Escapism: through books, #spon content and meditation apps

I read an article about anxiety among pop stars in the social media generation last week. You can read it here. I liked it cause I think it accurately captures the zeitgeist (wow, I sound like my old drama teacher) in that yes, we’re all conscious of having a political and #woke conscience, just as those generations did before us with punk and whatnot. But social media – for teenagers coming of age now – has formed part of their identity, and we’re now starting to see that in the pop landscape.

In the piece, the writer identifies two types of Gen-Z’ers on social media, the ‘fame-hungry narcissists’ and the ‘hyper-aware over-thinkers’. If like me, you strongly identify with both, how do you find your place on the internet? If you’re aware that having a presence on social media will do wonders for your ‘brand’, but also know that spending too much time trying to expand this network isn’t something that comes too naturally (preferring to spend your free time reading or mastering the art of a paper aeroplane), do you decide to take steps away from this dopamine-fuelled activity and ditch the smartphone altogether? (This is clearly the the hyper-aware over-thinker stepping up the mic.) I’ve had a dream twice within the past week or so where I snap my phone in half and it crumbles into ash. I then wake up and reach for my phone to see if anybody’s texted me.

Something that intrigues me is the increasing number of people monetising their lives by just, like, travelling around the world. I’m fascinated with travel bloggers and how they use social media (yes, that thing you just tweeted a pic of your Wetherspoons round on) to fund their ‘adventures’. I wish it was as blissful as it looks but I don’t buy into it. Even more so after I watched this Vice News clip about these total #vanlife phoneys (please watch it if you have 10 mins and marvel in how messed up reality can be faked online). Millennials are more into travelling and ‘experiences’ than buying a tonne of nice stuff, apparently, so travelling the world as an influencer and getting paid for it seems like a pretty obvious way to do life, and with the inclusivity of the internet (so long as you have a Wi-Fi connection and, surely, a senior figure in your life who can bail you out of bad situations) it seems more possible than ever.

But is the content the top travel bloggers are making really that interesting? I’m always trying to find interesting things to read about travel, as everyone’s travel daddy Bill Bryson once said  in an interview: “A basic error with travel writing is assuming everybody’s interested. You have to work from exactly the opposite assumption: nobody is interested. Even your wife is not interested. You have to somehow make it so that they become interested.”

When I read that, I laughed out loud. I felt like I’d just been given the best advice about writing about holidays or trips, in that no-one cares about the ‘Today I visited this church. Wow, it was so pretty!’ kind of vibe. I’m not slating enjoying a holiday and writing about it (obviously!) but my favourite pieces about travelling are always the ones that show travelling for what it can be: rare moments of wonder and feelings of unbelievable freedom – interspersed between long bus journeys, waiting in stuffy airport lounges, finding your companion unbelievably tiresome (even if you’re travelling solo) and maybe – just maybe – small pangs of homesickness (…you can take the girl out of Peterborough). That’s why I could read Bill Bryson’s books over and over, his petty moans about the irks of travelling make the experience so much more enjoyable to read (and sure as hell beat the #spon posts from the #vanlife elite).

I am so close to finishing reading John Waters’ travelogue about hitchhiking from his native Baltimore to San Francisco, and it’s one of the most original book structures I’ve ever come across. Before he ventured off on his trip, he spent a few months imagining the best possible thing that could happen – and the worst case scenario – which form the first two-thirds of the book. So, the first 200 pages give the weird and wonderful Pope of Trash – director of cult films Hairspray and Pink Flamingos – the ability to show off his endless, no-holds-barred imagination (the ‘Best Trip’ is so heartwarming because you’re so happy everything’s worked out so well for him, and the ‘Worst Trip’ actually made me retch while eating a mushroom omelette as we meet a gruesome character who picks up near-dead roadkill and collects the creatures in her car). It makes for such a hoot of book! Here’s the link to buy it. Or watch this video. (Or ask your local library to order it in!) Also, while I’m talking about holidays and trips, our next Girl Chat episode (landing next Wednesday, April 18) is about holiday romances. Check out the all the ones preceding it here.

