In a nutshell, 2017 was (probably?) the best year I’ve had in a very long time. Which, of course, has sent me into a guilt spiral because I can’t seem to make myself believe that I deserve nice things. On a personal level, the year wasn’t a cakewalk by any means, not to mention that the world in general feels very much like a darker and more scary place than ever. I’ve felt like most of the good stuff happened under a looming black cloud.
Still, a lot happened in 2017. Inspired by Laura Jane Williams, here’s my year in one long, dizzying list.
In 2017, I…
cleaned my oven for the first time. It was gross.
got a loft ladder installed (that I’m too scared to climb.)
did a two writing courses.
got a gym subscription.
cancelled a gym subscription.
had a smear test.
saw Phil Collins live in Hyde Park. (Review: Better than you’d expect.)
made time to see my sister and niece every month.
did an intense(ish) course of driving lessons.
sweated through my pants and trousers during every driving lesson.
cried in several driving lessons.
passed my driving test first time, much to everyone’s surprise. Especially my instructor’s.
went for afternoon tea.
developed more coping mechanisms for my fear of escalators.
didn’t always manage to tackle every escalator.
had to ask strangers for help on escalators when I had no other choice. (The HORROR.)
submitted my first tax return.
made my husband come to a drag show.
planned and did a wedding.
went on a narrowboat with friends.
did my first postal vote.
was extremely bratty and chose the biggest suite in the hotel for our wedding night. IT WAS HUGE.
kept my freelance career going.
went for a week in the sun with my new husband.
drank at a swim-up bar for the first time.
confronted a man who made a rude comment about my size while I showered next to the hotel pool. (Clearly assuming that I didn’t speak English.)
had an incredible Thanksgiving dinner cooked by a friend.
got a big new client.
listened to Shannon’s ‘Give Me Tonight’ more than any other song.
held my new tiny baby niece, Ivy.
bought two Christmas themed dresses.
bought a large number of dresses, actually.
felt like myself.
What does 2018 hold? A few good things are already lined up; some freelance jobs, a second glass course at college and new nephew should be arriving in the spring.
Through necessity, I’ve been a bit selfish with my time this year, but in 2018 I will be doing more to help other people, especially in my local community.
Whoever you are, wherever you are, I’d like to wish you a very happy New Year. I really hope that 2018 brings us all some joyful surprises.
This week, I had a phone call from my pal Geoff Lloyd, he wanted to speak to me about when my husband and I went viral. I had inhaled a grain of rice at some point prior to the interview, which is my excuse for sounding like a speedy chipmunk and I’m sticking to it.
Aside from my horrible voice, the podcast is actually very good and has been praised by the likes of The Guardian and the Financial Times, which is SURELY the first place you look for podcast reviews. The tagline is “a podcast for the socially inept, by the socially inept,” so I was very pleased to be amongst friends. I was also secretly very relieved when I realised Geoff wasn’t speaking to me for his other podcast which features Ed Miliband, because I’m not sure what Ed would make of me.
Aside from the wonderful and inimitable Geoff Lloyd, this episode also features Nerina Pallot, Dave Gorman and Tim Turner who all seem like very nice and interesting people, I am extremely intimidated to be in their podcastular company.
First things first. Nothing in this post is sponsored. No #ad, not #spon and I bought all products mentioned myself. AS IF someone paid me to write this… but if you want to pay me, get in touch!
I thought being in my early 30s was enough of a punishment without having to deal with spots. Yet, HERE WE ARE. So let’s get into it. Like many people, I have a spotty T-zone, dry cheeks and hormonal breakouts. The skin on my face can look quite dull and uneven. I wasn’t in the habit of being very kind to my skin, beyond daily washing and moisturising.
(n.b. If you’re wondering why I had a infected eyebrow, it was entirely my fault. I poked my eyebrow regrowth a bit overzealously with tweezers, then on my wedding day, I had about an inch of make-up on the already angered area. Oops.)
Earlier this year, I set about fixing my wasteland of a face before The Wedding. I was quite out of the loop with skincare. Actually, I was never IN the loop, barring some dabbling in the Oil Cleansing Method a few years ago, which I still think is great.
I saw an ad for The Ordinary range by Deciem and liked the look of the packaging. I have a slight aversion to shiny pretty skincare ranges, show me something that’s deliberately styled to be no-frills and apparently I’m SOLD. I knew sod all about skincare so I didn’t know the brand name, but I’ve since found there’s a lot of buzz around The Ordinary and the products have won loads of awards.
After several bourbon and diet cola drinks, I went on the Deciem online store and picked out a handful of products that sounded good. I had three reasons for doing this; firstly, they were much cheaper than I expected, I got six products for a relatively measly £34.80. Secondly, I was slightly drunk. Thirdly, I got £2.05 back through TopCashback, which is better than a poke in the eye. (You really should sign up for TopCashback if you haven’t already, via my affiliate link. You earn money when you purchase things, and that’s it. I just paid £200 of real, actual money into my bank account.)
