On curves

When I planned to write about labels, I planned to do it in relation to disability (a post that will still happen, eventually). I didn’t anticipate writing a post on other words I’d use to describe my body, because I didn’t realise I was so attached to them. I didn’t know that seeing them used to describe someone whose shape bears little relation to my own, would bother me quite as much as it did.

I’m talking about this:

Yes, she has great tits. And she has a beautiful body. But she’s not ‘gorgeously curvy.’

Before nearly every term to describe someone around the size 16 mark became a euphemism for ‘fat but unwilling to admit it,’ – curvy, voluptuous, OKCupid’s charming ‘a little extra’ – I owned ‘curvy.’ It’s a lovely, sensual word – for me personally, it speaks of boobs, of the hourglass shape that is my natural figure, of muffin top, of a softly rounded tummy. It’s beautiful, it’s feminine, and it makes me feel good.

But when I see women like the model in the photo above described as ‘curvy’ it ceases to mean all those things. Suddenly, I’m not curvy, I’m fat. Unsurprisingly, when I say as much on Twitter, it doesn’t particularly thrill women who are bigger and whose own self-identity is thrown into question when I feel forced to relabel my figure.

I’m not willing to disclose my weight here, but I will share my BMI, which is 28.6. By NHS measurements, that puts me at the upper end of ‘overweight.’ A doctor would say that I’m fat, as would my mum, as did one of my friends. But I understand why, when I use the term to describe myself, it gets people’s backs up.

The problem is that I don’t know how to describe my shape, if curvy ceases to have the meaning I always thought it did. And while I think that everyone ultimately has the right to label themselves as they choose, when I see the word ‘curvy’ captioning a photo of a woman who is more hollows and angles than she is curves, it makes me sad for three reasons. Firstly, because I don’t think we can both be curvy. If she is, I’m not, and if I’m not, I don’t know what I am. Secondly, because the publication that posted the image, Quite Delightful, is ‘designed by women, for women’ but I cannot see how, if that’s what they understand by curvy, their magazine can possibly represent me or many of the women in my life. And lastly, because it suggests to me that curvy is now the shape for everyone to aspire to, and that totally misses the point.

I love the softness of women’s bodies. But curves are not the only acceptable marker of feminine beauty. Think about those things that certainly aren’t curvy – a strong collarbone, delicate wrists, a flat stomach. Those things are beautiful too. As ever, when one thing has been portrayed as the norm for too long – size zero models, concave stomachs, a thigh gap – when the backlash comes, it has a tendency to turn abruptly against those things. It shouldn’t. What we need is a culture where fat and thin are equally accepted, where curvy is just something you are rather than the body shape everyone aspires to, and most of all, where perfectly valid words aren’t repurposed and used to shame people.

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Charlie’s ‘No Need to Panic’ suggestions

I’m kind of at a loss now I’ve finished my Christmas shopping/wrapping. Plus my Christmas gift guide was one of the posts I’ve most enjoyed writing this year, so here’s a mini UK-High Street-based follow up in case you’ve left it till the last minute:

1. Cosmic Desk Pad, £7, Paperchase
Yeah, ok, a desk pad isn’t the *most* exciting gift, but you’ve left it late, so how exciting can you really expect to be? I have something similar on my desk, and I use it a hell of a lot – it beats lose post-its floating around everywhere…

cosmic pad

2. MAC Red Lipstick, £15.50, Debenhams
Red lipstick really does look good on most people, but a lot of girls still don’t have a nice one, I think – perhaps because they’re a bit scared of it, perhaps because it’s more than they want to spend on something they won’t wear every day. Either way, it’s a great gift.

red lipstick

3. Socks, £8-£12ish, FatFace
If you’re going down the socks route, they’re going to need to be both cute and cosy. FatFace win on both fronts. Personally, I’m a big fan of the cashmere-mix stripy ones and the Russian doll design, too

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4. Tea & Crumpets hamper, £15ish, Boots & your local supermarket
Essie’s ‘Tea & Crumpets’ is a beautiful shade, and paired with nice tea, a pack of crumpets, some jam and the offer of home-manicuring would make a lovely gift for anyone from your best friend to your nan.

