Hello! With grey rainy days and the mixed feelings that come with lockdown easing, I’ve seen lots of people on my timelines feeling a bit down or struggling at the minute. With this in mind, I thought that I’d quickly share a few reads that I’d recommend for those days when you need a pick-me-up, some perspective or an escape from whatever is going on in your head. Whilst they’re three quite different books, they’re all ones you can dip in and out of and (along with a sugary cup of tea) help me to feel a lot calmer on those days when your mind feels like an overwhelming place to be.
First up is Liv Purvis’ The Insecure Girls Handbook. I truly can’t recommend this book enough for those days when you’re feeling a bit shit about yourself, whether it’s to do with your career, body image or the FOMO that comes from too much time scrolling on Instagram. Liv chats with women who are doing amazing things to empower women across the globe and these varied perspectives and insights mean we can all find a bit of ourselves within this book’s pages. With a relaxed and friendly tone that never veers towards preachy, this book is one you’ll be grateful to have on your shelf on those days when you need something other than your inner critic in your head.
Next is Charlie Mackesy’s The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse. You’ve probably seen Charlie’s beautiful illustrations over on Instagram and it’s not surprising at all that this book won Waterstones Book of the Year in 2019. I can’t quite convey how lovely this book is to own – its’ pages are filled with the most beautiful drawings and it’s just so soothing to flick through and to read. The messages inside are hopeful and keep a childlike feeling of curiosity. On a difficult day, it can be just the kind of thing you need to be reminded that there are gentle and wonderful things in the world.
Finally, I’m finishing up with Emma Mitchell’s The Wild Remedy. Emma talks openly about her struggles with her mental health and beautifully conveys the ways in which nature helps to ground her and keep her going on the difficult days. Her drawings and photographs are the perfect antidote to city living, if you’re craving a bit of green space, and the little details of life on her daily walks or drives through the countryside always give me a brief but lovely escape from whatever’s going on in my own world.
If you end up picking up any/all of these books I really hope they make the rough days a little softer for you. And remember to support independent bookshops as much as possible with your purchases, as they need our support now more than ever.
It’s been just over a week since I made a terrible attempt at packing (forgetting all of my makeup and most of my clothes) and left our flat in Manchester. The evening of my last blogpost, where I decided I’d write weekly about what I’m grateful for, saw the U.K go into lockdown. In the days following we’ve seen case numbers and deaths due to Covid-19 continue to rise and so many have lost both financial security and key support systems. Being away from those I care about, particularly if they’re going through a rough time, has been difficult. But I also feel so lucky that there has been so much to be grateful for mixed in – it’s both strange and reassuring that those realities can sit side by side. I know everyone who is sharing on the internet is grappling with the uncertainty of what to post – the good can feel almost insensitive right now. But, as so many have pointed out, looking for and feeling that good is all the more important when everything feels so uncertain. The celebration of the small things by others has really helped me to feel less alone in the midst of everything that’s going on – glimpses of people’s afternoon walks or the cakes they’re baking or the books they’re curled up with…
Over the last week there’s been so much to savour – there’s the obvious things, like evenings filled with bird song and wood smoke and skies that drip gold. There’s the message notifications from friends, sharing a poem they think I’d like or checking in to see how I am. There’s the way people all over my timelines have opened up and showed kindness to each other and the reassuring ways in which working from home has kept an element of the familiar, even if it’s the relief of finishing up for the weekend and staying in bed for longer on a Saturday.
There’s still the pangs for friends I won’t see for a while, moments when my chest is tight with panic and I just want to be with the people I worry about the most. There’s sadness that I’m not going to see the blossom in Didsbury Park at all this year or have the birthday party I’d hoped for or explore Amsterdam with my favourite people… But there is still so much good.
Today I braved the cold and sat outside on a bench in the winter sunshine whilst I ate my lunch. I watched the steam rise up from my chamomile tea, rifled through a book bathed in natural light, forced myself to tune out the traffic a street away and listened to the birds flitting around in the branches above. I also received a lovely message from a friend, a message that reminded me how far I’ve come and how much I’ve achieved that my younger self would be proud of, a message that also reassured me that there’s other people out there in the world treasuring these glimpses of the end of winter, these snatches of sunlight. Later on in the day the sunset felt longer, the sky more molten and then more pink and I felt so much relief at the visible signs of the days elongating.
It’s been a strange day. A strange day with some beautiful moments.
Yesterday I found myself in a situation where my anxiety, which had been building up for a long time, became unmanageable at the worst possible moment. One of my initial reactions was to be frustrated with myself for not having taken time out during the day to mentally prep, for not having been able to focus much on self care over the past few days so that I could be in a positive state of mind for the evening. And as I wrote yesterday’s blogpost, it got me thinking about all the ways in which we see self care and whether we perceive it in a positive, helpful way.
