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1,2, have a breakdown…and breathe

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Sometimes you need to take life with…

Cough, sneeze, sip, curl up and…breathe.

The past few months have been more than a little hectic.

Since January I’ve completed my journalism diploma, got a tattoo, spent weekends in Norway, Rome and Exeter and started a job as a newspaper reporter.

I’ve moved my life from Manchester to Cumbria, swapping the buzz of the city for the cackle of seagulls and am lucky enough to have the Lake District on my doorstep.

There’s so much in my life to be thankful for and I wouldn’t change a thing.

But amidst all of this glorious chaos and change I’ve forgotten to relax and my non-stop lifestyle has worn me down.

Some familiar demons have also tried to rear their ugly heads.

So here I am, tucked up in bed having been off sick all week with a virus.

There’s nothing like immobilising fatigue and mind numbing daytime TV to make you take stock of things.

So here goes.

It’s official. I’m a journalist. No longer a student, or just a blogger, and no need for the “aspiring” prefix.

I’m finally doing a job that I really love and now instead of just eliciting groans from my friends, I actually get paid to come up with puns. (case and point)

Every day is different, my colleagues are lovely and I get to chat to lots of interesting people.

So what could possibly be wrong?

Well I’m not always the confident person I try to portray.

On the inside I’m still plagued with crippling self-doubt and worry.

That’s when the anxiety bubbles over.

In previous jobs I’ve experienced stress, whether I was slogging it in retail or working in an icecream parlour.

But now instead of literally crying over spilt milk, my bathroom breakdowns are more likely to be the result of an interviewee cancelling or a constantly engaged phone line.

Being the perfectionist that I am, I can’t help putting unnecessary pressure on myself.

Mistakes happen and we learn from them.

But on a day when anxiety is tapping me on the shoulder my mind can take the following negative spiral:

“My shorthand isn’t quick enough.” “I should have practiced more.” “I’m useless.” “I bet they regret giving me the job.” “I’m hopeless.” “I’ll never get back up to speed.” “I’ve let my tutors down.” “I’ve let myself down.” “I’m a shit journalist.” “Maybe I should just quit.” “I’m not good enough.” “I can’t do this.” “I’m going to get the sack.”

Then there’s depression – my other nemesis.

I imagine it as monster which greedily feeds off the nervous energy of my anxiety.

Lots of change, even when it’s positive, can be hard to cope with.

In situations like this I would usually turn to drink but since I’ve ditched the booze for good that’s no longer an option.

So for the first time I’ve been totally sober through the difficult adjustment period of moving to a new place where I don’t know anyone.

The old me would have gone out to bars alone, drunk all night, chatted to anyone, had a one-night stand, gone into work hungover, drunk more to numb the anxiety, and repeat.

It’s not so bad now that I have housemates and a fixed abode.

But for the first few weeks I was staying in a B&B and lots of evenings spent alone in a small room with only a TV for company gave me too much time to dwell on things, feeding the monster.

I didn’t realise how bad my mental health was until  I was back in Manchester for a weekend and plans to meet some friends fell through.

Whilst on a bus into town, I got a message from one of my old course mates to say they couldn’t make it.

In the end it turned out no-one was free.

I burst into tears.

It was nothing personal, everyone had their own things going on but in that moment the monster munched a big black hole in my heart.

I spent the rest of the bus journey in a snotty mess with black rivulets of mascara running down my face.

I’d been unhealthily relying on that single event to cheer me up.

It wasn’t a big deal, and if I’d been in a better frame of mind it wouldn’t have mattered.

But right then I felt as though I’d fallen into a chasm of loneliness in which no one cared, everyone hated me, and life seemed pointless.

The allure of the bars seemed more tempting than ever.

But after quick walk around the city centre and a phone call to my dad, I felt marginally better and went home to watch a film.

Now I’m on the road back to better physical and mental health.

No matter where I am or what I’m doing I’ve realised that I can never take my mental health for granted.

It can be fragile but all it needs is a little water and sunlight every now and then.

Getting back into a routine of yoga and meditation, finding time to relax and eating right will all help.