I’ve digressed hugely: back to the phoney #vanlife-rs. Perhaps it’s the cynicism of the person typing, but I’m sceptical of influencers and wonder how satisfying their ‘jobs’ really are. This, by the maker of parody Instagram account Deliciously Stella is interesting – as it was her idea to satirise the whole movement, but she still got sucked into the allure of free stuff anyway. I would love to think that I could travel the world on an all-expenses-paid trip as a travel blogger with #hashtag revenue streaming in, but not at the expense of missing all of the opportunities immersing yourself in another culture brings by having my head glued to my phone. Bryson again, in Neither Her Nor There: “I can’t think of anything that excites a greater sense of childlike wonder than to be in a country where you are ignorant of almost everything. Suddenly you are five years old again. You can’t read anything, you have only the most rudimentary sense of how things work, you can’t even reliably cross a street without endangering your life. Your whole existence becomes a series of interesting guesses.”

Something not totally evil about technology though: I’ve used the Headspace mediation app every day for the past three weeks (21-day streak, holla!) and it’s already made a huge difference to how I deal with my often extremely busy mind. There have only been benefits so far, which have weasled their way into all aspects of my everyday mundanity: dealing with 3,000 unread emails at 9am, coping with the petty but way valid stresses of sharing a house (and kitchen) with several people and, well, getting back into the habit of writing again.

At the time of writing this, it’s 8:30am and I’ve managed to write almost 1,000 words already – before my ‘working day’ has even begun. I woke up in a rotten-as-hell mood this morning (disclaimer: there’s a 90% chance I have glandular fever, sigh) but I took 10 minutes to listen to the Headspace dudes’s familiar tones, grabbed my laptop, and wrote the post you’ve just read.

For those who deal with anxiety as frequently as you brush your teeth, clarity of mind is not to be scoffed at. There are 10 free days before you have to subscribe: something I got way too pissed off about (capitalising on meditation seemed as icky to me as, like, the standard £15-a-session yoga classes everywhere in central London) but after four or five days of not subscribing in protest after my trial, I felt myself spiralling back into a pattern of negative thoughts. I was curious to see if the next 10 days would feel as good as the first did. In fact, they got even better, so now I’m telling you about it.

If you’re a student, you can get Spotify Premium and Headspace for £5 a month, (sign me up to a degree course already, purely for the discount). Btw, although it might seem it, this is definitely not #spon content.

Anyway, I’m all out. Until next time!

Follow me on Twitter @taralepore

On not having constantly brilliant moments, and why that’s OK – 23/03/17

I’ve hit a bit of a low point during the past month or so, something I can now admit to with conviction (which means I must be coming out the other side). The reasons behind it I won’t disclose, but I felt compelled to share my experience of waiting for a bad period to pass, because being ‘strong’ or, like, going for a run, haven’t felt like viable (or at all possible) options. I began to come out of a drawn-out mopey period last week while I was washing the dishes. It sticks out in a blur of a week because I forced myself to remember how it felt, and it was only then, after days of feeling nothing, when I began to regain control of my thoughts and moods. I was washing up day-old plates looking out to the many back gardens I can see from my kitchen window, where a cat was licking itself clean on top of a shed. I could have been standing there for 10 minutes, just staring, although it was probably just a few seconds. I remember thinking ‘I’ve never felt like this before’. Or at least, not for a long time anyway, not since I was 16 years old, struggling at school, and kicked around the place just trying to get by every day. What did I have to worry about at 16? Well, nothing I suppose, in the same way I’ve got nothing to worry about today. Of course, there’s always minor things going on: money worries, relationship doubts, friendships drifting; although these things shouldn’t encapsulate your whole life and make you afraid to leave the house. But sometimes they can, and it’s really very hard to explain why. Mental health’s a difficult thing to open up about; you can’t see negative feelings, so will people even believe you? Will they care?

It’s also a hard thing to write about, because when I feel ready to form a sentence about tangled thoughts in a coherent way, I’ve usually come to resolve a tiny aspect of it. I can now detangle and rationalise how I felt and get it down in a way that half makes sense. But of course, when you’re at the bottom of the slump, nothing makes sense. I’ve been unable to write anything of any worth for weeks and although that sounds melodramatic, it hasn’t felt like it. I didn’t care. I’ve been feeling lousy, not in in a loud, hysterical kind of way, but in a very different way altogether. No energy, no desire to do the things I know that’ll make me feel better.

