Stop Slandering The Single Life

Being single. It’s like the Gen-Y equivalent of the Millennium Bug; destructive, all-consuming - something to be avoided.
If we scroll through our Instagram feeds, we find pages dotted with posts that quietly slander the single life. We find parodies illustrating solo Netflix binges; empty sides of a bed and screenshots documenting how we get more notifications from Apple about our iCloud being full than we do actual messages.
We have made ourselves think being single is the sole reason for our unhappiness.
In a time where we are more independent, able and intelligent than ever, how is it that our strong stance has been swapped for “requires a partner to maintain happiness“?
I’m single“ is more often than not met with a melancholy “Don’t worry, I’m sure you’ll find someone soon“, like you’re admitting you have lost your dog and want some reassurance of its return.
When in reality, the statement is as regular and devoid of meaning as saying “I’m wearing jeans today“.
We’re on the edge of thinking companionship is our only key to happiness.
And like drones we desperately seek to unlock it.
We swipe left and right; flirt with empty pixels and post deliberately provoking material to grab someone’s eyes, and tempt them into a slowly dying conversation. A conversation hot with lust that will cool in ten minutes, catching hold of feelings that will dissolve as soon as the sun rises.
If life is a quick-fire game of snap, we keep matching with the wrong pairs, and make ourselves think that we’re running out of time.
Is a single life really the reason for so many millennial upsets?
If we view life with lonely eyes and walk streets without a hand to hold, we realise how easy it is to think that, by having a partner, it will grant us everything we need - the happiness we’re so desperately seeking.
When we were young, we weren’t afraid of being independent.
We threw our love out like confetti, sprinkling rooms with passion and life. Our hearts were on our sleeves - the same sleeves that helped us when we fell into puddles, or helped us back up when tripped over our feet. The sleeves that were rolled up in summer and pulled down in autumn - the same sleeves that dried our eyes when something became too much to handle.
Being single isn’t the reason for our sadness.
We need to regain that child-like euphoria and carefree hysteria we lost so many years ago, way before we became obsessed with projecting the idea that we had it all figured out.
We don’t need to be a picture-perfect version of ourselves to be happy - we just need to let go and embrace whatever stage of life we are at, single or not single, Apple notifications and all.
The Millennium Bug didn’t change anything, just like being single doesn’t change anything. Don’t let your marital status dictate your life, and stop allowing yourself to unlock happiness only when you’re one half of a plus one.
Lucy Farrington-Smith, originally written for HuffPost Women UK
Image Credit Matheus Ferrero @ Unsplash

