How to have adult braces

Almost exactly seven months ago, I wrote a post about my decision to get adult braces. In the months between then and now, my teeth, lips and jaw – my face in general – have endured a considerable amount of aggro: teeth shifting in my skull, wires cutting into my cheeks, lips drier than the Sahara no matter how much Vaseline I slapped on them – not to mention the inevitable skin capillary damage incurred from the routine face-reddening that followed the discovery of small forests of salad protruding from my mechanical smile.

Pain. Expense. Humiliation. But was it worth it? Yes. Absolutely, unequivocally, yes. I feel more confident about my smile, it’s much easier to clean my teeth, my recurring jaw pain has lessened as my bite has straightened out, and as a lovely bonus, I feel a kind of pride about the whole thing – not in my appearance necessarily, but the fact that I worked hard and endured a lot of discomfort and rigmarole to change something I didn’t like. Empowerment, if you will. (Of course, there were numerous days when I would find it all so tedious and difficult that I felt like taking pliers to my gob and just ending it there and then.)

I’ve had lots of questions about the process, and about my own experience of having adult braces, so sit back and enjoy as I harp on knowledgably…

My teeth at the start, getting mad-cosy with each other up in there

My teeth at the start, getting mad-cosy with each other up in there

Choosing a dentist

I cannot stress enough how important it is to do your research, here. There are hundreds of cosmetic dentistry practices out there offering ‘straighter smiles’, and while the actual technology is largely the same across the board, what really makes the difference is the level of time, care and trust you receive. You’re essentially putting your physical wellbeing in the hands of somebody else, and choosing a dentist based purely on price or proximity means you could be setting yourself up for a very miserable few months – or longer. Pay attention to online reviews and go to free consultations to make sure you’re comfortable with the place you choose. I went for a consultation at a clinic in Harley Street – thinking that its prestigious location would guarantee quality – and left vowing never to return after the staff spent little time talking about my needs and a lot of time talking about payment plans. In the end I chose UltraSmile, and I’m so glad I did, even if their Limehouse location was a total ballache for me in Tooting.

And they're on

And they’re on

What type of braces?

‘Dental alignment technology’ (ha) has come a long way since I first had metal train tracks as a teenager (which are actually still available). Nowadays, it’s usually a toss-up between Invisalign and Six Month Smiles (although as I discovered you can get totally bitching gold – yes, GOLD – braces fitted behind your teeth for like, a million pounds or something). I’m not qualified to really comment on Invisalign, although I am currently using it for retainer purposes (more on that, later), as I opted for Six Month Smiles (SMS). SMS is essentially a train track technology, but the brackets and wire are tooth-coloured, so it’s not so obvious (unless you drink orange juice or eat a curry. More on that later, too). I chose this one because it promised quicker results and less faff than Invisalign.

How much does it cost?

Costs will vary depending on the type of braces you choose, your clinic and whether they’re offering any deals (almost all of them are at some point). My complete treatment cost £2,795 including retainers (these are vital, and a lot of clinics will try to charge you extra for them). Ultrasmile gave me the option to pay half up front, and the rest in interest-free monthly instalments over four, six or ten months. It wasn’t the cheapest deal I’d seen, but I was happy with the clinic and the staff – it certainly wasn’t the most expensive, either.

What happens first?

Before I had the braces fitted I had to have a thorough check-up, an appointment with the hygienist and a set of x-rays done. This was to make sure my teeth were in good nick before I imprisoned them in plastic for six months (getting a filling or having a scale and polish with braces is basically impossible). Once I had the all-clear the dentist took an impression of my teeth, which involved having my mouth packed with gummy plaster and sitting quietly for 15 minutes waiting for it to dry, all the while dribbling and gagging like a moron.

