Moving On

Two years ago I wrote a post with the very same title as this one. Although the content between this post and that are vastly different, the theme, however, is the same – change. As over the next few weeks and months, things will change for me in a number of different ways. I am not only moving house, I am also moving for work and to be in the same country and city with my partner of 18 months.

As I sit and write this post I am sat on my sofa occasionally glancing up from the laptop screen to take stock of the four walls around me. Above the TV on the opposite wall, there used to be a large map where I had placed stickers of the various countries that I have visited. Around this I had stuck photos and postcards from some of these travel destinations; some were of landscapes, and many contained images of family and friends.

Looking at it now the bare wall reminds me that I the life I currently lead is, and always has been temporary.

As I write those words, I feel a wave of sadness wash over me as if to encourage me to hide away, to try and pretend that things aren’t changing around me. But if there is one thing that I have learnt over the past three years it is this, although we may not have control over a lot of things that may happen, we do have some power over how we respond to the change. And at least for now, I want to face this change that conjures anxiety and uncertainty and try to embrace it.

MEETING THE NEIGHBOURS

With work being a little busy over the past week, what with a parents day and additional preparations to be made as I look ahead to a busy summer with examinations, or should that be my students’ examinations… I have decided to pull together a few of the tasks from Blogging University 101.

One of the best things about blogging is the fact that you are able to join all sorts of communities for your different interests and a number of the tasks in the last few days have focused on just that: discovering and greeting other bloggers, and also building an audience of your own.

A community whether in physical or cyberspace form, can only flourish if it is tended to. So the tasks specifically have encouraged me to take a step out of my ‘safe place’ and to get commenting and connecting.

I have to say the ‘safe place’ is all well and good and can be pretty cosy at times, but it has been great to put my view out there and receive feedback in return.

Therefore, as well as the initial commitment I set myself when I first started Blogging University 101 of posting at least once a week (whilst work is pretty heavy – I am hoping that this will ease somewhat in the next month or so, so I can post more), I am going to set myself a second commitment: to regularly meet more of my neighbours.

TAKING THE TIME TO LISTEN

It is Friday afternoon and lessons for the week have just finished; students are heading home along with some of my colleagues. I don’t like to hang around too late on a Friday either, but I have set of test papers to mark that I would prefer to do from the relative comforts of a quiet classroom rather than in the real comforts of home. Besides, I have already allocated some of my Sunday to prepping for the following week, the test papers would just add to that load.

Then my door opens.

It is a colleague whose classroom is adjacent to mine coming in for a chat. But when I say ‘chat’ as that would presume that that there were two people involved in the conversation, it’s more like being spoken at about his day.

I put my pen and the exam paper down and listen to his frustrations; the students who haven’t quite registered that their final exams are in a few months time, the ones who have failed to hand in homework, and the ones who promised that they would turn up for the revision classes but didn’t. I listen and attempt to offer support and advice where I can, we are colleagues and part of the same team. I am also the Head of Department.

After he has left, I settle back into marking the papers. It’s a significant pile and I really don’t want to have to take them all home this weekend. Last weekend was spent proof-reading student subject reports for the department, I could barely see straight after I had finished.

Then my door opens.

It’s another member of the team, she’s relatively new and still working her way around the school and its quirks. I try to give her as much time as I can as I have heard on the teacher grapevine that she has already thrown around some flippant remarks about leaving before the end of the academic year due to the ‘unreasonable workload’. Much like a few minutes before, I am blasted with information and updates on her day. I sit and listen patiently with a set smile on my face, but in the back of my mind I am thinking about those unmarked test papers, about the data that it will then probably take another 30 minutes or so to input onto the school system, the emails I need to reply to, and the fact that I haven’t had chance all day to go the office to photocopy my resources for Monday.

After she leaves something strikes me as I am trying to get my head back into marking mode, I very rarely get asked about how I am by members of the team. Perhaps they think that I am fine because of the persona that I carry off (very successfully, if I say so myself) day to day. None of them is aware of the challenges I sometimes have just to get up in a morning and get to work, but then, why should they need to know? Or perhaps the reason I don’t get asked is because I am a member of management and there is a ‘them and us’ mindset to it. Sometimes people just need to vent and I do feel that part of my role is to cushion some of the blows or at least act as a sponge.

In this time-pressed profession, I would love to sit down and have more conversations with my team and other colleagues, perhaps about things going outside of the classroom and outside of the school. But I don’t see that happening in the near future, particularly as exam season approaches.

I admit my management style may have contributed towards this situation. Despite the seemingly constant curriculum changes and ever evolving school diktats, I try to manage with a democratic approach inasmuch as I can; concerns are discussed openly in meetings and if an issue affects someone directly, I will do my best to help. They are an amazingly hard-working bunch whose support I value every single day.

But it would be nice sometimes for one of them to ask how I am and pause for an answer.

A ‘CAREER GIRL?’

Each week at work like the rest of the teaching faculty, I am required to do two playground duties, one of which takes place in the morning before lessons begin. It’s a fairly uneventful and unexciting responsibility (unlike some of my experiences when I was working in the UK), where I wander around for twenty minutes, chat to students, give them a teacher glare if they are even thinking about doing something off the school-rules-book and perhaps catch up with a few colleagues.

The vast majority of the time nothing actually happens. That was until this Wednesday when a colleague who works in the higher echelons of the school hierarchy stopped to say hello. Although in fact, his greeting consisted of “Have you got a job yet?”

This is a fairly standard question I get asked nowadays, after all, I handed in my notice to my current employers some months ago. In the time since I have had one interview (although I have only applied for two jobs due to my location restrictions) and was unsuccessful in that case. I usually reply with a smile and “Nope, nothing at the moment” or something to a similar effect. But this time, whether it was frustration, defensiveness, general annoyance, the fact that it was a Wednesday or all of the above, I changed tact. Instead, I replied with “Does that have to be the first question I get asked?”

So that prompted a surprised reaction for both of us, he hadn’t been expected that response, even his facial expressions and body language spoke volumes as he arched his back and glanced around. And I was surprised at myself for saying what I have been thinking for some time actually out loud.

“I am worried about you,” he said leaning in. “A career girl like you, not having another job yet. I thought you’d have one by now.”

I didn’t want to share with him that I am seriously considering taking a break from teaching, I don’t believe that it is any of his business. Plus at this point, I was annoyed by his line of questioning and the patronising manner in which he approached the subject.

It’s interesting because as I read back over what I have written so far, there is a part of me that is muttering away: Stop being so defensive! He was only asking out of concern, why make a mountain out of a molehill? I will concede that perhaps the reason for his initial query was out of genuine interest and concern, but I am curious, would a man be told that they are a ‘career boy’ for the same reasons I was? I find it unlikely.

For whatever the justifications for his concern and his perceived label of me, I have unearthed a few positives from the encounter. Firstly, when I next get asked: “Have you got a job yet?” I will try and steer the conversation in a different direction, one hopefully that doesn’t entail an analysis of my career to date. Secondly and more significantly, I have also reassessed a number of things, particularly in relation to how I label myself.

Am I a ‘career girl/woman/person?’

I wouldn’t define myself in this way as there is an implication that I originally set out in teaching to achieve what I have (particularly in terms of having a management position), or that I indeed want to continue climbing the career ladder if I were to stay teaching. In actual fact, the latter does not fill me with much motivation in the slightest! So I guess I’d like to thank my colleague for helping reaffirm this for me.

AUDREY: HOW DO I REJECT, REJECTION?

My one and only New Year’s resolution this year was to be less hard on myself. For the most part, I have done okay. In what would have been in the past a potentially intense or anxiety riddled situation, I have either been able to consider it from a different angle and maintain a level of distance that at times has surprised me. I have definitely had lapses, where I have given myself a telling off for ruminating about something inconsequential, but overall I haven’t allowed the hostility to reach a crescendo against myself.

But I have noticed a pattern (which perhaps has become apparent since taking my vow of being less hard on myself) that many of the incidents that cause me the most anxiety are related to experiencing rejection in some way or another. The pattern usually goes something like this; I experience some form of rejection (a friend fails to respond to an email/text, a colleague fails to acknowledge me, a disapproving look from a stranger… the list goes on), my anxiety builds (heart rate increases, stomach sinks, I am unable to focus on anything, that sort of thing), I ruminate (this has no pattern or structure, in reality, it could be for a matter of hours, an entire weekend or even years!) until the next event occurs. Rejection, ruminate, repeat.

I guess my position of being able to look at what could be one of my main reasons for such wild and vivid reactions to experiencing rejection comes back to when I was growing up (such a cliche, I know). I recall times when my parents rejected me in ways that still give me chills, like the time when I was still at school and I was being bullied by some classmates and when I asked for my mum’s advice (her help!) and she replied, “You’ll get over it.” Or when friendships have turned sour. I still dwell on a sleepover at a so-called friend’s house along with so-called friends who largely ignored me for the entire evening that left me crying into my pillow wishing I was at home.

I thought that I was ‘doing better’ but I find that this realisation has, rather than helped me, it has broken me and I am now reliving my chequered history of rejection. How can I move on?

From,

Rejection, Ruminate, Repeat

Dear Rejection, Ruminate, Repeat,

It is said that experiencing rejection is akin to physical pain. We all know the horrendous pain felt when we stub our toe but we may not be able to recall a specific incident in our past when we actually did this. However, we can very quickly flick through the ‘SIGNIFICANT MOMENTS IN OUR PAST’ file in our minds and find examples of when we have been rejected (the ‘Childhood’ years probably contains the most examples): your mum rejecting your plea for help or when those so-called friends ignored you for example. But what rejection boils down to is when you feel sidelined, you and your feelings are being ignored or marginalised, and for many (myself included) it causes panic. We wonder where we have gone wrong; what did I say? Did I cause offence? Did I not laugh/show concern at the appropriate places? Was it my hair?

Evolutionary science provides an insight into how rejection has been adaptive for humans, in that it helped people to survive. Living in tribes when we were hunter-gathers, to experience rejection was much like providing you with a warning signal to get your ass back into the tribe’s fold. If you were living on the edge away from the tribe’s protection you were likely to die, so it was imperative to be part of the group. Of course in modern society, we may not have to be in the ‘cool group’ to survive, but the basic premise is the same – we experience rejection as it provides a warning signal of some sort. The social and cultural norms are a fuckton more complex now and so this warning signal system and crucially our response to it can become maladaptive.

Another important human trait to consider here is that generally, humans look for patterns in behaviour. Often running behind the scenes in our minds, by analysing situations for repeated behaviour of some sort or a pattern it helps make our life chug along that little bit easier. Except when it doesn’t. And this is where the maladaptive response to rejection and this pattern seeking can get twisted. We can begin to seek rejection out. This can take the form of examining cues from our surroundings, particularly with those we are interacting with. And after some time of doing this, rejection becomes kinda comfortable. We know it for what it is and how it makes us feel inside, even if that is sick to the stomach.

The re-living of those memories could in some way be your mind purging some of the feelings associated with the events, through a personal and private exorcism. Alternatively, your mind could still be dealing with the emotions attached, neither are necessarily bad. Your early experiences of being rejected may in some way have contributed to your sense of self, cliche or not, but now things are different. The fact that you have been able since taking your vow of being less hard on yourself to take some steps back highlights two things; a keen self-awareness that many people would truly envy and that you are far stronger than you recognise. You are seeing the world and yourself through different lenses than before and this is perhaps the scariest thing right now, so your mind is going into over-drive to try and compensate. You have formed patterns that have felt comfortable and weirdly safe. You are evolving (growing just sounds too much self-help like) and it consciously started with making that New Year’s resolution. So please try and stick with it. That’s not to say that you won’t slip up again, but you are seeing changes and they are positive I can assure you.

Rejecting all rejection from your life is an impossible ask, as you may never ‘be over’ some of the pain you associate with people and past events. But if you are able, and it appears that you have already started down this road, to take steps in rejecting something far more significant – feeling bad about yourself.

You are not broken RRR, you are anything and everything but. You are remarkable, wondrous and totally awesome.

Love, 

Audrey

RELAXATION RESISTANCE

I have recently returned from a holiday abroad with my partner. The break followed completion of a school inspection for me and weeks filled with meetings for him.

Prior to booking the holiday, we were in two minds about how we wanted to spend the time together. We are lucky that we live in a part of the world where we can travel to some spectacular places both at home and away, but this time for me at least, things felt different. Rather than travelling around, I wanted to stop. I wanted a base to call our own, even if only for a week. Aside from the manic schedules that we both experienced when we returned to work following the Christmas break, we are also in a long-distance relationship. 939 miles to be precise (on a side note, he also worked out that in the first half of 2016, we had only spent 35 days together).

