pair of boobs.

What is your least favourite part of your body? Can you say anything nice about it?


Probably my belly. This is the hardest question so far, the only thing I can think of that’s good about it is the fact the fat keeps me warm and protects what’s inside my body.

How is your body different to what conventional beauty standards expect from you?
Well I’m not tall or slim, I’m the opposite. I am short and fat. My skin is textured, red and spotty.

How do you feel about these differences? Is there a story behind them?
In terms of my height I really don’t mind, I couldn’t care how tall or small I am compared to others. Sometimes it’s a good excuse to not help get things down from high spaces or clean somewhere up high. My weight I’m not so happy about but I suppose it tells a story about how I’ve felt over the years. If you look back on pictures usually when I am a bigger weight I’m not happy with my life and so I comfort eat.

How has your body changed as you’ve entered your twenties?
Dark circles under my eyes! Which makes no sense since I sleep faaaar too much and I thought you got them from not sleeping enough. However, that might be complete bullshit and I just didn’t know.

When you’re getting ready to go out, what is your goal?


To feel comfortable and happy with how I look. It depends on my mood, sometimes I love getting dressed up and playing around with makeup and other times I’m not in the mood for all that and will throw on a pair of jeans and a comfy top and I’m ready to go.

When do you feel good about yourself?


If I eat something healthy! It makes me feel so much better, so I don’t know why I don’t do it more. Also if I accomplish something, so when I got a first in an assessment that made me feel pretty darn good

Would you change anything about yourself?


The way I treat my body. I might indulge my skin in pamper sessions but I really need to learn to look after and love my body better.

Do you feel happy with yourself?
In some ways, I’m happy with how hard I’ve worked and where it’s hopefully going to lead me in life. But I’m not happy with my body, some aspects of my personality and my fight with mental illness.


Do you think how we look is important?


Unfortunately, it impacts someone’s first opinion of you and can decide whether someone wants to talk to you or not. It’s absolutely ridiculous but our society is bloody ridiculous at times.

What is it like being a twenty something woman in 2017? 


Stressful. So much about our society is still stuck in the old ways, the pay gap for example which I still can’t believe is a thing! Being judged on what you wear and other people thinking it’s okay to stare or even try to touch you. Although I am fully aware that I am also very privileged and lucky. I am able to access an education, work, vote, wear what I want and choose not to have children or get married without people looking down on me. Even though we’ve still got a long way to go as a society, we have also come a long way too.

How do you think young people feel about their bodies? Do you believe that the media has fucked us up and distorted our vision?


I think the majority probably don’t like their bodies. The era of photoshop and technology has royally fucked up young people. It’s all about thigh gaps and big pouty lips. When you see all the touched up photo’s of celebrities and models it makes you feel like crap and you start to wonder why your body doesn’t look like that. This is causing so many young people to have eating disorders, body dysmorphia and other mental illnesses, yet the majority of the media couldn’t care less along as they’re making money and headlines.

What is your dream for the future of yourself or the world in general?


I hope I’m better in terms of mental health. I’d rather be healthy mentally than be slim. I do also hope that I can look after my body better and become healthier and not for appearance reasons but for my own physical and mental health.

I hope the world learns to be equal and that we’re all just human beings no matter where we were born, our skin colour, or religion, our gender and our sexual preferences. We’re all just people.

 

Photo credit – Sophie Turner

 

Do We Not Bleed?

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Do we not bleed? Shylock asked. Of course Shylock was talking about the fact that, if pricked with a needle or a sword, Jews bleed just as Christians do. I, on the other hand, am talking about women.

 

Do we not bleed? Anyone would think not, considering the lengths we go to to hide our flows. Women take their whole bags to the bathroom just so we don’t have to suffer the shame of carrying a sole tampon. We wait until someone flushes the chain before we remove a sanitary towel, wincing at the ‘rip of shame’. We wear clothes with a different cut and check our VPLs in the mirror. Young girls whisper they’ve started to their mothers with blushes. They’re consequently filled with embarrassment when said mothers see fit to announce their daughter’s coming-of-age to female friends and family. And to top it off as a gender we’ve come up with an absolute smorgasbord of glorious euphemisms for being, to put it bluntly, on the rag.

 

As an over-sharer, and someone with a very poor excuse of a pain threshold, I’ll gladly complain to passing strangers about my cramps. Any such public announcement would also go towards explaining why I might have tripped over five times, knocked over anything and everything that wasn’t screwed down, then walked into a door. Yep, the curse, as it was once so aptly dubbed, not only sets of my pain receptors but also messes with my balance (and I’m clumsy at the best of times).  But blurting out you’re on the blob just isn’t the done thing. Aside from the fact that that particular expression we all used at school is just a little bit gross, I can’t understand why.

