Awareness Level Up

yorkshire dales in the snow

Recently I have been lightly nudging people towards my Kindle ebook ‘Run Away Moments’, simply because it’s a way to generate a tiny bit of passive income and I often get good feedback from people who have read it.

It is a collection of 16 non-fiction short stories of my time backpacking and living overseas. It’s far from perfect, and the last time I read it I spotted more than one spelling mistake, but it was a very enjoyable lesson in self-starting. I learnt a lot about writing and why I enjoy it, and I taught myself how to format a book for Kindle and how to market a digital product using email campaigns.

A few people have purchased it, which still gives me a delightful feeling of excitement, but it has also prompted me to remember where I was in life at the time that I wrote it.

After my visa for Australia ended, I moved back home and knew what I wanted, but I didn’t quite know how to get it. I haphazardly made my way to Sheffield, where my life became a bizarre and draining parallel of making real, tangible progress towards my professional goals and becoming truly, dangerously burnt out.

I look back on that period in my life and the internal emotional pain that I carried every single day comes flooding back. I was scared and desperate to get to where I wanted to be.

I worked 3-4 jobs at the time. Office during the week, bar at weekends, freelance proof reading and also voluntary contributions to a wide range of online magazines, events and stuff I got involved in through my blog.

I had a lot of feelings to deal with following my departure from Melbourne that instead just got pushed to one side; a break up with a boyfriend, struggling to re-connect with friends back in my home town, fear that I wouldn’t achieve my goals.

I turned into a mess, unable to think even just one clear thought for months on end. Things culminated when a friend tried to commit suicide, and the stress of life broke me. I threw my hands up in the air, dropped the many plates I was spinning and moved back in with my parents.

At the time, it felt like the ultimate failure. But now I can see that it was actually the first time since moving back to the UK that I actually listened to my own needs and did something about it.

Being at home then enabled me to focus on learning to look after myself again. I started eating properly, I started running again, I stopped doing so many different things and I just focussed on getting to the next step. My goals were to build a career in digital marketing, and within 8 months I’d finally gotten over a big hurdle in that journey; I landed a job with a marketing agency in Manchester, and braced myself for another big move.

Once in Manchester, I naively thought things from this point on would be easy. They of course were not. Agencies, as I learned first hand, are a ruthless way to learn how to survive in the corporate world, and I started to get burnt out and stressed all over again.

I started to feel so fatigued and like I just wanted someone to look after me. I started to look for an outside fix, also known as external validation. Little over a year later, I entered into a relationship and immediately started investing far too much energy into that instead.

What I didn’t realise at the time, is I thought finally ‘having someone’ would make the unbelievable amount of anxiety I experienced on a daily basis magically disappear. Of course, it didn’t. Thankfully, I made a very wise decision early on in that relationship; I started having counselling. I went sporadically and sometimes with long breaks, but I kept going. The sessions became harder and harder over time, but my awareness of who I am, what I want and what I need reached levels that I didn’t even know existed.

After three years I’d built a very strong emotional foundation, which unfortunately also revealed that I was outgrowing what had been a very unhealthy relationship from the outset. That relationship ended shortly after this realisation, which I now can see very clearly is for the best.

What I know now is that the way to not burn out and feel like life is too hard, is to learn to listen to your intuition and set boundaries with yourself and others based on what your intuition tells you.

I look back on my younger self, a very eager, very anxious, very nervous woman in her mid-twenties who, despite crippling anxiety and depression, still managed to forge ahead and write an ebook, amongst all the other things she managed to do, and I’m able to feel compassion and gratitude towards her.

She did her best with the level of awareness she had at the time, it’s not her fault that she didn’t know how to look after herself better and it’s okay that she missed a couple of spelling errors before listing the book on Amazon.

She had so much fear that things wouldn’t work out as she hoped and I sometimes wish I could go back and tell her that things work out just fine. She learns how to manage her anxiety, how to listen to herself, how to set boundaries, how to take criticism without feeling personally hurt, how to think commercially. She learns to stay level headed regardless of whether things are bad or good. She learns how to trust herself more than anyone else. She buys a property on her own; a dream that she’s had from a very young age but always secretly believed would be too hard to do.

I used to look back on younger versions of myself and feel disdain or frustration at the decisions I made, but now I focus on compassion and gratitude. That time in my life definitely wasn’t happy, but it was necessary for my growth and it got me to where I am right now.

Still

Months of organising, years of saving, a lifetime of visualising. I’m a homeowner now. I keep getting hit by waves of discomfort, triggered by the unfamiliarity of having total autonomy in my own home.

For my whole life I’ve always lived within someone else’s space, whether it’s a rented room or a joint tenancy.

