Sunday, 17 March 2019

Motivation vs. Self-Doubt

Hi, I'm Sophie and I'm stuck in a rut. I've always been a pretty motivated person, but I've also always been quite an anxious person, and as you would expect, those things often work against one another.

If you've been following my blog for a while, you'll know how sporadic I am with my posts and subsequently, my social media presence. Sometimes, I am ON IT, I'm driven, I have vision and I am fearless of what I want to create, while other times, you don't hear from me for days, weeks or even months at a time because it all overwhelms me. I guess, in some respects, I'm a little like that in life too. I'm a sociable introvert, but sometimes, I just recoil into my shell in order to recharge.

The strange thing this time though, is that I'm probably the happiness, most successful and most authentically myself as I've ever been. I've developed a lot as a person over the last few years, I'm stronger than ever. I've let go of negativity in my life, I've worked hard on myself, I've got rid of people who were toxic to me and replaced them with people who just *get* me. I'm more confident than ever. But with this happiness comes something I'm sure we all experience to varying degrees - the fear of losing it. I believe we control our happiness more than we give ourselves credit for, but I still can't help but doubt my creative abilities and while my personal life, friendships and career and thriving, my love of writing is gathering dust.

I watched two Youtube videos about a month ago now, and while they are very different videos,  both have given me a lot of food for thought on getting back into writing. The first was 'The Other Side of Burnout' by Matt D'Avella and the second was 'I'm Lazy' by Jack Howard. Yes, I said it. I was inspired by two white men. I never thought I'd see the day either. After seeing both of these videos, neither of which I went in search it, I felt a desire to write for the first time in ages. Not to write for any specific purpose or freelance job or even to let anyone see the writing itself, but just to write for creative relief and I felt good after doing so. 

I had also been pretty consistently tired recently and I couldn't pinpoint what from, but the more I thought about it, the more I realised that it was exhaustion from feeling overwhelmed and lacking in clarity. I had a lot of goals in my personal life and in my career - very clear, defined and structured goals which I feel motivated to work hard to achieve - but in my creative pursuits, I felt suffocated. I felt like I was constantly seeing things that inspired me, but I over-thought them and talked myself out of even trying because I was worried it won't be perfect. But off the back of this, I took some time to think. Really think. Hard. And write down. To scribble. To doodle. To make lists. To curate my social media platforms. To organise my mind. To define my goals. As cliche as it sounds, I had a bit of an epiphany when it occurred to me - what would happen if I put the energy I've been exerting into worrying and over-thinking, the energy which is draining me and leaving me exhausted, into creating? I couldn't remember the last time I produced a piece of writing that I was truly proud of and that gave me that horrible sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. I couldn't remember the last time that my thoughts were coming to me quicker than my hands could write them down. I couldn't remember the last time I stayed up late to write because the burning desire fueled me more than sleep ever could. It's not because I didn't have anything to say - trust me, I am bubbling over with thoughts and ideas - it's fear and anxiety that held me back and while it pains me and makes me feel weak to admit that, it's also weirdly motivating.

I'm not sure the purpose of this post if I'm completely honest. Maybe there is no purpose other than to get all my thoughts out of my head and to read this back to myself when my inner saboteur tells me there's no point in it all. If I never try, I'll never grow...

Sunday, 20 January 2019

A Honest Chat About Smear Tests

(Originally published on 27th January 2018 - a few slight updates and edits have been made)

Smear tests. Cervical screenings. Pap smears. Probably ones of the most heavily dreaded medical procedures amongst those of us with cervixes. They've been mentioned a lot in the news recently as the percentage of young people going for smear tests is at a new low. The Jade Goody affect, as it's being referred to as, is wearing off. 

I turn 28 in 2 weeks and I’ve had 1 smear test in my life. Well, sort of. I don’t know if you could count it as a full-blown smear test. Here in Scotland, the NHS starts offering smear tests from the age of 20 and every 5 years after that. So really, by their guidelines, I should have had 2 by now. I use the words ‘should have’ with hesitation because I don’t believe there’s any ‘shoulds’ when it comes to adults making their own decisions regarding their bodies and their health. So, yeah, I’ve had 1 smear test in my life. 

