On Anxiety, Stress, and Worrying

I have always been a worrier. Sometimes I say this to people and they think I’m saying ‘warrior’ (though with the amount of stress I face, really I should get to say that as well), but this is to clarify that I mean the less fun version. I’ve always been a worrier, and so faced a lot of stress – but the main issue is that because I worry about everything, most of the stress is just completely unnecessary. I swear if I had a Superpower, I’d be one of those lame Superheroes who had the power of extreme worrying. “But what if the villain has a gun? What if they have a hostage? What if this is all a trap? What if they’re actually good? Are we doing the right thing? How can anyone know for sure? Did I leave the oven on?”

Who would my arch nemesis be? Super-Chilled-Man?

Anyway, I digress.

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Whenever I get these emotions of pure terror, I’ve always called it worrying – but ‘worry’ just doesn’t feel like a strong enough word sometimes. If you say to someone ‘oh I’ve been worrying about it’, the response is normally a ‘aw don’t worry, it’s all fine!’ (And fyi, that isn’t helpful – I’ll still worry until I have physical proof everything is fine thank you – and then probably panic that it will all go downhill). It’s only over the last few years that people are openly discussing issues related to depression and anxiety, and whilst I by no means believe that I suffer from depression, I do tend to think that – like I’m sure most people do – have a heck ton of anxiety. Then again, I wouldn’t go as far to say that I suffer from anxiety, as it feels like taking it away from people who genuinely have the illness. So once more, I’m left with calling it worrying – but is it worrying when you constantly struggle to sleep because you over-analyse every possible scenario, that you always arrive at least 30 minutes (if not more) early because you worried 10 minutes early would not give you enough leeway? Is it worrying that when you go out with friends, as soon as it hits 9pm you start to panic about it getting dark and thinking that you risk of being attacked is increasing, and if you don’t get back soon something awful is going to happen? Or is all of this just culture. Is it the media that have taught me this, that have ingrained this panic?

Unfortunately for everyone reading this, I have no answers.

(Just so you’re aware).

I feel like everyone feels stress, so there’s almost no point in complaining about stress – there’s always going to be someone who one-ups you – and is it really ‘beating’ you if the ‘winner’ is the one who is more stressed out? Every time I’m stressed about something – be it work, university, getting rejected, unable to find a place to live, waiting for results – there is always someone right there to say that they are more stressed, and so insinuating that I do not have the right to be stressed. My brother is a perfect example of this. Without fail, whenever I claim to be stressed or tired or have a lot going on, he’ll immediately say that he is more stressed. He’s currently a first year Junior Doctor, and to be fair to him he probably is more stressed, but through his whole degree (and mine), it does not matter what is happening. If I’ve had a week of work and he’s had a week off and I say I’m tired, he’ll say ‘you don’t even know what tired is’.

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And that’s the problem with conversations about things like stress and anxiety. Everyone has at least one example of when they’ve felt stressed, and so everyone can simultaneously understand what you’re going through but also feel that their stress is that much worse. Some people will refuse to think that anyone can possibly understand what ‘real’ stress is, and look down their noses with superiority at anyone they deem unworthy. But that simply doesn’t work. Just because someone is in business whereas the other does manual labour does not mean that one is entitled to claim to get more stressed than the other. Everyone feels stress in relation to what they’re doing, and unless you have done every single job in the world, you have no idea what the other person is feeling. Because it’s not even just the work or the job, it’s the person. Do you know their mental well-being? Sure, you have a stressful job, but do you have their lifestyle? Do you have that white privilege that has allowed you to be stressed about generic things like work instead of things like race and discrimination? Do you come from a family that supports you, whereas someone else might have no family whatsoever to back them up?

