Sensory overl(dn)oad

I can smell my loss so clearly in my nose, a cloying stench of train station and Britney Spears Fantasy perfume. It smells like rain and smog and saltwater and sea and smoke. It smells like fried fish, and curry, and soot, and stale beer spilt on the floor. It smells like cigarettes, and shisha, and crowds, and poppies in November, and I am gagging for my breath whilst holding my hand to my nose to prevent it from filling me.

I can taste my loss so clearly on my lips, and it tastes like clotted cream. It tastes like Strongbow dark fruit and Grubb’s burgers. It tastes like cheeky Nandos, and 99s, and Sourz, and pitchers of Purple Rain. It tastes like Battenberg cakes, and Viennese whirls, and jam tarts and I am gorging on something I don’t ever remember developing an appetite for.

I can hear my loss so clearly ringing through my ears, and it sounds like minding the gap. It sounds like the whoosh of a passing train, and a crisp voice, and an unexpected item in bagging area. It sounds like every meaningful connection, and like being on the brink of something bigger than yourself, like an unsaid I love you and a softness in the harshness of an American accent. And I am holding my hands to my head to keep these sounds from penetrating me to my very core.

I can feel my loss so clearly and it feels like a bleary day after a red eye flight. It feels like accidentally walking 15 miles and getting soaked in a torrential downpour. It feels like waiting in the taxi queue at half past ten on a Thursday night. It feels like burning your tongue on a cup of hot tea in the middle of July, like sitting on the top deck of a night bus at 4 in the morning whilst people scream around you, like an unairconditioned underground train carriage during a heatwave. And I am standing in the middle of an empty room flinching from the searing pain when these touch my skin, and I want it to stop.

I can see my loss so clearly in front of me, and it looks like a skyline that doesn’t exist and a grey sky I don’t even recognise. It looks like tears during Love Actually but not at the parts one may think, tears during Peter Pan, tears during Harry Potter, and tears during scenes from an old Olympics opening ceremony. It looks like a tea-stained mug, and an outdated Railway card, and old train tickets faded so that the journey dates are no longer visible, and a pair of heathered blue Lululemon leggings tossed in the bin. It looks like receiving crumpets in the post, and like pouring elderflower purchased at a speciality shop into prosecco, and like a poster of a city on a wall held up by blu-tack. And I just want to close my eyes until I won’t have to smell, taste, hear, feel, or see this anymore. Until my loss fades to black. Until it is no longer a loss.

 

Infinite Playlists, Quick Flames, Slow Burns.

I have always valued the ability of the music of others to say what I can’t.

When I was in high school as the art of the mix CD was dying out, I hoarded songs on my iPod as though they were the last box of Jaffa Cakes. I used the lyrics of others to vocalise what I wasn’t able to put into words myself. And so began the infinite playlists, the playlists I would craft with specific people in mind. I would take songs that the subject and I had discussed, songs I knew they loved, or songs that just plain made me think of them, and add them to an On-The-Go playlist, which I would later merge on iTunes.

The boy I loved in high school had the first playlist. And after six months, his playlist had about 500 songs. 500 songs that made me think of him. I added these songs to the playlist the way a child eats Smarties – by the fistful. If he mentioned an artist, I scrutinised each song title and tried to determine which ones best suited him and the way I felt about him. Blink-182 was the staple artist on his playlist. Their lyrics summed up everything I thought I felt about him at 17 – what I thought was love, the pain he caused me by simply being my best friend and nothing more. I was naive. And much like anything that starts off with a bang, it ended in a whisper. We haven’t spoken in about four years because the girl he was dating from our senior year in high school to our sophomore year in college decided that I was a threat to her relationship and he could not have me in his life. The feelings are gone now, his playlist has been deleted, but I will always think of him fondly and laugh at the many life lessons he gave me – such as the thought process after hitting a deer with your car (“Male or female? Did it have antlers? How much did it weigh?”) and how to deal with crossing guards.

