Musings: the 45th American President 

On the 8th November 2016, I went to bed anxious but hopeful that I would wake up in the morning to hear the news that the 45th American president was a woman. That it would be a monumental moment in our history that we would tell our future children about with a sense of enthusiasm and pride.
That said, I can’t say that I was at all shocked when I turned on the BBC at 6am to see that Trump was sweeping a majority and when I listened to Chris Evans announce as I sat in gridlock traffic on the A470 that it was official. That business man Donald Trump had landed arguably the most important and powerful job on this planet.
Because 2016 has been the year where rhetoric promoting extreme nationalism has captured the minds and the votes of a majority, not a huge majority, but a majority none the less, of citizens living in 2 of the most influential countries in the world .
The year where the right to cast a ‘protest vote’ is more of a priority for many than defending the human rights of racial minorities, of our women; daughters, mothers, mothers of our children, of homosexuals, of those fleeing persecution, of our fellow human beings.
Where do we begin?
Do we begin with the fact that the message for our next generation will be that anyone can hold the most important job in the world? Even if you’re unqualified, dangerous, racist, homophobic and misogynistic ? Oh but not if you’re a woman, even if you’re more experienced and more qualified and more competent to undertake the job. You’ll have to work 10 times harder and that still may not pay off.
Or the fact that for Britain, it may feel like we are watching a violent car crash from afar, but if that rogue car veers over to our side of the road and threatens to collide directly into us, we are on our own for this one.
Do we draw on the parallels throughout history, of rises to power by leaders promising to make countries ‘great again’ through alienation of ‘enemies’, by leaders who thrive on fear and hatred and persecution? Will this see itself through to similar horrific conclusions? Will we be complicit?
Do we take a look at ourselves as nations, and ask why and how this has happened, question where it all went wrong and instead of passing blame, listen up and take note and rebuild trust and make positive change?

Do we go back to bed and hibernate for the next few years hoping that when we wake up this has all just been a bizarre dream?

So this morning, I walked to get my morning coffee with a sense of impending doom wash over me. Feeling like our children will be reading about Brexit, and the term of the 45th American president in a preface of an A level history text book, except with a gut wrenching sense of uselessness and fear, because we don’t yet know what happens in the next chapter.

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Musings: the 45th American President 

Musings: You are not your snapchat filter! 

Ok, so I understand that this post isn’t going to make me popular.

However being unpopular is not a new concept for me. Someone once brought a knife to school and when someone asked who it was for….guess who?!

Oh, if you’re worried I didn’t actually get stabbed.

Just threatened with the prospect of being stabbed.

Aaaahhhh school, best days of our lives.

*upsidedownemoji*

Anyway, I digress. On to the topic…

Can we just discuss the pandemic that is extreme snap chat filter overuse? 

Ok, I know this may appear rich coming  from me, the self obsessed selfie queen.

Ok VERY rich. I can almost hear your eyes rolling. Just bear with me a second….

I love a filter. All day eeeeer day.
I mean I’ve used the “fit filter” so much that I am shocked and indeed upset when I catch my *actual* face in the mirror and it’s not perfectly contoured, and where are my sparkly eyes, and my highlighted cheeks and WHY AM I NOT MY SNAPCHAT FILTER?

It’s taken me a long time to come to terms with it Hons. A long time.

I am not my snapchat filter.


Spot the difference.


However, just when you thought if you saw one more licky puppy filter on your newsfeed you would throw your iPhone 6 under a 44 minutes late Arriva train, along came the butterfly crown.

That butterfly crown.

All over my FB.

It’s a step too far.

Coming from me.

I don’t know what about it has pushed this snappy addict over the edge?!

I think it’s because, let’s face it, Call Me Dave Cameron could use it and look like Megan Fox.

I think it’s because it’s the ultimate catfish filter.

Right?!

Say it with me Hons ….
“I am not my snapchat filter”

“I am not my snapchat filter”

Be careful, if you say it in to the mirror three times Nev, Max and the whole MTV production team arrive at your door…


All I’m saying is, we need to understand that we are never going to be as fit as those filters. We need to maybe keep them where they belong, on the self serving , narsacistic platform that is Snappy? Where we can all watch each others narcissism in 10 second intervals?

But hey what do I know, I once skinned a sausage because I thought the skin was packaging. Don’t ever listen to anything I say.

Bye.

*No butterflies were harmed in the making of this blog*

Musings: You are not your snapchat filter! 

Musings: Post Brexit Identity Crisis- Who Are We?

 

Once there was a country. A strong democratic European nation. A respected world power.

Following a devastating war, it’s economy hit crisis point. Inflation spiralled out of control. Savings became worthless. The price of everyday goods rocketed.