Mental well-being is still such a new topic to a lot of people, and the biggest dilemma we face is that we cannot physically gage a person’s mental health from just looking at them. From my limited knowledge, the best indicator is what the actual person says they’re feeling – and everyone is so distrustful, that you can never truly know. An acquaintance can be nasty and blame it on depression, and there should be no reason for you to distrust that – but of course you do. Sure, they’re horrible and then out of nowhere they bring in depression. You want to immediately trust they’re being honest, because only someone awful would lie about a thing like that, but the case of the matter is that they could lie. There is no way to look at someone and be able to say ‘yup, they suffer from ___, I can see that with my own eyes’.

So once more, I’m left unable to say anything concrete on my actual mental health and just leave it with ‘I’m a worrier, as in I worry, not that I’m a warrior, though I feel like one’. My only hope is that people remember to be empathetic, and show compassion instead of wariness. I hope that when someone says “I’m stressed” or “I’m tired”, people don’t jump to “Not as stressed/tired as me” and instead just offer sympathy, and invite an open discussion.

Wouldn’t that be grand.

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Carry On

There are no words to describe the last few months with the levels of suffering felt all over the world. With the attack in Manchester two weeks ago, reports of bombings in Pakistan and so many deaths, it’s so difficult to even contemplate. I see reports of hundreds of bombings and attacks felt across the world and can’t even comprehend it. The attack in Westminster was the closest I’d ever been to such atrocity, but I spent the day safe at home in South London, venturing out in the evening to Piccadilly where there were increased numbers of police around the tube stations. I had thought, and hoped, that that was the worst I’d ever have to experience – and I hardly experienced anything. Then two nights ago there were attacks in London Bridge where I knew several friends had been enjoying their night. I had been at dinner with some others in South-East London, our route taking us through London Bridge – I had gone through London Bridge not long before the attack.

I only found out about the attack because my Dad had rung me to check that I was alright, and there we were obliviously enjoying our evening. The journey home was terrifying, taking buses on diverted routes not knowing what was happening, only to hear that there had been another attack where I lived. Several buses and two ubers later, I reached my home again sometime after 1am. I was scared, panicked, and completely shaken – yet what I experienced doesn’t even come close to what others have felt. Most of us, thankfully, won’t have to experience anything like that – of being within such close proximity that you have to run for your life, of hearing gunshots, of hiding under tables, of being separated from your friends, or even losing a loved one and being injured. It’s so very easy to say that you can carry on and no one will ever bring you down when it isn’t you that has suffered.

I’ve tried writing this post about five or six times now, deleting each one because it doesn’t read write, or that I feel that the sentiment can be misinterpreted, or that I have to stop because I’m not even sure what point I’m trying to make – which isn’t something new. I love the fact that we respond to attacks such as these with strength in unity, love and kindness, and I hope that’s something that never changes. Social media means that I can see my friends check off one by one that they’re safe, and immediately feel relieved. Within a few moments I can get in contact with my family and friends and know that they are alright. Even stranded without knowing what was happening, I could call someone to pick me up and take me home. It’s events like these that make you re-evaluate and be grateful for what you have, but it’s a reminder – a reminder that not everyone is so lucky.

Already there are reports of bombings and attacks in other parts of the world, but the only way I hear about them is through the limited amount of shared posts on Facebook. There is no hashtag, there is no overwhelming wave of support from celebrities on social media, and when you go outside no one is subdued or discussing it or seeing how they can help. So whilst I sit here, safe in a house with concerns over finding a job, others are struggling with far worse – and yet we don’t talk about them. Another bombing in another part of the world doesn’t factor to us, as very few of us will have connections there. So when you proclaim that you stand with Manchester, that you send your love to London, or your heart goes out to those suffering, remember that events like these happen everywhere so frequently that often the media doesn’t cover it. Remember that there are people suffering elsewhere who don’t have an outpour of love and support from strangers. Remember to be grateful, and remember that everyone deserves that love and kindness, be they one county over or on the other side of the world.

