31 March, 2013

Easter Ever After

I had a whole Easter post planned that I was going to write on the train from home in St Albans to home in Sheffield today. It was going to incorporate chocolate and bank Holidays and all the things we get a buzz off from that fantastic Thursday before Good Friday right through to the food-induced coma we slip into on Easter Monday night.

The problem with writing is, it can get blocked. To be creative, your mind has to be relatively free of other more urgent thoughts, and unfortunately today mine is not. Usually I can rely on a long bank holiday to blow off steam, sleep off any angst and leave me a window somewhere to do the thing I love the most - write. But today, in all honesty, I just don't feel like it.

No matter how well we plan it, how hard we work to create lovely weekends for ourselves, sometimes other dynamics in our lives come and knock us sideways just at the wrong time, fill our head with thoughts and punch our heart with that very angst we thought we'd just cleared away. Unfortunately, this Easter Sunday I'm a little sad and I don't have much room to be funny and creative with my pen.

But I've got an hour to kill, and I vowed to always blog honestly, so just because I can't be on top form doesn't mean I can't blog at all right?

Some occasions are too special to let every day troubles taint them, and Easter is one of them! When else have you get 4 uninterrupted days with your loved ones? Where else do you get to hang up your work hat and put on your dancing shoes for 4 days straight? How else do you get chocolate for breakfast and quality time with the people you care about for dinner? On those occasions, you have a choice. Do you let another holiday pass you by in a cloud of everyday woes? Or do you Han up, paint on a lipstick smile and put your best foot?

I know what I'm going to do. Pass me the Easter eggs, pour me a rose, put up my feet - because this girls having a happy Easter, the rest of the world can wait.


24 March, 2013

Turning 27: When I grow up, I want...

I'm turning 27 in 3 weeks time, which I was fine with until a few days ago. I was thinking about my birthday, then about the cake (obviously), then how many candles would have to go on the cake and then I got slightly sweaty palms. THE CANDLES WOULDN'T FIT ON THE CAKE! I did a quick question round with the girls at work to find out if they felt the same, that their life was flying by and soon they would be dead?! After a quick analysis I could confirm we'd all had this panic approaching our 27th birthday, so it's fine. I am not alone, but I am older.

I don't ever really think about getting older because my mind is always so full of the immediate future, but the late-twenties has sort of been that tipping age in my mind, an age that has meant 'adult, boring, old', and that slightly scares me. At 26 you're only just passed 25, which is definitely just about still footloose and fancy free, but at 27 you're careering (hopefully) towards 30, you can't get away with 'I've just graduated' anymore and if you get caught doing the things you were doing at 22...well, lets just say I don't think people would look on me so sympathetically if I drunkenly dropped half a chocolate cake on a homeless man now. At 27, you're expected to have some decorum, be a bit of a lady (or gent), show a bit of maturity and remember to put the bins out. Or are you?

As I approach 27, I am starting to really appreciate the meaning of 'age is but a number'. Not least because I haven't at any point in the last 7 years slotted into an episode of Friends (disappointing to say the least), drinking coffee every day with my friends who are progressing at exactly the same rate as me, whilst dressed  impeccably and contemplating my imminent fatherhood (just Ross then). While I have clearly made progress from when I was a tot in that I am gainfully employed, I just about support myself and I have recruited a wonderful band of people to walk beside me, there are other things about my life that I thought would have happened naturally by now. Like I'd want to do hoovering, I'd be really good friends with the same hairdresser I'd had for years (he'd be gay and Italian and I'd be his favourite customer), I'd drive a cool mini with the girls in the back, I'd stop getting chocolate round my face and needing someone to wipe my hands after spaghetti. But alas, I'm still as clumsy as I was when I was 4, I don't handle every single situation with great wisdom and integrity, I don't want to hoover ever, I have never been to the same hairdresser twice and I need my parents on average more than I used to.

That said, there are some things that have changed in recent years which I can only associate with adultness, most specifically mid-to-late-20'sness. I moisturise every morning and every night, with a good moisturiser. Who knew the glow it gives you? I prioritise having nice things over having too much fun (sometimes) and I wake up most Sundays hangover free, ready for the giant thrill I get from drinking tea out of my favourite big fat mug. A thrill that is these days bigger than the ones I used to get from Jager Bombs. I also look at 22 year old girls wearing too short shorts revealing their cellulite (me 4 years ago) with utter disdain. Er, hello adult, could I be anymore 27?!

