The state of dry drinking in the UK

As I rapidly approach my 5th month sober I can’t help but reflect on the state of dry (sober) drinking in the UK.

I have a bit of a reputation amongst friends & it goes a little something like this… if I happened to find myself in a cocktail bar with a reasonable selection of cocktails, choice anxiety often meant the only logical conclusion was to purchase one of everything on the menu. I have dropped over £200 in a single transaction to save myself from having to pick a drink.

Luckily (for my friends and my liver) I like to share.

Photo by Helena Yankovska

My sobriety hasn’t ended my social life, far from it. I still visit pubs and clubs and bars. However, I can no longer drop £200 on drinks, though not for lack of trying!

My biggest problem these days isn’t too much choice but the total opposite: for the sober drinker, the choice isn’t “which of these expensive cocktails” but “pepsi or lemonade” and let me tell you, there’s only so many pints of lemonade you can drink on a night out before your stomach feels like it’s going to explode. Even worse, the introduction of the sugar tax means that now many bars are subbing full sugar soft drinks for the diet equivalent rather than put up their prices, and I think diet drinks taste like piss.

I thought that this problem was caused by living in a small rural town, but the bars in the neighbouring town of Shrewsbury have an equally shit sober selection. Further, a recent trek to London (which I anticipated as having a much greater selection) for a friend’s birthday left me just as disappointed. For the first time in my life the only bars I can rely on are Wetherspoons, who at least stock alcohol free Koppaberg, but as I’m anti-Brexit and their founder isn’t, it honestly pains me to support them.

The lack of selection for sober socialites is disappointing, especially as websites like Dry Drinker have a huge range of dry beers, wines and spirits. I don’t expect bars to stock every single thing offered there, but I don’t think it’s a big ask for them to have e.g. one alcohol free cider, one alcohol free beer and — at a push — an alcohol free spirit. Even better, a handful of mocktails (that aren’t just fruit juice) would make me as happy as a pig in shit.

There’s a ton of reasons for people to be sober (it’s not just for semi-crazy hormonal sorts like me) & I’m calling on UK bars and businesses to think of us as we approach the summer. Don’t make me drink lemonade all year, please.

My PMDD is Under Control

For the uninitiated and new readers amongst you, PMDD is an extreme version of PMS/PMT. It can cause cyclical feelings of anxiety, depression, anger and even suicidal thoughts, as well as the physical symptoms typically associated with the menstrual cycle.

It’s been over a year since I last talked about my PMDD. When I lost wrote, I confessed that I felt like I’d become consumed by this disorder – the one thing I’d hoped to avoid above all else. However, after a rocky year or so of trials and tribulations, I finally feel like I have my PMDD under control (for the most part). Since that blog post, I have tried:

Tracking and Not Tracking Cycles

I became worried that my compulsive tracking — counting ahead based on a typical cycle and shading in the calendar when I expected to be sad or angry — was putting me on edge. I worried that I was expecting to be angry, or sad, or paranoid on X day and thus causing a self-fulfilling prophecy. I stopped tracking altogether but then ended up waking up with anxiety, or full of rage, and being unable to figure out why which just made me feel crazy (until I remembered).

I seem to have found a happy medium whereby I track my cycle start time each month and extreme symptoms in an app, but don’t cross-reference or look ahead to see where I expect to be in my cycle. This gives me a point of reference but no doom-mongering.

Consistent, Varied Exercise

I’m usually active in one way or another but I have found that I have my best months when I am both consistent in my workouts and do more than one activity, e.g. lifting and running in the same month. Months where I’ve run the furthest I find my cycle the most bearable, but then I have always found my mental health directly correlates to the amount of cardio based exercise I do.

During February and early April when I was not able to do as much as I would like (half term and Easter holidays respectively) it didn’t take long for the activity gap to hit me.

Vitamin Supplementation

I read a guest post by Beckie Takacs via the Gia Allemand Foundation (PMDD charity) in October 2017 about the supposed benefits of potassium supplementation in the treatment of PMDD. The piece struck a cord, and given my history of hyperemesis during pregnancies and probably execessive alcohol use, it wasn’t that unlikely that I had a low-level potassium deficiency. However, I got in touch with the author of the post and although mostly common sense stuff, the detailed protocol she sent me made reference to the “potential health hazards of wireless devices and smart meters” which immediately put me off; I’ve no interest in tinfoil hat science.