Where I am Now

It has happened – I have finally got to the point where I can say that I have finished university and my time in education (unless I’ve failed my final exam and messed up all my coursework so will have to do retakes in August, but hopefully that won’t be the case). Finishing university has always been a huge milestone for me, and tied up with the fact that I have never not been in education, it’s a big one. When you’re in school, you dream of the day that you won’t have to be in school any longer. No more exams, no more essays, no more petty childish drama – and pretty much all three happen still in university. I say ‘you’, which realistically is a big assumption to make on behalf of everyone reading this, but what I’m trying to grasp at is that feeling of anticipating the next stage of your life. I, for one, had big expectations of what I would be like once I’d finished in education. I had hopes, dreams, and plenty of those pesky assumptions which I’m now having to reflect on.

The first big thing is independence, which in essence I have achieved in terms of living away from home during university months, doing my own washing, cooking etc etc. Yet when I was younger independence did not look like going down to tesco just before it shuts because you needed to put a wash on and have run out of tablets. It did not look like eating the same meal for three nights in a row because you want to save money. It did not like forgetting simple things every now and then because you’re tired, such as hot ceramic dishes do not mix with cold water. I know, I know, it’s all about living and learning and growing and bettering yourself, but that mantra does no good at 1am drying your bed sheets with a hairdryer because you forgot about the wash you put on.

One big thing I always thought about was what job I would have – and the dream job has changed many, many times. Becoming an author (and by that I mean a good author who has people who like their books so much that they can making a living out of it) has always been a dream job, but there are always others that pop in and out of my mind. First I wanted to be a professional horse rider, then a pop star, and then deciding I wasn’t a good enough singer so a songwriter. Recently, the dream is to be in publishing, and I certainly expected to have a job lined up and ready once university was finished. Yet, here I am, and all those hopeful publishing applications I sent out have been returned with a ‘thanks, but no’. You’re always told that you go to school, then to university, then you’ll get a job – but nobody really talks that much about the in-between. When applying for universities, no one told me about how, even if I do well and get a great degree, a job won’t be there waiting for me. They didn’t tell me that even if you work your arse off not only at your degree but at applying for jobs, it won’t necessarily mean you’ll get one either.

With the job dreams also come the social life dreams, and I always assumed that by the time university was over I would be in a committed, happy relationship with someone who could celebrate with me over all those job offers I had coming in. Again, Little Miss Assumption over here, but when I was younger that was what I thought was the most important. It was like a list of items to take the Life Goals Supermarket, and you would tick each one as you went along. Job? Tick. Relationship? Tick. What else was needed?

I knew I was going to forget a big one, and that is the dream I’ve had for a long long time, probably starting at about 10 years old – and perhaps the saddest one when I look back at it. What I wanted all through secondary school was beauty. And isn’t that just awful? Sure, sure, we can just argue and brush it off by saying that society makes us try to value what we’re born with (looks, parent’s wealth, lack of both) over what we earn for ourselves (perseverance, patience, kindness). And sure, we can all stand around and say that no society, we will not be partaking in that thank you very much. But at the end of the day, when I would go home at 12 years old and look in the mirror, all I would see was acne, a big nose, un-styled hair, and chubby patches all over. I’ve spoken a lot about acne and appearances in the past and how I now feel more confident, but I’m still filled with the memories of standing in front of a mirror and wishing that there were no mirrors in the world so I wouldn’t have to look at myself. Wishing that there was some way to exchange your face for a new one. Wishing that there was a way that meant I could live my life without anyone looking at me. And I wished for that day in the future, the day when I finished school for good, when puberty should have been and gone and left me unblemished, with clear smooth skin, great hair, and a body I was happy with. That was what was going to be my biggest marker of how far I had come.

But, as is the way of life, things didn’t exactly go to plan. Here I am, university finished, but just after the days of stress with my emotions all over the place and a few days of very hot weather, I’ve had another skin breakout. I have red spots dotted around my face like some flicked paint at me with a toothbrush. I’ve got black heads on my chin and nose, and something resembling Mount Etna on my neck. You stare in that pesky mirror and it’s pretty hard to think that you haven’t come that far at all.

