With only a few weeks left of 2017 my thoughts have naturally turned to looking back over the year and taking stock of what I’ve achieved. My Tuesday Style With a Smile link up has been going almost a year, and this week I’m excited to begin a new Sunday Reflections link up. Each Sunday I’ll discuss a topic in depth – don’t worry, they won’t all be this long!
Although I started blogging over six years ago I didn’t really get going with it properly until I migrated to WordPress two years ago this month. After more than four years of picking it up and putting it down, along with the frustrating constraints of being on Typepad (a very bad move) I decided it was now or never. This month I took another big plunge: I entered the UK Blog Awards. And breathe.
I’ve never won an award, never even been in the running for one. Partly down to the false start I had in the blogging world, I still struggle to shake off the imposter syndrome. Blowing my own trumpet doesn’t come easily to me, but there comes a time when you have to take a deep breath and just go for it. You only regret the things you didn’t do, right? My decision to enter the UK Blog Awards made me think back to why I started blogging in the first place. Back then there weren’t anywhere near the number of blogs there are now, and very few 35+ fashion/personal style bloggers. Thankfully that has changed, but it does make it even harder to stand out.
Deciding to put myself out there when the blogosphere was much smaller was a really nerve-wracking decision. I deliberated over it for months and months. But the years leading up to that moment had been challenging, to say the least. A divorce, two house moves, a baby, a marriage, being diagnosed with a hereditary kidney condition, and many other ups and downs along the way kind of put it all in perspective. Without doubt, the catalyst was becoming a mum and the major upheaval that entailed.
My pregnancy was fairly smooth sailing until 33 weeks + 5 days, when after doing body pump at the gym followed by a late shift, I went home to bed, fully expecting to get on with the project that was our new house. My body had other ideas. Early the next morning I was woken by my waters breaking and my world as I knew came crashing down. That might sound overly dramatic, but a few months before, I’d finally been given my big break at work. Now it was game over.
After years of trying to establish myself, I’d finally got some presenting work. Just sickness and holiday cover, but it was a start. I had to do it on top of my full time job, often working six-day weeks. Plus I’d just taken my Italian A level exams after two years of evening classes. What ensued was a monumental gear change, and one that I did not cope well with.
In the space of a few hours I’d gone from being in complete control of my life to being a prisoner in a hospital ward, with no-one telling me what was going on. I rapidly spiralled into a severe bout of depression. We hear a lot about postnatal depression, but prenatal depression is rarely discussed. Maybe that’s because it’s not as common, but from my experience it’s every bit as debilitating. At the time I was unable to analyse my feelings and pinpoint exactly what it was that had triggered it, other than a visceral, overwhelming emotion that was reminiscent of the separation anxiety I felt as a young child. I am not exagerrating when I say I cried a river.
At my wits end, I discharged myself after one night in the hospital from hell, despite the patronising and hostile attitude of the doctor on duty that day. However, there was one condition: I had to return at 6.30am every morning and I wasn’t allowed to leave until I’d had a trace (of the fetal heartrate) in the evening. Often that wasn’t until 9pm. I was exhausted. We both were. Something had to give.
My mum, who was a few weeks away from retirement, managed to get some time off work on compassionate leave to be with me so my poor husband could get on with renovating the house, which resembled a building site. After making an empassioned plea to the community midwife, my husband convinced her to intervene and I was allowed to rest at home and just go in once a day for a trace. Why did it have to be such a battle? Ten days after my waters broke it was decided that I should be induced, which was a relief. All I wanted was to have my body back to myself and have full control over it once more.
After a quick and fairly easy birth, I felt mildly elated that I’d survived the ordeal, but the really difficult part now began. At five weeks premature, Isobel had to be fed via a tube every four hours. When we took her home at five days old we were relieved to leave hospital but also scared shitless and completely clueless. Her early arrival meant that we’d missed all but one antenatal class. I didn’t know how to work any of the gadgets, or fold up the bloody pram. I was a shambles. Then she developed terrible colic and we kissed goodbye to sleep for a good four months.
The only thing that kept me sane was getting back in the gym two weeks after giving birth. That first workout felt like a liberation, even though I’d only been away a month. When I ran out of petrol one day and missed my body pump class I got on the treadmill to run off the frustration. I managed a slow 5km but over the weeks I ran farther and faster, and within three months I was running 16 miles. That’s when I started toying with the idea of doing a marathon.
It seemed like a ridiculous idea – I’d always been terrible at running, well any sport for that matter. I came last at every school sports day and did anything to get out of the humiliating experience of being called “fatty four eyes” as I huffed and puffed around the playing field. But I kept running, and I got faster, stronger and one day plucked up the courage to get off the treadmill in the secluded ladies only section of the gym and hit the road. Less that a year after I started running regularly I completed my first marathon in 4 hours 27 minutes. The month after I did a sub two hour half marathon.
After months of training, I felt like I’d got the old me back, but a better version of it. Running long distances requires enormous reserves of determination and self belief. Mental strength is every bit as important as the physical, if not more so. When the legs are tired and the lungs are burning it’s the mind that keeps them going. When you feel like stopping you have to remember why you started in the first place.
You might by now be completely bored and wondering what the hell any of this has to do with starting a blog. If you’re still reading, thank you for sticking with me. You see, without a doubt, overcoming all of these challenges gave me the courage to do something I’d wanted to do for some time. Whenever you feel held back from following a dream, ask yourself “what’s the worst that could happen?” Are you worried that people will laugh at you? That you might not achieve the goals you set out to? If you can envisage that happening and think about how you’d deal with it you’re halfway there already.
I was scared to start a blog because I thought nobody would read it, and at first nobody did. Blogging requires a whole range of skills, including marketing. You can produce the best content in the world but if you don’t market yourself no-one will know about it. Blowing my own trumpet doesn’t come easily to me and I cringe at the thought of being seen as pushy. I was genuinely worried (and still am) that people will think “who the f@*k does she think she is?”. Maybe some do, but to let that stop me would like putting myself in a cage and giving them the key.
Now, whenever I’m full of trepidation I ask myself if I’d regret not doing it 10/20 years from now. All successful people have failed at some point. Failure isn’t something to be scared of, it’s something to learn from. Life doesn’t always go to plan, but that doesn’t mean it’s a total disaster. I didn’t get the home birth experience I wanted, and the days immediately before and after weren’t what I’d envisaged either. Motherhood did not come easily to me, but I think I’ve finally got the hang of this parenting lark. Likewise, it took me until the age of 35 to run farther than 10km, and in September aged 43 I completed my sixth marathon. Persistence pays off.
My new-found confidence gave me the boost I needed to make bolder choices, and that included my outfits too. I didn’t want to blend in anymore, I wanted to experiment and have fun with fashion. My career had stalled but I wasn’t going to let that define me. When it all comes crashing down, there’s only one thing to do: build it all again, only stronger. I needed a creative outlet and a place to be me again, a bolder, more brighter me. Starting a blog was the obvious choice. Now Isobel is eight years old I have a little shopping and blog buddy too 🙂
I don’t know what my blogging future holds. I hope one day I can turn it into a full time (as in enough to earn a living from) occupation. If that doesn’t happen it’s not the end of the world. Most importantly, it has brought me into contact with some lovely, amazing people, some of whom I’ve met IRL, others that I hope to. That was one side of blogging I didn’t foresee. Life is full of surprises.
I’d be lying if I said I’d never considered throwing in the towel, but that’s not my style. Sure there are disappointments, just like there are tough miles in a marathon, but that’s to be expected. No-one said it would be easy. I don’t know if I’ll ever win any awards for blogging (but if you do want to vote for me I would appreciate it enormously), that’s not my raison d’être. I’ve thought long and hard about sharing more of my story. Discussing the tough times isn’t easy, but I want this blog to be more than outfits and pretty pictures. I want to get to know my readers better and hopefully prompt some thoughtful discussions with this new Sunday Reflections link up. Next week will be lighter in subject and word count, I promise 😉
On a lighter note, I’m entered in both the Fashion & Beauty and Travel categories of the UK Blog Awards 2018. You can vote twice with each email address. Here is the full list of categories and individual entrants. It’s a real honour to be listed alongside other 40+ blogger pals Sam of Fake Fabulous, Nikki of Midlifechic, and Catherine of Not Dressed As Lamb. If you could spare a few moments to vote I’d be extremely grateful.