Anyway, back to The Ordinary. I bought:
– The Ordinary Niacinamide 10% + Zinc 1%. Good for acne, enlarged pores, oily skin, uneven tone and texture, redness
– The Ordinary Azelaic Acid Suspension 10%. Good for acne, dullness, dark spots, hyperpigmentation, redness
– The Ordinary Salicylic Acid 2% Solution. Good for acne, oily skin, uneven tone and texture
– The Ordinary Hyaluronic Acid 2% + B5. Good for dry skin, loss of elasticity
– The Ordinary 100% Organic Cold-Pressed Rose Hip Seed Oil. Good for dry skin, dullness, dark spots, hyperpigmentation
– The Ordinary High-Spreadability Fluid Primer. This is for wearing under foundation, which I don’t do often, so I haven’t got much to say about it yet.
The box of products came. I opened it, all excited, then realised I didn’t know how to use them. Felt really stupid. Hid the box for a couple of weeks.
Eventually, I did the research. As I understand it, The Ordinary products are stripped back to their key useful ingredients, which is why they’re so cost-effective. On the other hand, figuring out how to use them is not the easiest.
I’m not a skincare geek (I only just discovered skincare geeks are AN ACTUAL THING,) but here’s what I learned. With The Ordinary, you build up layers of different products. There are serums, creams and oils, and these should be applied in a that order. Some should be used at night before bed, some are best used in the morning. Some, when layered, can cause “pilling” which is when the product slides into little weird balls of crud on your face. Some should only be used a couple of times a week because the formulations are quite strong. Products with different pH levels shouldn’t be mixed. Products which do the same thing shouldn’t be used together.
There’s some information here on The Ordinary site about how to build a “regimen” which will give you some basic instructions, but I found this blog from honestyforyourskin.co.uk really, really useful. There’s some great tips in the comments too. Once I’d got the rules straight, building a “regimen” felt less impossible, but getting to this point did feel like solving multiple logic puzzles.
The Basic Bits
For face wash, I use a 99p job from Lidl – Cien Aqua Rich Gentle Facial Wash for normal and combination skin. It feels gentle enough to use twice a day.
Once a week I use the sister product Cien Aqua Rich Daily Exfoliating Wash, also 99p. It has a small amount of scrubby nobbles in it, but it’s not as abrasive as a product like St Ives Apricot Scrub, which I’ve used in the past. (Many people say that St Ives scrubs are far too rough.)
I had concerns that the “bits” were dreaded plastic microbeads, so I contacted Lidl and apparently “the beads are made from bamboo which is produced by grinding and sieving the sap of the bamboo. They are of vegetable origin.” So there we go, happy days.
I use Lidl’s Cien Cleansing Face Wipes to remove make-up, 59p a packet.
My go-to face moisturiser is Nivea Soft, which I’ve used for years. It’s currently £4.29 at Superdrug for 200ml, but I usually wait until it’s on offer. (Actually, my Grandma is the one who always spots when it’s on offer because she’s a legend.)
Mornings are simple, I do the same every day.
Step 1. Wash face with Cien Gentle Facial Wash. Step 2. When face is dry, apply a thin layer of The Ordinary Niacinamide 10% + Zinc 1%. Step 3. When this is dry, apply Nivea Soft.
A real skincare geek would put add an SPF here, but I’m a terrible person and don’t.
Evenings are a little more complicated. Step 3 is always a product from The Ordinary, but I swap in a different one each day.
Step 1. Cien Cleansing Face Wipes to remove make-up. Step 2. Cien Gentle Facial Wash to wash face. Once a week I’ll use Cien Daily Exfoliating Wash instead. Step 3. When face is dry, apply one of a revolving carousel of The Ordinary products (see below) Step 4. When product has dried, apply about four drops of The Ordinary 100% Organic Cold-Pressed Rose Hip Seed Oil.
As I mentioned earlier, there’s a whole stack of rules for how to use The Ordinary products, and generally it means separating stuff out. That’s why I do the following with step 3.
Monday – The Ordinary Salicylic Acid 2% Solution Tuesday – The Ordinary Hyaluronic Acid 2% + B5 Wednesday – The Ordinary Azelaic Acid Suspension 10% Thursday – The Ordinary Salicylic Acid 2% Solution Friday – The Ordinary Hyaluronic Acid 2% + B5 Saturday – The Ordinary Azelaic Acid Suspension 10% Sunday – Skip stage three. Day of rest and all that.
This is much more complicated than I’m used to, but it’s worth it. My skin’s never looked better.
Some other things I’ve learned:
Pay attention when applying Niacinamide 10% + Zinc 1%. I slathered it on too quickly when my face was still wet, not realising that it made chalky white smears all over my face. My driving instructor didn’t mention it during a two hour lesson, I only noticed when I got home.
If you use the Azelaic Acid Suspension followed by Rose Hip Seed Oil, don’t overdo the Azelaic Acid Suspension. It’s tempting as it’s a cream with a nice texture, but you only need a light layer and you must wait for it to be absorbed before applying the oil. Otherwise, you get product “pilling” which is gross and I hate it.
Applying the Rose Hip Seed Oil feels SO nice, but like most of the products here, you only need about 4 drops for your whole face. The oil gets absorbed within an hour or so, which is why it’s best for bedtime. Also, yes – putting oil on oily skin is a good thing, promise.
Salicylic Acid is an ingredient found in spot creams, so if a blemish does start coming up, I’ll apply this directly, it helps a lot.