Then I have to slap myself for being so melodramatic. Because I am not that twelve year old girl thinking that people won’t like me just because I have a spot on my chin. Like, jesus christ Eleanor, it’s not the end of the world. Yes, it sucks. Yes, it kinda hurts when you poke it, but it’s just a spot. There’s the magic of makeup if you’re feeling super downhearted but other than that, your face and your looks do not define you. Twelve-year-old me hardly knew how to write paragraphs, and here I am having just written a 10,000 word dissertation on a topic I love on top of my various other coursework and exam revision. On top of that I have worked every single weekend for almost two years now so that I can keep living in London and support myself. On top of that I have been going to different opportunities to make contacts and get work experience. And on top of that I’ve surrounded myself with friends who I love (and who assure me they love me back when I’m not being so ridiculously melodramatic).

And so, like most of these blog posts go, this has turned from reflection to being a self-affirmation that whilst all my hopes and dreams haven’t exactly come to pass, I’ve realised that they’re allowed to change a bit. And who knows, maybe one day I’ll be a bestselling author telling the story of how she almost let a pimple keep her from chasing her dream, and everyone will say, “Man, she was a melodramatic child”.

The Dating Game

The internet is weird. I think we can all relate to that, but when you throw in dating as well? Utter. Madness. It’s become a pretty normal thing in modern culture to meet a partner online, and for that matter meet friends online as well, and there are thousands of people using online dating. From Matched.com to Tinder, you may try one profile for a week then delete it or have five on the go. After a few years of living, and attempting to date, in London I’ve had my fair share of weird and wonderful messages, and from them I’ve had some great dates and some even better anecdotes.

Maybe it’s the romantic in me, and I’m sure there’s a little one in all of us, that ideally wants to meet someone not online. The classic meeting whilst out in the evening and they buy your drink, or you buy theirs, or the friendly encounter on the street. But the truth of the matter is that if someone approaches me on the street and asks for my number, no matter how cute I think you are, I’ll probably automatically say ‘Sorry, I’m in a relationship’ and make a hasty exit. Partly due to the culture we live in now, or maybe just in London, where social interactions between strangers on the street isn’t considered ‘normal’, and partly due to the many horror stories of being kidnapped and harmed that play on your mind whenever a stranger approaches. So, at least for now, online dating it is, and what better way to discuss it than with a post with my favourite ever messages – all of which are on the weird and whacky side.

Just a side note before we begin – some of these will be typed out instead of posting a picture to protect the identity of the person contacting me, whether they deserve my so called ‘protection’ or not.

To start with, an honourable mention to the random chap on my instagram who, in regards to a photo that showed my feet in fluffy socks, a book, and some chocolate, said, “Sexy stocks @stammydodger I’d so worship them and reply inbox”. First off, thanks for the instagram like and comment, I can always appreciate that, but I’m not a girl who really thinks giant fluffy polka-dot socks are sexy, and to make it worse the sentence loses all meaning at the end. First rule of making contact: grammar.

Let’s have a look at some opening lines – a very important thing, of course. You want to come across as friendly, but also interesting, without looking desperate or weird. A difficult feat to pull off, I know, but that line will guarantee how far that conversation will go. So here are my first two examples:

The first “lol whats up my lil croissant” and the second “Your dog looks very loveable/And So do you/Hahaha” to which I replied “Yes hilarious”. The first one, whilst bizarre, made me laugh – so I continued the conversation. It’s weird, it’s whacky, and definitely hit or miss – starting off with ‘lol’ is definitely a risky move. The second conversation I ended straight after replying. Starting the conversation off in reference to my dog is usually always a winner (I do love my dog) and extending the compliment to me is a bit off a ‘roll your eyes’ move, but what tops it off is the ‘Hahaha’. Overall, a hilarious interaction, just not one that I was going to continue.

