Category Archives: Living

Fear of showing fear of flying

I write this sitting in the kitchen sink at 35,000 feet. I won’t be able to post it up here, but we’re four and a half hours into a flight that’s barely halfway over so there’s plenty of time to write. So by the time you read this, it will already be done and dusted.

I’m supposed to be watching The BFG but I’m struggling a little with both staying awake and fully appreciating it. I actually love some of the cinematic changes from the book – a livened up exchange with a visiting Fleshlumpeater (was it that one?) is beautifully done; the setting is simply stunning. I’m not sure it’s actually possible to find fault with Mark Rylance in anything, but the modernisation of Sophie is as hard as a snozzcumber to swallow. I mean, she’s officious and self-righteous in the book, too (Dahl was nothing if honest about the foibles of even his own family) but this feels a little like Hermione gone horrid. The corrections to the BFG’s language seem snarky and cruel rather than thoughtlessly self-assured. But we’re only 35 minutes in. I might have judged the little tyke too harshly. Watching a film on a plane is never giving it its best shot, and I’ve already rewatched – and thoroughly enjoyed, again – Captain America: Civil War. So maybe I’m feeling generally combative.

Plane journeys are pretty dull after all – even if the destination is a thoroughly exciting one. But I relish the boredom. The boredom is fantastic. The boredom is my favourite thing. Because the boredom means the crippling anxiety is over.

It’s not technically accurate to say I have a fear of flying. What I have is a fear of take-off. Approximately 2.5 minutes into the flight, I chill the hell out and then it’s plain (ahem) sailing all the way. And no, before you ask, it doesn’t come back for landing. Landing is normal. Landing is natural. Landing is what we’re meant to do. I do get horrible ear pain, but eh. We’re heading down. We’re where we’re supposed to be. There’s nothing weird about an incomprehensibly massive, heavy metal object coming to rest on the ground. Firing it up from the ground, well… this might be the only time you’ll hear me quoting Frankie Boyle, but he did make me laugh on just one occasion when he said there wasn’t anywhere on Earth he liked enough to be fired at it in a tube at 700pmh.

Luckily, there is such a place for me; many places, in fact. It’s what keeps me getting on flights because if there’s one thing I can accept less than take off it’s never visiting exciting places. Perhaps if I had endless time and money I’d go everywhere by train – my most beloved mode of transport – and sea (far less beloved due to my propensity to feel grossly nauseated, but I do love watching the waves. But I am, at this moment, heading to my happiest of happy places, Walt Disney World, and I couldn’t do it any other way that is remotely reasonable.

But the anxiety, the fear – it’s really, really, really real. It starts a few weeks out with the occasional wobble, and the last two days are a painfully blurry countdown of hours until take off, minutes until that moment when the engines go from a dull purr to a roaring throttle, when the pace suddenly picks up and the slowly trundling beast that haltingly bumbled back from the gate becomes a raging lion in full gallop after a gazelle.

(Sophie is now in a rusted car, being thrown down a hill by what appear to be gargantuan Nac Mac Feegle. I love Spielberg, but I might have to give this one up as Not For Me. Still, when it comes to films I’m no quitter, and I recognise that I am, after all, writing a blog post at the same time…)

Anyway. The anxiety.

God.

It’s so unpleasant.

For 48 hours now I’ve had a persistent constriction in my chest. I get quite panicky about heart stuff; a lifelong poor relationship with food, aversion of any exercise that isn’t a bracing stroll and witnessing a close family member suffer a heart attack in their 40s when I was a child… well, I worry about my heart health. Obviously worry is super good for heart health, and so then I start to get anxiety about what the anxiety is doing to me. As vicious circles go, this is the Wandsworth one-way system. Now that the tightness has eased, I’m free to feel a pain in my chest that is caused by the muscles in my neck – bunched up in tension by day and bad sleep by night – slowly trying to work out if they’re okay to relax or not (after all, there is a return flight).

These days, I’m honest about my fears with most of the people I know. The thing is, I don’t want it to mean I don’t get asked to travel; I recently missed out on a flight with work because I was sick, and none of the relief I felt at being spared take off was worth the annoyance I felt at being out of the loop. I will absolutely accept the flights and get on the flights and live through the tremulous wibble in my own head because I desperately want to beat this.