People had worked hard. They had saved. They had done everything right. And they lost everything.

Following election after election, none of the political parties seemed to have the magic solution. People were disillusioned, jobless and desperate.

And then a party came forward who showed hope. They were radical and they promised radical solutions.

The party promised to get people back to work. They promised to put the country back in its’ rightful place, to return it to a great world power.

They promised the people they would get their county back.

When all the political parties are so close to the centre, are offering the same old and tried solutions, and along comes somebody offering ….no… promising…a new dawn….no matter how educated people are, no matter how irrational the solutions may seem, people are drawn to the glimmer of hope.

Once the party was in power, they quickly geared up a more intense strategy;

Divide and conquer.
Unite against a common enemy.

It’s the oldest military trick in the book right?

So the party began to identify some common ‘enemies’, specific groups within the county’s population who were already not extremely popular anyway due to deep rooted historical tensions, making it easier to justify and bring people along with them.

They constantly wove this emphasis on their enemies through their rhetoric and philosophy.

It was the enemies who had ruined the country. It was the enemies who were bringing the country down. Taking the jobs. Invading their space.

The enemy were taking over! They weren’t giving their country room to expand and become great again. They were taking over THEIR COUNTRY.

They wanted their country to be independent. They wanted their country to be self sufficient. They wanted to take back what was theirs.

They wanted their country back.

It was within this context of dangerous political narrative and rhetoric, of extreme nationalism, of economic crisis, mixed with the promotion of fear, hatred, and anger that gave permission for a whole country, ordinary people like me and you, to turn against the enemy. In a ‘legitimised’ way.

It was this context, along with many other factors, that enabled discrimination, which rapidly led to to persecution, which culminated in the most systematic and deadliest genocides in history.

“How on earth did they get in to power?”

“ How did ordinary people allow this?”

“We must learn from this….we must never let this happen again.”

“Where was the line and when did they cross it?”

***********************************************************************

It’s taken me a while to write this post.

I voted remain and I was truly gutted with the result, and was very open in loudly shouting this disappointment across social media. Standard.

It was more than disappointment, it was anger. I needed chance to let the anger subside, and when it did, what was mostly left was an extreme sadness.

On reflection, I know that my initial reaction to Brexit was one of a petulant child.
Basically I had massive strop that it hadn’t gone my way. I immediately took on the “I’m right and everyone who voted leave are misguided idiots” stance.

I now accept that this stance is arrogant, it’s very condescending and actually hypocritical given that I had beef with many leave campaigners generalising people and then I was doing the exact same thing.

The fact is, many people voted leave for very legitimate reasons; they did their research, they had their evidence, they knew what they believed in and that leave was the right choice for them and I see that and I can understand (now that the red rage has ebbed away!)

So why am I so sad still?

I am sad because of some of the reasons for voting out, based on what I’ve seen on social media and heard in pubs and bars and on the TV. I’m sad because of what I feel it says about our values and beliefs as a country and what others in the world may perceive about us based on this.

I am worried on very practical terms; will international colleagues now feel unwelcome? How can we reassure these colleagues of their value and their amazing contribution? Will this stop people wanting to come and work here? How will this impact upon the quality of services we can deliver?

And what made me most sad of all is that I feel that the Brexit has helped to legitimise racism and intolerance even though this clearly was not the intention. To be extremely clear, I am not saying that all people who voted leave are racist or intolerant.

But what I am saying that I feel it gave confidence to those who are intolerant and prejudice and who until now have trolled online, in secret, behind closed doors, who now think that half the country agrees with them and their values. I think that some people’s true colours came out.

The things is, we live in an age where twitter and social media have made it possible for us to be aware of what is happening, out there, in real time.

After the decision for Brexit was announced, there was a general increase in the number of tweets about migration on twitter.

There were more than 13,000 tweets that used terms that could be seen as xenophobic and racist.

Incidences of hate crimes spiked.

People tweeted that Islam should be reclassified as a crime.

Political narrative. Nationalism. Fear. Hatred. Anger.
I want to make another few things extremely clear.

  • I’m not making a direct comparison between Britain and Germany in 1932.
  • I’m not suggesting people who voted leave are fascist or intolerant.
  • I’m not suggesting that we are on a trajectory towards any kind of similar outcome.

What I am doing is comparing context, looking at history and drawing upon common themes. What I am doing is considering, as many others have, what are the circumstances that enable ordinary people to be swept away by a narrative of fear and hatred.

Where is the line? How do you know when you have crossed it until it’s too late?

After the whirlwind of the last few weeks, I now am in a more positive space personally where I feel we have to now make the most of Brexit. To accept it and to give it a chance rather than continue to be negative.