I used to think becoming an adult was about having certain things (a car, a designer handbag, a story from 'my time in India') and being a certain way (mainly perfect but a tad boring). Now that I myself tip into 'adulthood', I have learnt that I don't need to have the life of Rachel Green to be be 'grown-up'. Maturity is about accepting who you are and being happy with it, whilst also knowing there is so much more for you to learn, and you can find that at any age. I just happen to be doing it now, or at least I think I am getting there. It didn't come easily to me, I had a really hard time getting here and had to be brave enough to break away from all the things I thought I depended on to be happy and strong enough to put my energies into positive things, even when I really didn't want to. But I did it and it grew me up and the rewards came later. I'll never stop falling over and I'll always need help managing my piggy bank, but nowadays I wake up proud of what I did the day before instead of paranoid about what I did last night and I am so happy with what I have around me, even though I don't own the shoes and success of Carrie Bradshaw (yet).

My modest New Look brogues, the fact that I'd still rather read Cosmo and that I still don't know a damn thing about mortgages are all good with me, because what I have achieved is happiness with who I am, what I stand for and my values. I had it once before, aged 17, but then I went to the emotional minefield that is university, had my heart broken and completely lost a sense of myself. A decade later I have come full circle and I hope I never lose it again. I don't have a specific idea of what I want to 'have' when I grow up  - apart from a satchel, I really really want a proper leather satchel, quite soon - I just know I want the people close to me to remain close, I want to always feel good about myself and actually I don't want to 'have', I want to 'be'.

I am sat here in my bedroom with my cup of tea, hair that needs cutting, a rounded tummy that still isn't and will never be flat, a slight uncertainty as to where my career will take me and my student overdraft still glaring at me like a tattoo I wish I'd never got and isn't going away, but I'm alright because I know who I am and what I care about and actually it is none of the above. What I care about, my happy place, is right here in this room that I share with the most kind man, writing on an old laptop - I didn't know this was my happy place 5 years ago, but I do now. So you know what? 27, when you're ready, I'm ready for you. I think.

14 March, 2013

The early bird curse x

I'm writing this from the departure lounge of Sheffield's finest Coach interchange, with some time to spare. I arrived here a whole 1 hour 15 minutes before my coach is due. Surprise!

My 'previous' nature is something I inherited from my Grandad and has never changed. As a child I was always up early (so much living to see and do!) and even as a teenager I didn't sleep in, miss trains or do any of the other 'tardy' things associated with adolescence. As a student my essays were always finished a week before the deadline and I didn't know the meaning of fashionably late. As an adult my early-bird persona has become more defined, so that now I'm known in my family for always doing things weeks ahead of time, my friends know not to be late meeting me, I am ridiculously organised (a good thing) and I never stop planning ahead (not a good thing).

What's interesting though, Is I think I am a minority. Most of my friends are much more likely to be half an hour late than half an hour early, I'm always the first one to finish getting ready/get to the bar/arrive at the restaurant, and I seem to be one of a very few who loves mornings and hates night times.

Why am I different?! I don't for one second presume being so previous is always a good thing, so why am I this way?

My extra hour today gave me time to think and I realised just why I'm so early all the time (apart from the genetic reasons) and why I hate hate lateness. Really really hate it.

1. To a avoid panic

I'm not known for never stress-ing and I tend to be a bit of a perfectionist about plans. I want to cram a lot into my life and as a result I have lists and dates flying around my head ALL the time. Like all of it. Busyness can cause anxiety and anxiety can ruin everything, so generally i find by planning ahead and being early I can eliminate the extra stress Of 'Am I going to make it on time' when dashing for a train or even just going to work. Other people usually care a lot less than me when I am late, but I still hate the feeling of disarray and failure that it leaves me with.

On top of that being late can cause things to cost more and just become generally more stressful, in my experience. And it's just not worth it for an extra hour in bed. In a job where I could roll in at 9.15 and no- one would care, I'm rarely at my desk after 8.30. I'm sat here in freezing coach station on my day off. And I will no doubt be the first at my funeral (you'd hope). This will never change, because the stress of being late is unnecessary and I feel that in being chronically early, I get more out of life.

