Saturday, 13 May 2017

Mental Health Awareness Week: 'How are you?'

Hey hey lovely blog readers,

Lost time, no post eh?

I feel like I have been very remiss this past year leaving you all with less to read from Observations of a Fictional Girl yet this has been because the real girl behind the words has been incredibly busy. Therefore even when I've had awesome ideas, started drafting them etc. I just haven't been in the right mindset to actually put them up.

But here we go, 8 months since my last post and I'm briefly back. It's Mental Health Awareness week and given that this year of doing my Masters has been a time where I've been forced to examine my wellbeing more than ever - it seems apt to post now.

If you guys have been following my blog for a while, or know me a little bit, you'll know that mental health is a kind of key theme for me, one of the main passions of my life as well as the defining thread of it thus far.

If I'm honest my mental health is something that has ebbed and flowed during university despite the most intense period of my depression being before I arrived at university. The end of my high school experience was dominated not only with the typical stresses of exams, university choices and the anxiety of the new but counselling, managing my self harm and bulimia, trying to weed out my suicidal thoughts and learning to love myself again.

University, despite the anxieties of not being able to make friends, not being good at my course, missing home, was amazing. I felt more in control, able to respond to my own triggers when my mood started spiralling, made great friends and able to be myself.

Admittedly there were times over the past four years where this progress has been tested. Moments of unexpected trauma, increased periods of stress, concern for the future etc. have all thrown things off balance. Reminding me as ever that recovery is not a linear path, and that's okay.

This year has come with its own set of challenges, both with financial upheavals, heavier workloads and feeling like nothing I'm doing is good enough. Whilst being the happiest I have been in a long time and had incredible opportunities, I have also struggled more with my own wellbeing.

I'm not going to lie there have been times where this has scared me. Where I have felt that my mind has been operating on two different radio stations. One side encouraging, confident, calm. The other self-deprecating, out of control, negative. The dial for the latter has been turned up way too many times of late, blocking out the part of me which knows that it doesn't need to be listened to. It's a hard balancing act. Especially when you add deadlines, tiredness, stress, insecurity.

But I am incredibly lucky to have friends - both near and far -, family and boyfriend that have been here for me in the times where I feel most like myself and those in which I can't remember who I am. This has kept me going even when I forget what helps me feel better.

I think one of the hardest things for those of us who are in touch with our mental health, who encourage people to look after themselves, to practice self-care, is to look after ourselves.

We extend so much time - rightly - asking others 'how are you?' that we put our own wellbeing on the backburner. But we can't truly look after other people without looking after ourselves first. We might just need some help along the way in doing that.

I can't begin to count the number of times I have responded to the question 'how are you?' with 'fine' or 'ok'. Brushing off concern because sometimes I feel how do I even begin to get into the many confusing emotions in my head, when I don't even understand them. Yet I appreciate the concern even we I can't explain my mental state :) I appreciate hugs too.

Yet what I'm suggesting is not we stop asking others how they are, because that is really important, but to ask ourselves how we're doing. To not just practice self-care, to not just share our emotions with others (because sometimes these are both difficult) but to ask ourselves how we're doing.

To not just let pressure build up to the point where we can't handle it but to practise compassion, to check in with how we're doing, not just putting our own needs on the backburner. You are important. Your wellbeing is important. I am important. My wellbeing is important.

So, take time to investigate how you are. Write it down. Meditate. Watch tv and let your mind wander. Use an app to chart things. Do whatever works for you. But schedule time to check your mental health. Even if you still can't vocalise it you're acknowledging that your emotions are valid, that they are worth taking time over! And they so are.

It's time to stop berating ourselves for feeling bad, seeing panic attacks or low moods as setbacks but as part of an ongoing journey, to recognise our recovery doesn't have a timeline, and that our wellbeing should be our number one priority not our grades, not replying to messages on time or keeping all our commitments: our mental health.

I'm going to try and ask myself 'How are you?' more often, and actually take my own advice for once. And I'll keep on asking you guys too because we still aren't at a place where mental health is discussed as a common thing and we've got a long ways to go to raise awareness for mental health in general.

In the meantime look after yourselves folks :)

Much fictional love,
M xx

Monday, 12 September 2016

Truth or Dare: Factual Observations about a Fictional Girl

Hey there my lovely readers,

I hope this blog post finds you well and soaking up those first few days of Autumn with a cup of your chosen refreshing beverage and focusing on the things that make you happy.

It's been a while since I've blogged and as usual the reasons behind this are a combination of busyness and finding the right topic. However the busyness of the past month has actually been a combination of nose-to-the-grindstone-time-consuming work stuff alongside completely-blissful-lose-yourself-in-the-moment-happiness that you just want to cram into every available conscious minute.

So after finding a slot in amongst this all to cosy up and turn my mental waves into a more concentrated form for you to peruse I've decided that today I want to reveal to you some of the fact behind the fiction.

When I started this blog - Observations of a Fictional Girl - around 2 years ago the name came to me because I felt like a girl who lived her life through books. They were, and are, what I love and use to escape as well as to understand the world around me. Therefore this title felt apt. I was a literature student who loved words and lived through them, my world was formed in the verbose way I could describe what I saw around me and how I felt about it.

However as time progressed I realised the duality of the blog's name. Not only has this blog functioned as an outlet for me to record the way I see the world but it has also been a place in which I have fictionalised myself.

As a fictional girl I use words, stories and description on a daily basis to some degree to shape the perception people have of me and equally this works in a chain whereby if someone views me a certain way then this will be passed on to someone else. And if we're honest even the non-literary lovers among us and the most self-confident people do this too.

So in that same vein I've recently I've been focusing on cultivating my honest side. This is not to say that I'm a liar, spin doctor, or in need of a good daily dose of vertiaserum. Rather that I feel in order to upgrade to the next level of Megan awesomeness I've got to embrace fact as well as fiction, aiming for some kind of balance of the two. Ideally I'd like to strip away some of the fictional me to embrace the honest-to-goodness me, in all her incarnations.

