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.

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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

IMG_3537

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.

Shoop Shoop

Sometimes, conversations on Twitter rumble on in the background for so long, I forget what the original point was. This was one such conversation and I had to actually go back and retrace it to its roots. Turns out I started it. Colin Firth: would he be good in bed?

Most of Twitter said no. ‘He’d take it *way* too seriously, ‘ seemed to be the most common concern. And from there it spiralled into a conversation about what makes us assume a man will be good in bed. Dancing appeared on the list, as did ‘quiet confidence.’ But kissing? Kissing came up again and again and again.

I make no secret of the fact that that’s a long held belief of mine. Potential partners have lived and died (not literally) by their kiss.

Way back when I was seventeen or so, there was a guy in a nightclub. He may well not have been attractive, but the Smirnoff Ice  had been flowing and when he approached me on the dance floor it didn’t take much to persuade me to snog him.

‘Who was that guy?’ one friend asked, as we stumbled home. ‘He looked like he’d fallen from the ugly tree and hit every branch on the way down.’

Harsh.

But fuck me, he could kiss.

I think he was only the second guy I’d ever kissed, in fact. He was the first to show me that good kissing (and ok, ok, a well-placed thigh between my legs) can make me wet faster than anything else. Kissing makes me want to both rush headlong into full on sex and delay full on sex for as long as possible so that we can just keep on kissing.

Cher had it wrong, sadly. You can’t tell if he loves you so from his kiss – like it or not, that is in the way he acts. God knows good kissers can make you feel like it’s love, though: I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve said to friends, ‘But how can he kiss like that and not *mean it?*’

With sex, I think if you asked me to rank positions by preference, I could do it pretty easily. Missionary, WoT, Doggy. If you asked me to list my preferences regarding kissing, I’d struggle. Those butterfly-soft kisses all over my face when his cock is deep inside me? The ones that are so punishing they bruise? The first one of the evening, when, for a few moments at least, I get to stop worrying about when I’ll next see him and just get to enjoy it?

How on earth could you ever choose between any of those?

On sex, cities and food

I sometimes joke that I could rename the blog ‘Food blog (of sorts) and the title wouldn’t be any less accurate. I don’t blog about food that often, but I tweet about it *a lot*, namely the fact that I exist largely on cake, chocolate, tea and white wine.

For all that I eat badly though, I *love* food. I love eating out, trying new places, revisiting old favourites. And above all those things, I adore food after sex.

It was the boy who introduced me to sex first, eat later – it seemed counter intuitive, since I’d long been under the impression you had to be tanked up to have the confidence to fuck. More often than not, sober fucking meant fucking before dinner, and fucking before dinner meant that by the time we sat down to eat, I was absolutely starving.

So food after sex is bloody good. Being on the prowl for food after sex though is better still. It’s the walk of shame, but the improved version – it’s that same longing for food, often filthy food, that you get when you’ve been drinking. Walk the streets of any city after getting laid and I swear to god that *everything* will smell of food. Curry, chips, hot dogs being fried at the side of the road. Every-fucking-thing.

Recently I took myself to a very good restaurant after sex – a long time favourite. The kind where you have to queue to get in and you sit round the bar and watch the chefs preparing the food. Ok, ok, it was here.

They managed to squish me in because I was on my own – it’s always easier to get seated if you’re alone in a restaurant with very limited covers. Everybody was dressed up for a night out in London. Me? I had a bruise forming on my collarbone, dry lips from my lipstick sealant, and come in my hair. Yes, you read that right. I ate deep fried croquetas, Spanish omelette, tuna and a shitload of garlic. It was a-mazing.

I sometimes wonder if people feel sorry for me when they see me out and about on my own like that on a Saturday night. I wonder if they think I’m lonely. I’m not, not at all. Earlier that same day, I’d walked the full length of Oxford Street, dodging the tourists, cursing the dawdlers. I felt lonely then. But at night? I just don’t.

I’m not a big lover of cities, but I do like the way they change at night – the way the pace both slows and speeds up, the way the crowds thin enough to make your life easier, but not enough to make you feel alone. After I’d finished eating, I walked the couple of miles back to the bus stop, stopping from time to time to gaze longingly into the windows of bookshops that had long since closed for the night or weaving my way around a couple snogging in the middle of the pavement.

I tried to pin down what I was feeling, and for a few moments it escaped me. But that, that being alone in the middle of the city, sated in all possible ways, that feels a lot like happiness.

#100HappyDays

You might have heard of the #100HappyDays project. As soon as I started doing it, today, friends started popping out of the woodwork saying ‘Ooh, I read about that somewhere. It sounds cool.’ The basic premise is that, for 100 consecutive days you post a picture on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter of something that made you happy that day. If you manage to post all 100 pictures they send you a little book of them at the end, but that’s not really the point. The point is watching out for the little things that make you smile.

God knows I need it at the moment. I’ve blogged enough about depression recently, and what I intend to do to get better. When I first heard about #100HappyDays, I couldn’t really be bothered. But the bright yellow webpage made me happy (yes, seriously) and i realised that actually, I’ve always been pretty good at making sure I have those little moments of happiness in my life – I’ve just lost the ability to focus on them, that’s all.