How To Start Again

In eleven days I will be twenty-four.
In four and three-quarter hours, it will be midnight, the sun falling from view in a dozy thirty. Five minutes and fifty-two seconds are left ticking by before my playlist switches track. There’s one cup of cold coffee on my bedside table.
Today was the first.
It’s been forty-one days of being inside, looking out. A spectator; not a participant. Somewhere in my twenty-three years and three hundred and fifty-four days, I lost my admission pass, dropped my ticket stub- I twisted up the receipt until it was just a balled mass of black on white.
Somewhere in those years, I gently, and all-at-once, let go of my mind.
And it’s strange. It’s strange how we are the puppeteers of our own thoughts, able to pull cords and tie knots in our own supplies of blood and air. How we have the ability to do everything and nothing, to live and breathe; to give up, and let go.
It’s strange how your own mind can play tricks on you. How it can become a separate entity, detached, and able to make you believe in the unnatural, the irrational; the inescapable.
And it’s terrifying when you begin to realise how your mind can push you. To dread sleep for fear of not waking; yet dread being awake because every second is like the last, plagued with irrational fears conjured by your own Machiavellian creation.
Where food is poison. Sleep is impossible. Minutes seem infinite. Shaking is constant. You don’t want to cry, and yet, at the same time, all you want to do is cry. Your eyes are open, but the nightmare doesn’t stop.
But today was the first.
Forty-one days. Behind layers of glass and brick, letting my eyes live the life I want. Watching the raspy pull of branches billowing above the footsteps of neighbours. Trapped behind a window with envy for their life, their purpose; their simple ability to leave their home.
But today was different. Today, the windows didn’t magnify the world. The glass didn’t encase me like a snowglobe’s orb, rooting my body thickly in place in plastic and ceramic and dull glitter. This time I wasn’t a motionless figure watching the outside dance in endless pirouettes, sixes and eights of tulle passing me by like the mist of affection in the arrivals lounge of an airport.
It’s been forty-one days of the ordinary seeming impossible. Of rooms feeling smaller. Tastes being clumsy and mismatched. Days where love feels claustrophobic. Support feels like failure. Where life feels like a trap.
Forty-one days where someone else’s mundane was my Everest.
I experience anxiety. I don’t suffer from it - it’s dripped into my chromosomes, melted into my blood and built up in the pigment of my eyes. I accept it as part of me.
Today was the first time in forty-one days I felt able to leave home on my own again.
And it was strange. Like stepping onto ice, and learning how to swipe your feet. My shoes felt odd. My arms didn’t know how to swing. I didn’t know where to look, and the sun seemed brighter than it should. But I was outside, and I was alone. Surviving. Breathing. Overcoming fear.
In eleven days I will be twenty-four.
And I’m still learning. How to live inside the body I have grown; how to shake someone’s hand firmly enough, how not to cry in public and how to turn around on a busy pavement when you know you’re walking the wrong way. I’m learning how to live with the thoughts that manifest in my head when something gets too much.
And if I have to accept that the next eleven, twenty, or fifty days are spent learning how to cope and start again, I will. Our feelings are fluid; our experiences eternal. Memories can be lost, but the muscle remains. I’m training myself to live in a world that is evolving faster than we can see.
Anxiety makes you believe the unbelievable. The impossible. The bang-your-head-against-the-wall stupid. But to you, it can seem as real as anything, as routine as a heartbeat. And if today I experienced my first steps again for a second time, I’ll learn how to start again.
I’m not ready to give up before my new chapter has even had a chance to begin.
Lucy Farrington-Smith, originally written for HuffPost Young Voices UK,Image credit Blake Lisk @ Unsplash

A Letter To My Twelve-Year-Old Self

As a child, I used to cut my own hair.
If you look at the photographs taken on my very first flip-phone, amongst the chunks of too-big pixels you’ll see that, together with my too-short fringe, I embraced all the great 00’s beauty trends.
Chalky, sky-blue eyeshadow, concealer-smothered lips, and a thin sprinkling of eyebrows like little bird’s feet hopping above my eyes. I had glittery butterfly clips in my hair; pink, green, and orange; the kind you couldn’t lie down on because their wings would always snap and break. At bedtime, I would take off my makeup with cucumber cleanser pressed onto a wad of cotton-wool. It smelt like a medicine cupboard, but made me feel like I was a real grown-up adult doing real grown-up adult things.
If you look at the photographs, you would think I looked like a normal girl. I did the things all the other girls did. I went to school like them. I took exams like them. I wore the same hideous sky-blue eyeshadow. I was normal for a while, I think.
I don’t know why it changed.
When I was a little girl of 12, with a Polly Pocket tucked neatly beneath my neckline, I started to meet people with jobs I couldn’t spell.
My blue eyeshadow wore off, my pale lips were nibbled pink, and I couldn’t grow out of my old clothes. I bit my fingers until they bled, and stopped wearing light colours so that the stains wouldn’t show through. My eyes stopped wrinkling with laughter and started to fill with warm tears.
I stopped using my cucumber cleanser.
Instead of playing with my friends and making up games; I met with psychiatrists and was told exactly how to think. I didn’t go to birthday parties and blow out candles; I met with dietitians in my bedroom and was told if I didn’t eat I would be admitted to hospital. Instead of sucking sticky lollipops and blowing bubbles in wads of chewed-up gum; I had little pills popped under my tongue and viscous liquids prickled through my veins.
I didn’t play kiss-chase; I swapped saliva with cotton swabs instead.
At least, that’s what I’ve been told.
Over the years, I have tried to blank out my childhood. Instead of memories, I have a pile of doctor’s notes to fill in the empty years. I didn’t scribble them into a top-secret Groovy Chick diary with scented gel pens at 9pm under the covers by the dim glow of a torch. Instead, my childhood is dictated back to me by someone I don’t know. Someone I don’t remember anything about; her face, her hair, her age - I don’t even know her name.
But the notes do. It was Kate.
And Kate knew me, “Her height was 156 cm,” but I don’t remember her ever looking at me “it’s clear that Lucy has not yet started her periods.” I don’t remember her face, “Lucy was unable to describe her difficulties articulately as she was tearful at the beginning of the session, and hid her face throughout,“ so it’s not surprising that I can’t even place the room, the colours, even the town I was in. I remember struggling to swallow, “Lucy denied feeling concerned regarding her weight,“ and I remember the thick milkshakes they sent me home with that felt like sand in my mouth “Lucy was 4st 6lb at the beginning of summer.
Even though I can see the words on the pages, and my name repeated thirty-four times, it still feels like someone else’s story.
Sometimes I wish it was someone else’s story.
Kate wasn’t a friend; she was a stranger. She was employed to find the holes in my head and fill them up with therapy. She was brought in to mend me, like I was a torn pair of jeans that needed a new patch and some stitching. She was my Clinical Psychologist.
And I don’t remember much, but I know that at the time I absolutely hated her.
I hated her for exposing me. I didn’t want to tell her anything. I thought that by talking about my fears, by her writing them down on her glossy notepad and drawing them into her flamboyant diagrams on A3 paper that every single one would come true. She didn’t understand what was happening inside my mind, she couldn’t. No-one did. It was mine and I wanted to keep it that way, even though I think I knew deep down that each thought was quietly killing me from the inside-out.
I know that the 12-year-old Lucy thought her obsessive thoughts controlled what happened in the world. That if she didn’t check something, something bad would happen. If she didn’t touch something in a particular way, something bad would happen. That she couldn’t let anyone else know what she was thinking, because something bad would happen.
I didn’t realise it at the time. But by doing everything I thought protected me, something bad was already happening. Except it wasn’t to the world. It was to me.
I was literally destroying myself.
A lot has happened between then and now.
I’m no longer the little girl with the blue eyeshadow and the bitten fingers, with fears in my mind that make me sick the moment an idea floods my mind. I have some parts of my life under control, some parts that I’m still working on. I still have panic attacks. They are something I can’t fix, medication can’t fix, and doctors can’t stop. I have accepted them as a part of me. I don’t care what anyone else thinks about them. I’m not embarrassed for myself anymore.
I still cut my hair myself. I still wear blue eyeshadow, but have learnt that concealer doesn’t belong on my lips. I threw away the cucumber cleanser that smelt like medicine. I don’t hide anymore. I let people know how I feel, what’s going on inside, and I’m not afraid to talk about the irrational fears I still get from time to time.
I know that nothing bad will happen if I talk.
I will never be free from fear or worry, but I can stop my thoughts controlling me. I respect Kate for what she did, for what she maybe still does. She broke me, but helped to rebuild me too. I spoke to her about my obsessive thoughts for the first time, and without that, I don’t think I would have made it this far.
We are all still learning, still growing, still adjusting to the world we live in. Our thoughts will ebb and flow, they will panic us and make us scared, but we can talk about them and rationalise every single one. Nothing is worth losing years of your life to. I wish I could tell the 12-year-old me that what I was worrying about was absolutely superfluous. I wish I could tell myself that I wasn’t crazy. I wish I could have told myself that you will get better, you will always get better.
Most of all, I wish I could live those childhood years again without fear.
I know thoughts can seem as real as anything, as natural as a heartbeat. But they aren’t. We can’t let obsessive thoughts win. We can’t let them take months, days, even minutes of our lives away. Time is precious. Too precious to spend it worrying about things that aren’t real.
Talk. Stop being afraid. Nothing bad will happen if you just ask for help. Someone will always be ready to listen as soon as you are ready to speak.
We have nothing to be afraid of.
Lucy Farrington-Smith, originally written for HuffPost Young Voices UK and adapted for The Mighty
Image credit Timothy Paul Smith @ Unplash