I think that’s the problem I have with dealing with spells of depression as I’ve grown older, I know exactly what would help me to feel better (getting out of bed before 8am, going for a run, showering, putting on a killer outfit to meet friends), but actually going through with any of the above is so out of reach, despite how routine it might seem when your mind’s being kind. Ellen Scott touches on this in a brilliant article posted on the Metro last week: ‘[Telling me to go for a run to fix my depression] is a reminder that I’m failing to do something everyone else finds simple, that I can’t do something that could help.’

And despite its immeasurable benefits on your self esteem, the endorphins released from exercise are more of a quick-fix mood boost than a long-term solution. Definitely – if I feel up to it – it can help, but it’s not always the answer and can make me feel worse about myself. It’s the horrible feeling of helplessness, knowing that getting your body moving will help give your overwrought mind some balance, but you’re stuck within yourself and your body and mind aren’t working in sync. So you just sit and maybe read and try not to feel, and think about perhaps having a shower (but then probably don’t).

It’s not as simple as doing something that might have worked before either – your circumstances might have changed since your last really low spell, so how you’re going to deal with it will have to change too. Perhaps once, your mental health hack was to pencil in some me-time where you could bob around in your own company, away from other people; but now you’re in a position where you need to surround yourself with others and feel more connected to your friends. If you have a bad day, but then those bad days merge into a string of bad days, and carries on into a bad month, you’re not going to feel that great about yourself. But as you’re already feeling shitty, beating yourself up for feeling bad and not your best self isn’t going to help you get out of that rut. It’s OK to feel quiet and tired and go through a bad patch without wearing make up and trying to put your game face on every day. Instead of constantly being angry at how you feel (‘Why do I feel so fucking awful! If I don’t buck my game up soon, how do I ever expect to achieve anything!’ etc) maybe try accepting that you’re not always going to be 100% fine with life every day of the year, and it’s a feeling that will soon and gradually pass.

I feel much better now, (the looming thing I was so dreading has passed, my friends are awesome, I’ve been extra kind to myself). I started reading fiction again, something that, in hindsight, helped me to crawl out of the hole a bit. I guess it makes sense, when you’re spending a lot of time with only your own thoughts for company – reading a book gives you another voice to listen to. And what joy at finding a sentiment within its pages that feels so right for how you’re feeling at that exact moment, and having that moment all to yourself (rather than seeing it’s already been retweeted hundreds of time). Ah, you think, someone knows exactly how this feeling-I-can’t-quite-articulate feels, and they knew how it felt in 2007, when they wrote this book. That always gives me a bit of a hope, if just for a second. It also makes sense that getting nose-deep into a book is a good way to spend time on your own, because people have been doing it for hundreds of years. Books are great if you crave company. My friend and I used to joke in A-level English that the only reason Tess of the D’urbervilles was considered a classic was because people’s attention spans in the ‘olden days’ could get through 600 pages of Hardy. Sorry if that’s sacrilege and it’s actually a really great read or whatever, I just lost interest four pages in and there was no going back from there. Anyway.

Spending less time in real company and more time scrolling through social media will rarely make us feel better if we’ve hit a bit of a slump and have been holed up inside with unwashed hair for three days. Ways to get around this: Switch off your phone, read for a little while, prioritise dental hygiene, try to leave the house today.

Writing this hasn’t helped me discover anything, really, I just had to write some words down to make something out of what’s been a pretty mopey fortnight. I feel like there’s lots of shareable/wannabe-viral ‘girl power’ posts on the internet that make you feel a little inadequate when you’re feeling down, rather than providing solutions to miserable moods. While the intentions are probably good, there’s less people going ‘I’m struggling right now… but that doesn’t mean I totally suck’. It’s unrealistic and boring to have constantly brilliant moments. Bad feelings will pass, let yourself feel how you have to feel for a little while and I promise, it won’t be forever. You’re doing fine; you are enough.

Here’s something suitably Neil Young to sum up the above: