I am always looking out for new ways to spread mental health awareness and I think fiction is an area I often glaze over. However, I’m starting to see just how beneficial reading fiction can really be. Recently, I was invited to take part in the book tour for ‘The Year I Didn’t Eat’ by Samuel Pollen – my interest was sparked by both the focus on mental health and the fact that the target audience is young teens…
Apparently, the natural lifespan of a sheep is around ten years. This fact is pretty irrelevant to this post – the only link really is the length of time the sheep in the feature photo are likely to be around is the same as the time span from my own life that I’m covering today in this post. I didn’t have a photo for the topic and so I had to make this one, of the sheep, relevant somehow. And that tenuous link was the best I could do…sorry.
Ten years ago, conveniently, I was ten years old. That feels crazy to type – I don’t know if it’s the fact that I’ve been on this planet consuming Marmite for two decades that freaks me out a little, or the thought that ten years is literally half my life. Either way, it’s strange how far away I feel from my ten-year-old self. When I was ten, I was in my last year of primary school. I had a t-shirt with an ice cream on it that I wore religiously, I played four square in the playground, and I choreographed dances to Blondie with my friends.
At eleven, I took that leap into secondary school – suddenly going from the oldest in a school of 360 pupils to the youngest in a school of 1,600 students. It was disorientating for most of us I think. I (wrongly) learnt that backpacks aren’t for cool kids (don’t worry, a few years later I realise how mistaken I was and rediscovered the backpack life) and that school skirts should be rolled over at the waistband to shorten them (they still looked awful, whoever thought that stiff polyester is a good material for a skirt clearly never wore one).
From twelve to fourteen, I think my life remained pretty similar – I enjoyed school, put effort into my homework, and aside from a few friendship changes, things went pretty smoothly. I learnt how to flip on a trampoline. I really got into cooking, and would often have dinner on the table for when my parents arrived home from work. I became more self-aware and consequently, more self-conscious. I grew to dread class presentations. I read a lot of books. I liked History and English and hated the school bus. I became really passionate about dance, joining clubs for every style and taking part in performances. I played the violin in an orchestra and went to Guides – neither of which I felt much of an affinity for. This is the time I really started appreciating routine: I made my school lunches for each day the night before, fitting an abundance of snacks neatly into one tuppaware.
At fifteen, the pressure of school was starting to trap me into this feeling of worry: that I wasn’t good enough, that I couldn’t do it, that I would let people down. But I also had wonderful friends who made the days at school pass pretty uneventfully. We got into concerts, a notable one being the night we saw Bastille and met the lead singer after the show.
Sixteen came along and I took my GCSEs in a whirlwind of panic. The summer after that was long, in a good way. I dip-dyed my hair green and went to Cuba with my family. September shoved me back into reality: I moved schools for sixth form college and started the IB. This period of my life I’d characterise as intense – hard work and constant effort, with a smattering of hysterical laughing fits in the Film Studies ‘editing suite’ and a few relaxed lunchtimes playing cards in the canteen. I became more aware of the wider world and discovered veganism. I got my first paid job and overcame panic after panic. I lived in flannel shirts from thrift stores and expressed myself mainly through my manic making and consuming of baked goods. There were plenty of good moments, yet the fear of failure was like a damp laundry smell that followed me around. Somewhere in the middle of that whole alienating experience, seventeen pretty much passed me by.
By eighteen, I had a couple of months left of revision before 10 days of solid exams, and then I was finally free from education: I vowed I would not put myself through something like that again until I really wanted it. And then my life was travel: Paris, Iceland, Florida, Canada, Hawaii, Australia, New Zealand, India… I worked abroad, met people from all aspects of life, and completely changed my perspective on so many things. It’s cliché, but I do think travelling, especially alone, teaches you a lot about yourself – your capabilities and limits, the heights of your happiness and depths of your lows, your resilience and resistance to fear – the growth of it all is overwhelming really.
By nineteen, I was home again and depressed: no money, no future plans, everything good felt behind me at that point. I took a job in an ice cream shop where my friend from school worked and sweated my summer away scooping gelato. I visited friends in Sweden and felt okay for a while. The monotony of this type of work was kicking in by Autumn though, and my brain felt like it had weeds growing in it, or tumbleweeds blowing across it, from lack of use.
