dealing with anxiety

I deleted Instagram and felt happier after a week. Go figure.

If you’ve ever wondered about the benefits of deleting social media, here’s a question for you. Be honest – when was the last time you screenshottted something annoying on social media and pinged it to your mates in the group chat?

No judgment whatsoever, here – I’ve done it before and I’ll do it again. There’s just so much temptation, isn’t there? Social media is routinely full of annoying people doing irritating things, whether that’s celebrities, influencers, or that chick you went to uni with that irrationally makes your blood boil every time she does a prosecco boomerang. (Prosecco boomerangs are only funny and cool when I do it, obv.)

But while the world would undoubtedly be a better place if we were all kinder to and about each other (blah blah blah), that isn’t the point of this blog post. The point is that you – like me, after a grand total of one whole week – might find yourself a bit happier if you just deleted those apps altogether for a while.

All this isn’t surprising, but it is worth thinking about.

Think about it: how many times in one day do you get riled up online? (That’s what I meant about the screenshotting thing: it means we’re actively choosing to engage with content that stresses us out). Twitter almost makes me feel sick, sometimes; it’s such an endless shitstorm of negativity, trolls, bitchiness, and people rightly or wrongly getting cancelled. Punctuated by the odd spark of comedic brilliance.

Instagram, meanwhile, is primarily a platform that makes you feel shit about yourself. Gorgeous travel influencers dangling their legs off a cliff edge. Someone else’s beautiful home. People essentially being cooler, funnier and smarter than you are. I’ve also got a rant in me about how it’s designed to spike our desire for consumption/consumerism, but I’ll save that for another time.

And recently, my usage has got bad. Hour after hour, running through my fingertips.

Which would be fine, if it made me happy, like spanking six hours of Mad Men does. But it’s rare I come away from a session on Instagram actually feeling good about anything. Maybe I’m just an awful person, but it makes me 90% jealous/bitter/salty and only 10% excited about my loved ones’ dogs and babies. Not a good ratio, by any measure.

Worse still, it makes life… performative. Constructed, even. Nearly everything you can do that makes you happy – eat a nice meal, see a friend, go on holiday, smash a gym session – can be reduced to an artfully arranged shot and a number of likes.

Your life is not content.

(Unless you’re being paid per post. In which case, proceed).

When you get to a point – as I did – where it feels like you can’t enjoy things without putting them on Instagram, maybe it’s time to take a step back.

You don’t have to deactivate your account. You don’t even have to put yourself on a blanket ban – I’ve still been scrolling through Twitter on my iPad for ten minutes at night, and since Facebook is dead anyway (RIP), I’m more than happy to log in to that once a day to check I haven’t been invited to any events/missed a picture of my Mum enjoying her retirement.

But even after a week, I feel… better. I’ve listed the benefits of deleting social media below – but mostly I’m pleased my fingers have stopped itching in the morning, which was really worrying when I woke up on January 1st. It was literally like craving a cigarette.

I’m not saying I’m going to delete it forever – although when I do reintroduce it in February, I am definitely putting a ten-minute screen time cap on that motherfucker. Also, it’s one of my main sources of promoting my blog… so erm, bit problematic.

But it wouldn’t be very ‘mental health and happiness’ of me to keep something that makes me unhappy, just to get a grand total of twelve more reads on this post. So, if you’ve made it this far, here’s a challenge for you: delete the app for two weeks, and see if it enhances your life in any way.

And in the meantime, can somebody please send me a picture of their dog?

The benefits of deleting social media apps:

1) I haven’t spiked my own stress levels with pure, influencer related annoyance in a whole week.
2) I’m less inundated with adverts – and as somebody trying to embrace a more minimalistic lifestyle, that’s a significant bonus.
3) I feel more engaged with my boyfriend, because my fingers aren’t itching to scroll when we’re talking.
4) My sleep is better, probably because I’m not inhaling blue light faster than a teenager on nos in Magaluf.
5) I’ve read two books this week already. Because hey, a bitch still needs an endless stream of distraction to make it through her commute.
6) My phone usage is mainly now talking to friends. It also still has battery at the end of the day.