I am a supporter of – believer in? – hypnotherapy, having used it for birth, and I keep meaning to book some sessions in to deal with this. I wonder if some other forms of therapy could also be helpful – CBT for the thought spirals, perhaps. I mean, I need to address why I am so scared, from the fear of dying to the fear of knowing I’m dying, to the existential dread stuff about what comes after. One of my best friends has pointed out that it’s not unnatural to be perturbed about the very, well, unnaturalness of take off. The thing is, I don’t worry once everything is stable; I’ve flown through two (separate) hurricanes and been in a plane that had an emergency unscheduled stop due to a failed engine (one of two) which, once repaired, I had to get back into to fly home. Turbulence doesn’t overly bother me, even though one of my parents suffered lifelong injury after falling and being trapped in a loo when a plane they were in hit an unexpected pocket of it in a cloud, or however it is that works. How is it such a very small part of every journey can cause such disproportionate horror?

But there is one person who has no idea that I feel the slightest frisson. I never, ever mention my fears within my daughter’s earshot. While we’re trundling down the runway I’m reading (the same line fourteen times if necessary), or my eyes are shut in peaceful sleep (prayer) or I’m giving my daughter a gentle snuggle (holding on for dear life). I don’t medicate – if the odd glass of bubbly doesn’t count, and not every time – except with eating too much rubbish. After suffering through endless weeks of viruses followed by worry about the flight I have eaten in the past three weeks all the sugar I haven’t eaten in the last two years (I am actually savouring the thought of a hard reset in the New Year; realistically pancakes and waffles and ice cream – oh my! – will just be too tempting in the Sunshine State). My friend Erin gets anxiety from eating sugar; I’m not sure my attempt to treat mine with it is the wisest move I’ve ever made. But food has always been love in my house. Pretending so that my daughter is spared my agonies is the least I can do.

I travelled fearlessly as a child myself, and this continued until I was in my late teens. God willing she’ll be like her dad, gazing eagerly out of the window and savouring the speed even now he’s in his 40s, without a frisson of fear. I remember once actually reading so intently I didn’t notice the plane had risen off the ground; I just looked out and saw clouds. I must have been about 19 then, because I was reading – or trying to read – James Joyce’s Ulysses, which was my gift for winning the English Prize at school during my A Levels. I chose it out of a sense of duty and pretentiousness and after that all-encompassing attempt to work out what the hell was going on I abandoned it and leant it to my friend Beatie whom I think still has it. She’s always been madly smart and has written a fantastic book you should all read, called Petite Mort. It’s very good, and the scary part is I don’t think it’s anywhere near as good as she’s going to get, say, three novels from now. There’s Angela Carter-level talent just beginning to show. You’ll see.

(I think Sophie has just risked accidental suicide. Hmm. I properly love the rendering of the Nac Mac Giants, though.)

I think blog posts are supposed to have a story to them. This is meant to be like my word of the year piece – a neatly constructed slice of life with something at the end. A moral, a resolution, a conclusion. But I’ve been reading a lot of Shirley Jackson this past week – note: do not read Shirley Jackson to calm your spirit, that is just stupid – and I’ve been hugely enjoying the way her creepy, plotlessly unsettling stories seem to just suddenly end, with either nothing changed or everything moved slightly to the left, inexplicably. The fact is, I was scared, and now I’m not. I’ll be scared again and then I won’t be. And I’ll carry on in the cycle – and carry on hiding it from my favourite person in the world – because… well, because.

So that’s that, then.

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2017 is going to need a stronger word of the year.

If you’ve read my blog before, you might know that each year I assign a word of the year to give myself direction and purpose. It gives me not so much a resolution, but more a thematic approach to the areas of my life where I feel some development is in order. Back in 2013, I needed to get myself in the mindset of Decisiveness. The following year I embraced my Creativity. I had a year of Asking in 2015, and followed it up this year with recognising and respecting Value – mine and everyone else’s.

With that kind of track record, this year’s going to need a really, really good one. Also – and I feel it’s now reached the point of being self-explanatory shorthand – 2016, you guys. 2016.

