I love to drive. I love to get into my car and drive miles on end to Uptown Girl by Billy Joel or a good, motivational podcast. I love the feeling of independence that jumping behind the wheel brings and the fact that I can take myself anywhere in the spur of a moment.
I’ve had many an epiphany when driving, driving alone always tends to fire up the old brain.
I’ve been inspired so intensely – by a random thought or a song or whatever – that I’ve parked up the car at a service station and journalled furiously into the notes section on my phone. I’ve had two and half hour conversations with friends over my hands-free, putting the world to rites, and I’ve had tunes pop into my head that I’ve scrappily recorded as voicenotes before running home to my piano and creating some kinda song out of them.
Fuck, once I was driving into London late one evening listening to a SuperSoul episode with Maya Angelou. She quoted ‘I come as one, but I stand as ten thousand’ – talking of ancestors – and I spontaneously combusted into tears because at that moment, I suddenly felt overwhelmingly connected to my late Grandad. I never got to meet my Grandad (he died five years before I was born) but, right there and then, it was as if he was sat in the passenger seat next to me.
Some pretty magical moments have happened in my car.
So after spending five months out of the country, close to death in Chinese taxis on a few occasions and subject to a minor Uber crash in Cape Town on another occasion, I jumped in my car again and hit the motorway.
And sure enough, I had a moment and stopped the car at Woodall Services for a bathroom break and to write it down (italics are the jottings).
‘Going through a time of self-preservation and protecting one’s self at the moment, after a particularly intense period in life. Survival mode – acting upon instinct just to get through each day because I’m feeling completely burnt out in every way: physically, emotionally, mentally, socially…’
It says something that, over Christmas, I completely lost touch with how to be at a party, socialising with people who I’ve known and loved for years. I’m the biggest extrovert I know, constantly living with the fear of missing out and I usually FUCKING LOVE a party. But I found myself just not knowing what to do, say or how to feel remotely like myself.
I’ve felt fucking knackered and, in all honesty, so far from who I deem to be ‘myself’.
Now it’s understandable why as I’m processing a lot at the moment – digesting a truly unique period of my messy-as-hell-life so far. I’d just got back from touring China playing an incredible, but intense, woman in an incredible, but intense, show. Finishing a job always cuts me up because I fucking love what I do, but this one felt particularly special and, in return, particularly difficult to leave behind – not to mention living in a different country for five months on top. I mean, I forgot what a comfort zone felt like but, as always, was completely grateful for the experience I got to have, doing what I love whilst travelling new corners of the world.
But this got me thinking of how I have dealt with the unstable reality that is my life, the life of a jobbing Actor, in the past and the anxiety that has gradually crept in to accompany it. Upon learning and acknowledging, a few years ago, that life wasn’t going to be as simple and easy as I once dreamt of as a young and naive teenager, I – like a lot of other twenty-something millennials – embarked on a journey of ‘self-help’.
‘You take on the burden of self-improvement, read 27 self help books, study the law of attraction and come to the commonly talked about conclusion that what you give off is what you get etc.
You think that this means, in order to heal and to get the good job, the great love and all of the money in the world – you have to work on yourself to be the most talented badass bitch you’ve met and you have to shed the 2 stone you’ve gained from being plain fucking miserable – and skint – from emotionally eating your way through the JustEat menu. You have to cut out the chocolate, tell the toxic people in your life to do one and say No to shit that doesn’t honour who you are whilst simultaneously having to work your arse off doing jobs you hate, with people you feel don’t know or respect you, in order to stay afloat… otherwise you end up drowning in debt and eating supernoodles.
Basically, you have to do a lot of things that are either supposedly meant to help you ‘love yourself’ – as society sees it – whilst doing the shit that is deemed ‘necessary’ to survive, which can be completely soul-destroying and counterproductive to the self-help, quick-fix shit that’s telling you to love yourself. Basically basically basically… what a shit cycle.’
This excerpt from Matt Haig’s Reasons to Stay Alive sprung to mind:
“THE WORLD IS increasingly designed to depress us. Happiness isn’t very good for the economy. If we were happy with what we had, why would we need more? How do you sell an anti-ageing moisturiser? You make someone worry about ageing. How do you get people to vote for a political party? You make them worry about immigration. How do you get them to buy insurance? By making them worry about everything. How do you get them to have plastic surgery? By highlighting their physical flaws. How do you get them to watch a TV show? By making them worry about missing out. How do you get them to buy a new smartphone? By making them feel like they are being left behind. To be calm becomes a kind of revolutionary act. To be happy with your own non-upgraded existence. To be comfortable with our messy, human selves, would not be good for business.”
― Matt Haig, Reasons to Stay Alive
‘One day, you realise that doing all of the above still hasn’t ‘fixed’ you. None of the above has made you the best version of yourself. You are still here, in the same place you were five years ago, so unhappy and unsatisfied with yourself that you believe depriving yourself of opportunities that could potentially be so good for you is the best option, ‘until you figure your shit out and feel more whole’.
What does that even fucking mean? ‘Figure your shit out’. ‘Make yourself whole’.
Why am I telling myself that I need to ‘work on myself’ constantly? Why am I so unkind to myself? Seeing flaws as brick walls rather than quirks to be embraced and dealt with, with care. Would I do this to my friends? No, I wouldn’t.
I am my own worst critic.
I’ve convinced myself somewhere along the line that, to put it bluntly, I am undeserving of happiness and wow, that sucks. I can be an arsehole at times but I don’t think I deserve to beat myself up as brutally as that, jesus.
I’ve no idea of the specifics that have created that narrative in my mind, probably to do with lots of past traumatic experiences, but I’ll tell you one thing: I didn’t like it.
Why couldn’t I just accept myself? Accepting shit makes it easier. I’ve learnt to accept smaller aspects of my life for what they: anxiety attacks in the moment, rejection, being pigeon-holed occasionally (the list goes on)…
…so why can’t I just at least try and accept myself?
Although I’m gradually getting better at it and I’m constantly working on it, being kind to myself is the only antidote, an active way I can change this narrative. Being kind to myself AS I AM RIGHT NOW and not how I intend to be when I’ve lost two stone and ‘balanced my chakras’.
I am starting to realise that one of the greatest forms of self-love is self-acceptance
and I ain’t gonna find that in a book or by listening to a podcast.
And I believe that day; in the car-park of Woodall Services with a busy head, a scraggy hair do and tired eyes, I made my first of many steps towards being more accepting of myself and I know I’ve got a fair few steps to go.
Stepping back into the gym, after that festive season, is gonna have to be one of ’em like!