When I started the regimen, there was some “purging”, in other words, several spots started sprouting. This is normal and there’s a good write-up about purging on theklog.co
After a couple of weeks, my skin became far less spotty and looked more even, which is exactly what I wanted. It also seems less susceptible to hormonal breakouts. I can’t pretend it’s flawless, even with all the help in the world it’s unlikely to look advert-perfect. Photoshop and make-up exists for a reason. Still, the regimen helped a lot. Success! I win!
I’ll reiterate that I’m obviously not an expert. This is just what worked for me, so here’s a couple of basics you can take away from this blog:
The Ordinary products are a good, cost-effective way to try different ingredients for your mug. You just need to get your head around the rules to build yourself a regimen and this does take a little effort.
You can be super cheap with other products like face wash, if your skin is ok with them.
Keep at it! With most changes to your skincare routine, the results won’t be immediate. I took a break from the regimen for a couple of weeks after honeymoon (ahem, I got lazy) and my skin suffered.
Got any skincare tips you wanna impart? Am I doing something really wrong? Have you tried products by The Ordinary? Share the love! Tweet me @Llia.
In case you missed the news, Phil and I got married at the beginning of July. I’m so very, very chuffed to be his wife and we’ve been having a great time as married couple. (And OMFG *I* have a husband?! Me?!) I’ll probably write about the wedding another time because I’m here to talk about what happened next, and what happened next MIGHT SHOCK YOU! Well, it shocked us.
We got back from our wedding on a Tuesday and set about attacking the post-wedding chores, including a very last-minute GP appointment because my eyebrow went mad. LOOK AT MY POOR FACE.
We spent Wednesday packing for our honeymoon, ready for an early morning flight the next day. As we were heading off on our holidays, I manually backed up my phone photos because I’m secretly a little old lady who doesn’t trust “the cloud”. I was saving down photos when I found this, which I’d apparently taken back in April.
I showed Phil and we realised, aww that’s nice, the date on that tweet was nearly three years ago, so I found the original tweet and quote tweeted it. (Actually, I asked Phil if he wanted to tweet it, but he couldn’t be bothered.) The retweets and favourites started rolling in, more than my average tweet would receive. We were surprised, but ok? It was a nice story. Shrug. We can’t be totally sure of the chain of events, but evidently it was seen by J.K. Rowling, who hit retweet.
As you can imagine, THE SHIT HIT THE FAN and things started happening. We appeared as a Twitter Moment and began getting contacted by media outlets wanting to know more about “our story”. All kinds of places got in touch, newspapers, radio stations, viral news sites and women’s magazines.
While this is all happening, we’re packing for honeymoon and preparing to be out of the country for a week. I actually forgot to pack my camera in all the furore… Well, I say furore, but it was really just us pacing the kitchen, wondering what kind of mess we’d got ourselves into this time.
The first couple of articles appeared that evening. We were both a little anxious by this point, our main concern was that someone might write something nasty, tainting our wedding and honeymoon. From what we saw, The Mirror article was one of the first to appear, and we were relieved to see it was positive.
The next morning, we got our early flight. When we landed at the other end, our phones went off like a plague of angry wasps, a stack of news articles had appeared while we’d been in the air. In the car to our hotel we drafted and posted this on Twitter, which helped to stem the flow of journalists contacting us.
Early on, we decided not to speak to any media unless we were presented with a mind-blowingly incredible opportunity. Like what if MADONNA wanted to interview us or something!? Sadly, Madonna did not get in touch.
Besides, we were on our honeymoon for goodness’ sake. We thought about keeping quiet that we were abroad for a week (HI, BURGLARS!) but the fact we were on honeymoon was the ideal excuse not to speak to anyone. Perhaps we’re a bit jaded from having worked in radio, tv, social media and PR ourselves, but the thought of being interviewed just wasn’t very appealing anyway.
We didn’t feel bad for avoiding journalists because they didn’t really need anything from us; we’d already tweeted a photo of us on our wedding day and the story really spoke for itself. One journalist kept emailing me about his looming deadline, apparently trying to guilt-trip me into replying. Soz, not my fucking problem mate.
I also posted a (quite cringe) message on Facebook to ask our friends not to speak to journalists if they were contacted, more for our own peace of mind than anything else. We made a special point of telling our parents not to accept friend requests from strangers, or to speak to journalists. Perhaps it seems like overkill, but we were both receiving (and ignoring) quite a few messages from journalists at that point.
Weirdly, one thing that really helped our privacy was a decision made before our wedding even happened; we asked our wedding guests to leave off posting photos of us on social media. This was actually my call – it’s a pet peeve when the first photo of a happy couple to appear on Facebook is some crap, blurry, unposed snap taken by a guest. I see it happen to other couples all the time and I just don’t think it’s very fair. Obviously, we hadn’t planned to go viral, but this decision paid off; the photo that appeared on most of the articles was one we had chosen and posted ourselves the morning after the wedding.
A small number of outlets dug up older photos of us from Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, but it was all public content we’d posted ourselves so we couldn’t be too annoyed. However, I would have been really fucking peeved if a stack of wedding photos had been published all over the place. To me, this would have felt like a big invasion of privacy, so we were very glad that the photos weren’t out there to pillage.