Around about 50% of our population menstruates, has menstruated in the past, or will at some point menstruate. According to one article women will probably bleed around  2,250 to 3,000-plus days in their lifetimes. So why the cloak and dagger? There are still so many issues surrounding menstruation and this Victorian-esque prudishness prevents us from speaking out about them.  Leviticus actually says if you touch a woman on her period you are unclean and then lists a whole load of reasons why women and their menses are dirty af. In Western Nepal, menstruating women are still ‘banished to sheds’ and deemed ‘highly infections’ and ‘cursed’. Not that long ago, it was reported that almost 25% of girls in India leave school when they reach puberty as they have no toilet in school. Homeless women don’t have access to proper sanitary care; these items are rarely donated to food banks and because of the so-called tampon tax they are highly expensive. These issues affect women’s lives massively, but they’re rarely ever spoken about.

 

Recently, women have been attempting to break these taboos and speak out about the problems surrounding menstruation. Laura Coryton has protested the tampon tax. Rightly so. The fact that some people think the choice to not bleed all over your clothes is a luxury (one guy even said women on their periods should ‘just hold their bladders’) is  beyond me. Kiran Ghandi highlighted just how uncomfortable we are when it comes to code red when she ran the London Marathon whilst freebleeding in 2015. People were outraged, but her act still went a long way to getting people talking about their periods. Rupi Kaur attempted to remove taboos with her menstruation-inspired instagram photograph, which was removed twice because it was apparently too ‘provocative’.  And last year Chinese Olympic Swimmer Fu Yuanhui made waves when she explained she hadn’t done as well as she’d liked because she’d started her period the day before. We all subsequently fell in love with her.

These women have all gone some way towards breaking the silence but, at the end of the day, it’s 2017. Why should it be shocking or brave for a woman to talk about her period? Why should we be ashamed of what it is that makes us women? Something that ties us to the earth and the moon and the tides in a way that men never will be. I’m proud of how much we put up with. The stomach cramps, the backaches, the shaking legs, the heart palpitations, hot flushes, nausea, mood swings, spontaneous crying, sheer exhaustion and every other ridiculous symptom that comes part and parcel with being on the proverbial rag. Women are bloody tough and on the whole we suffer in silence.

 

We should embrace our periods in all their horror. We should throw parties for the next generation to celebrate their first flows. We should write songs about surfing the crimson tide.  Above all, we should make like these wonderful women, and start complaining about how bloody annoying our periods are – not just for us, but for women all across the world whose periods leave them at risk, shunned, and lacking the opportunities their male peers have. Until periods stop being taboo, women will still have to face these issues that could so easily be avoided.

 

 

Young + Beautiful

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Quit the tabloids. Halt the glossies. Here’s another look into the really real realities of being a woman with a body and all of the issues that come with it. Told from the point of view of today’s twenty-somethings.

KATHERINE. VINTAGE VENDOR AND WORD QUEEN. 23.

How confident would you say you were?

It can totally change from day to day, if not minute to minute. It also depends on the situation. When I am with the right combination of people, I am happy in my own skin. I don’t like to be in a large group of people, especially if I don’t know anyone, or they all know each other better – that makes me very anxious and awkward.

 

When you look in the mirror what do you see?

I see someone who is changing every day.

                   

What do you say to yourself?

When I’m struggling, I have to give myself a pep talk and say, ‘Come on, Katherine, you’ve got this’. When I’m feeling confident, I generally sing or do a little dance.

 

What is your favourite part of your body and why?

I have great cheekbones that I inherited from my paternal grandma. It’s all pretty exceptional though.

 

What is your least favourite part of your body? Can you say anything nice about it?

My legs – they are very scarred from eczema and playing hockey. They are pretty shapely though.

 

How is your body different to what conventional beauty standards expect from you?

I probably have more belly than the mythical perfect woman. I definitely don’t have the perfect smooth skin either and I never will have.

 

How do you feel about these differences? Is there a story behind them?

There’s a lot of work that goes into maintaining this figure – constant dedication to cinnamon swirls, pick and mix and chocolate. My belly’s story is simply that I love to eat. My skin is dry and sensitive. I can’t use most products because they make my skin worse, but it’s already scarred and a bit destroyed from years of abuse!

 

When you’re getting ready to go out, what is your goal?

To turn a few heads. To spend time with my friends and dance until I am a sweaty mess.

 

When do you feel good about yourself?

