winter of discontent done. spring of occasional blogging commence.

Hello, and thanks for visiting the blog! Welcome to my little activisty anthology.

As I’ve explained more fully in the ‘About’ section of the blog, I’ve set up my site to give myself a place to explore my political and advocating concerns, interact more concretely with other writers on these topics, and give myself a platform in particular for solidifying and spreading messages about self-care and self-love.

I’m about to go into the final exams of my entire undergraduate degree, so this is perhaps not the very best time to start such a blog. And I certainly can’t promise super regular posts right now. But it’s something I’ve been interested in doing for a while, so I thought it could be positive: I hope that writing the blog is its own form of self-care, and that I should be able to at least get a few decent posts done during my exams, perhaps dealing with methods of keeping calm/making sure you take time out for yourself while dealing with exams or similar high pressure situations. I’ll talk a lot about what I am doing to stay happy and grounded and focus on all elements of my health and worth, whatever academic pressure I might be under!

That is just about all as an introduction for now, but I think I will probably do a little settling in, homing post when I arrive back at university in a few days. 🙂

Thanks so much for visiting the anthology: I’m very excited to start!

Rhiannon

graduating (!)

Yup, that’s right, this time last week I finally – and somehow still suddenly – graduated from my undergraduate degree! I now have a BA Hons degree in English from the University of Cambridge!!
Finishing my final exams, celebrating with all my friends and graduating has felt like the culmination of such an enormous amount of effort, anxiety and emotion, just as overwhelming with positive feeling as with worry and more negative, creeping feelings. I almost can’t believe I’ve had so many beautiful experiences in just three years, almost can’t believe it’s only been three years, a time in which I’ve met people that I now feel like I’ve known all my life, and it is incredible to think of all the obstacles I have faced and how many of those I have overcome since starting at university three years ago. I am, in so many ways, such a different person now.

Graduating has been an incredibly intense experience for me, and the next period in my life is potentially brilliant and wonderfully exciting, but marked by a lot of uncertainty at the moment. I don’t have a lot more to say about the end of my degree right now, but I wanted to take a chance to set myself some goals for blogging over this summer break! So, in the next coming months, expect to see a lot more on the anthology, including a significant increase in its ‘activist’ content. I’ll be posting:

  • articles/thinkpieces on LGBTQ+ advocacy, including reviews of Pride events I’m attending and the position of Pride celebrations in the movement
  • discussions of body positivity, plus-sized clothing, diverse body advocacy and my recent ups and downs with dealing with a changing body in socially pressurising situations
  • mental health thoughts, particularly in an educational context
  • areas of interest I am exploring ready for my next steps
  • book reviews! I’m going to be reading a lot of gifted books and posting some little commentaries on them throughout summer
  • a lot more creative writing

Watch this space!

Rhiannon

allowing.

content notes: depression, worrying, feeling scared, implied weight gain and body image mentions, clothes, food, academic work

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I wrote this while feeling in a bit of a funk the other day, after spending a whole day with a lovely friend! We talked through lots of feelings about getting stuck and upset but knowing 1) what you want to do to get out of a rough and patch, and 2) knowing that you will be able to do it, because you’ve survived rough things before and always made it! We spoke about self-care and writing and reading and doing necessary things and treating yourself and allowing yourself to change and grow and feel different and maybe change back, both emotionally and physically, and it was all super empowering and lovely.

So now, a few days post-funk and while feeling pretty tip-top about my productivity (including getting good work done and buying some decent fitting clothes FINALLY, including some big swooshy trousers that are making today better by orders of magnitude), I thought I would give my scribble a share.

***

There comes a point when you realise that what you call ‘not caring’ is just trying really really hard not to care. But of course it bothers you. It all bothers you. Of course it bothers you.

You don’t have the energy and you don’t have the drive and none of your clothes fit and you don’t know what anyone thinks of you anymore. You care. You’re scared.

