Friday, 12 October 2018

10 Tips For Coming Out

So, yesterday was National Coming Out Day. Perhaps even international, I'm not sure. And to most non-queer people, it probably seems like just another pointless day to celebrate something trivial. 'Does there really need to be a day for everything?!' Absolutely not my friend, but in a world where we have National Two Different Coloured Shoes Day (3rd May), National Lemon Meringue Pie Day (15th August) and National Teddy Bear Day (9th September), I'd saying National Coming Out Day is pretty important.

Being queer is not easy, so by default, telling people you're queer for the first time is also not easy. Everyone's coming out experience is different, but here's a few words of wisdom from my own journey..

You don't have to come out to everyone all at once
Coming out needn't be a grand gesture where you shout it from the rooftops to everyone nearby or script a carefully worded Facebook status. It's perfectly fine, and more common than you'd think, to come out to some people in your life before others. Start with the people you feel will take it the best or who you want to know the most urgently. Fun fact : my sister is also gay and I came out to my mum before I even came out to my sister!

Don't feel like you're 'living a lie' is you chose not to come out
Being openly queer can not only be scary, but can sometimes be dangerous too. Last year, I was not only working in a job where homophobic attitudes were commonplace, I was managing staff who I regularly overheard making offensive jokes. This massively affected not only my work performance but my mental health and my personal life. Fast forward to this year, I am in a job I love, having met some of my closest friends there, many of whom are also queer, making more money than I ever have before and being completely 100% open about my sexuality to all my colleagues and management. It's a horrible position to be in, but sometimes it's a matter of being presumed straight or cis-gender and therefore fly under the radar and be safe or be out and vulnerable, and it's perfectly okay to put off coming out to certain people or in certain areas of your life until it's safe to do so. 

Not coming out face to face can be a massive help
If you are coming out to someone who's reaction you may fear or who you are most nervous to come out to, doing it via social media, Whattsapp or text message can help hugely. I came out to my sister via Facebook and to one of my best and oldest friends via Whattsapp. It not only helped me to write exactly what I was comfortable sharing, rather than risk going off on a rambling tangent and sharing more than I was happy to, but it also gave them a bit of time to process it and respond in their own time once it's sank in. If you have more to say, a letter could even be a good option, either mailed or hand delivered.

Hinting, rather than being up-front, is totally fine
Sometimes the mere thought of saying to a loved one 'I'm gay' or 'I'm trans' (or whatever your identity) is scary. For a long time, I was terrified of the words 'gay' and 'lesbian' and preferred to say 'I like women' because it sounded less regimented. I'm still not overly keen on the word 'lesbian' personally as I find it to be a very overly sexualized term but I find myself using gay, queer and lesbian, depending on the context. Putting the Pride flag emoji in your Twitter name or Instagram bio, wearing an enamel pin of your flag or sharing articles about queer issues on social media are all good ways to hint if you don't quite feel ready to say the words.
Coming out as 'not straight' or 'not cis' is just as valid as coming out as 'gay' or 'trans'
Sexual and gender identity is complicated. Like, really complicated. Many of us, myself included, spend years of our lives trying to figure out their identities, both before and after coming out. Identities mean different things to different people and often change and evolve over time. When I first came out to anyone, it was my best friend at the time when I was about 16. I came out as bisexual which, at the time, I was. Fast forward more than a decade and I now identify as gay. I might not stay with this identity forever, I really don't know, but my point is coming out as simply as part of the queer community is perfectly valid, don't feel pressured to categorize your sexual or your gender.

It's not as big a deal as you might think
I really didn't want to be cheesy in this post, but in my experience, nobody cared as much as you did. When you are in the closet, the fear of anyone finding out what you identify outwith the cis-gender heterosexual 'norm' is a terrifying thought and your brain becomes consumed with that they might think or what they might say. Like any situation in life, you can never truly know what someone thinks, only what they choose to tell you, and coming out is the ultimate in that, but it's important to remember that your friends and family don't love you because they think you are straight or because they think you are the gender you were assigned at birth. As they said, the people who matter, don't mind and the people who mind, don't matter.  