2. Time is so precious

One thing we all have in common is that sense that our time is really really precious. We all want to enjoy our time living and the first thing we learn is it has an expiry date. I want to do everything and more, and I know that I can't. So I plan my time to within an inch of its life, to get the most put of every day. If I get up an hour earlier I can run before starting my weekend of fun, if I get to work early I can leave early and have more fun in the evening, if I get to the party when it starts, I 'll have MORE of the party. It's about chasing the fun and making the most of yourself all at the same time, and for me that means an early start.

3. lateness is mean

More than that, if you're late you are effectively causing a domino effect of lateness that impacts on everybody's time - and that just isn't cool. If I'm meeting you for lunch, I probably got up early to bake you a cake and wash my hair, so if you're late that's 15 minutes, half an hour, an hour more of MY time that I won't get back that I could have spent running, calling my Mum or sleeping. Lateness is selfish, unless it can't be helped or happens rarely. I don't meAn that extra 5 minutes, I mean the time you spend doing what YOU want knowing you're late, but not caring that someone else is wasting their own precious time waiting for you.

On the few occasions I have been late I have always felt guilty and sincerely apologised, because I know how much I hate losing time myself and I know I may really be putting someone out. They could have cancelled an appointment or ignored an important call.

I tolerate lateness differently now I'm older, I know life gets in the way and I don't get angry with the other person like I used to, but I do refuse to put my own life on hold for them. If my mate is late I make the most of the time so that it isn't just spent waiting - I go to the bar without them and meet them there, I go shopping, I make phone calls, I browse, I blog on my phone, I drink tea. Life is too short to stand outside Starbucks for 30 mins in the rain.

The irony is, in being early I end up with an hour to kill at a freezing bus station instead of at home with the kettle and Friends on repeat. Hmmmmm.

Are you an earlybird or a late date?


11 March, 2013

A video that changed my day - be creative, make your mark x

I wasn't going to post on here this week, but my impulse to share things that inspire me with others is too strong. This video caught my eye over Twitter today, via the much loved and much hated Fearne Cotton - thankfully I watched it and once again I remembered why I love the power of social media. I am so glad this video reached me and inspired me when I most needed it.

Sometimes you just need to step out of your own world for ten minutes, so that when you step back into it again you're able to enjoy it all the more.

'Beck Reimagines David Bowie's Sound & Vision' (If I could change one thing about myself, I would have a beautiful singing voice and the ability to compose something as beautiful as this).

Have an inspiring day - be creative and make your mark. No-one will remember you for what you didn't say or do.


08 March, 2013

International Women's Day - can you be stereotypically feminine AND feminist?

International Women's Day has been observed since the early 1900's,  when active movements of unrest among women began and we started campaigning for our rights - to vote, to work better hours, to be paid equally to men. Since then the stand women have taken has been something spectacular. Quickly we have gained independence and equality, become a part of everything from sports to politics, standing as respected leaders and fundamentally developing an incredible strength to match if not supersede the men-folk.

When I think of the women I know, I think of strong, unique, independent ladies who know not only how to be their own person, but how to stand up for what they believe in. The most heartening thing I see in women of 2013 is that they would rather be single and be true to themselves than disrespect their own values and answer to a man. Which is exactly how it should be.

My idols include people like Caitlin Moran, Zooey Deschanal, Jameela Jamil, Beyonce - some of whom are modern day active feminists, some just strong, beautiful women who try to promote female strength and loyalty. Amongst my friends, the ones I adore the most are those who are not only strong themselves, but who encourage that same strength in their friends, who are fiercely loyal to their girls and who would never, ever lower themselves for the sake of a man.

I have come full circle in the past few years in terms of my attitude and the level of strength I have as a woman, but I am happy to have grown in the right direction. Now I have confidence and the ability to speak up for what is right, what I deserve and what I need. More than that, I will fight when I am not being respected and ultimately I know I don't need anyone who doesn't respect me. That is not be a concept relevant only to women, but it is definitely something we have at times as a sex struggled with. 'What Would Beyonce Do?' has oftimes been my motto in recent years and it has led me to behave in ways that would make the suffragettes who came before me proud.