Pictures are always important, and if you’re online dating they are even more so – because, let’s face it, we’re all vain, shallow little creatures. So sometimes if you send someone a message, they may comment on your photos – especially if you can’t actually see the person in any of them (as was what happened in my case). In response to these comments, or anything at all really, many people like to use a comeback or set up a joke. In the second case the guy wanted a recent picture, to which I made a joke and he responded with, what I assume, was a classic line. Corny as can be, and whilst it may work for you, it ain’t for me.

Sometimes it’s good to know what the other person is looking for, and other times it is not.

The first image makes me laugh to this day – in retrospect, it is perfectly friendly but stating exactly what the other person is looking for. Whilst I replied with a negative response, the other person was perfectly friendly and wished me well. However this second opener of ‘I honestly don’t remember liking you’ referencing the act of ‘liking’ each other to ‘match’, was an instant thumbs down. Definitely would not recommend. Not pictured is a message I received from someone who says “Hey, I am quite taken with your photos, would you like a sugar daddy style relationship? If so I would like to discuss it to fit my lifestyle”. Although this was definitely not for me, the message made me laugh a lot before deleting it. First off, the formal nature of the message is above and beyond, and to end it stating that you need something to fit your lifestyle with no mention of the other person? Brilliant.

And, finally, my favourite ever interaction. I’ll just leave it pictured below, for your enjoyment.

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Take note people: get the name right of the person you’re messaging. And on that note, I wish you all luck in your online dating adventures.

 

Insultingly funny

I will admit, I love Britain’s Got Talent. For years I’ve watched that show, and I remember watching Connie and opera singers and dog acts that just gave me such joy. These days I only watch clips of the auditions off of Youtube, and completely forgot that it was that time of year again. So, in procrastination mode, I watched a few clips from the first week of auditions only to see an eight year old boy do a ‘comic’ routine in which he used each of the judges along with Ant and Dec as the butt of his jokes.

There have already been a myriad of articles covering this, particularly that of his so-called ‘joke’ involving Amanda Holden in which he said, “Why were people so excited by that talking dog on Britain’s Got Talent? Amanda Holden’s been on it for years”. At first everyone was shocked, several people are being shown to cover their mouths as they laugh, and Holden slams the red buzzer. The routine continues however, everyone laughing and the boy goes through to the next round. Yet what struck me is how every single one of his ‘jokes’ relied on insults in order to be funny. Everyone screams ‘savage’ and how he ‘roasted’ them all, and seem to get serious joy from watching a little kid stroll on stage and, essentially, be rude and nasty to a bunch of celebrities. Now that I’m seeing more and more about this, particularly about Amanda as people switching between calling the joke ‘misogynistic’ to ‘well deserved’, it’s just getting to a point where I don’t understand why people find such delight in such nasty unkindness. Because that’s what it is, essentially. What does it teach, to laugh at someone insulting another? It reminds me of school corridors and bullies poking fun at the unpopular kids to a jeering crowd, using extravagant insults to get a laugh.

Why do we accept this kind of ‘humour’? If it were a 40 year old man delivering those jokes, there would be no doubt that he’d get four red buzzers and a swift exit, along with a slew of media claiming him a misogynist. But from an eight year old boy? It’s cute, it’s savage, it’s hilarious, you just don’t expect it! Forget the fact that his dad wrote those jokes, he’s just such a talented little soldier! It’s fine if the insults come from a little kid, because he doesn’t mean any harm, he’s just an innocent, take a chill pill for gods sake. That attitude, the one where people say those things, just shrugging and saying it doesn’t matter, is what gets me. Why should we just laugh it off? Sure, the ‘Your Mama’ jokes have always been popular, but they’re fun because, in reality, they’ve nothing to do with the other person. You could say ‘Your Mama’s so fat’ to someone whose mother is as skinny as a rake, because that’s not the point. You don’t go out to hurt that person or their feelings, you go to make a stupid, ridiculous joke. Directly insulting someone to gain some laughs should not be funny.

