I’m currently reading bell hooks’ All About Love, which explores emotional connection in various forms – self-love, spirituality, friendship, familial love and romantic love. So far, I particularly like this sentence:
‘Loving friendships provide us with a space to experience the joy of community in a relationship where we learn to process all our issues, to cope with differences and conflict while staying connected.’
My closest friendships are ones that move seamlessly between silliness and soulfulness – from dancing in the kitchen to talking deeply about life. As well as fun, these friendships involve active listening and calling each other out on questionable choices. Friends have helped me to recognise and rectify instances when I have jumped to conclusions, given unsolicited advice, been overly self-critical or grown distant because of a romantic relationship. My self-awareness has developed partly out of being challenged by these people who know and love me.
I had my first panic attack when I was twelve. I was at home alone because my parents were out looking for my sister – then a rebellious teenager with a story that isn’t mine to tell – and I realised I couldn’t breathe. Head spinning, heart racing, body tingling, chest tightening, I froze. I had experienced intermittent anxiety as a child, but this was different. I sat down and cried through it, with our tiny puppy for company. (We still jokingly call him the sanity dog, because he has helped us all through difficult moments.)
No one is exempt from the messiness of change and progress. Looking back at the journal I started in January, it has become clear to me that personal development, recovery and relationships are not linear. There probably won’t come a day when I think, ‘Oh good, this is all sorted now. No complications here’.
So far, 2016 has seen me consider staying in Oxford, think about moving to London or Brighton and actually end up at home for the foreseeable future. Health difficulties continued and resurfaced. I decided to begin a Master’s full-time, then part-time. I didn’t get a job I was interested in, but then I accepted one I really wanted. I started this blog. I reconnected with old friends and made new ones. I went on a few dates. I made choices and I changed my mind, with some moments of panic thrown in. Alongside all that, I settled into myself.
I recently came across these lines in my 2013/14 journal:
‘I’m finding it slightly strange that I’m turning into a woman capable of professionalism and at the same time I’m just a twenty year old who reads a lot and writes about her feelings.’
More than two years on, I feel confident in my growing professional abilities (hello, team, if you’re reading this) and more open about my creative life beyond work. As I mentioned in this post on self-care, writing gives me space to process my experiences. I find it comforting to note down minor thoughts and grapple with the big picture. It frees up headspace and makes me better at my weekday work. (I’m fortunate that playing around with words is also part of my current job – #comms.)
In my ideal world, I would have unlimited energy. On weekdays, I would always wake up refreshed, do yoga, shower, have breakfast, then head to my desk at home or in the office. I would be extremely productive, completing tasks, coming up with ideas and solving problems without so much as a yawn. After work, I would have dinner in good company before going to an exercise class, reading or watching something. I would get a reasonably early night, then repeat the process.
For a while I managed that routine, plus frequent trips between Oxford and London. I kept up appearances, but after every day spent working that little bit harder, I felt a little less like myself – the person with ideas and enthusiasm. I rarely took breaks from my desk and was often too tired or ‘in the zone’ to eat properly. I felt guilty and anxious when I slowed down. Eventually, I crashed. Hard. I recently described the feeling to a friend as like being perpetually hungover despite having not had a drink in months.