Something I have struggled with though, is how a 'Strong Woman' attitude marries up with the fact that I love being at home baking, cooking and taking care of my man. In one breath I am independent and ambitious, and in the next I am one apron away from being a stereotype. While I am career-minded and want to throw myself out into the world, I am never happier than when I'm in the kitchen, fulfilling all kinds of traditionally feminine roles.Controversial I know, but hear me out.

So can we be both?

Yes, actually, according to Zooey Deschanel: "I'm just being myself...We can't be feminine and be feminists and be successful? I want to be a fucking feminist and wear a fucking Peter Pan collar. So fucking what?" If Zooey is right (and because she is a goddess I am sure she is) then being strong and independent isn't about fulfilling or not fulfilling roles, it is about just being who you are and doing what you f***ing want (I don't feel as comfortable swearing as she does, but other than that we are exactly the same). I just happen to be someone who wants to do both, I want to stay home and wear pretty dresses and bake, but I also want to achieve a lot for myself, earn bucks, run marathons and go out dancing to Beyonce with my girls.

A recent interview with Zooey in Cosmopolitan gave me a rush of inspiration and I feel that same rush every time I see any woman doing or saying something strong. I won't lie, I have a big girl crush on Zooey but I write objectively when I say the reason she is so inspiring to me and to others is because she doesn't assume you need to be feminist or righteous or a man-hater to be a strong woman, it is just about being you, being true to yourself to the absolute letter, not only being confident of who you are but making the best of that person and flaunting them for all the world to see. That combined with total female loyalty makes the strongest woman you could know in my mind.

Something I always remember is that as hard as it can initially be to be a strong woman - fighting, sticking your neck out and coming under criticism - actually women love strong women and men love strong women. That isn't a reason to be one, but it's a pretty great reward.

Happy International Women's Day 2013 - go out and be strong girls. Here are some of my favourite 'Strong Woman' snippets that inspire me every day, be inspired by them too.


Zooey Deschanel, Cosmopolitan

"It makes me sad when girls are bitchy. Girls get competitive, as though there’s only one spot in the world for everything ­ but that’s not true. We need to stick together and see there’s more to life than pleasing men. It’s important not to cut yourself off from female friendships. I think sometimes girls get scared of other girls, but you need each other."

Beyonce performing Run the World - look at this woman go!

How to be a Woman - Caitlin Moran

Anything Maz has ever said - she was ace

Hello Giggles

Hellogiggles.com is an entertainment destination designed for smart, independent and creative females. Ultimately it describes itself as a positive online community for women covering DIY and crafting projects, beauty, friendship, sex & relationships, pop culture, pets, television & movies, nostalgia, fandom, tips on savvy and stylish living meant to inspire a smile. Founded by Zooey Deschanel, Molly McAleer and Sophia Rossi.

I have a browse of Hello Giggles when I want to be silly and to be reminded there are like-minded people out there who just want women to be strong and have fun and look after themselves - without men coming in and undermining everything that is said or done, which happens a lot on other online communities like Facebook.

06 March, 2013

The positive-negative divide and thinking about your next ice cream

Lately a few things have come my way that have made me look at the way our society operates in terms of the different energies people give out. There seems to be a clear distinction between those who work really hard to create a positive world (not just for themselves but for others too) and those who do the opposite and invest their energy in being cynical and critical.

Thankfully I place myself in the former collection of people (phew!) because I spend my days focusing on positive things, taking positive action and trying to make everything I do a 'good' thing - as a result I am a 'happy person' most of the time. My attitude has at times meant cutting ties with people who stand in the way of me feeling good about myself and my life, but life is too short to be dragged down. I surround myself with things that make me smile and I don't spend time focusing on what others are saying or doing - I certainly don't spend time criticising them. Instead I do my running, I bake my cakes, I spend time with like-minded people who buoy me up and I appreciate every single little positive thing in my world, from them cup of tea I have in the morning to the bigger things like my always appreciated  friends, job, boyfriend and family. I take nothing for granted and rely on those things to pep me up when the going gets tough.