Nevertheless, my sister started a lower dose potassium supplement schedule and mentioned some relief of some of her pre-menstrual symptoms, so I started taking 300mg (half Takacs’ recommended dose) on an every-other-day basis, as well as magnesium, which also reportedly improves PMS. (Magnesium is also recommended for runners and those taking part in regular exercise.) My temper and anxiety/paranoia symptoms have improved since starting supplementation.

Sobriety

Last, but definitely not least: I gave up alcohol again.

After my brother’s suicide last year put me in a downwards spiral with my drinking, despite my best efforts to “be chill about it“, it wasn’t long before the casual on-off drinking became multiple triple vodka shots on a Friday night “just because”. I hit rock bottom again in mid-December and crushed by the weight of my own mental health I knew I had two choices: give in to the paranoia and anxiety and voices that told me I was shit and stupid and useless and fat and unloveable and just throw myself off a building, OR stop being a whiny dick and make the sensible decision to stop drinking.

Obviously choice A was no choice at all, so giving up it was. Just like the first time I stopped, this had an almost immediate affect on my anxiety-related symptoms.

And so here I am. I am not miraculously cured of all ills, & I can’t be sure that this isn’t all some massive coincidence, but each subsequent step against this debilitating disorder has given me back a piece of myself and some semblance of control. That’s better than nothing.

Lead photo by Hoàng Duy Lê

Going Nuud

I happened to casually mention to my brother via facebook messenger recently that I get quite sweaty. (There is context, something about exercise, I didn’t just randomly tell him I’m sweaty as that would be weird.) Some short time afterwards I saw an ad’ for Nuud deodorant on facebook itself. Ignoring the slightly creepy-stalker aspect of this — let’s pretend it was a total coincidence — my curiosity was piqued.

Nuud is marketed as a “carefree” deodorant: harmless, sustainable and revolutionary. I didn’t care for the marketing BS, but I was genuinely interested in the claim that this little deodorant was both effective for several days and actively prevented odour. Any sweaty bird will tell you that despite the supposed long-lasting effects of all commercial deodorants, they generally coat you in a sticky gunk which mask smells for a few hours, but move so much as an inch and you’re on your own. I shower daily but am usually a hot mess fairly early on.

Now that I’ve filled you all with the mental image of me dripping with my own filth…

I ordered a tube of Nuud at a cost of over £11, which is quite possibly the most expensive deodorant I’ve ever bought by more than double, and it arrived a few days later. It was a hell of a lot smaller than I expected, but more about that in a sec. I didn’t hesitate to test it to the max straight away, with a double session of taekwon-do first up and then Ironbridge Half Marathon the following day.

Nuud is not like any other deodorant I’ve tried. It’s a silver-beige coloured paste that you squeeeeeeeze out a tiny pea-sized amount of and then apply directly to the armpits. It spreads easily and is not sticky or difficult to apply. However, with it being such a tiny tube, not only have I been incredibly precious about the amount I’m applying but on the one occasion I accidentally squeezed too hard I was distraught that I’d wasted a couple of days worth in one go. It’s not normal, and probably not healthy, to be upset over deodorant.

Nonetheless, application mishaps aside, I have been genuinely surprised at the effectiveness of the deodorant. Taekwon-do, a half marathon, various gym sessions and general day to day life have put it through its paces and it has significantly decreased odour, to the point where even after 13.1 miles on a clear warm day Gaz mentioned a “barely perceptible smell”. Sexy.

In addition to the rigorous exercise test, it didn’t seem to matter whether I had shaved or not, with the first week of my self-imposed two week trial sporting a full armpit… bush? (Is there an equivalent slang term for armpit hair? Anyway…) This is a massive improvement on the vast majority of roll on and sticks that I’ve tried previously which just seem to coat the hair and do sod all for the actual armpit. As someone with a very relaxed attitude to society’s idea of what’s “attractive” when it comes to the removal of body hair, this is a problem more often than not.

I’m not surprised, however, that it definitely isn’t effective for more than one day (despite the marketing claims to the contrary). There is absolutely no way I’d get 3-7 days out of it as advertised even if I spent those days in bed (sleeping, you perv). If I worked out my usual amount over the course of 7 days on one application of deodorant I’d be a walking bug repellent by the end of the week. I prefer a thorough wash each morning and re-application, but the cost implication of this with >£11 deodorant is clearly huge.

tl;dr nuud works. It’s effective against odour by tackling the bacteria rather than just coating your skin in goop. It’s not left any marks on any of my clothes and I feel better fresher for wearing it. However, it’s fucking expensive for what you get and I’m not sure I can financially justify it with the amount I go through.

Back to being a sweaty bird I guess.

Nuud product shot taken from their website.

I do freelancing wrong (and I’m still successful)

Search for how to be a successful freelancer in your favourite search engine, and there’s no end to the list of tips and tricks people have. Some of them are useful and actionable, but most are generic; regurgitated from someone else’s “how to be a great freelancer” list. Always willing to buck the trend, I thought I’d tell you all of the things I don’t do as a freelancer (and still consider myself successful):

I never wrote a business plan

Business plans are supposed to be a roadmap for your ideas. Used properly they can help you lay out all the variables to help you build a business: examine the purpose of the business, research and analyse both your target market and the competition, assess the feasibility and future of your ideas and so on. I didn’t write one. Why?

  • I wasn’t looking for funding
  • I didn’t have a big idea that needed fleshing out, I just knew I wanted to code
  • My target market was “anyone who wanted a website”, which seemed too broad to detail
  • I wasn’t worried about the competition – web developers have been in high demand for as long as I can remember

Nearly 6 years on I’m finally getting to the point where I’m considering writing a plan for the future, but when I first started it was far more important to me to spend what little time I had a) working and b) getting the word out that I was available.

Professional business person working on their business plan. Maybe. Definitely not me. (Photo by Olu Eletu)

I quit my day job before testing the waters

A lot of people wiser than I am recommend launching your new business, or project, while at your existing job. My circumstances were complicated slightly by maternity leave, but I handed in my notice before I did anything else. Why?

  • I didn’t want the potential conflict of interest between my old job and my new freelance business
  • I knew that if everything went tits up, I had enough experience (and there was enough demand) that I wouldn’t have a problem getting a new job
  • I wanted to be able to dedicate 100% of my mental energy to my business (and a newborn baby!)

I did, however, have a small amount of savings which I could rely on for a few months if it took a while for work to pick up traction (and an incredibly frugal household budget).

I didn’t network (in person)

Well, OK, I did: I went to a few “mum business” networking meetings. However, I felt like they were a waste of my time. The other attendees were not likely to be able to afford my services (most being in the process of launching their own small businesses) or were unlikely to last long enough in business to need a website (harsh but true). I did, however, do these things:

  • I emailed a few old colleagues to let them know I was freelancing — this led to several early leads
  • I mentioned on social media that I was now freelancing — I won my first job via twitter

From there, word of mouth did the rest.

People networking. Or just having coffee? It’s basically the same thing. (Photo by Daria Shevtsova)

I didn’t sign up to freelancing sites

And, to be honest, I don’t know why people recommend them.

Freelancing sites like PeoplePerHour encourage what I consider to be a race to the bottom – that is, they encourage people to pitch lower and lower in the hope of winning a job. My time, my experience, my talent… it all has a value. By undermining that in an attempt to cut under other freelancers, I might as will stick a sign on my head saying “will work for scraps”.

Position yourself as able to service the end of the market that is going to pay your bills, and you will find work that pays your bills. Compromising on my rates has never turned out well for me.

I never created an “elevator pitch”

And to this day, if someone asks me what I do, my stock response is “I build websites”.

Turn the question around and listen: it’s far easier to win a client by listening to what their needs are than by talking about yourself. If you know what a potential customer needs, you can best figure out where you fit in to solve it. If they don’t have a problem that you can solve? Well, there’s no point pitching to them anyway.

This empty elevator / stairwell represents my lack of a decent pitch. It’s metaphorical, innit. (Photo by Andrew Welch)

I don’t blog (professionally)

After nearly 6 years in business my portfolio contains 9 blog posts and only one of those is what I would consider vaguely relevant or demonstrates that I know what I’m talking about. In my experience, clients are far more interested in demonstrations of actual working websites than whether or not I can write 600 words about something tech related. Unless you’re freelancing as a blog content creator, a blog isn’t the be all and end all.