The downsides of deleting social media:

1) I feel perilously out of touch with memes.
2) I was very scared I might miss a picture of my friend’s new baby. But then she wisely said she’d prefer to limit the exposure of the baby’s face on social media, so I calmed down a bit.


Gluten and anxiety: is bread making my mental health worse?

Gluten and anxiety – sounds like a ridiculous title, doesn’t it? Fear not, friends, I’m not going all Gwyneth at GOOP on you… Bear with me here, this is just what I’ve observed.

Sometimes, when you go looking for answers, you find out something you didn’t necessarily want to know.

Don’t worry – I haven’t been snooping through my boyfriend’s phone. What I have been searching for is an answer to some on-going health problems I’ve had for a few years now. Sore joints, swollen ankles, lethargy – even stuffed sinuses. I won’t harp on about how many times I’ve been to see a GP about all of these things in isolation over the years, only to be brushed off. The long and short of it is this: I’m gluten intolerant. A sufferer of non-coeliac gluten sensitivity (NCGS), to be precise.

Goodbye, bread, beers and pie 

Sigh. ‘Beer’, ‘pies’ and ‘battered meats’ are all up there in my most beloved things in the world. And don’t get me started on bread; I can actually take or leave a cake, but seriously, I fucking love a baguette. I’d choose a hot, fresh French baguette, dripping in butter, over a fancy meal on six days out of seven. So this whole ‘gluten intolerance’ thing is a real shame for me and my penchant for beige foodstuffs.

Fortunately, being gluten free in London isn’t hard: the weekend before last I ate two gluten free pizzas, gluten free focaccia smothered in Italian cheese, a few pints of Daura (probably the best gluten free beer) and then a rib-eye steak in a French restaurant with no specifically gluten free options (hardly a sacrifice.) I also live in Islington, land of the yummy mummy, so my gluten free bakery options are on point (hit up Beyond Bread next time you’re on Upper Street, my fellow Londoners).


And of course, it’s all worth it, because my symptoms have disappeared. I’m no longer cripplingly tired all the time (just some of the time) and I can actually see the bones in my feet properly, after a life time of assuming that I did, in fact, just have cankles.

But something else has happened, too. Something I definitely wasn’t expecting. The physical symptoms of my anxiety – an unsettled heartbeat, a low-level feeling of dread, a churny stomach, a strange veil-like feeling of being not quite present in the world – have all… basically disappeared.

Is there a link between gluten and anxiety? 

Now, I’ve heard of there being a link between coeliac and anxiety before, but this was more from people becoming (understandably) incredibly anxious about eating gluten and then promptly shitting it out/being violently ill, rather than a knock-on effect. But that isn’t the case with me – while having sore joints and feeling unreasonably tired is quite annoying, I’m hardly fearful of it.

Is it psychosomatic? Am I just imagining it? That’s what everyone asks me – it’s probably what I’d ask myself, so I do understand. But I know myself, my body and my state of mind pretty bloody well. After all these years of tinkering with my self-care, I’m like some sort of weird, expert mechanic who can spot and fine tune a problem in the motor from the moment it turns on. And despite not taking very good care of my body recently (oops) my anxiety has definitely improved substantially since I said sayonara to sandwiches, sausage rolls and sweet, sweet pastry.

But what’s science got to say about gluten and anxiety? 

I’m a prolific Googler, so I did what I always do, and starting tapping away. Does gluten cause anxiety? Is there a link between gluten and anxiety? Can gluten make me sad? And so on. It quickly became apparent that I wasn’t alone. Turns out there’s a whole host of people who have noticed a substantial mood and anxiety improvement after going gluten free.

Meanwhile, ‘attempts to characterise NCGS have shown that these systemic manifestations (tiredness, headache, fibromyalgia-like joint or muscle pain, leg or arm numbness, ‘foggy mind,’ dermatitis or skin rash, depression, anxiety, and anaemia) may be common’. The trouble is, this is by no means a full scientific endorsement. There isn’t enough proof. There isn’t enough research. So I’m by no means advocating everybody to cut out gluten as an anxiety cure-all.

But I can’t be the only one. Anybody else have any experience of this? Or other foods that make your anxiety bad, for that matter?