The braces were fitted at my next appointment. I won’t go into a huge amount of detail here because the process is pretty stressful and I don’t want to put anyone off. Because my main problem is overcrowding the dentist had to file in between my teeth first (sounds worse than it is), before gently scraping the front of each tooth a little to create a bit of ‘grip’ for the brackets, which were then cemented on using some high-tech jiggery-pokery. A wire was then placed in the grooves in the brackets, and secured with little clear plastic bands. The wires were then trimmed down at the ends, so as ‘not to cause discomfort’ (that’s the theory) and I was on my way.

One month in

One month in

Does having braces hurt?

Yes. Yes, it bloody does. The first few days after having them put on were horrendous and I honestly rued the day I’d ever even considered the treatment. But of course it’s going to be painful. Your teeth – otherwise happy and content in their position in your skull – are being pushed, pulled and dragged around your jaw bone, and the soft skin of your lips and inside of your mouth suddenly has to contend with jagged bits of plastic and metal jabbing into it. The first few days are nothing short of miserable.

Here are some things you can’t do (particularly well) with freshly applied braces:

  • Eat anything that isn’t pureed into mush
  • Smile
  • Talk properly
  • Wash and dry your face
  • Lie on your face
  • Wear lipstick
  • Chew absentmindedly on a pen
  • Use your teeth to separate a kirby grip (something you can’t do for the duration unfortunately – trust me, I tried)
  • Enjoy a cigarette
  • Do kissing
  • Various sexy activities

I made the colossally stupid error of planning a fancy dinner out the day after I had mine put on. “I’m sure it won’t be that bad,” I reasoned, like an idiot. It was. I spent the whole time staring sadly at my delicious steak, as it became increasingly salted by my tears of pain and sadness.

But! The pain and discomfort doesn’t last forever. I promise. I was given a load of dental wax to coat rough bits of plastic and wire, and the ol’ alternate paracetamol/Ibuprofen system helps. I’d also say that Anbesol works a lot better than Bonjela, which just tends to slide over gums (thanks to Hayley and her teething tot for that recommendation).

After the first few days the pain subsided and I was left with a very vague – and tolerable – aching. The braces do need to be tightened every month or so which is also painful, but it’s nothing at all like the first time. Soon enough I’d stopped noticing them altogether.

It is worth noting, though, that I could go for days on end without any pain or discomfort at all and then one day I’d wake up and one particular tooth or group of teeth would be sore. Annoying, but that just meant the braces were doing their thing.

Three months in

Three months in

How do you look after them?

It’s a lot harder to give your teeth a good clean when they’re covered in scaffolding, so brushing took on a new, laborious dynamic. Top notch hygiene is important for two reasons: 1) It’s easy for plaque to build up around the brackets and cause cavities, and 2) When the brackets come off it’s not uncommon for there to be a lot of weird and unattractive staining where they used to be. Traditional flossing was out (not that, I admit, I was particularly devout about flossing in the first place), so I was told to use those little pipe cleaner sticks instead. For someone who never flossed regularly, this was a bit of an assault on my gums, but they were useful for removing all the bits of trapped food that would otherwise drive me nuts. (I kept one in my bag at all times for covert trips to the bathroom when I was eating out). Also, don’t use whitening products (even ones that claim to work but don’t actually do anything), because that can lead to weird discolouration when the brackets come off, too.

Even though SMS is billed as being ‘nearly invisible’, the clear bands around the brackets are liable to staining. “Avoid anything that would stain a shirt”, my dentist told me, which I did with due care (apart from the time I drank orange juice and was left with what looked like a neon glowstick in my gob. See below). Nonetheless, come every adjustment appointment they were looking a bit grubby. It probably didn’t help that I’m a filthy smoker, of course. (FYI – chewing gum is out when you have fixed braces, but there are loads of breath-freshening sprays that do the job in banishing faggy breath).

Finally, my lips took more of a battering than I’d anticipated, and keeping them moisturised and chap-free was a struggle. I bought a load of lipsalves and put them everywhere – the lounge, the kitchen, in all my bags and coat pockets – so there was always one to hand. I also got into the habit of slapping a load of this on before bed.