As I was approaching 20, I knew that the letter would inevitably drop through the letter box sooner or later and I was quite adamant that I wouldn’t be one of those people who put it off and never got round to booking it. When the letter finally did arrive, I phoned promptly and proudly proclaimed to the GP’s receptionist that I wanted to be an appointment. I read, and naive took as gospel, the leaflet they enclose and I felt relaxed about it. How bad could it be, I thought. So I went to the doctors. 

It was a week day I believe, and it was after uni, my sister drove me there and waited outside. I wore a black dress with white polka dots so I could easily remove my tights. As I walked into the doctors office, it was a nurse I’d never met before. She didn’t introduce herself, so I didn’t either. She barely said anything in fact. I sat awkwardly on the side of the bed until prompted to undress. She asked me the usual questions regarding my sex life. Well, I say ‘the usual’, but to be more specific, she said ‘I assume you are sexually active?’ I was quite taken aback by this. I’d never been discussed my sex life with anyone but partners or close friends. I was at that age, fairly inexperienced and hadn’t had the most pleasant or consensual experiences with sex. Both the sex itself and the people involved. Retrospectively, I now realise that when medical professionals ask ‘are you sexually active?’, what they are usually asking is ‘is there any likelihood you could be pregnant?’ - hence the follow-up questions regarding birth control and contraception. Anyway, she asked if I was sexually active, which I wasn’t really, but felt backed into a corner so said yes. 

She told me to lie on my back on the bed with my knees bent and my legs open. Considering my age and my, I’m sure, outwardly anxious presence, I expected at least a short briefing as to what she was going to do or for her to explain it as she went. But nope, you could hear a pin drop. It’s only until recently that I discovered lube is commonly used during smear tests. I’d never had known as she made no mention of it to me. Likewise, the rather ironically named modesty blanket. Not a peep about that either. So I lay there, in silence, my whole body clenched in anticipation as I waited for...something, I still wasn’t quite sure what exactly, to happen. She began. She poked and prodded and without any prior warning, she rammed some medical instrument right on in there. And I screamed. I literally screamed out in both agony and shock at the sheer force she had used. ‘Keep your voice down!’ she said. So I did. I shut up. I lay there silently trying to stop myself from whimpering as she tried again. The same thing. ‘Look, you’re going to need to keep your voice down, there’s other patients in other rooms!’ I was completely dumbfounded by her complete lack of sympathy and tact. ‘You can leave and come back another time if you want?’ she said reluctantly, clearly irritate that I had wasted her time. So I did. I pulled my tights back, slipped on my shoes and left as fast as I could. And I’ve never been back. Hence whether I would even count that as a full smear test.

There's two things I want to stress. Number 1 : I know my experience is not reflective of how most people's smear tests go. This is not the norm and I am well aware of this. Number 2 : comparitive to medical trauma that many people face, I realise this experience is nothing in comparison. But even with these two things in mind, I am put off going back. And you know what I've came to realise? That's perfectly okay.

Like I said, as a grown adult, I can make my own decisions about my body and my health. I decide what I wear, what I eat, how much or little exercise I do, how much alcohol I drink, if I smoke or do drugs, how much or little I sleep, my body hair, my sex life, my body modifications. I can make all of those decisions for myself. However, I can't help but feel that smear test propaganda is moving into dangerous territory and downplaying the element of choice. In a social and political landscape whereby rich, cishet, white men in suits make decisions every day that limit people, particularly, women's choices about their bodies, the rhetoric surrounding smear tests seems to focus ever more on scaremongering rather than educating and I, for one, am not really okay with that.