This is because my lovely readers being someone other than yourself is so exhausting - seriously. I like to think that over the past 5 years or so I've come to love (and let loose on the world) myself in my entirety. I mean all the conflicting wonderful minuscule and massive parts of my personality that combine to make up me, not just the ones that make sense. But there are still times when I struggle to be true to myself; I mute my opinions, retreat into the safe rather than the true, and dull my factual with a more acceptable fictional.

But I'm tired of living this way. What is the point of moulding yourself to what is acceptable or understandable? Who does this actually please? What degree of happiness does this bring and what on earth is gained from it? Pretty much nothing.

Therefore whilst this blog has always been a space for me to express myself, my views, my creativity, my likes and dislikes, and so on, it has again been privy to only the parts of myself which I have chosen to reveal to you my lovely readers. That is the beauty of writing/storytelling/social media etc as we can find it difficult to judge the factual core within the fictional coating, the verbal or photographical glitter that we emphasise our experiences with.

This has been brought home to me recently as I have been unable to resist telling the truth. And I have loved it. Those friendships and relationships within which you can be completely and utterly yourself, celebrating and acknowledging the core truths are the ones that I have found have lasted. They contain people with which I truly breathe around, remove filters and not worry about they think of me because I know their love for me is based on who I AM not part of who I am. You elite few are a wonderful bunch and I love you for your lack of judgement and abundance of acceptance.

Imagine if you felt this way about every single person in your life? Wouldn't that be the most relaxing ever? I think this transparency of self is something to be valued and aimed for, particularly for the happiness levels it brings.

Throughout my life I have felt particularly splintered, or divided in who I am, and this probably started during high school. Whilst being blessed with a wonderful diverse group of friends who were there for me to keep me smiling and have plenty of banter and craic with, there were very few of them that got to see 100% of Megan. I think that's because I felt like I operated at extremes which didn't make sense in my personality. I saw the innuendo opportunity in virtually anything and swore like I'd constantly stubbed my toe yet had a spiritual side too which had its own reverence. I was mature in how I viewed aspects of life but open a pack of bubbles and my attention was gone. I'd devour a fresh paperback yet also shout down the stadium with the best of them when taken to a football match. Loved a fruity cocktail however would happily down a pint of beer.

Essentially pick an opposite and I'd try my hardest to straddle both sides of the fence without falling over on to a clearly marked field of traits. I loved my unpindownability but didn't think others would so I'd bring out Sporty Megan when called for and put her away when Bookworm Megan served me better.

It's like I handed out each new person I drew into my sphere of existence a piece of my personality puzzle or maybe a couple if I we got on very well but they'd never get the complete picture, something was always held back and I played a part, a fictional character with one defining trait rather than a fully rounded protagonist at the centre of my life story.

This worked for a while, particularly when I my self-esteem was in its lower scathing depths and I lost sight of my worth, who I was and what I could be. It felt safer to keep parts of myself concealed, to keep myself from being exposed to ridicule or disappointment. Yet long term I felt like I was being pulled in too many directions by all the people who held my puzzle pieces.

Furthermore during my depression the nature of my illness felt like it lent itself to keeping secrets, to not let anyone see what a 'freak' I was, how I couldn't keep myself together and didn't want to be ME anymore. I lived a fiction and in doing so forgot my facts.

So during my recovery period I thought this just wasn't the effort anymore, if I wanted people to actually know me that had to include an accurate picture of my mental health, my flaws, and contradictions. And it has been so refreshing to not have to hide something which defines the core of my being and has altered the person I am today. I used the time to decide what parts of myself I wanted to keep, what knew things I wanted to strive for, and came to love myself even if I didn't always make sense. Self-compassion is a side product of honesty and one to be used often folks, as it can be hard to confront ourselves, to remember we aren't always the perfect person we'd have the world believe, but the benefits it brings far outweigh the difficulty level.

Today I can say to you that I know myself better than I have done for a long while, I know what makes me happy, I know I'm awesome, but also human, and imperfect. That's the person I want the world to see, the one who sometimes forgets what words mean even though she's an English Lit graduate, who is a proud nerd, a walking contradiction, a beautiful mess, and that is 100% me. No alterations or qualifications. The full puzzle.

I love fiction still and will continue observing through my blog but the fiction shall be confined to verbal descriptive embellishment rather than holding part of myself back because I can't be myself with only a few people then someone else with the rest of you all. That's hypocritical and I want to be honest.

And guess what I dare you to be honest too.

With others and with yourself.

Because if you can't love yourself how the hell you gonna love somebody else?

Much love as always,
M xxx

Song of the Post: Can I Get an Amen? - RuPaul

Thursday, 28 July 2016

Pace Yourself: The Freedom of Running

Hi there blog readers,

I hope this post finds you well and enjoying some relaxation and me-time during these summer months.

This particular outpouring of my observations comes to you today - after mulling over several choices - regarding the topic of running.

Yep that's right the dreaded R word: running.

Several years ago I have been guilty of cringing myself at the concept of this specific form of exercise and whilst I am not exactly a running role model presently I certainly am a converted cheerleader for this pursuit.

Let me explain to you why this is so.

During the time I spent growing up I happened to view running as a highly athletic pursuit, for the talented and the foolhardy only with no middle ground. Those who ran had great stamina, determination, and confidence, in my opinion. These three qualities were ones that I felt I lacked, and prohibited me from viewing running as anything more than a necessary burden to be endured during P.E lessons at school or an unenthusiastic requirement when I was late for the bus.

I mean don't get me wrong I did not hate exercise as a whole, I enjoyed being part of relay races, playing recreational football, tag rugby, swimming, and I was even part of a triumvirate of captains for my school's senior netball team in my final year of high school. I adored going on adventures with my siblings, climbing trees, had a complete disregard for what was appropriate to wear when playing outdoors, and when I wasn't burying my head in books I was as active an individual as can be expected. Yet, I did not enjoy running, or desire to do it.

