The longest love I’ll ever know

All sorts of crap gets written about sisters.

Much of it is cliché. We don’t drink wine together, or post sister memes on each other’s Facebook walls. If you hurt me, she will not come after you with a bat.

If anything, any violence in our relationship is reserved exclusively for each other. After approximately 48 hours in each other’s company, we start to snipe and bitch. I’ve never been as vile to anybody in my entire life as I have been to her, with relatively little provocation.

And, like almost all younger siblings I know, I can be disparaging of her. Fortunately, she’s stoical enough not too react too much. And, hey: she can serve it out too.

I never felt less cool as a kid than when she appraised me, coldly, flicking her glancing up and down over my not-quite-there outfit, my sloppy drunkness, my childish tears.

Plus, she was a hot teenager, and I had a lot of male friends. If you have been in this situation (second only to having a hot Mum) you will feel my pain.

All in all, as kids, we annoyed each other. We had baths together for many years, shared a bed on hundreds of occasions, pinching and kicking and irritating. She once convinced me that a paedophile was somebody who weed on children. I once physically shoved her in the tumble dryer. (She’s quite small, mind).

Sometimes, I think she comes into my room and waltzes out, leaving the door open… just to spite me.

And yet. She’s the only person I can answer the phone to by shrieking ‘Jessica, no!’ and gain total, immediate comprehension. Humming a bar of ‘Cats the musical’ is enough to launch a 40 minute long kitchen dance production.

We once spent an entire Christmas hiding a Satsuma in each others bags/scarves/shoes, to the point where I tried to pull out my purse to pay for an eyebrow tint and came out with a handle of tiny, squished orange.

Ultimately: I love her, fundamentally and deeply. She is mine to criticise and defend, to bitch at and love bomb. I criticise her and make sarcastic comments, but if you were to join me I would turn that same, sharp tongue on you.

She is my sister. My sibling. And a sibling is, with any luck, the longest love any of us will ever know.

Are we alike? Not really. She is reserved where I am open, polished and chic where I am scrappy, analytical to my emotional. She was a natural athlete – a ballerina, a member of teams, somebody who wore a bib with a number on.

I hated teams, and sweating, and long-limbed girls in pleated skirts braying towards me on the hockey pitch. I write for a living; she’s dyslexic. She pronounces bath like it’s got an R in it. I do not. 

Even physically, we’re miles apart: fair and dark, tanned and pale. Somehow, despite being shorter than me, she has longer legs. This seems unfair, but I’m learning to live with it. (She’s also got bigger boobs, but small tits are in now, so I’m over that, too.)

(“But there’s something…” people say, screwing up their brows as they consider us, “Something in the shape of your face. Something in the mannerisms.” Well, go figure: 25 years and a shared gene pool has to count for something.)

She is tough and brave and determined. I endlessly admire her capacity for grit, for survival, wrapped as it is in a small, blonde and neatly manicured package. This is incidental, but she is also beautiful; I know without seeing that she will make a beautiful bride, a beautiful wife.

That’s why I’m writing, you see: to congratulate her, to honour her. She’s getting married. (Can words be an engagement present, Sophie, or is that cheating?)

She has a date, a venue, and a fiancé. She has, in me, a Maid of Honour. Most of all, she has love: the sort of love that we can and should hold up as an example. A model to aspire to.

Like me, he isn’t very much like her. He’s loud, talkative, hyperactive. He comes from a clan, full of noise and love and bustle. I suppose you could call him the brother I never particularly wanted but am now delighted to have. When the ripples of Dad’s death closed shut, he was left within the circle, and I can’t imagine life (or her) without him.  

To look at them together is to see what love should be like. It’s wonderful, and I’m so honoured to be part of their day.

So here’s to them. Here’s to love: the perfecting blending of two things which were fine by themselves, but are somehow more complete together. As I often do, I reach for the words, and find Julian Barnes has beaten me to them:

“You put together two people who have not been together before. Sometimes it is like that first attempt to harness a hydrogen balloon to a faire balloon: do you prefer crash and burn, or burn and crash? But sometimes it works, and something new is made, and the world is changed.’

The world is certainly changed for us. It’s a strange thing, being a younger sibling. You’re always reaching, always trailing in their shadow. I can remember vividly thinking that whatever she did was the last word in cool – a Sienna Miller boho skirt, skinny jeans, dolly shoes.

I hated it as a child, but now I know a shadow is a cool, comfortable place to be. You can watch them strike out ahead and test the water.

And now she’s off again, the promise glinting on her finger. All that trailing along behind her – turns out it was practice, all along.

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gardening for your mental health

Getting old and green: gardening for your mental health

Call me pessimistic, but I think I might be crap at gardening.

Sad, but it’s true. Under my watch, a once-fragrant lavender plant (overwatered) has wilted and died, a grey crumbling rot creeping slowly from its root. My beloved TV-side Chinese Evergreen did not survive a weeklong sojourn in Spain. My mint succumbed to white fly.

I quite literally just forgot to water the coriander. Although I’m not that mad about that. Coriander tastes shit.

But, unlike most things I’m terrible at, I have no desire to sack off gardening all together and call in the plastic pot plants. Because I don’t just garden to make my balcony look instagrammable as fuck – I garden because the simple presence of green, growing things in my home does wonders for my sanity.

I garden because the sight of green leaves sends calmness rippling through me, like the breeze through my newly installed Bamboo plant.

(I’ve read they’re pretty hardy. We’ll see.)

Maybe I’m just getting old, because I certainly never had the urge to garden as a teenager. But now I can’t pass a garden centre without wanting to potter – and that’s find and dandy with me.