And the little things which go wrong, be they mistakes or disappointments, don’t have to spell the end of the world.

But for now I think I’ll just close my eyes, count to three…and breathe.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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What it’s like to be a 22 year old alcoholic

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Me at my 20th Birthday party…before I passed out on the sofa

“My name’s Kathy and I’m an alcoholic.”

Those were the words I thought I’d never be able to admit to myself.

But sitting in a dank and dreary church hall I found myself saying them to a dozen complete strangers.

This was the first step in my recovery.

I have now been sober for 17 days and feel happier than I have in months.

That’s 17 hangover free days, 17 days of not feeling sick or embarrassed or ashamed, 17 days of mental clarity, 17 days of thinking positively, 17 days of the rest of my life.

I’m not going to pretend that it’s been easy though.

It’s been so tempting just to have a sip of someone’s drink when it’s been offered to me, so tempting just to have one or two when I’ve been out with friends and everyone around me is getting loose and merry.

But my problem is that I could never just stop at one or two drinks.

I could never be content with feeling tipsy and most nights out would always descend into the oblivion of a blackout.

That’s what makes me an alcoholic.

When I went to my first Alcoholics’ Anonymous meeting I wasn’t yet sure if I was an alcoholic, or rather I didn’t want to admit it.

In my view giving myself the label of “alcoholic” would be hitting rock bottom.

But the truth was I’d already hit rock bottom long ago and then proceeded to plateau on the lower slopes for a while.

In the end admitting that I was an alcoholic wasn’t any scarier than anything I’d already been through due to alcohol and it was what has enabled me to take that first step on the ladder to spiritual recovery.

When you’re in your twenties most people turn a blind eye to your alcohol abuse since they think you’re just going through that “party phase” and are exercising a right to be young, wild and free.

But behind the laughter and the slurring of words there is often a deeper, darker expression of pain which no amount of wine or beer can hide.

It was when I woke up in hospital after falling over and suffering a concussion that I decided enough was enough.

I’d had enough of not remembering , enough of hearing second-hand about my drunken exploits, of being overcome with regret and shame, of putting myself in a position where I was vulnerable enough to be manipulated and abused, of having too many close calls and too many near misses.

It was time for a change.

I’m not going to be that crazy party girl anymore but that’s not really who I am anyway.

I’m a fun-loving extrovert, a journalist and writer, a dreamer, traveller, artist and musician and I don’t need alcohol to be any of these things.

Having suffered from depression and anxiety I have now had the epiphany that I also suffer from alcoholism – possibly the most deadly mental illness of all.

I say this because alcohol itself is a depressant so using it to cope with your problems is just a vicious cycle which will only ever make things worse.

It’s also too easy to hide.

Most girls my age go out and binge drink on the weekends, they fall over, they swear, they maybe have one or two more than they should but few people would consider that they could be alcoholics.

But that’s the thing about alcoholism.

It isn’t ageist or sexist, it doesn’t matter if you drink alone or with friends, if you get drunk every day or just binge on the weekends, if you do it at home or in a club.

There’s more than one way to be an alcoholic.

As someone who’s never been able to say no to a drink I’m looking forward to saying yes to a life of abstinence.

It doesn’t make me boring or dull but rather allows me to be me without the oppressive chains of an illness over which I have no control.

So the next time you’re egging your friend on to do a shot or drink up, or get another round in, just pause to consider if it’s really the best thing for them.

Alcohol is fine in moderation.

But for people like me it’s a curse.

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My unofficial guide to learning shorthand

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Shorthand; a necessary evil if you want to be a journalist.

It’s also the reason why I haven’t posted in forever since I’m expected to do two hours of practice every night.

That’s two hours of drilling special symbols, dictations and generally losing the will to live.

This level of dedication is however necessary since in order to pass my exam I’ll have to be at a speed of 100 words per minute.

FML

It’s not all bad though.

Our shorthand tutor Ed is young, good looking and laid-back and constantly tells us to not lose heart.

For anyone else who is embarking on this perilous journey to here is my guide to learning Teeline shorthand.