tea_crumpets

crumpets

5. Amelie Retro Stripe Jersey Top, £39, Jigsaw
Because let’s be honest, who doesn’t love a Breton stripe? Accompanying beret is optional.

jigsaw top6. Vine Long Elaborate Earrings, £6, Accessorize
I’m always surprised by how much I like Accessorize jewellery, given how cheap it is. Tie these to a Lindt chocolate reindeer and you’re winning at Christmas.

earrings

7. Winter Candle, from £6, The White Company
This smells like Christmas. What more can I really say? Comes in a variety of sizes, plus diffuser and fragrance oil for those who aren’t big on candles.

white company candle

8. Sipsmith Sloe Gin, £24, Waitrose
Alcohol can be, frankly, a bit of a lazy gift, but this is seasonal, has a beautiful, beautiful label, and is super yummy. If you’re feeling particularly flush, pair it with a bottle of champagne/prosecco/cava and you have instant sloegasms.

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9. Not Another Bill subscription, from £24, notanotherbill.com
If we’re being totally fair, this isn’t off the high street. But oh, I want it so, so badly, and presumably that means everyone else will too…

notanotherbill

10. Improvised Book Subscription, £?, Your local bookstore
This one came about because somebody complained that one of the suggestions on my original gift list, The Willoughby Book Club, is no longer available before Christmas. I agree that’s a bit silly, but y’know, you have had all month to sort it out. Anyway, if you too find yourself in this situation, why not buy someone 4/6/12 books from your local bookshop, wrap them beautifully and send them one every month or 2-3 months, depending on how fast they read?

bookshop

Monday morning, 2 a.m.

I look at the Sunday bus times and then realise it’s not Sunday at all.

It’s Monday morning. Shit.

I have to stop doing this. I have to stop chasing pleasure, be it sex, wine or an hour of quiet time to myself, at the expense of a good night’s sleep.

But god, it’s a hard habit to break. I’m braless and smudged, damp-eyed from yawning, but my mind still way too active to drift off.

I watch the dark motorway glide past as the coach slides through the night: devoid of life bar the occasional lorry or stretch of floodlit roadworks. This night-owl version of me reminds me of my younger self, writing through the night and pacing the corridor of my uni halls at 6 a.m. waiting for people to surface.

At home I’ll finally look in a mirror and be horrified by my birds-nest hair and tired skin. And then I’ll think, fuck it, he made me feel beautiful. The clock reads 2 a.m., at least, and my chances of being on time for work in the morning are pretty much zero.

I make a cup of tea and take it up to bed with a funsize Twix, because what good is sex if it’s not followed by food? And then I write it down, not the sex, not this time, but the little things that happened afterwards and made me realise I was happy.

It’s not a bad way to start the week.

We need to talk about suicide

On Sunday, a friend and I went to our first jump race meeting of the season. It was the perfect day for it: cool, a bit foggy, dry. We got there slightly late and just made the third race. I’d picked my horse, Sgt. Reckless, but there was something weird going on.

The ground, after two days of solid rain, was shitty, and horses were being pulled from the race left, right and centre. Place betting was abandoned: money was on for the win, or not at all. I’m cautious, so I don’t usually bet that way, but with my original choice no longer an option I stuck some cash on the favourite and hoped I’d make my stake back, at least.

It was pretty clear from early on that I wasn’t going to win, but hey, that’s life. And then, at the last, the horse that was trailing well behind the rest fell, badly – front legs collapsing, body crumpling in on top. I looked away. I can’t bear it when the horses get hurt. I saw them put the screens round on the video and yeah, I got a bit tearful. I really, really hate it when that happens.

Five long, long minutes passed. On the other side of the course, the fancy side, applause broke out. The horse staggered to its feet – just winded, not hurt. I cried more – I’m far from an animal lover but fuck, I’m fond of horses.

Someone explained to me, later in the week, that animals are really bad at handling pain and trauma. If a human breaks an arm or a leg, you put it in plaster and wait for it to heal. The human might be in shock, but they recover from that shock pretty easily. Animals don’t – if an animal goes into shock, it’s hard to save it.

So yeah, we’re resilient. And because we’re resilient, and we think we can cheat death, to an extent, we’re fucking terrified of it. Later the same day, I said, in passing, something along the lines of ‘And if that happens, I may as well top myself.’ I wasn’t being serious. My friend stared long and hard at the cigarette between her fingers. Long enough for the ash to tumble to the ground. ‘I wish you wouldn’t joke about killing yourself,’ she said, quietly.