And on that note… I also don’t maintain a professional social media presence. I tried, it was exhausting. I gave it up as a bad idea. In fact, I went one better and pushed my brand as laid back and all “me”: crazy cat lady, swears on the Internet and gives no shits. I’ve not lost a job for it yet. I think.

Despite all of these things I’m doing “wrong”, I still have the ability to turn down work that doesn’t fit or suit me. I have clients that I’ve been working with the entire duration of my freelance career. I very rarely have work droughts and when I do they don’t last long. This isn’t a brag: I’m not saying my way is the right way. On the contrary, I share my “failings” only to offer you encouragement that there is no right way to be a freelancer. It doesn’t have to be suits and plans and networking meetings.

The beauty of being a freelancer is that you can make it work for you, your way, and only you know how to do that.

Swap ‘n’ Change

After spending the past week or so having a regularly scheduled blog crisis, I spent most of last night hunched over my laptop (literally, my back is killing me this morning) poking and prodding at the keyboard, trying to come up with something new. I’ve felt for a while that my blog wasn’t accurately representing the content held within. OK, some of it is complete tosh and/or just personal ramblings, but there’s a lot of useful stuff spread over years and years of archives that is impossible to find.

It’s not visual, it’s not massively pretty or revolutionary in its design, but there are the following changes:

  • Lots of text — I’m playing to my strengths here. I’m never going to be one of these bloggers with tons of amazing photography. I can barely take a selfie that doesn’t make me look like my brain is leaking out of my ears.
  • No ads — now that I’m relatively financially stable again, I no longer need the ads to contribute to hosting costs etc. As nice as the extra few quid is, they made my blog load slowly & look messy. Some of my posts will still have e.g. affiliate links in, but that’s always been the case (and I usually remember to point them out)
  • Good content made prominent — I’ve made some of the stuff people are actually searching for easier to find with clear links from either the home page, or the main navigation.
  • Stripped out distractions — I’ve removed sidebars from single posts and pages to put the focus solely on content. This may bite me in the ass and reduce session length, and I may need to add e.g. related posts at the bottom of posts, but we’ll see.

It’s not done. (It’s never done.) There’s still stuff to do:

  • The search box needs re-adding
  • I need to do more testing of responsive versions
  • I need to add object-fit support for IE (or not, if I’m feeling mean ;) )

I also need to work on populating the new snippets section with e.g. useful bits that I use when developing websites, as well as more blog posts with KNOWLEDGE and WISDOM (or something). I have so much experience to share and I really feel like I should get back to my roots with tutorial writing & actually useful blog posts.

Anyway, let me know if you spot any bugs.

Jumping Head First

The older I get the faster time seems to fly by, but nothing could have prepared me for the whirlwind that has been the past 6-7 weeks.

I started 2018 with good intentions. With the gift of a year’s gym fees from Gaz for my birthday, and a vague plan to get up at 6am each morning to run a few miles, I was going to be fit and active. I’d set goals for work, my bank balance was starting to settle after some client chaos towards the end of the previous year, everything was swell.

Then, on the spur of the moment, we decided to go and view a house.

With my mortgage deal ending in March and the kids getting to the point where sharing a bedroom is impractical, a house move has been in our near future for a while. I’ve had my eye on the local property market for 18 months or so; I had my list of requirements and I was ready to house hunt. Not ready enough though, it would seem, because having decided to view a house — and realising it ticked a variety of boxes, including ones we didn’t know needed ticking — the chaos that ensued knocked me completely for six.

We jumped head first and made an offer on the New House and after a small amount of haggling, we were accepted with the New House being removed from the market on the condition that we put our house on the market and sold it within six weeks. A generous move by the seller, but still… six weeks to tidy, market and sell a house that was definitely not ready to be sold.

And so my 6am starts to go for a quick run suddenly became 6am starts to clean the house for a viewing. My gym time became “waiting around for the photographer” time. My already busy calendar quickly filled up with appointments, packing, prepping and tidying.