The main messages we are given regarding smear tests are that it's over before you know it, it doesn't hurt, it's not embarassing and, sadly, that it's barely even optional any more, but rather a requirement. All of these things are inaccurate and in many cases, outright untrue. For queer people, trans people, women without cervixes and people of other genders with cervixes, victims of sexual assault, people with body confidence issues and survivors of medical truama, smear tests can be lengthy, painful (sometimes excuriatingly so) and humiliating, therefore not always an option. I'm not telling you not to go for a smear test if you have been calling up for one (what awful terminaology, it's not the army?!), but if you can't go, don't want to go or have reservations, doubts or special requests that you'd like your doctor or nurse to accomidate, thats okay too.

There are a number of ways we can help change this problematic rhetoric, both in regards to your own confidence in going for a smear test and in how we talk to others about it. If you're going for one, like I said, lube. Lube is your friend. Like, generally speaking in life, lube is your friend, but in a smear test context, especially so. Use it before hand, take it with you, ask the doctor or nurse for some. If you need a lot of it, that's perfectly okay too. Don't be embarassed. If you feel it would help you feel more at ease, book a doctor's appointment before the actual smear test itself to ask any questions you have. That's totally okay too. Doctors are there as much for advice as for actual procedures so fully utalise their knowledge. Take someone with you. Like I said, I went with my sister, and although she waited outside in the car, it's comforting knowing there's someone there. Or better yet, take someone into the room with you. It's allowed, trust me, I've checked. Do your research, read about people experiences, especially people who identify the same way as you do and who've experienced similar things to you. Ask your friends or family who've had smear tests questions if they're cool with that. When talking to others about smear tests, try and avoided gendered terminology as much as possible. Not all women have cervixes. Not everyone with a cervix identifies as a women. Likewise when talking about sex, birth control and contraception, remember that people of all sexual orientations have both sex and cervixes. Don't just talk about sex in terms of a penis in a vagina (apparently that's what all the straight kids are doing these days, who knew, eh?) and for the love of all that is holy, remember that contraception is just as much for the purpose of preventing the spread of STI's as it is for preventing pregnancy. 

Ultimately, there are a million reasons why a smear test might be hard or even impossible. If you've had an easy ride of it, that's fantastic and I'm happy for you, but it's important to acknowledge that not everyone does or will and it's important not to erase their voices. But most importantly, remember, it's your choice. Educate yourself, yes, educate others, of course, but don't shame anyone for the choice they make regarding their own body. 

Sunday, 13 January 2019

Why I've Deleted 7 Years Of Blog Posts

I started my blog what seems like a lifetime ago. 

To be specific, it was Friday 2nd September 2011.

I was a bored university student back then, studying for a honours degree in Fashion Business and full of naive optimism that I could, quite easily, be the next big internet sensation. I followed all the 'big' fashion bloggers and thought they were the epitome of cool. Way before blogging became a business, it was all about posing in their bedrooms, taking photos on their iPhones using self-timer and showing off their latest Topshop purchases. It might not be the super polished and arguably overly edited world of fashion blogging these days, but to me, it was the coolest of the cool and I longed for people to follow my every move (and outfit) in the same way I did theirs. But I was never quite that. I started out posting poorly shot photographs of my outfits against a busy and unruly background, I didn't have a huge blank white wall everybody else seemed to have. At a size 16 and on a student budget, I rarely bought clothes from Topshop, I was more of a charity shop scouter. Maybe I had fooled myself by thinking that because I was a fashion student, I was automatically the perfect fit for fashion blogging, but one way or the other, something just never quite added up and I could never measure up. It just wasn't 'me'.

I then started to move towards the beauty end of blogging. When I was at university, I was friends with two girls, Sami and Lisa, who, together, wrote the most beautiful and dreamy blog I could only wish mine would compare to. It seems to be effortless to them and it was very successful. I longed for my blog to be even half as cool, chic and successful as theirs. I posted reviews of products (which retrosepectively, were mostly terrible) and shot dimly light photographs of whatever I had spend the earnings from my part-time job on that week - mostly the popular lipstick shade of the moment that did nothing for my skintone or the latest Models Own nail polish range.

