Facing Fear

IMG_20170423_183258_253

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

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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

 

Young + Beautiful

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

 

Dear Diary…

DSC_1083

I used to have a book with 365 bedtime stories in it. One for every day of the year, in case you couldn’t figure that out for yourself. I can only remember a few of them now; the story for my birthday, my sister’s birthday and the story for January the First. It was only short, and the plot centred around a bear family, who all got new diaries for Christmas and swore to write in them every day of the year. I also had a diary bought for me that year, and decided to take a leaf out of the bears’ book. Needless to say I was unsuccessful and my diary was soon lost in the back of a junk drawer somewhere.

But as I got older diary writing became more important to me. The diaries themselves were always tiny little things with three or four days on each page and what I wrote was so inane. Today I asked mum if we can move to Italy. She said no. P.S. I really need to pluck my eyebrows. And when I was feeling particularly verbose of a weekend I once wrote, ‘I just had my hair trimmed. I  went shopping and I bought some leggings, jeans and a bra. 34B!!’ Like I said, it was thrilling stuff.

And then just before I turned thirteen, things got way more intense. Teenage angst had really set in. My entries got longer and longer and longer. It stopped being writing for writing’s sake, and became something much more important. It was a form of therapy, as cheesy as that may sound. I didn’t limit myself, or set targets and rules. I just let myself write when I felt like it, and not write when I didn’t.

At my lowest points I carried my journal everywhere. I’ve wrote entries on the bus, in lessons, lectures, in cafe corners and in the toilets at work. When I was at college I used to ‘wag’ lessons and catch the bus back to my suburb and instead of going straight home I’d sit on a park bench and scribble away for an hour or two. It felt good to have space and fresh air for the first time.

There were times when I’d wake up in the middle of the night, tight chested and alight with panic. Unable to sleep, unable to breathe, unable even to cry. I’d haul my duvet off my bed, cocoon it around myself and sit like that for hours, writing, until I felt calm again. My handwriting huge and looped because I was too tired for anything else. Too distant and distracted. Not fully in this world but not fully out of it either.  It was at those low points when I’d do the worst drawings too, of nothing in particular with lazy lines, just because I wanted to be doing something other than sat in the dark thinking.

You don’t have to be a good writer. It’s not about producing great work. I’m never going to be an Anne Frank, Bridget Jones or Cassandra Mortmain. It’s not even about preserving the self you once were. It’s purely to do with distracting yourself, clearing your mind and getting your shit together, which is often much more difficult than we can ever imagine. Starting a diary is always the first thing I advise my friends to do if they’re having a hard time. It’s what we advised our kids to do at the last place I worked.

For the last couple of years I stopped. I didn’t even open my diary; I didn’t need to. I started a ridiculously thick A4 scrapbook that would weigh me down if I ever tried to take it out of the house. Cutting out articles about gender, sexuality, and images of happy, confident, smiling women. I am now happy, confident and smiling too. But whenever that feeling creeps up on me again, and I feel like shrinking back, away from the rest of the world, the best thing I can do is to pick up a pen and write.

 

Photo taken by myself of one of my many, many journals.