Why Sia’s New Movie is Potentially So Damaging

If you don’t already know—though I’m sure most people do—the popstar Sia has recently released her first ever feature film, ‘Music’. A musical, starring—of course—her protégé, Maddie Ziegler. Off the bat, if someone had told me this without letting me in on the details, I’d have been excited. For one thing, while I’m not a massive Sia fan, she is talented, and I did like her early albums. And God knows I love a good musical. So when it was brought to my attention that this was in fact a pretty problematic film to say the least, I was both disappointed and intrigued. I watched the trailer and couldn’t believe what I was seeing. How could a musical called ‘Music’ starring a character called Music be so goddamn tone-deaf? And how, in 2021, had a movie such as this managed to survive every stage and year of production?

About a non-verbal autistic girl, Music, and how she experiences the world, now under the guardianship of her sister Zu, on paper this storyline wouldn’t be offensive at all. If done properly—with an autistic lead, preferably with an autistic director and/or screenwriter, and with autistic individuals in mind as opposed to Oscar nominations—this could have been a much-needed, carefully constructed positive representation of neurodiversity in a world where neurodiverse and disabled people are so often portrayed from the perspective of the misinformed neurotypical. They are held up not as complex emotional human beings but, most of the time, one of two options: inspiration porn or freakish superhumans. (For those who don’t know, “inspiration porn” is a term which describes how able-bodied people often look at a disabled person and feel “inspired” that they are, for example, even able to live from day to day, and disregard the insulting implications. We may consume inspiration porn to feel better about our own perceived “normalness”, essentially subconsciously believing that our lives have more intrinsic value. Our expectations of disabled and neurodiverse people should not be so low that we are so impressed or inspired by them doing basic things everyone else does.)

These characters are pretty much always played by an able-bodied neurotypical person. In fact, try to think of three autistic or disabled leads who aren’t. I bet you can’t. I just tried and my brain was only bombarded with examples of media where the opposite is true: Leonardo Di Caprio in ‘What’s Eating Gilbert Grape’; Keir Gilchrist in ‘Atypical’; Dustin Hoffman in ‘Rainman’; Jacob Tremblay in ‘Wonder’; Sam Claflin in ‘Me Before You’… I could go on. (The only good example I could think of is Walter Jr in ‘Breaking Bad’ who has cerebral palsy, played by RJ Mitte who actually has cerebral palsy.) Hollywood seemingly has an obsession with making movies and TV shows about “different” people without even casting those with their respective conditions or disabilities. It isn’t for a lack of talent—there are plenty of talented actors out there who could’ve played these parts with firsthand experience and therefore more accurately. Let’s call a spade a spade: it’s discrimination. And in turn, autistic and disabled people continue to be underrepresented. Unfortunately, the propensity of this casting issue highlights the fact that most of these movies and shows were never made with representation in mind; they were never authentic in their goal to shed light on an overlooked subject matter or give misunderstood communities a voice. Rather, they are about gaining critical acclaim through virtue points; they often serve to reinforce stereotypes as opposed to dismantling them.

. . .

As a black biracial person, this is almost uncanny to Hollywood’s ‘White Savior’ trope, which presents itself through soft narratives which claim to explore the black experience but actually just assuage white guilt and/or whitewash history by giving the audience a non-racist white character to project themselves onto, who “saves” the poor black character(s). Think ‘Green Book’ and ‘The Help’. But whilst we’ve been making much more progress in this regard—hard-hitting, thoughtful films (almost always by black directors) which explore racism towards black people are becoming more visible, though often still not as acclaimed as their soft counterparts—unfortunately, so few hard-hitting movies exploring disability and neurodiversity exist in the first place.

In fact, when it comes to exploring these topics through the media, disability becomes almost synonymous with juvenility. The infantilisation of disabled and autistic people is something which runs so deep in our culture; even ostensibly good-natured programmes like ‘The Undateables’ are guilty of it. And this is why a film like ‘Music’ is doubly disappointing: it feeds into this culture. Granted, the character of Music is young, but she is not a small child. And yet, everything about the music videos that have been released in relation to this film feels so condescending and juvenile. Think rainbows and kids doing silly dances and ‘High School Musical’-esque lyrics.

Frankly, sunshine and rainbows doesn’t represent the general autistic experience. According to studies, autistic children are three times more likely to face bullying and physical abuse. Autistic adults face significantly higher levels of unemployment than non-autistic adults and slightly higher levels than disabled adults. Many people—morons, that is—still believe Autism is something that can be cured or outgrown, associating it almost exclusively with children. There is the pernicious belief that vaccinations cause Autism, a more commonly-held stance than you’d think. And, taking the crown for perhaps the most disgusting belief, there is a so-called “treatment” called ‘Bleach Therapy’ which circulates on Facebook groups in which parents are encouraged to have their autistic children ingest chlorine dioxide as some sort of miracle cure. That’s the world we live in, and there need to be more challenging movies/shows which dare to explore and question this reality as opposed to films like this one, which don’t challenge anything. Yet again, ‘Music’ misses the mark.

. . .

Many autistic individuals are boycotting ‘Music’ in the effort to get it taken down from cinemas. Subsequently, Sia has dug herself further and further into a hole, her response to all of the criticism serving only to highlight that she really didn’t know (or maybe even care) what she was doing. Her claim that “three years of research” went into ‘Music’ is difficult to believe because, if it were true, she would at least be somewhat well-informed. And she’s evidently not: she states that she based the character of Music on an autistic man she knows. Come on, now. Seriously? Male and female Autism presents differently—you can get that from a quick Google search. That alone should have been reason enough to take a second to ask yourself if you’re informed enough to broach this topic, and to an audience of millions.

Further evidence that Sia didn’t know what she was doing is in the lack of consideration for sensory sensitivities—the aforementioned music videos are some of the least Autism-friendly sequences I’ve ever seen. I’m neurotypical and I found watching these scenes a little overwhelming on my 13” laptop screen, so I can only imagine what it could be like watching this as an autistic child with sensory sensitivities at the cinema, though I doubt most parents of autistic children would take their child to see this crap. If they did, I can imagine they might have to leave the screening. (Watch ‘Together’ or ‘1 + 1’ on YouTube if you want to see what I mean. To compensate for the extra view, why not give it a downvote while you’re there.)