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Gardening for your mental health: why we should all be doing it (even if it’s just a houseplant)

A lot of mental health tips revolve around doing things that take energy, like exercise – and we all know that’s easier said than done when you’re in a bad place.

So, here’s a mental health tip that requires minimal effort, money and time: buy a house plant, stick it by your telly, pop it by your bed. Enjoy the strange and tiny positive energy of welcoming a living thing into your home. This (obviously) isn’t really even gardening, so anybody can have a crack.

Don’t believe me? Let’s throw some science at my theory: ‘Patients in hospital rooms with plants and flowers had significantly fewer intakes of postoperative analgesics, more positive physiological responses evidenced by lower systolic blood pressure and heart rate, lower ratings of pain, anxiety, and fatigue, and more positive feelings and higher satisfaction about their rooms when compared with patients in the control group.’  Sign me up.

But if you’ve got a bit more capacity and a teensy bit of outdoor space, even a windowsill, why not give a bit of Actual Gardening a go? It’s not just the end result that soothes a frazzled brain: the actual process of gardening, even if it’s on a small scale, is properly relaxing. It’s a) outdoors, and b) physical. Otherwise known as ‘the things I need the absolute most when my mental health is wobbling’. 

Plus: drifting around a garden centre is fun. Squishing earth beneath your fingers takes you straight back to childhood. And stepping back, dusting your hands off, and immediately seeing something beautiful… if that doesn’t give you a little mood kick, I don’t know what will.

It’s strange, because usually things that I’m shit at stress me out – but with gardening, it doesn’t matter. Even if the end result is a dead delphinium, I usually get to enjoy at least a few weeks. Which is more than enough for me.

(And sometimes, again the odds, my babies make a comeback. I really thought my basil was over, but he’s showing unexpected resilience with some frantic watering. A reassuring metaphor for my life.)

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Top tips for gardening for your mental health

  • Things dying unexpectedly can obviously be a teensy bit stressful, so seek out plants that can take a beating. Take bamboo, for example. Not only does it remind you to stay strong but flexible, it’s also one of the zennest plants going. These chaps are they lovely, leafy and make a deliciously soothing sound when the breeze goes through them. Not all types are evergreen, but most are pretty hardy.
  • Need a pop of colour? Pansies may look delicate, but they’re surprisingly tough little bastards: mine grew with wild abandon and brightened up my herb pots no end. (Until the mint got infected with white fly and it made my skin crawl so much I chucked the lot).
  • No balcony, no problem: houseplants have never been easier, especially since the renaissance of the succulent. If you’re truly clueless there are some amazing delivery services out there like Patch, which take the hassle out of it all, ideal if (like me) you don’t have a car. They even have a dedicated range of almost unkillable plants… Handy.
  • Succulents and cacti are so on trend these days that you can pick them up in Urban Outfitters along with a pair of Mom jeans. But, if you need a budget option, I urgently implore you to head to Homebase. Homebase may not spring to mind if you’re on the hunt for striking designs, but they’ve got some fab geometric pots (see below, all three cost under a tenner) and more cacti than you can shake a prick at – give it a go.
  • Mini herb pots: not only will they brighten up your space with some leafy energy; they’ll also make you feel v. smug and grown up. Why yes, I did make this mint yoghurt fresh this morning.
  • Need green-fingered help? I definitely did, once I bought a load of plants, lost all of their labels, and had no idea what any of them were/what care they needed. So, I bookmarked this handy site for a great visual guide.

gardening for your mental

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love island

3 Important love lessons from Love Island

Say what you will about reality TV, but I reckon Love Island has a lot to offer us. Eight whole weeks of memes and great office chat, for a start. But life in the villa also provides some fascinating and genuinely quite important lessons about love, life, toxic masculinity and how we view relationships in 2018.

I’m semi-ashamed to admit I easily churned out about 5000 words of draft copy for this blog; seriously, I’ve had to finalise it on a Saturday when there wasn’t any new fodder for me to comment on. I could write endlessly about the gender dynamics and attitudes at play in the villa. But nobody wants to read my Love Island dissertation, so for a start, I’ve whittled down this post to three things the villa can teach us about love and the dangers of toxic masculinity.

Love Island Lesson 1: A ‘bad boy’ usually makes for a ‘bad boyfriend’

Why do we persist in loving bad boys when the clue is quite literally in the name? I get it: they’re usually bloody attractive. Adam is a handsome rogue, you have to give him that.

I’ve done it. Your mates have done it. We’ve all bloody done it.

But WHY? Why is this a thing? I think we tell ourselves that we really mean: ‘I love cheeky guys, with good chat’. But in reality, on 9/10 occasions, this really equates to ‘I love people who treat me like shit, ghost me on WhatsApp, have a track record of cheating, and give me post-coital tristesse at 2pm on a Sunday afternoon.’

I know it’s a game show, so Adam theoretically has license to churn through women like I churn through Holland & Barrett raisin and cashew nut mix. But Adam has shown his stripes repeatedly; I’ll never get over his smirking arrogance despite Rosie’s visible distress. Another level of callous. But now, a week or two later, all seems forgotten? At any rate, the gals are still remarkably keen to crack on.

It’s a truly bizarre notion and it stinks of toxic masculinity. Because every time we knowingly decide to take a spin on a bad boy, we reinforce the notion that if you’re good looking enough, treating women like shit is okay. Granted, poor Kendall wasn’t to know. But Rosie really had the warning signs in front of her. And Zara? Oh, love: when somebody shows you who they are, believe them the first time. (Granted Darylle is yet to properly declare herself, but I’m not holding out much hope).