This year’s theme can be tricksy. It will need some definition. What is it?

Chance.

Let’s be clear: I’m not talking about ‘leaving things up to chance’. I think that’s the opposite of what a person like me needs; perhaps my worst self-development trait is sometimes being  nervous of making things happen and so waiting for others to offer. Which, realistically (cynically?), they won’t. That path leads only to entitlement, I think  – or at the very least a belief that everyone is able to SEE into your SOUL and magically KNOW WHAT YOU WANT. Don’t go there kids. And stay in school.

No, this Chance is chance in the sense of:

Give yourself a…

Give this new situation a…

Take a…

This chance is learning to live with uncertainty. Learning to accept the ripples in my stomach not as harbingers of a maelstrom but as currents leading to a wildly exciting white water ride. I have one or two things up my sleeve for 2017 that are massively out of my comfort zone, and for once I’m making this a reason to do them rather than an excuse not to. It’s the greatest testament I can think of to truly having recognised my own value – and with it embraced the possibility of failure. Because if you truly think you’re offering something positive to the world, then failure is a disappointment but not a devastation.

I’m proud of my accomplishments and achievements, but I recognise I could challenge myself more. By committing myself to the possibility of failure, I also give myself the best opportunity to succeed. There are dreams that are tired of being dreamed, and simply want to be lived.

And in the year ahead, I fully intend to give those dreams a chance.

 

“No one just says they love Sam Neill” …and other stories

There’s a sense with blogging that each post ought to have a theme. An SEO-able topic, that kind of runs along a sensible continuum and gives people a reason to read. My blithe dismissal of this on occasion might explain why I’m not a Blogger-with-a-capital-B, but just a…blogger.

Anyway.

The other day I was talking with one of my favourite people and one of my favourite kickass-women-I-admire and the subject of Taika Waititi came up because we all want to see Hunt for the Wilderpeople (and obvs I’m a Thor bore of old). And I said I really want to see it because I really love Sam Neill. Lo laughed and said “no one ever says that! No one ever just goes ‘I really love Sam Neill‘”. And I mean obviously I just did but it’s true. It doesn’t get said in passing conversation nearly enough. The man is the Lord High Master of hey-it’s-that-guy acting – appearing in practically everything, including goddamn Jurassic Park, and yet is not routinely coming up in conversation . He should. This is my manifesto. Also, watch The Dish because it’s all kinds of charming. And if you’ve seen that weird film where he reminisces about his former life as a dog that I caught 20 minutes of in the gym can you explain it to me in the comments? Ta.

While we’re on the subject of hey-it’s-that-guys, my friend Wil has now cooked for Stellan Skarsgard, and this is basically the best thing I’ve ever heard that I’m thinking of right now. This (Stellan, not Wil) is the man whose marvellously oily character made Good Will Hunting watchable! Even if he hadn’t done 100s of other great things, that would be worth the water cooler chat for decades to come. (I know, I know… I just can’t warm to it. I grew up on that other Robin Williams-starring paragon of special snowflakery, Dead Poets Society, and I’m sticking with it. And Josh Charles. To the desk-standing last.)

My brain is very full of stuff at the moment. I’m working on a huge number of different things at work, involved to different degrees. I’m getting ready for a hugely expensive but fun month, with four London Film Festival screenings and a second bite at Letters of Note all happening in a very small space of time. I have many things to pay for, and childcare issues to resolve. I have films to watch and books to read. I have blog posts to write (you all want to know how the painting turned out, don’t you? Well, you should). I have at least three ideas for future businesses I want to run if I can ever figure out how to run a business, and a draft of a book that very, very badly needs rewriting before I can figure out what else I might want to do with it (I’ve booked an Urban Writers Retreat Day to try and deal with a fraction of that).

I need want more dresses with pockets. Or just more dresses.

My hair has decided it’s curly now and I don’t know how to look after curly hair and some days I look like Cher in Moonstruck and other days it’s more like Monica Geller in humidity.

Everything is so… fizzy. I have the privilege of having so much to say and do and think and covet that I cannot get my thoughts into any sort of reasonable order.

Except, apparently, a Sam Neill Manifesto.