It’s all very interesting and I’ll definitely be looking into further. Because who knows – maybe I’m just having a freakishly calm few months, and I’ll wake up for a slice of gluten free toast one day with the same old crushing existential despair I always had. But so far, giving up the gluten has been revolutionary for my physical and mental health – even if I do miss baguettes every damn day.



In defence of crying

My name’s Nic, and I’m a crier.

Here’s a list of things I’ve cried at in the last week: the Lloyds advert with the horses on the beach; Bridget Jones’ Baby; an article in the Telegraph; Andrea Bocelli and Celine Dion singing The Prayer; a hospital appointment; the Lloyds advert again; and generally feeling a bit tired.

I am capable of crying an ocean of tears, and feeling utterly calm five minutes later.

Am I going through a bad mental health patch? Nope: this year has been the best I’ve felt in my adult life. I’m just one of those people who cries a lot. I cry when I’m happy. I cry when I’m sad. I frequently shed a tear when my pregnant friend sends me a baby bump update. I cry with laughter maybe once a day. I cry when I miss my Dad, or when I’m panicking, or (most annoyingly) when I’m really fucking angry and trying to have a pop at somebody. This usually completely undermines my point, but hey.

Naturally, to save other people from feeling awkward, I try to do this crying in private. As a society, we don’t like tears. I don’t blame people for this – tears aren’t easy to deal with – but I do get quite frustrated when people see it as a sign of weakness. Or worse, attention seeking.

Honestly, the most annoying accusation levelled against people who cry a lot is that they’re doing it for sympathy, or to get out of trouble. Every single time I have ever cried when I’ve been in trouble, it has got me into more trouble. It is not a get-out-of-jail-free card. They are not crocodile tears. I would really rather not do it. Believe me: I value the ability to get my point across in a terse conversation, and crying does not help you do that.

All in all, it’s not easy, this lip-wobbling tendency of mine. It’s always been a thing about myself that I would love to change. Again, as my fellow criers will know, some people are really offended by it. But in the last few years, I’ve slowly started to care less.

It probably started when my Dad was dying. And by ‘it’, I mean ‘no longer giving a fuck about my teary ways’. During that time, I lost the ability to care about crying in public. If anything, I did it more – because I didn’t want to cry in front of him, or my pals, given we were all revising for our final year exams at the time.

So I did a lot of sobbing in various places, primarily the Nottingham-Birmingham train line. Thankfully, being British, almost everyone left me alone to get on with it, barring the occasional ill-advised ‘cheer up love, it’ll be better in the morning!’ comment. (Terminal cancer: very rarely better in the morning, as it goes).

Through this, I learnt to realise that my tears weren’t the end of the world. Often, they were the only thing that allowed me to feel a bit better. Little wonder: crying releases stress hormones and reduces tension – a 2008 study found crying improved the mood of 90% of subjects.

Now, I’m often grateful for a little cry, and I refuse to see it as a weakness. Like still waters after a storm, a big bluster of emotion helps me give way to calm. Crying means I’m able to go from being in a remarkably shit mood to feeling absolutely dandy in under 20 minutes. A quick sob and I can be back about my day, bright-eyed and as cheerful and a lark.

Honestly, it’s a shame more people can’t take advantage of the magic of tears. Men especially. It genuinely makes me very sad that men find it so hard to let themselves cry. Nearly every boyfriend I’ve ever had has screwed up his face and turned away, rather than let me see their tears.

As someone who has literally cried to an EE sales assistant, I say: tears are fine! Embarrassment is literally the worst thing that can result! Men, believe me, you are allowed to cry (and, if you’re friends with me, positively encouraged to). It can make you feel so, so much better. And unlike other things that make me feel better, like exercise, I can do crying in bed. Ideal.

So yep – the older I get, the less embarrassed I am about being a crier. And I think it’s time that we stopped stigmatising tears so much. Because yes, I probably am an overly emotional person – but I’m also compassionate and empathetic and fiercely loving. These things go hand in hand, I can’t help but feel.