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Obviously. Credit: Love Island Twitter

And women aren’t the only ones at risk here. The notion of the desirable bad boy is just as damaging for men. It enables and encourages bad behaviour. How can men feel comfortable displaying softness and warmth and empathy, when we constantly reinforce the idea that being a dickhead is an attractive quality?

And look, I get it: it’s a game show. But Adam’s complete lack of remorse/empathy/human emotion for Rosie as she poured her heart out was terrifying, and it really worries me that people might still be looking at him and thinking: ‘yes, he’s a literal turd, but he’s very handsome, and I’d definitely still have a crack’. Gals (and guys), it’s a no from me. Bad boys make bad boyfriends at best. And at worst…

Lesson 2: Think he’s gaslighting you? He’s probably gaslighting you.

It’s okay for your partner to drive you crazy. I often infuriate mine, with my propensity for squirrelling hairbrushes under the covers and leaving jobs half finished.

What’s not okay is for your partner to make you feel crazy. If the person you’re with repeatedly makes you uncertain and confused about your version of events, it’s important to take time to question what’s going on.

Warning signs include: overtly making you feel jealous and then denying all knowledge; recounting conversations in a way that jars with your memory of events; twisting something you did say so you can’t technically claim innocence; and insisting that your intentions were different to what they were (“you were flirting with him!” “no, I just smiled at him for serving me dinner”). Bonus point for any “I just get jealous and angry because I love you so much” manipulation.

Serious red flags include feeling permanently more anxious than you used to, walking on eggshells, avoiding confrontation, and constantly feeling like you’ve done something wrong.

Obviously this happens on both sides. But it’s in many ways trickier for women, because accusations made by gaslighters are often reinforced by negative gender stereotypes—‘she’s crazy, she’s insecure, she’s embarrassing herself’.

Not only is this toxic masculinity at its finest, it’s also bloody difficult to spot, because it’s insidious and creeping. To make it worse, these unhealthy relationships often start in a whirl of romantic passion, so you’re left thinking: ‘but this person was so great to me—surely I’m imagining this?’ Gaslighters, as a rule, are charming. They’re often good looking, and charismatic, and completely oblivious to the noxiousness of their own behaviour.

Fortunately, with Love Island being televised, it’s much clearer that Adam is indeed trash. But for those of us who don’t have the privilege of round the clock camera crews, a simple bit of advice. If you’ve got a stage where you seriously wonder if you’re being gaslit: you probably are. Please, please, get out. This can so easily spiral into serious emotional abuse. I know too many women—strong, clever, beautiful women—who have been reduced a shell by this sort of behaviour. Compile some screenshots. Share them with loved ones. You are not alone. You are not insane.

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Credit: Buzzfeed

Lesson 3: Being a ‘nice guy’ doesn’t make you the ‘right guy’

Now let’s swing to the other end of the toxic masculinity pendulum. The nice guy. The spiritual guy. Lord forgive me, but I’ve fallen for this one before. Bad boys might be horrendous, but as least they’re obvious about it.

Let’s lay it down: virtually every single man I have ever met who makes a visible point of highlighting his own ‘niceness’ has had more than a hint of the ‘tremendous shit’ about him.

Seriously, this is just not something that genuinely kind people do. Kindness is always visible without overt reference. It announces itself quietly, as does true spirituality, arriving with a soft, unflappable aura of general loveliness. It’s just obvious. Decency is like… sticky toffee pudding. Not much too look at, but by god, you know it when you smell it.

And we’ve had two notable cases of nice-guy syndrome in the villa, albeit expressed quite differently. Presenting the defendants: Eyal and Alex. Whether you agree with me or not, I offer two pieces of evidence:

Alex: ‘I was ready to treat Ellie like a princess and she’s thrown it in my face’.

Eyal: ‘I didn’t expect everything I’d worked towards to be thrown in my face’.

Sorry: nope. I had so much material for this segment, but really it boils down to the above. WTF? I’m sorry, but you virtually never hear women saying this sort of shit. And I’m not here for it. Women are not coinstars. You cannot shove pennies of niceness into us and expect to get a paper bill of adoration (or for us to ‘do bits’) in return.

Where does this attitude come from? Maybe it’s the flip side of the bad boy problem. Are we inadvertently teaching our boys that some men are so awful to women, the act of being ‘nice’ merits romantic affection? This is a gross disservice to all genders, if true.

Because let’s be clear: having nice-guy syndrome doesn’t make you a bad person. I don’t seriously dislike Alex; I think he’s probably well intentioned and quite sweet in his bumbling way. And yes, being rejected is hard. (I do think Eyal is a toe, soz). But it can make you dangerous. My stomach dropped when I saw Alex’s reaction to Ellie parring him off.

Rejection can make your chin tremble with impending tears but it shouldn’t make your nostrils flare with rage.

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Credit: Love Island Twitter

TLDR: 3 lessons from the men of Love Island.

  • When somebody shows you who they are, believe them the first time. A bad-boy dickhead will always be a dickhead, and you really don’t deserve it.
  • When your partner makes you feel crazy, walk away. (Unless you are Beyonce, crazy in love, in which case, proceed.)
  • Nice guy ≠good guy. Approach with caution.

So there we have it: my three lessons on love from the villa. You may think be thinking: ‘this is a mental heath blog, what are you blathering on about?’ but I know categorically how ignoring these lessons can lead to the detriment of your mental health. Romantic love won’t fix your mental health, but by God it can destroy it.