It has often knocked me sideways when I find there are actually people out there who are different from that and who do think a lot about what other people are doing, and in a negative way too. I will never stop being surprised that some people spend their days actively putting negative energy out into the world, constantly thinking about and hating on others. Sometimes we will be happily la-la-la-ing along and then someone does or says something negative towards us and we think eh?! Why are you spending time thinking about what I am doing? Sometimes it comes from people who we didn't even know existed, which is mind-boggling!

One thing that it is worth saying though, is that people aren't born positive. Do you think people who work hard to be happy don't have really down days or battles of their own? Do you think they don't suffer from depression, anxiety or low self-esteem? Do you think maybe the reason some of us work so hard to be positive is because actually we have been too close to the flip side of that? Nobody wakes up every single day and goes 'Yay! life!' but some of us choose to work really, really hard towards that, and then eventually we just do wake up thinking 'yay, life!' It doesn't mean we are always happy or don't have shit, we just choose not to dwell on that shit and try our damn hardest to be chipper anyway. Beyond that, tust because someone appears happy and positive, doesn't make it ago to give them a hard time. They are still just a person, standing in front of another person, asking to be accepted (yes I stole and adapted that from Notting Hill).

I have really shit days. People tell me I am a happy person and I am, but I work hard to be that way and there are things that work against me - I cry really easily, I have severe mood-swings sometimes (I can go from extremly sad to ecstatically happy quicker than you can say 'smile') and there are things in my life I wish I could change. I have some quite low lows that only my Mum, boyfriend and close friends really see, where I am crying about all the bad things in life, I feel like life is hard and everything is woeful. Wednesday's child! But I never stay down long, because I focus on the things that make me happy. That's the difference between me and someone negative.

By acting and thinking positively - from thought to tweet to real life - eventually you can and will be positive. You fight  to see the good stuff and enjoy the shit stuff (you know, 'learn to dance in the rain' and that) until one day you wake up and you DO LOVE EVERYTHING. You love your life, you love going to the gym and going to work and the people you see and the things you do, you stop seeing negativity everywhere you go and being critical because you're too busy seeing all the good things life offers and the awesome things in the people around you. More importantly you are too busy living.

Despite challenges that have come my way, as I get older I just get happier. No that doesn't mean I have the perfect life or that I don't have difficult things to contend with, but it does mean I have learnt to choose to be positive about me, because I want to enjoy my time in the world and for that to happen you have to have confidence in yourself and love your own life. I won't ever stop finding negative attitudes disappointing, but as I grow-up I do find it easier to A) spot them and B) quickly distance myself from them. Beyond that, I have realised the happier you are and the more positivity you radiate, the more negativity others will throw at you. It's just the way it goes.

Negativity hates positivity, while positivity doesn't care and is just thinking about it's next ice cream.

Sometimes being a positive influence can inspire someone hateful to change, but sometimes they just want to continue being miserable - it is at that point I leave. What I have slowly come to realise is that unprovoked criticism from another is a compliment, because most of the time it means they actually see something in you that they wish they could be. Beyond that; "people who judge you only sentence themselves while you go free, no need to defend yourself, just let them be.''

Life is short. You attract what is in your heart. If your heart is full of criticism, judgement, negativity and hate, then that is the life you will lead. Happy people will just keep on being happy. Yes being positive is hard work at times and god knows the world makes it difficult for us humans, but I have proven to myself that by surrounding yourself with positive things, ignoring the haters and doing the things that make you happy, then you can feel really good despite others.

Here are some of the main things I have learnt about leading a happy life. I am only 26 and have loads more to learn, so do let me know any tips! After all, the only way is up :)

Love, your eternal optimist

  • focus on yourself not others - they aren't thinking about you, so don't think about them
  • surround yourself with little things that encourage happiness - bright colours, healthy food, positive people
  • eat well, sleep well, exercise - you can control these things so it is an easy way to promote happiness
  • stand up for what you believe in - it is scientifically proven that making a stand makes us feel better about ourselves
  • treat yourself when you have earnt it
  • find balance (yesterday I ordered me some snazzy new running shorts and the new Hummingbird Bakery recipe book...that's balance right?!) 
  • 'be silly, be honest, be kind' - Ralph Waldo Emerson
  • SMILE - think about your next ice cream, treat, run - whatever does it for you
  • there is a difference between happiness and positivity - they aren't co-dependent
  • there is a difference between sadness and negativity, you can feel sad but still be positive 
  • be inspired by others - just remember to be you, you can't become someone else because it won't be real, but you can allow yourself to be positively influenced and look up to people who inspire you
  • be kind to others - not only are they fighting battles you don't know about, but giving to others releases a happy hormones that make us feel better than if we were receiving something - Cosmo fact of the month!

04 March, 2013

Bosom buddies - or are we?

This morning I did something I have never done before. I had a communal shower in the gym, with other women...starkers! I only joined said gym 2 months ago and up until now have gone out of my way to shower in private and therefore not had the worry that my, er, privates are on show. My first week there, I even showered with my knickers on and would rather have claimed to have wet myself than have to expose myself to the ladies I lunge with.

I am relatively body confident on a good day, and certainly don't feel I have anything freakish to hide, but I am just not that used to being naked in front of other people. As a family we've always been quite covered up, none of this dashing to the bathroom in your birthday suit nonsense. The same goes for me and my girlfriends - holidays have never involved topless sunbathing and I most certainly don't feel able to get my foof out in front of any of them. Knickers on is fine, knickers off is so not for the girls. I don't even really like being naked by myself. The thought of sleeping naked HORRIFIES me and while I happily roam around in underwear and bikinis, I try to stay actually fully naked for as little time as possible.  Goodness knows what that says about me, but I don't think I am alone (please?).

This morning, as I dashed with flushed cheeks to the shower after my gym class and hurriedly tried to work out where to position myself so that NO-ONE would see me, 3 of my boot-camp buddies came sauntering in, chatting away to each other like bessie mates, with all their glorys on display. My initial reaction was to scurry away with my Herbal Essence still firmly lathered into my hair and come back another time, when there was less exposed flesh around me. However, I quickly realised these women felt totally at ease in the situation, as they bent over to scrub between their toes and threw each other the shower gel without a care in the world, bosoms jangling everywhere. If they could be comfortable baring all to stranger-women, then why couldn't I? I was the youngest of the group by a long way and probably had the perkiest love-handles of us all, so really I should have been setting an example. I faced my naked fears, turned around and started chatting to them as I lathered, rinsed and repeated, but in the back of my mind I kept thinking 'this feels weird this feels weird this feels weird' and didn't hang around after the suds had washed away.

What struck me though, was the conversation that took place. While we 4 women, who had entrusted each other enough to stand together with no protective covering at all, stood humbly washing, they chose to bitch about the female form. The ladies were discussing another girl they knew, complimenting her ' young, toned body', her 'lovely slim legs' and her....'WEIRD STOMACH'. Yes, that's right, girl on girl criticism. Snippets of the conversation included "Oooooh I thought she must be pregnant but then it wasn't the right shape", 'Strange isn't it, how someone so slim can have such a ghastly pot-belly" and "I mean she gets away with it but you thank your stars it's not your stomach".

Needless to say it didn't take long for me to do a full u-turn emotionally and physically, and launch myself back into the safety of my towel. While I congratulated myself on having done something I didn't think I would ever feel confident doing - flashing - I felt really disappointed by the tone and topic of the conversation that had taken place. None of the women in that shower had 'perfect' bodies, there were lumps and bumps and uniquely shaped boobs everywhere, which I had found actually really refreshing to see. It's inspiriting to see another naked gal who doesn't leave you feeling about as attractive as Stig of the Dump. We're so used to only really seeing Kelly Brook and Page 3 girls with their kit off, that for us women it is really really really hard to feel up to par. So why why why, women, are we making it even harder on ourselves and criticising each other?

It's easy to laugh at men; 'oh poor lambs they think they're going to marry a blonde bombshell with boobs that touch Mars, but really we know they'll end up with a saggy-assed wife carrying that extra half stone', because they don't know any better. They aren't us. They grow up seeing ridiculous versions of the female form that are mainly made of plastic, and they think that's what they should aim for when it comes to finding the perfect woman. And then somewhere between the age of about 16 and 30 the realisation dawns on them and everyone's disappointed FOREVER! Really, Page 3 ruins everybody's lives. Women never feel good enough and men never think we are and continue to give themselves a treat to the actually hot women who reside on Rude Tube.

