Sand In The Hourglass

Lately, I’ve found life to be tinged by an unidentifiable grey. As the French or pretentious may call it, ennui. Leech-like, it’s bled away so much joy from my day-to-day life – growing in mass and potency by the hour. And I’ve not really been able to pinpoint why. So, I’m hoping this word splurge might help me draw some conclusions – or someone out there can set a good therapist on the case.

For a whole host of reasons, lately it’s felt as if I’ve become aware of The Matrix. Although, in my case, The Matrix isn’t this far-reaching nebulous conspiracy – it’s an over-awareness of the passing of time. In August, on the 25th to be precise so you can add to your diaries for celebration/gift-giving – as you see fit) I turn 30 years old. I still haven’t worked out how I feel about this fact. For the most part, like 99%, I am enjoying being 29 way more than I enjoyed being 22 (in your face, Taylor Swift). I feel more certain in myself and who I am. Right now, I am the most confident I have ever been. I even made a complaint about a cold meal, and resulting bad customer service, in a restaurant last weekend. This is the most comfortable I’ve ever felt in my own skin and I’m starting to actually enjoy my own copy. For the first time in my 29 years, I’m starting to become my own cheerleader. Or, at the very least, have gotten far better at faking it till I make it.

But at what cost? That’s where the ennui is setting in. I am finding these benefits of aging at the cost of my beloved aging too. Truly, I don’t think I’ve ever felt this aware of the inevitability of death. The fact that I will die someday is far less frightening than knowing all of those I love will die someday. Is this the best my life will ever be? The happiest I will ever be? The most amount of loved ones I will ever have? How am I supposed to cope?

The most difficult thing about human existence (and I’m paraphrasing from someone far more intelligent and eloquent than I) is the fact we live our days knowing that someday it will all end. But we just don’t know when. It’s cursed knowledge. I’ve spent the past few weeks, months perhaps, living in the brace position terrified for unbearable news to arrive at my door. So focused on the now, clutching my head and stoically starring downward – waiting just in case – that I’m missing what’s happening in the world around me. I’m forgetting to stop and smell the flowers as I’m already anticipating their wilting.

You don’t need me to tell you how frightening this world is. How much trauma we’ve all endured these past years. As I wrote before, in a previous blog post, we are all fatigued and adrift in different sized lifeboats. And the hardest thing to do right now is let ourselves feel that. We hide in books, records, films – these things matter, call me shallow but it’s the fucking truth. As much as absolutely possible, we avoid being still with our thoughts and we avoid letting ourselves feel. Because to feel can mean to hurt. To be open to feelings, that requires the truest extent of bravery and strength. To allow ourselves to be vulnerable means exposing ourselves to the world and inviting it to hit us.

And yet, is that also not the beauty of life – the infinite possibility of feeling and emotion. The profound potential of feeling ecstatic joy and jubilation. The very act of feeling seen and known and understood and loved – irretrievably, unequivocally and unreservedly for and despite those things. That’s our purpose and our reason for living. But how to hold onto that, and to stay open to all those wonderful possibilities? Now that’s where I don’t have the answers. Not right now at least.

The Resolution Solution

Back in 2019, in those halcyon pre-pandemic days, I set myself a list of dares instead of New Year’s resolutions. Those dares varied from the small – go get my nails done in a salon – to the big – perform a poem at an event in public. The idea behind The Dare List was simple, why set big targets such as ‘Try to be braver!’ that felt so nebulous and unachievable. Using a bit of school vernacular, these SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timely) goals would be baby steps to building up that bravery. These goals were personal and related to my direct personal experience – after all, who else would have ‘Go to Madame Tussauds’ on their dare list because they are incredibly frightened by wax mannequins after an incident with a Roman Centurion model at Canterbury Roman Museum aged 7? The list ended up being a working document, with some edits here and there and some additions along the way. It was incredible experience that I’d fully recommend, and would happily write about in way more detail for any publishers out there..!

It was such an impactful process that I endeavoured to repeat it in 2020, with dares building upon those earlier ones and the successes I found along the way. Then March 2020 hit and – you can guess the rest. Hitting Lockdown 3.0 at the start of January 2021 reduced any want or real possibility of cracking on with a Dare List, so that got quickly abandoned. We’re now 3 days into 2022 and I’ve spent a lot of time thinking whether I’d want to do another list. It was working through and evaluating the benefits of undertaking the list that lead me to this solution.

This year I won’t have a dare list because the theme of my year will be to dare. Every single day, in some way or another, I will dare myself to be braver in whatever way fate provides. No approaching this task with to-do-list in hand, instead I want to reshape my overall mindset. That’s not to say I’ve totally ruled out coming up with a list of activities I’d like to try and dare myself to accomplish – I turn 30 in 234 days, and I can see a 30-before-30 list on the horizon. But, for 2022, I’m going to dare to be me. Dare to finally and fully live within my skin, my brain and my personality.