We’re getting better at being open about depression and anxiety. We’re still fucking awful at talking about suicide. I know it’s not easy – I’d love to say that when friends of mine have been depressed that I’ve been there for them unconditionally, but I know that that’s not true. Because being there for someone with serious mental health issues is really bloody hard.

When I’m depressed, the last thing I want is for everything to become a huge deal. When I mentioned to a real life friend that I was planning to write this post, she asked why I couldn’t talk to her about it instead. She probably wouldn’t be able to give me a response there and then, she said – she’d need time to reflect and give a measured response. Which is great. That is undeniably being a great friend.

But to me, it’s like the ill-fated Samaritans’ Radar. It’s too much. I don’t want my every word on the subject noted and appraised for the likelihood that I’m a risk to myself. When I mentioned the suicide conversation to my therapist yesterday I saw her shuffle her notes, no doubt checking she had my GP’s details – something you have to hand over at the beginning of a course of therapy in case things reach that point. When I mentioned writing this to the boy, he too wasn’t sure it was a great idea.

When I google suicidal ideation (interestingly, people who admit to thinking about suicide aren’t necessarily high risk, but equally, it doesn’t mean that they’re not, as urban myth sometimes maintains) I love that the first thing that pops up is ‘Need help? In the United Kingdom, call 08457 90 90 90.’ That’s exactly where I do want the Samaritans – there if I need them, but not muscling in to find out if I do. I never found out what the key words for the radar were, but my Twitter followers aren’t friends, I don’t want them alerting every time I let off steam. I want to be able to use words like depressionanxiety, suicide, desperate and can’t do this anymore without worrying about what will happen if I do.

Without in any way wishing to suggest that anyone who says they feel suicidal means anything other than that, I think linguistically we don’t have the words to express the desperation associated with depression. I can’t carry on/do this anymore/keep going or I can’t face another day sound very, very much like the words of someone who’s contemplating ending things. They might be, but equally, they might not – there’s just no other easy way to express to people just how shit things feel.

I’m not suicidal at the moment. I know that because in my lowest moments my bed has more appeal than the river, or the railway line. I want to sleep, for a long time. I don’t want to die. But I can’t keep tramping down the desperation that bubbles up periodically inside me – I want to be able to tweet about freely. If people unfollow me, whether because it triggers them or because they’re not interested, that’s fine, but talking about it cannot be taboo.

In therapy for the last couple of weeks, the same theme keeps cropping up. ‘It’s ok to be angry,’ the therapist says, ‘It’s ok to feel hurt. And it’s hard not to lash out when you’re hurting.’ I cry, a lot. ‘I’m so, so sick of hurting the people I love, though,’ I say. ‘I’m the one who’s sick, why do I have to put them through it, too?’ I can’t do it – I can no longer be honest about how low I am with my parents, because I don’t want to see them crumble. Ditto for my friends. My sister. Twitter is a safe space to give voice to the worst of my feelings, to stop them drowning me, and if we accept that it can be helpful for people to use it that way maybe the dialogue will eventually be more helpful for everybody.

I hope so, anyway.

23:30

It’s 23:30 and I’m sat, naked, on the sofa, where I’ve been since he left. It doesn’t sound good, does it? I’m cold, now, but I wasn’t an hour ago – he’s hot in more ways than one – and at half ten I was dripping with a mixture of come, saliva and sweat. So yeah, I’m not as cosy as I could be, but I’m happier than I’ve been for a while.

The worst part isn’t once he’s gone, actually – it’s the ten minutes or so just before he does, when I don’t know what to do with him. Jumping him again is out of the question but I need as much of that physical touch as I can to tide me over until the next time.

We kiss, one last time – him fully clothed again, me not – and I think the cab driver can see us, perhaps. Ah well. He lets himself out and I mean to get up and load the dishwasher but I’m not quite ready to go back to reality just yet. Instead I finish my wine, then the last few mouthfuls of his, and pull the blanket that’s draped over the sofa around me for warmth.