I find a good comparison is a previous contestant, Jack Caroll, who made it to the finals. His opening round poked jokes just at himself, making fun out of his being disabled. Although some weren’t entirely sold on the audition just being him insulting himself, it was more of an ’embracing your flaws’ moment. He was turning what is otherwise an awful situation into one of humour, one that got him to the final of a national talent competition and turning a disadvantage to an advantage. Insulting others, however? There’s a way to do it that’s amusing, and that something is called moderation.

There’s a difference between a taunt and a tease. A tease is done between friends and family, done in a way that you know it is not malicious because the recipient of the joke trusts them. There is a line, and your friends and family know where that line is drawn. There’s sensitivity in the art of teasing, so anyone claiming that he’s just teasing them is dead wrong on that count.

Maybe you think I’m overreacting. Maybe you’re thinking ‘it’s just a joke’ and you’re rolling your eyes. To that, I want to ask you something. What happens when people suddenly think it’s ok to call women dogs? What happens when people think it’s ok to make jokes about crossdressing just to get a few laughs? Sure, maybe I’m wrong, maybe I’m overreacting, but seeing a little boy insult others just to get some laughs struck a chord with me – a dissonant one, at that. As always, I want to live by the motto of ‘choose kindness’, because that’s the kind of world I want to live in. With the society we’re currently living in, the people in power who we’re currently trying to live through, I want to see more kindness. And yes, I want laughter too – but not at the expense of others. Because at the end of the day, we all deserve happiness and kindness, and any laughter caused out of insulting someone is not laughter I want to participate in.

The Eternal Anxiety of Being Liked

I’ve always liked having friends, and for a long time I thought that my happy buzz when it seemed people enjoyed spending time with me was just that. It’s nice to be surrounded by other people who you like and who like you. It didn’t really hit me that I had this anxiety of being liked by everyone until my latter years of secondary school, even though I know that I am not alone in this feeling.

If I find out that someone doesn’t like me, or if I’m around someone and get the feeling that they don’t really like me, I obsess over it. For hours and days and maybe even weeks I’m thinking about what I did wrong, what it was that made me unlikeable, whether I should have acted differently – and it goes on. Of course you are never going to go through life being liked by everyone, and that’s something that I’ve come to terms with over the past few years, especially in university, but I’ve spent the majority of my life trying to avoid coming to this realisation.

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I think back to my first year in secondary school when I talk about this anxiety of mine. I think of how I didn’t really have a specific group of friends, and instead I flitted from one to another – which, for a while, I enjoyed. I liked having the ability to strike up a conversation with anyone and everyone, and the fact that at lunchtime it didn’t matter who was in the form room because I could just sit with whoever was there. I liked being friends with everyone, because in my head it meant everyone was friends with me. Then, one of my most embarrassing memories comes to mind – and this in particular really shows off that crippling anxiety of not being liked.

In my class, when I was about 11, we were given a seating arrangement for our form time, which was just at the beginning and end of the day for maybe 10 minutes. I was sat next to a girl who was incredibly popular, and she was one of those types who was good at everything; she was sporty and on the hockey team, musically inclined and could play the piano, was cast in all the school plays and musicals because she was a great actor with a great voice, was incredibly intelligent and aced every test, and, what was sometimes the most frustrating quality, she was also infuriatingly nice. Seriously, she was so nice you couldn’t get angry that she was brilliant at everything, and that just made you even angrier. Anyway, we were placed next to each other for the first term and we got on well – or, rather, we were both nice and friendly and acted that way with each other. We never really hung out that much outside the classroom, just did the usual of inviting each other to our birthday parties and things like that. But then, lo and behold, the following term we were told we could sit next to whoever. And what does 11 year old me do? She sits there and says something along the lines of “I wonder if anyone will want to sit with me. I think I’ll probably end up sitting on my own” and, although I don’t remember exactly, I’m pretty sure I even went on to say how much I liked sitting next to this girl and may have even dramatically sighed. So, this girl being the nice girl she is, plonks her arse back down and sits next to me for the following term.