We kept an eye on the coverage while we were away, but didn’t want it to take over our honeymoon. We couldn’t ignore it entirely though, that would be weird. Plus, the hotel had wi-fi and we had a very busy schedule of doing fuck-all.
While the stories appearing were generally positive and at worst tongue-in-cheek, naturally some commenters were assholes. I took the chance to reply to a couple – mainly to remind them that I was a real person who could read their words. I’ve done a LOT of social media work in my career which involves a lot of regurgitation of corporate messaging, so it felt good to be able to say what I damn well wanted. (In other words, politely telling people to fuck off, hurrah!)
And inevitably, there were Angry Men commenting, because there’s no escaping Angry Men. Yawn.
We appeared in over 100 articles in more than 23 languages. Our story appeared in Metro, The Independent, Daily Mail (bleurgh), The Mirror, Huffington Post, The Sun, Stylist, Refinery29, ThoughtCatalog, MSN, Daily Record, Cosmopolitan, Bored Panda, Mashable, A Plus, The New York Post, Men’s Health, Glamour, Woman Magazine and an absolute shitload more. We were mentioned on the news in the US, and were the punchline in a BBC radio comedy. The tweet that “went viral” has settled at 21,000 retweets and 64,000 likes, with impressions clocking in at a fairly ridiculous 5.6 million.
The buzz died down after a few days. “Going viral” was quite fun in the end, but it was certainly anxiety inducing. The last thing you want after the stress and the hassle of a wedding is to be ridiculed worldwide, so we were very lucky that majority of the articles were light-hearted, feel-good pieces. We also felt glad to have media experience through work, which helped to inform the decisions we made.
So, what now? Well, 2017 has been INTENSE. I passed my driving test, got a car, had two hen parties, got married, had a honeymoon, a weekend narrowboating, two family holidays and OH YEAH went viral. Surely, SURELY, I’m allowed to sleep until Christmas now, right?
That Valentine’s Day, I saw your face for the first time and I knew.
I was tipsy, drinking with a single friend in an empty pub, we were hoping to distract ourselves from our singleness. Not that Valentine’s Day really matters one bit but it felt appropriate to mark it, an excuse for a drink with a good friend. Someone had abandoned a single cellophane-wrapped rose on another table.
You weren’t in that empty pub. I saw your face on my phone, someone had retweeted you into my Twitter timeline. Pouting and wearing a party hat, you were sarcastically marking Valentine’s Day as a solidly single man. I can’t explain what happened next, I felt something shift in my heart. (Perhaps it was the whiskey, but I wanted to know you.)
I followed you, how could I not? I sent more than a couple of ill-advised and ill-conceived flirty tweets, hoping to catch your attention. You were more popular than me, but after two months you eventually followed me back. I wish this didn’t sound so calculating, but I had a plan. Not a proper plan with maps and diagrams and instructions, but a plan nonetheless. (I needed to meet you, I wanted to know you.)
So our conversation moved from tweets, to direct messages, to long and rambling emails about our lives. You didn’t live too far away. We found we knew the same places and the same people. We’d been brought up in similar families and grew up 12 miles from each other as the crow flies. (Why didn’t the crow tell us?) Your brother lived on a neighbouring road to my London flat, it was possible you and I had even crossed paths before. (But I think I’d have noticed you.)
We arranged to go for a drink. I tried not to get too excited, not wanting to get my hopes up like a fool. I tried to be cool, but I might as well have had a Belisha beacon on my head. (Subtlety’s never been my strong point.)
It was July and it was hot, about 30 degrees. I found myself hurrying despite the heat; I knew you were waiting at the bar we’d chosen. I got the bus, I’d never been on such an agonisingly slow journey before, nor since. I tried to swat away the feeling that I was heading towards a moment that would change my life forever. (Don’t be so ridiculous, those things are not for the likes of me.)
I made it to the bar, sweating from the bus. I saw you properly for the first time and finally felt glad of the heat because I could feel myself blushing. You were more handsome than I’d thought, and sweeter. I took in the new details, the shape of your arms, the grey flecks in your hair, your shy smile, the way your t-shirt hung from your shoulders. (I wanted to learn everything.)
We spoke for hours, moving from bar, to pub, to pub. You lived in a village without a station, so you couldn’t stay too late or you couldn’t get home. I suggested you could stay at mine, offering the sofa. Honestly though, I never expected you to sleep there. (You didn’t.)
We went back to my flat, you complimented it. (I wanted to ask you to stay, forever.)
We watched tv with the windows open, it was festival coverage and we talked about music until it was dark. You pretended to yawn and put your arms around me. I felt every cliché becoming real, like a line of falling dominos. (Every wish that I’d dared to admit to myself was coming true.)
You moved in eight months later; we’d spent almost every weekend together so there was no trepidation. That’s the nice thing about you – you’ve always been sure of what you wanted, just as I had. (Every want of mine was mirrored by yours, whether I knew it or not.)
When you asked me to marry you, I was so excited that I forgot to say yes. (I assumed you already knew.)
Prepare yourself, I’m going to make the lamest confession you’ve heard this week. No, it’s not that I ate a whole box of stuffing with my Sunday roast. (Why would I need to confess that? It was the bomb.)
My confession is that despite the fact that I’m RIGHT HERE writing it, I’m totally embarrassed to have a blog.
