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.

Moving on to 2017 [Part 2]

The phrase ‘New Year, New Me’ makes me feel hopeful as much as it does annoyed. First off, it implies that the 1st of January is the only time that you can make a change for the better. It also disregards everything you’ve done in the previous year, marking it as unworthy of the upcoming new you – as if you’re a computer updated with a new version of an old system. I’ve so become a bit disenchanted with the idea of set resolutions that just aren’t achievable. I’d far rather say ‘I want to try to eat less sugar’ rather than ‘I won’t eat chocolate all month’, because that’s just taunting you and setting you up for failure. Having a resolution, or even a goal, that isn’t just a box to tick but is a graph to map your continued progress.

With that in mind, let’s look at what my goals  were last year and whether I’ve made a move towards them.

  1. Be happy, be positive, keep going. — This is a bit of a tricky one, as it has become very apparent to me over the last year that chanting ‘be happy’ will not simply make it so. And, as we all learned from the film Inside Out, sometimes you need to let your emotions play out as they will for an overall balanced mind. For the most part I was able to remain positive when faced with certain situations with friends, but whilst this translated to them on the outside it by no means was concrete for me on the inside. I mistook being happy for forcing happiness, and that’s something I can definitely try to work on.
  2. Write more, contact agents. — This didn’t go to plan, though I did pitch a book idea to an agent who liked it at YALC. I want to keep writing, but university work alongside trying to break into publishing is definitely taking precedent at the moment. Writing has always been my outlet and I love it still, but although in the long run I’d love to have a book published, for now I’m happy with just writing for me.
  3. Read 50 books. — Finally, a goal I can happily say was completed. I was overjoyed that I was successful in this, yet again at times it was stressful and that’s something I want to make sure I reduce in the next coming year. As I’ve mentioned on my other book-related blog, I’ve set myself 17 book challenges for 2017 and on Goodreads have said I want to read 40 books. So whilst there is still an element of challenging myself, it leaves it slightly open for me to deviate and still enjoy it without it causing anxiety.

 

So when thinking about my goals for 2017, I wanted to focus on my own well-being as a goal to work on rather than measuring something by an achievement. My goals for 2017 are as follows:

  1. Prioritise self-care. — This year is going to be tough, what with my final year of university, turning 21, and entering the world of jobs, taxes, and leaving the bubble of education. I want to do all I can to help my body keep going, which means everything from doing yoga a few times a week to making sure I don’t gorge on too much sugar when fighting anxiety or sadness. This also means doing things that make me happy, so although I’ll try to keep healthy some days, other days I want to do something like baking to lift my mood. I want to try and make sure I don’t stare at a screen before trying to sleep, and read instead. Small changes to help in the long run.
  2. Speak up, don’t sit quiet. — There have been instances this year when I’ve been so nice people just assume I don’t get upset. I want to be able to voice my feelings more, whether that’s to friends or colleagues in rough work situations.
  3. Get out there. — A bit vague, I know, but I want this as my 2017 mantra. I want to make more time for writing and, if I decide it’s still what I want, pursue it. I want to do well in my career and keep trying, even when I get rejected or find it difficult to find anything. I want to go to new places, try even more new things, see my friends, and live a life full of sunshine as well as rain.

I should probably stop now before the metaphors completely take over. All I can say is this:

2017, you’re on.

Moving on to 2017 [Part 1]

2017 marks as a fresh start for a lot of people, and not just because it’s a new year. 2016 for most of us was an awful year, filled with bad memories, bad politics, and bad people. Deaths, terrorist attacks, and fear have made 2016 an awful year in almost every way, so it’s no surprise that people are jumping into 2017 with hope for some grand miracle. At first I was in full agreement, thinking that my 2016 has been particularly difficult not just because of Brexit and Trump, but also losing my Grandma last July. Mourning never really ends; it acts more like a wound, that slowly heals and can be reopened, but eventually scars over and fades over time, but still does not disappear.