But you also get up some days and do exactly what you need to do, somehow, and eat things that taste nice and fill you up and drink loads of water and stave off a headache and put on your make-up just to take a photo of yourself, fake it ’til you make it, except you’re not faking it, not really, not always: sometimes you really do feel light and full and rested and active and gorgeous. And it all bothers you but you try not to let it bother you too much. You listen to your friends and remember they love you. You remember that you have a space in their hearts and minds not against their will, but because they invited you in: you take up space in their rooms and arms and heads, and time out of their days, months, summers, winters, both when you are sad and when you are happy, because they care and they want you there. You try not to let the bothering get too much. You remember that you cannot know what people think of you anymore because you could never know in the first place, and you don’t have to know, because your friends think of you as their friend and you know yourself, most of the time, and it kind of stops there. You try not to let it take over. You remember you love yourself and buy yourself some new clothes because you deserve to have ones that fit and you deserve to feel radiant and you are allowed to change and take up space, more space, less space, different space.

You try really hard. You let yourself not try. You care. You’re alright.

***

celebrating/settling.

content notes: university, dissertations, exams, revision, stress and panic about exams, work stress, mental health, clinical depression, food, exercise, difficulties with sleep.

Hello! I’ve been very busy since my last post on the blog, when I spoke about how I make my space my own when I get back to university. Since then, my room is still a lovely little haven, and I have, happily, managed to keep it pretty clean and organised at all times, something that always helps keep my head clear. Since then, I have also:

  • turned 21 years of age and celebrated by birthday with my glorious, gorgeous friends (yay!)
  • handed in my third year dissertation, the first piece of work towards my final grade for my degree (eep!)
  • had my first academic meetings and classes of the new term (ok!)
  • started revising for my final exams (hmmm…)

It is, I will be honest, a really really long time since I’ve properly revised for anything. After being an absolute revision fiend throughout my school years, especially at GCSE and a fair amount at A Level, I have found myself, throughout my years at Cambridge, really struggling to prepare for exams. Last year, my exams did not count toward my final grade, which I was really grateful for. Because I just couldn’t seem to work. In this term, my mental health was so poor that I did not prioritise my exams at all, and I did very little towards them. I was exhausted from a year of figuring out what mental health meant to me, what realising I was clinically depressed meant to me, and trying different treatment methods. I was always tired and often incredibly anxious and working really hard at not always being defeatist. Days where I got out of bed and could talk normally with friends were successes to me. Essays written were not. And that was fine. It was really what I needed to focus on then.

So now, when I still struggle with my mental health but I feel in a much more stable position than this time last year, I’ve sort of got to get back on the horse revision-wise. I don’t want to push myself incredibly, meanly hard, or hold myself to impossible standards of all the things I ‘need’ to complete. But I want to challenge myself, and most importantly I want to re-engage with my work in ways that will both help me to succeed in my examinations and enjoy studying English Literature at this university. I want my memories of the experience to be of how I thrived, not the times I was stressed and emotional and overwrought and too stuck in my head to care what I was reading about. So the way I structure work and revision and reading is going to be sensitive to all my needs and aspirations, not just the academic ones.

Now, this may all sound very well,  but how to actually make it happen? Well, I’m not exactly sure quite yet, and I am not BuzzFeed, or a teacher, or a motivational speaker, so I’m not trying to offer a 10-point fool-proof plan for excellent revision and perfect results. But I thought I would share a 5-point rough ‘things it is helpful for me to bear in mind and try to do often and maybe you would like to do them too perhaps?’ plan.

I am mindful that lots of the things I do to relax, to ground myself, to feel present in my body, to focus my mind, and maximise my reading are not available to many people. And the last thing I want to do is offer some kind of list of impossible standards that is not only really optimistic but also exclusionary, and ignorant of the fact that lots of the things you might want to do to make yourself happy and healthy and focused in the run-up to exams are really, really damn difficult. And not achievable self-care for lots of people. So I’m just going to make a little list of things I am trying out, small things that structure my days mostly, that I feel like keep me going, and encourage a certain headspace, more than anything. They actually have very little to do with actual revision, or with imminent exam stress, but I suppose its a sort of guide for how one might SETTLE into having to work in new ways, whatever that might mean.