 

Redecorating a kids’ room with Dulux

We’ve been talking about redecorating our daughter’s room for a year, and thanks to the kind offer of some assistance from Dulux, I think we’re finally going to get started! There has been an element of laziness, but also fear of expense (we have some furniture to obtain as she’s still in a small bed and needs to graduate to a full size single, we’re hoping cabin bed) and considerations for how to make the most of storage in a fairly small room.

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The Superhero Room: I’m more of a Marvel girl, but I could totally live with this

But we’ve also been having The Conversation with the kid about how she wants her own space to be. As a kid, I came from the House of Magnolia, and I was rarely allowed to choose the paint or decoration in my room; when we moved house when I was 11, I was given a list of white paints ‘with a hint of [insert other colour here]’ and told to pick one. Apparently there is a difference between white with a hint of blue (as chosen by me) and white with a hint of grey (as chosen by my sister) but it definitely takes a better woman than me to spot it. These days I admire my mother’s simple, fresh approach to decoration – she’s branched out into buttermilk – but I also recognise that I’d have eaten my own arm to be allowed to choose the colour in my own room.

Enter Dulux. The team there got in touch to highlight their kids’ room designs which include a quiz  tool and workbook to help children make sense of their room decorating choices.  This includes the ideas for themes that you’ll see scattered through this post, and an array of articles on getting kids involved in the processOooh, that sounds interesting, as we’re planning to redecorate, I said. Would you like some paint? they replied. Hell yeah, came the response. More on our choice in a moment!

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The Jungle Room

I have to admit, I’d already put some parameters around our 6yo’s choices; as a 1960s build, our house suits pastels, and I insisted on something light in such a small room anyway. I also can’t live with pale pink (I never could), but will accept lilac. We’ve been planning to go for a peaceful green in the living room when we get round to replacing the ‘we’ve just moved in, quick paint it something inoffensive’ pale calico we slathered the place in four years ago. So we had already circled around a few colours anyway. I did in the end find that applying some boundaries does help with a child as young and imaginative as mine – given too many choices and possibilities the indecision and mind-changing is endless. She struggles with committing to a dessert, let alone thinking about a colour she can live with for the next few years.

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The Storybook Room

Even though she was pretty sure she wanted something in a yellow hue, we had a go on the Kids Room Tool and no matter which options she chose, the Storybook Room came up as the final option. Which, though R wasn’t so keen on the blue, was appropriate enough given she’d been leaning towards a My Little Pony inspired look (with a hint of Teen Titans Go!).

Still focussed on yellow as the main colour, we then looked at the options available in the Endurance+ range that the Dulux team recommended for being harder-wearing. Of those, the more light and warm shade was Vanilla Sundae, and the team have kindly sent us some so we can finally get cracking! These are the reasons R has given so far for choosing yellow:

  • To remind me of sunshine on rainy days
  • Because it’s your favourite colour, Mummy, and one of mine
  • Because it’s the colour of Fluttershy
  • Because it’s cheerful and light
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The Sports Room

We’ve started to do some research into decals and wall stickers. R was all for painting murals and scenes across the wall, but I’m simply not that good a freehand artist, and with a graphic designer dad on board having something custom printed is a more likely option (if we can’t find one we like as is). Also, as I pointed out, she might not like the same things in a couple of years that she likes now – she’s just started getting into Harry Potter, and she already can’t decide how much of the bedroom should be dedicated to her equestrian pals, and how much should represent DC’s finest young superhero team. So stickers will let the room grow with her, while the cheery paint continues to allow light into a room whose windows face across a drive to another house, limiting the natural brightness.

I really am glad that she’s getting a bit of a say in making her own space. I’m getting serious itchy pants about the state of our living room because I spend so much time there; things feel more like home when you can stamp your personality on them. As she’s getting older – going into year 2 next week – she’ll be getting more homework to do at home, and when she has play dates they spend more and more time in her room. Dulux’s research claims that 92% of children say they’d be happier to work and play more in their rooms if they had a say over how they were decorated; I can’t guarantee any results, but I can appreciate the feeling! While I hardly want her to stop hanging out with us in the living room, I’d like her to feel her room is a haven; I was a bookish kid who spent hours holed up reading, and the cosier the place you can do things like that, the better.