1.) Practice, practice, practice 

Shorthand is a skill and like many skills it comes easier to some. That said the best way to improve when you’re starting out is just to practice as much as possible. Once you’ve got the alphabet down and know some basic theory the best thing to do is keep going over and over your notes. Practice on the bus or the train. Make up sentences in your head and write them out in shorthand. Try to eavesdrop on conversations and transcribe them back. Use every spare second to spruce up your shorthand. It all makes a difference.

2.) Specials are your friend

Shorthand specials exist to make your life easier so every time you learn a new one make sure to commit it to memory. Make a little dictionary of specials and copy them over and over again until they become an automatic reflex. They’ll make your life easier in the long run. With Teeline there is also the possibility of making up your own specials in some cases so try out what works best for you. For example I use three ‘O’ indicators for over and over again. There’s also a girl on my course who uses the shorthand for the letter ‘Y’ when she wants to write ‘why.’  Whatever you do though just make sure you’re consistent.

3.) Size matters

If you’re shorthand isn’t as small as it can possibly be then you’re never going to improve on your speed. It’s as simple as that. Just make sure that you can discern between your bigger and larger letters. For example a small ‘w’ needs to be smaller than a ‘wr’ blend and likewise with the ‘mr’ and ‘lr’ blends.

4.) Use all the resources you can 

It’s best to use a range of resources. I would recommend  Shorthand Games for a funner way to practice the basics and Teeline Online for some free dictations.

5.) Get a grip

A pen with a rubber grip is a must, especially when you get up to higher speeds. If you don’t have one a rubber band works just as well to stop your pen from slipping.

6.) And finally….

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A day in the life of a final year languages student

These days I rarely get a chance to update my blog. In fact sometimes I forget I even have one until I tack it on to the end of my list of hobbies which I indulge in when I probably should be doing other things like reading about post-feminist film theory. Anyway, it occurred to me that even though the tagline of my blog is “the musings of a languages student” I’ve never actually done any sort of post which makes reference to studying languages or just being a student in general. So, here’s what a day in the life of a University of Exeter finalist is like…

8.00 am

Wake up and turn off annoying vintage style alarm clock.

8.15 am

Get up when proper phone alarm goes off.

8.30 am

Have breakfast: Weetabix with almond milk, pumpkin seeds and banana since I’m no longer just content that I’m saving the lives of enough animals by simply being vegetarian – veganism seems to be the ultimate ethical lifestyle.

9.00 am 

Walk/run to campus because I never seem to leave exactly on time.

9.35 am 

Enter Italian oral class flustered and sweaty from jogging up the hill and also because Devon has a weird humid climate even in January.

11.00 am

Head to the library to study and somehow seem to spend an hour doing nothing at all.

12.00 noon

Write an article about an anti-social seagull

13.00 pm

After waiting in a queue for quite a while I get a delicious wrap from a place on campus which is called “Comida” even though it has no connection to Spain/Spanish.

14.40 pm

Whilst being pensive during a French translation class I realise that I have a chin hair – merde.

15.30 pm

Decide to troll the student forum for Grad ball theme ideas by posting – “Cats cats cats – a party where everyone is a cat.”

16.00 pm

Read about post-feminism in the media

17.30 pm

Make dinner and face derision from housemates who snigger at my love for mushy peas and Linda McCartney sausages.

18.00 pm

Agree to going out even though I know I have to be up early tomorrow and I have lots of work to do.

21.00 pm

Go out on the premise that I will have one drink and one drink alone.

21.30 pm

I’ve had 4 drinks because it didn’t make sense not to benefit from the 2-4-1 cocktails deal.

22.00 pm

Dance in a club during a beats n bass night and feel that my arms are working independently to the rest of my body.

23.00 pm

Have a drunk conversation about life after university and plunge into a temporary existential crisis.

00.00 midnight

Walk home and take solace in the fact that there are many people much drunker than I am eg. a Rugby boy in a pink tutu

1 am

Debate whether or not to get chips

1.15 am

Get chips

2 am

Read e-mails and realise that I’ve got a place on a journalism course starting in September!

2.30 am

Lie awake with nervous excitement

3.30 am

Fall into a deep sleep filled with dreams about cats in formal wear.