Best of all? I will never, never be made to feel awkward by somebody else’s tears. So if you need a shoulder to cry on, come on over. Just make sure I don’t catch sight of that bloody Lloyds Bank advert, or I’ll be joining you.


5 things I’ve read this week that brought me joy

Content. Whether it’s books, articles, tweets or even a WhatsApp thread, most of us love to consume it. But the sad reality is that nowadays, we get an awful lot of negative content pushed to us from all angles. Which is definitely not good for our collective mental health. So here’s 5 things I’ve read this week that have brought a smile to my face.

Notes on a nervous planet, Matt Haig

I’ve written about Haig before in 4 books for a bad day. I regularly recommend Reasons To Stay Alive because it delivers exactly what it promises on the tin. I read it at a point in my life when I actually was suicidal, so it’s little wonder it holds such a place in my heart. Notes on a Nervous Planet is less emotionally loaded (or maybe I am?) but, just like RTSA, it’s wise, whimsical, thoughtful and earnest. If you struggle to consume content when your mental health is bad, as I do, it’s also extremely digestible, with short chapters and lists dotted throughout. Give it a go, and even if reading it doesn’t make you smile, following the tips within it will almost certainly help to give your frazzled mind a break.

Normal People, Sally Rooney

I’ve been in a definite non-fiction mood over the last year. Normal People bucked the trend: I gobbled it up in 24 hours, and it’s been so long since I did that with fiction that this fact alone made me happy. Rooney’s been described as the voice of my generation, something I resist on principle – but she certainly put into words ideas that I’ve been desperately trying to formulate for years, with no success.

As a novel, Normal People will make you think deeply about love, anxiety, self-esteem, the male psyche, millennial woes, the timeless concerns of being a pair of star crossed lovers. The two main characters are perfectly realised and the plot is engaging. I didn’t like all of the stylistic decisions, but ultimately, I thought it was an excellent read. Rooney is painfully on-the-nose about topics I’m very interested in, like privilege: ‘Suddenly he can spend an afternoon in Vienna looking at Vermeer’s The Art of Painting, and it’s hot outside, and if he wants he can buy himself a cheap cold glass of beer afterwards. It’s like something he assumed was just a painted backdrop all his life has revealed itself to be real: foreign cities are real, and famous artworks, and underground railway systems, and remnants of the Berlin Wall. That’s money, the substance that makes the world real.’ I kept wanting to read bits of Normal People aloud to people around me, because Rooney so frequently encapsulated ideas I have tried and failed to express a thousand times. All in: a book that made me sad and joyful all at once. Go and read it.

It’s decorative gourd season, motherfuckers, McSweeney’s

And in a complete 180 on the previous entry – an article that made me cry actual tears of laughter. (Which is always a good thing to do for your mental health.)

So, one of my absolute favourite things about my new job is that, by dint of being a team of writers, we are also a team of avid content consumers, and we’re always sharing articles with each other. Some are serious. Some are profound. Others are batshit insane, like this post about autumn from McSweeney’s. Not everybody’s sense of humour, but definitely mine. Content like this is just such a joyful antithesis to the seriousness of life. So, strap yourself in and enjoy the timely reminder – as the leaves start to drift from the tree – that: ‘It’s fall, fuckfaces’.

AI saves lives, The Good News Network

I think it’s important to seek out content that is purely good, instead of relentlessly depressing. I’m a technology copywriter, so I spend a lot of time reading articles about AI. Many of which intrigue me, some of which depress me, and virtually none of which actually make me smile. This one did. An AI system in China was able to correctly predict that patients in a vegetative coma state would wake up within 12 months. This was in contrast to the actual Doctors, who gave the patients such low survival scores, the families were legally allowed to take them off life support. Good save, AI! Best of all, in reading it, I found the ‘Good News Network’, which is exactly what we all need, given 95% of what we read is about the world going to shit.

My group chats

Our phones get a bad rep. And rightly so, in many instances: scrolling endlessly through the gram isn’t good for any of our mental health. But there’s one thing my phone does to improve my mental health, and that’s facilitate group chats. Honestly: all hail the group chat. (Sounds sad? Well, I moved to London by myself a year and a half ago, so excuse me for needing the human interaction.)