This was all about to change.

Whilst I knew rationally that running was not something that was elitist, inaccessible, required a certain kit, and confidence, and having witnessed my mother complete the London Marathon knew that it was possible to achieve anything if you try hard enough, I personally needed to find my own motivation to run before I could commit to making it part of my lifestyle.
It was so fun and colourful :)

My motivation, and what pushed me - my muscles protesting with every step - into embracing running was my desire to raise money and awareness for mental health through fundraising for Mind and completing a 5k Colour Run in May 2015.

Raising money through doing exercise and pushing your body past its usual sedentary limits is a great way to kick start embracing a new pursuit because once you have signed up to do something then there is a certain degree of pressure, drive and obligation that can be particularly helpful in turning the reluctant exerciser into a 'real runner'.

I was also exhausted...But raised over
The only times when I had done proper running before the Colour Run last year was in doing events for Sports Relief or Christian Aid or other such organisations, and each time there was members of my family there to keep me going when my lungs and my feet just wanted me to stop.

This familial assistance would also become part of my journey to actually enjoying and choosing to run for myself, because whilst running is an individual undertaking it is also wonderful for the opportunity it provides for support, companionship and community.

So after making the somewhat spontaneous (which was unusual for my inner planner) and nerve-wracking decision to go from occasionally throwing a netball around with my uni coursemates to running 5k in three weeks I decided I needed a bit of practice...

Now a few years ago my Mum had got involved in a free event called a Parkrun at a Portrush beach near us when we lived in Northern Ireland, I was in awe at her being able to get up every Saturday morning - regardless of the weather - and push herself past that barrier into 5k success. Then my dad started going too and pushed himself even when it was raining to try and go for a new PB. But I didn't particularly relish the idea of dragging myself out of the comfort of my bed and aching for the rest of the day.

That was until I realised I had never really ran 5k before and needed to get a bit of training in so when I went home that Easter I joined my mum and dad for a windy and wet gasping jog along the buffeted local beach. All it required was registering online and printing out a barcode, then I was good to go.

Safe to say I wondered what on earth I had gotten myself into and as befitting my past wanted to give up as soon as possible... But I cared about raising money to help those with mental health issues more than I did my protesting calves!

This first excursion I had as part of the Parkrun family was by no means the easiest and with the start of all new activities there was a strong questioning of whether I would ever actually get to the end of it. But the feeling of accomplishment when you cross that finish line is second to none, and it is one that never goes away.

I finished!
Here are some things that Parkrun and running, has taught me over the past year:

- Image: I had previously thought that to do running you needed expensive gear, gadgets, and a body to show off. This was wrong, have a pair of comfortable shoes (trainers are best though) and just wear your biggest smile. Running is not about looking good, it is about feeling good. It gives you a chance to be confident in who you are and what you can achieve regarding of what your body type is or what speed you go at.

Freedom: For the past year or so I faced a lot of stress, growing to do lists, and personal difficulties, all of which you think you can't really get away from. And to be honest, the older you get the more you realise that you have to deal with these things head on. But nothing gives you the instantaneous complete feeling of freedom like running. (The only other activities I find that do are swimming or ice skating, and I can't do either of these as easily.) You are focused totally in the moment and on putting one foot in front of the other, free from anything else. And that my friends is a feeling which golden.

Outrunning the past: You can't do this. Whilst running has given me a lot of freedom, been great for lessening stress, and stopping me thinking for a while it you can't escape your life in doing it. That one foot-next foot rhythm is soothing and you can feel beyond the irritation of essay writing, sadness of loss, gut-wrenching heartbreak, and anger at your own idiocy for 30mins or so. But after you stop you still have to deal with that. Running can be an escape but its not a fix all or a plaster, be kind to yourself, and use it as an assistance to help you deal with what's gone before.

Feeling Alive: As well as feeling free and capable, one of the best gifts that my running experience has given me is that after many years of feeling numb, or lost, or a whole host of not-so-fun emotions whilst experiencing depression, going out for a run is one of the things I can do which makes me feel fully alive. Blood-pumping through my veins, lungs gasping to fill themselves, sweat dripping, sides aching, limbs protesting...The pain reminding me that my body is strong, powerful capable, amazing, and astoundingly, wonderfuly alive. I bloody love that feeling, and I'm not giving it up any time soon.

Achievement: There is nothing like my smug feeling of knowing I've made the most of my day by going for a run. Even forsaking the comfort of a warm bed is worth that warm pride of achievement after undertaking a run. Coming back from a run on a Saturday morning to the sound of Graham Norton's voice on Radio 2, is much better than waking up to it and knowing I've succumbed to sleeping in.

The Family Connection: I got started in my love of running through my family and I could not keep doing it without their support. Even when we can't run together knowing that their doing a run is enough to spur me to go and do one myself. I am very lucky to have parents who encourage me in whatever I want to do, and I am healthier and happier for them doing so.

Mum, Dad and I after completing some Parkrun tourism at the Stretford Parkrun

- Welcoming Ethos: One of the best parts of Parkrun is the atmosphere that means you feel at home from you first time even if you have no idea what the route is or what to do, as there are always helpful smiling volunteers to steer you in the right direction. This ethos is to be valued and ensures that running is rebranded into an activity which is open to all.

Run not race: The point of running is not to beat everyone else, unless you're doing it professionally or competitively. If you're just running with others the important thing is that you finish your run not race beat others. Be competitive with your own time and try and improve it by all means but don't make your time the most important part of the running experience.

Something we all need to be reminded of sometimes.
- The importance of you: Running is hard but really rewarding and we all do it for different reasons. But it is really important to celebrate your own achievements and not in correspondence to those of others. Be proud of what you achieve in relativity to yourself. You are capable of different things to others and should celebrate that. Running feels like something which I do for myself and with myself, that makes me feel more than myself, and I treasure the importance of that. Pace yourself people and running can bring you the benefits it has brought me and many others.