An hour later, I finally, finally drag myself up the stairs. In my bedroom my ‘Let’s make out’ cushion has been tossed to one side, the way it always is whenever there’s been any actual making out going on. I step over my abandoned jeans, pick up my knickers – the ones I wore for all of an hour – and dump them in the laundry basket.

I ache now, a bit – I don’t remember what he did to my arm – whether it was teeth or fingers, but the muscle remembers it, certainly. When I catch sight of myself in the mirror I have what they really mean when they talk about bed head.

It’s a mess, and I don’t know what to do about it. Right now though, I don’t care. Right now I know I’ll sleep better than I have in days.

Love

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I inherited my rolling pin, its pale wood slick with the grease of years of rolling out scones, Eccles cakes, mince pies… Believe it or not, some cookware is meant to be that way: in the same way you’d season a wok, what I had was a baking tool that worked like a dream because of how often it had been used. I ruined it, though: my hands are too hot for pastry and I put it to work rolling sugarpaste instead. A handful of trips through the dishwasher to clean it of food colouring, and it’s as good as new – pale, clean wood that bears no trace of its heritage.

I tend to think I’ve been more shaped by the men in my life than the women. I’m a daddy’s girl par excellence: not only do I go to my father for affection and for advice; I mirror him in personality, too: that desperate desire to please that hides a deep-seated anxiety. Which was why, when I was in therapy a few years back, I astonished both myself and the therapist by bursting into tears when she asked about my maternal grandmother.

She died when I was eighteen, and on my gap year. I didn’t get to say a proper goodbye. I cried, as you do, but it had little concrete impact on my life: we didn’t live that close and I probably only saw her five or so times a year.

I didn’t see her much more often as a child either, but how those visits have stayed with me. These are my most vivid memories of childhood: bingo in the village hall on a Friday night, winning £5 and putting it towards Take That’s Everything Changes album, being allowed to play it, ad infinitum, in the kitchen, while she made dinner. And younger still: being left in the bath, the bathroom door ajar, while the Coronation Street theme tune leaked through from the lounge. A hot water bottle already in bed waiting for me, and a glass of hot milk on the nightstand – a skin forming where I didn’t drink it quick enough. Being tucked in so tightly I could barely breathe, and allowed to pick my bedtime reading material from a huge pile of Woman’s Weekly and Best magazines.

But more than anything, it was the cooking: butterfly cakes, coffee and walnut sponge, sweet and sour pork, rice pudding. She’d stand me on a chair and let me help, and I learnt to bake that way. When my gas hob died recently, my mum urged me to switch it for an induction one instead but I won’t – yes, new pans would be more expensive, but it’s more than that, the smell of a gas flame, the condensation on my kitchen windows – all of those things take me straight back to my grandma’s kitchen.

When she died, my granddad burnt a lot of her stuff in a fit of grief. I’d done well, on paper: my mum paid for her only diamonds to be reset into rings for me, her and my sister, but the only thing I really wanted was her recipe notebook, which went on the fire. I have the next best thing, I guess, the beautifully titled ‘Radiation cookbook’ filled with her notes and cuttings, but it’s not quite the same.

I always mean to put music on while I bake, but somehow I always forget, and I realised the other day that that’s because when I’m baking I can channel that immense love: it makes me feel closer to her, and more than that, to all the women in my family. I’m neither religious nor spiritual, but I can find peace in flour, eggs, butter and sugar, almost without exception.

Last week I made a chocolate fudge cake for a bake sale at work – the proper 80s kind that’s all cocoa powder and no real chocolate. I topped it with Smarties, because hey, all the best cakes have Smarties.

I dropped it off at 10. At 11.30 a friend rang. ‘Your cake’s all gone,’ she said, ‘Already.’

‘Yeah, well,’ I said, ‘Everyone loves Smarties.’

That’s not what I was really thinking though. What I was really thinking was ‘Thanks, grandma. I love you.’

PS I owe thanks to two bloggers, Ella Dawson and Floraidh Clement, for the inspiration behind this one. Ella, for her post on what someone said ‘sounded a lot like happiness‘ and Floraidh for reminding me that yes, women are hot, but we love them for their ‘strength, wisdom and talents,’ too. Thanks guys! Also, a reminder that if you haven’t yet voted for your favourite post in my ‘Don’t read clickbait, read this instead’ competition, you can do so here. It’s too close to call currently, so it’s definitely worth doing!

Hell is other people

Another day, another helpful article on the top 10 things you can do to be happier. First things first: I don’t begrudge people sharing this stuff. If it helps you, great – and often there are one or two things in any such list that have worked for me personally. Clinical depression is unlikely to be solved by healthy eating, sunshine and exercise alone, but those things are all beneficial.

There’s actually only one point on the list that I didn’t think was universally true:

2. Connect with people

Our relationships with other people are the most important thing for our happiness. People with strong relationships are happier, healthier and live longer. Our close relationships with family and friends provide love, meaning, support and increase our feelings of self-worth. Our broader social networks bring a sense of belonging. So it’s vital that we take action to strengthen our relationships and make new connections.

Again, if I’d written this a while back, I’d have taken a much harder line. But I’m trying to be less defensive in general. Essentially, I don’t think that when I’m low other people are always beneficial – often I hit rock bottom precisely because I’ve over socialised and I’ve burnt myself out. When I’m in the full grip of constant panic attacks I have nothing to offer socially: socialising isn’t a distraction because I can’t focus on what the other person/people are saying: I need time to re-centre myself, steady my breathing and be present in the moment again. I can’t do that when there are people demanding my attention. But what was interesting was that when I voiced concern about the above on Twitter, a decent number of people replied saying ‘Me too.’

So, here are five points summarising my take on depression/anxiety and social interaction:

1. Not everyone finds socialising easy

Presumably the above means that on average ‘people with strong relationships are happier, healthier and live longer.’ Or perhaps they all are. How do you measure strong relationships anyway? Isn’t that pretty subjective? Either way, this isn’t quite as simple as it looks. Some people live miles from their family, others have problems making friends. I think all of us sit somewhere on the autism spectrum, and for those of us who are worried about that, or worried that they don’t have enough friends, or a partner, or are just plain lonely, being told to spend more time in other people’s company is yet another trigger. Introverts like me, who’ve spent months in therapy battling an inner belief that somehow it’s better to be extrovert, don’t respond well to the prescriptive ‘It’s always best to be around people’ tone of the above: sometimes it is; sometimes you do need space. If you can, try and learn which of the two you need more at any given time.

2. It’s normal that people want you to socialise

It’s hard to recognise it when you’re in the depths of despair, but the people who care about you just want you to get better. They also worry that you’re a risk to yourself, especially if their understanding of depression is limited. It’s natural then that they want you to be around other people: those people can keep an eye on you and make sure you’re not drinking too much/self harming/a danger to yourself. What they don’t always understand is that introverted depressives need that space for proper recovery: being around other people might be a distraction, but it’s an exhausting one and it doesn’t leave me with any resource to care for myself on a more basic level. If you’re worried about someone who’s depressed, check in with them, but respect their boundaries. If you’re depressed, check in with the people who care about you when you can – it means a lot to them.

3. Socialising in the age of social media is fucking hard work

One of the things that puts me off socialising is how flaky people are. The numbers for my thirtieth halved in the weeks running up to it – the only comfort is that I see it happening to other people too, so I guess it’s normal these days. Increasingly I only make plans with friends who I know are reliable – yes, it means the pool of people in my life has shrunk, but the others were contributing more to my anxiety than they were to anything positive. On a similar note, learn if you can to be honest with people about where you’re at: I have friends who I don’t want to cut out of my life completely, but who I just can’t cope with when I’m at my lowest ebb. I still need to learn to be honest with them about that ‘I can’t see you right now, but it’s nothing you’ve done, it’s just where my head’s at,’ rather than the cowardly and upsetting option that I tend to plump for at the moment: ceasing contact for large chunks of time with zero explanation.

4. The social interaction you want won’t necessarily be the social interaction you get

I know what kind of socialising boosts my mood – tea or a glass of wine with a trusted friend; creative activities like baking, writing or craft – more so with strangers than with my friends. I know what kind of socialising kills my mood – big groups of people in the pub, socialising that’s centred entirely around alcohol, house parties where I don’t know many people. Small talk…

The problem is that, in the UK at least, most people’s social lives are dominated by the latter, whether it be drinks with colleagues, weddings, or just a Saturday night out in town. There are many reasons for this, ranging from expense to geography to plain old following the status quo. Probably the most useful thing I’ve learnt in recent years is that it’s ok to turn that stuff down if it’s really not working for you – just make sure you arrange stuff that does work for you with people who make you feel safe, instead.