I hope as a nation we are positive. Optimistic. Kind. United.
But not exclusive.

I hope we do not tolerate intolerance.

I’m no Tory, but I think Teresa May and her speech on 13th July gave assurance that she means business; she talked about unity, about addressing inequality and class divides. It was inspiring and powerful and just the rhetoric we need in these challenging political times.

However, it is just rhetoric.

How we go forward is in OUR hands. It’s our narrative to write and to live.

Who are we?
What do we believe in?
How will history look upon us?
How will we look upon ourselves?

 

 

Musings: Post Brexit Identity Crisis- Who Are We?

Musings: Anti-social Media; Part 2

Firstly, massive apologies for lack of blog post over the last few weeks. Work has been particularly busy and like….BLOGGERS BLOCK big time! So I’ve been putting off writing this up because I just couldn’t get in to any kind of flow, and now I’ve decided to just bash this out as quickly as I can and get it out of the way, so it’s probably not going to win any prizes for insightful literary genius. Soz.

Anyway, grovelling out of the way…Shall I fill you in on my little experiment then?!

If you haven’t already, you need to go and read my previous blog post Anti-social media: Part 1 first.

If you have read it, you may even want to go back and re-read it anyway given that I posted it about 7,892 weeks ago so you probably can’t even remember what I was wanging on about in the first place (just checked, it was only 2.5 weeks ago….no YOU’RE a drama queen).

Read it? Good. Here we go.

Day 1- Thursday 

So Day 1 started off well.

I’m lucky in that I have a FitBit (sorry guys I know I haven’t mentioned it AT ALL since I got it, and so this may come as shock ) and it has a silent alarm setting (it vibrates on my arm to wake me up….sexy) which meant I could keep my phone out of my bedroom but still use it to set off my vibrating wrist alarm. What a time to be alive!!

I get straight up and straight in to the shower- quickest start to a day EVER !!

I’m staying at my Brother and Sister-in-Laws’ house for 2 weeks whilst they are on holiday and so I go down and feed the cats, make a cuppa and eat my cereal before quickly checking my phone.

I actually got ready 20 minutes earlier than I usually would have and made it in to work at 7:40am- WOW.

I had a very busy morning of meetings and so I couldn’t check my phone if I wanted to!

At lunch time, I check my phone and I have a few messages.

One of them is from one my besties, Hannah Rix,  who is,  precisely 4 hours following my experiment starting,  concerned that I am ‘off the grid’ which is absolute testament to my point re: the extent of my phone addiction, in that by midday she  usually would have probably heard off me at least 50 times.

The afternoon was more of a challenge as I had no meetings and lots of work to get on with which as we all know usually means one thing PROCRASTINATION! Kindly facilitated by my lovely phone.

I must say, I did cave in at around 2pm and check social media quickly .But still, better than my usual practice of leaving my phone on the desk to distract me so I try not to beat myself up too much.

For the rest of the day I only used my phone to answer a call from my Mam and my brother and to text a friend for arrangements to meet up which fall in to my category of only using phone when I need to.

My social media hour was between 7pm and 8pm- I posted my blog and text a few friends.

My mother text me to say she enjoyed my blog but  was concerned- what if she needed me urgently? Could she ring me?

I reassured her that I’d still take phone calls, just not read messages or scroll mindlessly on media- this placated her.

As 8pm and my self imposed ban came around, I actually felt anxious. I put my phone downstairs and let the cats outisde.

Now, my brother and sister in law only let the cats in the garden under supervision…(I know … Tell them will you?!)

Anyway, I watch them in the garden and they were being adorable- bouncing around, jumping about 8 feet in the air, trying to catch flies. I miss my phone already- I’m dying to take a snapchat or take a video and put it on Facebook and tag Sam and Becky in it.

After the initial frustration I took the opportunity to just stop and watch them. And it was nice to actually take 2 minutes and enjoy them playing in real life and not through a lens.

It then rained and I spent 20 minutes chasing them around the garden trying to get them in. MEGA LOL. Again I had a pang of “HOW FUNNY WOULD THIS BE ON INSTA?!”

Cold and wet and laughing my head off I cook a pizza and pour a glass of wine that they have kindly bought me (my brother and sis in law that is…not the cats..LOL).

I wish that I could take a pic and instagram it and tell them how kind they are.

And it hits me already, on Day 1, how much of my life I see as a social media opportunity. Did I want to take that picture to thank them or to validate my night in on social media/make a little brag about my lush family?

I decide I will thank them with a card rather than a Facebook shout out.

I settle down with a book and my glass of wine until 9:30pm. It’s lovely and relaxing, but I must admit I feel anxious. What am I missing out on? It takes a lot of will power to not check it.