Plenty of people have talked about how self care isn’t all face masks and bubble baths and it’s definitely true – self care isn’t always pretty. It can be tedious and exhausting and hard work. But last night I ended up thinking about how even when self care isn’t just about things like skin care and candles, there’s still some underlying issues in a lot of what I see online.
A lot of people talk about self care as doing what makes you happy and quitting things that no longer serve you. There’s the obvious limitations that crop up when confronted with these ideas – having to pay rent or bills or look after your family etc. But there’s also this idea that self care is always about maintaining “happiness” and “positive energy” which I think can be unhealthy – we can’t self care ourselves to happiness and constant happiness isn’t sustainable. This idea of using self care as a way to achieve a life devoid of negative people and thoughts and feelings is toxic in itself. Self care shouldn’t just be a fix for the bad stuff, it should be a tool to help you through it.
Sometimes that means self care works in more subtle ways – accepting that you didn’t have time to be mindful or go for a walk during the day and that maybe things didn’t go as planned, but learning from it and being kind to yourself rather than critical and frustrated. Taking the stairs rather than the lift because you don’t need to anxiously stare at the same ‘flaw’ that you’ve already checked several times that morning in your bedroom mirror. On a day to day basis, these aren’t necessarily ways in which I feel like I’m practicing self care. But they stack up and they’re important. And in many ways they’re more successful than the times that I go for a walk with the sole aim of feeling better – I’m looking out for myself without trying to self care away my feelings.
The ideas I’ve talked about are often expressed in lovely Instagram posts and quotes that we see on a daily basis. I get that, for the most part, they’re about making sure you prioritise your self and your wellbeing in a world that can be cruel and exhausting. But seeing these quotes day after day can slowly, in my experience, make you feel like the goal in taking care of yourself is to be constantly happy and in the past it’s left me feeling frustrated when I’ve not been able to fix my sadness with the right self care.
When it comes down to it, I think I’ve realised self care isn’t about happiness. It’s about kindness. It’s about making the world a little softer for yourself, especially on the days when you feel like crap. It’s not about doing what makes you happy, it’s about loving yourself enough so that when the happiness comes around, you’re able to let it in.
Day two of blogging every day for the rest of January and I find myself under the covers just after half eight, panicking a little that I haven’t bothered to think of a topic to write about tonight and that I’m far too tired to try and put together sentences with any level of coherency.
It’s been one of those days where my brain is all over the place and living with my own company feels relentlessly exhausting. But it’s also been a quiet day and getting to the end of it with time for a hot bath (the luxury of being in our own flat is still not fading, I can’t get over it), a cup of chamomile tea and a book in bed before 9pm feels wonderful and reassuring (elderly vibes, I know✨✨✨…).
I’m reading Emma Mitchell’s The Wild Remedy at the moment, a book I like to dip in and out of occasionally, and it’s the loveliest – the drawings inside are beautiful and Emma’s reflections and openness about her own mental health leave me feeling a little less alone on short, dark winter days. It feels particularly like a bit of respite now that I’m no longer living on the edge of the city, with the luxury of having Fletcher Moss Gardens And Stenner Woods so close by. The moments and animals Mitchell spots and the accounts of her wanders through the countryside feel like a brief escape from life in the city centre, where reassuring signs of the changing seasons are harder to stumble upon.
This hasn’t been the most articulate of posts but whilst I doubt there’s much to gain from it from a reader’s perspective, I do feel a little better going to sleep knowing that I carved even a brief bit of time out of the day to write and reflect a little. Hopefully I’ll have more time to think of a topic and write about it, before I get cosy under my duvet, tomorrow.
It’s Sunday evening and I’ve had the whole day to relax and read and write and relish in the quiet of January. And yet, as often happens whenever I have no plans or obligations for the day, the day has stretched on in a fog of not feeling able to think clearly, of restlessness and a constantly overwhelming sense of anxiety. I think it’s felt worse recently – the new year and decade stretches ahead, lacking shape and certainty. I try to see this unknowingness as some kind of magic space – a future I can go ahead and create and do anything with. But with my mental health and with the constant onslaught of news stories that make me ache for the state of the world, it can be hard to not just feel scared at the thought of the future.
It’s not that things are bad right now – there’s so much to be grateful for at the moment, so much of my life which leaves me overwhelmed with surprise and love. I’m still learning that I can have space in my heart for all of that and still be scared, still struggle. Still learning that it doesn’t make me ungrateful or unappreciative or incapable of seizing all that life has to offer. I think it’s important to recognise these feelings and try and work my way through them, make space for them and treat myself with kindness when they’re heavy in my chest.