Plan work by units of a day or smaller – work to your capabilities now. When I was younger, my undoing was always writing up incredibly detailed, well-balanced, broken down revision schedules, where I plotted exact tasks onto exact days, weeks and weeks in advance of my exams. This was, ultimately, a lot of time and logistics spent on something that became incredibly stressful and then was abandoned altogether. Plans that stretch far into the future, or even a month or so ahead, can’t accommodate the fact that at 2.35pm on Tuesday 9th May, you might not be physically or emotionally capable of writing out all the notes from Chapters 10-12 of the History textbook. And so, when, inevitably, I would not be able to do something on the designated day, because my plans and my health and wellness had changed around the schedule, the whole schedule was off, by a day, or two, or a task, or three, and there was no hope of working it all in again. Now, I generally write lists or mindmaps of all the things I would like to go back over before exams, but I don’t split tasks down and allocate them to days. I see revision as a continual process, and so each evening I decide what it would be most helpful or pertinent to work on the next day, and make a note in my diary. The next morning, I specify this into activities I have enough energy for (e.g. re-reading a text and writing a timed practice essay take very different levels of focus), and decide how best to spread the work over morning, afternoon and evening, depending on other activities.

Assert your space as your own, and keep work and leisure spaces separate. So that neither my focus nor my sleep and relaxation are disturbed or confused, I am trying my best to separate out where I work from where I chill. The most purposive version of this is walking to a library or study space to work, as it means you’ve made a journey, you’ve had to pack up your things and leave your leisure space, and you are going to a location specifically to work. If this isn’t an option or easy for you for any reason, it can also help to maintain this separation even in the space of, say, a bedroom. If you can give you room different ‘zones’, it might help with the feeling that one zone is productive, and the other is relaxing. It can be difficult to get away from the stress of work if it seems to be everywhere, so simple things like not working on your degree/school work in bed, or not watching YouTube tutorials at your desk, can help structure work and rest, for the sake of rest just as much as work.

Keep a note of your daily achievements, whether they match up to initial plans or not. This is something I have taken up doing at the end of every day before bed and it has really put all of the things I do to keep going into perspective. In my desk diary I list appointments, commitments and deadlines with a colour-code, but I have now added a section called ‘Also achieved’ in which I write down all of the other things, big or small, that it is important or significant that I managed to do. For example, a colour-coded achievement might be ‘write my weekly essay’, but here I’d make a note of something small but significant, like ‘did all my laundry’, or something nice that happened, like ‘ran into a friend and grabbed coffee’. This has the effect, especially if it has been tricky to complete some of the colour coded things and I have to rearrange them, of showing me that there is no such thing as a day where I do ‘nothing’ – even on the worst days of my depression, where I didn’t work, didn’t leave my room, didn’t speak to anyone, I would always have something to write, even if it was ‘kept breathing’ or ‘watched videos to calm me down’. The point is that every day your idea of an achievement might change, but all of them are important to the whole healthy you.

Vary your work methods within a day. Obviously different methods work better for different people, and are also more effective for different kinds of learning. But having a go at trying a few of these different methods a day could help you if you tend to get bored or bogged down in a task, and can’t seem to find it’s end. If something has been taking you ages and your brain is switching off, then you aren’t going to be learning very effectively anyway, so switching it up might help. Do something to break the monotony – go for a quick walk, or listen to a super upbeat song and sing or flail around the room a bit, or just go and grab a drink or a biscuit. Then come back and switch pace or approach. For example, if you are taking notes for a long time and keep getting distracted, try setting a timer and doing a quick brainstorm of your own ideas and questions based on what you’ve read, to make sure you are engaging and not just rehearsing.

Do your best to nurture your body as much as your mind. Most revision tips will tell you that getting a good night’s sleep, eating healthily and exercising will all contribute to making you more awake, focused and confident. These will all help your general health in ways that are really important when you are also pulling long stints in libraries sitting still, spending more time looking at screens and books and straining your eyes, and occasionally depending a little too much on caffeine, perhaps. I agree with all of these tips, but a lot of the people that write this advice don’t seem particularly aware of how charged a lot of these topics are, and how difficult looking after yourself can be, even without the pressure and stress that might be felt during an exam term. So, rather than straightforwardly trying to get more/better food, sleep, water, exercise, I instead vow to be more responsive to my body.