When confronted with the question of why she hired non-autistic Maddie Ziegler to play the autistic lead, Sia claimed that an autistic lead had originally been hired but had found the environment overwhelming, and she thought it was kinder to let her go and hire Maddie to replace her. Where to start? First of all, we can deduce that this is likely false. In an interview with Variety, which we’ll go into a bit more depth about later, Sia claimed she had created this movie for Maddie, and that she “wouldn’t make art” without Maddie. I mean, I could go into a psychological analysis of why a 45-year-old woman feels the need to include an 18-year-old teenager who isn’t related to her in all of her projects but I’ll leave that to someone better qualified. I really just want to point out the contradiction of Sia’s statements—it is likely that she tacked on having originally hired an autistic girl to, by her reasoning, make herself and the production team look better. The funny thing is she doesn’t realise that saying you hired and fired the autistic lead because she was overwhelmed is just as bad. Let’s assume that Sia’s telling the truth for a second: why didn’t they adapt the environment to suit the actresses’ needs? And, worst outcome, if they exhausted every option but she still couldn’t cope, why couldn’t they have found another autistic actress? There are plenty out there. It is a gross hypocrisy to claim to make a film about the autistic experience when you yourself won’t accommodate that experience.

The fundamental truth is it is difficult to be a non-autistic individual playing an autistic individual without it coming across as, at best, inaccurate, and at worst, mocking. Maddie’s performance sits firmly in the latter camp. And I know some people will throw their hands up in the air and exclaim, ‘But that’s what acting is!’ and to some extent I understand where they’re coming from. For example, while I think we should always strive to cast a gay person as a gay character, it doesn’t particularly bother me when it doesn’t happen. I love ‘Brokeback Mountain’ after all. Depending on the context, I think an actor has artistic license to play someone who doesn’t represent their real-life identity. But in this context, and with representation being so scant to begin with, casting a neurotypical person was kind of like casting a white person to act as a black person. With the way that Maddie was directed to play her character, the facial expressions and the physical movements, it was just offensive to watch. (I personally don’t think we should blame Maddie though—she was a young girl who was tied into a contract, and when she cried to Sia that she was afraid people would think she was mocking autistic people, Sia naively replied that she “wouldn’t let that happen.”)

. . .

Needless to say, it gets worse. Probably the most damaging thing to come from this movie was a scene in which Music, who is having a meltdown, is pinned to the floor. The use of this restraint in real life, called “prone restraint”, has suffocated and killed people. Condemnation of the scene is one of the few criticisms Sia has been receptive to (her Twitter replies to other criticisms were dismissive and defensive, and she’s since deleted her account altogether), tweeting: “I listened to the wrong people and that is my responsibility, my research was clearly not thorough enough, not wide enough.” I’d like to think I’m quite a forgiving person but honestly, too little too late. While this scene has since been removed, it never should have been filmed in the first place—any sort of incentive of this type of behaviour is disgusting and will have a ripple effect. In fact, restraint against autistic and disabled people is still widely used despite having been proven to be ineffective. Renee Fabian writes, “According to data from the 2017–18 school year, more than 100,000 students in the U.S. were disciplined with seclusion or restraint, 78% of whom had disabilities.”

In research for this movie, Sia also cajoled with the likes of Autism Speaks, an abhorrent organisation founded in 2005 that, unfortunately, like many groups which claim to “support” autistic individuals, actually views Autism as though it is some sort of malignant disease. Again, I feel the need to bring up that apparent “3 years of research”. It doesn’t take anywhere near that long to discover that the autistic community are not very big fans of this organisation. Nor should anyone be. I’m not going to link to it because it’s gross but if you want to see how vile Autism Speaks really is, you can search for their ‘I Am Autism’ advert on YouTube. Perhaps not the best people to get your information from, huh.

While this film is still being promoted (which it is by both Sia and Kate Hudson, though not Maddie Ziegler who appears to have distanced herself from the project) I completely understand and echo people’s outrage. I find it very difficult to have sympathy for Sia when she is not listening to feedback from the autistic community, who are not happy with how they are being depicted, how she has depicted them. Sia’s argument in defense of ‘Music’ seems to be that she had good intentions. While this may be true, having good intentions doesn’t give you a free pass, and it shouldn’t excuse her or anyone else involved in this project from facing consequences, especially as the movie it is still being marketed and screened.

. . .

Shitty things often have the unexpected side-effect of bringing people together. If there’s one good thing to have come from ‘Music’, I think it’s brought to light how people’s perceptions are changing. The fact that this film has been received so poorly is a testament to how inaccurate representations are being tolerated less and less. With a grand score of 9% on Rotten Tomatoes, ‘Music’ reflects not a positive depiction of neurodiversity but, instead, how ignorance is losing; it shows us that you don’t have to be an expert on Autism to know this movie is offensive, making it all the more egregious that it ever came to fruition.

Still, there are a lot of people who drank the Kool-Aid. As tempting as it could be to leave this article on a happy note, I don’t think it would be realistic. It’s important not to discredit the thousands who have stood up to say this film isn’t something they support, but it’s also important to point out the support it does have. After all, ‘Music’ has received accolades: it has two Golden Globe nominations under its belt and both critical and public praise. Clearly it’s been marketed to be your typical uplifting, high-concept award-bait, and to that end, it’s succeeded. And that’s a problem.

Going back to Sia’s interview with Variety, in which she comes across as a self-aggrandising narcissist (sorry not sorry), the interviewer remarks that this movie is “so moving, so beautiful” and “about walls between people and perception and understanding.” Well, she was half-right: this film is the wall between people and understanding. It’s serious cause for concern when the audience take the bait like this, when otherwise smart, kind people, maybe impressionable young people, could and have watched ‘Music’ and not known enough about neurodiversity to see past the bright colours and the cute songs. They’d come out of the theatre with that post-cinema glow, not realising they’re coming out with a head full of harmful misinformation. You can witness this exchange from misinformed to misinformed happening in the interview. For example, Sia ignorantly uses the term “low-functioning” to describe the autistic protagonist, a term which her three years of research would have told her is degrading and not accepted by many in the autistic community. The interviewer or anyone watching could pick up this term thinking it’s come from someone who knows what they’re talking about. After all, why would you make a film about Autism if you don’t know the first thing about it? (Answer: money. Second answer: vanity.)

The interviewer goes on to say, as though it’s a beautiful observation, “Here’s this person who can’t speak, she might as well be like an inanimate object like a wig, except there’s so much going on in there,” to which Sia replies, “Yeah… I love it.” I mean, I truly could write a separate article about how gross this entire social exchange is, but I would have to a punch a wall or something afterwards. Suffice it to say, this statement, likening non-verbal autistic people to objects and basically saying it’s understandable to initially think they may as well not exist, is the height of insensitivity. It’s inspiration porn encapsulated. It goes to show how fractured and albeist our society really is in our understanding of neurodiverse and disabled individuals; how quick we are to stroke our own egos when we recognise diverse people as people when we should have already seen them that way. We need to stop patting ourselves on the back for doing the bare minimum—in doing so we shine a glaring light on our own ignorance.