The second boy with a playlist was the boy from college. We met in a car and bonded over a Lana Del Rey song playing on the radio (you can read all about that here if you are so inclined). He was your stereotypical hipster, square-framed glasses, loved film noir and anything on vinyl. After three months, his playlist had over 1,000 songs. He and I used the lyrics of others to say things we couldn’t say. He had eclectic tastes and I think he loved the idea of “educating” me musically (mind you, he wasn’t musical. I have never seen him pick up an instrument). We would lazily spin records in his bedroom. I went overseas soon after we met, and because of who he is as a person, music became our best way of communicating. He would send me lists of albums and artists that he wanted me to listen to, and he would become withdrawn and silent if he heard of anyone else recommending music for me (he literally hated my flatmate for this reason, but if anyone has any business educating anyone musically, it would be him). Our biggest fight ever was about The Smiths. By the time he called things off with me, his playlist had grown to over 2,000 songs. And because that ending hit me hard, that was over 2,000 songs that I could not listen to. But our playlist, much like our relationship, had exploded at a rapid rate. It grew so quickly I don’t even think I listened to all of the songs, which I guess you could use as a metaphor for us. We escalated so quickly I don’t think I ever really knew him at all. When we ended, I think I mourned the loss of the possibility of all the things we could have had and could have been instead of mourning the person I had actually lost. I deleted his playlist about a year after things ended. He was an important lesson but not one that will make me look back fondly.

And now, we look at the most recent boy and his playlist. When we met, he didn’t get one. His permanence wasn’t even on my horizon. When we reunited about 10 months after we parted, the minute I got back to the US, his playlist began. I remember walking through the streets of Brighton, on a quest for my first pair of Doc Martens, listening to “Bedroom Eyes” by the Dum Dum Girls, and that became the second song on his playlist (the first was The All-American Reject’s cover of “Jack’s Lament” from The Nightmare Before Christmas, don’t ask). I didn’t continually add to his playlist the way I had with others in the past. And unlike the other playlists, the evolution of us is very apparent in the song selections. The Regina Spektor song with the catchy chorus in English and French that begs the listener not to leave in the most upbeat way? Added to the playlist. The song by Bright Eyes that he said reminded me of him? Added to the playlist. The Death Cab For Cutie song that he played for me on his bass? Added to the playlist. The Bob Dylan song that tangled us together after he left? Added to the playlist. The playlist shows when we were happy. It shows when we were apart. It shows when things were carefree and when things were difficult. And I know almost every song by heart – I’ve listened to his playlist now more times than I can count.

It’s been over 4 years of knowing each other. His playlist is only 102 songs. If listened to continuously, it would only play for 6 hours, 19 minutes. At first, it concerned me that I wasn’t behaving the way I had in the past with other boys. Why wasn’t I gorging myself on songs, stuffing his playlist full of the catalogue of an artist he had mentioned to me once? And I think that our playlist, much like the one for the boy before him, serves as a metaphor for us. It is a slow burn. Songs are added as they are relevant but only if they truly have meaning. It has grown with us. At times it is idealistic, at other times it is raw. But the fact that our playlist continues to expand, slowly, reflects that we are coming together, slowly. Slow and steady wins the race, and if it has taken this long for our playlist to be crafted – and the fact that it is still being crafted – maybe means that, much like our playlist, we are truly infinite.

You, Me and Anxiety

I am a worrier. My mother is a worrier. She was the first person to tell me about all the times she was anxious enough to be physically sick. I remember being 12 years old, waking up bright and early because of a sinking feeling in my stomach that wouldn’t go away until I sang “The Holly and the Ivy,” which we had just learned in music class, over and over in my head. I think I was spared a lot of my anxiety throughout my childhood and adolescence because my mother absorbed that burden for me. She took on the anxiety I should have been feeling, adding it to her own. I am eternally grateful for that.

