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.
I didn’t get around to blogging yesterday, but I did have a post published on one of my favourite websites (!!!!) – it’s talking about something I’d originally written about on this blog – hair loss. I was so proud of myself for opening up about something that’s really impacted my self esteem over the years (you can read the piece here), particularly because when I last tried to talk about on this blog I’d really struggled to fully be open about my experience/feelings – it’s hard to open up about the most vulnerable parts of yourself and put them out there for the world to see.
I’ve always wanted to be a writer – I’ve just always written for as long as I can remember and I struggle to express things properly in conversation, am pretty introverted and just can’t quite see myself doing anything else and being truly content. And I’ve always been as open and honest as possible in my writing, whether that made the writing seem lazy or overdramatic or angsty as hell. But when I started sharing stuff online I suddenly became self conscious of that. In some ways, this is definitely something I need to work on – it comes with wanting to be a writer to put yourself out there, expose yourself and your insecurities and your emotions to others. But I also think there’s this sense on the internet that you must bear your soul when expressing opinions and I struggle with it – it can be so emotionally draining and I don’t always have the energy to share my perspective on issues because the place that that perspective comes from is so deeply personal. It’s something I’m trying to get more comfortable with and figure out my boundaries surrounding and I hope I’ll get there in the end. But until then, I’ll try and keep reminding myself that I don’t have to expose the rawest, most vulnerable moments in a quick tweet responding to the news of the day. I don’t have to share anything I’m not comfortable with. And that doesn’t mean that I don’t care or that I’m not honest or that I’m less of a writer.
Around four months ago Louis and I moved into a little flat together in one of my favourite parts of the city.
The way golden winter morning light lands on bookshelves and blue-tacked prints, the way we have this space that’s just ours, the way I don’t have to anxiously worry if someone else is in the kitchen or the bathroom or using the washing machine – everything about it feels like magic. Hot showers and hot cups of tea and candle light and having space that’s not just a bedroom in a student house, but somewhere that I love – I’m still unable to fully comprehend that these things are actually here to enjoy, that I survived enough to experience them.
Communal living at University and difficult circumstances with my family meant I’ve often felt dislodged, not at home anywhere over the last few years. It left me scrambling, unable to ever feel like I was fully recharging or able to stay afloat. Now, all of our books sit together and we can listen to whatever music we want whilst we cook dinner and it just feels like a dream. Friends come over and we fill the place with pink balloons and confetti and laugh and I find myself unable to quite believe that I’ve managed to get this far – sharing what feels like a perfect little flat with my favourite person, looking out over the city. That despite all of the trips to hospital and doctors appointments and days when I couldn’t leave the house or my room or my bed or stop crying or remember how to breathe – I am here and I am making progress and I’m not just surviving. And I feel so endlessly grateful for that.
I’ve included two pieces with this post – one written a couple of years ago, when even going to the kitchen to make pasta felt impossible and one from recently – sitting on the sofa on a Sunday not unlike today, finally feeling at home again.
I didn’t end up blogging yesterday, but I think that’s ok when it’s because my evening was instead filled with lovely people and pizza and watching one of my favourite films (Pride!!! If you haven’t watched it you must). Today I thought I’d talk a little about ‘Between’, a collection of my poetry published in a zine by The Horsfall Gallery and 42nd Street Mcr. It also features cover art by the lovely Maddie Ismael.
It meant so much to be able to put this collection together, particularly as any money raised from people buying a copy go straight to finding the work that 42nd Street do. They do such amazing work and as an organisation mean so much to me – their support has helped shape the person I am today and I’m not sure where I’d be without them.
Whilst some of the pieces in the collection are also featured in The Trapped Mermaid, they all explore feeling kind of on the edge of things or between people and places and selves. It’s a collection of work written when I was trying to reconcile and figure out so much of myself and how I’ve changed. Pieces explore everything from falling in love with a city to how I feel about class and my relationship with myself and others. Some pieces were written before I’d ever shared any of my writing with anyone (and never quite expected to, as much as I wanted to) and it’s strange to see them end up in print for people to read – more so than when I self-published The Trapped Mermaid.
There’s the critical part of me that feels uncomfortable even briefly talking about creative projects and I think it’s a shame – I don’t know if I’ll ever quite feel like I deserve to take up creative space and I quietly let The Trapped Mermaid go out into the world without making a big deal out of it, despite the fact that it’s a collection that means so much to me. So this is a tentative little acknowledgement that I made a thing and that is something I should celebrate in itself.
If you’d like to pick up a copy, you can either message me or they’re on sale at The Horsfall Gallery in Ancoats.
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.
It’s not been three months since the first few copies of a little pink book found their way into cardboard packaging, into postal vans, into different houses and different people’s hands. I let them out into the world with the knowledge of the fact that I’d outgrow the content – outgrow the desperate desire to quickly put something together that made the shit before it worth it, to make the fight to get past it all tangible. I’m not sure I anticipated that feeling coming around as quickly as it did. I haven’t dared glance through a copy. Can’t quite bring myself to want to edit everything with it, cut out most, fill the rest with new ideas and new pieces and new formats. But I’m working on accepting that that’s part of creation, that that’s a sign I’m doing things and working in the right direction – rather than floating through with a soothing idea of ‘one day’ getting around to something I’m relatively proud of. This blog has been stagnant, my willingness to try and create has been non-existent and the crippling insecurities have come back in full force. I’m trying to remember they’re likely always going to be present to some degree and that approval seeking is only worthwhile when it’s from myself.
“Burrowing and Burning is a little collection of poems. Or fragments. Or bleedings. Or something along those lines. Written without any immediate intention, scraps of days and feelings and moments that I eventually decided to combine in the hopes of creating something tangible from it all.”
When I made this blog I talked about my fear of creating things which would be dismissed as pretentious, about my fear of growing out of the things I’m currently thinking and feeling and saying. Those fears are something I’m particularly overwhelmed with right now, skimming through a copy of a collection of my own poetry. I’ve spent forever agonising over whether I want to share my work in a book, and particularly whether I should self-publish, always imagining some vague future version of myself who is self-assured and confident and able to do so in an unapologetic manner. I’m still sort of stuck in that stage of questioning and self doubt. But more importantly, there’s a part of me that isn’t. There’s a part of me that quite likes the idea of having created something out of the scraps of writing I’ve accumulated over time and there’s a part of me that isn’t self conscious about giving other people the opportunity to read it, too.
Burrowing and Burning will be available on Amazon in a week’s time.