The braces are pretty tough and are designed to withstand a lot of force, but it’s not uncommon for brackets to ping off if they’re put under too much stress. So harder food (apples, beloved Toblerones), sticky stuff (toffee, caramel) and gritty snacks (popcorn, seeds) should be given a miss. I didn’t find this too much of a sacrifice, but the one thing that really bummed me out was turning down Nandos’ corn on the cob. I bloody love Nandos’ corn on the cob.

Thanks, orange juice!

Thanks, orange juice!

Did you feel like a dick wearing adult braces?

Nope, not really. Although the day I had them put on I went to Superdrug for supplies and the guy behind the counter was looking at the dental wax in my basket. He asked what it was for and I pointed to my mouth and he looked so embarrassed and apologetic. So I guess there is a bit of a stigma around it. Most people, I found, were pretty inquisitive about the process, and I heard “I’ve been thinking about doing the same” at least 20 times. The main issue I encountered was with bits of rogue food getting stuck in them, yapping away happily to people and not realising until later – a lot of people seemed reluctant to tell me I had whole lettuce leaves hanging out of my mouth (artistic license) for fear of offending me. But that’s where the shiny surface of smartphones comes in handy – it’s very easy to do a covert check.

I actually quite enjoyed flaunting my braces. They made me feel a bit unique and, like I said, empowered. (Plus they gave me a super pouty smile).

When did you decide to have them taken off?

There’s no obvious ‘end point’ with SMS. It’s pretty good at sorting out gaps and overcrowding, but it won’t change the shape of your teeth or do any major jaw reconstruction (for example, I still have an overbite, and I always will unless I opt to have my jaw broken and realigned – nope). They call it Six Month Smiles because that’s the average length of time it takes for patients to decide they’re happy with the results. I was pretty lucky that I had “malleable arches” (yay?), so my teeth moved quickly and I was done in less than five months, but for some it’s longer. Personally, I could’ve kept them on for a little longer to tweak one or two tiny areas, but it was coming up to Christmas and I didn’t want to go into the New Year with them on, so off they came.

Having them taken off is a bit more traumatic than having them put on (after all, they’re cemented to your teeth), but the payoff is that you’re going to have a lovely new smile at the end of it.

Is that it?

‘Fraid not. The reason my teeth were in such a mess was because I never wore my retainer the first time around, so they just shifted back to their original position. Teeth will do that, unfortunately. After the braces came off I had more gummy, gag-inducing moulds taken to create a single Invisalign brace, which I now use as a retainer, currently wearing it mostly full-time for four to six months, then only at night. It’s a bit of a faff, to be honest, but I know wearing it is important – when I go out in the evenings I tend to leave it at home and when I finally get around to putting it back in I can feel my teeth have already started shifting slightly.

My Invisalign retainer

My Invisalign retainer

I’ve also had a permanent, fixed retainer fitted (can’t get a camera in my mouth to take a picture, looks like this). At first I was a bit disheartened at the prospect of having yet more stuff in my mouth, but I’ve quickly gotten used to it, and it doesn’t cause anywhere near the same problems as the actual brace did (although one tooth did come unbonded the other day, which warranted a tedious trek back to the clinic – so that does happen). I’ll likely have this one on for around four to five years.

But I’m okay with that *beams*.

Bizarre smile for display purposes

Bizarre smile for display purposes

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

A few thoughts on turning 29

Today I turn 29. Another year none the wiser.

And despite well-meaning words from my mother and a Twitter community of superb women who don’t give a toss about ‘The Big 3-0’, there exists on my radar an unrelenting stream of popular culture that really does like to make a big fucking deal about it: ‘listicles’ divisively, hilariously, separating those in their 20s from those in their 30s; landslides of journalism banging on about declining fertility and average home-buying ages; a quiet consensus that 30 signifies the getting together of one’s shit. So despite my relative unconcern about being older, per se, I am dazzled by the unavoidable 30 up ahead, flashing vulgarly like a fairground ride.