Be wary of coming out for a relationship
I came out shortly after meeting my ex-girlfriend and I deeply regret coming out for that relationship because I know I wouldn't have came out at that time in my life if it wasn't for the pressure that came from that relationship. Don't get me wrong, I don't regret coming out itself, but I regret that I didn't think my sexuality was worthy, important or feasible unless I was in a relationship with a woman.

Ask for help and utilise the people round about you
If you have a friend or a family member who's also part of the LGBTQA+ community, they've been there. We all have, despite the smooth sailing and pain-free stories we hear, every single queer person has felt that worry in the pit of their stomach that comes from just thinking about revealing their identity to someone for the first time. If you can, ask them to come with you when you coming out to someone else, to hold your hand, either physically or emotionally, and to act as a buffer. Even if you've came out to a friend or a family member who isn't queer themselves but has taken your coming out well, ask for their help.

Be realistic with your expectations and prepare for the worst
I hope that if and when you chose to come out, those you chose to share your identity with are accepting and supportive and overall positive, but if you're thinking to coming out, changes are that you've read, heard and watched a ton of coming out stories and will be well aware that coming out stories vary hugely. Be realistic with that you expect to happen. For example, if the person you are coming out to is religious, you might expect them to mention your identity in relation to their relationship with God. If you know the person can be hot-headed, prepare yourself for potential anger or outrage. If you think it won't go well, have an escape plan to get out of the situation quickly and safely if it comes to it. Coming out can and does go badly for some, so I think it's important to be prepared, but ultimately, to remember that if you are met with shock, anger or upset, these feelings probably won't last forever and that ultimately your identity is valid regardless of their approval.

Your experience is YOURS and how you chose to do it is your choice
Coming out is a lot like many other big moments in life - getting married, buying a house, having kids or starting a new career - you can have an idea in your head of how you want it to play out and plan everything down to a tee, but in the end, things will probably not go exactly to envision and that's perfectly okay. If one of your friends has a huge, fairy tale wedding with 300 guests in a country mansion and another has a modest ceremony in a registry office with only their nearest and dearest, does it make one of their marriages any less significant or important than the other? Absolutely not! Coming out is the same. How you do it is your choice, don't let anyone feel bad for the way you choose to share your identity. (And yes, coming out is just as significant as all these things).

If you are reading this and thinking about coming out, I wish you all the strength in world. It'll be hard, I'm not saying it won't be, but it'll be so so worth it. Coming out is not only the hardest thing I've ever done, but the thing I am most proud of.

Saturday, 27 January 2018

A Honest Chat About Smear Tests

Smear tests. Cervical screenings. Pap smears. Probably ones of the most heavily dreaded medical procedures. 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 27 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, for my 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 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 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. 

Saturday, 20 January 2018

5 Winter Skincare Saviours

We all know cold weather wreaks havoc on the skin, it's no secret, but I've found the past few weeks have been even more treacherous than usual. Just me? The cold, the bouts of snow, I don't know what it is, but my skin has got itself in a right old tizzy. Here's 5 products I've been using to take care of my skin during this cold weather...

Freedom Cosmetics Pro Studio Glycolic Radiance Tonic - £6
Okay, so this is a slight cheat cause I use this pretty much all year round, but I adore this stuff. It's been branded a dupe the the famous Pixie aglow Tonic, but comes it at only £6 for a 200ml bottle rather than £18 for 250ml. I use this on a cotton wool pad and focus it around my nose and chin, the areas where I get the most clogged pores and it leaves me skin feeling squeaky clean and super tight - and yes, the good type of tight skin feeling! 