I give my phone a final glance for anything urgent and set my alarm for tomorrow.

Days 2 and 3- Friday and Saturday

Ok, so I was so busy in work and outside work that I didn’t really get chance to look at my phone. I sang at a wedding on the Saturday afternoon which meant I had rehearsals in the church straight from work on Friday and then the wedding Saturday followed by  a friend’s hen do.

Again, I notice I’m out of the house in the mornings so much quicker due to lack of mindless scrolling.

I only check my phone when I need to, to make arrangements.

I feel so much more productive.

Day 4- Sunday

I wake up hungover in my friend Raechel Mattey’s house.Standard.

Now usually, no matter how tired I am or how much my head is pounding, I  wake up on a Sunday and scroll mindlessly through my newsfeed. Through squinted eyes. I can waste hours.

I resist the urge to pick up my phone and try to go back to sleep for another hour or 2. And I do!  I feel like my lack of phone is enabling me to switch off more quickly. And I’m surprised at how quickly I get used to not using my phone and how it gets easier as the days go on.

I get back to my brothers’ house to get ready to take my dad out for Father’s Day.

I allow myself a quick look at social media and notice that everyone is posting the standard Father’s Day montages. And I do love a montage mind!!

I agonise over whether to post one of my Dad or not. Do I really need to post a public declaration of love to my father who is not even on Facebook so won’t even see it? When I will see him in person in less than an hour  and give him a real life card and express real sentiment, like, to his face?

In the end, I decide to post one, I can’t resist.

A montage ban is just a step too far at this point.

Days 5, 6, 7, 8 ( MY BOOT-SCOOTING….nope not funny. Retract).

This week, Monday – Thursday,  I am, again, super busy in and outside of work.

When I get in each night, I cook my tea and I sit and I read. I always say I don’t have time to read as much as I’d like to. This phone ban is making me realise how much time I spend scrolling on my phone when I could be doing other things.

I read a book and a half in 5 days!!

I feel liberated.I feel less anxious. I feel more relaxed. I don’t have the fear of missing out that I thought I would. I am dropping off to sleep more quickly. I am present and in the moment and enjoying the little things.

My friends appear to be more put out by my lack of phone than I am, with some of them labelling messages as ‘urgent…must read’ to get a response, and when I reply, ask me what I am doing for tea that night (Hannah Rix, I’m looking at you!)

I’m doing so well…I’ve nailed it.

And then….THE REFERENDUM. 

It was impossible not to get caught up in it….for anyone, but especially for social media addicts of which I am a self confessed one!

I posted, I tweeted, I discussed with my friends on what’sapp. I was stuck to my phone watching it all unravel, particularly on that Thursday.

And I found it impossibly difficult to get back in to my self-imposed phone ban! I told myself it was ok to have 1 day off, given the magnitude of the occasion. I tried in the days that followed to get back to complying with my rules, but it was really difficult to get back in to my focussed mentality.

I’m not saying that my ‘good work’ in the week prior was undone….it had done me the world of good. But I’d been ‘clean’ for a week and one ‘binge’, one ‘hit’ , had tipped me back over the edge from practically not using my phone at all to being obsessed again. No in between. No middle ground. I find it so frustrating but I can’t help myself.

Bad habits are hard to break. 

My conclusion

There is no doubt about it, for many of us, phones are an actual addiction. And following my little experiment, I don’t think addiction is a strong word at all.

For many of us, reducing our phone usage is so challenging..and cold turkey…impossible! It requires so much willpower. And in that sense, I think we shouldn’t expect to be able to give it up so easy. It has to be a process. A lifestyle change.

I think it’s important to note that the week that I have documented above was unusually busy for me in terms of not having the time in between meetings or tasks that I would usually have to check my phone (did I mention at all I was busy?! LOL…soz).

I’ve kept to my rules of not sleeping in the same room as my phone when I can (or certainly not having my phone under my pillow) and not checking my phone first or last thing and I’ve found they have really helped me switch off.

Following my one ‘good week’, I found it hard to maintain the strict social media time allowance and checking of the phone.

During that ‘good week’ I really did feel liberated and more productive. I was amazed at the time I gained for myself to do the things I like to do, that usually would be taken up on the phone.  The longer I went without my phone, the easier it became, although at times it did take a lot of willpower.

I plan to try these rules out again this week, where I have a more typical week in terms of work and social commitments. I think the important thing is to recognise it’s an issue that you want to address and to not beat yourself up for deviations… just trying,  and thinking twice about our habits and behaviours…thinking before we pick up our phone or post that tweet, I think, is a good enough start.

So there we have it!!