I enrolled in the Open University to get the cogs turning again, started this blog to encourage a bit of creativity into my life, and looked for a new job. I landed a Healthcare Assistant role at the hospital and after a relaxing New Year’s away in Wales got stuck into it. The work was hard but rewarding: my life became a juggling act of long shifts, online learning and ferocious writing. Yet somehow this wasn’t enough. This was the point at which I applied for physical university: I had a yearning to learn, and be around other people also learning, and doing a distance learning course wasn’t satiating these things.
I turned twenty and completed the year-long online course regardless of my waning enthusiasm, quit my job and went travelling again: Greece, Poland, Prague, Amsterdam, New York, Spain. A much better summer than the one before it, that’s for sure. I worked hard on my blog, getting my first couple of sponsored posts in August and driving up traffic. Things felt like they were looking up.
By September I was at uni, studying Sociology and getting a new job as a Communications Intern. The first term flew by, not uneventfully that’s for sure, but every tornado passes eventually. Christmas came as a welcome break and a week hiking in the Peak District (the source of the sheep photo) helped ground me a little again. And here I am, back at university – ten years on from that little girl in her last year of primary school, completely unaware of everything to come.
Where has the last ten years taken you?
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As we make our first tentative steps into the second month of the year, talk of New Year resolutions is starting to simmer down. The flurry of people proclaiming they will have more of some things (motivation, exercise, books on the read shelf) and less of other things (drunken nights, weight, empty cigarette packets) has subsided. And here we are, a month into the year: have all those commitments stuck? The likelihood is probably not.
We all do it, whether we like to admit it or not. All of us set goals we don’t ever reach. This is frustrating, disheartening even. In today’s pressurising world it can feel like we fail because there’s something wrong with us. Perhaps if we just try harder we’ll find success.
Things are changing around here (in the bullet journal department, anyway). They have been for a while, to be honest. Gone are the days of strict habit tracking. I am all about creative expression and to-do lists now. It’s been this way for a while, hence the new art bujo account on Instagram (shameless plug I know, go check it out if that tickles your interest @alys.bujo). Today I thought I’d talk about the journey that explains how I got here, and include a selection of pages from January to show you what I’ve been up to…
I feel like January normally drags a little, the cold days and endless greyness of the sky stretch out and we all find ourselves wondering if February is ever going to turn up. I haven’t found that this year though. The bleak weather is certainly hanging around as usual, but the actual days have been tripping over themselves in a hurry to get to spring.
My month started in the Peak District, hiking around in the hills and eating bakewell tart. On one of my favourite walks, it started snowing for a couple of minutes which was magical. The whole week was wonderful actually (apart from losing my bullet journal…).
I headed straight back to university from the rugged hills and had a hectic first week back on a compulsory course workshop. It was pretty tiring and a lot of people didn’t show up, but I’m glad I went. If I hadn’t, I would be wondering what I’d missed out on. I really can’t complain, most people had exams that week which I thankfully didn’t have to do.
I know, I know. It sounds awful, practically unliveable, for my fellow bullet journalers to hear. But it’s a true statement (kind of). I didn’t exactly lose my bullet journal, it was more that I misplaced it for just over a week. I went on holiday to the Peak District and left my beloved notebook behind at home – a sad realisation, but not totally catastrophic.
People from outside the bujo community may not understand this intense panic-upon-realisation feeling evoked from simply leaving a journal somewhere unexpected. You see, this isn’t just a place for doodles – this is where I organise my life and develop my thoughts. The following week was a journey of emotions, not wholly negative, regarding the missing nature of my little orange Leuctturm1917. Allow me to explain.
Around this time a year ago, I was not considering applying for physical university. (For those of you who don’t know, I was studying with the Open University, a distance learning institution, at the time). I didn’t see it like this in the moment, but looking back I think I had almost written the whole idea of attending university off. It seemed so inconceivable to me, for many reasons, and that led to a total dismissal of it all.
Now, heading into my second term at uni, I thought it might be a good moment to reflect on that experience, and those feelings, in the hope that it might reach someone else going through something similar… So what was the main issue then?