L'Oreal Paris Smooth Sugar Nourish Cocoa Face Scrub - £6.65
This scrub is pretty new on the market so I can't comment on the long term affects of it, but on initial impressions alone, I adore this stuff. Not only does it smell amazing, like caramel, but it's the perfect balance between gentle exfoliation and leaving your skin feeling buffed down and silky smooth. It can also be used as a lip scrub which is pretty amazing!

First Aid Beauty Ultra Repair Cream -  - £8.50
The first of two moisturisers I've been using recently, First Aid Beauty's Ultra Repair Cream. For me, this works as a great every day moisturiser. It lightly moisturises your skin without feeling greasy and also works wonder for clearing up blemishes. This one can be pretty hard to find, I bought mine in Selfridges when I was in London last Summer but it's also available on Feel Unique.

Lush Skin Drink Moisturiser  - £15.95
Moisturiser number 2 - a classic for any dry skinned beauty lover, Lush' Skin Drink. This stuff is not for the faint hearted. It's thick, it's heavy but it gets the job done, even just after one use. When my skin is super dry (which in winter, is pretty often!) I love to completely slather my face in this right before bed and leave it to work its magic over night. It's might be a tiny bit greasy for some people's taste, but it does the job for me.

Superdrug Vitamin E Hydrating Mist -  - £2.99
Finally, something very new to me, a hydrating mist. A colleague of mine swears by this stuff and is forever spritzing it throughout the day. I picked it up on a whim and I've been using it when my skin's feeling a little unloved but I don't have it in me to do the full shabang - this lazy girls dream! It's also super affordable and smells fantastic!

Which skin care products do you love in Winter? I'd love to hear your recommendations.

Saturday, 13 January 2018

Golden Globes 2018 - Black Dresses & Armchair Activism

Unless you've been living under a rock lately (or on back shift like I was this week and missed most of the action live as it happened!) you'll probably have seen a lot of press this week surrounding the 2018 Golden Globes which took place last Sunday, 7th January. It was the 75th annual Golden Globes in fact, celebrating all that is great in Hollywood from the past year. Which, I think we all can admit, wasn't very much. From the lack of diversity, poor representation and tokenism for minorities to the sea of sexual assault allegations and an ever-apparent victim blaming culture, Hollywood, once a place of dreams and glamour, is quickly beginning to unravel and reveal the dark seediness that lies beneath. This year though, some of the most recognized and celebrated women in Hollywood stood united in the face of misogyny, claiming that 'Time's Up!'. Or did they? Was it really a protest with any real depth? Will it have any impact on victims of sexual abuse behind closed doors rather than in the public eye? Or is it mere a self-soothing act for those who live ultimately very privileged and protected lives now that the issue has hit the headlines? Let's discuss...

Rumours of this black dress pact began circulating towards the end of last year with the tag line 'Don't Stand Out, Stand Up'. With allegations of sexual assault from some of Hollywood's most influential men coming in thick and fast - Woody Allen, Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby to name a few) it seemed like a grand united gesture from the women of Hollywood to join together and use their collective influence for good. Some of tinsel towns leading ladies walked the red carpets in black gowns - the likes of Halle Berry, Reese Witherspoon, Viola Davis, Natalie Portman, Kerry Washington and Kate Hudson. Even rising teen star Millie Bobby Brown got involved.

But when we've seen these types of empty gestures of before - the ice bucket challenge for motor neurone disease, make-up free selfies for breast cancer, smudged red lipstick for smear test awareness, safety pins to inform strangers that you aren't a threat, the #IllRideWithYou hashtag to tell everyone you aren't a gigantic racist - I can't help but feel we're resting too heavily on armchair activism and fooling ourselves into thinking these small gestures will make any real impact when realistically, they probably won't. Even the tag line of the 'Don't Stand Out, Stand Up' is problematic. There's been such an on-going battle in the media in recent years to urge journalists and interviewers to ask female celebrities about more than just what they are wearing yet this tag line seems to suggest that these smart and talented women can only be either beautiful, glamourous and stylish OR intelligent, strong and powerful, but not both. 