Did anyone else try the rules out? I’d be SO interested in how you did?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Musings: Anti-social Media; Part 2

Musings: Anti-social Media- Part One

Hi, I’m Ashleigh and I am addicted to my phone *round of applause*. 

I know…. the first step is admitting that you have a problem. And mine is that from the moment I open my sleepy little eyes, until the moment that I crash in bed, that phone is glued to my hand. Permanently.

Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Emails, Whatsapp, Snapchat, Texts.

And repeat.

And repeat.

And repeat.

And repeat.

I’ve always been a MASSIVE social media fan since the good old days of MSN and Myspace. Hi 10 layers of Avon foundation, white eyeliner and assymetric fringe Ashleigh….you’re so scene! 

However, I’m not quite sure when social media moved along the continuum from a hobby to a Valencia filtered prison.

WOW, I realise that sounds really dramatic. Let me elaborate….

Actually, it’s pretty glaringly obvious when our generation started to develop in to complete social media zombies with phones for arms,  and it was the dawn of the SMART phone.

Prior to that, you sent 12p text messages to your buddies from your pay as you go Nokia (HI SNAKE!) and sent just the minimum amount of characters to make arrangements and plans within a word limit- my credit ain’t gonna last all day and I cannot afford to go in to 2 messages…girl please!

We might have spent a few hours in the evenings on MSN and Myspace, however, this was time limited (i.e. came to an abrupt end when your Mam made you get off the net at 10pm so that she could use the landline…SO UNFAIR!)

Nowadays, there is no escaping your phone and the constant interaction that it brings.

How did we get to a point whereby we get separation anxiety if we accidentally leave our phones at home?

Where we can’t sit in a restaurant whilst our mate goes to the toilet without getting our phone out to fill up every spare millisecond?

When everyone expects us to respond almost instantaneously to Whatsapp messages, especially if they see the blue ticks and they know you have read it?

When not being able to connect to Wi-Fi wherever we go make us a feel a bizarre mix of dread, fear and anger?

If I’m honest, the thing that bothers me the most is that I know my phone absolutely consumes me, and I know that I am often being extremely rude but I cannot seem to stop.

I know that I sit there when my mother is trying to have a conversation with me and continue to scroll through my newsfeed whilst mumbling “sorry…I am listening.”

I pull up outside my house after an hours drive after work sometimes and sit and scroll through Twitter in my car for 15 minutes before I get out!

I have potential Facebook statuses swimming in my head at all times and I can legitimately get excited to go places so that I can take a good Instagram picture.

Often, me and my friends will sit in a room together, in silence, all staring down at our phones.

It may not be intentional, but actually, what we are saying to one another by doing this is “I value my social interactions with the people over this phone more than your human interaction, right here, right now.”

Wow. How anti-social? What a disrespectful and dismissive way to treat the ones we love.

And what’s worse is that our generation has accepted this as normal social convention.

Terrifying.

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As a mechanism to deal with my anxious little brain, for a year now, I’ve being doing a lot of research and reading in to the practice of mindfulness and of gratitude; of being present and in the moment.

I’m sat in a hotel room in Manchester right now (ummm….can we discuss the fact that I seem to undertake all my life reflections in hotels? Stick me in one for 6 months and I reckon I could put the world to rights, LOL) and whilst mindlessly scrolling through my newsfeed, it dawned on me that my phone and my social media addiction is a major barrier to mindfulness. I’ve also been reading a lot of the Turn Lights On digital detox offerings which has definitely given me food for thought.

Being on our phones all the time doesn’t allow us to switch off, for one. Constantly checking, planning and updating makes for an extremely busy mind.

The constant comparison with others; what fancy food they are eating tonight, what gorgeous holiday they are lucky to be on, what a big bunch of wonderful friends they have,  WHY ARE THEY HAVING SO MUCH MORE FUN THAN ME ON A THURSDAY EVENING, cannot be good for our sanity, am I right or am I right?

I personally love my phone because it makes me feel constantly connected, even when I am alone in a hotel room in Manchester.

However, doesn’t being on your phone all the time just rip you abruptly out of the present?

I do genuinely worry about the precious life moments I am missing because I’m thinking “oh that would be a great picture” whilst frantically trying to get out my phone,or texting someone about something funny or interesting or unusual that is happening rather than just soaking in.

I want to live in the moment instead of  constantly documenting it (Yes, I do appreciate the irony of blogging that very sentence but…you get my drift!!)

And so, I’ve decided to kick off a little experiment and see how my phone and use of social media, or should I say, lack thereof, affects my mood and my ability to be present and in the moment.

Now, I’m not going to go compleeeeetttteeeely cold turkey- that would be crazy *breaks out uncontrollably in to a cold sweat* . 