Mortifyingis the only word that comes to mind when I think back on this. I’m pretty certain this girl doesn’t even remember this incident, but dear lord do I remember it. I knew what I was doing, sitting there acting all dramatic and sullen and ridiculous, hoping that she would sit next to me again. Yet, I also think how upsetting it is to think that, even though 11-year-old me knew she was manipulating a situation, 11-year-old me thought that that was her only good chance of sitting next to someone because there was a voice in her head saying “No one actually likes you. No one actually wants to sit next to you.” Of course this wasn’t helped when the popular pretty girl kept sitting next to me, because it meant that this voice told me she was only sitting there to be nice, that she didn’t actually like me but sat there because I acted like a drama queen.

Then I think of the following years, up until the age of about 16, and how I acted with my friends. Even though they chose to hang out with me and be around me, there was still a part of me that felt that I needed to prove myself, be that extra bit likeable. I would change depending on who I was around – with one I would talk about music I knew she liked, another I would talk about completely different music and claimed I only liked that music too, or with some friends I would just try to be the goofy one, the funny one, the one that everyone likes. It wasn’t until I was in sixth form and developed a very bad relationship with another girl who was one day a bully and one day a friend depending on what suited her, that I realised that there was no point. Why should I change depending on who I was with? Why did I crave being liked?

I’m only fully able to say with certainty that I don’t do this anymore. In my first year of university I definitely adapted with the different groups I was with, trying to fit in and act cool and be likeable. Now? I really don’t have the energy to be anything other than myself, and have found, to my great relief, that it didn’t really make much of a difference. It seems people like to surround themselves with people who they like for being themselves, which is a terrible way of trying to say that others don’t give a shit. If you don’t like their music, so what? It’s something to discuss and talk about. It ties in with having the confidence to be yourself and not be self-conscious about every little thing.

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I’ve always been a ‘worrier’, and this anxiety of being liked is one of the many things that have plagued my mind daily for years. I’ve talked previously on this blog about my anxiety over my weight, my skin, my looks, my talents – and it all boils down to having the self-confidence and self-worth to know that none of it matters. It comes to remembering to think of yourself, and not of other people, when you’re looking at your skin/face/clothes/body. If you’re happy with yourself, then why worry about anyone else? You shouldn’t have to change for someone else, from styling your hair a certain way to saying you like a certain kind of music. I obsessed over my acne because I thought it made me look ugly, and part of that was because I obsessed over what other people saw when they looked at me. She just looked at me, and I bet she saw my spot on my chin. I bet that when she smiled at me she was laughing at how awful I look. Etc, etc. I could go on.

So the reason I’m trying to get to amongst all these ramblings is that not everyone is going to like you, and that’s ok. What’s important is your own happiness, and that happiness will never come from making sure everyone else likes you. I learned the hard way that you just can’t keep up all the various personas you put on to please everyone else. Be yourself, be healthy, be happy, and try not to worry about everyone else, because they’re probably worrying about the same things.

We Need to Talk. Period.

It’s safe to say that women are far better off today than 50 years ago, but there’s nothing that reminds me more of how much further there is to go than the stigma around the time of the month when Satan – I mean, ‘mother nature’ – comes to visit. It’s amazing how many people are ‘grossed out’ and pull a face whenever someone mentions anything to do with periods. A tampon falls out of your bag and suddenly everyone is looking at it in horror. I mean I could understand if it was a used one, but when has anyone ever had a used tampon in their bag? That’s not what happens.

I went to an all-girls secondary school, so luckily was in an environment during the dreaded teen years where everyone was pretty accepting about periods. The times girls used to bring it up to male teachers to see what would happen occurred fairly often, and nine times out of ten the male teacher would pale, panic, and send the girl to matron. The only negative experience I’ve had about periods in school was when one teacher literally yelled at the class about how girls just needed to ‘man up’ (great use of language there) and stop asking to leave the class because you felt ill from your period, which was then repeated in an assembly. This was only made up by the fact that another teacher completely disagreed, explaining that when she had her period as a teenager she would often have to call in sick. It seems to me that not many people understand that, like bodies, everyone’s period is different. Some girls have light periods, some girls get heavy periods, and some girls have different kinds every cycle. Some throw up, some get cramps, some get excruciating headaches, and some barely notice their period come and go.

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So why don’t people know these sort of things? Well, despite the fact that are society is improving, the ‘period’ is still a taboo topic – and when you really think about it, it’s difficult to understand why. Those who have periods, whether they identify as women or not, are made to feel ashamed for bleeding each month like it’s disgusting, as if we can just choose not to. Is it just not common knowledge that periods are 100% natural, aren’t unhygienic, and literally happen to everyone who has a vagina? Hell, it’s still front page news when someone posts a photo of themselves with blood spotting through their jeans. There are protests and campaigns with women free bleeding that make people lose their minds. I didn’t know that everyone experiences something different when they have periods until my late teens, simply because we just don’t talk about it. It’s like we have to act like having our period is some dirty little secret, despite the fact that everyone knows about it anyway.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this topic recently due to the campaigning about the moon cup, known in some places as the diva cup depending on which brand you use. Typically there are two main ways to handle your period, which are using tampons or sanitary towels or both. Both of these aren’t good for the environment with a lot of packaging, but it’s all that was on offer. There are some other options like some birth control that stops your period all together, but who knows the long term effects that has on someone’s body – you’re literally using drugs to stop a natural cycle the body goes through.

Despite this, there have been some new products being introduced. The two that I’m aware of are the THINX underwear, which are underwear that you can wear on your period that you can just stick in the wash after wearing them for a few hours, holding as much as two tampon’s worth of blood. Reusable, completely hygienic, and far less hassle. The second is the moon cup, something that’s recently taken a real spike on social media and has won plenty of awards. Essentially it’s a cup that sits slightly lower down than a tampon does and it collects the blood. Again, it’s reusable as you can easily clean it out, and overall better for the environment. I decided to give one a try and, when I had some positive results, I talked to a few friends and family members about it. I was mildly surprised to find that some just didn’t want to know about it, the very mention of the word ‘period’ striking such horror in their hearts that they couldn’t bear to go on. The mere idea of blood leaving someone’s vagina just as bad and disgusting as discussing explosive diarrhoea. And it’s simply mad.

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Why is society still enforcing this stigma around periods? Why are we still teaching young kids that this is something you don’t discuss or talk about, that it should be kept ‘hush hush’ because people just don’t want to hear about it? Why must those who have periods have to suffer because of everyone else’s unwarranted distaste? Again, a period is 100% natural, and trust me – it is far worse for the person who actually has to have the period. When I was a young teen I became physically sick each month, and still get excruciating cramps that I have to pretend aren’t happening and just breathe through, feeling sick for a good couple of days. Why should I have to keep quiet about it? Why shouldn’t I be talking about it? Why can’t I discuss something natural about my body without worrying that someone else will be uncomfortable?

This is why we need campaigns like the moon cup and THINX. We need to normalise periods and stop tolerating those who punish us when it’s mentioned. I was going to talk about these campaigns in an application for a job answering a question about important campaigns, but was advised not to because it might put off any men looking over the application. This is not what we should have to be concerned about, and it is not a precaution I should have to take just to protect someone’s sensitive ears from talking about what so many of us have to experience. We should be making a move to stop this kind of behaviour. We need to march up to them, sit them down and say:

“We need to talk. Period”.