. . .

Let’s wrap this up before I get heartburn. Basically, ‘Music’ is the pinnacle of claiming to be part of the solution when you’re actually part of the problem; another movie in a large roster of films and shows with that same tagline. If Sia isn’t going to be, I’ll be embarrassed on her behalf that it exists. It’s one thing to watch ‘Music’ when you’re an adult who can see this for what it is, but the thought of the young generation of autistic individuals watching this offensive garbage and potentially feeling worse about themselves—not to mention overwhelmed by all the triggering sequences—is upsetting. More education about neurodiversity and disability is clearly important (education about all underrepresented communities/minorities, for that matter), but let’s not get our education from media like this.

The best way to understand Autism is by listening to autistic people.

Going forward, I hope autistic voices are better heard; I hope authentic autistic perspectives and experiences and stories are given a much larger platform. And I hope the culture we’ve manufactured, a culture of virtue signalling and insincerity, continues to be called out.

Note: While I have an interest in psychology and neurodiversity, and have done my research for this article, I absolutely do not claim to be an expert on Autism. Therefore, if I’ve made any mistakes in this article, feel free to let me know.

Infinity Plus One

a shared journal entry

Recently I’ve been falling into flatness. It may have started with a self-indulgence: a moment of dreaming through the lens of a formless version of myself—a moment that is so much of an emptying guarantee it might as well be a product, something I manufacture, advertise and sell to myself in all my naivety—or it may have started with the damaged notion that, after so long, I might be getting a bit of freedom back.

Might, may, might, may. Everything these days is so precarious, tenuous, up in the air, so high it seems it is further away than a star. Depression is both a curse and a comfort in these times—it is the only reliable thing in my life. And it may be—no, it is—the thing that is flattening me, but it is also the thing that is there for me, always, in my little studio. It is in the mirror whose silver gaze I avoid; it is in the cold lemon green tea I had forgotten about; it is in the half a can of black beans I substitute for a meal. It is everywhere, as pervasive as the air and the cold breath of the humidifier. Natural and created. I know I must feed into it, tempt it, maybe even accommodate it, like a kind-smiled guest to a lonely old lady. It is anything but kind, of course, and some of this accommodation is out of my control; it is shackled to a contract and a catastrophe.

Besides, there cannot be a par to our relative power—it would be like stepping into the ring with Muhammad Ali, a silver swarm of needles jutting out of his blood-red boxing gloves. Death by a million cuts within a thousand punches. Sometimes it seems it is better instead to succumb and let it crush you, slowly but heavily, rather than to take the beating, which is harder and requires a plane of determination fit for a giant. (You are getting smaller every day.) It is better to let it fill your head with excelsior, thoughts in infinity plus one: the hoards of happier versions; the conceived, unborn ideas; the titles upon titles. The unreliable memories, the over-reliable feelings.

I sit by the radiator and read. I sit by the radiator and watch and watch with red, square eyes. I sit by the radiator to warm myself from the cold sea I’m drowning in, and wait and wait and wait for a mae west which never comes.

My 5 Favourite Books of 2020

*spoiler-free!*

At the start of last year, I challenged myself to read one book per week. It’s not that this was hypothetically some impossible feat—I love reading and when I get into it can read voraciously—it was more so a challenge of persistence. And while I got off to a good start, reading about 4 books a month, by the time lock-down hit and my mental health took a nose-dive, I similarly fell into a serious reading slump that lasted for most of the year. Needless to say, I didn’t even come close to my goal of 52 books, not even half. But, considering the circumstances, I’m proud of myself for the reading I did do. In the end I read 22 books, still a little more than my total in 2019. You’ve got to take the small wins.

So, I thought I’d share with you my favourite of the books I read last year, in a loose order of how much I enjoyed them.

. . .

5. A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

A Thousand Splendid Suns was one of two books I read in 2020 by author Khaled Hosseini, the other being The Kite Runner. Both were astounding and told equally heart-wrenching stories in the setting of Afghanistan, but A Thousand Splendid Suns emotionally annihilated me on a level that all fiction aspires to but only the best succeeds in doing. Usually, and unfortunately, when a male author writes a female main character it is glaringly obvious (search r/menwritingwomen on Reddit), but this novel was one of the welcome exceptions. Mariam and Laila are both beautifully written female characters, and their eventual mother/daughter-like friendship within what could only be described as utterly tragic circumstances was inspiring to read. This book made me cry, yes, but much more than that, it made me furious. I cannot describe how much vitriol and contempt I had for the situation that these women were in and the man they were under. While ATSS is fiction, it is nonetheless a fiction set within fact—a society under Taliban rule—inviting you to reflect on the contemporary realities of sexism within our world.

4. Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain

As someone who considers themselves a quintessential introvert (a shy, sensitive, cerebral, hard-to-get-to-know homebody who prefers a night in with a good book to a night out on the town), Quiet was easily one of the most important and affirming non-fictions I’ve ever read. It explains in impressive detail the psychology of introversion—a core, innate dimension of a human’s psychology—and poses it in relation to mental health, personality, creativity, career and society as a whole. This book doesn’t downplay the importance of extroversion but instead shows, with copious evidence, how valuable and necessary introversion really is. By extension, it shines an unforgiving spotlight on the Extrovert Ideal which has existed in the Western world for decades—particularly in America—and how negatively this ideal has affected introverts and diminished introvert voices, especially in childhood and adolescence. All in all, if you’re an introvert, a highly-sensitive person (HSP), a parent to an introverted child, or just someone interested in psychology, this book is an absolute must-read. Quiet made me understand myself and some of my experiences in a way that no other book ever has. I was already proud to be an introvert but now I know that I’m damn right to be. Not to mention Quiet is probably the most well-researched book I’ve read—almost 1/6 is just an impressively extensive bibliography.

Side note: I will be doing a blog post later this month about introversion and sensitivity based heavily on the findings in this book, so if you’re interested in learning more about introversion please check that out.