But there was one thing that I’m sure she’d want me to remember – the reason why she called me ‘sunshine girl’ every time I saw her – and that’s to find the positivity and light that exists. And so instead of posting a blog post about my hopes for 2017 along with deciding if I succeeded all those goals and wishes I had for the past year, I’m going to talk about my favourite moments of 2016. (And I’m not just doing this because I’ve left my diary in London which is where I write down all my goals…)

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First off, 2016 was the year in which I got my best results so far in university. It was the first time that I’d received results and had a response that wasn’t equivalent to a shrug. I think I was used to doing well in school, so doing really well of course made me extremely happy, but only for a very short period of time. University of course is a completely different experience, and everyone you study with is just as good as you, if not better. I had pretty average grades through first year and for the start of second year, so it wasn’t until I had my final exam results that I really saw an improvement. It finally felt like my hard work was rewarded, and it has continued to spur me on today – even as I sit here with unfinished essays and an unread Paradise Lost.

2016 was the year when I re-evaluated what I wanted to do in my life, and decided that the realm of journalism isn’t quite ready for me yet. It’s where I thought about what I loved (dogs, books, chocolate), what I could probably make into a job (dogs, books), and what I could actually live off (books). After a year and a half of being a bookseller, the world of publishing seemed like the perfect fit – and getting that summer internship only heightened my excitement.

On that note, 2016 was the year in which I was promoted at my part-time job as a bookseller. It’s become my favourite job of all time, surrounded by books and brilliant people every weekend who have become friends. It’s where I’ve made some of my closest friends, where I’ve discovered new books and authors I would normally not choose, and where I’ve seriously made use of my discount.

And 2016 was the year I went to New York with one of my best friends and saw a musical that I also first heard in 2016, which changed my life (in small, not insignificant ways). Travelling is something that I love and wish I could do more of, but constraints like money (and time off university that isn’t filled with work) hold me back. Being able to go to a place like New York was a marvel in itself, filled with awe and wonder at every turn. And to see the musical Hamilton? Just incredible. The music, the messages, and the sheer majesty of the performance made it the best musical I’ve ever seen, and I salute Lin Manuel Miranda for such an incredible piece of art.

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It’s important to find the light in the darkness, and not look back (in anger) with regret. 2016 may have been a year of bad things and terrible experiences, but there were also good things and brilliant moments that shouldn’t be swept aside with the rest of the rubbish. No, 2016 was not the best year, but it also wasn’t an insignificant, unsalvageable one.

On Being Happy: Christmas

Whenever I try to think of times that I’m happiest, a memory from a Christmas past always comes to mind. There’s just something about Christmas that I, along with many of the world’s population, have always loved. When I was a kid it was all about the magic of Santa and his reindeer, leaving out milk and cookies in the hopes that he’d leave lots of presents. (Apart from that one year my Dad told me to leave out a glass of wine, and I wasn’t at all suspicious).

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Nowadays I know that really it’s my parents who put the presents under the tree, but the magic is still there. When I was younger I was mainly excited about what I was going to get, wondering what presents Santa had ticked off my list and what surprises there were going to be, but these days I seem to find just as much joy, if not more, in giving presents to others and seeing them open them. Now that I actually earn some money, I’m able to buy some better presents than I’ve been able to in the past (the garden centre around the corner from the house used to be where most of the christmas shopping was done in my early years).

And although Christmas Day is where it all happens, it’s the build up that really gives me a spike in happiness. Yes, work now has the Christmas hours in place and I very nearly had to work Christmas Eve, but nothing beats that first chocolate from the advent calendar, or when you start playing Christmas music. Before December, I’m not a huge fan of Christmas displays or music – once Halloween has passed, it’s sort of alright, but come December everything Christmas is fair game.

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The first piece of Christmas cake, the first mince pie, present wrapping, Christmas parties, decorations, putting up the tree – everything is just filled with so much joy (apart from the last minute shoppers who plague our stores and near-attack retail staff in their panicked frenzy of being unprepared despite the fact that Christmas is on the same day every year). Once again the videos of cats attacking Christmas trees appear, and we stuff our faces with copious amounts of food. I normally start off pretty blasé about it, but then I realise it’s November and I’ve wrapped all my presents and watched Elf three times.

Yet it’s not happy for everyone. For many people Christmas isn’t a time of happiness and love, to which I try to check my privilege and remember everyone else at this time of year. And of course there are changes every year – like the fact that this is the first Christmas we’ll have without my Grandma and, although we’re all together and will undoubtedly have a lovely holiday, it’s tough going into it with that absence.

It’s a time of giving, a time of family, a time of happiness. One that I look forward to every year and one that I grieve every time we have to take the lights down. So, wherever you are and whoever you might be, I hope you have a wonderful Christmas or, if you don’t celebrate it, a lovely holiday and New Year.

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On Being Happy – Balancing Emotions

I haven’t written an ‘On Being Happy’ post for a while now, and after the past few months I’ve had I think I really really need one.

I started this series because of a few comments from friends about how I’m the ‘happy’ one, or the one who ‘never gets sad’. Don’t get me wrong, it’s lovely to be that for my friends, that I can be the positive one they can turn to, but being happy all of the time, at least for me, is an impossibility. Life throws you curve balls, and sometimes there is nothing better than just having a bit of a cry to let it all out.

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Sometimes, and it may surprise some people, I’m sad. At least twice a month, on bad moments it can be once or twice a week. Anything from small ‘sigh’ moments, like a rude customer, to full blown crying fits. It’s so hard in those moments to stop, to just flick a switch and boom, you’re happy again, chin up chuck, etc. It’s one of the reasons I started this series, so I could look back on the things that do make me happy. I like being known as a happy person – my Grandma used to call me ‘sunshine girl’, and every day I think of that and tell myself that that is who I want to be.

Yet, balance is important. Sooner or later, if you’re forcing yourself to not deal with all your other very important emotions, you’ll burst. You need all of the emotions to function, even the ones that suck – in this case, I like to think of the Disney film Inside Out because it really goes into how everyone needs their emotions to work in harmony. Again, and I’ll say this several times in this post so brace yourself, it’s about that balance.

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Letting out emotions is good, or at least that’s what I tell myself. It’s so when I look in a mirror and notice all my podgy bits look slightly more prominent or I have a few extra spots of my hair is a mess or I think I’m ugly or a failure or just not a good enough human being, I can either choose to shrug it off or sit down and have a bit of a cry. I can go to my ‘safe areas’, like home with my family and dog, or tucked up in bed with a good book and chocolate, and by the next day I feel better. I can talk to a few close friends and family, let it all hang out and let them be the ones to help me through it – which varies from hugs and deep conversations to rolling eyes and calling me an idiot.

Still, I think it’s important to acknowledge that although everyone aspires to be happy, we need to appreciate the simple fact that that’s just not possible all of the time. Everyone has moments of sadness, dejection, depression, and so on, some far more than others, so longing for constant happiness will just be a let down. It’s like having a dream to one day suddenly sprout wings after drinking redbull or to be the one to discover a unicorn – face it, it’s just not going to happen.

So while I love writing about all of the things that make me happy in an effort to make other people happy, I feel that it’s important to make clear that whilst that’s all well and good, you need balance to get through this maze we call life. Or something profound like that. Hell, just look up ‘inspiring quotes’ on google and have a field day. Whatever makes you happy – and, well, that’s the point I guess.

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On Being Happy: Home

On hearing the news of the EU referendum, and being part of the 48% who wanted to remain in the EU, I need to remind myself of something that makes me happy.

Home.

Home is the smell of that particular washing powder. It’s the endless supply of apricot jam and toast. It’s having a garden and living on more than one floor. It’s having neighbours who chat to you over the fence about weeds.