I know I'm not Sienna Miller, my arms wobble, my stomach is not washboard and my ass is 'generous' to say the least. But I don't criticise those things (often) I work where my body needs work but mainly have learnt to embrace the 'imperfections'. Bootcamp will sort my arms out, my boyfriend loves my bum the best and my rounded tummy represents the fact that while I work hard to be fit and healthy, I will always have a zest for life and more importantly for cake, but it is hard to remain confident when we are in this cycle of criticism from all sides, and it's only women this happens to. Do you think  Matt Horne comments on James Corden's chub when showering with the rich and famous? Noooo.

Some of us women try to break this cycle, by doing everything we can to feel confident without conforming to social expectations, but what hope do we have when we, the females, are turning on each other and criticising each other for our 'pot bellies' (so, a normal human belly then?) Come ON ladies! I have now been frightened back into my individual shower cubicle for the foreseeable future, because god knows I don't want to be torn to pieces by my own kind. The only people who can stop putting pressure on women to be perfect is women*. Who cares what men say/think/expect? Not me, as long as we stick together.


No More Page 3

If you want to make a start and make a change to how women's bodies are perceived, head to the No More Page 3, which campaigns for The Sun newspaper to drop it's bare boobs. Currently with over 83,000 signatures, the campaign is going strong and is supported by Caitlin Moran, Eliza Doolittle, Glamour Magazine, Jennifer Saunders, Lauren Laverne and a few male household names to boot. Find out more here.

*At the time this went 'to press' (ha!) I spied a tweet from the much adored, much bullied when she was younger for her appearance, much strong woman Jameela Jamil. It read as follows: 'A woman having a go at another woman because she feels that woman MAY dare to be comfortable with her own image, is what's wrong with women.' And I couldn't have said it better myself, so I Re-tweeted it instead.

02 March, 2013

M.E., my Mum and me x

If I had a penny for every time I had tried to explain my Mum's illness to a friend, colleague or boyfriend I wouldn't be very rich, because to be honest I don't try to explain it any more. Those who get it get it, and those who don't probably never will.

The first thing about M.E. is that far too many people confuse it with mental or psychological illness, a nervous breakdown, agoraphobia or (and I'm not kidding) 'laziness'. When science can't explain something and medicine can't cure it, then as a society we love to call it mental illness, put a pin in it and leaves those who suffer with it to fend for themselves. It isn't that long ago that people with learning disabilities were considered by medical professionals to be 'imbeciles' and tied to a pole in a cold room all day because no-one knew what to do with them. It isn't that long ago that society thought homosexuality was a mental illness, that perhaps could be 'cured' of with therapy or time. Disgusting, right? Let me tell you now - coming from an intellectual, educated, objective and open-minded person who has first hand experience of the disease - if you believe M.E. to be in any way 'in the mind', or have even considered that someone suffering with chronic fatigue might be 'lazy', then you are just as disgusting.

We all know someone who is lazy. They don't want to work. They don't want to go outside. They probably live in disarray and they probably won't get very far in life until they get off their ass and do something. That was not my mother before she got ill. At the time she first got ill, she'd had 3 children - aged 9, 7 and 3 - was being a full-time single mother to those children, was studying on a teacher training course to learn how to support herself and her 3 girls as newly single mother and was paying bills, running a household and trying to have a hint of a social life. When she was sad she took us out on long walks, she made us nice dinners with not very much money and she fought every hour god sent to give us all a good life. Everything about her in the years before she got ill screamed fighter, worker, hero. Nothing about her choices and behaviour said 'lazy' or 'weak'.

Unfortunately, when I was 7 years old, Mum's body chose for her. It gave up. And I can't say I blame it, after all she had been dragged through. While in her mind and tainted-heart she was ready to keep fighting, her body said no. For days, weeks and months no-one knew what was wrong. Doctors did tests, but no-one understood what was happening or could give her a pill to get her back on her feet. Those first few years of Mum being ill are a blur. I knew her muscles hurt, I knew she couldn't get out of bed easily or cook us tea, I knew if she did too much she would feel ill like you do with the flu but much much worse, I knew she was very sad and lonely and isolated and I knew that beyond me and my sisters, not many people understood her.