I’ve been on Twitter for over a decade, racking up more than 25,000 tweets. That must amount to a pretty impressive word count, probably enough for a (boring) book. My account is easy to find and wide open for anyone to read; friends, my Mum, mortal enemies, my fiancé, neighbours, prospective employers, ex-boyfriends, people who like me and people who don’t. Given how much I’ve posted over the years, I may as well have plonked my naked body on the Fourth Plinth, the sum total of those tweets is probably my ass and my soul laid bare. However, the party food-sized fragments of text lessens the impact. It’s just tweets. I don’t care very much about who reads them.
There shouldn’t feel like a massive difference between writing tweets and writing a blog, but there is, absolutely, of course. Something about writing a personal blog is audacious. It feels downright cheeky to assume that people would care to read what you have to say. Worse still, I always write about myself. Perhaps I’m a huge narcissist, but I’ve always written about the subject I know best, which feels pretty damn brazen at times.
Of course, on the flip side to the audacity, writing a personal blog makes you vulnerable too. You show your (rather large) soft underbelly and pray that no-one is shitty to you. There’s a conflict, you’re stood on a chair yelling, “Hey, I’m a #blogger! Read my stuff! LOOK AT ME! Read my brain thoughts! I’m fucking interesting! LOOK AT ME!” but when writing about yourself, you’re all too aware that you willingly hand strangers the ability to trample all over your heart.
Not to mention that it feels massively self-absorbed to be talking about yourself when World War III seems like it’s lolloping over the hill. Actually, hold up, hold up, hold up a sec. All things in perspective, yeah? While I’m not my own biggest fan, I can at least say, confidently and objectively, that I’m not an international embarrassment on the scale of Brexit or Trump. (I’m sure you are nodding in agreement with me. Please at least pretend to nod.)
I began putting more effort into writing and blogging when I was having a tough time at work. I’d come home, sink a few bourbons and write to distract myself from the tightness in my jaw, the fear of the next working day.
I was inspired by other people’s blogs, I love reading them and I’ve encouraged so many friends to write. But we all know that you’re never as kind to yourself as you are to others. Imposter syndrome is real, hanging over your head like a grumpy little storm cloud. I sit here feeling like a fake, a fraud and a phoney. That’s why I’m embarrassed to have a blog. I have no writing qualifications but look! I’m typing! I’m (technically) writing! It’s almost readable! Can I do this? Am I doing this? I think I could be.
As wiser minds have said, if you write then you’re a writer, but I’m sure I’ll never think of myself as a one. It just won’t happen. But here’s the thing! I don’t need permission to write, I don’t even need permission to call myself a writer. I don’t need to get hung up on anything, not even whether I’m good at writing. I only need to get the hell over putting myself down, because some people do read what I write and some people even enjoy it. I need to sit my fat ass down and shut the fuck up. Or sit my fat ass down and write. Whatever.
I just finished a wonderful book by a gifted writer. Naturally, instead of looking at it as encouragement, I feel like I can’t compare, I can’t compete. I’m a faker. Obviously, I shouldn’t think of comparing and competing. So, what then? Faking it is ok, actually. Fake it ’til I make it? That will have to do.
I’ll fake being a writer and maybe you can fake being my reader.
Learning to drive at the age of 31 is like going for a smear test; slightly embarrassing and uncomfortable, but probably necessary.
I didn’t learn to drive in my teens, which I put down to a lack of confidence and an excess of laziness. I have a summer birthday so my friends passed their driving tests before I could start learning and they didn’t mind giving me lifts. Eventually, I took a few lessons but didn’t get far enough to be “test ready”.
During that first round of lessons, I realised that if I ever passed the driving test, I would need to get a car and start driving straight away because this particular skill didn’t feel like one I could bank for later. I was right; when I recently started lessons again, I’d retained nothing. At times like these, I think of noted neurologist Homer Simpson who once stated, “Every time I learn something new, it pushes some old stuff out of my brain.”
I went off to University and didn’t want the hassle of car stuff, so lessons went on the back burner for *cough* five years. A while after graduating, I moved to London. What kind of fool wants the cost of running a car when using the tube every day?
So here we are, some seven-ish years later. After some pestering from my family, I decided to restart my lessons for three reasons: One, I’m not getting any younger. (Science needs to get on that, pronto.) Two, there’s a possibility that I might make a baby at some point and being able to drive is useful if you have kids. Three, I’m currently a freelancer with a flexible schedule, so I can make time for lessons.
I’m about a quarter of the way through a course of driving lessons and I’m struggling. To state the bleeding obvious, learning to drive in London isn’t a frigging cake walk. Aggressive drivers are the norm, even when you head to the quiet suburbs to practice. I got cut up at a junction by a minibus for an old people’s home. I was overtaken on a quiet, speed-bumped residential road. I came nose to nose with a lorry after an oversteering mistake on the main road. I’m no psychic, but I’m quite sure the lorry driver thought that if he slowed down to let me get my shit together, it would show weakness, so he bore down on me at speed. Thanks, dude.
It would be fair to say that anxiety and driving lessons are not happy bedfellows. I find my lessons very stressful and panic-sweat to the extent that I have to change my knickers when I get home. Yes, you read that correctly. I HAVE TO CHANGE MY PANTS. Not to mention that the rest of the day is a write-off; after concentrating on not killing anyone for two hours, I’m brain fogged and bone tired.