We have been able to manage the distance between us fairly well. We have a rough limit between how long we go without physically being in one another’s company, and although we may not speak each day, we are in touch via text (thank you, WhatsApp!) So when it came to thinking about a destination for our break, I quickly discovered that my partner’s plans were a little different to my own. He wanted to explore somewhere new and although initially I wasn’t opposed to this (certainly the seeing of somewhere new), the more I thought about it the idea of spending a day or two in one place before moving onto somewhere else caused my stomach to sink.

So I spoke up. I stated my case for a different and more relaxed pace of a holiday (something neither of us has done separately or together, I am talking ever!) and we came to an agreement: a place where we could explore an area through day trips, but no packing of rucksacks/suitcases every few days with all of the chaos (and excitement, admittedly) that goes along with it.

But it wasn’t all that easy, half way through the holiday I hit a hurdle. Something that now I realise rather than a hurdle was more akin to two parts of my mind tussling in a cage – anxiety vs relaxation. I didn’t know or couldn’t remember how to relax. The more I thought about being ‘relaxed’ the more anxious I became and the more I thought about it, my anxiety moved up a notch. It was a vicious cycle. If I had put my money on who would have won that mind tussle, I would have betted on the anxious part rather than relaxation on that day. I couldn’t sit still, each time I even glanced at my book my mind drifted and often to some pretty dark places (related to work and to my parents), and I found myself snapping at my partner.

Of course, I have severely generalised and reduced the complexities of my own anxiety and my ability to relax (or not). We are not simply existing in one state or in the other. Fortunately, as human beings, we are a little more complicated than that. However, it was as though in order to obtain a degree of mental peace my mind was showing resistance. There was still a fight to be had, even it was the final round.

I cannot recall what caused the end of the fight; it may have been the process of forcing myself to sit and read for a prolonged period of time, being able to sit and chat with my partner in one place together, the afternoon beers, or a combination of all of the above. But by the following morning, something had clicked, and I was able to sit and read without ruminating on some past conversation, or about a work project that I needed to start.

I am returning to work next week feeling refreshed and relaxed. I am already a little anxious (surprised?) about how long that feeling will last for, but at least for the time being a layer of fog has lifted and I am looking forward to getting stuck back in.

LIFTING THE FOG

I have found it difficult to write over the past few months.

Although I don’t want to link it entirely to my mental health, I feel as though it has been a significant contributing factor in the steady reduction in the quantity and quality of my writing. Any writing for that matter.

These are some of the words I wrote in my diary only two weeks ago:

It’s Sunday and I have woken up early and I feel that familiar heavy feeling inside. A multitude of emotions are consuming me that should be oh so recognisable that I shouldn’t question their presence as I have grown so used to them over the years, but that doesn’t help. I am sluggish, teary, and angry at myself. I thought that by now, I would have some gotten my shit together and have some fucking strategies in place: is this the best I’ve got? To spend the day alone? Again?

That was it before I spent the rest of the day driving myself insane (and experiencing a mild anxiety attack in the process) as a result of intense self-loathing.

During this time, work had been all-consuming to a degree that I couldn’t manage in a healthy way and therefore I felt myself slip into some familiar and unhealthy routines in my personal and professional life: excessive rumination, shutting myself away from others, skipping the gym, eating one too many takeaways, and just generally being the cause of my own frustration. My gremlins and the cloak of fog that they pull down over me took hold of my shoulder a little over a month ago, though I know they’ve been lingering in the background for longer than this, and despite my best efforts, they are real fuckers at letting go. But also, I was also feeling incredibly lonely. The ‘work’ I am working on and hoping to move on from next year, but the loneliness is a whole different animal. I knew that at the time there were people I could turn to when I go through this, but when I have decent to some of the lower depths of my mind, I truly can’t see this.

So I really was ready desperate for a break.

Some time out has done something remarkable in a short space of time (despite gaining a cold almost as soon as landing in the UK), I already feel re-energised. Quality sleep, good food, fresh air, exercise and seeing family and friends are all helping with lifting the fog.

In contrast, yesterday I spent practically the entire day writing when I wasn’t with family. It was heaven.

AUDREY: HOW DO I TAKE SHIT LESS SERIOUSLY?

I really envy those people who have the ability to move on from stuff thrown at them. They just brush the dust off their shoulder, Jay-Z style whilst I feel as though I am sinking in a heap of shit.

A recent example was at work where there was an oversight on my part about something. Although the blame cannot be entirely put at my feet, two other colleagues failed to notice the error also but I couldn’t stop myself from ruminating and how it was all my fault. My brain immediately went into panic mode and I began self-flagellating about how crap I was and why the hell was I doing my job as a child could surely do it better. The matter was dealt with pretty quickly (my colleagues and I put things right), but my place of work doesn’t have a particularly strong culture of support and the management are useless about well… most things, so you constantly feel under surveillance. And one wrong step and they’ll drag you in for a ‘meeting’ to point fingers and inform you about how inadequate you are.

I know that when I look at my reaction from taking a few steps away, I recognise a pathological neediness and genuine craving for reassurance from others. This is nothing new. In a way, though, I wish it was a new thing as I would have hoped that by now a woman in her early 30s would have got better at dealing with this kind of stuff somehow.

Look, I know that some shit is serious and what I do really isn’t in the grand scheme of things. It’s not like I am not dealing with life or death situations, but this doesn’t make me feel any better. Why do I take some shit so seriously? Is it some kind of narcissistic tendency to assume that I have to take on the burden for everything as I’d love to know,

One who takes shit seriously

Dear OWTSS,

Who are these people who take shit less seriously? As if you know anyone who honestly, truly, madly, deeply is able to take the shit thrown at them with a handful of salt, then I’d love to know them as much as you. We all experience a whole barrage of shit each day, some of the less demanding stuff and the stuff that you’d rather just sink to the bottom. But if there is anything that stands out from my measly attempt at advice then it’s this: your self-worth is in no way related to whatever shit is thrown your way.

Your workplace sounds like a whole heap of fun where chaos reigns, but not like chaos chaos, like people running around like headless chickens, more like chaos in its more pure form where there is something inherently negative about its shape, something malevolent and odious. Constant surveillance? Meetings to tell you how inadequate ‘you’ the staff are? Jeez… that’s a workplace culture that needs to chill the fuck out or at least remove some of the hate. I am not trying to trivialise your job, the environment or even your superiors but it seems fairly likely that some of the people you work with are either power mad control freaks or have no fucking clue what they are doing, so instead they manage using fear and intimidation. And that combination of fear and intimidation is pretty toxic.

Is there anyone at work who you can speak to? Have you got yourself some peeps that can shoulder some of the shit you experience and live it a little through your eyes? Perhaps they are seeing the same things? Have you considered leaving? That might not be possible but consider it for a moment, if the culture of your job is not working for you in terms of the support or lack thereof, then is it time to look elsewhere?

Woah! So many questions! But seriously, there is a difference between doing your job well and taking that seriously and taking your job too seriously.

Addressing the problems with your workplace won’t necessarily address how you feel about yourself, but they are a start. The way that you ruminate and catastrophize are indicative of something much deeper as I am assuming that this does go deeper, so I wonder if it is something that you might need to explore with a professional. You say that it’s not as though your job deals with life or death situations, yet your brain immediately jumps to a conclusion to the contrary. It’s crazy and twisted how reassuring rumination and catasphorizing can be to our fucking amazing brains; both place responsibility for pretty much everything firmly on your shoulders – global warming, the Syrian conflict, Trump, and even human errors made at work. Those inner voices demanding that you bring on the self-flagellation are mechanisms that you have learned somewhere and validated somewhere along the line. In some ways, they act as a form of protection and by beating yourself up it prevents you looking outside of yourself at how others are dealing with their shit, and there is a lot to learn from doing this. I don’t believe that you’re narcissistic, as that would imply that you are self-centred AND there is an element of pride in that. I think there is anxiety and I think there is someone who is scared of being vulnerable to others, so you look outside of yourself for reassurance.

I have always sought personal validation from others and gosh when you get it, it can feel so good when it’s positive! But that whole looking outside of yourself for validation is fleeting, you end up craving a bit more and then a little more.

Yes, there are people ‘out there’ who seem able to let things bounce over them/appear to let things slide, and that is because they have learned strategies to do this. They have probably spent time and I want to add here, with the support of others, to learn what is worth getting bothered about and what isn’t. It could be a personality temperament thing too for sure or even something genetic but don’t be fooled by a cool, calm exterior when the shit hits the fan. They may be ruminating just as much as the next person.

I wish that I could wave a magical wand to show you abracadabra style, rather than with the Jigga man, just to illustrate how remarkable it would be to have this power, to know in advance about the things that are going to cause you anxiety. But it turns out, you don’t need me. You actually already have some of that power at your disposal already, it’s right there in your fingertips, or rather in your brain. It’s not perfect this power and don’t assume it is. Sometimes it won’t work or won’t operate in the way you want, but keep reminding yourself that you have already identified some of the things that cause you stress and anxiety. This, you should be seriously proud of.

Get some support from someone who can help you take a step back and learn more about yourself, look at some other options for work if you can, and importantly don’t put yourself down for feeling as though your own shit is not together. As in this mad, wonderful world having your shit together is actually all about how you step up and start shovelling the crap out of the way and then moving forward.

Love Audrey

AUDREY: WHY DON’T THEY LIKE ME?

Audrey,

This is going to sound like a really odd request for advice particularly from an adult but for as long as I can remember I have needed to be liked by pretty much anyone and everyone I interact with. But it’s more than just a need for people to like me, at times it verges on obsession. The crazy thing is that this doesn’t just include people who I am close to like my friends and family, it also includes people who I may only meet once or only interact with in small doses such as colleagues. I know that I shouldn’t give a shit about people who are either indifferent towards me or certainly those who are rude to me, but counter-intuitively, they are the ones I am more bothered about, particularly the ones who are rude or mean to me.

This obsession with social approval isn’t anything new. I can remember as a teenager when I forced a friend over the phone to speak to her younger sister and discover why she apparently didn’t like me. I really didn’t have much evidence to go on apart from the fact that she didn’t speak to me at school and the only link we had was her older sister and my friend. I could hear the sister saying all the things that as a rational adult I know I should just brush over my shoulder: she’s annoying, she’s boring, I just don’t like her! But I couldn’t let it go. By the end of the call I had managed to ‘persuade’ or rather coerce the younger sister to say that she did like me after all. What a way to make friends?! Through simply pestering (irritating) them into relenting.

Another sore point as a kid was that I was dumped a lot, that is I was picked up and dropped by a group of (mean) girls who I thought were the real deal when it came to a friendship group. I was constantly made to feel incredibly lucky that I was even admitted to this group. When they tired of me, I was left out from parties and cinema trips, only to have them pick me up again and regale all their wonderful friendship tales during my absence. I can even recall on one of the girl’s birthdays sitting in the cinema crying quietly as there weren’t enough seats for me to join them on the row. I was made to sit on my own and no-one offered to join me. Yet, I STILL wanted to be friends with them!

And now as a 30-year-old woman, I still identify with that overly-sensitive kid, and this obsession with social approval has become almost crippling in its ferocity. I agonise over not just what I say to others but also how I say it, so that in some social gatherings (particularly around people I don’t know well) I am at one of two extremes: super quiet or talking the ears off those around me because I don’t want them to think I am boring or have nothing to say. And when the party is over I am left with snippets of memories reminding me of a joke or comment I made to X or Y that could have been interpreted in a way that I didn’t intend.

A recent example of this social approval obsession is with a new colleague. Even on my off and sometimes grumpy days I make an effort to say hello to colleagues I see in passing, or at the very least I give a smile. This particular colleague attempts neither of these with me, or if she manages to muster the energy to reply she cannot even bear to glance in my direction. Anyone else probably wouldn’t think too much of it, perhaps she is thinking about other things, she doesn’t want to stop and chat, let alone say hello. But in being relatively passive towards me, I take it as a deep personal affront.

I have a fantasy that one day I will let the anxiety and obsession float over me, that I will stop fucking worrying and not let others bother me or at least not as much. How can I move in that direction and grow the fuck up?

30 going on 13

Dear 30 going on 13,

I can feel your desire for approval, as to a greater degree, we all crave it. That’s right, everyone. Some things can get easier as we mature and grow, we think that we are going to be able to do things right, be better than before. Progress. We can master our vulnerabilities and then it’s onwards and upwards whether that’s from a bad relationship, a crap job or lifestyle set-up. And it’s true, some of us are better at battering off the anxiety associated with certain social situations and blocking those freaking annoying thoughts that can plague your very existence. But this idea of progress is in reality deeply subjective and tenuous at the very least.

Perhaps you can link your desire for social approval to your childhood; were you striving for your mothers or fathers (or even both) good graces but your advances were met with rejection or a dismissive attitude? Perhaps it stems from making and fostering those early relationships with friends, including the mean girls. You never knew where you stood. So in response to this, you unconsciously decided that it was up to you to seek approval, rather than others seeking it from you. You wanted to be in control.

You say hello to colleagues in the corridor assuming that they will reply, you want to know why people may find you annoying, you expect to be able to sit with ‘friends’ (mean girls) when you go to the cinema. And fucking aye! I agree! There are basic social norms that we should expect from others, a little decency and a little humanity can go a long way. And perhaps that’s why there are certain people that we choose to hang out with, after all, they are the ones that tick some of the boxes like we tick theirs. But there are those that tick far less or even none whatsoever and we still spend time with them. We are rarely rational and you are judging others by your own social expectations (although sitting next to people you go to the cinema with is a given). This obsession to understand is only resulting in a never-ending negative feedback loop. One person fails to adhere to your social code, so you seek out answers for their behaviour, you aren’t able to find out or comprehend what their deal is, so you keep looking for unattainable clues unless you choose someone/something else to obsess over.

That colleague, those girls, the younger sister all have something in common. Your need to control the outcome. You want that colleague to at the very fucking least to acknowledge you, those mean girls to permit you into their circle with no conditions attached, and the younger sister just to give you a real goddamn answer to a very simple freaking question, “What is your problem with me?” And when you can’t control the outcome you lose your head, “This wasn’t how it was meant to be!” And then you try your darndest to fix the problem, you want them to see you in the way that your family and close friends see you.

And what about those people who love and cherish you? Why is it difficult to hold onto the positive thoughts and feelings associated with them? Or rather, them of you? Perhaps it’s because you don’t believe it’s real. You’re waiting for them to have a sudden epiphany and realise that you are boring and have nothing to say! You know what? At times, we are all boring and have nothing to say. But right now and since your teenage years you are judging yourself from this mythical ‘out-there’ worldliness that is somehow better than this world. Your self-worth is firmly placed in other peoples’ hands.

I wish I could say, “Don’t worry about it! Chill out! Why do you care so much? Stop being so sensitive!” But I imagine you’ve heard all of that before. Though if there is anything in life that I have realised and that is being sensitive is NOT A BAD THING and don’t ever let anyone tell you otherwise or make you feel bad for it. I absolutely hate it when people say shit like that, as though expressing yourself or showing some emotion will send you to the depths of hell. If you want to cry, cry! If you want to scream, just do it! And if you want to walk past that colleague and ignore her then feel free. You don’t need to explain your behaviour, like in truth, many people don’t need to explain theirs to you. They have their own shit going on.

But all in all, retraining your brain to like yourself a bit better may be perhaps the way to move forward. Forgive the vulnerabilities of those mean girls, the younger sisters and the colleague as if you look close enough there are cracks that we are all try to hide. Learn to hold yourself up a bit higher by spending time with loved ones, sit back and take it in. Therapy could certainly help but see if you can enlist loved ones and take small steps. You’ll get there 30 going on 13.

Love, Audrey

WHEN LIFE GIVES YOU LEMONS…

So this isn’t a post about Beyonce and her recent album, Lemonade (although my favourite track is Hold Up). And this is probably the only time that I will ever be able to make a link (and a tenuous one at that) to the lady herself, in that I have received a few lemons recently and I am a bit unsure about what to do with them next.

Following the ongoing mission with the careers course that has required me to reach out to people of interest; I was really pleased with the initial response. Some people replied within a few hours and some individuals higher up in the connecting tier asked for some questions to be emailed to them, or said that they would get back to me. It was a promising start.

So back to the lemons; what are they and what am I unsure about?

A couple of months ago (before the mission was originally set), I replied to an advertisement that was reaching out for writers to contribute to a new online lifestyle magazine. I was asked to provide some links to some of my work and say a little about myself. When I heard nothing back within a week or so, I assumed that perhaps I wasn’t what they were looking for.

Whilst I was still visiting family in Europe, I received an email from John* who ran the website asking to set up a meeting. I pretty much got up and danced around the room; I was ecstatic! I mean, why wouldn’t I be? This was I was hoping for, to be offered a chance of some sort, any sort of having my work published. A meeting was swiftly arranged for the following week.

THE RESEARCH

Although it wasn’t a formal interview, I wanted to treat it as though it was to an extent, so beforehand I conducted some research on the website to establish more of a feel of what, and importantly who I might be working with:

  • Was there a sense of a brand of some sort? What made the site stand out?
  • Was there a message that the site wished to convey?
  • Finally, what was the sites position? Who was it aimed at?

Although the questions posed above perhaps seem rigorous for this early stage; I still wanted to know, how could I add value to the site with my work? And will the site work for me?

My initial impressions were mixed. Before I continue, I need to hold my hands up and admit that I am not a website designer and nor am I qualified in marketing. But, I do know what I like in terms of design and like any other human, we often make snap decisions based on our first impressions. However this is not to say that these judgements necessarily stick or are warranted.

To summarise, the site covered a large range of topics from fashion, lifestyle, food, relationships, improving skills in the workplace and so on, and employed a minimalist theme incorporating a simple colour palette of black, white and red for the header and various menus.

So far, so good. Yet the main issue I found was that the site was incredibly ‘busy.’

The sheer number of menus and articles on the homepage meant that it was difficult to cut through it all and find something that you might want to read, and it prevented me from wanting to delve further. To add to that, I felt bombarded with pop-ups asking me to register to the weekly newsletter and to the various forms of social media.

This could be more about personal taste than anything more objective or more sophisticated in terms of design and marketing. But isn’t that partly what they are both about? Although many organisations may wish to appeal to the vast majority of the population to encourage sales (or hits in this case), not everyone is going to be wowed by particular campaigns.

By the time the meeting came around, I decided to put those ideas to the back of my mind. Who was I to be commenting and effectively criticising (albeit internally), an opportunity before it had truly presented itself?

THE MEETING

To say that John was enthusiastic would be underestimating it, he was a ball of energy. He raced through the website’s origins, his background and his list of other projects, of which there were many. I just about managed to interject with some of my questions about what he wanted from contributors in terms of content, style, approximate word count and so on. However, his energy was infectious, the gremlins of doubt and pessimism were quietened and I began to feel that buzz of adrenaline that you experience around those who are truly passionate about their work.

Then he threw me a curveball or a lemon if you will… he offered a position on the team. It transpired that, aside from some of the contributors that he had sourced through Facebook and other free creative source sites, he was doing everything else himself – from the website creation to its development.

The offer appeared so straightforward; I would join the team as a website editor and contributor. I would ensure that the existing contributors submit their work on time (chasing these up where appropriate), search for new writers, contribute my own pieces, and I would also get a commission based on the revenue earned from advertisements. It’s got to be a yes… right?

But this is where the gremlins have slowly latched back onto my thinking, and I don’t think that their concerns are entirely unjustified.

John estimated that I would need to spend at least eight hours a week on the role. That doesn’t sound like a huge amount, I could set aside time on my weekends and some evenings to do this. If I was really organised, I could even use some of my breaks at work in my day job.

Also, one of the bigger concerns I had was that despite hearing that he was working 15 hour days on the project as it currently stood, he was also trying to set up two other websites aimed at entirely different markets. Two! Where did he find the time? And what did this mean for the site he was asking me to come on board with?

Thankfully, John accepted my request and need for a period of reflection. I have therefore spent the time subsequently making more lists that compare and contrast the option of accepting and of not accepting, of reminding myself that there is something to be gained here in editorial experience, and to have my work published on a new platform. But there is another voice, albeit a quieter and more reflective one, that has also spoken up during this time and has asked me: am I just side-stepping or even avoiding what I truly desire – to use my imagination to write stories, specifically fiction. Since the thought came to my mind, I haven’t been able to shake it.

So this is where I find myself, do I accept the role and make something that resembles lemonade for the type of experience that it can offer, or do I make the kind of lemonade I want?

*The name has been changed.