3. Man’s Search For Meaning by Viktor Frankl

I’m a huge fan of non-fiction, as while fiction allows you to escape reality, non-fiction grounds you in reality. This book did exactly that. Recounting Frankl’s experience in a concentration camp from a first-person perspective, this book was a sometimes difficult but all the more essential read. We all know the Holocaust—it’s a history that we’ve been taught and re-taught, in school and then interminably through film and TV, so much so that, with some irony, its story has almost become normalised. But I can tell you with conviction that nothing hammered home the true, unthinkable atrocity of what the Jewish people went through more than this book. And yet, despite its tragedy, this is not a miserable read. I still don’t know how Frankl did it but he somehow managed to write a book detailing the worst of human behaviour within a message of hope which courses throughout every page. I left this book not feeling nihilistic, but, as the title suggests, possessing a deeper realization than ever before of how meaningful and valuable life really is. Not seeing the value in human life is, after all, how we as a humanity end up committing genocides and heinous crimes against each other. A must-read for everyone, but especially those experiencing ennui.

2. (Reread) 1984 by George Orwell

My only reread of the year was of my favourite book of all time, 1984 by George Orwell (cliché, I know). 1984 is a timeless classic, timeless most of all because of its lasting relevance. Orwell recognised something in his time which led him to write 1984, a dystopian world in which even your thoughts are being determined; every move you make is scrutinized; everything you do is controlled and monitored. I’m someone who worries a lot about the future we’re headed towards based on the present we’re living in, where I believe we’re not far off sometimes from emulating the “thought police”. As a cynic, science-fiction and dystopia are my favourite literary genres, and this book has everything you’d want in a science-fiction dystopia.

1984 more than frowns on absolutism. Its take-home message is one that is ultimately interpretative, but I’d like to think it’s at best a warning or a call-to-action, at worst an inevitable template, of what we could/will become if we don’t stop to challenge our gradual loss of privacy, individualism, and not just multifarious opinion but the need for it. The only thing wrong with 1984 is its after-effect—this book is so convincing that I fell into a bit of a depression pit shortly after finishing it again. There’s a reason why George Orwell is one amongst only a few authors to inspire the creation of a word, his being “Orwellian”, as his ability to write novels which reflect the despondency of the real world is unparalleled.

1. Tuesdays With Morrie by Mitch Albom

Philosophy happened to be a common theme amongst many of the books I read this year—A Midnight Library, Man’s Search For Meaning, A Guide To The Good Life—but perhaps no book was more philosophically gripping for me than this one. Written by one of his former students, Tuesdays With Morrie is a true story about an old man, Morrie Schwartz, in a state of degeneration following a diagnosis of ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis). After one of his former students—the author of the book—re-establishes contact, they begin to spend each Tuesday of Morrie’s last remaining months together in what the author realises is the last and most important class with his old professor. Broaching subjects such as “forgiveness”, “fear”, “death”, and “a meaningful life”, philosophical subjects we all want to understand further, Morrie shares life lessons with Mitch from his own experience and wisdom. These lessons, which extend also to the reader, are rooted in the utmost humility. Here is a man who is dying, losing his ability to do the simplest of tasks and, worst of all, being terribly cognizant of it all, but who nonetheless decides not to succumb to crippling self-pity or remorse. Instead, he accepts his fate and does what he can to help others with the time he has left. A simple but powerful message.

I cannot even begin to describe how much this book means to me already, having only read last month, in one sitting, and in floods of tears. This is a book for no specific demographic or human state; this is rather a book everyone should read at least once in their lifetime.

. . .

It’s important to reflect on the goodness, the beauty, the privilege of just living, of being alive. A good portion of the books I read last year happened to hammer that message home, something I was beyond grateful for in the year that was 2020, a year where more than ever humanity needed to be reminded, and was reminded—hopefully irrevocably—of the value of life itself. Just being. There is so much gratitude to be found in being. In 2021, hopefully I’ll read more books with a similar philosophical message, and implement their teachings into my day-to-day life, knowing that no matter what, at least I’m alive, and therefore there is always opportunity.

. . .

For some further recommended reading:

Honorable Mentions:

  • The Midnight Library by Matt Haig
  • All God’s Children Wear Travelling Shoes by Maya Angelou
  • The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

My 5 Favourite Books of 2019:

  1. Lost Connections by Johann Hari
  2. Singing And Swinging And Getting Merry Like Christmas by Maya Angelou
  3. Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer
  4. The Book of Forgiving by Desmond Tutu and Mpho Tutu
  5. Misery by Stephen King

Follow me on Goodreads! http://www.goodreads.com/majaenya

Not Knowing

Being in your early twenties is a time without any guarantees. There is a slackline you must walk and a foundation you must build for yourself from next to nothing. It is Limbo.

Millions of twenty-somethings, myself included, navigate our way through this age of Limbo tentatively, scared we might trip over our new-born responsibilities and fall flat on our face. So many of us don’t know what our next move will be, what it should be. We don’t know who we are or who we will become or who we even want to become. Nobody warned us it was going to be this difficult. Nobody armed us with patience and resilience. Our past naivety is all too evident – the now-disillusioned, adolescent belief that once we hit adulthood everything will fall neatly into place and we will live inside a Kurt Vonnegut quote: ‘Everything was beautiful and nothing hurt.’

Well, things are still ugly and things still hurt.

Every day, we make it on our own as adult-babies, working jobs we pretend to like; studying a course we pretend to like; dating people we pretend to like; living in a city we pretend to like. And the reason we’re pretending isn’t out of fakery or malice, it’s because we’re not sure how we feel or what we’re doing. Maybe we’re not pretending at all or maybe that’s all we’re doing. There is so much uncertainty. So much anxiety

Not knowing is something that can be tricky to come to terms with. While I am learning that you design your own destiny, and ultimately there is so much more in life that you can control over what you cannot, the acknowledgement and implementation of this still does not grant you a crystal ball. Taking the reins on your aspirations and responsibilities cannot make you a fortune teller of anyone’s life, not even your own – there will always be some level of unknowing.

So maybe it’s okay not to know.

Just in the past couple of months my goal careers have changed as sporadically as my hair (seriously, I’ve been doing some stupid shit with my hair). I’ve “wanted” to be a:

• Screenwriter
• Actress
• Music Journalist
• Singer/songwriter
• Interior Designer
• Documentary Filmmaker
• Detective
• Crime Reporter
• Artist
• Therapist
• YouTuber
• Freelance Writer (something I’m actually pursuing)
• Person Who Has Their Shit Together

I even gave some consideration to a career as a Teacher. Me! Working with kids! Don’t know what I was smoking when I thought of that.