And in a way I just wish I was there already, because once I am, there’s no going back. Sure, as an act of defiance I could get a load of botox done, or take off to India for three months, or drink myself into oblivion in a student bar, but even my extensive drinking skills are no match for the march of time. It will be as it will be.

Here, though, at 29, there’s very much the sense of a great, ominous foreboding, inescapable for the reasons detailed above. Some sense that I still have a tiny window of opportunity to ‘do something’. Not because being 30+ heralds the end of life – far from it – but because our society has put so much emphasis on this landmark age. Before and after.

 Of course, the problem here is that I don’t actually know what that something is. How many 29-year-olds do? This question itself is part of the problem.

Being 29 is like the moment before you step on a plane, or strap yourself into a rollercoaster. It’s the second before you apply the wax, or before you must relinquish the flash cards and go into an exam. It’s the breath before you say ‘I love you’ or ‘It’s over’. Because once you’ve committed to these things – said the words or smeared the hot goo on your legs – that’s that. You’ve just gotta make peace with it. But in that gut-churningly pressurised instant beforehand, there’s still the chance, the opportunity, to do something differently.

But what?

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Six apparently ‘normal’ behaviours I’ll never understand

People that listen to talk radio at an above-normal volume

Music is good loud. I get that, I get that it’s designed to be an immersive experience, and that at the end of a shitty day it’s pretty cathartic to turn Pink’s ‘Try, Try, Try’ up to 11 and belt out all the bad feels, but I don’t understand why people listen to predominantly chat-based radio shows at an ear-splitting volume. It’s just people talking. Is the experience of listening to people talking more enjoyable when it feels like they’re actually shouting at you? Or does it just in fact piss off your neighbours or housemates or anyone walking past your car who doesn’t derive any enjoyment from hearing Ted from Basingstoke talk about his opinions on hot-housing at a booming sound level?

Barmen who ask if I ‘mean diet coke’

If you go into a shop and ask for a can of blue paint and the assistant says ‘Is that blue paint or red paint?’ then you’d give them an odd look. And if they held your stare while gesticulating impatiently at all the paint, you’d probably just back away slowly. So why is it acceptable for a barman to ask me ‘Is that coke or diet coke?’ when I’ve clearly asked for a coke? IF I WANT DIET COKE, I’LL ASK FOR DIET COKE. This situation is made much worse when they use the term ‘full fat’. Watch it, buddy.

Being weird about food stuck in teeth

If you go into the office and your colleague has got a bit of fluff on their face, you’d be like ‘Dude, there’s something on your face’, and they’d remove the fluff, and everyone would get on with their lives. But when that fluff is food and the face is teeth, people get super weird about it, thus resulting in many hapless individuals spending their days talking, laughing and smiling in front of people that are like ‘Ugh, gross’, before going home to a mirror and deep embarrassment. I currently have braces which makes this a really major problem, but even though I’ve explicitly told those around me that they should just say if I have something stuck in my teeth, I still find myself revealing forests of salad every time I do a quick cursory check after lunch. So to better align my behaviour with others’, next time an angry wasp lands on a friend’s head I’ll just be like ‘Oh yeah, erm, sorry. Didn’t see it *mumble mumble*’.

The total futility of ‘tasting the wine’

In the olden days, patrons of hospitality establishments were offered a small sample from a newly-opened bottle of wine to check that it wasn’t corked. Nowadays, the majority of wine served in restaurants comes in screw-top bottles, so the entire exercise serves no purpose other than to make customers feel uncomfortable as a relative stranger watches them imbibe a tiny bee-mouth’s worth of liquid before declaring ‘Yes, lovely thanks’, even if it tastes like expired milk.

Small children on the rush-hour underground

Children need to learn to walk, and they need to learn to socialise. Is the underground at rush hour the best place for that? IS IT? Is the best place to put your toddling offspring in front of hundreds of tired, irritable commuters storming from one platform to another each with flailing bags and briefcases in perfect alignment with your child’s soft bonce? Is the best time to ‘practice stairs’ at 6pm on a Monday evening when said staircase is full of gnarling office workers chomping at the bit to get on the tube before it becomes so rammed they have to spend the journey home pressed into the greasy, finger-smeared doors? Is it?

Women peeing on the toilet seat

Nothing makes me so seriously consider abandoning the sisterhood than walking into a toilet cubicle and finding pee all over the seat. What is HAPPENING in there? Maybe you’re a hoverer, fair enough. But if your distaste of public conveniences is such that you’d perch uncomfortably over the toilet to avoid making contact with it, then surely you’re aware that leaving the vicinity in such a state makes you just as culpable as those you fear yourself. SORT IT OUT, YOU’RE GROSS.

6 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

How to find a house in London

Start your search early. Far too early. Take a cursory look at Gumtree and Spareroom and find loads of properties that match your reasonable requirements. Confidence level: 100%.

Then start your search for real. Find all the good places have gone, but that’s okay, because there’s still time. There’s still time to be choosy. Laugh scornfully at adverts boasting ‘Lovely and good’ or ‘Cheap and nice’ rooms. We all know what that means. You’ve got standards, thanks very much. Confidence level: 90%.

Go to a few viewings. Find that the rooms are not anywhere near as ‘gorgeous’ or ‘spacious’ or even as ‘good-sized’ as the ad description suggests, but that’s okay! It would be unheard of to find somewhere decent straight away, right? It’s London! Confidence level: 80%.

Go to more viewings. View several houses with palatial ensuites that can only be accessed through a partially open door as the adjoining bedroom is a cupboard. View a house occupied by pasty, translucent boys that all but wet themselves shaking your hand and ask if you have many single girl friends. View a house with giant pictures of vaginas all over the walls and be scolded by the landlord for looking at them. View a house where the available room is advertised as having its own conservatory but find that it’s basically a lean-to featuring a clogged toilet. View a house where the door is opened by an imposingly large Turkish man who yells ‘YOU A CLEAN GIRL, OKAY?’ in your face. Confidence level: 50%.

Eventually, find a place you really like. Text the tenants to express interest. Hours, then days, pass without a reply. Become wracked with self-doubt as your self-esteem takes a battering. Maybe you came on too strong. Maybe your joke about baking a chocolate cake was interpreted as needy, or mental, even. WHAT’S THE BLOODY ETIQUETTE FOR THIS SHIT? Struggle with the idea that the tenants have put you in the same league as sweaty hands boy, or mad vagina lady.

Spend hours and hours on room share sites. Destroy your phone battery by hitting refresh every five minutes. Send hundreds of awkward ‘I’m super cool and normal!’ emails to people who never respond. Find dozens of gorgeous houseshares advertised by awesome-sounding people requesting gay applicants only. Damn the gays and their beautiful mould-free houses.

Manage your expectations. Broaden your search parameters. You don’t really need a garden. You don’t really need a living room. Sure, you can work from your bed, and it’ll be fine sharing with four couples. Fun, even! Confidence level: 30%.

Lament your woes to your friends and listen to them wax lyrical about how hard they found that one week they spent searching for a flat, or how they had to view ‘like, six or seven!’ places before they found their current house, or how it actually took them upwards of two months to find somewhere because the lettings market in London is completely fucked and they’re not telling you this to dishearten you, but ‘you know…’.

And you do know. You ‘know’ to the point that you’ve started viewing rooms that have been advertised without pictures and wishing some kind of property Lemon Law existed so you didn’t have to spend whole hours traipsing around an inhabitable dive answering questions about what you do for a living and listening to fucking News of the World jokes. You ‘know’ to the point that you’re starting to think that an advert mentioning the fact that the room’s radiators have valves is probably pretty useful to know actually, and you ‘know’ to the point that you’re seriously considering responding to the likes of these ‘Cheap and lovely’ adverts you’d previously pooh-poohed.

Looks nice.

Looks nice.

It would have taken exactly 30 seconds to clear that crap off the bed.

It would have taken exactly 30 seconds to clear that crap off the bed.

JUST THROW A BLANKET OVER IT OR SOMETHING.

JUST THROW A BLANKET OVER IT OR SOMETHING.

Can only assume that bedside cabinet had eaten the previous tenant, hence photographers reluctance to move it back 10 damn centimetres.

Can only assume that bedside cabinet had eaten the previous tenant, hence photographer’s reluctance to move it back 10 damn centimetres.

Look at all these rooms to rent at the Tube station!

Look at all these rooms to rent at the Tube station!

Literally, take FIVE SECONDS to pick up the damn chair.

Literally, take FIVE SECONDS to pick up the damn chair.

I can't even.

I can’t even.

Confidence level: 5%

And then one morning, three and a half months and 23 viewings later, sit in the bedroom you’ve come to hate and load up Gumtree for the millionth time, and find a new advert. A new advert with pictures, and an adequate description written by people that sound sane, and go into your message drafts and copy/paste the same tired message you’ve looked at five times a day for the last 117 days. Send it off. Expect nothing. Don’t even allow the smallest sliver of hope or optimism into the dark, rough void where your soul used to be, for only disappointment resides there now.

Receive a reply straight away. Go through the motions, arrange a viewing. Plaster a smile over your tired, lifeless face and trudge to the address. Ring the bell and take a deep breath as the door opens…

Confidence level: 100%.

Ta-dah!

Ta-dah!

 

8 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Brace Face. In London.

Six Month Smile for adults‘Kids can be so cruel’.

I hate that expression, namely because usually the people that throw it around with reckless gay abandon, chuckling and rolling their eyes as they do, were the very kids propagating the cruelty. I find that those that were on the receiving end tend to keep their mouths shut, pushing their unpleasant memories into an untapped pocket of their mind where it can all fester quietly as a mental illness.

Still. Kids can be horrendous creatures, and it only takes one knuckle-dragging child to come up with an insulting nickname that’ll plague you for the rest of your days. Something the rest of the drones will latch on to and throw like spears in a bid to avoid their own persecution. Child psychology 101.

The problem is, once you’ve grown up and gotten your shit together, and have long since revelled in seeing the offenders clocking off at McDonald’s, or waddling down the high street with a farm of children nipping at their heels, that nickname still scratches around the corners of your consciousness. It embeds itself in your psyche, and becomes a quiet part of your identity.

Even if you no longer demonstrate attributes of the name, the name was once responsible for the shape of your entire world. Despite the ‘love yourself!’ rhetoric that dominates much of the conversation we’re party to nowadays, where self-acceptance and self-assurance are the ultimate goals, your heart will still miss a beat when you hear the name mentioned (entirely out of context, of course), or are in on any kind of discussion revolving around features linked to the name. Like it or not, that bloody name is an albatross around your neck no matter how many inspirational ‘U R so unique’ quotes you read on Tumblr.

Which is partly why, at the age of 28, I’m getting braces.

Again.

I had braces when I was 15 in a bid to counteract the attributes of the name which had long before been bestowed unto me. The requisite train track types that marked a rite of passage for the dentally disadvantaged teenager, but were liable to rip open the inside of your cheeks and drive pieces of errant metal wire into your gums every time you attempted an apple or a Mars Bar. But so desperate was I to be rid of them, and the name, that the retainer given to me by the orthodontist once they’d come off was gleefully flung into a drawer and quickly forgotten about. It was only a few weeks afterwards that I tried to put it back on and realised that my teeth had already moved too far to do so. Good work, teenage me.

So the name stuck, and I have been hugely paranoid about my teeth ever since, especially since they have now shifted quite significantly back into their original, overcrowded position.