5. Try not to cut yourself off completely

Linked to the last point, chances are that even if you’re a fully-fledged introvert, you need some level of interaction to function healthily. I know now that I like to be around people, even if I’m not interacting with them – so it’s better for me to go and read in my local Starbuck’s than it is to sit and do it at home. Likewise, last time I had a bad break up, I went home to my parents and returned pretty much to my teenage state for a couple of days: they were around, providing background noise, someone to talk to if I wanted it and most importantly of all, affection, but they didn’t expect anything of me, and if I wanted to sit in my bedroom, listen to music and cry, they let me. I felt better so much quicker than I have done on occasions where I’ve withdrawn completely.

The flip side of this is that I still believe it’s a great idea to learn to be at ease with your own company: at home, in bars, in restaurants, overseas. I’ve lost that, temporarily, and it’s gutting to me, because it’s such a large chunk of what I recognise as me. There’s nothing wrong with doing things alone: last year I travelled alone to New York, where I was meeting friends. In the immigration queue at JFK I started chatting to a woman who was on her own. She’d flown to New York to celebrate her 40th on her own and you know what? I didn’t know why she was alone, whether by choice or circumstance, but I honestly didn’t feel sorry for her. I thought she was brave and admirable for doing what she wanted to do and not needing another person there to do it with her.

Relationships with other people are great, complete isolation is bad. Of those two things I am pretty certain. But dear media, if you’re reading, let’s see a bit of balance around the way we talk about happiness and social interaction. It’s a game of quality, not quantity, and all that really matters is that you work out what works best for you.

For me

When I write about anxiety or depression, I always feel like I must surely have said everything there is to say. Or that if I haven’t, someone else surely has. I don’t ever feel like that when I write about sex. Anyway, for various reasons people have reminded me that I write primarily for me, so even if I have said it before, I’m going to say it again.

As a teen I was emotionally self-indulgent. I was often unhappy, and even more often in floods of tears, but the latter especially felt cathartic. I could come home from a really shitty PE lesson, throw myself on my bed, turn my supercool CD player up loud (it had space for three discs, and rotated them automatically as each album finished) and cry until I felt, well, cried out. There was nothing lonely about the emotions I felt as a teenager: I knew I could cry for as long as I liked, but at the end there would always be hugs from my parents, or intelligent conversation, or dinner on the table. That stability was pretty much all I needed from life.

Looking back, my life has been scattered with depressive episodes. I was first diagnosed at 26, but I’d now blame depression and/or anxiety for my failure to start work on my third year dissertation until a fortnight before it had to be handed in, the endless run ins with my A-Level French teacher, my reluctance to learn to drive, the fact I still can’t ride a bike …

I could go on.

Anyway. In the last year or so, it’s been the anxiety that’s plagued me much more than the depression. Panic attacks have become increasingly frequent, and now that sense that I can’t breathe, the hairs on my arms standing on end, the air around me getting colder and colder, the pins and needles … well, I recognise them for what they are, which takes away some of their power.

Plus, anxiety is so much worse than depression, right? Depression is just, well, sadness. And I can handle sadness (not heartbreak though, that’s different.) Sadness can be fixed with chocolate and wine and hot baths and long walks and time alone. Sadness is like a prompt to take better care of yourself: to eat properly, to get some fresh air, some more sleep.

I almost embrace sadness. I need that reminder to take better care of myself: for some reason it doesn’t come that naturally. When I think about it as an abstract concept, I think about rain on the skylights, about being tucked up in bed, about having an excuse to read all day.

Maybe that is sadness. It’s certainly not depression. Depression is what came back about three weeks ago now. I often do my weekly food shop before therapy, but the supermarket shuts at eight, which leaves me with half an hour to kill before my session. Ironically, in recent weeks the therapist has been explaining to me that lateness is often attributed to not wanting to have the time to think about what you’re going to, about forcing yourself to panic about the journey, rather than the destination.