I have group chats for my best friends from uni, groups chats for ex-colleagues turned friends, group chats with family members – and they’re just bloody great. We go through ebbs and flows of activity but I always know they’re there as a little source of comfort and lols if I need it. If you are in a group chat with me: know that I value it very much indeed.

Time for your recommendations

Have a read yourself (although not number 4, obviously) and let me know in the comments what you’ve read recently that’s brought you some joy. The more (and sillier) the merrier!


dealing with anxiety

Suicide: the great mental health taboo

Globally, every 40 seconds, a person ends their life through suicide.

In the UK, 6,213 people killed themselves last year. The suicide rate for young women is at an all time high. Men are three times as likely to take their lives than women. Hanging is the most common method. More children are thinking about suicide than ever before.

Does this make you feel uncomfortable?

It makes me feel uncomfortable. Even as I write this, I keep looking away from the screen. Suicide is a thing we still don’t like to talk about, unless a celebrity takes their life. I understand why. It’s too uncomfortable and too loaded. It forces us to confront something too painful to bear.

I suppose if you’ve never been suicidal, or even close, it seems an unfathomable act. Perhaps that’s why it’s so hard to talk about. Although it might be something to do with the fact that ‘self-murder’ was only decriminalised 50 years ago, and the very act of suicide – even admitting to feeling suicidal – is bound up in shame.

Don’t get me wrong: we’ve come a long way on the mental health conversation front. Tell somebody you have anxiety or depression, and you’re more likely than ever before to receive a compassionate response, or even the empathy of shared experience.

But suicide is a different beast. Tell somebody you’re suicidal and watch the air freeze between you, like ice across a windowpane.

It’s the great mental health taboo. We do not know how to talk about it. Even I – somebody who literally runs a blog about mental health – feel myself dancing around the word. And I should really know better. I’ve been there, after all.

I was 22. On paper, I had everything going for me. I was young and high achieving, well-loved and financially secure. But I was also in the grips of a deep mental health crisis. I felt unreal, as if I were viewing the world through gauze. I had lost the ability to connect with the world around me. You probably wouldn’t have thought it to look at me. I have pictures of myself, graduating from my Masters, where I look positively suffused with joy. But most of the time I felt nothing at all, apart from the moments when I wept uncontrollably, until my chest hurt and I couldn’t breathe for gasping.

Everything that makes life worth living had slipped out of reach. Everything felt insurmountable. I was so tired. No wonder: it’s physically exhausting, to feel so very hopeless.

One day, the thought slipped into my head: I wish I could go to sleep tonight and not wake up. It didn’t go away. Over the next few weeks, I worried away at the thought; where could I do it, how could I do it? The idea followed me around; in the bath, as the tram approached the platform. What a relief it would be, not to feel at all.

The only thing that stayed my hand was the thought of my mum and sister, bereaved twice in 24 months. Not to mention the friends who relentlessly stuck to me. In the end, the people I loved dragged me back from the edge. They made me talk, breaking down mountains into hills I could imagine scaling.

Talking saved my life. But too many people don’t have anybody to talk with. In fact, too many people will never let their feelings slip at all. The thought, the urge, will remain unspoken. Until it’s acted upon. Until it’s too late.

We have to talk. It’s a hard conversation from all angles, I know. Admitting you are suicidal is exposing the rawest part of yourself. Talking about it still smarts now: I don’t want people to see me differently, to see me as unstable, when actually I’ve never been happier or more content. It feels like a dream I had a long time ago – one I can only remember because I wrote it down upon waking.

It’s hard for those left behind. Because it’s not an acceptable topic of conversation, people who have lost loved ones to suicide are forced to hide their grief, to blunt its awkward edges in conversation, for the sake of avoiding the discomfort of others.

And it’s hard to respond to. Sitting and looking into the eyes of somebody telling you they do not want to be here is painful and uncomfortable and heartbreakingly sad. ‘I hate to think of you feeling like that,’ people say, eyes shifting into the middle distance. ‘I can’t bear the thought.’

But what should we choose? The discomfort of the conversation or the event itself?