If a situation has the potential to go wrong, I will think about all the ways it could possibly go wrong. In my head, if I worry about all possible outcomes when one of these outcomes happens, I’ve already been worried about it. This does not work. This really does not work because all it leaves me with is dry-mouth, a racing heartbeat, and a heavy feeling in my chest that leaves me fetal in my bed, cocooned in a blanket until my breathing regulates.

I had my first panic incident about four years ago while I was studying abroad. A sorority sister had come to Brighton after she finished her term abroad in Italy, and what I had intended to be a three-day visit turned into a two-week stay. My room was the size of a cell, my bed was a twin, I had exams in less than three weeks, and I was already pushing it by visiting my childhood best friend in Austria. Long story short, I was suffocating, I was nervous about my exams, and I had no time to myself. I was also low on funds. We arranged to go to Croatia for 5 days as a way of getting out of my cramped flat. The cheapest flights were from Stansted Airport, which is a massive trek from Brighton. Also, I was completely unaware that the Stansted Express existed, so the only option I knew of was to take the train from Brighton to Victoria and then endure 2.5-hour bus ride from central London. We arranged to go up to London the day before our flight to stay with another sorority sister as a way of breaking up some of that travel time, and because the girl who was staying with me had never been to London.

Now, my favourite thing about my term abroad was absolutely the people that I lived with. They made my experience incredible and I love that we are still intertwined in each others’ lives today. So it made sense that the girl who was staying with me also enjoyed partaking in our standard activity – drinking in the kitchen until the wee hours of the morning. But the night before this sister and I were supposed to head up to London, I had only one request for my guest – please don’t stay up all night because I’m going to London early for your benefit and we are going to be doing a lot of walking before we meet our other sorority sister. I attempted to be responsible and go to bed around midnight but woke up at 2am unable to fall back to sleep. I lay there, thinking about how many hours I could sleep if I fell asleep right then. And I did that until about 7am when I just decided to get up and start my day.

My heart was racing. I was shaking. I was nauseated. I decided I needed to shower as a way to feel better so I wrapped myself in a towel and headed to our communal bathroom. I stood in the shower, letting the firehose-esque nozzle drill into my back as I shook under the stream, trying to figure out why there were iron-winged butterflies taking up residence in my stomach. I ran into my guest in the hallway – she hadn’t gone to bed. She greeted me with a good morning and I responded with rapid-fire, irrelevant babbling. My hands were still shaking as I blurted out, “IdidntsleepatalllastnightandIdontknowwhatswrongwithmemyheartbeatisrunningawayitslikethatNickiMinajsongboomboombassfucksomethingiswrongsomethingisnotokay.” She looked at me, puzzled, and I headed off to my room to get dressed.

Before I could get dressed, there was a knock at my door and my giant male flatmate walked in. Bless him, because I was there in a towel, and he was only 18 and dealing with his own shit. My guest had gone to get him, assuming that he would know how to cope with me. I had never felt this way before and he had never dealt with anything like this before, but as first panic attacks go, he is a great person to have around. Yeah, it was a bit blind leading the blind, but if I could have anyone around during an all-out anxiety attack, it would be him. He crouched down by my bed and let me incoherently word-vomit at him until he gently took my computer, opened iTunes and began playing tracks by Belle and Sebastian. He told me to lie down and take deep breaths, focusing on the music and trying to breathe in time with it. It worked, I calmed down enough to function, and went about my life. A year and a half later, I found myself visiting him in Brighton and as we stood in his back garden under the stars, he revealed to me that he had had his first panic attack over the summer and now finally understood what had been going on that day. Fast-forward to today, and his band has dropped a single called “Anxiety,” making it still very much a thing he has to confront. But this isn’t about his anxiety. It’s about mine.