We Need To Talk About Consent

"Do you have a boyfriend?"
"No, I-"
"-then what’s the problem?"
Four lines of dialogue, barely more than twenty syllables. Small; insignificant. Tiny letters spat out of mouths and jumping off tongue-tips, free-falling and erased in a few seconds.
It doesn’t matter if they’re fiction, or if I’ve already seen the phrases scattered in a biography. It doesn’t matter if I’ve heard the words called out under the gentle heat of stage lights, or listened as they were mumbled by voices sticky with tequila on the edges of a nightclub.
It doesn’t matter if they’re real or not. If they were overheard or first-hand; lies or verbatim; my imagination or someone else’s memory.
It doesn’t matter if they’re my memory.
Because the moment "Stop-" was uttered, everything should have.
The cars should have halted, the lights are red and it’s illegal now, the race should have ended, I’m out of breath and I can’t keep on running, the lights should have turned back on, it’s dark and I’m scared and I can’t see anything.
Everything should have stopped.
"Do you have a boyfriend?"
The reason. It wasn’t enough to just refuse, that wasn’t fair. It wasn’t fair to reject you with your body and your mouth and your hands, the other girls don’t reject me, it wasn’t fair, you’re making a mistake, it wasn’t fair, go on, it’ll be OK.
"No, I-"
-don’t have a boyfriend, I am single, I am free. I wanted to roll back to the minutes when we first locked eyes and you approached me. I wanted to find the words to say no, I’m fine thank you when you bought me my first drink. I wanted to go back and remember myself in the moment when I forgot who I was and let you hold my body in your hands for a moment because it made me feel wanted.
"-then what’s the problem?"
Single, free, intoxicated. Green lights, green lights, green lights.
"-I said no."
Life is a series of choices. The moment our eyes open we are choosing things; how many times to snooze the alarm; whether or not to skip breakfast; if we really need to check Instagram instead of showering; whether we say yes or no.
Sometimes, our choices are ignored. Like asking for a single-shot and getting a double; like asking for just an inch at the hairdressers and losing three; like asking someone to stop kissing your mouth and for it to continue.
"-then what’s the problem?"
There doesn’t need to be a problem. You don’t need an excuse. You don’t need a 30-mark essay to support your answer.
You are free to just say no.
Our experiences don’t define us, and we are not labelled by the words other people use. We are just people. People who can change their mind; who can walk into a shop and forget what they’re looking for; who can drive down the road and want to turn back; who can kiss someone once and never again.
Consent is as simple as saying yes or no.
It doesn’t matter if you are single, because that doesn’t mean yes. It doesn’t matter if you accept a drink, because that doesn’t mean yes. It doesn’t matter if you smile at someone, because that doesn’t mean yes.
What matters is your choice. Your voice. Your consent.
Your yes or no.
Lucy Farrington-Smith, originally written for HuffPost Women UK
Image credit Matheus Ferrero @ Unsplash

The Breakdown of Gen-Y

Look outside. It’s probably grey.
If you’re inside your bunched-up terrace on a busy road; or huddled with strangers with their steaming coffee in a station waiting room; or sat on a worn-in chair well past its sell-by-date in your office block, there’s a high probability it’s going to be grey outside.
Unless you’re reading this from California. In which case; why?
Grey probably isn’t your aesthetic, unless you’re a Gen-Y twenty-something who hangs out in coffee shops gilded with marble and avocado. And even then, an overcast and begrudgingly British backdrop is not synonymous with your Instagram theme.