During the tail end of 2021 I found myself sometimes casually, sometimes cruelly, sometimes consciously and sometimes unconsciously thinking – you have wasted your entire 20s waiting for your life to begin. Stripping that back, I can see the bullshit. When nice brain mode is activated, I can see so many of the things I have achieved and that I am proud of, the adventures I’ve had and the wonderful people who have been along for the ride. But I think I’ve spent far too much time thinking of what comes next that I often don’t feel these joys at the time and am often unable to live & relish within the moment.

I’m definitely way happier in my skin at this end of my twenties, I feel braver and more certain of who I am. There’s definitely less self-flagellation and more self-acceptance of what makes who I am. And yet, there’s still a lot of work to be done. Quite often I live my days at a slight distance or remove from what is actually happening, assessing possible outcomes and probabilities, emotionally preparing for the arrival of what could occur. Not to mention the overthinking that happens after, of how things could, would or should have gone. Which leads me on nicely to how I’m going to dare to change that up a bit:

  • Dare to be nicer to yourself.
  • Dare to say more of what you’re thinking, rather than what you think people want you to say.
  • Dare to be less rigid and regimented.
  • Dare to appreciate what you have got, rather than lamenting what you haven’t.
  • Dare to let the universe take the wheel sometimes.

That last one is the one that most relates to my love life, such as it is in it’s continued dormant state. Being perfectly honest with myself – and daring to do so! – that’s the think I feel like I’ve wasted the most time over, lamenting over surely being broken to be so unwanted. Not being enough to be wanted, not being enough to get them to stay or to pick me. I’ve simultaneously let my love life happen to me yet also define my sense of self-perception. No-one wants me so I must be unwantable. Not good enough. Not attractive enough. Not palatable enough. It feels like I’ve spent my twenties on a reserve bench waiting to be picked, whilst all around me are others getting picked.

What I’m currently trying desperately hard to do is reframe it all and reset the mould on how I view both myself and the chaotic situationships that littered my twenties. There’s societal expectation, articulated both aloud and sublimely, that makes me feel like I’ve failed. That, no matter what I achieve in life, it’s a failure if I don’t leave behind a family and romantic partner. I can’t tell you how excused I am by beating myself over this very fact, of draining so much joy from personal achievements and appreciating the now when that relationships section of a future biography or Wikipedia page (what, I’m *daring* to dream!) remains decidedly sparse.

In a move that may seem initially counter-intuitive, I’ve deleted my dating apps. Again. In theory, for a month, but I’m aiming for longer. I’ve been intermittently using them for 7-odd years and, during my most recent spell of usage, I think I finally admit quasi-defeat as I fundamentally don’t believe they work for me. Aside from minute boosts to self-esteem, they genuinely make me bitterly unhappy. Whether it’s me and how I’m wired, we are just not compatible. During my last stint, I just could not find the capacity to maintain messaging. I just don’t want to do it anymore. I’m not designed to chat to 6 different people, develop a measured emotional investment in them, then possibly date 3 of them whilst they date 3 others. And that’s the toll matches took on me, let alone how personally I’d take people not matching or unmatching or not replying (yep, even when I was doing the same. I didn’t say I wasn’t being a hypocrite..) In all honesty, by the end, it just felt like I was wasting time and energy – which is something I try to reassure myself with as a face another tidal wave at rising panic over if I’m doing the right thing. Then I start to do the calculations of how much time I’ve spent on dating apps over a near-decade vs what little benefit I’ve ever had from partaking, and things start to plateau a little…

Which, all in all, is me starting to be a little braver really. I’ve been using the apps as a crutch, a pinky toe in the dating pool – snatched minutes here and there to make me feel like ‘at least I’m trying’. Maybe I need to actually dive in, daring to be more present within moments and take more chances. Daring to admit that I’d actually like a love life this year, instead of playing a bit part in others people, means daring to accept myself a bit more and appreciate who I am a bit more. It’s easy, far far too easy, to berate myself for not having met the supposed love of my life because I’m not good enough. But maybe I’ve not met a right person yet, maybe because they’ve also got a bit lost on the way. But maybe I’ve not put myself out there nearly enough, global pandemic aside. Obviously.

It’s surely about time I dared to let myself accept that maybe I’ve been good enough for myself all along, and it’s about time I listened.

SAD (In both senses of the word…)

Although I’ve experienced it for longer than I care to remember, it always seems to arrive as a surprise. Winter comes every year, yet somehow, upon each return, we seem unable to compute it or work out how we survived it last time. For some of us, Winter comes knocking at the door hand-in-hand with Seasonal Affective Disorder. It’s essentially depression which is more apparent and hits harder in the Winter months; with reduced sunlight the body’s internal clock seems to struggle and the production line for both serotine & melatonin seems to run dry.