It’s difficult. But here’s some places to start: we have to start the conversation and keep having it, relentlessly, even when it hurts, until everybody who even has a whisper of that voice in their head feels like they can talk about it. We have to write explicit mental health provision into our workplace conversations and HR handbooks. We have to banish the word ‘commit’, with its implications of criminality. We have to educate ourselves on the signs of somebody having suicidal thoughts, and be brave enough to reach out when we see them. We have to listen.

We can’t save everyone. But we can sit down and talk, refusing to flinch, asking the difficult questions. It might make no difference. It might make all the difference in the world.

I’m publishing this the day before World Suicide Prevention Day. If you are worried that somebody you know is having suicidal thoughts, please reach out. There are some resources below, or if you want somebody to talk to, drop me a message. 


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Why most things (probably) won’t make you happy

Sometimes, when I’m having a bout of anxiety (or a full blown panic attack), I close my eyes and imagine myself in an almost empty room.

Nowadays, this is the calmest situation I can think of, other than being by the sea or halfway up a mountain. A space without clutter, without objects.

I wasn’t always like this. But more and more, I’m mindful that ‘stuff’ (and shopping, AKA the act of acquiring it) does very little to make me happy. If anything, it actively makes me feel worse.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not a minimalist or a committed experientialist. I’m not even particularly tidy. (I can imagine my Mum and boyfriend reading this and huffing, ‘HA! Sounds like news to me!’).

And I’m not judging anyone for buying things. I like things! I like objects that are beautiful and functional. I do a little wriggle with delight every time I sit on my balcony furniture, and my coffee table is a source of endless pleasure. I feel immediately becalmed by turning on my bedside lamps, which scatter light across the room like stars on a night sky. My friend Polly has a kitchen table made out of her childhood bed that genuinely makes my stomach contract slightly with lust.

But these are things that serve a purpose; they make a home a comfortable place to live in. I feel the same about clothes, shoes and bags: I’m still furiously in love with my four-year-old Barbour jacket and the multitude of pockets it offers. But nearly every dress I’ve ever bought has at some point made me feel shit about myself. Hmm.

As a result, I’ve started to read a hell of a lot about how I can make myself happier and less anxious by whittling down the amount of unnecessary crap I either keep in my flat or lust after online. This is important for your mental health on two fronts. One, clutter is stressful. The more clutter, the more mess.

Two, our need to keep buying things… well, it usually means something, doesn’t it? When we buy things, the sad reality is that we’re often trying to be somebody, or impress somebody, or plug a gap. But in reality, we’d probably get a lot more joy out of life if we stopped spending £200 a month in Topshop and spent the money enjoying activities with our loved ones, seeing new places, and building memories.

So what am I doing about it? I’ve started to unsubscribe from newsletters and direct mailers from brands I once loved. (Sorry, did anyone else think GDPR was going to do that for us?!). I’ve started to donate or throw things away if they’re sat in a cupboard or ‘tidied away’ somewhere.

Finally, I’m forcing myself to research before I buy, and only buy on a needs basis, like the rucksack I replaced recently. Most importantly, I’ve begun to question and interrogate my purchase. If you’re interested, here are the questions I’ve been asking myself to discover if an object is really going to bring me happiness, or if my money could be better spent elsewhere (e.g. weekend breaks to Europe).


Does having it cause you stress?

‘Things’ should be beautiful, or useful, or both. But the things you own shouldn’t cause you stress. If all you’re ever doing with something is finding new ways to store it out of site, get rid of it. Likewise, if you own something that makes you feel bad about yourself (like, half of my wardrobe), get it down a charity shop pronto.

Even if you like it, do you actually need it?

I picked up some beautiful coasters yesterday, tootling home down Blackstock Road. And when I say ‘picked up’, I mean ‘picked out the four I wanted to buy’. But then I realised that we already have beautiful coasters. Like, more coasters than we could actually use, unless we both decided to drink three brews simultaneously. Or had four guests around. Sometimes, just because you like something, doesn’t mean you need it – especially if it’s just adding to an existing pile of clutter.

Do you need to pay that much money for it?