My first week as a homeowner has reminded me of two very small pockets of time that I experienced whilst living in Melbourne a few years ago. On two separate occasions during my time there I looked after a friend’s cat; two different cats belonging to two different friends. Both times I lived at the respective friend’s home while they were away. Both times were until now, my only experience of living entirely alone.

I remember both of those cat sitting episodes vividly, because they were both extremely serene, peaceful and relaxing weeks. I enjoyed the freedom of pottering around at home alone, I enjoyed the silence, and I enjoyed the stillness you can sense when you wake up somewhere and know you’re the only person there.

Now in my new home living alone, that stillness is back. I had completely forgotten how wonderful it feels to me.

Peace and quiet isn’t for everyone, but it most definitely is for me. The lock down restrictions we’ve been put under have come as a hidden blessing. At first the thought of being isolated with no social contact for so long was scary, but as time passed and I got back in touch with what being alone feels like, I suddenly started to feel more and more rejuvenated with each day. Now, it’s the thought of returning to a faster pace of life that scares me!

I feel well-equipped for it though. With my own space where I know I can be still, I’ll be able to re-charge my batteries far better than ever before when life gets busy again.

It clicked on my third or fourth day here. I’m now going to be able to live out those two lovely weeks of cat-sitting indefinitely. Yes, there is unfortunately no actual cat this time, but there is endless peace, quiet and stillness. It feels incredibly liberating.

Power

“You can’t. You think you can, but you can’t. You need to step back. Stop thinking you can. Things might not just work out. You’re asking for trouble. You can’t do this.”

If the knot of fear I can feel in my chest and the weight of self-doubt in my gut could speak, this is what they would say to me in unison.

With less than a week to go before I start to pay a mortgage on my first ever home, all kinds of self-sabotaging thoughts are waltzing right out of my subconscious and to the forefront of my mind.

Buying my first home is a lifetime dream come true. It is something I have fantasised about for many years. It is a milestone that is incredibly important to me, because autonomy and independence are two things I value greatly. 

In my late twenties, my boyfriend and I agreed to save up and buy a house together. Our goals and values were aligned. Less than two years later, we both realised that our values and goals were not aligned. As my desire for a home had grown stronger, his had weakened and dimmed. Suddenly my gut instinct that something had not been right for a while made perfect sense and I didn’t feel crazy anymore. Unfortunately, feeling sane isn’t quite the release when you also feel heartbroken.

Following the feelings of shock, disappointment, betrayal, anger and despair at everything I had envisioned for our future suddenly evaporating into thin air, I somewhat impulsively made an offer on a two bedroom flat in South Manchester. The offer was accepted, and suddenly I was navigating the whirlwind of property buying on my own.

Now that has all passed and I’m a few days away from completion. There are no more admin hurdles, there is nothing left to do, there are no more chances of anything going wrong. It’s happening.

All my life, I have let fear get the better of me. I have let myself come so close to truly realising my dreams and then retreated back into my shadow at incredible speed. 

When I was 14 years old I wrote a plot synopsis and three full chapters of an action & adventure vampire novel. Both of my brothers read it and excitedly told me they couldn’t wait for more. 

Somehow that positive feedback scared me more than anything and I never touched those drafts ever again. I put them all into a plastic wallet, put that wallet into a box, and shoved the box under my bed, where it stayed for many years. Occasionally I would take it out and look over everything feeling a deep yearning to tell the rest of the story, but I never did.

At 24 years of age, I moved to the other side of the world and made a fantastic life for myself from scratch in Melbourne, Australia. I found a place to live, a job and a huge network of friends all by myself. I built a very happy life there, and nothing went wrong. Everything worked out fine.

Now here I am, in my early thirties and in Manchester, UK, feeling like moving ten minutes up the road is ridiculous, too big a dream and destined to fail.

Why don’t I think I can get what I want? Why do I think me living out my dreams and things being okay cannot co-exist? Why do I find so many things to worry about? How did I become so utterly dominated by fear?

My worries about the flat have ranged from planning in great detail what I would do if armed robbers stormed in through my front door to how I would handle it if the flat turned out to be haunted. 

Why not just let myself be at peace? Why am I so afraid of my own power?

That is what lies at the root of all this really. Power. I am powerful, beyond measure. We all are. 

I have used my power to overcome so many challenges in my life, to forge a way forward for myself, to grow and change and learn. I’ve used it to create too. My power has created the beginnings of a vampire novel, it has created a life from scratch in a faraway country and it has enabled me to walk away from a relationship that is no longer meant for me. It is not possible to do anything of those things if you are powerless. 

Now, I’m using my power to establish myself in my own home. 

And yet, I’m feeling the pull to shy away and creep back into my own shadow. Why?

I think I know why. I think it’s because the shadow is familiar. It feels safe and comfortable. I know the shadow better than I know the wide open space of fully standing on my own two feet. That wide open space makes me feel exposed and vulnerable.

I am afraid of stepping into the spotlight of my own life; I am afraid of stepping into my own power.  