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The Circus Room

I’ve not yet taken the ‘before’ photos – mostly because her room is a tip – but once we get up and running I’ll document it with another post and Instagram (Stories ‘n all) is likely to be part of the process. I’m no natural interior designer, so all tips and tricks are welcome… and if anyone can recommend a good value company for getting a mid-height cabin bed, I’m all ears!

Disclosure: As stated, Dulux has kindly offered to supply the paint for our project from the Endurance+ range; opinions are my own, and there has been no other payment for this post.

Being a ‘new’ you without taking everyone down with you

When breastfeeding went drastically wrong from day one, I discovered Fearless Formula Feeder and loved it – especially the tagline “Standing up for formula feeders… without being a boob about it.” Now, everyone loves a good boob pun, but it was the message of defending ones own space without insisting on invading someone else’s – one that is so often lacking in ‘lifestyle change’ discussions – that really resonated.

We get it: you lost weight, swapped a 20-fag-a-day for a 20-bowls-of-kale-a-day habit, went from not being able to run for a bus to doing ultramarathons… gave up sugar (ahem). It’s really helpful to hear about that change, and it can be inspiring, too. But the problem is that other people are just trying to steer a path of just getting on with living in their own bodies as they are and it’s hard enough to steer that ship already, beset as it is by a whole host of societal and media obstacles. Like being a fan of problematic things, there are ways to discuss undergoing a transformation, no matter how big or small, without becoming an iceberg in the path of the body positivity boat.

I hold myself accountable here. I have a massively complex relationship with my weight and my appearance. I was a fat child; one day a complete stranger I had to squeeze past to get to a seat in a cafe (because he had his chair flung out) berated me because I failed to apologise for grazing his elbow with my body. “Sorry, I didn’t realise,” I replied; “you’re probably too fat to realise” came the response. I was nine, and he said it front of his (thin) wife, who pursed her lips smugly, silently, and his son, about my age. I was also a fat teenager – 16 stone at 16 – and this was in the days where it was buy an ugly tent from Evans (it wasn’t cool then, well before Beth Ditto), make your own muumuu or don’t go out. For years and years I tried to lose weight. I was in a popular group weight loss meetings programme at 14 – I quit after I lost 4lbs in a week of illness and vomiting, eating nothing but dry toast, and was congratulated for it, then warned to ‘be careful’ the following week when I put on half a pound on returning to “normal” eating. I was still a teenager, being encouraged to be ill and vomit to lose weight. When I had my appendix out at 16, I had a dreadful reaction to an anti-inflammatory drug and couldn’t eat at all for four days – anything except ice-cold water, in tiny sips, made me vomit copiously. I became massively lethargic and my tongue furred up from dehydration. My mother called the GP, worried, and was told it wouldn’t be the worst thing if I lost weight. Again: Still. A. Teenager. And it wouldn’t be the first or last time I came across fat concerns being placed above good healthcare by medical professionals.

Anyway, I tried okay? At some point in my mid-20s, I drifted down from a 22 to a 16; I started a more regular gym habit with my now-husband, and we both got a bit fitter which also happened to coincide with a bit of weight loss (the two don’t always go hand in hand); I did not diet for my wedding, though I think I was probably incidentally at my thinnest anyway. I wore a lot of corsetry and insisted on a jacket. A year later I was pregnant. I gained a bit, I lost a bit… my body changed, as is wont to happen with pregnancy and childbirth.

Then, almost two years ago,  I quit sugar, and my body again changed substantially. And while everyone expects a pre-during-post pregnancy change, here it was a dietary one, and it got attention. I gradually shrank in front of my colleagues while at the same time having to voice that I was eating differently (our office is powered on cake, and you need reasons to avoid it). I went from tipping a 16 to being an M&S 12. I also began to explore fashion with something approaching a sense of self, rather than invisibility and comfort, for the first time. I began to feel vaguely welcome in that world.