And this is never truer than when some poisonous gender fuckery is at play. (I’m aware this is all very binary man/woman, by the way; that’s simple because I’m limiting this to the villa. I know it’s more complex.) Learning to recognise toxic masculinity and react appropriately is vital for your self-preservation. It’s the curly-haired hippy with a nasty streak when you don’t play ball with his chakras. It’s the gorgeous, dead-behind-the-eyes lothario. It’s the well-spoken Doctor whose nostrils twitch with anger when yet another girl fails to fancy him.

And it’s complicated, because these same men can be kind and funny and good. Silly and soft, sweet and shy, charming and charismatic and side-splittingly funny. We all exist on a spectrum, and we are all products of our society.

You might think this is just 1500 words of me ranting about the opposite sex, but it’s not. I certainly have my Angry Feminist™ badge, but I adore the opposite sex; I am fortunate to be surrounded by brilliant, decent men, so there’s no reason for me not to. The reason I want to call this shit out is because it benefits all of us to identify and cull these sorts of behaviours. We all stand to benefit from living and loving in a world without toxic masculinity.

So what can we do? We can call it out, when we see it. We can reject it, when we encounter it. We can do more to teach our men that we value them most when they’re decent and thoughtful and good. We can teach women that they never deserve to be spoken to like shit, manipulated into feeling insane, or made to feel obligated by the basic human quality of kindness.

It’s not much, and it’s just some silly lessons from a silly TV show. But it’s a start.

Sorry to go all ‘he’s just not that into you’, but as a closing note… Want to know the sign of a healthy, emotionally stable man?

If somebody really likes you they will make it fairly obvious, generally be quite decent to you, and then ask you to be their girl/boyfriend.

That’s it.

It’s that simple.

(Love you, Jani).

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Credit: Love Island Twitter

 

PS.

Girls, if you’re wondering how to remodel your attitudes toward men, and how you deserve to be treated, I present: Queen Laura.

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Credit: Love Island Twitter

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The magic of simple pleasures

When was the last time you took a few days to remember the magic of simple pleasures?

That’s what I’ve been doing for the last week in the beautiful Basque city of San Sebastian, and as a result, I’m feeling more relaxed and rested than I have done in a long time. To be honest, I’d been feeling a bit worried about this trip; the region can be quite expensive, and for some silly reason I felt pressured to go to lots of expensive restaurants to make sure we had a good time.

But actually, instead of expensive day trips and pricey dinners, we focused on the simple pleasure, from enjoying cheap, local food to walking for miles and miles. As a result, it was the nicest trip I’ve been on in a long time – so here are the simple pleasure I enjoyed on the trup.

The magic of simple pleasures 

Finding the best bakery in the city (hint: it’s the one locals are queueing out the door for), buying an insane amount of pastry, and eating it overlooking the sea.

On that note: being by water, constantly. The sea or a river or a bloody big fountain. Water instantly makes me feel calm.

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Hiking, for a long time, on tricky enough terrain that you have to really think about where you’re stepping. There is such a simple, meditative bliss on focusing on nothing other than putting your feet in front of you.

Deleting work emails off your phone. Unless you have a very serious job or are an entrepreneur, it’s unlikely that you need to be contactable all the time. If your work emails are liable to stress you out despite the fact you can’t action them, why on earth would you read them?

Eating a sandwich made with cheap, local ingredients, overlooking something beautiful. San Sebastián is noted for its prevalence of Michelin star restaurants, and I seriously considered booking one with an amazing view over the city for Adam’s birthday. This would have cost circa €350, and probably would have been incredible – but honestly, eating a ham and cheese baguette at the zenith of a four hour hike, overlooking the Atlantic, was one of my favourite moments of the trip and cost approximately €10.

Watching football in a bar, eating meat and cheese piled on bread, drinking beer, talking with strangers, explaining the group stages of the world cup to Americans.

Playing cards and drinking beer with the person I love.

Reading greedily. I’ve always been a voracious and speedy reader, but over the last year, I’ve spent so much time at work reading and writing that I sometimes get home and slump out on the sofa with my phone instead of picking up a book. This week I’ve remembered the pleasure of tearing through book after book. (Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine, Everything I Know About Love, Affluenza, I Choose To Live, High Fidelity and About a Boy, if you’re wondering. All recommended!)

Spanish wine.

img_8192Spanish Cheesecake. (Sorry not sorry about the crappy photo: this stuff has been voted Spain’s 6th best cheesecake and I can vouch that it is DELICIOUS).

Giving myself the freedom to indulge in whatever I want to indulge in, without feeling guilty or uncomfortable.

Sleeping without an alarm, napping in the sun, cuddling in bed.

Thinking about writing without actually doing it, until the ideas build up in my brain and start bouncing around.

It’s been a stressful few weeks and I couldn’t be more relieved to be feeling myself again; next time I’m feeling frazzled, I’ll look back on this list for a reminder of the importance of simple pleasures on holiday.

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I’M RUNNING TOUGH MUDDER FOR MIND CHARITY – WANT TO DONATE?

Head to my Virgin Money Giving if you’d like to donate. 

If you’ve enjoyed Nicer Thoughts at any point over the last year please consider donating, even if it’s just a £1 (or $!). It takes a lot of effort and energy to keep a blog running on top of full time work. I do it for the love of it, and I hope it helps people – but I’d love to help people with cold hard cash even more!

books for a bad day

4 Books for a bad day

When I need to pick myself up, I often like to indulge in a spot of bibliotherapy.  The following are my favourite 4 books for a bad day—all very different, but all with something important to offer.

Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig

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“Depression is also… smaller than you. Always, it is smaller than you, even when it feels vast. It operates within you; you do not operate within it. It may be a dark cloud passing across the sky, but—if that is the metaphor—you are the sky. You were there before it. And the cloud can’t exist without the sky, but the sky can exist without the cloud.”

Part memoir, part guide to a life well lived, Reasons to Stay Alive is exactly what it says on the tin. If you’ve ever suffered from anxiety, depression, or suicidal thoughts, I implore you to buy a copy, find a scenic bench, and dive in.

I read this book at the lowest point of my life. My memories of that time are foggy, but I can clearly remember feeling breathless at how succinctly Haig described exactly what I was experiencing. Frankly, this isn’t just a book for people suffering – I’d advise buying this as a gift for your loved ones, if you want to help them understand how anxiety feels.

Read when… you’re at a low point and need to be reminded: things will get better.

Man’s Search for Meaning by Victor Frankl

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” 

Frankl was a Jewish psychologist, working in Vienna before the outbreak of World War 2. His background provided a unique lens through which to experience the horrors of Auschwitz. With the keen eye of a trained professional, Frankl carefully noted the behaviours and outlooks of his fellow prisoners.

Man’s Search for Meaning details both his experiences in the camps and his psychological findings. In particular, Frankl focuses on how to find meaning in the most horrific circumstances. One of his most interesting observations is that those prisoners who strove to comfort others were the ones who survived the longest.

But there are many other lessons to be learnt from this beautiful book. My most important takeaway is probably the idea explored in the quote above—that regardless of your situation, your attitude will always be a freedom nobody can take from you.

Read when… you’re looking for perspective, wisdom and inspiration. A friend sent me this shortly after my Dad died, along with a bumper crop of malteser chocolate bunnies (win).  At that moment, it was the most perfect gift I could have received.

Mad Girl by Bryony Gordon4 book for a bad day“It’s as if I think mental illness is something I might grow out of, like puppy fat or having an imaginary friend. I want to shake my thirty-year-old self by the shoulders and say, ‘No, Bryony! OCD is not an imaginary friend. It is a very real enemy, and very real enemies do not just disappear if you ignore them, you blithering IDIOT!”

Journalist Bryony Gordon chronicled her hedonistic twenties in The Wrong Knickers, but in Mad Girl, she details an altogether more agonising reality: the debilitating onset of OCD, anxiety, bulimia and depression.

Admittedly, it doesn’t sound like the most uplifting read—but Gordon writes with such honesty, dark humour and general effervescence that I alternated smiles with tears on almost every chapter. A solid entry into books for a bad day, if only to make you laugh!

Gordon also illustrates a Very Important Point: someone going through a mental health crisis isn’t always… obvious about it. Your colleague/daughter/friend might be presenting to the world as a successful journalist with party-girl sparkle, but the reality is often very different.

Gordon’s style probably isn’t for everybody—but then, I’m a huge fan of a) being upfront about my mental health and b) joking about sex. By all accounts, so is Gordon, so five stars from me.

Also: check out her organisation, Mental Health Mates. It’s a fab idea.

Read when… you need something to put a smile on your face. Gordon’s writing is the literary equivalent of having a Thursday night drink with your most entertaining pal.

The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

“And now here is my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”

Like the book itself, I’ll keep this one short. The Little Prince is poignant, wise, and utterly joyful.

But ultimately, this choice is less about the book’s content and more about the place this childhood classic holds in my heart. I think most of us have a book like this. If you’re compiling your books for a bad day list, dust off a copy of whatever your childhood/teenage favourite was, make a hot drink, and lose yourself in an old friend.

Read when… the adult world is too much to bear.

Thanks for reading – let me know in the comments what your go-to bad day book is.

Nic x

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Missing you.

Here’s the thing about losing somebody you love. It never leaves you. There will always be sudden, breathless moments—a shadow where a life should have been.

But ultimately, inevitably, the jagged pain is smoothed down, like a pebble. Then you are left, not with grief, but simply the feeling of missing someone. And—though not always pleasant—missing is an important act. Westworld had it right, when they wrote: ‘you only live as long as the last person to remember you’.

Because missing someone makes them immortal. I suppose it’s why I write: an act of permanence, given my aversion to tattoos. In the beginning I wrote to you, and then I wrote about you, and most of it never saw the light of day—but all of it was meant to keep you with me.

You can’t miss someone all the time, of course: you have to live and get on. But sometimes it’s important, to sit and remember.

And because it’s been four years—because today is a day when the loss is sharp and heavy (a pebble still hurts if you lob it at someone, after all)— I have let myself sit and miss you.

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First I miss a man who died long ago; the entrepreneur, the athlete who could walk the length of the garden on his hands, who told us bedtime stories and enforced a love of cuddles and Star Wars.

Next I miss the Dad: maker of embarrassing jokes, fixer of problems, chauffeur and handyman and wallet-opener. I miss glowing (or squirming) under the weight of your love and expectation. (Somehow I even miss the bad in you: your unfairness and your selfishness, your sudden, dark rages. Nobody said missing is rational).

I miss the friend you became. On the back of the Harley, holding a map, sharing a sandwich by the side of a road. I miss a man who always tried to show and explain the world to me, giving me the skills to back my own corner, and stand up for the things I think are right.

Then, somehow, I miss the you that never was. I miss the career advice I never had the chance to ask for, the prospect of your solid arm steering me down the aisle. I miss the opinions you never got to form and the arguments we didn’t have. (Where would you have stood on Brexit? Trump? Me living in the old Arsenal stadium?)

I miss all the years there should have been, watching you and Mum grow old, together.

And Christ, I really bloody miss you every time they make a new Star Wars film. I think you would have liked Solo. (I even think you would have liked The Last Jedi).