For those who haven’t had direct experience of depression, be that at any time of year and in any incarnation, the best way I can describe is having a grain of sand halting the cogs of the brain. It’s invisible, unseen and often unnoticed until it’s toll is felt with a vengeance. It often makes an appearance with anxiety, a complex web of overthinking and unease. Together they can stop day-to-day living as you know it, leaving behind scare resources to just about exist instead.

I didn’t get my first diagnosis of anxiety & depression until I was 21, working on an academic essay for my PGCE somehow became the thing that upturned my life completely. I struggled with it, for reasons both logical and imperceptible, to the point that my battle with it became the centre of everything. My ineptitude of writing it meant I was an awful person. Useless. A waste. As the deadline for the essay approached, the spiral worsened and deepened – to the point of near-total consumption. In all honesty, I don’t know how I got through it. The diagnosis of anxiety & depression provided a name to the monster and brought with allies to help fight it.

Retrospectively, it explains so much about things I struggled with as a child. My 60% attendance at school in year 11 makes more sense. The deep-rooted fear that arises from the deepest pit of my stomach when even remembering my secondary school years becomes that much more understandable.

I’ve written before these struggles. I’ve even written before about my fear of SAD, and how September is the start of a new school year and my internal countdown. I think I was in denial about it’s return, naïve and hopeful that maybe – after 20 months of a global pandemic with all the emotional & mental & physical turmoil it brought with it – just maybe, it might take a break this year.

Instead it has arrived with the kind of entrance an all-consuming diva could dare to dream of. Except not only has it arrived bang on time, it arrived with horrific efficiency and timekeeping. For me, SAD arrived precisely at midnight on Monday 1st November. The clocks changed on the Sunday, going back an hour which means the mornings are a tad brighter but the nights get darker quicker. The sun now sets at 4.30pm, leaving us stuck in the bleak blackness for far, far too long.

I’d gone to bed on the Sunday happy and rested, waking up just two hours in – at midnight – feeling the weight of everything. The back-to-school dread, the countdown timer to Christmas already unwillingly started, mixed with the sudden realisation that this would be it. Until March.

I’m only three days in, but these three days have felt brutal. It feels like a Dementor arrived like a Grim Reaper of joy, taking everything that makes me me with it. My appetite is one of extremes – I’m either too hungry or too full. I’m aching and tired, yawning constantly and craving just to be still. My passions have gone from technicolour to grey, I struggle to motivate to do anything beyond staring into space. Social interactions seem harder, forming sentences becomes a Herculean task when the words feel just out of reach. Hope has been zapped, dread and worthlessness grow where it once sat. Everything, even the most simple of tasks becomes a battle. Whilst surrounded by people, the loneliness settles within the bones with an ever-present ache.

I’ve already lost count of the amount of conversations I’ve already had that involve the phrase ‘Are you okay?’ It’s a question that’s becoming increasingly hard to answer. Not because I’m afraid to say I’m not okay, but because even just finding the fuel to say that feels a waste of deplenishing supply.

The only hope is that this a transitionary period, that these are a form of growing pains of adjustment that are transitional. Temporary unwelcome residents that will swiftly depart. Soon this weather and the every-present dark sky will be the new temporary normal until it reduces it’s overtime and lets the sun return from supporting to main act.

Because I desperately wanted to feel like myself again, not a barely-there shadow.

Stream On Vol. 17

Welcome to volume seventeen of Stream On, where I recommend 5 things you could watch on some of your favourite streaming sites. Yes, I know it has been intermittent recently – but normal service shall resume! As it’s my birthday on Wednesday 25th, I thought I’d make this a themed one. Here’s my five favourite films of all time and where to watch them.

Not enough for you here? Try the previous volumes – volumes 1234567891011121314 , 15 and 16.

The Princess Bride (1987 – 98 mins)

I could sit here and tell you, yet again, why I love this movie so much. But, if you know me and/or this film, you know all that stuff already. So, if you’re one of the few who knows neither of this, give this piece I wrote for Den Of Geek a try.

Available on: Amazon Prime (with Starz add-on), £3.49 to rent or £4.99 to buy on SKYGO.

Casablanca (1942 – 102 mins)

Some movies just have the perfect script, packed full of endlessly quotable lines that are effortlessly delivered by an extraordinary cast. A phenomenal movie, that everyone needs to have seen.

Available on: Amazon Prime and SKYGO, to rent for £3.49 or buy for £7.99

A Matter Of Life and Death (1946 – 104 mins)

During my second year of studying Film Studies at university, I found myself falling out of love with cinema – exhausted by having to analyse and break films down. Seeing this, for the first time and on the big screen, brought it all back to me and then some. One of the most beautiful and poignant films in existence. The kind of film that makes you believe in love and that it’s all worth it.

Available on: Britbox, or to buy on Amazon Prime for £6.99

High Fidelity (2000 – 113 mins)

Based on Nick Hornby’s 1995 novel of the same time, just transplanted from London to Chicago, we follow 30-something record store owner Rob (John Cusack) as he goes through a break-up that he thinks doesn’t even enter his top 5 worst break-ups of all time – as he lists in great detail. Until he starts to realise that maybe he’s got it all wrong. Also featuring Jack Black in his breakthrough role, as the most annoying employee in existence. Few films capture the healing power of music or the harsh reality of love & break-ups. After watching, give the 2020 gender-flipped tv series a try.

Available on: Disney+, or on Amazon Prime to rent for £2.49 or buy for £8.99.

Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975 – 100 mins)

Astounding, yet never fleeting, as the film approaches it’s 50th anniversary it remains as beloved as ever. I first watched it in my early teens, just on a whim – I then watched it every single day for the rest of that month. It really is the greatest cult film of all time.

Available on: Amazon Prime and SKYGO, to rent for £3.49 or buy for £9.99

On The Bench

An emotional hangover set in the weekend after last week’s speed dating (click here if you need to catch up). Unsure as to why, I tried to unpick it all. Although the 14 dates hadn’t been brilliant, they hadn’t been awful – trust me, I know an awful date or two or five.

In many ways, it had been a rather helpful experience. My first dating experience in a few months, it was a relatively low stakes opportunity to get back into the swing of things. And I’d done a good job, way better than I’d feared. The nerves had evaporated instantly – I was witty, charming, flirty. We’re talking the A-Game being served here guys, that felt good – like shaking the dust of, working those muscles again and feeling the buzz. Unfortunately, that A-Game felt sort of wasted, as there hadn’t really been anyone it felt worth using it on. I’d spent energy, little energy I could or can really afford to spend on company that I’d never see again. I’d invested in something I’d see no returns on. It, and I, all felt a bit empty and hollow on response.

Days on, and after some incredibly helpful and insightful conversations with some loved ones, I think I may have found out the cause. My mindset needs reshaping and I need to change my approach to dating and all things matter of the heart. Because I think that right now, I’m causing myself more harm than good. Pushing myself through motions I’m not in the right head or heart space for. Desperately chasing and grasping, out of force rather than choice. Trying to fix something that is near enough, totally out of my control.

As an eternal singleton, the fundamental thing that causes myself the most upset is feeling like I’m getting it all wrong. That I should be in a relationship. That I have failed on all levels. That I’m nowhere in life. My achievements are not valid because that zone of my life is empty. I am yet to make a move on the Game of Life. Everyone else is progressing around me, making these huge life choices whilst I’m left feeling like I’m no-one or nothing. And, fuck me, it’s exhausting. I’m exhausted.

Because, you know what? I actually love my life. I have amazing family, a rolodex of fabulous friends and an incredible inner circle I consider as both. Both my jobs – teacher by day, film critic by night – full and excite me in so many different ways, regularly providing me with experiences I could never have dreamed off. And yet that voice in my head tries to cut that joy off at the root with one venom-ladden sentence, ‘Doesn’t really matter does it? You’ve still failed at the thing that counts.’

So many personal victories have lost potency in the face of taking on that voice, losing to it’s nastiness and bile. And the worst thing is, this year, it’s been getting louder. As my peers taper off into home buying, marriage and children – I feel like I’m stuck in stasis, increasingly alone and adrift in this failure zone. I know that’s not right. I definitely know it’s not okay.

Our society is geared towards us being coupled up. There’s the tax benefits, being able to get on the property market, food shopping – just to name a few that I can currently think of as I frantically stomp out this stream of consciousness. We seem to place a higher focus and stronger emphasis on these kind of successes. And thus, we make those who are unable or unwanting to settle down feel inept and inadequate outliers.

I know a relationship is not the centre of one’s personal universe. Life is a solar system made up of tens of different planets that work together to make life full. But instead, right now, whilst my relationship planet has no signs of life and seemingly no power to charm, it’s acting like a black hole – pulling everything out of alignment and distracting me from all that is good. A diversion from my enjoying my life for all the good that is within it.

If that’s the kind of energy I’m channelling right now, I can only imagine how it feels to be around it. There’s nothing desirable – either platonically or romantically – about this degree of intensity. This is a vicious circle that needs to be broken. What I need to do is turn the blinkers off, open my eyes instead of narrowing them with singular focus, and stop cutting myself off from so many opportunities for joy. And I think putting myself on the bench is the only way to do it.

It’s gotten to the point where I have to force myself to go on the apps, endless trailing through – yet another talking stage feeling like it’s splintering off any emotional resilience I have left. The prospect of dates feel as appealing as going into battle, afraid that I’m waiting mine and their time and energy on something that is hopeless. Frightened that one wrong comment or rejection could send me spiralling into the pit of despair. In a world where first meeting in person feels impossible, going digital feels like the last (only?) weapon left in the armourery – but it’s taking too much from me each time I go to use it.

So, once again, dating apps and I are going on a break. And, cliche as it may sound, I’m going to focus on myself for a while. On what makes me happy and be who I want to be, instead of trying to make myself appealing and who people want me to be. There’s guarding your heart, and there’s what I’m doing right now. My heart is protected by impenetrable buttresses (hehehe), a moat and a field of thorns a la Sleeping Beauty.

If I want to find and accept both self-love and self-peace, let alone any from external influences, the current self-defence protocol is going to have to be updated. Right now I think the only way to do that is by having a reset, turning it all off-and-on-again. These past few months I’ve been throwing everything at the wall, trying to get something – anything – to stick. But I can’t if I don’t feel like I deserve it, view it as the centre of everything yet protect myself from it so greatly. So, for now, I’m going to try and feast on my life instead. I want to find a way that I can validate myself, instead of trying to find validation and solace in others.

Right now, I’m a walking self-fufilling prophecy – but I’m finally going to take ownership of it and rewrite what comes next.

Charlotte Sometimes… Goes speed dating

‘It wasn’t awful…’

That’s the text I sent my friends as I left the bar this evening. I’d just been at a speed dating event, which I’d been incredibly nervous about beforehand – so the immediate feeling on leaving was came from the bar being very low. On the floor. Impossible to limbo under and barely requiring even a hop over. After trying to sleep the past hour, I realised I needed to talk through the night to find a kind of peace with my ‘wasn’t awful’ evening as, if it ‘wasn’t awful’ what was it? And why do I feel sadness tinging at the edges?

I’d booked the event at the start of July during an infrequent crossover of ‘God, I hate the apps’ and ‘Well, why not?!?’ It was due to happen a couple of days later, which was the key here – as an overthinker of Olympic status, I didn’t need any longer to think over it all or strategise for all that could go wrong. Then the football happened and the event got postponed. I couldn’t make the following week due to work commitments, and an increasing tough blend of end-of-school-year fatigue meets Long Covid. That’s how it ended up happening literally a month later than planned.

Going on my own had felt the best choice – there’d be no where for me to hide (I’m surprisingly good at this for someone so tall and hard to miss…) and no need to worry about who liked who/any overlaps in possible matches. And yet, at 5am on Thursday when I woke up straight into an anxiety attack – well, that’s when it all started to feel like a bad idea. I could go into detail about what kind of thoughts that nasty voice in my brain was churning out, but I think doing so will amplify them and give them more volume. I think they’d also make you feel sorry for me, which is not the intent here at all. Suffice to say, they were not nice thoughts about myself and placed huge doubt in what I was thinking in even going to such an event – who did I think I was putting myself forward? Who’d even like me?

Big twist time, I did end up going! I popped those nasty thoughts in a box, pushed them to one side, had some Dutch courage and braved it. But, as you’ve probably guessed – it’s being ‘not awful’ isn’t the most glowing endorsement is it?

Arriving at the bar, I couldn’t get over the noise. Were bars always this loud in the before times? Did we always have to endure such loud music that required much shouting to even attempt a conversation? Have dj’s always thought mixing Ed Sheeran and Beyonce, before segueing into an awful remix of Shakira’s ‘Hips Don’t Lie’ was a good idea?

A few people had already arrived in the upstairs section, where the event was happening. There wasn’t much vibe, just us awkward folk awkward-ing. Clearly the past 18 months had had an impact on our socialising skills, if there really had been any to start with… The website for this evening had promised 15-20 dates on one page. On another 20-25. I asked the organiser what the numbers were looking for tonight. He replied ’14 blokes and 11 girls.’ I nodded, barely close to the promised numbers – but not ‘awful’. I genuinely didn’t expect him to follow up with ‘Well, I say that – two of the girls did arrive, clocked the blokes coming up here and are refusing to come up as they’ve said they don’t like the look of the quality of the men. But I mean, come on! You’re here now, why wouldn’t you come up??! They’re young I guess, you get it though right?’ I nodded sagely in agreement, as if to shake silent the red alarm whirling in my head but also to cover up for really not knowing what to say. Looking around the room, they may have had a point…

This is not to make a judgement on looks, appearance or height. It was more about the feel, and the feel wasn’t good. In all honesty, it felt really thirsty. And there was a growing discontentment from the blokes about the ratio and odds being far from in their favour.

My first ‘date’ happened before the event even officially started. Having sat down to get my bearings, I was alone for less than a minute before a bloke sat in the chair opposite. He hadn’t asked (a lack of questions being asked would turn out to be a recurring theme of the evening…) and started his attempt at a charm offensive. He was insistent on taking my IG details and checking I added him there & then. In a rather cyclical move, he returned at the end of the night to insist I go on a drink with him – refusing to take no for an answer. Soon after, as I left, I took so much pleasure for using the ‘block’ button.