My anxiety has gotten worse since falling in love with and then being separated from someone else with anxiety. I am very sensitive to the emotions of others, and even though at this point we aren’t together, his anxiety seems to feed mine. It lies in wait, growing in tandem with my anxious thoughts, whispering fears that grow like blossoms along the same vine as mine do. My anxiety steals my appetite and breath. It makes my heart flutter like a hummingbird and my mouth dryer than the Sahara. It leaves me with a heavy knot in my stomach and hands that shake like leaves in an autumn breeze. It leads me to Google types of hypoallergenic cats that I will spend the rest of my life with and to make myself a human burrito of duvet and anxiety. It makes me cancel plans. It convinces me that my friends don’t want to see me because they don’t like me. It leads me to procrastinate and then lay awake at night panicking about things not getting done.

And it’s exhausting. It’s exhausting always being in fight-or-flight mode, poised for flight. It is exhausting lying in bed, watching the clock change and not being able to wind down or shut off my brain. And it is exhausting spending a day in bed, unable to move because my heart is racing so fast and I can’t control my breathing. I am tired of being this way, and I am tired of it being something that I cannot control. But it is something I have to deal with. It is something I have to handle. And it is something that will be with me for the rest of my life.

 

Why Does No One Feel Bad For Emily Waltham?

I have loved Friends for as long as I can remember, and ever since my sophomore year of college, my very good friend has told me that I remind him of Rachel Green. I can’t even deny this anymore – she may be a bit vapider than I am, but the similarities are uncanny. And in terms of my love life, the Ross and Rachel storyline has always resonated with me but is currently resonating more than ever.

So it goes without saying that I never liked Emily Waltham.

Emily was an obstacle in the Ross and Rachel endgame relationship. Her presence prevented Rachel from telling Ross that she loved him. She tried to ensure that Ross cut Rachel out of his life after the infamous “I, Ross, take thee, Rachel” wedding fiasco. And I know I’m not alone in my dislike for Emily. Later on, the other characters even tell Ross that they are not fond of her.

This time, however, I found myself feeling horrific for Emily.

Picture this: so much has gone wrong regarding your wedding – the menu, the venue. You have to settle for things that you have impacted your dream wedding but honestly, it doesn’t matter because you get to marry a wonderful man. And then some bitch named Rachel shows up and ruins everything. Your groom calls you the wrong name, humiliating you in front of all of your friends and family as well as his. Then he has the audacity to invite her on what was supposed to be your honeymoon.

Although it was never going to work out between Emily and Ross, you have got to feel a bit of pity for her. I used to think she was the worst for trying to force Ross to cut out Rachel in addition to other sacrifices – moving, new furniture. Now I get it. Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, and when some bitch named Rachel ruins your wedding, you have to hold her the slightest bit accountable.

(For the record I still love Rachel Green and am so glad she and Ross were endgame, just gained a little empathy).

Happy Father’s Day, or Happy Bridal Awareness Day

In the age of social media, we use photos to celebrate everything – Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Siblings’ Day, Best Friend’s Day, International Dog Day, International Donut Day – every little thing, every relationship, every meal can be celebrated and acknowledged with a post on Instagram. I love looking at old throwback photos people post honouring their familiar relationships. One of my favourite pictures I have ever posted of my siblings and me is a throwback. I am 7, my sister is 4, and my brother is just 7 months old. We are at the Tower of London for the first time, standing next to a bear dressed as a beefeater. I am wearing a blue and white pinafore dress over a white tshirt and grinning, my sister is sulking in purple and making her typical distressed face, while my brother is smiling his gummy baby smile. There is just something so adorable and wholesome about seeing a very dated photo of people you interact with on social media. It strips away your current perceptions and allows you to see them at their most innocent.

