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?

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

My Tinder Story

Tinder. We all know that name, whether you use it yourself or maybe someone you know does. Whether you're a proud swiper or you do it on the sly and don't tell you friends about it. We all know the name. I first downloaded Tinder in 2015. My boss at the time and I had been talking about it and as she didn't have Facebook, we downloaded it using my account as somewhat of a social experiment and for something to chat about on quiet days in the shop. I wasn't very interested at first but it was as per the instruction of my boss (albeit for fun) so I gave it a go anyway. She'd ask me every shift how it was going, who I was chatting with, if I'd arranged to meet anyone and, as many have grown to expect from Tinder, if I'd slept with anyone from it. At that time, I was very much in denial about my sexuality, and the mere thought of my boss knowing I wasn't straight was enough to break me out in a cold sweat so I had my preferences set exclusively on men. I chatted with a few guys, some nice enough, some creepy and invasive but no conversations lasted longer than a few days before comimg to a natural end or grinding to a halt by an unsolicited dick pic. It was fun while it lasted for a bit of workplace banter but after a month or so, it was fading into the background, collecting dust and taking up memory on my phone and eventually, I deleted it. I never met anyone, or even spoke to anyone long enough that meeting up seemed likely. Comparative to some of the horror stories I've heard, I didn't think my experience of Tinder was all together too awful, but it just didn't seem like it was for me and I was fine with that. 

Time pasted. I remained closetted and truly believed I would just have to learn to be straight and muddle through a unfulfilling existence, pouring all my energy into hiding who I truly was. Then last year, a series of events in my life (nothing as exciting or dramatic as that sounds, I promise!) somehow gave me the kick up the bum I'd been looking for for so long. I redownloaded Tinder on a complete emotional, hungover and lonely whim, this time with my preferences set to male and female. I remember so clearly, I was on a coach back from the Edinburh Fringe, by myself. It was late on a Sunday night, I was drained of all energy after a weekend of drinking a lot and sleeping very little and the sheer boredom and longing to just get home to my own bed got the better of me. 

The next day, I was swiping through, judging strangers by the tiny snippets of their lives that they so finely tuned and decided to present to single locals and allowing them to do the same of me when this girl popped up. Beautiful dark eyes and the cutest smile, the type of smile that you can't help but smile yourself when you see it. There was very little on her profile, in fact no bio whatsoever so I had not much but this beautiful smile to go on. I knew I was chancing my luck swiping right to someone so clearly out of my league but what did I have to loose? To my absolute delight and surprise, we matched.

This girl's name is Sara. Say-rah, not Sah-rah, just so we're clear. You may recognize that name because today marks 1 year since we matched on Tinder and I'm very lucky to be able to now call her my girlfriend.

There's still a bit of a taboo surrounding online dating. Although Tinder is probably the most well known and commonly used, in the circles I run in anyway, there's still a certain shameful stigma. It's often thought of as desperate, promiscuous and would certainly never be considered romantic. In fact, when I told my mum about Sara, she seemed more shocked that I'd met her online than that I like women. I kind of love that that's how we met though. We didn't know any of the same people, live particularly nearby, go to the same school or uni or share the same social groups yet somehow, we came into each others lives and fell in love and that gives me all the warm fuzzy feelings inside. With that though, comes hopeless Tinder romantics asking what the secret it.

In my experience (although Sara is the only person that I ever actually talked to long enough that meeting in real life seemed likely), it truly is just best to be yourself. Everyone filters what elements of their lives they choose to put online, as a blogger, I am very accustomed to this. Of course you're going to select the most flattering photos of yourself and list your most desirable and interesting traits but once you start talking to someone, there really is no point in being anything other than who you are. It's exhausting and it can't last. I also think there's something to be said for waiting a while to meet up (although whether Sara would agree with this is another matter, I hope I was worth the wait!) A lot of people I know match with someone and are meeting up for drinks the following day. To me, that strikes me a recipe for awkwardness and for someone excusing themselves to the bathroom and never coming back. Sara and I messaged for 6 and a half weeks before we met up. A little over 12,000 messages. We talked on the phone for hours at a time and sent videos and photos every day so that when we did eventually meet, it didn't feel like I was meeting someone new, it felt natural and comfortable. We met at 8pm, I remember being so nervous and feeling like I was going to faint and thinking to myself 'Do I introduce myself? I mean, she obviously knows my name' but within 5 minutes, we were laughing and joking and talking (and arguing about the Kardashians) like we'd been together for years. It just felt effortless. We didn't get home til after 3am which I genuinely believe wouldn't have happened if we'd met after only a few days of messages. 

We're not perfect, far far from it, but our relationship has gone from strength to strength. Because we talked so much and so intensely before ever even meeting face to face, we used to always say 'open and honest, that's our thing' as a sort of little motto and it's really carried us through our relationship. She's my girlfriend but she's also my best friend and my biggest support, we tell each other every single boring and irrelevant detail of our lives, we share everything and we rely on each other, all so effortlessly, and that's everything I could ever dream of in a relationship. She's away backpacking around Europe for two months at the moment and even through that, our relationship has grown stronger and I've never been more sure of my feelings. Only 12 days til she's home and I cannot tell you how excited I am!

Tinder does have a bad reputation and not everyone uses it to find a relationship (which of course is fine) and I don't think there's a formula for success. What works for some may not for others but I feel so lucky to be in the elite that found the good side of Tinder. Deborah, if ever you happen to read this, thank you so much for making me download Tinder. It took me a while to get on board with it but without you and without Tinder, I'd probably still be single, terrified to embrace and explore my sexuality (whatever that is, I still don't know) and wouldn't have met my wonderful girlfriend.

Friday, 11 August 2017

'Out Of Love' at The Edinburgh Fringe

Every blogger has that one brand that they cannot, even in their wildest dreams, imagine being asked to work with. That iconic name they look up to, that they'd give anything to be a part of but that seems just too amazing to ever want to work with little old you. To me, that is the Edinburgh Fringe and that dream came true a few weeks ago when I was invited alone to a press event in collaboration with the Edinburgh Fringe and to watch Elinor Cook's 'Out of Love' at the Roundabout at Summerhall.

I've been an avid fan of the Edinburgh Fringe for many years now. I first attended with a group of friends when I was in my final year of school. We were all too young to even be allowed in most venues, but we spent the day in the sunshine wandering around, soaking up the atmosphere and just enjoying being in the midst of such uncapped and free flowing creativity. I've been every year since, often many times. I've seen well known names and headline shows but it's the up and coming performers in a sea of hopefuls, desperate to stand out and be seen that are always my favourite. As a huge fan of comedy myself, I've always opted for stand-up shows so when I was offered the change to see a drama piece, I was excited to try out a side of the Fringe I'd never dabbled in before.

Written by Elinor Cook, 'Out Of Love' follows the story of two young girls, growing up as best friends in a small Welsh town, taking an intimate look at how their lives remained intertwined as one moves away for university while the other gets pregnant. It looks at their complex relationship spanning over 30 years, their highs and lows, the challenges they face both individually and together, their complicated families and their less than perfect relationships. All too often, I find tales that claim to explore female friendship centre around love, so I really loved how Grace and Lorna's friendship remained at the forefront of the story throughout. 

(Image : Corner Shop PR)

The production itself is wonderfully simple yet impeccably executed. It only stars 3 actors who move seamlessly between a number of characters as well as the same characters at different stages in their lives and the show itself has absolutely no staging, props or costume changes, which highlights what a flawlessly written piece it really is. If you find yourself in search of a show to see at the Edinburgh Fringe this year, I cannot recommend 'Out Of Love' highly enough, it's a charming and heartfelt performance which made me both laugh and cry.

Full info on dates, times, prices and tickets available here.

Friday, 28 July 2017

Mental Health & Oversharing Online

When I first started my blog, and susequently my social media that goes alongside it, I spoke almost exclusively about what most would consider to be shallow topics. Fashion, style, beauty, that type of thing. I was 20 when I started my blog, a university student looking for a decent excuse not the study that may one day look good on her CV when applying for writing jobs. I wrote about what I thought was important to me, and I guess it was important to me at the time. These things are still important to me, but as I've became an adult (or as much of an adult as I could be considered at my current stage in my life) so are so many other topics which I've now developed the confidence to write about - mental health, politics, women's issues, social issues, LGBTQIA+ issues - the list goes on and on. I'd consider myself a much more rounded person now than I was then and I think that comes across in the content that I create. In broadening my scope, I've also became increasing confident discussing and sharing things online that I wouldn't necessarily want to share with people I know in real life. Or at least, not with all of them. One might even say that with this confidence, I've became a bit of an oversharer about certain parts of my life.

I remember when I first started to talk about my mental health online. Like most difficult topics I've shared online, I danced around the rough idea that something was going on before eventually one day just coming out with it. Mental health affects us all in some capacity. We all know someone with some form of mental health issue, even if you don't realise that you do. As a whole, I've found writers to be quite introverted people and putting our feelings down in words rather than speaking them aloud is often the easiest way to get them out of our jumbled up, overactive heads. My fingers trembled as a wrote that tweet, the first time I'd actually written the D word on Twitter. I think I deleted it about an hour later. I was scared. I didn't have a huge following at the time (I mean, I still don't, but you know) but it felt like I was shouting from the rooftops to anyone who would listen. Yet somehow that didn't seen quite as daunting as telling even the people closest to me. You see, if I share something online, nobody is forced to respond to it. Heck, nobody is forced to even read it. I don't make anyone follow me or read my content, I simply put it out there and if people enjoy it enough to follow or read, that's so wonderful but it's their choice. If I initiate a conversation with someone in real life though, there's no going back and that can scary sometimes. If I'm feeling depressed or anxious and I message a friend, I am kind of forcing them to respond. They don't absolutely have to, but I'm putting them in a position whereby they come across as the bad guy if they don't. People have lives and jobs and commitments and relationships and children and dinners to make and washing up to do and Netflix shows to catch up on. If I contact them, they have to take time out of their lives to comfort, talk to or help me and that's a lot to ask no matter how close you are to someone. So often it does feel easier to just write an 140 character ramble of how low I'm feeling, hope someone can relate or even better, feels compelled to respond, but if nobody has within half an hour, I can delete it and move on. Gone without a trace. Maybe from there, I can decide if I want to burden someone in real life with it. Maybe not.

Until not too long ago, I thought that was quite a healthy way of getting my feelings out but I've came to realise recently that although nobody is forced to read my tweets, thousands of people do and whether I want to admit it or not, I do hold some level of responsibility. Thousands of people who may or may not be experiencing something similar to me or maybe worse. I'm so incredibly happy that I'm in a place both with my own mental health and with my albeit small influence online whereby I feel like I have an outlet for feelings that all through my teenage years, I supressed and the very idea of literally any other human being knowing filled me with pure dread. That being said, I am also accountable for what I share and I'm not always aware of who's reading. I actively encourage an open dialogue about mental health and want people to feel safe to share what they want to and I would never want anyone who to feel shame for speaking as openly as they see fit, but for me, whatever this is that I'm doing just now, it's not working and it's not healthy either.
I'm not saying I never want to tweet that I've had a bad day or that things are getting really overwhelming for me or that I feel paralysed with anxiety or numb with depression. I'm not saying that at all. I'm saying that I need to stop with vague and graphic rambles that could trigger people or could cause concern or harm. That's not healthy for anyone. I need to be coherent, try and post it with some type of context and purpose so as not to worry anyone and while I try my best to use trigger warnings, remember that even when discussing about topics that most people would shy away, not everything has to be shared. When I was a teenager, long before the days of social media as it is now, my outlet was writing a journal. Maybe I need to go old school again when it comes to getting my thoughts out of my head, I don't know.

I don't ever want to completely stop talking about mental health altogether. That wouldn't help me and I don't think it would help others or the struggle that anyone who suffers with their mental health will know, the battle to normalise it and remove stigma. My complete silence wouldn't help that. But I'm started to realise that shouting as loud as I can with empty words and rambling thoughts probably won't either and that looking for validation online isn't for me any more. Very rarely do I tweet something about my mental health and don't instantly feel embarrassed as soon as somebody replies that I wasn't able to just keep my mouth shut, regardless of how nice their reply may be and very rarely do I speak to someone close to me in real life and not feel at least a little better and a little clearer about things. I guess mental health is all a learning process, you don't get a manual upon diagnosis and what works for some may not for others. These are just some thoughts I've been having recently. I hope they made some kind of sense. Probably not.


Friday, 7 July 2017

LGBTQA+ But Not Proud

So June was LGBTQA+ pride month. A time where us members of the queer community get together to celebrate our collective queerness and to rejoice in the fact that we're all just as queer as each other. Pride though, it's an odd word choice to me. Growing up, we are taught to be proud of our achievements, our successes, even sometimes of our failures. Pride is a feeling earned. So is it really any wonder that I struggle to feel proud of my queerness? It's not something I earned or worked towards but rather something I And maybe in this time of celebrating our sexualities and gender identifies, that is a problem that I don't feel proud of my sexuality. Not quiet yet anyway.

I was around 12 years old when I first began to realise I just might like girls in the same way that I was conditioned to think I ought to like boys. I'm a girl, so society taught me that I should be interested in boys. It was an unquestionable fact, almost. Growing up, I never saw non-straight people. On the TV I watched, in the books I read, in the music I listened to or in the films I saw. I still don't very often but even less as a child. While my parents never hid the existence of gay people from me or my sister, they also never really taught us it either. The common but problematic idea that most people are straight and some people are gay or lesbian was the mindset in my household but even then it was never really discussed unless necessary, or heaven forbid the very idea that sometimes people struggle to define or deal with their sexuality. I was only made aware of bisexuality in my teenage years as that's how a few of my friends identified but wasn't aware of pansexuality, demisexuality, asexuality or sexual fluidity until I began exploring feminism online in my early twenties. I kissed a few girls during my teen years but never comfortable with the label of bisexuality. I guess I've always known I fall somewhere on the spectrum between straight and gay but I fell victim of the bisexual stereotypes and therefore shied away from that label. While I still struggle with settling on a label for my sexuality and find parts of pretty much every identity that don't match me, I guess bisexual would be the closest. Although at this particular point in my life, my preferences definitely lie with women.

My older sister started dating her first girlfriend around the age of 14 and has pretty consistently been in relationships with other females ever since. She's now 27. To my knowledge, she was never 'in' as such and being queer has always just been part of her. Growing up unsure of my own sexuality but seeing the confidence she seemed to have in hers was hard, that confidence manifested itself in her jeans and baggy tshirt, cropped hair and trainers where I believed that I couldn't possibly be anything other than straight cause of my penchant for floral dresses, make-up and high heels. She had always been authentically herself and I envied that. Sure, I had confidence in a lot of other ways, I wouldn't think twice about asking for directions or paying in shops while she shied away from it and I'd wear the highest of heels despite my 5'8" stature and rock bright purple lipstick on any given day. Growing up, we developed and showed our confidence in very different ways, her's was low-key and authentic, while mine was much louder and showier. Her's embraced her sexuality while mine ran away from it. But you can only hide behind being loud and showy for so long.

While I had confidence in a lot of aspects of my life, I never found that confidence in dating to properly explore my sexuality. I dated a few guys during my late teens and early twenties to various extents but never really got much from it or felt like it was right for me. I even told one that I thought I might also like girls and his reaction was so unaccepting that it left me terrified to ever tell anyone again. Up until maybe 2 years ago, I had began to accept what I believed to be a fact, that eventually I could talk myself into being straight, meet some guy, build a mediocre and borderline boring life together and spend my every waking moment suppressing my sexuality but blending into the background and fulfilling my lifelong desire to be normal. I'd never felt normal in my whole life and I knew if I did decide to come out, I would feel even less normal. I truly believed I'd just have to get by hiding this huge part of me and eventually, I'd learn to just be okay with that. I didn't know what I was but with time, I knew more and more that I wasn't straight, but with that, came the desire to define myself before I could ever even dream of sharing it with anyone else.

You could say I started to come out last year. Firstly online, because it seemed less real and almost less scary and if people had a problem, I could quite easily just avoid them. It's much easier to block Twitter followers than family members, friends and collegues. Nobody was surprised, or at least told me if they were. People were supportive and didn't make a big deal out of it. I guess maybe it's came with years of blogging that it's sometimes easier to share parts of my life with strangers before I feel comfortable enough to do so with those closest to me. The influence of people online played a huge part in building confidence in my sexuality. For example, I remember watching Ingrid Nilsen's coming out video and something in my brain clicked. I'd never seen or heard of her before but almost instantly I could tell, she's like me, she's feminine and likes makeup and fashion. But she also likes women and maybe that was okay too. People would never suspect she likes women but that doesn't make her any less valid as a queer person, right? I wasn't a stereotype either and for so many years, that had held me back but maybe it was okay not to be a stereotype. The more I ran with this mindset, the more I started to notice other feminine women and I gradually started to feel more like maybe it was okay. Or at least like someday I might be able to accept that it's okay.

I didn't come out to any of my family until after I started dating my girlfriend. I remember each instance so clearly. I told my mum in her car outside of our local corner shop. It was raining. She'd just picked me up from work and I was very hungover. I'd told her I'd been out for a girl I worked with's sister's birthday. I hadn't. She was surprised but supportive. I didn't feel the instant relief I thought I would. I told my sister via Facebook. At midnight. I was going back and forth, in and out of her conversation and a WhatsApp chat with my girlfriend. She called me 'a big gay' and told me she loved me. Then she asked about my girlfriend and I told her a few brief details, one of which being that she has a dog. The conversation turned straight to the dog and never really went back to the topic at hand. I told my dad in our living room. He was probably the most surprised of the three. I was wearing a floral dress at the time. He looked me up and down, laughed and said 'I wouldn't have guessed!' but got up, hugged me and said 'Well done mate!'. The friend's who I've told, I've told via Facebook or text or WhatsApp.