We finally had an offer on ours last Thursday: the eve of the 6 week deadline. We countered and received a follow up offer which we accepted on the Friday, bob on 6 weeks. Nothing like cutting it close to the bone. Now we just have to hope that the legal bits ‘n’ bobs progress smoothly and we can exchange and complete without a hiccup. I have every limb & digit crossed…

Lead photo by jens johnsson on Unsplash

7 Ways to Make Fitness Stick in 2018

1. Find a reason

A reason that isn’t just “being thin”. Not that there’s anything wrong with losing weight if you feel your health and wellbeing is negatively affected by your current weight, but a lot of people make the mistake of deciding they’ll lose some arbitary amount of weight and then find that when (if) they reach that magic number that it’s not actually all it’s cracked up to be. Being skinny isn’t a cure-all.

When I first started running and weightlifting, my reason was to be physically fit and strong when mentally I was anything but. Physical strength was my way of keeping my body alive. (Mental wellness was a surprisingly addictive side effect.) Finding a reason kept me going even on days where I struggled to get out of bed, and always gave me something to fall back on when I hit rock bottom.

Your reason doesn’t have to be quite this ‘deep’, but having that “something” will give you motivation & purpose.

2. Find a sport

A lot of people use running as the go-to sport of choice when they first start. Running is awesome – and good for you – but not everyone likes running. Forcing yourself to run even if you despise it won’t help you stick with it long term. There are literally thousands of sports and activities you can try: you don’t have to run unless you want to.

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Martial arts can be a great cardio workout, and post-grading selfies are not compulsory.

With that said, I would recommend sticking out whatever you choose for at least 3-4 weeks. If you’re currently leading a sedentary lifestyle, most things are going to suck in the beginning while your body adjusts and you find your pace. Don’t write something off after a few days because you’ve got a few aches or you’re not immediately running like Mo Farah.

3. Find a buddy

Find a friend who doesn’t care when you go “gym wanker” on them.

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That time my instabuddies made me go to the gym

Find someone who you can either work out with if you can, but mostly find someone who will keep you accountable. Someone who will check in on you to find out how your progress is going, and who will not tune out when you rant that you have a blister on your big toe or you’ve hit a plateau under the bar. The key is to find someone who makes you feel like you’re doing something worthwhile, so that when the initial novelty wears off and your willpower is wearing thin (because willpower alone won’t make this stick) you don’t just give up.

This doesn’t even have to be someone offline; every sport I’ve ever been involved with has a massive online community of passionate folk who will have your back when you need it. I personally track a lot of my workouts via dodgy selfies on instagram, and love the feedback I get from fellow gym-goers.

4. Find a goal

When you have your reasons for working out, for running, for dancing, for zumba, for whatever it is you decide to call “your” sport, then you can set yourself a goal.

Real, tangible goals give you something to work towards. It could be something as simple as run 5km without stopping, or as lofty as getting yourself marathon ready. Set a specific goal, and even break it down into milestones if you can, and you have something long term to aim for that not only stops you flailing about aimlessly achieving nothing, but also provides motivation and allows you to track actual measurable progress.

In addition to the benefits of actually setting the goal, meeting a goal gives you an excuse to treat yourself. For some people, meeting a goal is its own reward, but if you’re a little more materially minded you might want to consider putting your sights on something physical: new running trainers if you run a 10km, a new fitness tracker if you manage to do a half marathon, or even something completely random… whatever floats your particular boat.

5. Find inspiration

One of the ways I stay dedicated to a particular goal, particularly in months where I feel like my progress is stalling or I’m just not quite good enough (and that will happen), is to follow athletes who participate in similar sports on instagram. When I wanted to get past my 60kg squat plateau I watched videos of crossfitters and weightlifters squatting massive weights and breaking world records. I squatted 100kg this Christmas.

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“Off my tits on dopamine post-100kg squat high” selfie

You don’t have to be on instagram to get inspired. Most professional and semi-professional sports persons have facebook pages, twitter profiles etc. Find someone who’s doing it like you want to and follow them for that dose of “fitspo”.

(Word of warning: don’t get sucked into the rabbit hole that is “thinspiration“. It’s dangerous.)

6. Find a routine

When the novelty of a lifestyle change is wearing thin and it’s cold and wet outside and your well of motivation has run dry, there’s only one thing that’s going to make you get out of bed and hit the tarmac or drag your butt to the gym: by making your new sport a continuous part of your routine, or more simply, by making it a habit.

There’s tons of small snippets of advice on how to build good, strong habits online so I won’t repeat it all, but for me the basics are as follows:

  • Plan ahead to when your best time of day is, and fit your sport in then. For me this is directly after the school run on a Monday and Friday, before I even touch my laptop or look at what chores need doing.
  • Make it easy to do by prepping anything you need in advance. I always lay out my workout clothes the night before, and I always wear them on the school run so that I can head straight out.
  • Don’t make poor excuses to miss out early on. If it’s a bit cold out, put a coat on. If you’ve got a bit of a sniffle, take a tissue. If you’re tired, suck it up, you might end up with a much needed boost.
  • If you have to skip a session, never skip it twice. It’s just a downward spiral from there.

There’s lots of science behind habit building and I recommend having a bit of a google to find out more.

7. Find yourself

Cheesy? Probably. However, the times in my life I have been most consistent with my exercise and most dedicated to my current goal are the times I feel the best me that I can be.

Exercise has massive positive benefits on many aspects of your wellbeing and I’m my own living proof of that. Nothing feels as good to me as physical and mental wellness and that’s a privilege I do not take for granted, so I owe it to myself to keep going.

Reflecting on a Rollercoaster Year

I can’t really think of any other way of describing 2017?

Starting the year with a massive unexpected tax bill (sound familiar?) was an uphill battle – a chain lift, dragging the rollercoaster car to the top of steep hill – following by rocketing at speed towards lows like the loss of yet more pets and the suicide of another brother, struggles with excessive drinking and my mental health issues chipping away at my sanity. Each low interspersed with heart-pounding highs: achievements in the gym and with my fitness, including reaching green belt at Taekwon-do and smashing massive squat goals (90kg and 100kg over Christmas!); accepting my bisexuality and how this affects my identity; and completing some of my best work yet both for myself and for local design agencies.

I didn’t manage to learn Dutch, or run a marathon (not that I am surprised by the latter) and I didn’t manage to blog more, but I did survive. I survived and, despite some crazy lows, not only did I survive but I kicked arse: I worked hard and I played hard.

Gaz has gifted me a year at the gym for my upcoming birthday. I’m so excited at the prospect that I can continue to build and shape myself in 2018 without having to worry about scraping change for a gym session. It should give me the chance to firm up a proper lifting plan, to work in the deadlifts and bench press both of which I typically avoid, and to make and break some crazy goals.

On top of time under iron, 2018 has to be the year that I finish with enough money to sort my taxes in January 2019: to be able to pay my dues and have enough for the payments on account, which screw me over year after year. This is not only important to reduce my stress levels but because I want to move house soon: to have a bigger kitchen, for my babies to have their own space and to finally move on from certain parts of my past which are tied up in shit memories here.

Beyond that I think I need to just carry on being my awesome self. Shouldn’t be too hard, right?

Featured image photo by Priscilla Du Preez

The Best Laid Plans

Diet plans, that is. Last week, I decided to get a head start on the January fitness rush by getting a “customised” nutrition plan from a personal trainer through his website. I have done so much reading on fuelling my workouts and weight loss, weight gain, maintenance etc that it took several weeks of convincing myself to even justify the cost (not exactly breaking the bank at £35) but as with most things in life, I doubt my own ability to put my knowledge and ability into something workable. There’s also something reassuring about having the back-up of someone who does this as a living.

Nonetheless, my excitement was short-lived when I saw the plan. There’s nothing wrong with it, per se, but it’s clearly just a generic template with my macros worked out and inserted in the form of varying size portions of chicken and veg spread over SIX MEALS A DAY. I know that I need to fuel my workouts, but I also need to run a business, raise my children, take care of my ‘zoo’, fulfil my volunteer responsibilities, etc. I barely have time to sit down and eat 3 meals a day (and so generally don’t!) and so 6 meals is never going to work.

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Such chicken. So wow. Much gains.

Despite my cynicism, it’s still a breakdown of what I need in terms of protein/carbs/cals etc that I’ve never had the mental energy to work out myself, and so I’m determined to see it through for at least the first 4 weeks (Christmas Day indulgences aside). I’ve “cheated” and modified the plan based on the stats provided, doubling up a couple of the meals to bring me down to 4 meals a day, which is eminently more workable. I can’t find any science to justify eating 6 meals a day, aside from the possible issue of maxing out protein absorption, but as I’m eating more protein than I normally would I can’t imagine that negatively impacting my workouts, which is my main concern anyway.

On that note, Fitness Savvy got in touch with me this month to mention some supplement giveaways they’re running to celebrate their launch; there’s more information on their Facebook page (I’ve not been compensated for mentioning this, it’s just “of interest” to much of my audience…)

With my upcoming nutrition in the bag, the next step is to figure out how to take my fitness forward. I have a couple of races booked in 2018, but as I’ve demonstrated time and time again I absolutely suck at training for them, somehow winging 10ks and half marathons by the skin of my teeth. I’ve tentatively considered getting up half an hour earlier each morning to clock a steady 5k – my logic being that although short in distance, some running is better than no running – but I’m not a morning person by any stretch of the imagination and the prospect terrifies me.

On top of that, having cracked the bodyweight squat earlier this year (and beyond) I’d like to reintroduce deadlifts to my routine in 2018 and beast a bodyweight deadlift. I stopped doing them because I was worried about my form, but I have so many resources available to me to fix this, I just need to suck it up and ask for help. I’d also like to start benching, which is something I’m terrified off.

Lofty goals.

Personal Bests and Personal Worsts

I started this week on a fantastic high. After having cracked squatting my bodyweight earlier this year (roughly 72kg give or take) I had been struggling with improving my squats further. Marred by dodgy knees, skipped gym sessions thanks to a chaotic schedule and over-indulgence on food & drink, it’s my own fault. Still, this didn’t stop me on Monday when I smashed out squats at both 80kg and 85kg with a set of 2 for each. Strong strong legs.

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Not content on just PBing there, I went on to pull 50kg doing close-grip front lat pulldowns having been stuck at 45kg forEVER. To say I was buzzing after that was an understatement.

(I am currently using Myprotein Impact Whey Protein to support my workouts but I’m looking to potentially improve on this in the new year. If you supplement protein, I’d be interested to know what you take. Drop me a comment/email.)

This strength-related high was short lived as I got home to yet another round of work related emails (boo) and the ever present threat of the taxman knocking at my door.

Every single year I forget about HMRC’s payments on account, leaving me ill-prepared to meet their demands for large sums of cash at a time of year where things are tight as it is. My kids want Christmas presents and I’m sat watching the balance of my overdraft grow hoping my clients pull their fingers out before December 25th; this doesn’t leave me much leeway to pay the taxman money for a tax year that isn’t even over yet (don’t even get me started).

Why is balancing the ebbs and flows of freelance, and planning sufficiently ahead, such a personal weakness? It’s been over 5 years since I started working for myself and barring a break in the middle where I briefly returned to my old agency, I have had to put money away all this time. And I fail, time and time again.

2018 has to be the year where I nail this shit.

Making memories: the ‘C’ word

The ‘festive’ C word, that is. I’m not sure I can bring myself to say it yet. C… Chr… Christmas. Aargh!

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not anti-Christmas. I love this time of year. I love the darker nights, the frosty freshness of the morning air on the school run. I love seeing the people who clearly don’t have 6 cats putting up their Christmas trees up as soon as Halloween is done, and the scrooges who take to social media to lambast them for ruining the spirit (the irony of arguing over it which is far more spirit-crushing IMO apparently lost on them). I love the planning and the Christmas socials, especially the ones that end in someone getting terribly drunk and stripping off for Santa (usually me).

I love it, but I am not ready. I have bought one single present, which needs a very important “other part” which I can’t find enough detail on to purchase. I haven’t even thought about what the kids want this year, let alone what I can actually afford to buy them. My social calendar is packed with at least two events a week between now and New Year which is drastically reducing planning time, and I’m just not ready. However, despite this total lack of preparedness, this year feels different somehow…

I don’t know if it’s because it’ll be the first Christmas the kids are at home since Gaz and I got married, or because I’ve finally reached that stage of general comfort and ‘at ease’ with my life that has been lost for so long, but I decided early on that this year I was going to do a many of the things that I’ve always wanted to do as possible. When I feel like I’ve hit “peak Christmas” I want to immortalise the whole lot in pictures on canvas, to join our baby and wedding canvas prints, which eventually might become one of those trendy photo walls that you see all over pinterest. Truprint even have 8×8″ sizes available, which they reckon is great for showing off Instagram photos, which appeals to my lazy side & would fill in the big gaps on our wall:

So, I bought a real Christmas tree. It was actually a spur of the moment purchase on the way to Glasgow last weekend:

A post shared by Jem (@jemjabellargh) on

But I’ve always wanted a real Christmas tree and although this isn’t the grand 7ft beautifully decorated tree of my dreams, it will hopefully serve us well this Christmas and can then be put outside in its pot until next year. I feel like I’m being somewhat optimistic given the aforementioned six cats (and the fact that it’s already shedding needles in our probably-too-warm living room) but it’ll be fun to see what happens.

While that is settling I’ve been looking at sourcing terribly kitschy Christmas decorations that I remember from my childhood, including these beauties:

Partly just for the fun of nostalgia, and partly because I’ve invited friends around for 70s themed Christmas drinks and if I can decorate for both in one go it’ll be perfect: another lazy box ticked. I actually put some paper decorations up for Izzy’s birthday recently, which is turns out is also a big 70s thing, so I reckon if we can find some more they can even stay up too.

I want a big Christmas feast, which is unlikely to pose a problem as I always overcook anyway. My sister and her partner are coming round to help us eat through a week’s worth of food in one day, and I will (as usual) extend the offer of Christmas dinner to any locals on their own this year.

Oh, there are so many things I want to do. I want to start traditions this year; stuff that we can do every year because we want to, things that the kids will look back on in 10 years time and remember as being a part of Christmas. Things that they’ll want to do with their kids. I want to make memories, and I want the kids to feel a part of something. I want them to feel that even though our Christmas might not be 100% conventional — split between two homes, with multiple factions of family to share their time with — that it was always about love, and laughter. I want them to be able to look back at the pictures of these times and feel like it was the best days of their lives.

No pressure.

Just be chill about it

Gaz asked me one Saturday a few weeks back — as I ordered a vodka cocktail — whether or not I’d given up on the ‘not drinking’ thing. A fair question, given the ‘ordering a cocktail’ thing.

Sobriety was going really, really well. I had managed to get through several months without a drink, battling some immense cravings (which peak around ovulation, bizarrely) along the way. I ‘slipped’ on a couple of social occasions but was able to get back into it with ease. And then my brother died, and not only did I smash through a few bottles of red wine in a short space of time but it brought on a crisis. What am I fucking doing? Why can’t I just be “normal” and enjoy a drink with friends without getting utterly wasted? Why can’t I have a healthy relationship with this addictive drug (ha ha ha)? Am I going to end up like my brother?

It wasn’t pretty, and the more I thought about it the worse it got, and the worse the cravings got, and the more I felt useless and like a failure… a vicious circle of self-loathing ensued which, for someone used to self-medicating their problems with a glass or 5 of wine, potentially only had one way of ending. (Because only I could be so stressed about drinking that I need a drink to de-stress which causes me to stress about my drinking… & so on.)

So, I tried to be rational. I tried to think about what my “goals” were if I wasn’t going to be 100% sober:

  • Enjoy a drink on a special occasion, e.g. birthdays, celebrations etc, without it being “weird”.
  • Be able to order one drink and no more. Or, order a soft drink around people who were drinking without feeling left out.
  • Not put on the weight that I lost by giving up.
  • Not drink for the sake of drinking.
  • Most importantly, to not get into a cycle of drinking to ease problems, which worsens my anxiety and depression symptoms caused by PMDD, which causes me to drink more.

With these goals in mind, I have been able to concoct a vague plan, and ultimately relax about it. Relaxing calms the stressy voices which immediately reduces cravings. This, combined with the pressure of knowing what I have to lose if I regress (my sanity, my relative happiness with my body), and seeing the impact of sobriety on my mental health, means I have been able to better make ‘mindful’ decisions about where and when to drink. To just ‘be chill’ about it.

So far so I’ve successfully navigated a couple of birthdays, a weekend with friends, several games nights and other social occasions:

I have chosen to drink, and to not drink, in equal measure. I have interspersed water with wine. I have picked low alcohol ciders over double vodkas. (And I’ve got pretty drunk and felt like shit the next day, which served as an excellent reminder of what not to do.)

I am feeling OK with where I’m at right now. It might not last; I might lose my shit and drink far too much, or… I might go sober again. I don’t know. But it’ll do for now.