It doesn't matter why you're running just that you are doing it :)
If you would like to find out more about the amazing organisation that is Parkrun, where you nearest event is, or how you can get involved then check out their website: here. But warning folks, as much as you will complain about it to begin with, it does get a tad addictive :)

Having now completed over 25 parkruns (there are some Saturdays where even a parkrun can't get me out of bed, or I'm working, and there was the whole stint in Italy meaning I haven't been able to go as regularly as I'd like to) and visited 5 different courses with an aim to get my 50 runs tshirt soon and start ticking more events off my list. This just shows that running is for everyone and you don't know just when you're going to be absorbed my a new activity, or just how it will show how capable you are. I certainly did not expect to enjoy running, and whilst I am by no means the fastest or the best at it, and my stamina has not changed dramatically, I love how it makes me feel.

Me and my happy running face

Now I have even managed to choose to go on runs before work and not just stick to my whenever-you-can-make-it-on-a-Saturday routine, and I feel tired but happy for starting my day that way. Every little counts folks.

My sister Eve and I, after we completed another morning run by the beach.

So go find some shoes, lace them up, crank your tunes, stick in your headphones, and get out there at your own pace, the freedom it brings - at whatever speed you come to it - is so so worth it. I promise.

And now to end this blog post I have for you as new feature on my blog a complementary running themed

Mini Book Review:

The End of The World Running Club by Adrian J Walker 

If you enjoy books about the apocalypse and running then this one is for you. Following the journey of father Edgar living in Edinburgh to reunite with his family in Falmouth after an asteroid strike The End of The World Running Club appears to be a typical chaos narrative but has several surprises along the way. This has been my favourite book of the summer and very to difficult to put down. It makes you think about what you'd store up in case of the end of the world and other smaller aspects of how you treat your family, and your outlook on your life. You can appreciate as well as relate to this book and despite the darkness of the setting there are plenty of laughs along the way. Walker creates excellent immersion and character portrayal through his prose, meaning that you feel like you're running the length of Britain alongside the protagonists. Ultimately If you read one book this summer make it this one. I could not put this book down and as soon as I did my mum snapped it up to read it, it's currently making the rounds through my family and if you purchase it this would probably happen too! Take a break from running and read this folks :)

Many thanks for reading folks and please do, once you've got your trainers on and got out there, check back on the blog soon for a new instalment of my observations.

Much fictional love,
M xxx

Songs of the Post:
Reach - SClub 7 
(One of the songs me and mum dance to when we run)                          
Don't Stop - Fleetwood Mac 
(Sometimes you just need a tune to keep you going)
Fearless - Taylor Swift 

(A song which I listened to on one of my first charity runs!)

P.S: What are some of your reasons why you run, or haven't done so before? What do you like to listen to when you run?

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

In Celebration of Cinema

Hey there my lovely blog readers,

By having more free time it means that I can actually have time to write blog posts again - woo! So here's another instalment of my observations for your reading pleasure.

The topic that I would like to share my thoughts with you today on is that of films, and going to the cinema, specifically.

Despite being a lover of reading, writing, books and words from when I was very young - and throughout my life - I have always revelled in, and admired, films and the cinema at large.

I'm also including a selection of quotes that speak to me about the wonder of cinema :)

From when I was very little (although some might say height wise I have not advanced that much) movies were an escape, a treat and another language/means of bonding too. Films also accompany some of the most prominent memories of my life so far from going to see Toy Story 2 whilst my sister was being born, to birthday outings, celebrations and so on.

For me a cinematic outing always rings of something magical - even if the film itself does not live up to potential - as it can change your mood or complete your day. It brings a sense of simultaneous excitement and peace. The nature of the experience itself dictates that - if done properly - you sit still for an hour or so, in the dark, immersed in a depiction of another life. You can loose yourself, find yourself, be yourself, or anything in between. For me it becomes a ritual within which I am calmed and comforted.

This leaving of worries, outside pressures, responsibilities etc. outside of the screen doors is part of the freeing aspect of watching films. Which is enhanced by the fact that there are very few times in life nowadays when you actually are not glued to your phone, and entering the cinema provides the opportunity to do so. (For those people who use their phones during movies or don't turn them off/put them on silent - that is not the way to enjoy a film!)

The cinema has always been a place which has provided excitement too. I can remember many a midnight screening (sometimes dressed in Harry Potter costume) that meant less sleep for a day at school but was so worth it. I treasure memories of weekend trips that centred around going to see a new release, or when I organised movie marathon days with friends. This excitement could also be furthered by the fact that going to see a certain film before other family members or on repeated viewings put you in position of certain knowledge and power. (Mwhahaha...)

Regarding money and cinema, the act of going to see a film is sometimes not considered a worthwhile excursion because of the price in comparison to other activities and when you add snacks, travel etc. it seems like too much of an indulgence, right? Wrong.

Yes, I will admit that the price of my local cinema back in Northern Ireland used to do great deals on a Tuesday that meant for a tenner you could see three films if you had the time. This meant that the opportunities I had to luxuriate in the attendance of cinema were increased. Yet, despite the increase in ticket prices when I made the move back over to England for university I was still happy to dedicate a portion of my income to go see films and celebrate cinema. It was worth spending the money on and there was that magical thing called a Student Discount that made it all a bit more manageable too; Even if I do find myself splurging on the delicious homemade ice cream at the Showroom Cinema pretty much every time I visit...

I cannot understand the viewpoint which leans towards dodgy streams online or pirated copies and does not want to embrace the beauty of seeing a film in a cinema or through a legal method. Yes it is easier and cheaper but the time, effort, planning and talent that goes into making a film is why it's worth paying for a ticket or buying the DVD because through this support directors, actors, screenwriters etc. can go on making the films we love.