Admittedly, many of the women of Hollywood did address the issues dominating their industries during speeches and interviews - Oprah Winfrey being the most noted (you can watch her speech in full here) as well as a number of famous faces such as Meryl Streep and controversial 'white feminist' actress Emma Watson bringing activists as their dates. While I applaud these brave women for speaking up, I can't help but feel more could've been done. This was supposed to be their big moment, their grand gesture, their 'enough is enough' moment and it just seemed to me to be all style and no substance. Imagine how much it would've stirred up Hollywood and sent the press into over drive if the women, trying their best to make a difference, hadn't even attended at all? Yep, all of them. Just some food for thought.

It's a controversial topic and I'm not shaming these women, I understand a revolution takes time and there's no denying that it's created a dialogue, but it begs the question - just how powerful could these womens' voices be when they are truly used them to promote their cause and not themselves.

I'd love to know your thoughts...

Saturday, 6 January 2018

My 2018 New Years Resolutions

Hello all and a very Happy New Year to you! It's been a while, eh? 2017 was a weird year for me. In many ways, it was amazing. In many ways, it was testing. The last few months in particular were the hardest, from a break-up to family illness, it was a pretty sour end to an otherwise bright and hopeful year. I'm not normally one for New Years resolutions, but as I am craving change in my life at the moment, I thought this was as good a time as any to set myself some challenges to better myself and my overall well-being. I've actually made a lot of tiny, personal New Year's Resolutions but here's 4 I wanted to share...

Be More Aware Of My Money

What? Quite honestly, I've always been good at saving money, I don't spend out with my means and I know where I can cut costs when I need to, but towards the end of 2017, my sister bought her first house and although she's both older than me and makes more money then I do, it's set a fire under me that I want to do the same. I'm paid better in my current job than I ever have before in my life and I've decided I'm going to start not only putting a set amount of money away each money, but also being more aware of my spending. This was also spurred on by the fact that I had a massive, massive clear-out towards the end of 2017, with more than 20 bags worth of clothes, shoes, accessories and just general junk being shipped off to the charity shop. That in itself just goes to show that I could do with curbing my spending on unnessecary purchases and properly evaluating what is a good use of my money.

How? One thing that's really been helping me save over the past few months is my new job. Sounds obvious as I'm making more than I ever have before, but my office is pretty much in the arse-end of nowhere and my lunch break is barely long enough to eat never mind do anything else. Compare that to my own job, right in the middle of Glasgow's busiest shopping street and you can see how I used to spend money unnecessarily out of boredom. I also recently smashed open the piggy bank I'd been popping my spare change in for the past year or so and was pleasantly surprised to see I'd saved more than £250. My mum bought me a new one for Christmas but this time, I've decided not to put anything less than 50p's in it and I'm hoping I can fill it by the end of the year.

Maintain Consistency In My Routines

What? One element of my life I really struggle with a lot with is maintaining consistency in even the most basic things. I'll get myself in a good routine of looking after my skin, remembering to take my medication every day, preparing lunches for work, drinking enough water, washing my make-up brushes weekly, the list goes on and on. I'll stick to it religiously for a few weeks, maybe even a few months, then I'll start to slip and eventually I forget all together and it's been weeks before I notice. Something I'd really like to work on this year is getting to a point where these things are part of my routine every day. Every single day.

How? I've written myself a daily to-do list. I think what I'm going to do is type it up, print it and laminate it so I can tick it off every day and reuse it. To many people, it sounds absurd to have to tick 'drink water' off a list, but I'm a self-confessed list lover and they work for me. I also planned on joining a gym in 2017 but was unable to after I torn ligaments in my knee so I'm planning on starting going swimming regularly this year too. I am the first to admit that I don't find most forms of exercise fun, but I do enjoy swimming and know that it will serve as some much needed me-time.

Get Back Into Journalling

What? When I was a teenager, I was really into journalling as a means of dealing with my mental health. It helped me to express my feelings in a proactive and unfiltered way and I found the physical act of writing them out  elevated that 'bottled up' feeling. It's also a good habit to get into as a writer as it promotes writing how you truly feel rather than what you envision others would enjoy reading.

How? I've bought a new journal. Obviously...! I want to try and set aside some time each evening to just sit and right down some thoughts from my day. Some days will be longer and more in-depth than others I'm sure and I'm going to try not to beat myself up if I miss a day here or there either.

Be More Productive With The Time I Spend Online

What? We're all guilty of it. Aimlessly scrolling through Instragram or Facebook or watching videos you're only half interested in on YouTube when before you know it, an hour has passed and you have absolutely nothing to show for it. In 2018, I want to make better use of the time I spend online. I guess you could say this falls into the heading of maintaining consistency, but I really want to try and focus more on my blog this year. If I'm completely honest, my heart just hasn't been in my blog for a long, long time now but having barely touched it in 2017, I'm finding myself really missing it. I also developed a love for Instagram last year and would love to continue to post regularly on there too. 

How? In putting this out there into the world, I may be setting myself up for failure but I'd like to post on my blog once a week at minimum. I've decided on a Saturday but I might also post extra posts every now and then too. As for Instagram, I want to post more on my Instagram stories as well and a bigger variety of photos. I only posted a whole 3 photos of myself throughout the whole of last year! I also am going to try sleeping with my phone charging on the other side of the room. I used to do that at my ex's house as that's where the nearest plug was and it not only helps you sleep better without the constant tempted to check Snapchat, but it also forces you out of bed in the morning to turn your alarm off - win win!

What, if any, New Year's Resolutions have you made for 2018? I'd love to hear all about them!

Friday, 29 September 2017

What Constitutes Success In Blogging?

Last week, I attended something I never thought I would. I attended a blogging workshop. There's a number of reasons why I never would have envisioned myself attending such an event. For one, I'm not keen on having a stranger tell me how to run my blog, my passion project, my little space. Usually they cost money to attend too, and I'm really not about paying a stranger money to tell me how to run my blog. But when I saw a fellow Glaswegian blogger tweet about the free 'Blogging With Success' workshop, I thought I'd try and go along and see if it'd change my mind about these types of events.

The event was held in the Gallery of Modern Art, one of my favourite spots in Glasgow (if you ever visit my beautiful city, you just have to pop along!) and somewhere that always leaves me feeling inspired to create. The event itself was a panel discussion amongst 5 Scottish bloggers from a variety of backgrounds - fashion, beauty, food and lifestyle. One of the main things that initially caught my attention about this event was it's title - 'Blogging With Success'. I thought it'd be interesting to hear the views of other local bloggers and to see how their interpretations of success vary. After all, blogging itself as well as the concept of success are both very personal and very subjective. 

I started my blog as a bored university student, keen to share my passion for writing on my own terms. I did the odd bit of work for local magazines and websites, some voluntary, some paid, but I wanted to create a place where I could write about what genuinely inspired and interested me, on my own terms. If people read it, that was great but I never set out to be a 'blogger'. Not that I knew what a 'blogger' was then. It was 2011. The world 'blogger' was simply someone who has a blog, it didn't hold half the baggage or inferences it holds today. By that very vague initial aim of my blog, you could consider me a successful blogger. I set out to create a place where I could write about what interests me and what I'm passionate about and I'm still doing just that more than 6 years later. But by other measures of success, I don't know that I'd be considered successful in the blogging game. Although, that also poses the question, who gets to define if you are successful? 

While I'd love to make a career from writing one day, I cannot stress enough that my dream is not to turn my blog itself into a career. I've said this for a good few years now, ironically probably since I started making any money from blogging. There's lot of things, some big, some small, that I consider successful moments for me off the back of my blog and you could probably put them into two very distinctive categories. Firstly there's hugely influential brands and companies like Lush, Debenhams, Boots and The Cambridge Satchel Company to name just a few, approaching me to collaborate with, sending me their products and valuing my feedback. Secondly, there's finding people online via blogging that I can discussing my mental health with, who I can share ideas with and who I know respect me enough to criticise me when I'm wrong as well as praise me when I'm right. There's the communities I've found online where I can openly discuss taboo topics. There's the courage I've found online to come out. There's the people who've direct messaged me for my advice or my thoughts or who've told me I've helped them or inspired them. Two categories, two stories of the same blog, but two very different measures of success. 

Two things happened to me recently which I'd consider to be a sign of a successful blog. The first, I was invited to attend a press show at the Edinburgh Fringe. Not with the promise of a review, just 'we like your blog, here's some tickets to see our show before anyone else, enjoy!' I've been a lover of the arts, in particular, stand-up comedy and therefore a Edinburgh Fringe loyal for years, so this was a dream come true. The world's biggest arts festival want me to get involve. I remembering calling my girlfriend while she was on her travels and being the most excited ever, probably babbling a loads of inaudible nonsense. Then there's the second thing. A few weeks ago, Make-Up Revolution regrammed an Instgram photo of mine of one of their eyeshadow palettes and let me tell you, I lost my shit. A huge international beauty brand with over 850k followers deemed my photo, shot on my iPhone camera with m£13 Ikea duvet as the backdrop worthy. 53 people liked my original photo. 9152 people liked their regram of it. At that point, I felt so amazing. I felt recognised as a blogger. But why? When my goal for my blog is to share my writing and I haven't written about beauty in over a year? It was the allure of the numbers and the recognition for something that doesn't even reflect what my blog is about and yet, I still couldn't believe it and felt accomplished. 

Both amazing things I am proud of and happy about off the back of my blog, but in very different ways. One is about passion and a genuine love, the other is about recognition, and yes, I admit, numbers. It seems almost ironic to me that a lot of the components of something as fluid and subjective as success relate back to numbers, something very rigid and objective. Whether that's the number of followers or likes or how much a brand pays you. It's about the numbers to a lot of us. That's what blogging has largely become. But when I'm old and grey (here comes the Miss World speech...) and boring my grandkids with tales of how I was once a successful blogger, even if only by my own measures of success), I doubt it'll be the numbers that I'll remember. I won't remember or care who regrammed me. It won't be about the recognition. It'll be the feelings I got from blogging, it'll be what I've achieved in my personal life through the confidence, opportunities and broadened horizons I found via blogging. So yeah, I might never win any fancy blogger awards or be the face of a campaign or even ever have my own hashtag, but who says I want to?Does that make me any less successful? I certainly don't think so.

How do you measure success in blogging? I'd love to know!

Friday, 22 September 2017

Mental Health & The Change In Seasons

Today is officially the first day of Autumn, the first day of my favourite season. Despite not having much of a penchant for pumpkin spiced lattes or being that huge of a fan of Hallowe'en or particularly suiting the colour mustard, Autumn is undeniably my favourite season. I find it peaceful and effortless. But every time as we approach my favourite time of the year, I feel a slight sense of dread come over me for what will inevitably follow. See, I'm one of those people who's mental health is affected, often on quite a large scale, by the change in seasons and what follows Autumn is sure to bring my depression to it's knees.

Seasonal Affective Disorder is something I know a lot of people like to joke about. It's one of those mental health conditions that people think they don't know anyone who is affected by it. It's the lighthearted punchline, the condition we all claim to have when we're in need a holiday or feel their sun tans fading. It's thought to be rare and as a result, we have such a set idea about, largely due to how it's portrayed in the media, that we find it impossible to envision people actually living with it.  I've never spoken to a doctor or any health professional about the prospect that I could have SAD, I don't think I have it, but I do know that how my moods change and how my depression and anxiety manifest themselves in more frequently and more intensely during different seasons. If you don't experience this personally or know someone who does, it might sound bizarre but it's not uncommon. I ran a Twitter poll as research for this post, asking my followers if the change in seasons affects their mental health and 70% of people answered yes.