Tooling around in a tonne of metal is a huge responsibility and I feel it weighing heavy on my shoulders. I probably care too much. After my first lesson, I sobbed on my fiancé for an hour because I’d driven past several schools at home time and had been terrified of hitting a child. Amongst other foolishness, I’d seen a lone toddler heading towards the road with nothing between him and the traffic. People doing stupid things on and around roads happens everywhere, all the time, that’s a huge hurdle for me to accept and overcome.
My instructor has conceded what I already knew; my spatial awareness is terrible, I’ve made some absolute howlers. I struggle to judge the speeds of other vehicles. I can’t get a feel for the size of car I’m driving. I casually forget that kerbs exist. I’m not even learning in a manual car and I’ve got my foot pedals muddled several times, (Oh, and spare me the manual/automatic lecture, I KNOW.) To my huge embarrassment, I even got confused about reflections in mirrors because they are… uh… mirror images. Yeah. My instructor said I’m probably struggling because I’m “clever” and my skills fall elsewhere. Gawd bless her for trying to boost my morale. That’s the rub though, I’m frustrated because MILLIONS OF OTHER PEOPLE can drive and I’m finding it hard and I hate it and it’s stressful and scary and I don’t wanna and DID I MENTION THAT I HATE IT?
I’ve followed my driving school on Twitter specifically to see a steady stream of beaming youngsters clutching pass certificates. Some of them don’t even look old enough to have a paper round, let alone pass a driving test. It’s infuriating but it spurs me on.
A driving test has been booked, I’m not particularly hopeful for a pass but I’ll give it my best shot. I haven’t given up yet. I’ll put on my big girl pants (possibly two pairs, to be sure) and keep trying to improve, even though I’m terrified. If other people can learn to drive, then I can too. I just have to grit my (already gritted) teeth and keep going.
Please remember, if you drive a vehicle or even if you’re a pedestrian, do be kind to learner drivers and give them plenty of space… because they could kill you. Seriously.
Not that I’m counting, but I’m marrying Mr Phil Gibson in 90 days. (…I am totally counting.)
We’ve decided to have a small wedding; our close family will gather at the registry office for the ceremony, then we’ll go for a meal at a posh hotel and that’s your lot. While I’m somewhat excited for the big day, I’m very excited to be married to him because he’s a lovely person.
With a wedding of this size, we’ve left out things we saw as superfluous to our needs; no evening disco, no cake, no favours, no antique wedding car, no army of bridesmaids and groomsmen, no first dance. We’ve both attended amazing weddings in the past, but together agreed that we didn’t want the hassle and expense of a full-blown shindig for our day. Having cut out many of the traditional wedding features, conversely there’s one thing I’m definitely keeping – my surname.
Not long after Phil proposed we had a proper talk about names. I said that I’d like to keep my surname after we’re married, how would he feel about that? He considered it then replied, “I’d love it if you took my name, but I can’t think of a single good reason why you actually should, beyond tradition or patriarchy.” Excellent answer. I should marry him.
But why am I so adamant about wanting to stay an Apostolou?
Let’s start with the name itself. Llia is short for the longer and more Cypriot-flavoured ‘Vasillia.’ Add my surname ‘Apostolou’ and you have a multi-syllable pain-in-the-arse of a name. A confusing number of Ls and Is in my first name, and far too many Os in my surname. I have to spell it out all the time. However, the older I’ve got, the more I’ve realised how important my name is to me and how it helped to shape my personality.
Way back in the mists of time, my family moved to Surrey. Ok, it was in the 90s, which is actually quite a long time ago now that I do the maths, so perhaps I wasn’t exaggerating as much as I thought.
At the time it was a very white area. VERY WHITE. At my large secondary school, I was one of only a handful of students who looked ‘not-English’ and I was called ‘Paki’ several times. The factual inaccuracy stung more than the intended insult, but that this happened semi-regularly really shows how white it was – just being a person of Mediterranean descent was enough to be seen as different. Factor in a very ‘not-English’ name and it has a definite effect – you know full well that you’re not like everyone else, and you’re not allowed to forget it. You stand out without wanting to, or trying to.
Having a surname beginning with A, I was usually first on the class register. At the start of each school year, I’d see every teacher look down, see ‘Vasillia Apostolou’ and pause for a second. Fair enough. Some would attempt to say it, most would butcher it. Again, fair enough.
In later years, I’d interrupt as I saw them pause, “That’s me. I prefer to be called Llia.” It just made things easier. I found it embarrassing at first, but as I went through school I cared less. I probably sounded like a cocky little shit, didn’t I? Not that I’ve ever been a shy and retiring type, but when you’re an awkward teenager, speaking out of turn to a new teacher in front of a class of 30 students at the start of the year… well, it’s character forming. It’s something. I could just be reaching for excuses for being gobby. (Incidentally, I am gobby enough to have been asked to do readings at THREE weddings so far.)
There’s plenty of reasons to maintain the status quo and keep my surname. I’ve lived with this surname for over 30 years and have grown into it, not to mention that the idea of changing every official document, online account and my email address doesn’t exactly fill me with joy.