Hike up the contrast; toothbrush the dark areas; make it bright, brighter, brighter still until you have to turn down the brightness on your phone display because it hurts your eyes to look at. You’ve got to blind your followers with your ultra-luxe life. Make them swoon. Make them envy you. A whole 623 people are counting on you to do this. Don’t stop now.
Put on some pseudo-fancy-street-style clothes for a half hour shoot and pretend you’ll stay like that the whole day. Stop outside someone’s house on a high-end street. The kind that would tower over your infant terrace. Swish your hair and pose; hold everything in; everything up; turn your thighs in, or out, depending; take the most un-candid-candid.
Snap, snap, snap.
Someone probably worked hard to get this house, to call this their home, but hey, we’re entitled to keep our followers happy. And the owners are probably not in. Let’s whore out their doorstep for our own gain. We’re entitled to keep up the pretence, and we’re two-weeks deep into this new theme. Can’t stop now.
You probably haven’t done this. I’ve not. Yet.
I’m knee-deep in the vapid generation but my head is still above water. It’s pushing at my waist, licking up my sides, bobbing beneath my chest. I’m still swimming against it.
But I’m getting tired.
I had a panic attack last Friday. And you know what upset me the most? That my makeup was ruined; my perfectly-separated mascara was now tousled down my cheeks, my lipstick muddy and thick with saliva. But I didn’t want to miss out on a day’s worth of likes because of this, because my body went wrong. I scrolled through my media, found an unused photo, probably a 6/10 on a good day, but today was not a good day. Today it was pedalling near an 8/10. Anything with blurry eyes looks better. It’s like the Fade filter on Instagram. It’s the stuff of dreams.
I uploaded the photo. Wrote a witty caption. I’m good at that; I’m good at pretending. I’m an actor and a writer, it’s what my whole life is good for. That and a handful of accents.
And instead of stepping back and looking at myself, consoling, caring for something deeper than the surface and understanding why my body snapped and climaxed into panic, I mollified it. Artificially. With my followers. Comments flooded in, probably the same rate as my actual tear fall ten minutes ago. They said I was beautiful. Gorgeous. Stunning. Every word dried the tears up a little more. I kept reading, watching the like count grow. 20, 50, 75 - a symphony of double-taps on a filtered face and a constructed reality.
Who is really winning here?
The followers? The people who are seeing a pretty picture of a 6/10 girl, commenting, and pressing like. Do they get a rush from complementing? Or is it just a dull thud in their head as someone appears more put together than they are?
I scrolled down my feed.
Pictures of girls, gorgeous girls, perfect girls - with brand new clothes, makeup, handbags - everything. Outside the pretty houses, against bright-white walls, teeth straight, eyeliner straight, eyes straight down the lens and looking at me. Looking at me and my messy face; my swollen eyes; my jawbone where I collected heavy, gloopy puddles of mascara.
I know they can’t see me. They don’t know when I’m looking at them, or what I am feeling. They don’t comfort me. They push me to be prettier, to manufacture myself until I’m that 8/10, filtered more than my coffee, empty of me and any quirks that my parents find endearing. Quirks don’t fit in. Perfection fits in. It’s the only way.
It’s absolutely mad.
Gen-Y started to get vapid a while ago; now it’s absolutely nauseating. My timeline is full of girls turning on each other and making swipes - childhood friends stabbing each other in the back - and for what? To get the upper-hand, or to appear more established?
I don’t get it.
I disturbed myself when I broke down and didn’t take care of myself. If my car broke down, I’d call for help. I wouldn’t stand by and call my insurer to tell them how wonderful and shiny and perfect my car is, just to keep up appearances.
I needed help; but instead I just hid myself away behind a lie. And it’s wrong. It’s so, so wrong.
I don’t know what we need to do to stop it. To stop filtering our faces, our lives, our minds; because who are we doing it for? When you’re in bed at night, crying into an already-stained pillow, who is there to comfort you? It’s not your faceless Instagram followers. They don’t want to see that - that’s not what they followed you for.
Social media is an escape. And that’s fine. But we need to understand where the line is, and where reality becomes fiction. I scared myself the other day. I felt like a fraud - I’m a mental health ambassador and I’m always telling others to support each other and to be open about how they feel - and there I was, doing the exact opposite.
There is a time and a place for an amped-up life, where everything is a little prettier than it perhaps is face-to-face. And that’s fine. But when you’re broken, and you need help and support, lying to strangers on social media isn’t doing anyone any good.
I’m vowing to stay real; and I hope you will too.
Lucy Farrington-Smith, written for HuffPost UK
Image credit: Matthew Kane @ Unplash
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