However, I want to strip my phone use back to basics. Essentially, I want to remove the dependancy and make it a functional and useful tool again.

Here are the rules:

  1. No phone in the bedroom at night time
  2. Phone can be checked for urgent messages first thing in the morning BUT not until after I’ve had a shower and my first cuppa…I don’t want it to be the first thing that I see or engage with
  3. My phone will be kept in my bag during the majority of work time except ….
  4. I can check my phone for urgent messages at lunchtime
  5. 1 hour of social media time/whatsapp time is allowed during the evening to check in with friends and family but strictly no longer
  6. My phone will be checked at 8pm for anything urgent and after that….no phone!

And repeat!

*Gulps* 

I am going to try this out for a week and report my results back to you.

And if anyone catches me breaking any of these rules, please feel free to grass me up!

Wish me luck!

Oh….and is this just me? Does anyone else feel the same? Has anyone tried to break free of their phone and social media before? Did it work? Any tips?

Get in touch friends.

Musings: Anti-social Media- Part One

Let’s talk about mental health: A tale of anxiety and a leap of faith #MentalHealthAwarenessWeek

I didn’t plan on posting this blog this week. I sat down, drafted and scheduled a nostalgic and light hearted post on my favourite things about growing up in the 90s.

And then I realised that it is Mental Health Awareness Week.

Four weeks ago I wrote a blog whilst sat on my own thousands of miles from home on a paradise island. It was my first blog and the most honest thing I’ve ever written. I wrote it for myself as a cathartic exercise to make sense of my thoughts and feelings. I shared it with a few of my close friends because it was easier for me to write it down than to try and explain.

I’ve toyed back and fore with whether I should actually blog this. Is it too personal? Am I oversharing? What will people think of me? Will I feel exposed?

But I’m going to bite the bullet and share it because we just don’t talk about this stuff, about our mental health, and  I know that so many people will relate to the story I write below.

I’m posting it because I want to explain what it’s like to be inside the head of a person with anxiety to those fortunate enough to have never experienced  this struggle day in day out…and what it feels like when you can escape that feeling, if only for a hours or a few days.

And I’m posting it because I know we must try to support ourselves and each other to get through these ups and downs and find our coping mechanisms together.

So…here goes… A tale of anxiety and a leap of faith

(I couldn’t think of a catchier title…soz about that).

Before I plunge in to this particular story, I think it would be a good starting point to explain that I’m more than a bit notorious amongst my friends, family and colleagues for being a complete academic that in contrast absolutely  struggles with simple every day  practical tasks that 8 year olds could probably grasp (i.e.I once skinned sausages because I thought the skin was packaging and I set foil on fire in the microwave in work).

I know, I’m so cool. Perhaps I should put this lil description on my tinder profile and just watch the super likes flood on in.

I’ve been wanting to write a blog for months, it was my New Years Resolution, and as I sit on a beach on paradise island (insert shaaaaaaameless holiday brag here, soz not soz) I thought this is a good a time as any to make a start. Because this trip has been a major life experience.

Why is this trip so special? Because I didn’t plan to be here, thousands of miles away from home, on my own.

This would be a good time to explain that the furthest place I’ve explored on my own is Cardiff’s independent arcades on a Saturday taking carefully edited insta pics (Valencia filter, always). Ok, that *might* be a little bit of an exaggeration for comedy effect but you get the idea.

You’re probably thinking, ok, what’s the issue, I’ve travelled all over the place on my gap yah, ya? You’re 27 years old, get a grip woman. Well, if travelling is your norm, which it is for many, good for you, you sassy lil independent solo traveller, you! But for me you have to understand travelling alone is a big deal! I’ve never been on a plane alone, I’ve never been on a long haul flight. It’s just not an Ashleigh thing to do.

Until this week. When I found myself travelling across the other side of the world. To see a boy.

There’s always a boy.

Since my last long term relationship ended 4 years ago I’ve had a number of short term flings, I’ve been on the dating scene but failed to hit it off with anyone. Like realllly hit it off, you know?  Guard up. The wrong men. Commitment? Me? No thanks hon, I can’t really fit you in in between pub quiz, dinner with the girls and *insert festival, club/bar here* but I can *maybe* see you when I wake up at around 5pm on Sunday, oh and bring a Macdonalds for this hangover? You’re a babe!

However, over the last few months , I started to get close to someone. It started as a friendship and it crept up on me slowly and over time until suddenly feelings got pretty intense pretty quickly. But he was moving away. And he’d asked me to go and see him out there.

And that’s how this girl who struggles to make an effort to go to the other side of Cardiff for a boy ended up on a plane across the other side of the world.

But, spoiler alert, this isn’t a tale of romance. We didn’t hit it off. A few days in it became so blatantly clear that things between us were not the same.