There’s one more crucial reason. I’m an extremely endangered species, the last Apostolou of an all-female generation. The others have all gone and got Englishy surnames, the traitors. (Special shoutout to my little sister, who can now type her whole name with only three letters on the keyboard.)
When my grandfather died last year, it strengthened my resolve to keep the surname going in my own small way. Interestingly, (or not) my family’s surname isn’t even meant to be Apostolou, but thanks to some immigration admin shambles several decades ago we got stuck with it… which makes me love it even more. It’s very symbolic of my ridiculous family.
Keeping your surname after marriage shouldn’t be a Big Deal, because it isn’t really. Plenty of people do it. However, it’s generally expected that you will be taking your partner’s name, which throws up some interesting etiquette issues. (Christ, what is it with weddings and etiquette? Yawn.) You feel like you should tell people of your choice ahead of the wedding, but there never seems to be a good time to bring it up. What if someone gifts a cheque made out to “Mr and Mrs Gibson”? What if someone makes a personalised gift featuring the wrong names? Is there a polite way to correct people, without making them feel uncomfortable or upset? Well, we’ll find out.
Of course, there are other solutions to the married surname issue, but they didn’t appeal. Double-barrelling went out the window when we realised it sounded like spitting out a mouthful of gravel, and a portmanteau would be ridiculous. (Apostoson? Gibpostolou? Gibapostolouson? Please…)
There’s only one other solution. I’ve STRONGLY HINTED that he could take my surname and sound like an exotic Greek prince. He doesn’t fancy it. Funny that.
Brace yourself, this is a humblebrag blog. At least, I think it is. I never quite got a handle on humblebragging, which means I probably do it accidentally all the time. Anyway. I was shocked (or “shook” as the kids say these days? Maybe?) because I really wasn’t expecting such an outpouring of kind words resulting from my last blog, so thank you.
In an uncharacteristic fit of self-indulgence (HAHA, omg who am I kidding?) I wanted to reflect on a few things off the back of it, so do allow me a little wankery.
I was surprised by the number of people that got in touch, both publicly and privately, to say the piece resonated with them and they found familiarity in my experience. Naively and probably very myopically, I thought I was more alone than I really was. When you’re stranded on the shrinking grey island of anxiety, it’s lonely and isolating even if you have wonderful people around you, so perhaps my stupid assumption makes sense in that context. I’m also, literally, very short-sighted. Can’t see shit. I’ll blame that.
In a way, it was saddening. I don’t particularly want many/any people to have also experienced the life-limiting fear of nothing, so the fact that there was practically an army of fellow anxious people just amongst my friends was really… horrible? I guess? However, I was especially touched when friends shared their issues off the back of the blog – I’ve always reckoned it’s much harder to admit a mental health wobble to a friend than a stranger, so that felt like a Big Deal.
Speaking of interaction, I know that a relatively small number of people will see a link on their Twitter or Facebook timeline. Then, only a small percentage will actually click through to read the content. Then, an EVEN SMALLER percentage will interact with the content with replies, retweets, likes and stuff. My point is, for such a teeny-weeny blog I had a lot of interaction, which was incredible. Actually, even if you just read the damn thing, you still count. I have Google Analytics, you know.
One surprise was an ex-colleague getting in touch to say they wish they’d realised how much I was struggling and done something to help. To be honest, I’m really very glad they didn’t, because it would have meant my carefully constructed (but paper-thin) facade had failed. And we couldn’t have that now! But I’m so grateful they got in touch, it meant a lot.
A few people have called me brave, but considering I didn’t expect many people to read the blog, I’m really not. Like yeah, ok, I posted the link on social media, but I seriously wasn’t expecting many people to read it and share it. Really. It was mostly an exercise in catharsis. (Christ, look at Humblebrag McHumblebraggington over here. Seriously, what a puke, I’m dreadful.)
When it comes to mental health, they say that talking helps and boringly enough, it’s true. It does. Sometimes, all you need is one person brave enough to say their problems out loud, to let a whole bunch of people know that they are not alone. So, if you want a properly brave someone, that’s Aaron ‘@TechnicallyRon’ Gillies, who does wonderful work talking about mental health in the media and has recently announced he’ll be writing a book called The Anxiety Survival Guide. Also, he’s fucking funny.
Lastly, a gigantic but mumbled thanks-so-much-head-down-awkward-shuffle for the, er, many compliments on my writing. I don’t really know what to do with that, so I’ve decided that you all just feel sorry for me and decided to dole out compliments to make me feel better. Of course.
OK, enough. This isn’t a fucking Oscars speech, so I’ll wrap it up. I want to blog more often and get some writing practise under my belt because I enjoy it, so expect more. I can’t promise to bare my crummy soul every time as that would be tedious in the extreme, but perhaps I’ll write some more things you’ll be interested in reading. Or I’ll post cat photos, that could also work! Much easier.
p.s. I’m sorry about the misleading picture of pizza but this week I remembered how to make pizzas from scratch, so pizza is on my mind 24/7.
p.p.s. I’M ACTUALLY NOT SORRY AT ALL, NOT ONE BIT. LOOK UPON MY PIZZA, YE READERS, AND DESPAIR!