The rest of the – fourteen in total – dates varied from ‘fine’ to ‘not good’ to ‘oh Lord, have mercy’ – which I guess is how you get to ‘wasn’t awful’. One guy ignored the Covid guidelines and decided to sit next to me instead of opposite – not asking for permission and trying to take the mick out of me as I subconsciously crossed my arms as a barrier. Another guy explained to me how men and women are different, ‘not to offend you, but men are less patient and wanting – we’re just really eager for you girls!’. I met a rapper-poet-events-boxing organiser. Several accountants/financiers/bankers, most of whom told me how lucky I was to be in a job as ‘rewarding’ or ‘noble’ as teaching. A man questioned me for referring to these in passing as ‘dates’ as I was putting too much pressure on them. I got called ‘quirky’ for wearing a headband. A couple of the dates were nice enough, good practice for the future but clearly nothing there for either party.

The fact all this happened whilst a line of four men stood at the back overseeing all the dates whilst they waited for their own, that definitely didn’t help matters. Or the fact the woman sat next to me walked out three dates in, leaving an empty seat next to me – so every time my date finished I’d have to explain the empty seat (the organiser didn’t) and proceed with my next date, in the knowledge the last date was probably listening in.

We didn’t get the promised interval, instead we ‘pushed on through’ as the organiser put it. Which would have been a chance for a second drink or a chance to leave. I took the later option, I probably would have done anyway – but my decision was cemented by overhearing the last of the queue boys discussing how tall I was when I stood up.

It felt like it was over, and it really was now.

I already feel a bit better for typing it out. There’s a catharsis to be found in writing, and with no-one to talk through it with right now – I’m putting it up here. However, I still feel today lingering on me. Aside from a throat that is sore from all the yell-talking over the questionable playlist, I feel a bit of a sinking stomach too. What’s next?

The apps no longer seem to work, endless swipping for minimal matches and next-to-no conversations. My social life is expanding again as the world ‘reopens’ – but no single men have crossed into the horizon.

I didn’t go into tonight hoping to meet the love of my life (although I would have been open to the prospect..!) But, whilst I rediscovered my ability to hold my own in a conversation and make people laugh – I didn’t get to experience that spark to night. That hint of possibility and potential, of intrigue and interest – of wanting to know more about someone. Words can’t express how much I miss that feeling, and the worst bit is that those 5am gremlins are making me doubt and disbelieve it will actually happen again.

Smashing the Rose-tinted Glasses and Levelling Up

There’s one film scene I think about a lot, more than any other. It’s a scene in Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World, towards the end where Michael Cera‘s Scott has some self-realisations about his life, how he views and treats those around him; as a result he levels up video-game style. Here’s the clip if want to watch it. I think about this scene so often as it brilliantly as it’s such a fantastic metaphor for life, those moments where you finally process or accept something and can feel that self-growth. That you’re becoming the person you’re meant to be, that you’ve learnt something about yourself and/or others and will be made all the better for it.

Usually I have these epiphanies in the shower or when I wake up around 3am, my brain having sifted through all the information within and finally struck gold. The level-up I had this week was actually the result of a conversation. Here’s the condensed version of that chat that ended up being deceptively cataclysmic.

Me: It just really annoys me you know, how they keep treating me this way and I how I keep on letting them.

Them: Are you sure though?

Me: Am I sure that I’m upset..?!?

Them: No, are you sure they are doing this intentionally? Are you sure they’re able to read these cues in the same way? Are you sure they’re processing this exactly the same way you are? That they may not understand the extent of their behaviour, or even know how to act in this situation? Haven’t you noticed they’re a bit – not the best word – but weird when it comes to interacting with people? That maybe you’ve each got different copies of the script?

Suffice to say, I hadn’t noticed this about the person in question. At all. Instantly, at great speed, my mind whizzed through all the interactions I’d had with this person. The interactions that filled me with quiet rage, seething at what I perceived to be slights and gutted by what I’d viewed as unjust injustices. I suddenly understood the person who had made me feel all these ways because I’d finally dared to take them off the pedestal and accept they were human. Not only that they were as fallible as the rest of us, that maybe they weren’t nearly as comfortable with the world as I’d always believed.

This doesn’t take the person in question off the hook. Not at all. There’s definitely many ways they could have done things better, there’s certainly a degree of intent in some of the behaviours and interactions. But as a result of this conversation I could finally see that I had been using my own impossible standards for myself against those around me, particularly those I care about.