Furthermore, the act of going to the cinema, of watching and celebrating film - whilst being a very good reason for a social outing and meeting up with others - does not have to be a communal excursion. It can be an act of self-care, and a personal treat. Something which I have learned to lean into, celebrate and be active about doing over the past year - so much so that it's become rather of a habit. It's the experience of going to the cinema, not the company you keep when doing so, that matters in the end.

Yet conversely the act of going to the cinema does encourage healthy discussion and debate - which can build (and break) relationships and friendships, but are one of the great parts of what a cinema trip entails: the post-viewing conversation. It allows you to get closer to others through learning their thoughts on a film and whilst infamous discussions in my family regarding films, like Anna Karenina for example, have proved verbally flammable they are still great for what they illuminate.

Above all I feel like cinema should be celebrated because it is an inclusive experience. Cinema gives us a chance to find what we like, what makes us happy, what inspires us, and a chance to use your voice to express your opinion. You don't have to be an expert as we can all experience a film and share our thoughts about it. The welcoming, equalising aspect of cinema is one of its greatest aspects and should be celebrated.

Other Thoughts On Cinema:

- One of the ways I celebrate cinema is by keeping all my tickets and being able to look through all my memories, it's nice to keep a scrapbook or memory box if you're a sentimental cinema goer like me.

- I have found (through excellent parental recommendation) that the best relaxation pre-exam results is going to the cinema. Regardless of the film, it reduces my frazzled nerves to more of a niggling worry and gets me to switch off for a bit when all my brain wants to do is focus on imminent failure. I wholeheartedly recommend this as a pre-results excursion!

- One of my family's favourite things to do after a cinema visit when I lived in Northern Ireland was to pick up an Indian takeaway on the way home. There is nothing quite like the anticipation of tasty food and curry just hits the spot after a tough evening of film watching :)

- Whilst I may not study film and I think it would ruin the magic of cinema a little for me. I loved getting to study a Woody Allen module as part of my degree as it meant that I got to know a little bit more about how film works technically and learn about how certain directors interact with the world of cinema. It has also meant that I have had a little bit of knowledge to contribute to conversations with my film studying brother.

- Cinema drinks and food can often be expensive but you often need that sweet, tasty accompaniment to a film. Rather than going hungry head to a shop before hand and get a good deal, or bring something from home. Snacks are key. But popcorn is not all its cracked up to be...

- The trailers are one of the best part of going to the cinema. I love getting to see what's coming up in the next few months. The adverts are the worst.

- Film reviewing is fun and is one of the great parts of how to celebrate and critique cinema. My small experience of reviewing films for Forge (my university newspaper) was fab, encouraging me to see new films, develop confidence in my opinion and flex my journalistic muscles. Whilst it's not going to be what I do full-time I love doing it too and have great respect for those who have a talent for it.

- Film has allowed me to make great friends and cement friendships. I will always celebrate cinema because of that!


I love everything about film and it has weaved itself into the fabric of my life. Cinematic quotes and segments have become part of my everyday reference point, and I honestly would not change that for anything. I mean, yes, I'm not a film buff and there are still many, many gaps in my cinematic knowledge which mean I can't get all the references my fellow cinephiles make. But this does not mean that I have anything less to offer. I may not be able to give you a breakdown on the types of shots used in a particular movie, recall a director's complete filmography, or get every single one of references to other films in a review but I know how watching a film makes me feel. I can articulate my reaction to motion picture or documentary. And above all I am passionate about celebrating cinema which should be the focus of all these arenas of discussion. 

My enthusiasm for film has meant that I have stayed up until absurd hours to watch the Oscars Ceremony, dedicated time to marathoning movies before the next instalment comes out and been able to get involved with volunteering at the excellent Sheffield Doc/Fest for the past 2 years as a cinema steward. 

This latter benefit has been a particularly amazing opportunity to develop a strong love for documentaries and been able to understand more the massive amount of work that goes into making a film possible. Reminding me that the reason why cinema is important is because of the possibility the medium creates for gripping, instructive or immersive storytelling regardless of the fictional or non-fictional nature of its content. I adore Doc/Fest and film festivals in general because they provide a space in which to really celebrate and converse about cinema with such a range of people. Alongside encouraging networking, development of skills and making friends along the way. I cannot wait until next June when I get to celebrate documentary, film-making and cinema all over again!

Finally, the fact that Sheffield has 5 - to my knowledge - cinemas plus the University of Sheffield's Film Unit at the Students Union, means that my film-loving heart is very content and spoilt for choice on a regular basis. Just another reason to celebrate the wonderful city that is Sheffield alongside celebrating cinema itself.

Thank you so much for reading. Now go watch a film, I'll be back with another post soon. If you need me you can find me at the nearest cinema...

Much fictional love,
M x

Songs of The Post: Oh! Pretty Woman - Roy Orbison (from Pretty Woman)
                          Johnny B. Goode (from Back To The Future)

            Ghostbusters Theme - Ray Parker Jr.

            Star Wars Main Theme - John Williams

                                      Hedwig's Theme - John Williams (from Harry Potter and The Philosopher's Stone)

Thursday, 2 June 2016

Compromise, Closure and Other Words beginning with C

Hey my lovelies,

I hope this blog post finds you well. I promised I'd have another blog post up and ready for you soon and here it is. Finally. After many attempts and pesky things like essays and life getting in the way.

This is a particular blog post I've been toying around with for a while in terms of finding the right words and the correct tone to use for talking about the following topic. It was hard deciding if I even wanted to talk about it all because it's personal in a way my blog hasn't really been before, it's still something I'm journeying through, and because I am always hesitant of appearing oracular rather than observational.

But here we go. I'll try my best.

So way way back in October 2014 I had one of those big life-changing moments. You know one of those ones which you replay over and over in your head afterwards trying to use the measure of hindsight to wonder what on earth has just happened? In this particular instance this rippling confusion and hurt was due to something that happens to most people at some point in their lives: a breakup.

Breaking up with someone you are in a relationship with - regardless of how long that relationship lasted - is a positive whirlwind of emotions. The negative opposite to the swirling emotions of falling in love with that said person in the first place. You don't know how to act. You can't act. You just feel bombarded with thoughts and sensations.

TV shows like this reminded me that there is a flip side to every romantic
Falling in and out of love can be crippling in a way which is not fashionable, not talked about and misrepresented in society. The way the media (sensationalising and pouring over every detail) and many of us talk about breakups is not nuanced and ridiculous in some cases. Which can lead to even more feelings of low self worth and failure as we feel we are not acting in the 'normal' way.

So what I'd like to use this blogging space to do today is to not divulge the own details or my breakup as I feel like that is still a personal thing which the internet does not need to intrude on, as it is not fair on me or the other person to air dirty laundry to the masses. The post of this post is to shed light, as neutrally as possible, on disbanding some of the myths and language that surround breakups. To make them something that is okay to talk about even when don't even know the right words to say or the correct thing to say in response.

People's experiences of pain - just like love - are not always universal and they have their own personal emphasises and nuances. So I present you with my experience today and some of this may resonate with you, but not all, and that's okay because we are all different people. Thus our relationships and emotions are different too.

Here are some of the things that my breakup taught me:

1. The emotions of breakups are not linear
This is a really important one. When our hearts seem to be pulling apart the way we put them back together is not going to be as straightforward as attach part A to part B. The whole myth of the stages of grief or ways of dealing with difficult emotions neglects to mention that people can go back and forwards between longing, loss, anger, desire, numbness etc. A cyclical stereotypical way of looking at breakups creates unrealistic expectations both personally and society which can prevent people actually talking about how they feel in the time after a relationship ends. We progress, we regress, we fade, we wax, we wane, and that is ALL okay.

2. Your support system is immensely important
I honestly do not know how I would have got through the past year or so without the incredibly wonderful people that I have had by my side. Whilst no one can deal with your post-breakup emotions for you, you do not have to go through them on your own. Having the right people around you - be they family, friends, flatmates etc. - means that when you can't get out of bed, when you don't want to eat, when you need a distraction, when you need a hug, when you need tissues, when you need to rant, and even when you don't know what you need, the isolating experience of a break up is made that little bit less lonely. And it's also another important reason why you don't make your relationship the only part of your life because then when it ends your support system becomes essentially and scarily - only you. Thank you to everyone who has been there for me, even when you weren't sure what you were doing helped, just you being there did.

3. Relationships are not something you 'get over'
The phrase of 'getting over' a breakup or relationship is ridiculous. Regardless of the duration of a relationship it is more important to process and work through things rather than just ignoring or rushing to move past feelings. Moving on is important but that doesn't just been forgetting everything in the past. This has been a part of your life and so work to your own timescale and if anyone tells you to 'get over it' or that its 'puppy love' so you'll be fine soon enough it's up to you regarding how politely you wish to correct them.

It is a courageous act to start a relationship with someone and this should never be
minimised to something which has to be 'got over'.

4. You will not always achieve enlightenment or closure
This has been a point that I have found myself struggling with for a good while now. The way that some individuals tend to rationalise or assist themselves in dealing with a breakup is to discover what you've learnt/gained from the relationship or to find closure with the circumstances surrounding the situation.  Yet for some this more difficult or not possible. In these instances there is an opportunity not to rely on this deeper meaning or clarity to occur but to make your own. There will not be a sudden gain of acceptance or making sense of it all but is more likely to occur over a period of time and processing. Breakups are not a cleansing transcendence for everyone and that's okay. Even if you don't reach a point of enlightenment or closure being able to work through your thoughts and move this experience further into the past is realistically achievable.

These lines from Woody Allen's Annie Hall are as resonant to me now as they
were the day I first heard them. The day after my break up. Relationships don't
make sense and a lot of them don't work but however irrational falling in love is: it's worth it.

5. Time actually important - but on your own terms
There are hundreds of clichés that surround break ups and one of the few clichés that actually means something is that 'time heals'. I don't say this to be patronising and I won't wax lyrical about it. For some this will be a few days for others over a year but time eases the flow of negative thoughts that breakups create. Eventually we get to a point where we think of our ex less, or its hurts less when we do. And we even can get to a point where we feel like risking our heart on that big gamble which is love, again. Time is important but there is no estimated duration of how long recovering from a break up takes, define it yourself.

6. We are all different, don't compare yourself to others
This blog post is unashamedly subjective and as much as we try to create a dialogue of commonality around relationships and breakups they are all different. Just as we don't experience being in relationships the same - because the two people involved are different than other two people in another relationship - so too are breakups specific. By generalising or overusing examples from people you know 'So and so managed to be friends with her ex' or 'Such and such broke up with their partner but they're back together now' can isolate people or pressure them to live up to that experience and get frustrated that their breakup doesn't follow the patterns of others. Comparing your breakups with other peoples is not going to help you process yours.

7. Be compassionate, and you can be angry too
Those of you who know me would probably agree that I am one of the least angry people you know, saving my wrath for those who cross my friends and rarely getting irate over slights made to me. My method of dealing with things is usually to be kind, but never really to myself. Shouting matches or arguments were never something I revelled in experiencing or reached to as an option. So one of the parts of my break up which has been beneficial is learning that I have a right to be angry too. That people can't just come in and stamp on your emotions and think that's okay. I have a voice and can use that to impassionedly speak up for myself not just others. This discovery of anger hasn't meant that I've gone round starting fights with people but it has meant that I have been able to express negative emotions the breakup caused in a more healthy way. Being kind to yourself is important sometimes that means being angry is vital too. If you try and walk that delicate emotional-tightrope of not hating your ex and not being in love with them, like I did, then a compassionate anger is difficult but worth it. 