So you’ve already seen a thousand articles about freelancing, but I’m here to talk about me, me, me. How did I end up freelancing? Well, that’s very polite of you to ask and I’m so glad you did, because shit’s gonna get intensely personal. It has taken me over a year to work up the courage to write this, so please, be kind.
Before we start, I’m aware that I have fairly huge dollop of privilege. This is partly why this piece isn’t “how to freelance,” instead it’s an account of how things in my life unfolded over the space of a few months. I’m aware that just acknowledging privilege is not particularly useful and pushing back against it is what’s needed; this is something I’m trying to do more often. However, so many of the decisions and situations in this piece were assisted by my privilege that I had to at least mention it, I can’t pretend to be oblivious. This is something I’m still learning about. So, all that in mind, onwards.
Not too long ago, I was working in a job that was affecting my mental health. I never really wanted to admit that publicly, but there it is. I feel the need to tell you, the bald truth is that my job was fucking me right up.
Early on, I’d had some misgivings about the role but was pretty much told to suck it up. Like many employers, they heavily leaned on the whole, “you’re so lucky, people would kill to work here” thing. Which was true, by the way. But I didn’t feel lucky; I felt miserable. Some colleagues thrived but I didn’t, and I certainly wasn’t the only one. The icing on the misery cake was that I felt even more miserable because I felt miserable. Thanks to a combination of several work-based issues, my anxiety levels shot through the roof, like a shitty glass elevator smashing everything in its path.
The increased anxiety had nasty real-life consequences. To let you in on a huge secret, on a normal day, I have a bad phobia of heights and escalators. This is a laugh riot when you use the London Underground daily, believe me. I knew my levels of anxiety were approaching Distinctly Not Good when I couldn’t even get on the escalator at my home tube station.
I’d stand inside the ticket barriers pretending to check my phone, tutting as if I was reading an important email. Secretly, I would be waiting for a specific set of circumstances which would ‘allow’ me to board the escalator. My brain would whizz off into the distance like the rabbit at a greyhound track, too fast to catch and shake sense into. I couldn’t even focus on the words on my phone. I’d feel as though my heartbeat was visible through three layers of clothing, half convinced that my scalp and hair could expose my thudding pulse, giving away my secret phobia, my pathetic fear. Even now, I’ve got sweaty palms as I type.
The usual coping mechanisms stopped working. Panic attacks became ‘normal.’ It became ‘normal’ to sweat through my clothes and for the dampness of fear to kink my straightened hair. It became ‘normal’ to have my vision blacken at the edges.
Then, things stepped up a gear. It became ‘normal’ to take two buses to a different train station, where I felt able to board the tube without feeling like I was going to die. It became ‘normal’ to add an extra hour to my commute. I was doing my best to work around the issues, but I was a fucking mess and obviously, very obviously, this wasn’t normal.
After a few months on Super Mega High Alert, something snapped. Self-preservation? I don’t know. I did something I never imagined myself doing and handed in my notice without another job lined up. I’d finally realised that none of this was fucking worth damaging my mental health for, and I needed out. Now.
I was able to leave knowing I’d be ok without a job for a few weeks. I was lucky. My partner and my parents supported my decision with a smidgen of incredulity and a lot of kindness. I didn’t have a plan, but I knew I wanted a little time to myself, to sort my head, to calm down.
Then, as if I’d subconsciously sent a flare into the sky, the offers of freelance work started to arrive a week later. I didn’t even ask, they just came and I took them. Did I mention how fucking lucky I am? So that’s why I became a freelancer. While the route was terrible, I can honestly say that I’m still glad, because I would never have made the leap otherwise.
It’s not completely idyllic though. Work isn’t consistent so I’ve cut my outgoings. I’m fearing my tax bill. I still feel residual anger over the job I left, mainly with myself, despite the fact that I had very legitimate issues with the place. Sometimes I get horribly lonely during the day. If I’m really busy, I might not leave the house for a few days straight. Small things have changed, I go through more toilet roll and teabags than before and my gas and electricity bills have increased. I miss being in town. There’s no sick pay, holiday pay or pension, and naturally I worry about where my next job will come from. Imposter syndrome still exists.
But all that said, the flexibility afforded by freelancing came at the right time. I can see more of my family; I stayed with my sister during her maternity leave, so she wouldn’t be alone if labour kicked in. I’ve had the opportunity to work with some incredible people like Black Sabbath’s Tony Iommi and David Bowie’s producer, Tony Visconti. I worked at Latitude Festival. I’ve worked with some of the UK’s best commercial radio brands. I can do errands during weekdays, as well as my laundry. I’ve met really talented people and worked on interesting projects. And most importantly, more than anything else, I’m much less anxious.
I’m sure I’ll want to return to a full time role eventually, but now I’m enjoying spending my time on my terms. I feel so lucky and grateful for every damned thing in my life these days, and perhaps that’s been the biggest benefit and the biggest surprise. I’m generally a cynical and grumpy old boot, so when I began feeling this way, it confused me. I thought something was going wrong, like an errant chemical imbalance was causing me to feel excitement and joy bubbling in my chest daily… but no, it’s something far less interesting. I’m just happy.
It would be remiss of me to write this whole bloody thing then not tell you what I do. If you want to hire me, hit me up for copy writing, social media production, management, strategy, digital content management, curation, community management and so on. I have experience in all kinds of things and have the capability to do more.