I really struggle to eat breakfast sometimes, and I usually miss it as I am prone to sleeping in really late. But I know that I feel better when I’ve had it, so if I am up a few hours before lunch, I make sure I eat something. I don’t drink nearly enough water, so whenever I empty my drinking glass, I fill it up again, and if I have a headache or I feel particularly sleepy I make sure I have a big drink. I stop working by or before 10.30pm whenever possible, so that even if I am not ready to sleep, I can take my make-up off and put my pyjamas on and establish a routine where I have a clear ‘evening’ period to start winding down. And, by and large, I absolutely hate exercise, but if I know I need some air or a bit of movement I will make sure I give my body the chance to move. This is usually just going for a very short, very gentle walk, as I get sore legs fairly easily and, like I say, I am not a fitness buff. Last night I felt like I wanted to move about in my body and feel more in touch with it, but didn’t want to feel exhausted, so I went for a swim this morning. Your mind and body are both so important, and so as far as health is concerned, just eat as well as YOU can, drink as much water as YOU can to be hydrated, sleep in the ways YOUR body needs, no shame if that is a lot more sleep or a lot more difficult than for some others, and move in the ways YOU enjoy and feel comfortable.

 

That’s all for this post; I’ll be continuing to try out these ways of structuring my work/life balance and may do a follow-up post closer to my exams about what has really worked for me. For now, I hope that some of this has resonated with some people doing coursework or exams or similar things, and that you find some of it helpful! I’m hoping to be able to do more creative posts soon too.

Rhiannon x

 

 

nesting.

I got back to university yesterday, and I am all unpacked. I find the process of packing up to leave quite stressful, and the journey with all my accumulated life-stuff even more so, but unpacking again, unfurling all my books and clothes and trinkets into my room, my space that has been cleared out, is a really grounding and therapeutic experience at the beginning of every term.

I like getting all my books out and lining them up along the shelf by my desk. No matter how heavy they were to carry, and how annoyed I may have been at myself for lugging them all home only to not manage to read them all, and have to bring them back again, I like lining them up. I like getting my face up close to their spines and figuring out if this one is just a little taller than that one, arranging in height order but trying to schematise them in other ways that make sense too. Height is the most important consideration, width second to that. Books go tallest to shortest, and widest to narrowest too. If possible within this carefully organised slope, works by the same author or on similar themes will be grouped together: this term, the beginning of my final ever term, I have managed to stack in order of exam topics as well as height, and so there was an immediate bit of satisfaction there.

I really like laying out all my toiletries and make-up round my sink, in the little nook in my room, the nook with its own door and the brassy coat-peg for my towels and my fluffy dressing gown, like a teeny bathroom-come-dresser. I like positioning things extremely exact distances apart, in very precise locations, even though they are things I use all the time and will pick up and put down and joggle around soon enough. I like putting everything in reach so I can range round the sink when I’m doing my daily morning routine, the first thing I’ll do most days, the way I’ll start my day, whatever kind of a day it might shape up to be. Getting back to uni, I’ll always have a new toothbrush too, and I’ll enjoy opening the packaging and laying it out ready to use when I’m getting clean and comfy and soft and calm for sleep on my first night.

I particularly like decorating my pinboard. I’ve got a really big one this year, and it is one of the loveliest things in my room. Decorating it at the beginning of terms is a bit of a labour of love, and it’s become quite important to me that I can do it on my first day back, before I go to bed in the room. If I don’t have time or don’t get the chance it doesn’t actually make a difference – I’m fine. But the room manages to feel a bit sterile, a bit impersonal with the big grey pinboard looming functionally at me, a fire notice or two affixed to it with mismatched pins. When it’s covered in my things, the room feels a lot more like my room. I spend too much time judging the spaces and overlaps between items. The pinboard is a bit like a mind-map of lovely little objects and slips of paper I’ve acquired. I like buying pretty coloured or novelty pins for my pinboard. I like sifting through my box of cards and tickets and polaroids, and coils of ribbon and origami stars my friend made a bunch of for me that time, and picking what old favourites stay on the board, and what is going to get swapped out for a while, replaced with the most recent holiday souvenirs or a gorgeous postcard found at the last gallery I went to. Often, when buying a birthday card or a pick-me-up for someone else, I will buy myself a little message for my pinboard too. This term, in my final term, in perhaps my most stressful term, in the most important term, I will finally get round to printing off some pictures of my cats, for when I’m missing them.

Decorating my pinboard is something that is easy to do while prancing around to music, when all the rest of the unpacking is done, when the heavy bags and boxes have been lifted, and the clothes have been folded, and the bed’s been made. It hits a pretty sweet spot between mundane and creative, methodical but a chance to match colours and fill gaps and think about what motivates me. Like all the other elements of settling back in to my university room, it’s part of establishing the space as somewhere that is mine, somewhere that I live, as well as study. It makes this a space that I am supposed to be comfortable in, a place I can come back to and be and rest.