8. Music/Writing/Reading/Films/TV/Culture is a saving grace
In times of happiness and in times of crisis it is these things which can become our touchstones, our way back to ourselves and through ourselves into who we are actually meant to be. It rephrases and feels our pain in an outer expression of our inner chaos. As an English Literature student and just through being me I have always felt that cultural elements have had a lot to teach and guide me in ways that therapists, family, friends and others can sometimes not quite reach. Phrases from books, strong characters from films, excellent dialogue from television shows, and lyrics which just reach into your heart and turn the inexpressible confusion of living into something which makes a little more sense. Whilst we are confused, too full of thoughts or isolated these cultural foundations provide much needed respite. Whenever I was just hiding away from the world by binge watching television, immersing myself in someone else's experience for several hours by going to the cinema, loudly blaring music to block out the other people in the world as I walked through it hurting, or - as always - seeking solace in literary realms, these taught me lessons I didn't even know that I needed. The greatest commentators on love or pain are not always the ones which are revered for the generations but whichever speak into the your experience. Hence why this blog post is littered with so many pictures of quotes that have spoken to me over the past year or so. Culture, words and so much more can be just what you need to hold onto when a breakup makes you feel like its all falling apart. And writing helps me understand it too.

9. It will hurt
You can't sugarcoat the experience of breaking up with someone. Both persons involved will be hurt if they care and this pain demands to be felt - often and insistently. When you invest part of your heart and time in another person you often risk the pain that no longer being with them brings. But hurting is not a constant experience and despite being tested on this I still possibly think that it's better to love someone and get hurt when it ends than never love anyone in order to not get hurt.


10. This will change you, and you can't know how, but you can control it
'Breakup' is a really inadequate term to describe the ending of a relationship as it feels so much more than a break for some. For me it has felt more like an ongoing fracturing, because it affects various parts of your life and you in ways that you wouldn't have ever really thought about. These changes can be positive or negative depending on how you use the experience. For instance one of the most common things people say to those who have recently experienced a 'breakup' or is even given as a reason for breaking up is that: you'll have more time to work on yourself and find out who you are. I mean yes, on a practical level you have more hours in the day do things for yourself but being single isn't a magical thing which changes who you are just how being in a relationship doesn't mean you become another person entirely (if it does this is concerning). People change this is true, and breakups can influence that as they cause you to question what you want and what is your priority. These changes can be temporary or permanent, but I guess what I'm saying is you don't have to change but one of the few positives is that it gives you the opportunity to. I'm not who I was 2 years ago, I've taken risks, had adventures and honesly became someone I like more but that is more due to me than the situation of the breakup, that was just the prompt. I guess what I'm trying to say is breakups can be a catalyst for change - good or bad - and it's up to you.

Yeah One Tree Hill has a lot of good quotes... This one epitomises of how breakups
can cause us to feel like we don't deserve to love again but that this is so so so wrong.

11. Your mind will become your best friend and your worst enemy
This might be another highly subjective point but I'm going to share it with you anyways. Being someone who worries A LOT and doesn't exactly know how to relax or switch her mind off, meant that experiencing a break up was particularly hard. I was constantly replaying memories and conversations, recalling dates and fuelling my pondering by rereading old messages. I couldn't let go or stop thinking about my ex or the break up because my mind just would not let me. This meant that I was locked in a vicious thought cycle by trying not to think about it or trying not to forget the good times either. To be honest there are still emotional echoes that resonate through films, places, memories and don't allow me to let go of what has gone before. Your mind can remind you of all the crappy things that should mean you should be happy about no longer being with someone but it also will replay your highlights reel meaning you wonder where on earth it all 'went wrong'. I still haven't totally learnt how to deal with this but I guess you just have to be kind to your thoughts, allowing them to cross your mental landscape and knowing that eventually you will either not think about them at all or do so in good way.

The lyrics of this song by Five Seconds of Summer always make me cry because
sometimes I just want to forgot all the good and all the bad parts.

12. Social media is your enemy
You will find yourself checking various websites more often than you think are possible. The prolific ingrained reflex of social media checking becomes even more enhanced when you experience a breakup. You will either see more than you want to know, have too much of an opportunity to contact people when you might benefit from some time without contact, or see nothing and get agitated by the distance and silence. The way in which you want to handle this online interaction very much depends on your personal feelings and honestly none of us can judge because we've been there.

13. Be Selfish
Sometimes you can't do what is best for others and you've got to look out for yourself. I'm aware that I might be sounding very hypocritical writing this right now as I tend to not really be selfish with my time, as I genuinely enjoy spending time with other people and keeping busy. And I am not encouraging you to become a totally selfish individual who doesn't care about other people at all, more to embrace taking moments for yourself and being selfish with your time. Whilst there are two people in relationships when it comes to post-break up you need to focus on looking after yourself, embracing your own emotions not other peoples, and doing what works for you. Also post break-up means that you can embrace having a better self-care regime within relationships and when you're single by actively doing stuff just for you. Going to a movie that you want to see just because you want to, treating yourself to things that make you feel good, being content with your own company, making plans with people you haven't seen in a while, and going on holidays/to concerts/for nights out without a significant other means that being selfish cultivates better independence and is how you can learn to love yourself more through a breakup. Reinforcing how fabulous you are along the way.

Gilmore Girls is my favourite TV show and a place full of wisdom and Rory dealing with
her first breakup learnt this lesson just like I had to. You can't distract yourself forever.

Lorelai knows how to comfort.