The truth is most of us don’t really know what we want beyond the vague, ubiquitous milestones life lays ahead to hit. Specifics are scary. I can’t decide what I want for breakfast half the time, let alone what I want a long-term career in. I can’t tell you with conviction what my “passions” are. Nor can I assure myself or anyone else that I’ll be able to figure it out soon. The most terrifying bit is I can’t promise myself that by the time I hit 25, when I’m finally out of this godforsaken early-twenties mini-era and into my romanticised mid-twenties, everything will have come together: financial stability; healthy relationships; enviably glowing skin; career progression in something I love; a daily yoga practice; a great work-life balance; a great social circle; 3 litres of water a day and kale salad for lunch. Though I’d love to think I’ll be set, I might not be. And that’s okay too.

Not knowing is not not caring. You do not need to know exactly what it is you want out of the next few decades to work towards something. You are not apathetic.

It’s overwhelming when the world asks you overnight who you are, tells you to have a plan and bring everything together, especially when just recently that same world regarded you as a kid. But to be fair the world wasn’t wrong; only in hindsight can we recognise how young we were before, in every sense of the word. We can scrutinise the flaws in our old opinions, dress sense, attitude, and laugh knowingly at the nature of adolescence which embodies such contradictions – forming, both grown and un-grown; sure and unsure; pugnacious and meek. The only difference between then and now is that back then we thought we knew everything but knew nothing, whilst now we’ve simply acknowledged the fact that we were clueless all along, and still are. Either way, the cluelessness doesn’t go away. We’re still figuring out: What do I like? What don’t I like? What matters to me as individual? What speaks to me? Who do I want in my bubble?

Nowadays, I’m trying to remind myself not to expect to have the answers right away. I’m not even convinced there are answers anymore.

There is a temptation to get fixated on the beautiful anomalies, a temptation which anyone with any form of social media can understand all too well. Nowadays, it’s almost impossible not to fall down that rabbit hole once in a while – past the 19-year-old Instagram Influencer whose every photo is taken in some gorgeous, exotic location (reminding you not only of your genetic shortfalls but that the last place you travelled to was the pavement to take out the bins); past that ex-friend who has a first class degree in Astrophysics and sometimes pays with a fifty. Fall too far and you come to find that this rabbit hole looks suspiciously similar to the dark pits of depression. There seems to be no end, it only gets darker.

But this is inevitable: There are always going to be people who, by your age or younger, have achieved goals you can yet only dream of. And while we should be happy for those people and their accomplishments, it’s also important to note that they are the minority. Not all of us can be Billie Eilish. Only Billie Eilish can be Billie Eilish. (Put that on a t-shirt.)

(P.S. Not to mention, you often don’t know the backstory of the person you compare yourself to – they could’ve been dealt much better cards… Or they could be an orphan from a war-torn country turned child-prodigy-philanthropist-billionaire, but let’s sidestep that.)

I’m still yet to work to save endangered emus, and again, that’s okay. While I’m not an advocate for wasting time (despite being a pro at it), I’m even less of an advocate for dwelling on where all the time has gone.

It’s okay to go at your own pace.

It’s okay to wonder why you still haven’t found your thing, or wonder why you’re not as excited about something as you were before. It’s okay to ask if this is as good as it gets – and might even be worth asking, if only to experience the excitement when life begins to show you that it’s not. It’s okay to change paths, change goals, even change friends. You might wish sometimes that you could rewind back time to those spotty high-school years when you took everything for granted and do it better this time round. But where you are right now is somewhere just as malleable; you can shape it however you want.

Give your nearest 20 to 24-year-old a hug. They’re doing the best they can.

A Validation Junkie

Originally published 14th August 2018

Validation.

Most of us crave it in some aspect, right?

Well, for most of my life, at least since I stopped living purely through my Ego, I have been a deeply insecure human. Little kids are fascinating in the sense that they haven’t fully developed awareness outside of the very basics. How does this feel/taste/sound/smell? They don’t really know what insecurity even is or why or how someone would have it, because they’re too busy being. Little kids just be. A toddler doesn’t look at their stomach and think, ‘damn, someone’s getting chubby’. They don’t hear themselves crying and think, ‘jeez, people must find me so annoying’. And neither did I at that age. Nobody does. But as soon as that side of me developed which gave me the ‘advanced’ ability to analyse, empathize and self-criticize, I overindulged myself in the latter from the get-go.

By the age of 7, it was fair to say that while 70% of my body was made up of water, the other 30% was made up of intense self-loathing. This continued throughout my pre-teens, teens, and all the way up into adulthood. Or at least, until the past few months.

Like many people who self-deprecate and self-hate, we cope with ourselves through second-hand verbal laudation. Our love language is Words Of Affirmation, but not just with romantic partners – with family, friends, co-workers, acquaintances and strangers too. We’d ask our damn pets for reassurance if only they could speak. We put ourselves down in front of other people, sometimes only with the intention of having them build us up back up. We call ourselves ugly to be told we’re beautiful; call ourselves dumb to be told we’re geniuses. Or, if we’re the narcissistic variation of this person, we do the opposite, and constantly brag. We post a million selfies of ourselves on Instagram to get a million likes and be told we’re beautiful a million times. We brag about how clever we are and how high our IQ is. We won’t shut up about how amazing we are to everyone we know. And we also do all these things too, because we’re insecure. In the simplest terms, we seek validation.

I used to do this all the time (the original putting-myself-down version), with all the people I knew, often to the point where I’d get a high off it. There’s something about feeling really, reeeeally shitty about yourself, only to have someone or a plethora of people bombard you with praise – that you’re amazing, funny, intelligent etc., all these traits a few minutes ago you were not just doubting but were adamant you possessed the antonymic qualities, which becomes something you crave, something you need. Because even if you don’t believe what’s being said (which you don’t), it still feels nice to hear. It’s reassuring to think that this could possibly be what they see – their truth. On one of your better days, you might even toy with the idea that this is THE truth. Maybe you really are smart and funny and cute. Not sure? Go tell someone you’re doubting it again, and sure enough, they’ll repeat what you want to hear back to you.

When I first downloaded Tinder, for the first few weeks it was like Validation Heaven. I was a junkie, and this would give me all the hits I needed. I could spend hours on there, swiping and swiping and swiping, just so that when I’d get a match (which isn’t exactly rare when you’re a young female) I’d feel that high. Almost like I was a character in a video game, 1 match = 1 boost of confidence. I just had to keep collecting matches. All these people, strangers or not, thought I was worth swiping right on, and that surely meant something.

Of course, like with anything, this high was always temporary. As a professional Validation Seeker, we know best that when the praises stop, the self-hatred seeps right back in. That’s why you must keep going. And to keep going, to keep experiencing that high, the irony is that you also have to keep hating yourself.