So yeah, from now on, when I wear bright, lacy matching underwear I’ll be taking pictures (probably not that kind, though). I’ll be buying myself flowers, painting my nails, buying more books and wearing red lipstick. There’ll be photos of it all, but don’t worry if you find the whole thing a little bit too twee – they’ll be confined to my Instagram account.

If you do like the idea though, I’m curious: what are the little things that make you happy?

Going AWOL

I’ve been thinking, since the post I wrote about depression, about long- and short-term happiness, both of which I’ve blogged about before, and which you should prioritise at any given moment. The depression thing has taken off since I last wrote – I’m now weepy all of the time, and the thought of using this blog to write about sex, love, boys, or anything that’s fun seems completely out of reach.

Yesterday, I spent the afternoon with a friend. I cried; she fed me milky tea and tried to make me feel better. Actually, she was full of great advice: find a new GP, one who understands mental illness, make sure they’re near work, so you can go often, and make sure you always see that doctor, not whoever happens to be available. With their help, try different anti-depressants, until you find the ones that work, both in terms of maximum mental health benefits and minimal side effects. Be kind to yourself. (I keep saying that, right?’)

Those are the things that I know will help me: but I also think it would help to step aside from the long-term goals for a bit and focus on creating a life which is happy and healthy, and where I make the most of the people around me and what they can offer.

It seems that inadvertently in my blog posts I’ve been putting across the message that what I definitely want from life is children with a long-term partner. In reality, I think that yes, that’s possibly what I want, but not definitely – right now I value my space and solitude way too much to want a long-term partner in my life. Plus, even if I do decide that’s what I want, it doesn’t have to happen by 30 – that’s just society’s fucked-up view of the timeline to which women should live their lives.

One of the things I do want to do this year is take back control of my life – one of my worst habits is looking at a diary that contains free weekends and either booking something in for all of them, or hyperventilating. As a result, last year I missed a shitload of stuff I would have loved to have done because I’d put stuff in place just to stop the weekends being empty – but an empty weekend isn’t going to kill me.

The other thing I desperately need to stop doing is sabotaging my relationships – questioning things; starting arguments; being negative – just because, as a therapist once told me, when those things do inevitably lead to the relationship breaking down, yes I get the satisfaction of proving to myself that my deeply-held belief – that I’m completely unlovable – is correct, but that satisfaction is pretty hollow compared to what I’ve given up in the process.

So, starting from now I’m going to stop sabotaging my life – I actually can’t remember the last time I went out and got drunk with a big group of people, but I’m going to stop feeling guilty for not doing it. I’ll see friends when I want to, and give myself peace and quiet when I need it. I’ll spend more time doing the things I love, like reading and writing, WI meetings and craft workshops, even if those activities are predominantly female and aren’t going to help me meet a man (thanks mum!). I’d like to keep having fun with the boy and not destroy the time we do have together by over-thinking the future – that one though is slightly less in my control at the moment.

So, what does that mean for the blog? Honestly, I’m not sure. Right now, I’m so low that I feel like every post is at risk of being a rehash of this one – and that’s the kind of writing that’s best kept out of the public domain, due to the fact it’ll end up boring everybody stupid.

Alison Tyler has kindly agreed to let me review her new novel, The Delicious Torment, on February 2nd, as part of her blog tour, so I’ll be back for that. Until then, I think posts might be somewhat more infrequent than they’ve been thus far. We’ll see, I guess.

Thanks for reading up till now x

On other people’s relationships

I’m currently watching a couple on a pretty awkward date (I think). Of course, that’s not guaranteed. They could be friends with benefits, colleagues having an affair, or, possibly, they think they’re on the best first date in the world…

Watching other couples doesn’t usually fascinate me. Other people’s PDAs, intimacy, affection for one another is a massive trigger for me. It reminds me of how lonely I often feel. Today is unusual, because until a few minutes ago I was having lunch with my own friend with benefits, and yes, I’ll admit it, we were watching this date as a source of entertainment.

I’m not generally smug when I’m out and about with the boy. Our own dynamic often leaves a lot to be desired and I spend a lot of time wishing we had more moments just like these – having lunch, feeling like we’re on the same wavelength, relishing the fact that, after 2 years, we know each other well enough that it’s no longer that awkward and yet the sex is still damn hot.

But of course, it might not appear like that to other people. They might watch us and think we don’t like each other at all. We don’t hold hands when we’re out and about, for instance. Are other people watching us and thinking, ‘Thank fuck we’re not scared of showing we care.’ And when we bicker, (there’s a lot of one upmanship) – are they thinking. ‘So glad we never argue.’

My point, I guess, is that, much as it’s fun to watch other couples and to draw your own conclusions, you shouldn’t use them as a barometer to judge your own relationship. Use them as a funny story to tell your partner, your friends, your colleagues, but, good or bad, don’t try to be more like them. You have to find your own happiness.