I suppose what I mean is: I’ll miss you forever, in almost every way. We all will. But as long as we’re missing you, we’ll know you’re still around. And when we’re not missing you, it’s because we’re happy and alive and doing well.

And I know you’d be pleased about that.

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If you’ve enjoyed Nicer Thoughts at any point over the last eight months, please consider donating, even if it’s just a £1 (or $!). It takes a lot of effort and energy to keep a blog running on top of full time work. I do it for the love of it, and I hope it helps people – but I’d love to help people with cold hard cash even more!

5 things my mother taught me

Whether you’ve spent the last week in a state of royal-wedding mania or hate the institution and all it stands for, one thing we can all agree on is that Meghan Markle’s mum, Doria, seems like a total boss.

Weddings are a funny thing for people who (for whatever reason) are lacking a parent. I’m not ashamed to admit I cried at Meghan’s solo entry into the church; I find it hard to think that if anyone’s ever brave/foolish enough to marry me, my Dad won’t be walking me down the aisle.

But what made me smile the most (after Michael Curry’s jazzy sermon) were the images of Doria. Markle has described Doria as her rock, and has obviously learnt plenty from her in life. It’s a feeling I know well; my own Mum didn’t just save my life when I was really ill. She’s also inspired me, supported me, and taught me valuable life lessons every single day of my 25 years on this planet.

My Mum is a trooper: a foul mouthed, gin-guzzling, chain-smoking, adventure-seeking and endlessly loving hero. I mean, her nickname is ‘Filthy Anne’, so that speaks for itself.

In honour of all the ladies looking after their kids without any support, for whatever reason, here’s the five of the most valuable things my mother taught me. All of these things are good to bear in mind if you have anxiety, but they’re also solid if you just want some serious #strongwomen inspo.

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Get the worst out the way 

If you’ve got a list of jobs or even just one unpleasant task, don’t delay: get the worst out of the way as soon as you can. This is actually solid productivity advice in general, but it’s especially true if you’re anxious.  Getting it over and done with means you won’t spend the day tying yourself up in knots thinking about whatever horrible task you’re facing.

There’s no limit to how many times you can bounce back 

My mum has been through some serious shit, but somehow she always overcomes it. Watching her bounce back from setback after setback and still crack on with the joy of living has been one of the biggest inspirations of my life, and whenever I’m feeling rough, I think of the happiness she manages to create despite all the losses she’s experienced.

Don’t worry worry until worry worries you

Admittedly I do a terrible job of putting this one into practice, but this isn’t just a tongue twister: it’s a solid mantra for the anxious brain. Worrying about things that have actually happened is one thing. We all have problems in life, and we often need to face these problems head on. But really, life’s much easier when you only stress about things that have already taken place, not vague possibilities on the distant horizon.

You can’t always be nice…

Obviously, this is a blog called ‘Nicer Thoughts’, so you might think I’d be quite a firm proponent of being nice. But sometimes, trying to be too nice can blend into being a pushover, and this can lead to a whole heap of anxiety. We worry too much about what people think, about making a fuss, about smoothing over awkward moments. I know I’ve definitely caused myself anxiety at times by not being upfront enough about my thoughts and feelings.

My mum, on the other hand, isn’t shy about coming forward: she’s ballsy, blunt, and can kick off like nobody’s business when she’s being fucked around or treated badly. It’s equal parts inspiring and terrifying to watch. And it’s a seriously important skill to have in life’s more serious times: when my Dad was dying of cancer, my Mum fought tooth and nail to ensure he got the help and care he needed, because it unfortunately wasn’t always forthcoming.

but you can always be kind.  

‘Nice’ and ‘kind’ are two different things, and whilst she isn’t always sweetness and light, my Mum has always shown me the incomparable value of being kind. Time and time again, I’ve watched her go out of her way to help people when it was in her power. Even if she got nothing out of it, or they didn’t deserve it, or it was a huge pain in the ass.

Sorry to keep jawing on about the Royal Wedding, but Meghan had it right when she said of her future husband: ‘If he wasn’t kind I didn’t really see there was any point.” If you can only try to be one thing, try to be kind. You don’t have to be an angel. My Mum isn’t, and I’m certainly not: we can both be grumpy sods with short tongues. But even within that, I always try to follow my Mum’s example and be kind, because kindness makes up for a lot.

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I’M RUNNING TOUGH MUDDER FOR MIND CHARITY – WANT TO DONATE?

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If you’ve enjoyed Nicer Thoughts at any point over the last eight months, please consider donating, even if it’s just a £1 (or $!). It takes a lot of effort and energy to keep a blog running on top of full time work. I do it for the love of it, and I hope it helps people – but I’d love to help people with cold hard cash even more!

copenhagen

A change is as good as a rest: my weekend in Copenhagen

As I’ve written before, I’m a big believer in resting. Modern life is so hectic and there’s a lot of expectation to constantly be doing or bettering yourself somehow. I think this is a load of rubbish: sometimes, you just need to rest your lil’ brain and give your body a break.

But when the fatigue is mental rather than physical—as I’ve experienced after a few stressful weeks—sleep isn’t always the answer to my ‘I need rejuventation’ prayers.

At times like this, what’s needed is a complete break from the ordinary. A change is as good as a rest, and all that. Switching up your landscape, getting away from an environment that’s been stressing you out, and exploring new places can be a great way of refreshing a frazzled brain.