Will the expensive version of something really make you happy? This isn’t a snide question – I prefer slightly more expensive bedding, for example, because it generally feels nicer on my skin. T-shirts, however: no. I do not need to pay £100 for something I’m going to spill ketchup on. Get out of Selfridges and put it down.

Jeans are another good example of this. You can buy high quality, stylish, fashionable jeans for £50-100. (My thighs rub through anything cheaper). Is a £300 pair genuinely going to make you any happier?

Basically, before you buy something, ask if you’re really getting a level of value that’s proportionate to the extra spend. Because all of that ‘extra spend’, over the course of a year, could pay for an amazing holiday or the adult learning course you’ve always fancied to build your dream career. Just saying.

Are you buying this for the person you are or the person you want to be?

I can’t tell you how many pair of high-heeled shoes I bought as a teenager/young adult. I don’t like heels. I don’t like walking in heels. I don’t feel happy in heels. They’re deeply uncomfortable, and you can’t dance properly in them. And I definitely wouldn’t want to have sex with anybody who doesn’t fancy me in trainers, so I can’t even argue I wanted my legs to look thinner.

So why did I keep buying pairs of heels? I have no idea. I think I want to be the sort of woman that can and does walk in heels. Baffling. In short: you can’t buy your way into being a different sort of person. And you won’t find happiness by trying.

Do you love actually love it, or do you think it says something about you?

Very like the above. This is a hard and uncomfortable question to ask yourself. I have been guilty of it on so many occasions. And have, over the years, probably wasted £1403493024932 in Urban Outfitters as a result.

It’s not easy, and it’s a work in process – I’ve been trying to get up the energy to tackle my wardrobe with all of this in mind. But it is worth it – because every draw I clear and every penny I save from not buying crap needlessly is helping me on my way to a slightly saner, happier life. Which sounds like a good direction of travel to me.


(This plant, this copper pot, and this Bowie print all make me happy every time I look at them. As does the chap in lurking behind).


Your beautiful state of mind

Do you ever read a quote and realise you’ve committed it to memory, without every trying?

In a book I read this week, a young would-be musician is in anguish, wondering whether composing is his true calling. Leon asks Marek – his hero, a Czech composer who has withdrawn his music from performance in the Reich – whether or not he really has talent.

‘No one else can tell you that.’

‘But how does one know if it’s worth going on? I don’t know whether I have any true creativity or –’

‘Good God, Leon, why do you always turn back on yourself? If you feel the need to write music, or play it, then do so, but believe me your creativity is of no interest to anyone. Write something – then it’s there. If it’s what you wanted to write, if it exists, then leave it. If it doesn’t, throw it away. Your beautiful state of mind is totally irrelevant.’

It stuck with me, that last line. At first, I thought: oof, little harsh, Marek. But it’s true. Your beautiful state of mind is totally irrelevant. More importantly, I think there’s a lesson in happiness there – at least for anybody who considers themselves a creative.

And this lesson was crystallised even further on Friday night, as I pottered round the Picasso 1932 exhibition at the Tate, one of my favourite spots in London. Don’t get me wrong, our friend Pablo had all sorts of issues, but looking at the work he created in a single year, it’s fairly obvious he felt the need to create and did so frantically. (PS., go to this exhibition if you can).

It’s a funny, lovely thing – the urge to make something. Whether it’s music or art or poetry, novels or installations or photographs. I think it usually arrives quite young, although certainly people discover creative skills later in life. It can be a source of great joy, or even a tool for improving your mental health. I almost never feel happier than when I sit back from something I’ve written and think, yes.

But the older I get, the more I seen how unhappy it can make people, too. Creativity can become a cage, particularly when we reach adulthood and start to feel like we haven’t lived up to our potential. Obviously, very few people get to make a living from the pure form of their talent. When I was a little girl, I would have told you I wanted to be an author. (Spoiler: I’m not. And I now know most authors have other jobs).

And I used to feel bad about not making that happen (or at least, not making it happen yet). If I were a Proper Writer, wouldn’t I be doing it? Wouldn’t I be writing the book idea I’ve always toyed with?

Perhaps. But the reality is, who cares? Why on earth would I let that affect my happiness? There’s no point beating yourself up about not doing something, if the reason you’re meant to do it in the first place is love.