On that note, Father’s Day was this past Sunday. Although I was tempted to post the photo of a two-year-old me with my father, posing with disposable flower pots on our heads, I did not. He wouldn’t have seen it anyway, and when I told him he would receive his card on Friday (I’m meeting up with my family in Dubrovnik), he told me he would be out of town and unable to receive mail. I have always been my father’s daughter. My dad is a great man, and I love him very much. He has always offered me unconditional support. He has fulfilled various whims I’ve had over the years, such as “flying” me around the basement on a blanket during “A Whole New World”, ordering Chinese food and watching Mulan, buying my two-year-old self a massive plush Big Bird that I had begged my mum for for months, andgoing with me to see Paul McCartney last August – even though he’s seen him twice before – but the love for the Beatles that he instilled in me compelled him to go again. He has even fostered a love for Croatia within me, a country part of our history that he has shown me once before and is showing me different parts of it in three days. We have had many highs in our relationships and I have achieved so much that I credit him for enabling me to do – studying abroad, graduating college, pursuing my masters’ degree (in a foreign country, no less). These moments, moments that I could not have achieved without his unwavering love and support, these are the moments that I consider to be jewels in our relationship. These are the moments that should be celebrated.

So why was my Facebook feed full of girls my age posting their wedding photos? My best friend from high school said that maybe bridal photos are expensive and they want their money’s worth?

I mean, I get it. I’ve obviously thought for years about my dad walking me down the aisle someday, and what song we’d dance to for our father-daughter dance (I genuinely have no clue, because I would LOVE to use a Beatles song, I just have to find the perfect one that works. I’m definitely intending on having my dad and I dance traditionally because if I try anything more contemporary…well…my dad dances like a dad, let’s leave it at that). I get that this will be a significant moment in my relationship with my father because traditionally, it means I am no longer his. Same with him walking me down the aisle and “giving me away” (Side note on the father-daughter wedding moments – my best friends got married two years ago. She walked herself down the aisle and was met at the front by both parents. At the reception, she danced with her father and her new father-in-law, while her groom danced with his mother and new mother-in-law, to “Sweet Child O’Mine” by Guns’N’Roses. It was perfect and while I don’t think I’d do the same thing, it was a great way to really highlight the marriage as blending two families). But I don’t get why my peers seem to view this moment as the pinnacle of their father-daughter relationship, when there have been so many other milestones.

Maybe I’m just bitter because marriage is nowhere near on my horizon, but it seems to be on almost everyone else’s I know. This past weekend, two girls I graduated with got married. So many girls in the year above me have had their first baby – a girl who graduated two years ahead of me just had her second. Girls from my high school who were two years younger than me have gotten engaged, married and pregnant in the last year and a half. And I shouldn’t care. I’m getting a masters’. I’m living in Europe. It shouldn’t be any kind of problem that there is no ring on my finger.

I think I’m just frustrated with the fact that that particular lifestyle is considered to be superior. Marriage is seen as something to strive for, and before you assume I am anti-marriage and ultra-feminist, I have to admit that I am very guilty of viewing it as such. I ranted two years ago about how in the States, I feel like there is something wrong with me because I don’t have a fiancé, I don’t even have a boyfriend at the moment (another story for another day, I am in a committed relationship with energy and that is a long story that is difficult to explain to people who aren’t into reiki or messages from the universe). Over here in Europe, it is more normal to get married and reproduce later in life, and it makes me feel more at ease about everything. Unfortunately, most of my friends do live in the States and that means that is what I am seeing on my social media feeds at the moment.

Although I’ve gone super off-topic, but not really, my point is this – can we celebrate the milestones in our relationships with our fathers that don’t make it seem like marrying off a daughter should be a father’s proudest moment? Because I would like to celebrate my dad without feeling like I’m missing a key aspect in the father/daughter relationship.

 

 

Constant Companion

In a belated Mental Health Month post, I wrote a thing. What if I personified my mental illness? I know this is unlike anything I’ve ever posted on here, but I was bored. So here we go, a brief vignette imagining my mental illness as an entity.

Sometimes it feels like my depression and anxiety are another being and she will not leave me alone. She is my best friend. She is my worst enemy. But she is always there, and even when she’s not physically present, she is waiting in the shadows, gemstone eyes glinting and smile glowing, waiting for her chance to grow.