Gradually though over time, that got old too and again, I found myself feeling increasingly like it just wasn't 'me'. Knowing that I no longer identified with the people who'd initially inspired me, I began to really question why I was still trying my hand at blogger and slowly, begun to broaden my scope. While I still persevered with fashion and beauty, I began to throw in the occasional post of photographs from a trip abroad or a think-piece on a topical issue of the moment. That was when I felt like I really started to come into my own as a blogger. For all that fashion and beauty interested me (and still do to this day), I ultimately loved writing and no matter how in-depth my reviews were, they just didn't satisfy my desire to write in the way I so longed they would. Over the coming years, I wrote about a huge variety of topics - feminism, politics, mental health, diet and after coming out in 2016, sexuality and queer issues. But despite this, my idea of what made for a successful blog was still warped. As my blog became more focussed on me and less focussed on products and consumerism, I naturally began to receive less emails from brands and PR agencies. I felt like I was failing because I was no longer getting the recognition I felt like I had worked so hard for for so long. 

It took me a long time to break out of that mindset and really evaluate why I was blogging and who I was blogging for. I realised in time though, that I am an entirely different person that I was in 2011. I am an adult now. I have more varied and less shallow interests, different priorities in my life and bigger aspirations. I want different things out of my blog now than I did then, vastly different.  There are a lot of older posts that I am proud of and still relate to, but for 2019, I decided to take a big risk that I've been mulling over for ages and put 7 years worth of blog content - 522 blog posts to be precise - back to drafts, which means that it appears that I am brand new to this. That scares me a little, because I know it makes me look inexperienced and ultimately, less attractive to opportunities, but it's a risk I'm willing to take in the name of authenticity and consistency and creating a blog full of things that are 'me'.

If you saw my blog post last week, I talked about my New Year's Resolutions for 2019 and what I want to achieve and although I didn't include it in that post per se, a big focus of mine this year will definitely be my blog and my writing career. Watch this space and I try, yet again, to find my niche...

Sunday, 6 January 2019

2019 Goals & Resolutions

Hi all, It's been a hot minute, eh? 
'A hot minute' is a thing people say, right?
Seriously though, I haven't published a blog post for ages, but with a new year, comes new hope and new plans so I thought try this whole blogging thing again. I've reverted all my previous posts to drafts, so if you're new around here, this isn't my first post, I've actually been doing this since 2012. We'll see how things go this time around.

2018 was a great, great year for me. I worked incredibly hard on myself and the things I didn't like about myself, my lifestyle and my character, and as a result, I'm the strongest, the most 'me' and therefore the happiest I've ever been. I experienced a lot of great things, I met a lot of incredible people that brought positivity and love into my life and I've travelled to a lot of new places. With that as a base, I've set myself a fair few New Year's resolutions going into 2019. I've never been too keen on that phrase, cause I feel like when you set New Year's resolutions, you are almost destined from the get-go to fail and as I'm a big advocate for continual self-development anyway, I feel like the start of a new year shouldn't change anything really. If you want to implement a change, implement one. Evidently in this instance though, I don't practise what I preach as I've set myself four goals for the year ahead...

Go Vegetarian

This is probably my biggest goal. I've been a meat eater all of my life, my family are meat eaters, the majority of my friends are meat eaters, meat consumption has been all around me for nearly 28 years now and in all honestly, I don't think much about it. I've seen the documentaries, the facts and figures and the graphic tweets and Facebook posts (thanks for those...) but ultimately, I am in a privileged position that I can turn a blind eye to it and go about my life fairly unaffected. I can, but I don't want to any more. I want to question my choices and I want to educate myself a bit more.

Furthermore, I have a pretty complicated relationship with food. I struggled a lot as a teenager with food as it was something I could control when I felt like other areas in my life were uncertain and in all honesty, a lot of elements of that flawed mindset still remain with me today. I want to challange not only what I'm eating, but also how I'm eating and my relationship with food as a whole. So far, I'm only 6 days in but I am really enjoying it. Everything new I've tasted so far, I've liked and I don't yet miss meat at all.

Prioritise My Spending & Think Before I Purchase

Towards the end of 2018, I had a massive clear-out. Like, huge. I gave upwards of 30 bags full of items to charity shops and womens' shelters and in doing so, it made me realise a few things. 

Firstly, that I prefer having less possessions. Contrary to what fashion brands, marketers and online influencers like to tell us, I don't need more things in my life, or not nearly in the volume or frequency as we are constantly told. I prefer the simplicity and calmness which comes along with having fewer material objects. 

Secondly, it has made me realise just how wasteful I am with money. I fooled myself into thinking I'm good with money because I don't have any debt, I don't purchase out-with what I can afford and I nearly have my deposit for a house all saved up (go me!) but it's also made me question, how good with money can I really be if I have 6 nails polishes almost the same colour? This year, I want to prioritise my spend on experiences like traveling, concerts, visiting friends who live further afield and going on more days out rather than impulsive, late night ASOS orders. My ASOS premier membership even expired at the end of November and I haven't yet renewed it so I must be doing something right! 

Be More Thrifty With Fashion

This one kind of leads on from the previous one, but after seeing Stacey Dooley's documentary "Fashion's Dirty Secrets", I was shocked at myself and the industry that I buy into. I have a degree in Fashion Business, so I know the fast fashion industry better than the averahe consumer, but even I was shocked by some of the content within that documentary. It made me think a lot about what I purchase and how much I purchase, so I want to put more pressure on myself to alter or enhance clothing rather than replacing it or getting rid of it. I have the skills to do so which is more than the average fast fashion consumer, but I don't use them. I also really want to learn how to knit this year - hey, I ain't gettin' any younger, my golden years are just around the corner! I've tried once before and was shockingly terrible at it, but I reckon if I can make full collections of garments, I can master a wee scarf or two, right?

I also think this will challenge me to really think about my fashion purchases and only wear items which I love rather than wearing things out of laziness, convenience or the pressure to follow trends or look a certain way.

Explore My Gender More

I left this one for last for a reason, because I'm pretty scared to share it. As I'm sure most of you know, I identify as a queer woman. A lesbian to be more exact, although I'm not particularly keen on the term, thanks in no small part to the patriarchy for over-sexualising it. Basically, I myself am a woman and I also like women in a romantic and sexual way. I've know this since I was a teenager, and especially since I came out in 2016, I have greatly enjoyed educating myself on the complex world of sexuality and gender. 

I recently had a conversation with someone close to me (also a queer cisgender woman) about stereotypes within the queer community and I mentioned how infuriating being a femme lesbian can be because it's a constant process of coming out time after time, of people doubting your sexuality because you have long hair and wear make-up and often, of feeling like an outsider within your own community. The person I was having this conversation with then asking me something that had never occurred to me before - whether I really am, at my core, as feminine as I present myself, or whether because I hid my sexuality for so long, did I adapt a more feminine deminere than would otherwise have felt natural to me in an attempt to hide who I truly was and if I had been sure of my sexuality enough to come out earlier in life, would the way I present myself in terms of gender presentation be any different. I know that's quite complex and deep, so I hope you understand what she meant. That conversation was in November, and it's been on my mind a lot since. 

While I haven't always known my sexuality, I have always known my sex. I am biologically female. My gender however? Maybe that's a little more of a grey area. There's no denying that I've changed fairly dramatically in terms of my gender presentation since my teenage years when I was most insecure about my sexuality being public knowledge. I'm happy to say that I'm now at a point in my life where I'm comfortable enough with my sexuality that I would like to explore that doubt in my back of my mind that my gender presentation isn't as assigned with who I am as I would like it to be. In 2018, I started wearing make-up less, I embraced androgyny more often and I found joy in presenting in a way that let people know that I am queer and I want to develop that more in 2019. Am I saying that I'm anything other than cisgender? No, I don't think so. Although maybe, who knows. I don't need hard answers, I would just like to do some exploration. (Wow, that was tough to write but I feel excited to have communicated that out into the universe!)

So there we have it. Some resolutions, goals, whatever you want to call it. Those are the things I would like to look back on at the end of 2019 and feel proud that I at least explored them. What about you? What are your plans for 2019?