It’s what I love about blogging, and bloggers, for that matter – it strikes me as an activity that is highly motivated by enjoyment, not a desire to be perceived in a particular way.

img_8801If you want to make something, make it. If you don’t, know that you might one day, but it really doesn’t matter right now. But don’t let it make you bitter. And don’t blame it on your life.

Because if what you’re clinging on to is just an idea of yourself as somebody who produces art, and you create just to conform to that sense of self, you’re not likely to find much happiness.

Worst yet, I think it can be a recipe for bad art. Sometimes it results in… too much artist in the art. It should be an insight or an expression, not a way of reflecting how you want the world to see you.

Of course, I’m not saying you shouldn’t stick with it. It’s part of getting better: painting every day, practising your instrument. Brilliant art doesn’t come without effort; by all accounts, writing a book can be a slow, tortuous effort.

But I think most of us would be happier if we followed Marek’s advice: if you want to create, create. If it’s no good, never mind. But just bear in mind that your beautiful state of mind is totally irrelevant. And there’s no small amount of peace to be found in coming to terms with that fact.



The quote is from Eva Ibbotson’s beautiful book, Songs for the Summer. I read her books as a child, and still love them as an adult. 

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.


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.




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

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!

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.



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!

The summer I realised I hated my body: an apology

I can’t remember how old I was, the summer I realised I hated my body. But I think I was wearing a tankini, so I must have been pushing ten at best. Summer is bad for this. Suns out, guns out, with insecurities trailing in their wake.

It’s easy to forget, in the winter. Under thick jumpers and the comforting fuzz of red wine and mince pies, our lumps and bumps are somewhat closer to forgotten. But then spring rolls around, a summer holiday gets booked. A bikini beckons. And like the daffodils, the thought pops up, as if from nowhere: I hate my body. I want it to be smaller. I want it to be less.

This is a shame—it’s an otherwise lovely season—but it’s what summer does to me, and no doubt many others. The loss of layers makes me think of my body, and how I want it to be different. There are so many ways I want.

Some of my wants are completely irrational. At twenty-five, it seems unlikely that my legs are going to stretch out another two inches. Even when I was very thin, my knees were still rounded.

Some of the things I want, I could have, if I tried hard enough: tauter muscles, a smaller dress size. I know my body could do it, but it would be very, very hard. A constant and grinding effort, which I would inevitably undo, further down the line.

The older I get, the sillier this seems, and the harder I work to tamper these thoughts. For one thing, my body is small: the sort of body society approves of when clothed. A malign voice tells me it is fat, but I know it isn’t. I also know, objectively, that it wouldn’t matter if it were fat. It is not a crime to be fat, I remind myself, staring absentmindedly at the soft rolls of my stomach in the bath.

For another, it’s really bloody ungrateful to malign this body as much as I have done. Insofar as I know, it does what it should. My brain is another matter, but these limbs are ticking along. Also: my body does some cool shit. It’s taken me up mountains and down hills, across beaches, through fields. It has propelled me forward; ten metres under water, chasing a turtle. This body has sliced neatly into ice-cold lakes and emerged, shivering and pumping. It has jumped from a plane and a bridge (albeit not gracefully).

This body has been touched and held and kissed. I have fallen in love with this body: with the hairs on my arms and the lurch in my stomach. This body has been fallen in love with, too: I think this bum might even have got me a free drink or two in its time. This body is young and able, with just a few wrinkles appearing around the eyes, and muscles I have built, minute by minute.

One day I might find out that this body doesn’t work the way it should. One day something within me might veer off course. Cells multiplying. Organs faltering. But right now it works, touch wood. Not everybody is so lucky, and this reminds me more than ever how fundamentally pointless it is to hate a body that does so much for me.

This is a working body, and for that reason alone, I am very, very lucky. So this summer, I have another want: to stop being so hard on this vehicle of mine, and learn to quiet the voice that whispers in my ear. I’m sorry, body of mine. I’m truly sorry. Most of us don’t know exactly how old we were, the summer we learnt to hate our bodies. But that doesn’t really matter. What matters is remembering the summer we learn to stop.