Perhaps paradoxically, it wasn’t actually being a size that was available in more / most high street stores that did that initially, but the increasing proliferation of plus size bloggers showing that larger women could wear whatever the hell they wanted. I am smaller than I was, but I am not really thin, toned or fit, and I often dress with the same panicky considerations as I did when I was bigger: covering my arms, nothing above the knee unless it’s worn with thick tights / leggings, nothing too body con. Fatshion bloggers basically said “to hell with that” and they let me see a side to dressing that had been hitherto hidden from me: one that focussed on the gorgeousness of the clothes and the generally being fabulous and not having to achieve some special exclusive social value before being allowed to access those things or feel good about myself.

I didn’t quit sugar to lose weight – I’d finally given up on that, but it came as a side effect. If I’m totally honest I suppose it was welcome in that way that you’re glad to see a long lost relative even if they’ve turned up days late with a friend you weren’t expecting and the spare room is still full of junk. I have massively mixed feelings about it all. But perhaps because it was unintentional, I also have massively mixed feelings about the way that people respond to me post-weight loss. In fact I frequently resent my new-found visibility and newly-won respect. In so many ways, I am still very much the same person I was before, just thinner. But at the same time, I might not seem it.

I cannot fail to respond to the receptivity shown to my bid to be that bit “better” dressed, that bit louder and brighter with my look, that bit braver in tarting up in vintage or pulling on nerdy leggings. I have started deliberately posting outfit pics on Instagram, doing actual fashion blog posts, growing my hair long – in the past I subscribed to some weird rule that being bigger meant I should have short hair? – and slapping on a host of red lipsticks. That has led to more people commenting (positively) on my appearance. And while I enjoy that and am grateful for any and all well-meant kindness, I feel angry for my past self and the lack of love she got. Angry at myself, for spending all those years hiding myself and waiting to be more ‘acceptable’, and angry at others for refusing to notice that girl until she made herself noticed by finally doing what the system insisted she had to do. Would owning it then, dressing up more and wearing those lipsticks have achieved more respect then? I’ll never know, because I didn’t feel ready to do it until after people started making a fuss of my weight loss. I feel like maybe I could have if I were 15 now, but back then there were no social media, no inspirational bloggers, no accessible, progressive clothing stores or lines – no online communities for someone like me to turn to to make me part of an incredible movement and not just a funny fat girl trying. There’s a messy, painful symbiosis between the emergence of my confidence and the diminishment of my body, where no good can ever be entirely good.

The extraordinarily luminous Bethany Rutter often posts examples of the harmful narrative of former fat people – that is, those who say they’re a different person / healthier / happier / full of love and light since making a physical change. I’m not going to speak on behalf of fat women, because you need to read the discussions coming directly from fat women about all sorts of things; here’s another example on the same topic, Lesley Kinzel’s entire XOJane back catalogue, great fashion inspo from my darling friend Kitkeen and a wonderful summary article on not diluting the radicalism of body / fat positivity to get you started. (It should go without saying that you should follow those women for their general brilliance as interesting, smart – also fat – women; they’re not paid to educate us but if we happen to learn something along the way that can only be for the good). But it has dawned on me that, like men calling out other men to battle misogyny, I should reach out to others ‘like me’ – others who have made some sort of change and found themselves in a new category, treated with a new respect and handed a tiny sliver of the privilege others have been basking in for some time. And what I say to us is: THINK. Think about what you’re saying when you say things are much better now. Think about what – again, in Bethany’s perfect words – fat shaming really is.

Of course you must speak your truth – for me, it would be lying not to suggest that I feel healthier off sugar; of course I do, that’s why I did it and kept doing it and wrote about it. But you do not do this in a vacuum. Furthermore, to go that step further and suggest that being treated better means I am better, and advocate for you to all join me and be much better too would be frankly awful. The assumption that everyone wants to lose weight and that this would also happen in exactly the same way for them, the underpinning of a royally messed up status quo that rewards you for physically diminishing yourself, the value judgement implicitly levelled at anyone who doesn’t change themselves to please the public anti-fat narrative (whether they can or want to or not)… how would that be helping anyone except myself and my own validation?