And as well as making things less plain and more pretty, less functional and more decorative, more like me, making my room more of a hodge-podge of all the things I like and care about, decorating the pinboard is a chance to pause and remember where and when I got the things I’m pinning up. It’s a chance to be positive about this place, and this space (and my place, my space in it all). And I get to choose what memories I’ll be looking at for the next two months, when I’m off in a daydream daze, bored, or tired, or upset, or disenchanted with it all.

However the terms have shaped up to be, in all their variety, and all of the dramatic changes that have happened while I’ve been here, I am so glad that I still manage to feel hopeful, to feel happy, while turning my empty room into a blanketed, throw-pillowed little nest.

grounding.

I think about waking up happy.

Perfectly wrapped up but a little too warm, if I’m honest.

Rubbing my cheek into my pillow, my blanket, my partner, whatever, whoever might be there, as I slide one leg out from under the cover into the cool of the mid-morning room.

Touching a hand to my own thigh and loving how soft my skin is with sleep. Knowing that if my boyfriend or girlfriend or whatever lovely person is there doesn’t call me beautiful, or if there is no one this morning to call me, I can tell it to myself and mean it and believe it.

I think about looking at my body, down at my vast pale thighs and my freckled arms and my soft chest under my night things, and thinking all those things without judgment, just with a kind of calm bliss that I am here, in my self, in my bed, awake to it all. Gorgeous neutrality. Not quite neutrality. Awake to all the ways I might not be ‘good enough’ but knowing that I am. Big. Good. Soft. Good. Here. Good. Me. Good.

Closing my eyes again and raising my hands above my head and feeling the cold metal of the bedstead as I stretch and stretch, twisting in the slant of the sun through the window, twisting in the yellow light like a napping cat, the ends of my fur glowing like embers, whiskers twitching round my fangs as I sigh a happy kitty yawn. Twisting like a falling leaf, like the mermaid in the whirlpool, like a lover, like a skein of silk.

I think about the other cat, the one that isn’t me, that’s always a cat (for all I know, and what do I know?) jumping on to the bed as I’m drifting. Pressing his wet nose against my forehead, a good morning that probably just means feed me, ears twitching when I murmur a blissed-out baby talk greeting, looking at me for a long moment before walking in a circle, once, twice, three times, and peace, the charm’s wound up, and he can sit in a ball on top of the duvet and I can curl into one under it. His fur is softer than my skin and he smells like grass turning to hay, like winter turning to spring, like the garden. The hand I place on his belly vibrates with purrs, feels his joints creak as he does his sun salutations like me. His arrival is, like everything else, just short of idyllic: a perfect bubble of peace punctuated by the occasional loud mew.

I think about getting out of bed happy. I think about the cold floor on warm feet. I think about the kettle bubbling and the birds singing as I peek out through the curtains to check the sun is really there. Strong coffee and crunchy toast and licking the peanut butter off my fingers messily, hungrily, joyously. I think about apples in my shower gel and oranges in my juice and sliding into the kind of skirt that whispers round my ankles, thanking me for picking it out, reminding me how sleep-soft I am all through the day. I think about maybe reading that book or buying some food or going to that lecture, or drinking tea, steaming and sweet, in the middle of the afternoon, in the middle of my friends.

Gorgeous sunny morning scenes are such a cliché. But I think about waking up happy. It’s a big deal for me. And they happen. They do.

Closing my eyes again and pushing my arms down below the blanket and feeling the hot flesh of my own tummy, folding in under the moonbeam sliding through the window, the headlights sliding up the walls as the cars hum by outside, folding into my pillow, my head, my self. The cat jumps on the bed and yawns and his breath smells a bit, but I still want to sleep with his fur tickling my face. My own breath doesn’t smell of mint. I didn’t have the energy to brush before bed today. I didn’t wake up until 4. I drank coffee and orange juice and a had a breakfast that was dinner, and noticed my shower gel smelt nice, but I got dressed and didn’t feel quite right, and my friends were a little busy. I was tired again by the time they were free for tea. We said we’d check in tomorrow.

I remember waking up happy, and I go to bed. It might not happen tomorrow. It happens.