I open my eyes after a relatively sleepless night and the first thing I feel is her vise-like grip around my throat, preventing me from swallowing. She moves her hand down, pressing on my stomach and settling all of her weight there, like a stone. And I hear her whisper in my ear:

“Wake up, you’re pathetic. Everyone else has been awake for hours and you’re rotting up here in your tower, like some fucking delusional Disney princess.”

Her icy breath causes my stomach to sink. She’s right. I should get up. I suck at waking up.

I trudge over to my ensuite bathroom, my eyes bloodshot from the very little sleep I got last night.

Hands grasp my waist, pinching at any excess flesh before snaking down to my thighs. “You’re disgusting. Do you really think he’ll consider your bubble butt a prize if it’s attached to Monstro the Whale?” She’s right. I should definitely go to the gym and cut carbs. She curls her body around mine, resting her head on my shoulder. “You couldn’t function without me. You need me. I keep you interesting. Go on. Look at me. Tell me you wouldn’t be interesting or relevant without me.”

I look to meet her eyes in the mirror. The face that looks back at me is black. It’s inkier than an October midnight, with eyes the same colour as a garnet. Her jet-black hair hangs down her back and her jet-black fingers are spindly, pointed and created for grabbing on and not letting go. She smiles, showing off perfect white teeth. “Go on, then,” she practically hisses.

“I wouldn’t be relevant or interesting without you,” I whisper, fumbling to spread Crest onto my toothbrush.

She grins again. “That’s my girl.”

Watching HIMYM In Kitchens With Boys

I started watching How I Met Your Mother autumn semester of my junior year of college, while the show was in its eighth series – just one more before it ended. And I fell in love. I started watching it over my autumn break, sitting up in my parents’ family room, with my snoring yellow Lab at my feet. The clock would tick on – 1.00am, 2.00am, 2.30am – and I would power my way through just one more episode. This was before I had my own Netflix account, so I’d have to get my fix at home (side note: this is why I stopped watching Lost. I think I made it through 21 episodes of the first season one summer but then went back to school. By the time I could watch it again, I had completely forgotten what had happened and I didn’t feel like rewatching all 21 episodes). When I came home for winter break with a car full of stuff – I was leaving the country in January – I resumed my late night binges and managed to make it to series 5 by the time I arrived in Brighton.

Luckily, my flatmate was equally addicted to HIMYM but was far more caught up than I. He would leave me alone in my room to binge my way through two series before I could join him and our other housemate in the kitchen for their weekly episode. And we would sit up late at night, discussing how these 5 characters seamlessly represented us at different stages of our lives. He identified as the Ted at the time – the hopeless romantic desperately seeking a future and trying to push relationships from Point A to Point Z and bypassing the best parts. To this day, he is still the Ted to my Robin – at least, he was until that rubbish series finale in 2014 (an additional side note: I still love him oh so much, but not blue French horn level love). And I identified as Robin – jaded, cynical, tough exterior to crack but cracking that exterior would be worth it – I still identify with Robin to this day. He and I actually ended up predicting the series finale – which I’m still really angry about – but satisfied that we were right and saw the twist coming midway through series 8.

And that became the show I watched with my boys. How I Met Your Mother, Black Mirror, and Skins, but How I Met Your Mother was our cornerstone. When I returned to the states and when the final season aired, it was the three of us communicating via Whatsapp about every loose end that was resolved. And when the show ended, I didn’t revisit it. Until now.

And watching old episodes of HIMYM takes me back to a smoky kitchen with a tie-dyed tapestry on the wall. A kitchen with dirty dishes in the sink, that always felt cold no matter whether it was January or May, that always had empty vodka bottles and playing cards on the table. I can hear the crinkling of rolling papers as the boys rolled cigarettes that they would ash into an inch of water in empty tin of Heinz Baked Beans. And I can still hear their voices discussing the latest episode, the incredible harmonies between Ted and Barney during “The Longest Time,” and when they thought that Ted would finally meet the mother. But mostly, watching the show again reminds me of a time in my life when happiness came to me easily, when I felt secure, and when I met my family. How I Met My Family. How I Met My Boys.