Sunday 17 May 2020

Let's Get Embarrassing

Here's a fun opener: It's taken me a long time to realise I don't actually hate myself. 

It's been the melodramatic default of my mind for so many years, but I guess it just took this extended period of time alone to find out the truth was actually something far more vulnerable. I don't hate myself at all, I'm just deeply embarrassed quite a lot of the time. And being so easily embarrassed, is the thing that I hate.

For some reason I'm struck now with a memory of a boy I've written about on here far too many times than he could ever deserve. We had that kind of spark you pine for in your teenage years, that sexually-charged back and forth quipping that veers dangerously close to being out of line, that would only inevitably dissolve in a hotbed of lust and crumpled clothes on the floor. (This treat 'em mean to keep 'em keen mentality is something I'm relieved I finally outgrew... despite deep down knowing it'd probably still gets me a lil bit to this day.)

Anyway, we'd always be at each others throats, desperately trying to outsmart one another and claim the victory, but the intoxication of the game was that he was absolutely unbeatable. Even my most ingenious and devastating forms of disrespect would simply ricochet off his unshakeable facade, and make me look the fool for trying. It was impossibly frustrating, and mostly because I always envied it about him so much.

When I look back at my life now, the only time I've felt that unembarrassable is when I have literally been too dumb to realise how embarrassing I was. I cringe hard when I think about myself at my most bolshy and how deeply unlikable that made me. Back then, I'd synthesised sky-high confidence out of deeply rutted insecurity, a rather transparent defence against powerlessness. It was unstable and manic, which by no coincidence actually caused me to be my most embarrassing self. 

I'm more than happy to leave that in the past, but feeling the complete opposite isn't a comfortable place to be either. 

What I want to do is recapture that feeling of being bulletproof, without having to use it as a weapon. While this may sound contradictory, I no longer wish for confidence to use in defence, I seek it as protection.  I'm not facing outward premeditating attack any more. I'm turning inward and looking after my own. 

So I wrote down a list of things about myself that make me feel embarrassed to admit. Whether they are actually true is somewhat irrelevant in this case, 'cause just believing their truth is enough to hold serious weight. And then I took the thing that made me feel so bad about myself, and rephrased the very same sentiment as if I was telling someone about my best friend in the whole world. And by the end, I'll be damned if it didn't make me feel kinda different. 

'I am alone and I have no friends' became: She generates her own happiness and found in herself everything she needed.

'I'm weird and fucked up and wish I could just be normal like everybody else' became: She's this curious and unique character like no-one else I know. She lives by her own rules.

'I have failed at everything I've ever tried, I'm a walking disaster' became: She has this wild colourful history and a wealth of experiences under her belt, and through them she learnt what wasn't for her, and what was. 

'It's humiliating to be this age and still not know who I am or what I'm doing' became: She never settles too long on one thing, she's constantly evolving and taking steps in new directions. She considers herself a late bloomer which she likes, because it means everything only gets better over time. 

'I lack discipline enough to ever see a project through' became: She's passionate and throws herself fully into something when it grips her heart. But she trusts her gut too, and knows just when the time is right to return to something or let it go for now.

'I've wasted my life' became: She affords herself the time to find her footing in any new situation, and knows this is something which can never be rushed. 

'I'm all over the place and can't seem to make up my mind' became: She's a Libra, what can I say?

Wednesday 15 April 2020

Embracing Nothing

I took a walk around my neighbourhood yesterday evening, just as the light had begun to turn golden.

And when I say around my neighbourhood I mean down every single road and street I could think of, zig-zagging past rows of houses I used to walk past daily, and some streets I'd never happened to traverse before. There's just a small joy in secretly stealing a glance inside a strangers home as you pass, especially now knowing at home is the only place any of us are allowed to be.

It was a beautifully warm evening and I found myself coming to a stop outside a barbers. The sunlight glinted off the polished metal and rich maroon swivel chairs which sat facing mirrored oblivion. My eyes were drawn to the peeling posters that lined the wall by the window, for gigs, concerts and comedy shows on dates that had long-since elapsed.