So last weekend, I jetted off to Copenhagen for a dreamy long bank holiday. And if you’re looking for a European weekend break, I couldn’t recommend this charming little city more. A short flight from Luton meant arriving was a breeze, and we stayed in a peaceful and appropriately Scandi-styled AirBnB, in a perfect central location, which I’d highly recommend.

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Then we set about enjoying three days of delicious Danish food, historic buildings, quirky theme parks, boat rides, stunning views—plus milesandmiles of soul-restoring walks. According to my phone, we stomped 28,000 steps on Saturday—getting that level of exercise in is a huge mental health boost, helped along nicely by the faultless blue skies.

I don’t like to romanticise travel as a mental-health fix all, because it definitely isn’t. But cities like Copenhagen—calm, beautiful, easy to navigate and with plenty to do—are a great option if you do need some time away to recharge and reset an overworked mind.

Caveat: the one downside of Copenhagen is that’s it’s expensive. So if you’re thinking about going, a shorter weekend trip is definitely the way to go. Not sure my credit card could have withstood another day… But if you do book those flights, my tips to enjoying your stay are below—and some of them are even free!

EAT

  • Danish pastries, naturally! We spent a good few hours in pursuit of Copenhagen’s best ‘kanelsnegle’ or cinnamon roll, with some excellent results. Head to Meyers Bageri in trendy Jægersborggade to enjoy one of the city’s finest, topped with chocolate. Sounds weird, but there’s a beautiful nearby cemetery (final resting place of Hans Christian Anderson) where you can enjoy your treats.

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  • Bust out your best hipster chic for a visit to the Meatpacking District in Vesterbro. Kødbyens Fiskebar is a great spot if being by the water has given you a hankering for some fish. However, my ultimate culinary highlight of the trip was Paté Paté. We ordered a heap of small plates and the waiter paired them so thoughtfully that I genuinely got completely buzzed over a cucumber salad and have spent the whole week trying to recreate it.

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  • For a midday refuel, hit up Torvehallerne Market, and pick up some treats to take home while you’re at it. Denmark is known for its ‘smørrebrød’, a type of open sandwich—the offerings at the market are oh-so instragrammable and delicious, too. If you need a caffeine hit, suck it up and endure the queue (and price) for Coffee Collective: these guys have made coffee an art form. We enjoyed ours outside in the sun, with some more delicious pastries from Laura’s Bakery.

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  • Don’t eat, but certainly enjoy a drink on Nyhavn, one of Copenhagen’s most iconic spots. Prices are high but worth it for the picture-postcard location.

DO

  • Bring your walking shoes, because this city is made for long and leisurely walks. Start at Kastellet, the distinctive star-shaped military fortress that offers sensational views and excellent dog-spotting. Head down to Langelinie, a quayside which is also home to the Little Mermaid statue (tiny, covered in tourists, couldn’t even get a photo). Keep strolling down along the water to Amaliehaven, a tiny but perfectly formed park just outside Amalienborg, the Queen’s winter residence. Walk down past the Theatre to Nyhven, cross the bridge and head into Freetown Christiana. Soak up the alternative ambience before carrying on to the Christianhaven Ramparts, which you can follow across the bridge to Tivoli Gardens.

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  • Admittedly, I’m a big kid when it comes to stuff like this—but if the words ‘amusement park’ make you wrinkle your nose (as did my boyfriend), prepare to make an exception for Tivoli Gardens. Even if rollercoasters aren’t your thing, the park is filled with live music, spots to relax, and beautiful gardens. It’s certainly one of the prettiest places I’ve seen in a long time. We went during the day, but I’d advise going at night to take full advantage of the fairy-tale jumble of lights illuminating the park.
  • To get a sense of the city, head up the ‘Rundetaarn’ or ‘Round Tower’ for a sensational cityscape. Just make sure you’ve had a pastry to give your legs have enough energy to plod up the spiral ramp, first.

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  • There are plenty of good museums about, but if you’re interested in Scandinavian design (who isn’t, in 2018?) then definitely hit up the Design Museum. It’s free if you’re under-26, an unexpected and welcome bonus in this otherwise wildly expensive city.
  • If the weather’s good, plan ahead and hire a GoBoat! We spent 2 hours cruising the waterways on a sunny Sunday afternoon. This was a serious trip highlight, mainly because I absolutely love being on a boat of any description. And also because I got to drink beer, sunbathe and snap pictures for two hours whilst Adam worried about steering us through Copenhagen’s canals.

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Thanks for reading – and let me know in the comments if you have any recommendations for mind-soothing city breaks!

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I’M RUNNING TOUGH MUDDER FOR MIND CHARITY – WANT TO DONATE?

Head to my Virgin Money Giving if you’d like to donate. 

If you’ve enjoyed Nicer Thoughts at any point over the last seven months, please consider donating, even if it’s just a £1 (or $!). It takes a lot of effort and energy to keep a blog running on top of full time work. I do it for the love of it, and I hope it helps people – but I’d love to help people with cold hard cash even more!

dealing with anxiety

Writer’s block and anxiety

Things have been quiet on Nicer Thoughts this month. It’s been a funny few weeks, and the first thing that goes out the window when I’m overly stressed is my ability to sit down and write for myself. (Writer’s block and anxiety: what a combo).

Now, this isn’t to say I haven’t been writing at all. Writing is 80% of my job, so it’s rare for a day to go by without me cracking out at least 500-1000 words. Whether it’s a few lines of copy for an invite or a 5,000-word research report, I spend a huge amount of time with ideas bouncing around in my head and fingers flying across the keyboard.

And recently, it’s been a lot more extreme. A lot of my role is stuff I have to do on a weekly/monthly basis, so when you throw a few big projects into the mix, there isn’t enough time in the day—and there certainly isn’t enough mental capacity for me to come home, fire up my laptop, and ping off something insightful or interesting for the blog.