The ‘aha!’ moment came twice. The first time was when I was dating a guy. Let’s call him Boring McBoringson. I was at his house. We’d stayed up having 3 rounds of hot, sweaty sex like people in their early twenties do, and had woken up after a few brief hours of sleep. As I was getting dressed I asked him something along the lines of, ‘Do you enjoy this time with me? There was a pause. He hadn’t responded, so I turned my head to him. Finally, with an exasperated look on his face, he replied, ‘Why do you even have to ask that?’ He didn’t say it in a sweet, hypothetical way, that way you say something to someone you like to elicit a long drawn-out ‘awwwwwww’. Instead, it was very blank, serious. He continued to basically inform me that the thing which made our times together exponentially worse were questions like these. Wasn’t it obvious he’d enjoyed it? (Weren’t the 3+ orgasms pretty decent proof?)

I remember feeling surprised at his reaction. I’d put in a concerted effort to ask the question in the most casual, blasé way possible, looking down at my feet, clearly not bothered. But he saw right through me, and I felt caught out. My desperate need to be validated was as transparent to him as some of his own insecurities were to me.

It was at that moment when I realised, people weren’t going off me because I was boring (at least not in the way I thought). It wasn’t because I wasn’t pretty enough, or smart enough. It wasn’t even because I was insecure (like I said, almost everyone is to some extent). It was because I expected them to save me from my insecurity. And after a second time which evoked the second revelation, I finally realised this truth:

When you’re constantly seeking validation from people, especially from a specific person/persons, you are giving them a job they never asked for. You are putting pressure on them to point something out about you, only to have it disbelieved, only to have it asked of them to point it out again. And again. And again. And again. Until they grow tired of having to build up someone else’s ego, when they know it’s always inevitably going to crumble.
It’s almost like asking someone to build a tower for you, only for you to bash it back down, then asking them to build it again ad nauseum. Like, bloody hell, build your own tower! Anyone would get fed up! It is no one’s responsibility to constantly make you feel better.


(I don’t mean that in a way that says you’re not allowed to be reassured or tell someone when you’re feeling shitty. ‘Course you are! If you’re having a down day and you call your friend for support, that’s different. That’s just called friendship. I’m talking about when you purposely and persistently use people as your personal pick-me-up, and don’t try to deal with your insecurities yourself. There’s a huge difference: The former is vulnerability, and brings people closer, the latter is validation, and tears people apart.)

The worst thing about dealing with your insecurities through the lens of other people is that it isn’t sustainable. If you base how you feel about yourself on how somebody feels about you, what if they change their mind? What if they decide they no longer find you interesting, or worth talking to? What if they stop loving you? Then, you guessed it: Your world comes crashing down. Your identity feels threatened, and you feel lost. It’s just too precarious. Even if you find a loving romantic relationship with someone who’s willing to build that tower for you, and you don’t bash it down, they still could someday.

I’ve had this happen to me first-hand, like many people. Where, in a romantic context, somebody decided I wasn’t that great anymore, so I went right back to hating myself. If I’d have loved myself regardless, yes, that rejection still would have hurt, but I could’ve picked myself back up relatively quickly and easily, because I would’ve known a simple rejection doesn’t deeply reflect on who I am or affect who I thought I was. I’m still me, now just with my pride a bit hurt! Instead, because of my poor guidance, my depression got significantly worse for a period which lasted much longer than it should have. (Not to mention, what if you’re even more unlucky and end up with someone who stays with you because they like how insecure you are? Someone who enjoys how desperate you are for their approval? When you give somebody the ability to validate you, and thus potentially break your identity, you give them a hell of a lot of power which the wrong person could easily abuse.)

Love yourself because you love yourself, not because of somebody else’s ability to love you. Self-love should always be self-inflicted; that’s why it’s called SELF-love.

Jumping into a relationship to make yourself feel better via that person’s love might be easier, but it’s still toxic. It’s still not worth the risk. That’s why I’ve decided to take a break from dating for at least a few months – I recognized that I was doing -or trying to do- exactly that. I was dating to seek validation. (Ironically, a pretty unattractive trait!) And as a singleton, learning to love myself through myself is proving pretty difficult. But honestly, it’s still not anywhere as difficult as I thought it would be. Crazy what a bit of reading, hard truths and 10-minute meditations can do.

Only two months ago when I was in Cambridge visiting my best friend, I couldn’t bring myself to wear a dress without also wearing tights or stockings.

Let’s backtrack a bit. When I was younger, I had severe eczema, which has left me with a fair amount of discoloration/melasma on my legs. It’s not surprising then that almost my entire life, I have covered my body, fearing remarks and judgement from that majority of people who don’t have awfully sensitive skin (and so can’t empathise with the horror of having seen your scathed skin literally bleeding through your clothes). This was, of course, reinforced by actual remarks, such as one from a delightful young lady who said it looked like I had the plague. (Teenagers can be so sweet!)

Only at 17 did I manage to treat the eczema and most of the discoloration on my arms, which lead me to no longer feel the need to wear hoodies in the summertime. My legs never really made the improvement my arms did, so I never quite built the courage to stop covering them up, until now. Now, would you believe it, I don’t just wear dresses tights-free. No no, I’m more hardcore than that. Most days, I’ll wear high-waist denim shorts (y’know, those ones which go all the way up to your damn ass) without a mere second thought. And I guess it’s because I just don’t really care anymore. If I don’t need validation, I don’t need somebody to think I have nice legs. And if I don’t need somebody to think I have nice legs, I don’t really give a monkey’s shoe if a total stranger thinks I don’t. I think they’re fine, (rather lovely actually) and that’s all that matters.

That’s only one way no longer needing validation has manifested into my life. It wouldn’t be a big change to most people, but for me, it’s huge.
Still, I’m not perfect – sometimes I catch myself going beyond the lines of vulnerability into seeking validation and approval like a leech or a mosquito or an asexual succubus. But when I recognize it, I immediately try to stop and take responsibility, and ask myself why. It isn’t fair on myself or the other person. Nonetheless, safe to say this is an area of self-improvement in which I’m really killing the game. And that’s life-altering because, most importantly, it’s helping me learn to validate myself – my own beauty, my own greatness, my own intelligence and creativity.

I shouldn’t have to rely on anybody to be aware of those things, and neither should you. Let your brilliance validate itself.

It’s Too Late; It Won’t Matter

Where does all the time go?

Where does all the time go?

There is always something of a psychological aftermath to birthdays and Christmases and New Year’s Days. While these are meant to be some of the best days in any given person’s year (the entire month of December is like an exercise in forced happiness), I can never help but feel a wave of something sinister almost as soon as the celebrations are over. I say ‘something’ because it’s hard to pin down exactly what the feeling is. Sadness is perhaps too simplistic; anxiety is too general. It’s more of a sort of remorse, which rolls around as reliably as the holidays preceding it, like a bad cold you can’t seem to nurse into memory.

It’s quite apt that the first blog post I write in well over a year is one about feeling like you’re wasting time. Just now, my instinct was to rewrite that, change it to: ‘feeling like time is slipping away from you.’ But I had it right first; it’s more that the time I do have, I fritter. It’s only as a consequence that it seems time itself is escaping me. But the truth is, it’s either that I’m not running very fast to catch it or that the net I’m using is just one large hole with a ring around it.

After a recent birthday, which itself was a happy and well-fed day, nonetheless, I’ve been feeling especially abundant ever since, not in experience or growth, but in regret. I worked quite hard this past year to improve myself and my circumstances, generally feel better about my life and its direction, and for the most part, my efforts have been successful. Still, no matter how hard I try, I can’t shake the feeling that I’ve already wasted all of my chances, exhausted all of my options and have nothing left to work with. While I’m well aware that this likely sounds ridiculous, is ridiculous, is even borderline ungrateful, this doesn’t make the feeling any less visceral. If anything, it acts as an aggravation, a means of getting stuck in that relentless emotion-loop, feeling bad about feeling bad about feeling bad about feeling bad, until you realize there’s not been much logic behind these feelings; there’s not been much thinking.

Sure, there are plenty of people out there who would love to be my age, a time when society (reluctantly) allows you an excuse (somewhat) to still be figuring yourself and (almost) all of your shit out. But with every ageing year, society clamps down on its expectations, growing less and less tolerant and more and more tired of your inertia, like a disappointed parent, but one that you can’t simply ignore the calls of. They ring inside your head, and you answer them instinctively. It asks, “What’s the excuse now?” Once the excuse of youth is gone, you have to come up with something new: It’s my bad childhood/It’s my depression/It’s my soul-crushing job. But they all feel and fall flat when held up against your mirror image, reminding you that your life is meant to be growing too, alongside you.

Birthdays, Christmases, New Year’s Days; they’re like mirrors in that sense. They remind you of the passing of time, and everything you’re doing (or not doing) to squeeze the most out of it. I guess that’s it, really. I’m scared of running out of excuses. I’m scared I already have. I’m scared I’ve become that aged person already, looking in the mirror, wondering what they’ve done with their life.

A Seed

The problem is, it seems like the age to have your personal pile of shit all neatly tied together is only getting younger and younger. By proxy, the reality of not having your shit together, of your life being as unstable as a drunk bachelorette on a mechanical bull, feels increasingly inadequate. The ages of my peer group, very late Generation Zs who nonetheless like to think of themselves as Millennials, we were around the last age bracket fully allowed to be embarrassingly young. It seems like being a kid is something of a dying breed (I could go into this in depth, but I’ll leave that for another day). And it’s terrifying. It’s terrifying looking at someone 7 years younger than you who dresses better, has better hair and better skin and an established morning routine, who smiles with the confidence of a self-made millionaire and walks with the certainty of someone who knows which direction they’re headed. Not that there hasn’t always been very young, very successful people. But it seems like now more than ever, there’s this overwhelming pressure to be “grown”, in every manner of the word. I don’t feel grown. I feel very much like a seed still. A seed waiting to flower.

I can’t help it. I can’t help wishing to be them, those non-kid kids. Even more so, I can’t help wishing to be 16 again as myself, so I could do everything differently. I guess I look at that age as something of a checkpoint in my life, as though I was a character in a video game who failed the round. But I’m not a character. I can’t go back to my checkpoint and have another go; I can’t do it over and over again and again until I win and get the high score. I have to just work from where I am, despite all the mistakes left behind me and the crippling inability to do anything about them. I just have to leave them there like bodies on Everest, things I can’t save, at least, not in the way I want to.

And so, because of this inability, the dementors suck my hope. I feel like because I can’t undo things, I can’t rebuild things. Sometimes, I feel like I could only ever have been successful, could only ever have had the opportunity to become the person I want to be if I started developing -truly developing- much earlier. Like any effort I put in now will amount to nothing, because it’s far, far, far too late. I will never be the bohemian 20-year-old who works as a writer in San Francisco, a girl who moved to escape the tedious, unaesthetic, pedestrian 9-5 existence and chase her dreams. I will always be the 20-year-old who cried every day in her little student room in her little student bed in Lancaster. And even now, despite progress, it would be a lie to say I wasn’t closer in personality and circumstance to the girl in Lancaster, the girl I actually was. And for some reason, I can’t get over that. I can’t get over the feeling that my past has poisoned my future. This feeling of permanence – the face of who I was, a disfigurement, is the face of who I always am.

There are people out there who have been chasing their dreams since they were preteens. I’m now a decade ahead, still not entirely sure what my dreams are. There’s that holey net again.

The Upswing

Ironically, this what-I-know-to-be-stupid-don’t-worry insecurity about having ruined my life at only 23 is a mark of my age, because only somebody in their early 20s would have an insecurity as self-absorbed and exasperating as that. I’m well aware of this, and it’s something of comfort knowing that literally anything I believe or fear right now is unreliable. I know that I know nothing and I like it, because it leaves me so much room to learn, to one day be sure about what I know and rational about what I fear. So there’s the positive in all this: I’m an idiot, but an idiot with self-awareness, and self-awareness is one of the most valuable things a person can have… But what do I know?

In all seriousness, it’s a work in progress to unlearn an insecurity so long-held and permeating. The quiet, logical voice tries to remind me that this way of thinking is remarkably toxic, and (to state the obvious) an excuse in and of itself. It’s a bogus reason not to try – if you convince yourself you’re doomed from here on out, you’ve wrapped yourself in that warm, cozy safety blanket called self-pity. When things go wrong, you can tell yourself that it was bound to happen anyway, even if you’d tried, because that’s just what life is like for you.

Some people lose their entire lives this way, dwelling on “wasted” time. In doing so, they only continue to waste more, until they have none left to waste. Sometimes, in all those years of dwelling, they never put anything to action and they leave nothing behind. Honestly, that’s more terrifying than anything else.

Put it this way, every year I can’t believe how old I am, and yet, every year I can’t believe how young I was a year ago.

It’s not too late; it will matter.

Something To Say About Self-Doubt

Doubting myself, creating regardless.

Originally published January 2017

“The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.” – Sylvia Plath

I’ve been writing poetry since I was 5 years old.
Somehow, I can still recite word-for-word a poem I wrote when I was 7 or 8 years old, ‘The Greedy Shark’. I’m pretty sure I took inspiration from that Lewis Carrol poem, ‘How Doth The Little Crocodile’; mine was like a spin-off. It makes me smile to think about it.

Around the same age, I remember my mum bought me a huge anthology; I can picture it in my head right now; it was red and had illustrations and featured at least 100 poems. My favourite one by far was ‘The Silver Swan’.

The Silver Swan, who living had no note,
When death approached, unlocked her silent throat
Leaning her breast against the reedy shore,
Thus sung her first and last, and sung no more:
“Farewell, all joys; Oh death, come close mine eyes;
More geese than swans now live, more fools than wise.”


Even then, even as a kid, there must have been something morbid about me for this poem to be the most appealing over all the rest; many were much more light-hearted. Apparently, ‘The Silver Swan’ is by Orlando Gibbons, but in the book, I remember it was stated as having an anonymous author. And I guess that also attracted me – it somehow made the poem more mysterious and profound and fascinating in the eyes of an 8-year-old girl.

At this age, I got a poem published, an elaborate exploration about, essentially, a mouse catching cheese. The poetry company weren’t (and still aren’t) very prestigious at all, but when I got that acceptance letter saying my poem(!) was going to be published in one of their books(!), I was ridiculously excited, I simply couldn’t contain it. My triumphant glee in that moment was the equivalence of someone getting an acceptance letter from Harvard University. Always supportive of my literary endeavours, my mum bought a few copies of the anthology when it came out, gave a few to family members, kept two for ourselves. A week later, I confidently recited my poem in front of the entire primary school assembly, beaming like a proud idiot when the audience clapped at the end, even if I knew it was just perfunctory, and probably bore no relation to the quality of the poem whatsoever.

Since that day, 12 or so years ago, excluding family members, I have never again recited any of my poetry to an audience. Not once. And it’s not like I haven’t had opportunities. I’ve been to open mic poetry nights, only to always find myself watching from the safe comfort of a chair, envious of the people who got up from theirs, and walked past the rows to perform; envious of their composure, of their nervousness, of their bravery, of the words they weren’t afraid to share.

Sometimes I thought the poems were good. Sometimes they were brilliant. Sometimes they were atrocious. It didn’t really matter; it was all subjective anyway. That wasn’t what I was focusing on. Rather, every time someone’s name was called, I would wish in that moment to trade places with the owner of that name. I wished I could see things from their perspective, if only for those 2 or 3 minutes before the next poet was beckoned. I wished, being them, I could skim my eyes across the faces of the audience, and catch those of the girl with the nervous energy and the afro hair. I’d shake my head at her in disappointment. Fervidly, so that everyone would turn their faces to look at hers. I’d press my lips against the mic, pause for dramatic effect, then finally, I’d give her an ultimatum: get up (to perform) or get out.
She’d get out, of course. Undoubtedly.

I have gone years without writing a word of verse or prose; I have probably gone months without writing recreationally altogether. In fact, in my lifetime, I’ve probably started hundreds of novels, stories, screenplays, plays, articles, even recipes. I’ve finished about 8, give or take.
(I’ve only written so many poems because they’re short, so finishing them doesn’t scare me nearly as much. Writing a poem is an injection; the pain’s there but it’s over quickly.)

So, what happened?

You’ve probably already guessed from the title. I have self-doubt.

If a ‘Self-Doubters Anonymous’ therapy group was ever created, you can rest assured I’d be the first person to sign up. “I am Meah, and I’m a Self-Doubter.”

I’m pretty sure it’s something I’ve suffered with all my life. The only difference is, when I was young there was less of it, and I didn’t care very much anyway. People were going to listen to the stuff I wrote whether they liked it or not. Now, however, and by ‘now’ I actually mean for quite a long time, I’ve struggled with anything that could be classed as a ‘hobby’ or ‘interest’. Anything that someone can actively be good at is difficult for me to enjoy – it’s an open invitation for that voice in my head to creep up from its squalid hole to brazenly inform me that I’m not good enough. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think for a second that I’m the only one who gets these thoughts. Everyone does, especially creative people – singers, dancers, artists, writers, actors etc. From time to time, or at some point in a person’s life, they will be confronted with their own potential inadequacy. It’s not pleasant, but it’s fairly normal.

When this starts to become a real issue is when these thoughts occur regularly – weekly, daily, hourly – when they crawl into the crevices of your mind, festering like bacteria, feeding on your self-esteem. Finally, they manifest into your beliefs; every time a doubtful thought occurs, you trust it. 100%. You stop doubting the doubt itself. As someone who is currently, finally coming down on a mental elevator from this extreme level of self-doubt, it’s a horrific place to be stuck at.

When you doubt yourself that intensely, the feeling doesn’t just stay boxed into one category of your life, it implements itself into every single one of them. Before you know it, everything you do is wrong. You can be washing a dish and BOOM; ‘you’re not doing that right, you’re a f**king idiot’. Every aspect of your day-to-day existence is put under scrutiny, from what you’re wearing to how you’re talking to what you’re eating. It’s like spending your entire day walking backwards and forwards through a full body scanner, constantly detecting faults and flaws in the way you’re living life. You start to feel embarrassed simply by your own presence in a room. It sucks.

Writing is particularly difficult for me because it’s what I’m most passionate about. I care, perhaps too much. Ironically, it should be the very thing I enjoy the most. And I kind of do. I love it, and it kills me at the same time. Right now, as I’m writing this, somewhere in my head someone’s wondering: ‘What the hell is she on about?’ But I’m ignoring it. Because it’s not worth listening to. I’ve finally realized that, I think. Sylvia Plath was right. Creatively, I could’ve achieved a lot more if I didn’t suffer from self-doubt. But she was also wrong, in ways.

There is a level of responsibility in every emotion we feel. I’m no longer indulging my self-doubt. I’m writing again, and it hurts but I don’t want to care anymore. I guess I’m learning a lesson from that 8-year-old girl who wrote every day, not even because she gave any thought to being good, but because she simply enjoyed it.

Finding that balance between self-belief and self-berating is extremely hard. Sometimes we put way too much emphasis on being ‘good’ or ‘successful’ at what we enjoy, to the point where we stop enjoying it altogether.

Screw that.

Someone once said, ‘feel the fear and do it anyway’. So I say, feel the self-doubt and do it anyway.