I seem to have an extreme defence mechanism when it comes to processing the world around me. I can be the most open person in the world, ever-ready to offer help and support – usually by doing things. Acts of service are my way of showing love & admiration, and it’s the best way for me to understand that others feel the same – I can’t handle compliments at all, but if you help me with a task or do something for me without me asking or thinking about it – well, I’m putty in your hands. If you surprise me with a bar of my favourite chocolate (White chocolate, Cadbury’s Buttons or Whispa) on my desk, or offer to help me with a task I’ve been struggling with or worrying over, then you better clear you calendar as I’m yours forever.

However, when I’m spurned or hurt – that openness seems to vanish in an instance. And often irretrievably. I feel myself become cold to the point of hostility, weary and untrusting. This can be unsurprising and totally justified response in many instances, but not if you’re operating with someone who doesn’t know the rulebook or even know the rulebook is in play. Even more so, what if the other person has a totally different operating system and subsequent rulebook?

I’ve written before here about how I’ve wasted a lot of time worrying about the attentions of mediocre men who really don’t deserve me or my eternal devotion. But a lot of that time has been worrying because I’ve put in place these landmines to protect myself, these self-imposed regulations of navigating the battlefield of love. A self-published handbook I’ve not given the other person, an instruction guide filled with my responses to certain behaviours – most of which entail ‘cut them off’.

With this particular person in question, I cannot resent their behaviour. I cannot resent that they do not feel any of the affection or admiration I feel for them, be that even in the form of friendship – let alone anything more. I cannot continue to try and filled sated by Love Kernels. I cannot use crumbs to make a feast. I can’t keep drinking the swamp water as I’m thirsty.

As Carrie Fisher said Resentment is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die.” I can’t resent this person, or whoever arrives next when this godforsaken crush is finally exorcised from my body, for their behaviour or their inability (unintentional or otherwise) to understand the extent of their behaviour. That’s a serious waste of time and energy. Not only that, I actually feel pretty stupid spending so much time thinking about a person who – and I have very little doubt about his – doesn’t think of me in any way, shape or form at all.

That was the level-up moment, when I viewed the person and the situation in a more objective and understanding light. If he wanted to, he would. And hopefully there’s someone out there who does want to. I just don’t know it or him yet.

Stream On Vol. 14

Hope you’re having a fab week and enjoying the beautiful weather! Welcome to volume fourteen of Stream On, where I recommend 5 things you could watch on some of your favourite streaming sites. Not enough for you here? Try the previous volumes – volumes 1234567891011, 12 and 13.

Frances Ha (2012 – Film4 – 86 mins)

I revisited this film a few months back, for an article for the English Media Centre’s MediaMagazine and I can say with some certainty I love it even more as a result. Very, very few films examine platonic relationships with the intensity and potency as they do romantic relationships – this is one of them. Speaking from personal experience, friendship break-ups can in some ways feel even more cataclysmic than relationship breakups – and this film agrees. We follow Frances (Greta Gerwig) as her soulmate Sophie (Mickey Sumner) drifts away from her. Bittersweet and beautiful, with an iconic David Bowie needle drop of this banger. Oh, and this guy pops up called Adam Driver pops up in it. Whatever happened to that guy?

The Intern (2015 – Sky/Now – 121 mins)

The cinematic equivalent of a comfy chair, blanket and a mug of hot chocolate (obviously with whipped cream and marshmallows – I’m not a heathen). Seventy-year-old widower Ben Whittaker (Robert De Niro) has discovered that retirement isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Seizing an opportunity to get back in the game, he becomes a senior intern at an online fashion site, founded and run by Jules Ostin (Anne Hathaway). Just lovely stuff.

A Single Man (2009 – Amazon Prime – 99 mins)

Based on the 1964 novel by Christopher Isherwood (a fascinating writer, his semi-autobiographical novel inspired the musical Cabaret). An English professor (Colin Firth), one year after the sudden death of his boyfriend, is unable to cope with his typical days in 1960s Los Angeles. Firth is extraordinary, with an incredible supporting cast in the form of Julianne Moore, Nicholas Hoult and Matthew Goode. The fact this was the debut of writer-director Tom Ford (yes, the designer) continues to boogle the mind.

Atypical (2017-2021 – Netflix – 38 x 30 mins)

Having had the joyous discovery this week that this is coming back for season 4 on July 7th, I had to give this one the plug it deserves. Sam (Keir Gilchrist), an 18-year-old on the autism spectrum, decides it’s time to find a girlfriend, a journey that sets Sam’s mom (Jennifer Jason Leigh) on her own life-changing path as her son seeks more independence. Brigette Lundy-Paine plays Sam’s sibling so wonderfully, Michael Rapaport just heart-breaking as their dad. Gorgeous, funny and heartfelt.

Kinky Boots (2005 – BBC iPlayer – 107 mins)

In the near-future, if there was a way to download our brains into some software to find the filmic dna that makes us who we are – this one would undoubtedly feature on my list. A drag queen (Chiwetel Ejiofor) comes to the rescue of a man (Joel Edgerton) who, after inheriting his father’s shoe factory, needs to diversify his product if he wants to keep the business afloat. There’s so many reasons as to why it would feature, but the biggest one would have to be it’s opening sequence – the transcendently rapturous joy captured to my favourite song of all time. Yes, it’s by David Bowie – how’d you know?

Fatigued and Adrift in Different Sized Lifeboats

If my life were a film or book (as I still so desperately wish…) the follow-up blog post to Strong Girl Summer would be an empowering and anthemic read, a rousing review of how inspired and changed I’ve become. Written as I sit at my desk, like Carrie in Sex and The City – pulling faces to myself as I gather my profound reflections from having lived life to it’s fullest. Charlotte 8.0 (or whatever number I’m on at this point) would have arrived and would be here to stay. Sadly, but not embarrassingly as I write with no shame here, it’s not going to be.

I’ll be honest folks, it’s all been a bit shit lately. Nothing particularly bad has happened, but nothing particularly good or great has happened either. I feel flat. Totally deflated and bitterly tired. All the time. I genuinely feel like I’m surviving on a day-to-day basis, existing and doing what I can to get by. It feels as if I’m wasting my life, stuck in a purgatory of sort-of my own making whilst waiting for life to begin.

I’ve a strong suspicion that I’m not the only one feeling this way. In fact, it’s what inspired the title for this blog post. Since last year, mostly March for my UK readers – earlier for any international visitors – we have all experienced a global trauma. We have all experienced something that had previously only existed in textbooks and works of fiction. It’s one of the only things in our lifetime that 99.9% of the world’s population will have endured in some capacity. But that capacity and that extent differs so so greatly. Not a single person in the world, not even in the same household, will have had the same experience over the past year and months. The country in which we reside, the county in which we reside, where our families live, the size of our families, our race, our class, our gender, our age – every single one of these factors will have played a part in our experience and our comprehension of what exactly we have endured.

If Covid was the Titanic, we’ve all ended up in different sized lifeboats. The very existence of those lifeboats, the weariness of our spirits are as we drift within them, those are things we share. But the size of that lifeboat, and our capacity for how much more we can take, that’s the big difference. The thing that can divide us and make it all feel so brutally overwhelming. The thing that makes us feel like our lifeboat isn’t floating well enough, isn’t stable enough.

The thing that makes it feel like our lifeboat is sinking.

I’ve been consuming as many think pieces and reflections on the past year as I can find. It’s not just a fascination from a sociological standpoint (although people really are bloody weird, brilliant and absolutely fascinating) but a desperate search for answers. A pointless grasp at understanding something that really can’t be understood. A yearning to know that I am doing okay. That it is all going to be okay.

I wish I could give you that, an assurance that it’s all going to get better soon. I can’t tell you how much I wish I could tell you and myself that. But what I can do is say that I’m not okay, and it’s okay if you’re not feeling okay either.

Yesterday, during my daily debrief with my housemate, she made a point I’ve thought about near constantly since. When I vented, yet again, over not feeling together or whole and in fact really bloody lost – when everyone looked sorted, certain and found – she pointed out I’d made that conclusion from social media and personal accounts. I’m holding myself to account of a standard that doesn’t exist, a curated editions of people’s lives that will often scarily touch beyond the surface of what is actually going on or how they feel.

Whether my social media, or how I present myself in person actually reveal it, here’s what’s going on under the surface. My body constantly aches from Long Covid. By 4pm each day my brain is clouded by brain fog and my thoughts become harder to gather. I’m struggling to sleep and the sleep I do get barely makes a dent to my tiredness levels. I’m terrified that it might take the 2 year recovery time the Post-Covid clinic anticipates. I feel lonely all the time, craving intimacy to an extent I fear can be seen and felt from miles away. I feel unwanted, undeserving of affection and attention. I don’t feel good enough for my job and ground down by how I wish I was better at it. I feel jealous all the time of other writers and of opportunities that feel so out of my reach. I feel broken, held together by increasingly unsticky Sellotape that could fall apart any minute. I fear I’m wasting my life and on the wrong path, not making the right choices. I just don’t feel enough.

But hopefully, by admitting all of that, by acknowledging those terrors and unadmittables in the depths of these psychological icebergs – maybe then I’m starting to make steps to ensure my lifeboat keeps on floating. And maybe, just maybe, there’s a chance it’s helped yours a little bit too.

*Being a bit earnest here, but please do get in touch if you liked what you read here. Not only does it let me know that someone is actually reading this (which will never not be just the most amazing thing ever) but also it’s incredible to hear these thoughts resonate. I’ve had a bunch of messages in recent weeks with feedback and I can’t tell you how much they mean.