Thrown Off The Scent

This is a short fiction story I wrote as part of a writing course I did in 2019. The course details can be found here. It was called Write Like A Grrrl and I would highly recommend it for anyone, at any level, who wants to gain some practical tools for creative writing. I think some of the course organisers may also be offering remote coaching whilst we’re in lock down.


There was no doubt in Alice’s mind that it was him; Mr Artichoke.

The top hat, the perfectly groomed moustache and beard, the mustard yellow brogues and the crisp, grey suit. All she needed now was for him to check the time so she could see his watch. She focussed on cleaning the coffee machine as she realised this meant what she had read in Emmeline’s diary was true. Alice wondered what to do. She certainly couldn’t let Mr Artichoke follow Emmeline; that would be a death sentence.

Alice cleaned the coffee machine again and looked over her shoulder. The man was standing a few metres away from her, quietly watching the clock on platform 1. He looked wealthy, not just in his attire but in his posture and his slow but sure movements. 

He scanned the platform and looked back at the clock, then at the rail tracks, and to the clock again. He raised his wrist slowly and pulled his sleeve back, revealing a garish wrist watch.

Alice almost fell backwards as she leant to catch a glimpse of it.. It was the exact watch Emmeline had described; shiny, gold, with a black face and white hands. Pretty disgusting she thought, but then money can’t buy taste.

Alice stiffened as he began to approach the coffee station.

“Good day miss, may I order a coffee with milk please?”

“Yes of course sir. Would you like anything to eat as well?”

“No thank you miss I am quite alright, just the coffee will do. No sugar please.”

“Certainly sir, shan’t be long.”

Alice began to sweat as she made his coffee. He has good manners at least, she thought, then shook her head, remember Alice, this man intended to murder Emmeline and good manners count for nothing in this scenario.

“Everything okay miss?”

Oh good grief he’s paying attention.

“Yes, all in hand. Shan’t be long.”

Stop saying shan’t be long you idiot you’re not Miss Marple. Or are you…

She finished the coffee, gulped and turned around.

“Here we are. That will be one pound and thirty pence good sir.”

“Excellent, here you go. Thank you very much miss.”

“May I ask where it is you’re headed to today? I see so many people coming and going from this dreary little station that I often wonder what place they’re off to!”

“Ah, I see. I err…” For the first time since arriving on the platform Mr Artichoke looked uncomfortable. “I’m just making my way to Edinburgh from London, it’s for a work conference. I was excited to see this station, it’s well known for its history and I am in the business of history – I am an archeologist and historian.”

“Well, I’m sure this place is almost old enough to be considered ancient history!”

“Aha, yes, quite. So err, you work here do you? How long for?”

“I’ve been here for three years, serving travellers their coffee and tea. It’s an enjoyable job for a people watcher!”

“Aha, right. Well, maybe I’ll see you again tomorrow. Thank you for the coffee.”

“Goodbye!”

Three days prior to serving Mr Artichoke a coffee, Alice had been working the early shift at the station. She had arrived at 3.30am in the middle of a thunder and lightning storm. The coffee station was prepped and open by 4.30am. 

At this same time, the first train, which was bound for Edinburgh, pulled into platform 1. 

And at this same time, Alice’s attention was drawn to a woman standing in the wind and pelting rain.

She had bright red hair and was wearing a tan coloured trench coat. She carried bags in varying sizes and as she struggled onto the train something large, black and rectangular fell from her pocket onto the wet platform.

Alice walked towards it with the intention of handing it back to the woman, but as she picked it up the train at platform 1 started pulling away. Alice stood there in the rain for a few seconds, before stuffing the item – which appeared to be a book – into her pinafore pocket and taking shelter from the rain back at the coffee station.

That evening at her Grandmother’s house, she took the damp book out and discovered it was in fact a diary – the red-haired woman’s diary! Alice decided to read just the first entry, but three hours later had read the entire thing.

The woman was called Emmeline. She was wealthy and well-travelled, and regularly went on expeditions to seek out rare artefacts or to discover the truth behind well known legends.

It was quite bizarre for Alice to read such unbelievable stories, because they were the sort of stories she had always hoped were true. Although Alice led a quiet life that she was very content with, she had always loved adventure. Since childhood she would devour books about expedition and adventure, starting a new one the second she finished her last. Deep down Alice had always wanted an adventure of her own

She discovered from reading the diary that Emmeline was in fact on the run from someone she called ‘Mr Artichoke’. A few months earlier Emmeline had travelled to Peru on an expedition, where she and her team had discovered something called the Mountain Stone. Mr Artichoke had been chasing her ever since.

He wanted to be the one who had discovered the Mountain Stone, and the way Emmeline wrote about him sent chills through Alice.