Home is where my Mum cooks wonderful food seemingly without effort. Home is my Dad making jokes that are sometimes terrible, usually inappropriate, but always making me at least smile. Home is where I can cry one minute over silly things and smile the next because the dog farted himself awake.

Home is that peacefulness walking on the beach. It’s also the chaos of wind tangling hair and salt on your skin, so when you lick your lips later they taste like the sea.

Home is where I feel safe, and happy, and warm. It’s where the nemesis is a squirrel that eats the strawberries and outsmarts the dog and the Dad. Home is where my Mum manages to somehow keep up with my mood swings on bad days and find ways to make me laugh despite them. Home is where my Dad can fix anything, even my broken boot which he once fixed by lighting on fire – intentionally.

Home is where my dog sleeps on my bed and keeps me cosy, even if he smells and hogs the duvet. It’s where my brother will talk and talk and talk and never run out of stories or tales or important sounding words that I may or may not use in books I hope to write one day.

Home makes me happy. It’s where I feel grounded, where I feel I can breathe a sigh of relief as soon as I step off the train. It’s where I’ll probably always be told to get to bed early but also where my washing will also magically get done. It’s the sound of seagulls that I love and hate and hate and love. It’s the place I regroup, re-centre myself, charge up for the time I’m away, because when I’m away I don’t feel the same as I do at home.

On bad days, I think of home and count down the days I’ll be back, because for me, home is happiness.

On Being Happy: Music

I’ve been writing music reviews for a while now, and started off writing for a not-so-great online magazine that ended up changing what I’d said. I now write for The London Economic and, if you’re interested in what I do, you can always check out my online portfolio here.

Now that I’ve shoved in what I think is a well-placed plug, I want to go back to what this is all about – music. I love music, just like most people do, but I’ve discovered that there isn’t a lot of music that I don’t like. I’m not too great with heavy metal, but when it’s done well even I can’t say it’s not good. Then I thought a definite turn off for me is ‘screamer’ music, which still holds true, but every now and then it will crop up in a fantastic song and I’ll love it. Music knows no bounds.

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I’m sure everyone has their own personal connection to music, ranging with everything from saving their life to their teenage awakening to boys or girls or just wearing lots of wristbands. For me, music has always been a part of my life what with my Mum being a professional flutist. My normal was hearing her run scales at warp speed or breeze through complicated pieces with what sounded like ease. It wasn’t until friends came over to my house and gaped when they heard her playing that I realised not everyone had that. When I was younger, I didn’t really know what music I liked – my Mum introduced me to Take That with her obsession with Gary (and if you diss them, you’ll face my wrath as I passive aggressively scream the lyrics to Shine), then she let me listen to her Maroon 5 CD Songs About Jane and I’ve loved them ever since. I went through a Britney Spears phase, then listened to nothing outside of Taylor Swift. After that a few of my friends started ‘educating’ my music taste, and soon enough I was listening to You Me At Six and Mayday Parade and Panic At the Disco.

Since then, my tastes have changed and some of them have even lingered. It’s safe to say that my go-to these days vary from whatever musical I fancy to Hozier to old school Maroon 5 to a really catchy remix. Years & Years, Sam Smith, James Bay – so many artists are crammed onto my now very old ipod. For me, music is another escape, much like a book can open you to another world – music opens you up to new sound. There’s nothing better, in my opinion, than blasting some music as you try to belt along whilst you also try and cook/clean/procrastinate. Music brings me to another happy place – and nothing sends shivers up my spine more than a beautiful harmony does.

It’s a happy place for me, which is exactly why it deserved it’s own spot on this odd but, hopefully bright, series. That’s all I aim to do – bring a bit of light and sunshine to a world that sometimes seems a bit grey. Or maybe that’s just because there seems to be clouds constantly crowding over London. Either way, keep smiling because surely those clouds will pass over soon.