The few people I’ve spoken to about this have of course assured me that my teeth are fine. And I know they’re not that bad, really. But this has nothing to do with emulating magazine-standard beauty or aspirational living, it’s because every time I look in the mirror, see a photograph of myself smiling awkwardly, or even see my erratic, jumbled bite mark in a piece of fruit, the name reverberates around my skull like a trapped bird, along with all the anxiety, paranoia and nervousness associated with it. So I’m taking charge of the name by banishing it for good.

The irony is that I’ve spent all of my adult life trying to hide my teeth, and now I’m drawing attention to them in the most overt way possible: “I’m an adult with braces! I’m unhappy with my teeth! Look at them!” It’s something that makes me feel quite sick and uneasy, but if I don’t do this now, then when? I definitely don’t want to make it to old age and look back at photos of milestone moments and think ‘Fuck, I wish I’d just gotten it over with’.

So after nearly eight years of saving (son, this shit is expensive and I’m a freelancer), I’m off to purposefully regress into my teenage self, and exorcise her of the demons of the name.

Just gonna get my fill of apples and Mars Bars first.

2 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

‘Should’ is a four letter word

Is 30 the new 20?This morning I watched a TED video joyfully titled ‘Why 30 is not the new 20’. In it, clinical psychologist Meg Jay talks about the plight of indecision and nonchalance afflicting huge swathes of 20-somethings around the world – 20-somethings that live their lives in a comforting bubble of ‘I’m young, I’ve got time, I’ll do it tomorrow’.

That such 20-somethings then wake up at 30 lamenting those lost years, panic-marrying and diving blindly into any old career because they spent too long ‘seeing what would happen’, is not, Meg says, okay. And she’s right. But as rousing as that speech is for 20-somethings that do still have time on their hands, for those hurtling towards the big 3-0, it’s a hell of a kick in the face. And thus…

Meg

This bloody video comes at a sarcastically-relevant time for me, because like the case studies discussed, I too am beginning to feel the panicky sensation of life speeding up, when right now I just need it to calm the hell down so I can figure out what I’m doing. And at the crux of the problem (my ‘identity crisis’?) is a single word. Should.

Last night I read that the Independent’s new editor – Amol Rajan – is 29-years-old. By comparison, I should be much farther along in my career than I am now. Of course, there’s little point in making comparisons, but it’s given me cause to consider the job I do. Should I be doing something differently? Should I consider a different direction? Should I accept that freelance journalism is not a sustainable way of life and get an office job? Where should I start? Should, should, should.

Then, and perhaps more distressingly, is the fact that some 95% of my female friends have shacked up with their other halves (and given this blog’s readership there’s a very high chance you’re one of them). Again, I am rational enough to recognise that there’s no basis for comparison, but it makes me consider what I should be doing. My bloke and I are very happy living separately, but should we be living together? And if not now, then when should we consider it? And if we’re not living together by now should we be asking why not? Again with the shoulds.

The word pours into every aspect of imminent-30s life in a very toxic way. The ‘shoulds’ that presented themselves in my early and mid-20s were concrete and finite, with clear outcomes and consequences rendered irrelevant by the wonderfully intangible sands of time that lay beneath every question.

Now, the ‘shoulds’ are abstract, the outcomes uncertain and it’s the consequences that are concrete. Many (myself included) live in constant states of happy/unhappy: ‘I’m happy with my life, but should (there’s that word again) I be happier?’ Or, perhaps more damagingly: ‘I’m not happy with my life, what should I be doing to be happier?’ And for guidance, they look to others:

‘What is the control group doing?’

And if you’re not doing what the control group is doing then it’s very easy to feel like you’re trapped behind a pane of glass, watching everyone else skip merrily along with their lives. There’s momentum in you, but you’re not going anywhere, and the whole thing is worsened by the media reports and scare stories and blimmin’ TED videos promising definite misery if particular life objectives are not met within certain timeframes.

It’s time to ditch the word ‘should’.

‘Should’ is inherently doubtful. ‘Should’ is inherently indecisive. ‘Should’ paves the way for ‘maybes’ and ‘perhaps’. It’s kinda negative, really.