While I love my girlfriend and am so proud of the progress I've made over the past few years in even facing up to my sexuality, I still don't actually feel proud in itself as such of actually being queer. I don't know that I will ever really feel proud. Maybe it'll come with time. I don't know, I hope so. Pride is a wonderful time, and I'm so grateful for the wonderful, strong and powerful LGBTQA+ voices who truly are proud, who don't care what anybody thinks, who are unapologetically themselves, who's sexuality or gender identity is as much a part of them as their name or their eye colour, but at this moment in my journey, I'm not quite there yet. I wish so badly that I was, I wish I felt that pride to fully embrace the queerness but I'm just not yet confident enough to withstand the hate or negativity I may face. I don't yet feel safe or strong enough quite yet. One day I will though, I promise.

Tuesday, 18 April 2017


(CW/TW : Alcoholism, Addiction, Mental Health)

I remember the first time I ever tasted alcohol. Like most people's first experience of the stuff, it was away from the watchful eyes of my parents. It was in a park with friends, all of whom older than me. It was, I believe, a Summers' evening, just getting dark. It was some sort of cheap cider I'm sure, shared around the group from a communal plastic bottle. I can't remember who it belonged to but I remember the cocktail of excitement, dread and rebellion that I felt in the pit of stomach as the bottle emerged from someone's rucksack and how it increased as it was passed round in my direction. Reading this, you may think this is a fairly typical experience of someone's first experience of alcohol. You probably also imagine I was around the age of 16. In reality, it was shortly after my 12th birthday.

I had my first sip of alcohol aged 12. 

By 13, drinking was not unusual in my social life and I drank with my friends somewhat regularly. In that same park as well as others, in back lanes, in car parks, in shared cubicles in train station toilets and in fields. 

By 14, my social life depended upon drinking. Without drinking, there was no social life. I drank every weekend and often on school nights too. Sometimes for days in a row. I remember when people would ask what we were doing at the weekend, mine and my friends' response would be 'getting drunk'. As if that alone is an activity. It was around this stage that my mental health really began to spiral out of control and retrospectively, I depended heavily on that lukewarm cider and that bitter wine which I drank directly from it's screw top bottle to escape how I was feeling and to numb myself, all the while assuring myself that it was fine because all my friends were doing it too. I felt incredibly lonely a lot of the time but drinking seems to alleviate that, at least temporarily anyway. That was until, of course, I would stop drinking and sober me would resurface and I felt lonelier than ever. So I'd keep drinking and keep running away from myself.

I remember once in school, in physics class I believe, getting my textbooks and pencil case out my school bag and pulling out a plastic bottle of what I thought was water. It wasn't til half way through the lesson that I absent-mindedly took a sip. It was vodka. My friends and I found it funny at the time but looking back, I find that a sad and uncomfortable story. That straight vodka, disguised in a water bottle, was as commonplace in my school bag as textbooks or a pencil case. I also remember going out drinking the night before my Standard Grade maths exam and consuming nearly a litre of vodka to myself. I eventually went home around 6am and I can remember clear as day, sitting on my front steps of my house, giving myself a pep-talk through my drunken tears and desperately trying to sober myself up. I didn't even go to bed, but instead showered, put my school uniform on and stumbled in to school to do my exam, still drunk out my face. Sorry mum. Alongside with my issues with food (more info in this post), alcohol became as stable a part of my diet as it had my social life. 

Drinking was pretty much a core theme of my entire teenage life. When I went to university, it came as quite the shock to me that my new group of friends who came from very different backgrounds to me were only just beginning to experiment with drinking alcohol. A few watered-down vodkas in a packed Freshers' Week nightclub and they were hugging a toilet bowl by midnight while I was quite proud of the fact that, at 18, I count drink almost anyone under the table and that was always the last one standing. I never wanted the night to end and that was pretty much my stance the whole four years of uni. My classmates were content with the predictable student night out formula of pre-drinking cheap wine in someone's shared flat before all piling in a taxi to some grotty nightclub where nobody was over the age of 22, stocking up on 3 99p vodka's on each trip to the bar, mandatory chips and cheese at 2am before going home to bed while I never knew when to stop or even felt like stopping was acceptable. I never wanted to stop. Still drinking at 4am became still drinking at 9am and then still drinking the whole next day, and then the next. I had continued to use alcohol to distract me from my ever-deteriorating mental health and as a social lubricants as my circles of friends and acquaintances widened. It was also more accessible than it had ever been when I was younger, I could buy my own alcohol at any time of the day or night. And I did just that.

My confidence was so low that I felt like I needed alcohol to be the least bit worthy of conversations with anyone new which my friends interpreted as shyness so would keep buying me more and more to drink in the hopes that it'd loosen me up. I also don't appear outwardly drunk in the same way that a lot of people do. I can hold myself up, I can form sentences and maintain eye contact and walk in a straight line without falling (which often I can't even manage sober). My friends' would, and still do, often joke about how illusive 'drunk Sophie' is. People often don't realise I'm drunk when I'm absolutely gone which, while that was a blessing in disguise when I was younger and trying to hide the fact that I'd been drinking from my parents, it's a curse too because people don't believe that I'm drunk and will spur me on to drink more. They'd spur me on and I'd let them.

After graduating, my university friend group quickly disintegrated. People moved home from the big city to their family homes in the countryside or to their graduate jobs down south, work schedules clashed and soon the friends I saw every day and drank with several times a week became people I'd occasionally text and very rarely saw. As I was working full-time as well as doing an internship and writing in my free time, I was going out less and therefore drinking less. Student life felt like a different life time and I missed it dearly so whenever I did go out, I went incredibly hard to compensate. 

As I've moved through my twenties, drinking remained a huge part of my social life. I don't have any friends at all who don't drink alcohol and most social events in my life involve the stuff in some way. I think this is common for a lot of people in their twenties. My relationship with alcohol and the ways in which I use it though are very different to how they once were, but I still at times rely on alcohol to have a good time. The thought of going to a bar with friends and not drinking while they all do feels both daunting and unnatural to me. The idea of going to a nightclub sober sounds ludicrous. The very notion of celebrating anything, no matter how small, without toasting the occasion with a tipple feels bizarre. And it's never just one drink either. It isn't the same type of dependancy on alcohol as in my teenage years but it still was, in some respects anyway, a dependancy on alcohol. Whether that's a personal thing or a knock-on effect of my social circles or of the society I live in, I'm not sure, but either way, it is definitely there.

At the end of last year, this video was recommended to me on my YouTube home page. If you haven't watched it, please please do. It really hit home with me. I'd never seen any of Lucy Moon's videos before but I really related to everything she was saying. I would never have said I have a problem with alcohol as such, but that video really made me reassess my relationship with it, both at present and at various stages in the past and the relationships, friendships and opportunities that I've lost as a result of excessive or careless drinking. There is alcoholism in my family and in my social circles, and while I wouldn't consider myself addicted to alcohol, I knew the absence of it in my social life made me feel very uncomfortable and almost scared. 

Earlier this year, I decided to give up alcohol for Lent. Although I'm not religious, 13 years of strict Catholic education has left me with a strong internal obligation to give something up for Lent each year. More of a personal challenge than to prove something to the big guy in the sky I guess. This year, I choose alcohol. And caffeine and chocolate but that's another story. Almost all my friends told me I was crazy and were quite open about the fact that they didn't believe for a second that I'd manage it. A reflection again, on both my generations' attitudes towards alcohol as well as my own personal relationship with it. It seemed wildly ambitious of me and to many, like too big a sacrifice for no reward as such. But on Saturday evening, as my girlfriend poured me a pint of Strongbow Dark Fruits in the pub she works, a pint I drank in under 5 minutes, I felt like I'd really achieved something of value and proven to myself that I could not drink if I tried hard enough. It was something that I didn't think I would manage and something that I knew other's almost wanted me to fail at. Of course, that one pint turned into many, with tequila, vodka and rum following, a bruised knee from falling up the stairs and a taxi ride home at 4am that I barely recall.

Whether I have a dependency on alcohol, I don't entirely know. I don't think I do, or at least not the same extent that I thought I did before I conquered Lent. Alcohol has been a part of my life since, I suppose you could argue, I was a child, and I quite honestly, I think I'd be cutting off my nose to spite my face to think the presence of it could ever be completely gone from my life, but I'm proud of how well I've done over the last 7 weeks and it's shown me I have a control over alcohol rather than it having control over me which, at points, I've very much doubted.