My earliest memory is of the Home Help we had - a stream of slightly strange women who picked us up from school and cooked us lumpy mashed potatoes, while Mum lay upstairs willing herself to get better with every cell in her body, and various people who social services sent to do our cleaning and get our shopping. I didn't like those women cooking me my tea. I would go and sit on the end of my Mum's bed as soon as tea was done, or whenever I could after school, because even though she was just upstairs I really missed her. I'd sit on the end of her bed and tell her about my day and before we went to bed at night me and my sisters would all sit in her room with her, sometimes laughing and chatting, sometimes trying to cheer her up when she was sad.

My first holiday away without her, our grandparents took us all to their house in France with my cousins, aunties and uncles, and my heart hurt so much knowing we were all there while she was lying in bed back home, alone, in every kind of pain. I will never forget bursting in to tears that holiday, too young to cope with the hurt, crying that I wanted my Mum to get better. I felt so home sick and so worried for her. As I got older I learnt to cope with that pain and we adjusted to going on holidays without her, but that pain for Mum never really went away and it's still there with me today, everywhere I go.

Naively, for a long time, I thought Mum would be one of the ones who got better, like some people with M.E. do. Every single birthday, when I blew out the candles on my cake, that would be my wish, and every year I would be disappointed. She tried everything to get better, especially in the early years - herbal remedies, spiritual healing, exploring various beliefs, reading hundreds of books when her arms would allow her to hold one and so many different things that might might might be what helped her get better. When your world shrinks so small, your mind opens and you have to give everything a try, but 20 years on, while she has made great progress, my Mum is still ill.

There have been good times, where shes been able to cook and go for short trips and walk round the park over the road,  but those times have been sparse. She hasn't been able to come and visit me in Sheffield except for my graduation (which was amazing to have her come to!) or go away with us on holidays or do most of the things many mothers take for granted. I try to text Mum most days, me and my sisters visit and call her a lot and make the most of the days when she is well enough to enjoy life with us, but that pain I carry, that guilt that I'm living my life when she can't, never ever goes away.

I don't feel sorry for myself about it really, but I do feel sad for Mum. For the past 20 years she hasn't  been able to go on the long walks she loved so much, she never did get around to becoming a teacher and she is so aware of all of the things she's missed out on while she's been bed-ridden. She's amazing though, an inspiration, because most of the time she is so positive. She will find happiness just looking down into her pretty garden, she is genuinely happy with a simple life and she manages to create a life for herself even with the most limited means you can image - it's something I am so proud of when at times she only has strength to lie in bed and listen to the world outside. It puts my life into perspective too, as I am so aware of how lucky I am and of everything that I can do - it's safe to say I throw myself into life and take everything it offers me. I also know without her incredible influence I would not be the person I am proud of being today.

I have than more accepted my Mum's illness and in some ways am thankful for it - she has been there for me 24/7 in ways that most mothers can't be for their children, she has used her experiences to always give me the very best most wise advice, and her illness has definitely helped shaped me and my 2 sisters into being kind-hearted, sensitive and essentially good people.

One thing I don't accept, and will never accept, is the stigma attached to M.E. and the assumptions made not only by those who don't 'get it' but by those who really, really should know better. If you look at the life my Mum has had for the past 20 years, I can categorically promise you that it has not been a life led for the sake of laziness or a mental  breakdown or any other kind of psychological illness or phobia that could have been overcome. How many people do you know would sacrifice walks, holidays, friendships, relationships, visiting their grown-up daughters in their homes, trips, treats, work and all those other things that make a life, unless they had absolutely no choice??? The only way to explain my Mum's M.E, is to say it is a prison. She has all the will in the world to go out and live, but her body has locked her in. I challenge anyone who challenges that to walk a day in her shoes.

In a few month's time I will be doing the Sheffield half marathon for the 2nd year running and again will be raising money for the M.E Association. While there is such a long way to go for ME, in terms of removing  the social stigma, gaining understanding and actually finding a medical cure or even remedy, we have to start somewhere. It may not happen in my lifetime, but with every mile I run for M.E., with every time someone writes about their experiences of it, with every person who opens their mind and trys to understand it - we might just make progress.

Sponsor me in the Sheffield Half Marathon run at www.justgiving.com/HanRunHan or just show me support by mentally cheering me on! Learn more about M.E. here.

Love and thanks.