So I park up (depression definitely has an effect on parallel parking, too – my definition of ‘parallel’ has become more and more loose) and I sit in the car. And I tweet, or I read or I reply to emails. Or I used to. Now, I sit and I feel this crashing sense of despair that things will always be this shit, so what’s the point? What’s the point of anti-depressants or therapy, when life isn’t going to improve? Why won’t everything just stop? Why can’t I just go to bed and stay there?

In that sense, depression scares me much more than anxiety. Anxiety might stop me going to Eroticon, but it doesn’t stop me going to work. Depression gives me a massive case of the fuck-its, and the fuck-its are dangerous. I cry a lot in therapy, which makes the therapist nicer to me than she used to be (plus, we’ve moved to a warmer room – one with red chenille armchairs and an embroidered wall hanging) and I ball Kleenex after Kleenex in my fist. I’m a mess of snot and tears and mascara, and I’m not me.

People don’t understand why depression is tiring, but that’s why. It’s tiring not only because everything seems so pointless, but also because I’m in constant battle with myself. I’m not this person who doesn’t have any determination to achieve stuff: I have a good degree, a good job, some fucking self-respect, for god’s sake. And my ability to give a fuck about any of that stuff has totally gone. Except it hasn’t. I still do give a fuck about it and so I beat myself up: I’m doing a shit job at work, I’m not socialising enough, I’m a lazy cunt. And the more I think and act on those feelings the closer I circle to burn out.

One of the statements on the Anxiety and Depression scale is ‘I can enjoy a good book or radio or TV programme.’ Already my ability to watch TV calmly is shot at: I jump between TV screen, laptop and phone and I piece The Apprentice together bit by bit after the credits have rolled. So far, my ability to focus on reading remains, and with it, my ability to write. Those two matter, and so, apologies if you found this indulgent, but I needed to do it. For me.

PS I’m a bit loathe to recommend good reading on this issue, but if you’re looking for something that goes into the issues in more detail, I found Sally Brampton’s Shoot the Damn Dog to be an excellent read.

Charlie x

The Lion, the Witch and her Wardrobe

At the very beginning of #NaBloPoMo, I asked you guys what you wanted me to write about, and Kristina Lloyd came back to me and asked if I’d write about clothes and make up.

I’m not a big believer in gifs in blog posts (and this isn’t a gif anyway), but this was the first thing that came to mind:

I’m kidding, of course. I don’t *actually* think Kristina wants me to blog about those things because she doesn’t think I’m up to sex blogging yet (at least, I *hope* that’s not what she thinks!), rather I think it came from the fascinating conversation we had over on Facebook about Liz Earle’s Hot Cloth Cleanser (which we’d both highly recommend.) They also sell it in a beautiful Christmas tin, if you’re looking for a gift for your grandma.

Seriously, though. This post is probably the closest I’ll ever come to lifestyle blogging, and I personally think I’m totally. ill-qualified to write on fashion. When I told the boy what Kristina had asked me to write about, he laughed in my face. Then we had a minor row about what John Lewis’ ‘Never Knowingly Undersold’ policy *actually* means. Which should probably be the second disclaimer. I spend a fair amount of money on my clothes. This post is probably going to end up  an exceedingly middle class read. Please feel free to not read beyond this point – I’ll try to be back with the sex tomorrow.

Like I said, fashion has never really been my thing. My mum was still buying me clothes from M&S long after my friends had started choosing their own. When I did eventually graduate to Tammy Girl, I made some exceedingly poor choices, including a black long-sleeved maxi dress  with Adidas-style stripes up both sides. And a crop top. Tits aside I’m not built for crop tops now, and I wasn’t at 13, either.

At university, there were pretty much two camps of girls when it came to fashion. The scientists and mathematicians wore a uniform of jeans and black fitted T-shirts. The arts students wore little dresses and scarves. Lots and lots of scarves. Based on my clothes, I looked like I was studying Physics, just with a lot more cleavage. My personal ‘style’ didn’t come until I started working.