It can be tempting when you’ve been part of one group and you find yourself in another to try and be all things to all people. As radical movements go mainstream, the demand to become accommodating forces them to be stretched like an old piece of chewing gum that’s lost its flavour but can still be relied upon for a few attention-drawing pops. This is disastrous, and erasing – yes, we are all objectified and victimised by a thin-centric social narrative and media, but if you’re about to say something about ‘skinny shaming’ ask yourself if this would ever happen to a thin person and remember that ‘reverse’ isms do not really exist. That doesn’t make the person benefiting from privilege bad, it just makes them privileged. Different responsibilities come with that.  I am not thin, and I am now over 35, but I am still more welcome in any space than a woman identical in all other ways to me but fat would be. I have a responsiblity to not further pollute the little space afforded to her by grabbing at it to add at my new-found wiggle room. And I think too many ex-fats like me do that without even being aware of it.

As one of the most painfully honest pieces I’ve ever written, I will find it very hard to publish this. It will feel exposing, and raw, and I will fear it being taken the wrong way or being seen as appropriative (and if I am told it is, I will be prepared to remove it). But this, really, is my love letter to those people – particularly fat women – that are changing the landscape so that there never needs to be another child or teenager miserable in the way that I was, not because I was fat but because of the way fat people are treated. I salute them, I love them and – from the bottom of my heart – I thank them.

Running for a train

I turned thirty-six running for a train.

I’d left an emotional night out which included a fantastic Letters Live performance and a reunion with a school friend I hadn’t seen since school. Eighteen years of bright, intense newness and unutterably comfortable familiarity; finding out things about each other in the context of feeling a connectedness that meant the conversation couldn’t run dry.

The clock struck midnight as I bolted from the Bakerloo to the Metropolitan line at Baker Street, heading for the last train out in my direction. It felt so right to be alone, doing a simple grown up thing, as I eased over the line of my mid-thirties. This decade in which I can finally have said to have worked some stuff out about myself – in which I was already a wife but became a mother, a home-owner, a manager, an aunt for the second time, a resident of somewhere other than London for the first time. I’ve given up sugar and taken up drawing. I’ve started wearing red lipstick and stopped caring how it looks.

I’ve always been a quick learner but a slow bloomer. It took the better part of thirty…something years to walk with a spring in my step; growing up as a fat kid you generally want anything but to take up space (that’s the problem, you take up too goddamn much space, ffs), but at some point you hope to learn that you have as much right to that space as anyone else. Even after I reduced myself in size quite considerably, however, I still couldn’t quite get my head around it; words, journalling, blogging were the only spaces in which I gave myself a little elbow room, and even then I generally preferred to stay below the parapet as much as possible (read this, please, but only if you don’t know me and there are not too many of you).

On my wedding day, aged twenty-eight, being stared at was made bearable only by the love of my husband-to-be, some extraordinary hair and makeup help, a lot of very beautiful satin and, crucially, corsetry. I deflected compliments, and shared wedding photos weeks later still wishing there were a hundred things I could change about my stance, my expression, my body… my face. I’m not going to pretend that my thirties have fixed everything about this. I definitely have wobbly moments, daily. I change outfits that don’t look right at the last minute. I don’t post the first selfie.But with every year that I add, I lose an ounce of capacity to give a shit.

In the last couple of years I’ve been able, for the first time, to enjoy dressing as something more than an emo statement (teens) or a way of blending into the background (twenties). I’m now neither two fingers up nor window dressing. I’m able to express sentiments I hadn’t given myself permission to feel before. Having a child undoubtedly had an impact – when your mum, a family friend, the midwife, her trainee student midwife and your husband have watched another entire person, albeit in miniature, emerge from an intimate area of your anatomy, you cannot help but dispense with a certain amount of self-consciousness. I am now beginning to square with actually courting a certain amount of attention; obviously that comes with massive caveats, but leaving the house with gold superhero leggings on I did have an inkling that people might talk to my knees more. To me it was more important to express some fun and experience myself being – as I saw it – brave than it was to worry about what other people would think or say. But it took the cumulative experience of three decades of being me to make that possible. Such a tiny, insignificant thing – a thing that only a gallon of privilege would allow to be an issue – but for me a small but noticeable marker that I have changed.