I’ve been thinking on ways that I can feel better – planning for days in the future so I have plenty to look forward to, savouring a good cup of tea or the view from my living room window as traffic snakes into the city, rearranging my bookshelves and relishing in the fact that I have a space to call home and so many wonderful things to read. But sometimes even trying to pick out a book that won’t have content that makes me feel worse seems hard and sometimes I think I just need a healthy distraction. And so after a think about what I could do to try and combat these January blues, I’ve decided to give blogging every day for the rest of the month a go. One of my ongoing anxieties is whether I’m good enough to write, to create content, to share it with the world. To do this feels like a good way to try and combat that whilst giving me the soothing promise of time to reflect as each day passes. In the same way that my weekly therapy sessions used to be a time to breathe and let everything out (pls can the NHS hurry up and give me more therapy sometime soon), I’m hoping these posts can do something similar – recently I’ve been struggling to write poetry or even just the journal entries that I used to do so much of (scrawled in various notebooks that are now stacked up at the opposite side of the room) and so I’m hoping a slightly different format will do me some good. We’ll see.
This week I had my final ever University exam, which feels kind of surreal… I’m not quite sure it’s hit me that it’s all over, but given how much my mental health has impacted my experience of the last three years I thought it’d be good to write a bit of an advice post for navigating university life whilst looking after yourself – it’s been harder than I hoped, but wonderful in entirely unexpected ways and hopefully I’ve got some helpful advice to share!
Don’t pressure yourself to have ‘the best three years of your life’. University might well be a time that you look back on with nostalgia, filled with incredible memories. But three years is a long time and university is full of changes for a lot of people, especially when you’re first finding your feet. Take the pressure off of yourself and don’t feel bad if you’re not constantly having an amazing time/making memories/finding your ‘friends for life’. It’s normal to feel isolated, anxious and down at times – you’re not failing. And you’re much more likely to find yourself genuinely contented if you don’t expect your experience to be amazing 24/7.
Remember that there’s a billion different ways to experience University life.Particularly when you’re scrolling through endless photos of huge groups of people heading out clubbing, it can be easy to wonder if you’re doing university ‘right’. Are you going out enough? Making enough friends? Trying enough new things? But it’s important to remember that your own happiness and enjoyment comes before any preconceived expectations of how you should be spending your time. Push yourself and try things you might not initially think you’d be too keen on, but don’t stamp down your personality and interests in order to have a specific type of university experience.
Make sure you’re aware of what resources are on offer to you, if you need them.Whether you’ve experienced problems with your mental health before or not, it’s always a good idea to be aware of what help is available should you end up needing it. Have a quick search for your University’s counselling services and see if there’s other resources in your area to help look after your mental health – creative therapies, mindfulness events etc. If you’re Manchester based, I’ve provided a lil list of some great resources at the bottom of this post. But this doesn’t just apply to directly mental health related services – find out what financial help/bursaries/loans your University offers; these things can be really useful, particularly if your mental health impacts your ability to work alongside your degree.
Try to open up and avoid isolating yourself.Whether it’s giving a friend from home a quick text, admitting you’re having a bit of a ‘down’ day to someone off of your course or forcing yourself to spend a little longer than you would usually socialising in a communal kitchen, try to make sure you don’t go from ‘making time for yourself’ to just isolating yourself – anxieties and emotions are often intensified after a few days avoiding the world in your room. And besides, those around you might appreciate your honesty if they too aren’t feeling great.
Find your happy places.This might take a little bit of time, but try and get out and explore your new city/campus. Stumbling across places where you can retreat for a little bit of quiet and calm can be so important when you’re in a University bubble. It might be a green bit of your campus, a coffee shop you really like or a bit of countryside you can get to easily enough – just find somewhere where you can be with your thoughts and relax.
Try and get outside of your University bubble.Especially if you’re feeling anxious or trapped, getting out of the bubble of university life can be really important. If going home is both an option and a safe space, try and schedule some trips back. Visit your friends at other universities. Or if you’re unable to do so, for whatever reason, try and find a way to engage with the local community outside of campus – find a volunteering opportunity or an event that you think you’d be interested in and go for it!
Be kind to yourself and accept your limitations.University can be full of expectations to excel academically, get work experience/internships and socialise. But if you’re struggling to do any/all of this, your worth does not change. It’s important to accept your limitations (which will fluctuate over time), be kind to yourself and focus on what you need, rather than what you feel you should be doing/what other people expect of you. If you’re not well enough to manage a part time job alongside your studies or you don’t have a huge group of friends that you see 24/7, don’t see this as a reflection on your capabilities/character. Be patient with yourself, ask for help when you need it and celebrate your victories, whether they’re big or small.
Manchester based resources:
42nd Street & The Horsfall – 42nd Street offer individual and group therapy as well as groups such as MORR which are great to get involved with. The Horsfall is a gallery/creative space that’s linked with 42nd st and offers lots of wonderful creative stuff – from an art/drawing session every Thursday to exhibitions.
Open Mind Manchester – Open Mind are a University based society, with groups operating at both the University of Manchester and MMU. They share helpful resources and run an excellent range of events, from mental-health themed spoken word nights to ‘PositiviTEA’ and ‘Share your Story’.
WeAreAssif – Check out their website/instagram for lots of interesting blog posts/articles and events in Mcr – from a book club to walks in Heaton Park.