I'm at my most steady, plodding along through life with the least ups and downs during Autumn and Spring and usually find myself struggling the most in Winter and Summer. Perhaps it's the calm nature of the transitional seasons that keep me floating by and the heightened pressures of Summer and Winter that cause me to feel less in control. For me, it's nothing to do with the weather or the number of hours of day light, which is another reason why it's so hard to talk about seasonal factors that affect mental health. Even if it's glorious sunshine outside, the fog in my mind and the thunder storm in my brain will rage on regardless. For me, it's the social expectations of each season. Summer and Winter are the seasons that we are all meant to love. The seasons we are supposed to schedule our whole year around and build up to. From childhood, we associate Summer with long days of playing outside, family day trips, holidays, beaches, barbuques, no school, relaxation and we associate Winter with Christmas, indulgence, time spent with family and friends, gifts, food, snow and once again, no school. But as adults, these expectations are never quite met, despite the same expectations to love every second of them being placed upon us.

I fall victim to what each season expects of me and when I can't meet these impossibly high expectations, my mental health and moods take a turn for the worst and I struggle to 'keep up'. I've never had the 'perfect Summer body' nor am I yet entirely comfortable enough to accept that I don't want or need it. I haven't been on a beach holiday since I was 17. I'm now approaching 27. I've enjoyed a cold fruit cider in a bustling beer garden with friends on a hazy Summer's evening far less often that I'm lead to believe everyone else is, I don't particularly suit or like florals or pastels all that much, I can take or leave barbeque food and I would even go as far as to say that I don't even really like hot weather very much. Summer to me is that fuckboy you always give one more chance to, who promises they've changed, who you keep expecting better of, who you want to be the man of your dreams but never quite delivers. Or to use a more accurate metaphor for me personally, that conventionally attractive man I'm told, as a woman, I'm supposed to fancy, but who I never quite get the appeal with, who I wonder if I'm seeing the same thing everyone else is seeing. Summer to me, is Channing Tatum, quite frankly. Or Tom Hardy. I don't quite get it but I still feel like I should and it's that pressure and that fear of missing out and fear of not living up to the expectations that the season places on us all that affects my mental health. 

Then there's Winter. Or as it's less commonly referred to as but what it's pretty much became, Christmas. Christmas is no longer a day you see, it's 3 months. Sometimes 4. I love Christmas. I love December 25th. I don't love the weeks and months surrounding it. It's a lot of the same pressures and expectations of Winter that affect my mental health too and the subsequent inability to live up to them. I feel myself at this time of year slowly filling with waves of dread that once again, I'll become overwhelmed by the season and that it'll reek havoc with my mental health. I find that weight that makes it impossible to get out of bed in the morning all the heavier, that band around my lungs as I try to regulate my breathing and calm myself down all the tighter and the thoughts in my head all the foggier. I struggle to immerse myself in the full spirit of Summer and Winter, so often hide away, which in turn leaves me feeling even worse and less a part of it all. Nothing highlights the fact that I am very much an introverted person more than my inability to meet the social expectations that each season places upon us all.

I find the calm of Autumn and Spring easiest to deal with. There's fewer expectations and rules about how I should feel about the season. My mental health is greatly affected by the season and I find it all a little easier to regulate and deal with during the frankly less exciting seasons, the quiet seasons, the peaceful seasons. This year though, I'm finding comfort in the fact that I've discovered this, as its something fairly new to me, and that I now know that a lot of other people observe changes in their mental health along with changes in the seasons. For now though, I'm going to try and enjoy my favourite season for the here and now, build as solid a foundation as I can with my new revelation ahead of the season that shakes up my brain the most and try and develop some ways to regulate the impact.  

Do you find the change in seasons affects your moods or your mental health? How do you deal with it?