Throw into this some general life stress (I was really ill for the best part of two weeks, followed By some anxiety-inducing medical stuff) and my fingers have been frozen every time I approached my laptop.

Time was, I would have beaten myself up a lot about this. Writer’s block and anxiety are a pain in the arse combination; they induce each other. It’s one of my most hated feelings in the world, because if you were to ask me what I’m good at, this is what I say: I write.

Like most wannabe writers, from the time I was very small, I crafted poems and stories and elaborate worlds in my head. I hope one day to finish a book. No matter how stressed I am at work, I am truly grateful every single day that I get paid to fill pages with words. I have always had a voice inside me telling me to write. My fingers have always itched for a pen. (Or a laptop. Or the notes app on my phone).

Because I am not athletic or musical or entrepreneurial. I’m not very interested in being famous or acclaimed or even hugely wealthy. I just want to string words together in a beautiful or functional or emotion-inducing way, and send them out into the world.

And recently, I haven’t been able to do that. (I’ve barely been able to stay awake past 9.30pm.) Historically, I would have beaten myself up for this, and tortured myself even further into the dreaded realm of writer’s block by desperately trying to scrape something together.

This last fortnight, I’ve tried to give myself the kindness to take a different approach. The ability to write is, for me at least, a finite resource during the day. I’ve been using all of these resources up at work (as I should do: Nicer Thoughts doesn’t pay the bills, sadly).

A huge part of mental health self-care is knowing your limits, and not beating yourself up when you’ve reached them. This morning, I lay in bed with the person I love. I woke up, dozed again, and came to slowly. I ate something healthy, I went to the gym. I pottered mindlessly. Then I sat on my balcony (it was actually bloody freezing, but still) and I looked at my plants. I felt quiet and still and content, after a week of feeling frazzled and frankly irritated with the world at large.

And then it came: my fingers itched, and a quiet fell over me. It’s time to write, the little voice said. So I did.

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I’M RUNNING TOUGH MUDDER FOR MIND CHARITY – WANT TO DONATE?

Head to my Virgin Money Giving if you’d like to donate. 

If you’ve enjoyed Nicer Thoughts at any point over the last seven months, please consider donating, even if it’s just a £1 (or $!). It takes a lot of effort and energy to keep a blog running on top of full time work. I do it for the love of it, and I hope it helps people – but I’d love to help people with cold hard cash even more!

Blogger to jogger: fundraising for Mind, the mental health charity

So this week it’s less of a blog and more of a shameless plug – it’s time to get your charity on and support a good cause. Why’s that? Because I’m going from blogger to jogger and obstacle hopper, lacing up my trainers and hitting the gym – and not just to keep myself sane, which is usually the reason.

Nope – with twelve weeks to go, it’s time to get training. I’m not that strong, I’m not very big, and I’m not a particularly good runner—but on July 7th, I’ll be tackling Tough Mudder for Mind Charity—and I need your sponsorship. (And also for Adam, my fellow runner, to pull me over the really big obstacles).

I completed a Tough Mudder ‘half’ last year, but this time I’m kicking it up a notch by taking on the full race. Adam and I will be running (or stumbling) 10 miles, interspersed with 20 gruelling obstacles from the ‘Arctic Enema’ to ‘Electroshock therapy’. Yep, they’re exactly what they sound like: an ice bath and getting electrocuted.

Why am I running Tough Mudder?

It’s going to be tough. But I know first hand that some things are far tougher. Such as having an anxiety and depression induced nervous breakdown, and having to rebuild your life from scratch, for example. And some things are tougher still—like recovering from mental illness without financial support.

When I had a breakdown, I was far luckier than many people: I had the resources and the support to take time off work, see a good counsellor and recover at my own pace. I was an adult, but I had a loving Mum who was able to take me home and look after me. I didn’t have to worry about accessing services – I just focused on getting better.

Very few people are so lucky. NHS resources simply can’t cope with the growing mental health crisis: a report last year showed that 80% of NHS bosses fear they can’t support the levels of people now requiring mental health services. Waiting lists are long, the therapies available are often short-lived (4 sessions with a counsellor certainly wouldn’t have dug me out of the hole I was in), and services are woefully overstretched.

And this is a growing problem. Since I started Nicer Thoughts, I’ve been shocked and humbled time and time again by the people in my life who have approached me—quietly, overtly or ever-so-drunkenly—to share their mental health story. It’s everywhere we look, and it’s not going away.

And that’s a worrying thought. But supporting a fantastic charity like Mind can help to ease the burden. Mind provide advice and support to anyone experiencing mental health problems, campaign to improve services, and promote understanding. So any donations are greatly appreciated, and will help spur my sorry ass onwards through the race.

What can the money do?

£10 could help Mind campaign for better support services, talking therapy and crisis care for people whose mental health is in crisis.

£21 could help Mind’s supportive online community Elefriends run for one hour, giving people the chance to get hugely valuable ‘peer support’.

£39 could allow Mind’s Infoline call handlers to answer 5 calls from people, often in desperate need of support, helping them to find support and a way forward.

Where can you donate?

Head to my Virgin Money Giving if you’d like to donate. 

If you’ve enjoyed Nicer Thoughts at any point over the last seven months, please consider donating, even if it’s just a £1 (or $!). It takes a lot of effort and energy to keep a blog running on top of full time work. I do it for the love of it, and I hope it helps people – but I’d love to help people with cold hard cash even more!

I’ll keep you up to date with my training. Lots of love, Nic x

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