These days, I think I know what I like and what suits me. I make the odd bad choice, obviously (don’t we all), but I’ve mastered dresses and a look I’m confident in but no longer involves my tits falling out of my neckline quite as much as it used to. I haven’t bought a lot of clothes this year – Jigsaw is absolutely my go-to store, both for its dresses and for its vest tops, which, while pricey, last forever and are really nice and long in the body. Dorothy Perkins can be great for cheap tea dresses which will fall apart if you wear them often enough, but which someone said to me the other day ‘look just like Cath Kidston.’ I bought jeans again a month or so ago (I haven’t owned any for two years!) – Levis demi-curve, which are high-enough, but not too high, at the waist and have enough room to accommodate my arse. If you’re curvier than me, I’m pretty sure the curve increases beyond demi-, too. For blouses to go over jeans, I think Oasis is the best bet.

The pieces I’ve bought that I really, really love this autumn are this dress and this dress, both from Jigsaw. Office-appropriate, dinner appropriate – I finally feel like I’ve found the clothes that make me feel like me. Don’t believe for a minute though that if you have big tits you’ll look like the model does in that second one – I need to wear a camisole under it to be remotely decent in public.

So, what am I still coveting, clothes-wise? Well, I wouldn’t mind this dress and I really, really want this jumper dress from Toast, too. I have a bit of a soft spot for elbow patches. Aside from that, I’d love the Cambridge Satchel Co Music Bag in red.

I’m not great on tips for where to buy jewellery – I have a friend who understands my tastes very well and buys me great earrings as gifts, and round my neck I mostly wear my Alex Monroe bumblebee, which was a gift from my parents. Other than that, I love the majority of what Oh My Clumsy Heart do,  and I’m a sucker for Metal Taboo‘s filthy wares, as well. Of all the earrings I’ve lost, these are the only ones I’ve desperately wanted to replace.

And make up/beauty products. I’m pretty faithful to the products I like – as well as Liz Earle, a lot of the stuff I use in the bath gets bought again and again – like Origins’ Ginger Float bath cream, for example. On my face, I’m just trying to get to grips with primer,  but I’m loving YSL’s new foundation, which was a Twitter recommendation. We’ll just ignore the ‘Youth Liberator’ bit. My lipstick is either Bobbi Brown or MAC’s MAC Red, and my perfume is almost always Dior Pure Poison. Blusher? NARS Orgasm, obviously. I still can’t find a mascara I’m in love with though, so if you have any tips, please leave them in the comments…

Why I love sex blogging

Sunday just gone I went to a very cool memoir writing workshop with Brooke Magnanti. In retrospect, it was probably pretty obvious that a good number of the other participants would be sex writers, given what Brooke writes about, but somehow I completely failed to realise that in advance and was there as my real self, not as Charlie.

And obviously anything I write that’s remotely memoir-like is going to be based on the same kind of stuff I write about here, so that was pretty stupid. And yet, these kinds of events (Eroticon, anything held at Sh!, erotica workshops) are places where it feels pretty safe to operate under a pseudonym or  under my real name. I might be naive, I might yet be proved wrong, but nobody from the sex blogging community that I’ve met in real life has yet given me reason to feel uneasy. Very much the opposite, in fact. The Kristina Lloyd and Janine Ashbless book launch at Sh! a couple of weeks ago was a great example of that. Of the people there, I was already interacting with or reading nearly everybody. And people are just as nice, if not nicer, in real life.

Why am I writing about this now? Partly because this morning I kicked my nerves into touch and bought a ticket for Eroticon 2015. But also because I recently realised something pretty crucial about blogging. I think there are a fair few bloggers, mostly female, who, somewhere in the back of their mind, think they’d love to have a hugely successful lifestyle blog. Who you envy, I’m sure, depends on who you read: personally, I get little jealousy pangs when reading What Katie Does, A Cup of Jo and The Prosecco Diaries. I mean, I get jealousy pangs when I read Girlonthenet, too, but that’s different.

Lifestyle blogging looks like it comes with endless perks and freebies, in exchange for reviews. Stays in fancy hotels, nice restaurants, craft workshops, make up, overseas travel. I fucking love all that stuff. But you know what? There’s only so much of it to go round, and there are so, so many of these blogs, and it’s so competitive. Not to mention, as I discovered to my huge joy the other day, fake.

Sex blogging isn’t like that. It’s supportive, warm, understanding. Most people who read take the time to leave kind, thoughtful comments on blog posts. It feels like somewhere that I fit in. And I don’t feel like that very often in life.