If he finds me with this stone, and I really do fear that he soon will, I shall not live past that meeting. He is so crazed by the power and respect he will enjoy if he presents himself as the owner of the Mountain Stone, that he will stop at nothing. He intends to murder me, and so I must flee.

I am going to a place I hope he will not suspect, and I am going now.

This was the last entry in Emmeline’s diary, and Alice had been thinking about it ever since.

Confronted with this knowledge of Emmeline’s quest and the danger she was in, Alice was ready to act.

Now, three days later at the train station, having just served coffee to Mr Artichoke, she knew she had to do something to help Emmeline reach safety.

“I think your train is actually departing from platform 2 sir! Just across the way! It is Edinburgh you’re headed to isn’t it?”

“Oh, are you sure? Why yes it is Edinburgh.”

“Yes I am quite sure, always platform 2 for the north!”

“Oh I see, well thank you miss, I shall make my way to platform 2.”

Mr Artichoke boarded his train to Edinburgh, which was in fact a train back to London.

In the following days there was no sign of Mr Artichoke and Alice was almost consumed by anticipation. Every single time anyone alighted a train from London she flinched, sometimes she tried to hide, but it was never him.

Four years after discovering the diary, Alice had never seen or heard of Mr Artichoke nor Emmeline again. 

Then something happened.

On one particularly frosty morning, as she was preparing the coffee station at 3.30am, she heard footsteps approaching her from behind.

“Good morning, the coffee station will be open in approximately thirty min… oh my goodness, it’s you.”

Stood at the coffee station desk was Emmeline, smiling warmly at Alice.

“Alice! Congratulations on passing your first test. We’re very pleased with how you’ve performed over the last four years, and we’re now ready to speak to you directly.”

“We?!”

“You see, the diary I dropped and the man you met who you assumed to be Mr Artichoke, that was all a test. And I am delighted to say you passed! We do apologise for just how long the recruitment process takes, but we have to be sure beyond any doubt before we offer you the job.”

“What job? What company is it?”

“The Adventurers Guild my dear. You are the perfect candidate. You are discreet, you are brave, you can make quick decisions and you can keep a secret. If you want to find out more, you can call me on this number after you have finished your shift.”

Emmeline offered Alice an emerald green business card with a number written in gold ink.

She had always wanted an adventure of her own.

Doncaster

This is a short non-fiction story I wrote as part of a writing course I did in 2019. The course details can be found here. It was called Write Like A Grrrl and I would highly recommend it for anyone, at any level, who wants to gain some practical tools for creative writing. I think some of the course organisers may also be offering remote coaching whilst we’re in lock down.


It’s very difficult to explain what makes Doncaster special.

To a first-time visitor, it’s an unwelcoming, intimidating and rather grim place.

The high street shops are mostly boarded up, the beautiful heritage architecture is derelict, and the people seem ready to fly off the handle at any moment.

As someone who grew up there it took me a very long time to tune in to the good in Donny—about 25 years in fact.

I spent my childhood and teens counting down the days until I could go out into the world and become who I wanted to be.

I did just that. I went to Leicester at 18 to study Contemporary History at University. Then after that, I spent the first three years of my twenties working and saving then backpacking for 2-3 months. When I turned 24, after months of careful planning and preparation, I flew all the way to Melbourne on my own and spent 12 months there building a life from scratch.

A very formative and memorable experience, but in hindsight I do feel compassion with a sprinkling of loving pity towards my younger self.

She was so determined to go out into the world and become who she wanted to be, that she felt the best thing to do was to literally go to the opposite side of the planet for a year.

Then, at 25, I found myself back in Donny.

In Doncaster, keen to hold on to the new sense of identity I had, I began interning for a grassroots arts & culture magazine (which remains to this day both the worst paid and most fun job I’ve ever had).

Halfway through my six month stint back in The Donx I really began to open my eyes to Doncaster and its people. What makes it special is it is full to the brim of self-made people.

People who’ve gone out into the world and become who they want to be. Oh the irony.

A bus journey into the town centre one day brought this home and left me smiling for days.

I was sitting behind a woman and a man who looked to be in their sixties. Friends; not a couple. The woman wore finger-less gloves.

I learned the woman was named Mary and the man was named Rick. A third man boarded the bus and joined them.

“Morning Rick, morning Mary. Y’alright?’

“Aye, we’re alright Dave. You?”

“Aye.”

They chatted quietly until the bus reached the market, where they started wrapping the conversation up.

I need to mention here that in my whole life, Donny is the only place I’ve known that has an independent military memorabilia shop. It’s always struck me as odd yet endearing.

Dave: “Right. Rick, Mary, I’ll see you at the cafe in half an hour.”

Rick: “Alright Dave.”

Mary: “Where is it you off to?”

Dave: “I’m going to the military shop!”

Rick: “Oh! Don’t forget to salute when you go in.”

Dave: “They salute me!”