The sadness I felt was perhaps melodramatic considering we've only been in lockdown for a month, but it wasn't just the outdated gigs that never ended up happening. It was the future gigs and festivals no-one could ever have imagine would be cancelled when these posters advertising them were put up. It was the way this would act as a time capsule from here on out, just like the movie posters in the desolate cinemas that have inadvertently preserved the last possible moment of The Time Before. While everything now feels so devoid of sentiment or meaning, the sensation of gazing into that window stirred something quite deeply apocalyptic.

A month in and the virus has now infected over 2 million people globally, and the death toll continues to skyrocket. Our Prime Minister has just come out of intensive care, and every Thursday at 8pm we all clap our hands and bash pots and pans outside our windows as a sign of solidarity with the healthcare workers desperately trying to keep us all alive.

It's becoming increasingly hard not to crumble into an existential hole, and I think it's something to do with this extreme sense of conflicting duality.

Because while we're living in this extraordinary moment that is fully detached from the concept of time, where an historic international crisis is ravaging mankind in a dramatic and terrifying way, at the same time, the vast majority of us are experiencing a complete abundance of simply... Nothing. 

We're locked inside without jobs, plans, schedules or purpose, without any reason to get out of bed in the mornings, yet that makes us the incredibly lucky ones. Lockdown feels like both a holiday and a prison sentence. A blessing and a punishment. An awful consequence, yet also somewhat of a relief.

It's certainly put a lot of things into perspective. Where my brain has always frustratingly defaulted to linger on what I don't have, or even better, what others have more than I, this time has served as a powerful lesson in gratitude. I'm incredibly lucky to live in a beautiful vibrant city by the sea, in a sweet apartment with a lovely housemate and a balcony overlooking a cluster of sweet independent shops and businesses with everything I could want or need. I'm lucky to be physically healthy and have remote counselling when my mental health wobbles, and a family that are willing to pick up the phone to me whenever I need to talk. I am grateful that during this time I don't have to worry about money, as our wages are being covered by the Government, and I have enough to get by. 

I've found I can also be grateful for this abundance of time, whilst navigating and managing these feelings of guilt as to why we have it.

I began this post on a very different tone, and wrote about a thousand words on how we should be making the most of this time and how I'm being productive in it, but I scrapped it entirely. It was definitely a kneejerk reaction to do the whole ~motivational blogger~ thing, and there's a reason I gave that the boot all those years ago. I just want to write honestly and freely, without intention other than to convey what life feels like when everything real becomes surreal. 

As I mentioned previously, I'm dedicating this time to an intense mental overhaul, taking a deep dive into finding out who I am and what I'm about when I exist entirely unobserved. And so far that has been both taxing and illuminating, and I'm excited to see where this journey takes me, whilst remaining very humbled that I have the opportunity to take this trip.

In this world where all we are left with are the two extremes of nothingness or horror, I'm grateful to be a part of those with that everyday sense of nothing at all. 

Sunday 29 March 2020

Going Out For a Cry

It's mad how going for a walk is now the absolute highlight of my day. 

I'm discovering places in my city I never even knew existed, and planning adventures to exciting, exotic and distant (yet not too far from home) lands.

Alongside a good walk, I've also discovered the joys of: crying! 

And even greater still is the combination of the two.

This pertinent discovery was made a couple of days ago, when the sun remained beaming rather rudely, and after losing my morning to an unpleasant storm of anger and frustration, I decided to go 'for a run'. I put on the new Dua Lipa album because everyone seemed to be saying it was good (and they really weren't wrong), and started pounding pavement toward the beach. 

The seafront was rammed with couples and families practicing 'social distancing', carving their solitary paths through the throng of other people all desperately trying not to acknowledge that this probably constituted a crowd. 

With my limbs preoccupied and glossy synthpop bangers blasting in my ears, it was as though the unruly siblings of my mental and physical self were finally distracted enough to let my emotions come tumbling through, and I just burst into tears.

And it was glorious! Not a single person seemed to notice or care, and if they did, they either deeply related and understood, or the fact that I was sniffling and snotting was enough for them to give me even wider berth so I could continue on, undeterred. It's not that I was sad, exactly, or even really crying about anything specific. It just seems to be the only way to break the strain of overwhelm that's hitting from every angle on a daily basis. I read a profound article the other day that said this horrible feeling we're all experiencing is, in fact, grief. So I let it all out. I grieved for the past, I grieved for my life and everyone else's, and I grieved for the loss of human life the world over.

By one full listen of the album I'd regained a little composure, reaching the point where the promenade is abruptly cut short by the big white walls of a luxury complex. The gated community, (complete with own private beach) is known locally as 'Millionaire's Row', and is famed for housing a bunch of celebrities and the super rich. A car with blacked-out windows crawled past me as I stood admiring the buildings, and I wondered who was coming to take shelter here, knowing with a slight sad smugness that it wouldn't make a difference.

By the time I started heading back a few police cars had parked up, with officers gently moving people along and reminding them we are, in fact, supposed to be in a government quarantine. Most people seemed compliant enough, with the odd grouchy frolicker marching off with crossed arms. One memorable sight was a bejewelled, glamorous old lady sat on a bench with a glass of what looked like champagne, dismissing a police officer with a devastatingly casual waft of the hand, refusing to have her afternoon disturbed. 

It reminded me of my friend Millie, and how she'd broken the rules a few nights ago turning up at my house in the dead of the night, glass of wine in hand. Knowing I was feeling down and desperate for a friend, she coerced me into going on a responsible and socially distant walk with her, which constituted about 15 laps of my street, smoking cigarettes we definitely shouldn't have and chattering all our woes into the night sky. It was the precise dose of normality I needed to feel sane again. When we parted, we knew it was probably the first and last time we'd be able to do this, but like optimistic lovers after a one night stand, we promised to do it again soon.

Things I've learned the true value of this apocalypse: walking, crying, friends. (And wine)

Friday 27 March 2020

Filling The Pool

This morning I awoke to the sun-dappled street shimmering gloriously through the window by my bedside, and for a moment it felt like any ordinary day. It wasn't long, however, before reality crept up and swung a sledgehammer of anxiety through my spine, bursting like a firework in my chest and wriggling uncomfortably through me from head to toe. 

It's how most days begin now. Although last night I had a particularly uncomfortable dream that I had this tiny, scone-sized dog I had to take care of, so for safekeeping decided to keep it inside my mouth, only to accidentally part-swallow it and start dry-heaving and choking in the dead of the night. I'm sure that has some profound meaning somewhere. 

Surreal updates of the last few days include our Prime Minister, ruler of the realm and daily harbinger of doom and gloom, has become infected. This comes the day after news that the sickness has also come for Prince Charles, heir to the throne and (debatable) future King of England. In these unprecedented times where the everyday news is stranger than fiction, it's not actually implausible to picture a world where this wipes out the entire Government and Royal Family. This virus doesn't care if you are a Prince or a peasant, if you have a human form you are vulnerable. Right now we are all equal in the eyes of this invisible enemy and that's both parts terrifying and... somehow slightly iconic.

Wholesome distractions have become key in preventing a complete mental breakdown. In search of such activity, I posted on our community noticeboard and a couple of hours later picked up a little packet of tomato seeds an old lady across the neighbourhood had left out for me. I spent the afternoon potting them on the balcony, watching folks in medical masks and plastic gloves meander aimlessly below, using their stipulated 'daily exercise' allowance as a chance to relish the sensation of the sun on their faces.

As twilight drew in, Tom and I thoroughly sanitised the handles and saddles of some rental bikes and cycled down through the dead city, past the marina with the carefully spaced queues snaking outside the big supermarket, and toward the tall white cliffs by the ocean. The sun was golden and the sky dressed in pearlescent shades of pink and lilac, and just for a moment I willed myself to let go and embrace the solitary stillness of the present. But a previous traverser of this path had scrawled 'GO THE FUCK HOME' in chalk on the wall overlooking the sea, and guilt reached up in thick, suffocating tentacles and dragged me back into the depths, knowing full well they were right. 

It's barely been a fortnight, but I can already feel this inescapable sadness burrowing through the core of me. It's not even just the anxiety of this everyday madness, but extended time alone with nothing to really do has left my brain quiet enough to let all my old demons start to yell again. 

'This lockdown is re-calibrating the world.' My Mother said in a moment of profoundness the other day, and I've been thinking about it a lot. There's people likening this to a world war, the blitz, or the Spanish flu, but in reality, no-one alive on this planet has ever gone through this before. We are the most technologically advanced and well-connected evolution of humankind and we are being decimated by an enemy we cannot see or predict, whilst trying to protect the quivering pillars of modern society. It's more akin to an alien invasion than anything else. We have never been more united or more isolated, and everyone everywhere is fucking terrified and trying not to die. Everything we have ever known is being re-calculated in real time, trying to figure out how best to secure the future. 

And all the while we are stuck inside our houses indefinitely, being told that the best thing we could possibly do to help, is do absolutely nothing at all. So I guess it's no wonder these demons are rearing their ugly heads once again. 

Here's my demonic epiphany of the day: I've spent so long trying to flood myself with other people and their stories and lives, that I've let myself become an empty vessel. My whole life I've inexpertly tried to emulate the people I think are happy and have it all together, whilst engineering false identities so they'll think of me as the same. But with no outsider input or things to sway and influence me, when I'm just left on my own, what am I actually left with? Staring endlessly at the same four walls inside my home is like staring at the blankness inside of my own head, and I'm just left with one question. Who the fuck actually am I when I'm by myself? 

When the water mains are turned off, and I find my pool drained and empty, what is there left among the glistening tiles?

This is the time I've always longed for and dreaded in equal measure - It's the time to find out. 

Tuesday 24 March 2020

Life Comes At You Fast

March 11th was a fairly unremarkable day. According to my records it was a Wednesday, slightly overcast, and I had the day off.

It was a mere 13 days ago, which seems somewhat impossible to believe. It was a day in which I opened up this blog for the first time since summarising the last decade back in November. I started to write a post.

The working title was, melodramatically, 'On Growth', and was set to be a piece in which I spoke my greatest wishes for the future into existence. I was bristling with excitement, with a corker of a start of the year under my belt and plans for a whole new journey ahead. I found love, dear reader. I found hope. And I found a drive to take on the world akin to that gusto that had seen me start this blog 8 years ago.

I opened with the sentence; 'Right now, the year is 2020, and I am 27 years old.' And that was it. The year itself felt an unremarkable statement, the now-inane seeming content of the post, not inane at all.

But back in November last year, right when I was lost deep in the turmoil that saw me desperately recount the last ten years, little could I, or any of us have known that the seed of something dark and deeply sinister had begun to root in this world.

Something that would begin as just a snippet of an article on Twitter, a passing anecdotal remark shared over coffee, a joke between friends that allowed us to reminisce over our favourite apocalypse movies. I can't even pinpoint the exact moment that it became incredibly, terrifyingly real, but due to our inherent western-lensed privilege, it really doesn't feel like that long ago. Never in a million years could we have expected then what was coming, and just how quickly and dramatically it would upend the entire planet.

So I guess I'll start that original post again.

Right now, the year is 2020 and I am 27 years old.

And right now I, alongside millions of other people in nearly every country on earth, am locked in a nationwide quarantine inside my own home in an attempt to protect humanity from a deadly virus which has taken over the planet and infected hundreds of thousands of people.

It's staggering to think it was less than two weeks ago that this was so far from my thoughts that I could even begin to imagine my future. Just this morning, on my single government-sanctioned walk into town, I breathed 'oh my god' audibly spotting a man carrying a luxurious bounty of two 4-packs of toilet roll. Later, I was genuinely ecstatic to find a lone packet of bagels squirrelled away on the back shelf of newsagents I'd had to wait 10 minutes outside of, in a box marked on the pavement in hazard tape. So when I finished my last post with 'Here's to ten more years of trying to do the right thing and causing a whole hot mess of a life along the way!' I really had no fucking clue what was just around the corner.

So this is my life now.

I've been out of work for nearly two weeks and the official lockdown of this country started last night.  And while it's expected to last three weeks, we all know it'll last a lot longer and the situation is about to get a lot, lot worse. So as I wile away endless hours watching modern society descend into chaos, knowing if I leave my house I could get fined or potentially kill a whole bunch of people, and I don't know whether any of my friends or family will survive this - I guess I'm just gonna write. I'm well aware there's far more important stories to tell and read during this pandemic, but I can't really tell any other story than my own.

And I suppose there's never been a greater prompt than the end of the fucking world, right?