I feel at my sexiest when I’ve just washed my hair, or in matching underwear and a slick of red lipstick. But I also feel good when I make other people feel good. I like to be connected to people and to put lots of effort into my relationships.

 

Do you feel happy with yourself?

I am happy that I am not complacent in myself – I think if you don’t find yourself really annoying sometimes, you’re a bit weird.

 

Describe your relationship with your body…

I’m quite attached to it. Most of the time, I love my body and I like to see the scars and bits I’ve added. When I have felt suicidal, I hate the thought of losing my body and being disconnected from it. I think it’s important to look after your body in little ways; enjoy the feeling of brushing your hair, stretch when you wake up. It helps me feel more alive.

 

Would you change anything about yourself?

The only thing I would change about my body is my skin because I was born with eczema and it is really draining. My skin is very high-maintenance. It can be painful – sometimes I scratch so hard I bruise myself. I like my body shape, but I’d love skin that wanted to stay attached to me! Personality-wise, I’d be kinder to myself and more spontaneous. I can be quite fearful and rigid.

 

Do you think how we look is important?

For better or for worse, first impressions often stick and I think appearance is a big part of that. I think you can tell quite a lot about people from what they wear, for example. I like to use clothes to make a statement about who I am, projecting how I feel comfortable.

 

How do you think young people feel about their bodies? Do you believe that the media has messed us up and distorted our vision?

It’s scary how young people and even children look at their own bodies. I’ve worked with kids that have been dieting since they were 10, that self-harm because they think they are fat and ugly, that get bullied for being small. It’s awful to see the hurt and hatred that the media has bred into our culture. It’s disgusting that it affects adults, but it infiltrates early on and is ingrained so deeply that our attitude to bodies, especially female bodies, is totally warped. Everything is focussed on the negative, never on positive attributes of the person, or the beauty in difference.

 

What is your dream for the future of yourself or the world in general?

Tolerance and people being driven by love rather than by fear.

 

How to…. be happy

 

 

 

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We all have our down days. Sometimes I just want to stay in bed all day and binge-watch Orphan Black. Sometimes putting on your glad rags feels like too much effort. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. We could all do with being a bit kinder to ourselves sometimes.

Why not try and create a list of things guaranteed to put a spring in your step. Here are some ideas:

 

  1. Remember just how wonderful the world is. Remember Nelson Mandela, Mother Teresa, Sophia Duleep Singh, Malala Yousafzai, Ghandi and a million other wonderful people who would just want us to be happy and good.
  1. Think about how weird life is. We live in a world with zebras and Facebook and trains that travel beneath the sea and galleries full of beautiful things. Mini hoovers, clothes for dogs, Google and red wine.
  1. Have a long relaxing bath with a variety of books (sans bubble bath because I’ve never understood the point of it).
  1. Listen to your favourite music. Make a playlist.
  1. Dress up.
  1. Text your favourite people and ask them to make you smile.
  1. Drink Lady Grey tea and eat biscuits
  1. Ring your mum or your sister or someone you’re super close to.
  1. Plan a trip. Even if you can’t afford to go on it, dreaming never hurt anyone.
  1. Do some writing. Whether it’s poetry, non-fiction or just a stream of consciousness that makes no sense. Writing is therapeutic.
  1. Play a board game.
  1. Cutting up and sticking down.
  1. Dance badly (or dance well if you have to).
  1. Binge-watch Netflix.
  1. Find a sunset. Wait for it. It’ll be worth it.
  1. Hug someone. Always works.
  1. Go get a burrito. Or cheese on toast. Or crisps.
  1. Dress your dog up and take photos.
  1. Sky watch. The sky will never not be amazing.
  1. Cinema.
  1. Learn something. This is my favourite. Just Google random rubbish and soak it up.
  1. Do a quiz. Put Pointless or Fifteen to One on your telly and see how much you know.
  1. Paint your nails.
  1. Plan a night out.
  1. Buy something good (can be anything but with me it’s usually clothes and books).
  1. Exercise (I don’ t partake in this one very often, but the thought is there).
  1. Stamp your feet.
  1. Go somewhere exciting. An art gallery, a restaurant, a theatre. Corp. Anywhere.
  1. Organise/ sort/ clean/ rearrange your books into alphabetical order.
  1. Scream/ sing – whichever. They both sound the same when I try.
  1. Swim.
  1. Take the dog for a walk in the woods. Look at the things around you.
  1. Give money to charity.
  1. Cook.
  1. Read pointless lists of funny things on Buzzfeed.
  1. Cry.
  1. Watch a film.
  1. Wear fancy clothes and make yourself feel good.
  1. Photograph things.
  1. If all else fails….drink red wine.

 

I hope you get happy again soon!