14. Things are not separate
This is a large part of what makes breakups so confusing. You cannot place things neatly into 'things that are not associated with you' and 'things that are' categories because when your heart gets involved it becomes a whole lot more messy and complicated than that. Especially when like me you tried to strike a middle ground between throwing out every single item that holds a shard of connection with them and holding onto these exact same items to weep in remembrance over. I wanted to honour the good parts of my relationship post-break up but not be reminded every single moment of the day that it was gone. This is harder said than done, and I still don't really know if I succeeded. There are some things we gain from a relationship like a love of fountain pens, a new favourite tv show, an extremely comfy quilt, or an admiration for a particular director which after investing so much time in they become more something of your own regardless of where they originated from. These are good. And then there are the flip sides of the things you can't thinking of them because of or end up hating because they remind you of them too much. And a whole host of things in between which you have to muddle your way through and change your mind over several times. I prefer the Lorelai Gilmore method of 'breakup boxes' where instead of throwing everything out you put it into a box until you're ready to look at it again and remember the good times. You don't have to cut everything out but do what works for you. Just try not to feel bad about the mixed emotions a breakup creates.

This is just one of the many reasons why breakups are hard.

15. You are worth it
Whether you are single, in a relationship, recently broken up with someone (on either side of the break up) or whatever situation you find yourself in you are important, and loved and worth more than you can imagine. You are an incredible human being. Yep, you right now reading this. You will experience love and pain and every emotion in between and you may not always be graceful within that experience but you are right now, always have been, and always will be worth every single hard-won smile and buckets of happiness out there that it is possible for you to experience.

Whilst I don't know if Twain actually said this it is one of my fav quotes
and one I find myself needing to remember more often. You are so worth it, and
deserve the best. Don't stop seeking it!

Other thoughts:

I truly believe that Love is liberating (Maya Angelou) and will not stop seeking for one that makes me feel that way even when breakups feel like a song stuck inside my head.

Also, language is inadequate. When we say 'love' or 'break up' these are terms which can never truly convey the millions of little emotions and connections which form the associations individuals have with them in reality. Love doesn't always feel like the most magical thing in the world, its composed of people and people are fallible. But when it's right, when it's important, when it's a positive force not a negative drain - you make it work. Break ups are not like having you heart broken which you patch up and move on. They leave scars, imprints of words said and memories shared, even when the gap heals.

Things that have helped:
Annie Hall, Amnesia by 5SOS, Harry Potter (HP helps everything), Taylor Swift, Perks of Being A Wallflower, Wuthering Heights, Fix You - Coldplay, Goo Goo Dolls - Iris, Grenade, friends, family, Gilmore Girls, writing, When Harry Met Sally, Italy, taking risks, saying 'I Love You', cuddles, One Tree Hill, Foo Fighters, Byron, love, sleep, crying, eating, exercise, new friends, talking, getting angry, endless music, ParkRun, flatmates, best friends, feeling beautiful, colouring, saying how I feel, Reasons To Stay Alive by Matt Haig, flowers, letters, doing things on my own, giving myself second chances, and trying to articulate myself in this blog post.

There are a lot of myths which still permeate our society about love, breakups and relationships. Many of which are more irritating or more true to certain people as experiences are often subjective. People will always say phrases to me which I will disbelieve like 'puppy love', 'you can't know what love is when you're that young', 'you'll get over it'...

We have a lot of phrases that we just reach to that we think are applicable to everyone because they were what worked for us but that's not always the best way to interact. We need to remember the specifics of situations and actually listen to people.

Yes, I'm not the same dewy-eyed Romantic that I was 5 years ago. But that's okay. People change. They grow up. They grow together. They grow apart. They grow into themselves. We change what we value, we adapt to circumstance. We try new things. We learn what we will and will not tolerate, and learn more of what we actually want. Sure it might take a lot of trying to get there and we will make mistakes along the way (sometimes people-shaped ones) but moving forwards is better than standing in the echoes of the past.

Search for the best kind and don't compromise on it.
And yes over the past year and a half I have been in a place where I've questioned what love is, what the point of it all is, and just decided to hide back from life a bit more. To learn to love me and to learn to love love again. During this period the irriation which I had with PDA increased to new levels and the profusion of relationships I was surrounded with made me at best uncomfortable and at worst irritated. The daggers my eyes were throwing at couples in my proximity could have cut my fringe if it had been longer. I just resented relational-happiness when I could not feel it myself. As petty as it sounds to say that now it's true. I felt left out/kicked out of some special group which I was no longer able to count myself as part of. I fluctuated between hating relationships and wanting to be in one. From wanting to protect my heart from everyone and then wanting to give it to anyone. Sometimes even on the same day. Yet a constant irritation of not feeling like I understood and being part of a cliff-hanger ending to this chapter of my life hung over me.

BUT that is never the end of the story. We may not always be able to get the closure we desire or deserve from a break up, or other confusing/painful aspects of our lives. And equally there are somethings we cannot compromise on and our own happiness should not be severed. There are many words beginning with 'C' that I could use to describe my experience with a break-up, and really just many words in general that I could use - not all of those particularly polite :P However the important thing is to realise, from what I've learnt from my own personal observations, the benefits of talking about break ups - honestly and openly. When this happens and we do not stick to prescribed narratives for our 'acceptable emotions' then we can really make a change. Whether you approach that conversation with yourself, your close friend or other important people in your life or just randomly on the internet like me - the fact that we don't shy away from the personal or painful is to be celebrated and supported.

We cannot live in the memories of past relationships be they good or bad. We have to live
and move forward - however that may work for each one of us.

I'll leave you with one final 'C' word: Courageous.

There are many types of courage in the world and many people to be praised for practicing it but the special brand of courage it requires to get up in the mornings when you're confused about who you are and where your life is going and getting to a point where you love yourself for who you are, that allows the break up experience to shape you positively rather than negatively. And also the courage to end a relationship that is clearly not making you happy or realising that you've both just grown out of the people you were when you fell in in love is to be valued.

Another brutally applicable Annie Hall quote.

Yet this valuing often occurs retrospectively as the pain that accompanies courage is makes it hard to appreciate this virtue.

There are many sides to stories of relationship and breakups, and they do not always have the concrete ending that is easy to analyse, but this folks has been mine.

Thank you muchly for reading this post, and I'll be back with another update soon.

Much fictional love,
M x

Song of The Post: There are way too many appropriate songs for this so have a selection -

Worth It - Fifth Harmony