There was no chemistry. We hadn’t picked up where we had left off .

This would throw off any one who had put themselves out there to fly to the other side of the world for someone .

However, here’s the thing; I’m an extremely anxious person. Which amplified the situation by 1000.

I have always been a worrier, for as long as I can remember, but I have recently gone through a particularly rocky patch which culminated in me having to admit to myself first and foremost, and to others, that I suffer with generalised anxiety disorder.

I’d built up this holiday as a temporary escape from my anxious little world that I’d got myself trapped in.

The fact we hadn’t clicked , that it just wasn’t happening, led to days of extreme overthinking and anxiety overdrive.

He doesn’t like me. I’ve made a mistake coming here. I look like an idiot. I’ve misread the signs. How could I be so stupid? What is wrong with me? Is this my fault?

Thoughts going around and around with no let up. Panic. Upset. Rejection. Insecurity. Self doubt. On a constant loop.

It’s an all too familiar drill with me.

The more I overthink, the more my usual bubbly and outgoing personality shrinks, the more I revert in to myself and get lost in my own head. I get increasingly frustrated that the funny, happy girl is in there somewhere but she’s just beyond reach. I try to coax her out but I can’t. She’s trapped inside a dark cloud that won’t shift, no matter how beautiful and hot it is outside, no matter how lucky I feel to be have this opportunity to travel here, no matter how many fancy cocktails I drink, no matter that the pool side DJ is playing some commercial deep house (thanks bae!) I just can’t shift it. I urge myself to snap out of it, to make the most of this once in a life time opportunity.

The more I overthink, the more difficult I am to be around. And I’m acutely conscious of this , which stifles me even more. Serious Catch 22 situ.

Anyone who has experienced anxiety and depression will be all too familiar with the feeling of being unable to get perspective or to work out what is real, and what that voice in your head is making up to taunt you.

And I don’t just mean in this kind of particularly intense situation. I mean, I can feel all of the above sometimes about going to Asda’s tomorrow. Or about having to walk in to a conference.  About having to go on a plane on my own. About being in an airport. About something I said in work 10 days ago that’s still looping in my brain.

I once thought about going in to town shopping for 4 whole days CONSTANTLY. Not even in a negative way. I just couldn’t stop overthinking it. How I was going to get there. What I was going to do. What time I would go. What time I would get back. Every detail. Over and over and over until I was dreaming about it. On repeat. As you can imagine it’s really, really , really frustrating. And really boring.

Anyway, back to the plot; I got friend zoned about 7,000 miles from home.

And I’m stuck , in an unfamiliar country, in a completely alien culture, in this oppressive heat with this polluted air and high rise buildings towering over me. Stuck in my anxious, torturous brain.

He’s working for a few days anyway and  I decide to get on a plane, to a neighbouring island to take myself away from the situation.

I’m in two minds about whether to go. What’s the point?! No matter how beautiful this place is, I’m still me, I’ll still feel the same. Just I’ll be me in a different location. And I’ll be alone.

But it’s that or stay in the city trapped with my thoughts and quite literally trapped in the hotel by night given it wasn’t safe to go wandering alone.

So I found myself on an hour plane ride out of the city to a neighbouring island alone. Terrified! I get to a tiny airport and get a boat ride across to the island.

And it’s paradise. I’m talking crystal blue water, white sand, palm trees, 35 degree heat.

I breathe a sigh of relief and take in the incredible views and the clean air.

I get to my hostel (I have my own room, not *quite* brave enough for the shared dorm experience yet…let’ not run before we can walk hon).

Within 30 minutes of being on island, on my way to the beach, I meet a beautiful and interesting girl who lives 1000s miles away from me, and who starts chatting to me and invites me out for drinks with her friends that evening. We immediately find common ground. We are the same age. We both work in the health sector. We are single.  We’ve read the same books. We watch the same TV shows. Our younger brothers are already married and are completely showing us up! We clicked immediately easing straight in to the usual girly chat.

What followed is two days of fun , reflection and self discovery (OMG, spew!! I completely realise how absolutely cheesy and self indulgent this sounds, like, who do I think I am, Julia Roberts in Eat Pray Love or what?!)

I’ve always put myself in to a box. I like what I like. I don’t like what I don’t like. AO’C does what she wants . Including referring to herself in third person by her initials. That’s me.

That’s an Ashleigh thing.

That isn’t an Ashleigh thing.

You can’t change me. So don’t try ok?

“I don’t like speaking on the phone.”

“I don’t do travelling”

“I’d never go on holidays alone, I really can’t understand people who do”

“I don’t really like chatting to new people, I’m 27, not 16, I don’t need any more friends”

“I hate conscription fun!”

“I just don’t do joining in”

(Note: I realise that the above makes me sound like the most blaaah person ever. There’s lots of things I do like , I’m not a complete vanilla misery I promise….right friends? RIGHT FRIENDS?! But let’s keep those for another blog…)

However, the situation I was in forced me completely out of my comfort zone.

Over the two very short but beautiful days on the island, I met so many interesting people from across the world and I found I was actually good at it! I found that when you take the time to try and focus on the present and to escape your own head and you make the effort to connect with people, even if only for a few minutes, you’ll be amazed at the interesting things you learn.

I went on an organised pub crawl which would usually make me want to curl up and die (I mean, at this age at least anyway….. 2006 orange face Ibiza Ashleigh…I’m looking at you!!)

Like, I had to wear a yellow tshirt and shot glass around my neck. Seriously. ( I should point out that I have an extremely low cringe tolerance).

I got adopted by a large Filipino family in the communal area in my hostel who showed such kindness, insisting on feeding me every 2 seconds and glitter tattooing my arm, Obvz (#festivalchic).

I listened to 2 guys playing amazing acoustic mashups over breakfast.

I spent hours on the beach reading, and swimming and people watching, all on my own time.

I went exploring without a plan or a direction and without checking the time.

I had such a hilarious night chatting and dancing to old school R&B with a gay couple who have promised to take me out in Soho next time I’m in London.

I loved it on my own. I could be myself. I felt liberated. I could do what I want. I could set my own agenda. My confidence was building hour by hour. I was feeling good about myself! I was my own best friend.

It got to about 11pm on the 2nd night of my little solo adventure, I was sat staring out to the sea and I felt a pang that something was missing. What was it? Like when you forget a word and it’s just on the tip of your tounge but you can’t quite get it. You can’t quite put your finger on it. I felt familiar panic rising in my chest.

And I realised that it was the little niggling voice in my head.I hadn’t heard her for 2 days. And I honestly can’t remember the last time this has happened!

The scared , anxious , taunting demon was retreating , overpowered by the ” me ” I’d been trying to grasp for months but who was just out of reach. She was back! Hey girl! Where ya been? Have a G+T and stick around for a while!

Ultimately, I took a risk. I put myself out there and it didn’t work out the way I’d planned. And I don’t regret it. It’s ok to take risks and to fail. It’s better than not trying at all.

The circumstances had forced me to do things I wouldn’t have dreamed of doing or even thought I was capable of.

I’ve got a long way to go in getting back to myself and I know my demon isn’t completely gone. She will always be there, sat on my shoulder, telling me I’m not good enough, trying to trick me, trying to put the real me in her box. But to overcome the demon even if only for a few days has given me hope.

We are all usually happy on holidays #obvz. I mean generally, it’s a lot easier to be compared with the stressful and busy fast paced lives we all lead back in the “real world”.

And I don’t think my message here is “in order to cure anxiety, just fly to a tropical island…easy!!”…there wouldn’t be enough tiny paradise islands to accommodate  the 20% of the worldwide population that suffers  with anxiety.

However I think for me , the most important thing I’ve gained from this trip, is the clear realisation that actually I restrict myself so much. All the time.

By taking down some of those self imposed barriers, could that help me gain a different perspective?  Empower me? Liberate me? Increase my confidence? Could being more present , more in the moment and getting out of my comfort zone help me mentally?

I survived something I would have called my worst nightmare; a delicious little injured heart/anxiety combo in an unfamiliar place on my own. If someone had told me that I could have done that even a month ago I would have laughed in their face!

They say life begins at the edge of your comfort zone…I’m SO excited to find out!

So there we have it. I hope you enjoyed. 

Posting that was pretty scary. But scary things are SO an Ashleigh thing now! *sassy emoji*

Update: since I initially wrote this a number of weeks ago, I’m definitely on a positive upward slope and feeling a lot better in myself.

Anxiety doesn’t  just go away but you can learn your individual triggers and how to foresee it and tame it. My mechanisms are surrounding myself with people I love and who understand me of which I am lucky to have many,  talking about it to my loved ones, trying to remain present in the moment (the Power of Now has really helped) guided meditation,  yoga, spending time outdoors and writing down my thoughts and emotions (oh and some cheeky medz!).

The most important thing is learning to be kind and patient and forgiving with yourself (i.e. treating yourself as you would your bestest gal pal) and accepting that it’s a journey, and that’s ok.

IMPORTANT PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT- NORMAL LEVELS OF WIT AND NOSTALGIA WILL RESUME NEXT WEEK!!

 

 

Let’s talk about mental health: A tale of anxiety and a leap of faith #MentalHealthAwarenessWeek