Recently, my daughter has developed a certain amount of shyness and self-consciousness. Online safety training at school has led to a blanket ban on sharing images without her express prior approval in case “someone shares it and laughs at” her (to be honest, if she’s nailed that understanding at five, then I’m considerably less worried about what she might get up to at fifteen). I’m not going to try to talk her out of it, in part because I’ve learned the hard way that this is actually impossible – you cannot be reasoned into a certain way of relating to the world. But now I can pin just a little of my personal progress on her – give myself the motivation to keep acknowledging the shuffling steps forward – because now I’m also an example for someone. Another thing my thirties have given me.

When I turned thirty, I didn’t really stop to think about it. I was pregnant, tired and hungry. I knew I’d ticked some boxes I’d vaguely hoped to do so by then, but I was too busy feeding a sudden, desperate addiction to cheese and tomato toasties and trying to work out how to extract a distinct individual from my nether regions to consider it all much. Plus, to a certain extent, I expected to have changed. Twenty is only just not-a-teenager. Thirty is a grown-up. If I hadn’t made any progress, then there was definitely a problem. But the growth I’ve unexpectedly packed into just six years since then hit me with unexpected force on an almost empty train, juddering out to the Home Counties, on a freezing cold March night I’d spent with someone who was my best mate when I was six.

Thirty years later, instead of running around the playground, I’m running for a train – tipsy, content in my own company, wearing bright pink lipstick and a form-fitting mustard yellow dress, darting towards forty with only hope tugging at my hand.

My word of the year for 2016

Every year, I read a plethora of posts that say “I don’t do New Year’s resolutions” and then go on to list New Year’s resolutions. Hell, I’ve probably written one before.

I think the problem is that the format of the resolution sounds like putting pressure on oneself – “this year I will lose arbitrary amount of weight as if each lb taken away signifies 1lb of added happiness”. There’s a negativity about it, a beating of the self with the pointy stick of “why haven’t you done this already”. It’s a checklist, rather than a spur for growth.

The thing is,  the changing of the calendar is as good a time as any to get your thoughts in order. No, you don’t have to do a damn thing just because it’s January 1st. Neither does it make it any less of a resolution if you make it on June 17th. But emotionally, I think it is easier to allow yourself to be carried on the tide of hope that inevitably wells up at this time of year. The days begin to lengthen again, we spend weeks correcting ourselves every time we write down the date, and it just seems to be a serendipitous moment to do a bit more brain training.

This is why I like to set myself a theme, rather than specific goals. For one, some goals can be forced but some depend on the right opportunity presenting itself, and the resolution is more about the groundwork – being ready to seize that moment – than about the moment itself. For the last few years I’ve sought to develop mindsets, rather than attain specific rungs on my mental ladder. So for each year, I’ve assigned a word, and let that word be the theme that guides me, and that I can come back to when I feel stuck.

In 2013, I was feeling a little scared and set in my ways. So I chose Decisiveness, and I changed jobs and took a new career path which has helped me learn a lot. In 2014, Creativity ruled the roost; I started to share more of my writing and drawing online, and I found that each time you do it the walls do come down a little more and it becomes easier. In 2015, the year of Asking, I applied for and received funding for an art course, negotiated some things at work I would usually find difficult and, crucially, learned when I could ask, but also when I didn’t need to anymore.

And these things are cumulative. I shared more stories, and more art and came up with better creative ideas in the year after I made Creativity my guiding principle, because I’d exercised the muscle and it was working more smoothly. My decision-making has been better this year than the last two; it will continue to improve, I’m sure. I speak up more now than I did at the beginning of the year. So, the time has come to choose the word that I think will pick up these three strands and continue to pull them along, while giving me new challenges.

That word?

Value.

I frequently underestimate mine and, frankly, I’m not sure I always see it in other people as much as I could or should. It could be my own financial value, or it could be the emotional or practical value provided by another, but more than that I think it’s understanding that – even if you can’t itemise it – everyone has value, just by virtue of being here. It’s really seeing that, and living it, and getting it. I feel like the best thing I could teach my daughter is to be kind, and at the root of kindness is appreciation. I’ll find it a lot easier to teach her that if I truly have a grip on it myself. As things are in the world now, compassion is desperately needed and not always easy to come by. But it has to start with recognising the value of each person, and really, truly, knowing one’s own.

And hey, it sounds pretty Agent Carter, right?

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