So forget ‘should’. Replace it with ‘will’, and ‘can’, both positive, hopeful and empowering words free of uncertainty: “What will I do…?” “What can I do…?” After all, Obama didn’t emerge victorious on the back of ‘Yes we should’, did he?

It’s no mean feat to entirely change the way you think about life – after all, we’re all subjected to damning ‘Big 3-0’ narratives for years and years before we actually get there, but it’s your choice as to whether you keep listening to them. It’s within your power, and the power of ‘can’ and ‘will’. Let those words pour through imminent-30s life. The only alternative to doing so is the ‘shoulds’ and the debilitating whispers of the control group, but if you’ve read this far, it means you’re already pretty sick of those.

Thirty is not the new twenty, no. It’s not the new anything. But it has come to represent some kind of invisible cut off point for joining the control group, or for doing the things you really think you should do.

But it’s not a question of whether you should. It’s whether you will.

6 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

A picture of teenage depression

PillsFor a number of reasons, this week has seen my hasty and unexpected return to the ‘Shire for a couple of days. As anyone who has ever spent more than ten minutes in my conversational company will know, there’s not a lot to do here. I’ve looked at Dad’s new lettuce patch, watched a high volume of crappy chick-flicks and had a weirdly spooky moment with my mum while the dog ate a tea towel. And that’s about as much as I could hope for, activity-wise.

So, in a move that was guaranteed to end well, I decided to dig out all the boxes of sentimental teenage stuff that I had accumulated over the years. Diaries, knick-knacks, letters, an astonishing number of decorative fans (why), and quite a lot of crap with meaning I can no longer recall. That sort of thing.

And it made me really, really sad (quelle surprise), because for the first time in my adult life I sat down and read – through my many diaries – a blow-by-blow account of the mental health issues I struggled with when I was younger; a bleak narrative that has been packed away for over ten years. It made for a depressing evening, and there wasn’t even any wine in the house.

The descent from sunny, upbeat and girlish diary entries in swirly handwriting to scrawled accounts of mood, medication and mental (in)stability is marked. From Mean Girls to Girl, Interrupted over the course of mere months. Eventually, I stopped writing anything of note and simply filled in the days with single, nonsensical words such as ‘another’, ‘still’ and ‘can’t’.

My residency at the bottom of the hole is foggy in my mind, such was the volume of chemicals I was prescribed, and such is, likely, my desire to repress it all. It was a very, very unhappy period, and one that has had a pronounced effect on my life since.

However.

While there is always a hangover from any period of mental distress – like a skidmark on the clean white pants of your future – one thing I’ve taken from the whole sorry affair is resilience. A dear friend of mine is currently going through cognitive behavioural therapy for her own issues, and she maintains that she’ll be a more well-adjusted person for it – even more so than she was before her problems took hold.

And I agree. In this life, the only person you can ever rely on is yourself, and if you can get yourself through a period of genuine, personal hell – when you can’t even trust your own damn brain to help you out – then you’ve seen life stripped-back to its disturbingly bleak core and have been given the wonderful gift of perspective.

Which is something I need right now, since I’m not having a very good year at all. In moments when I feel overwhelmed by the number of crappy cards I’ve been dealt it’s easy for me to lose sight of how different I am now to the girl in these diaries. Life is tough now, but at least it’s a life, which is something Diary Girl was barely hanging on to.

During those dark days I saw countless therapists and mental health professionals. Some were great. Some made me feel much worse. But one woman – whose name I regrettably can’t remember – encouraged me to express my feelings through drawing. I have all the artistic ability of a goat wielding a pencil so it wasn’t something that came easily to me, but I do remember it helped a considerable amount. Last night I found a pile of those drawings and felt quite shaken by them, such was the force of the memories they evoked. But I found them underneath a pile of love letters, travel tickets and photographs that illustrate my life since that time.

And I felt an overwhelming sense of perspective.

One

Two

Three

Four

Five

Six

2 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized