It’s a funny thing: age. The fear of getting old permeates society like a virus and it’s truly atrocious. It’s horrid for men and women alike. You spend all of childhood itching to turn 18 or 21 or whatever other age is considered “adult” in your part of the world and then within a few years you’re desperately clinging onto that youth for fear of wrinkles, shriveled ovaries and dying alone. I’m kidding, guys…

I turned 28 yesterday and I’ve had a merry old time reflecting on my twenties thus far. The cringeworthy clothing choices, the poor decisions, the loves and losses and the hilarious adventures around the world have all shaped me into a woman I’m pretty damn proud to put out into this mental society as I perch here typing this. I still walk the earth without the foggiest idea of where I might end up, but I’m a little better equipped to deal with the setbacks these days.

The first time that I can recall having any sense of dread about turning one year older was my twenty-fifth birthday. For some reason that one seemed like I was suddenly getting old. (I speak about this like it was many years in the past; I’m aware that this was just 3 years prior, guys. I know…)

Twenty-five seemed like the year that I was supposed to have my shit together: be the epitomy of success and happiness intertwined into one big, sickening, chunder bucket. By twenty-five we’re supposed to have found the one, be climbing our career ladders, be earning at least a little money and be thinking about buying a house. My reality is that I spent more time moping around my apartment suffering from depression as a result of hormonal birth control than living it up. The year came and went in a blur of blubbering.

Fast-forward three years and I’ve come to realise that all of those aforementioned expectations were utter insanity. However, we live life, we hear things, and our subconscious becomes adulterated with thoughts that are not our own, even though we adopt them as such nonetheless. Society expects things of us and we of it. Only, you’ve got to ask: who actually are these elusive men and women ticking all the boxes? Because I have friends around the world and I sure as hell haven’t encountered any of them!

I’m closer to thirty than twenty and I no longer get asked for ID when I buy booze. I have bills and responsibilities and an actual grown up job. I can no longer stay up all night partying and head straight to work without injecting caffeine or hiding in the cupboard to take a nap. I spend more on my skincare now because the dewiness needs a little helping hand. I don’t care if I look like I’m wearing a potato sack on a night out: I prioritise comfort.

But I also have more confidence than I did back in the days when my skin looked radiant without any sleep and I had the world in the palm of my hand. I’m more savvy and give less of a crap about going to buy groceries in my pyjamas. I would rather be alone than date someone who wastes my time and energy. I still dream (and I dream BIG), but a pearl of wisdom tells me that I probably should try and build up some savings soon and I definitely should prioritise sleep if I want to be a capable, functioning human in my waking life.

It’s a pity that we get so caught up on aging. The fear still lingers somewhere within my bones, but I’m very aware of it now and working actively to dissipate it. It’s hard when we’ve got a market saturated with angi-aging products and images that tell us that young is most beautiful, but beauty is such a complex thing and truly in the eye of the beholder. I look at twenty-one year olds and some of them are physically glowing, but have they learned what I have? Probably not. And can they hold a conversation as well as my friends in their thirties? Almost certainly not.

To all my friends in their late twenties and early thirties: I want to tell you that it’s all right if you’re climbing a career ladder that you aren’t sure is for you. It’s fine that you’re frustrated that all your friends are getting married and popping kids out and you’re nowhere near finding anyone you want to spend more than a drunken night with. That sensation you feel pushing at the walls of your chest to get out and see the world before it is burned alive is normal. And yes, it’s fine to spend the money you’re saving for a house deposit on that adventure of a lifetime instead.

None of us really know what we’re doing. All we must do is try our best and make the best decision we can in a given moment, based on the information we have at that time. Some will lead down paths of opportunity and abundance. Others wont. But that’s the only way to learn and then do better, isn’t it?

I’m twenty eight and I now know what I like. Also, importantly, I know what I don’t like. I no longer waste my time on people who can’t give me what I want. I am happy to have those uncomfortable conversations around taboo topics, if others are willing to engage in a constructive discussion, but I no longer give an ounce of attention to those that leave me feeling sour. I’m single, on the cusp of changing career paths and sometimes told by older generations that I’m far too opinionated to ever have a chance at being a nice, young lady. Tis a shame that some feel this way; can’t they see that I’m only trying to get shit done and save the world?

To all my friends approaching thirty: we are smarter and wiser than we were at the start of this decade. We’ve learned heaps about ourselves and others and the world that – trust me – we will put to good use in the years to come. We have the tools to make the world a better place and are still allowed to have a sense of adventure and wonder. It’s time to grab life by the balls and tell anyone who wants to stamp on our dreams that they can go do one because we deserve nothing but magic.

The loss of Anthony Bourdain this week hit my family hard. He was one of the few celebrity chefs we knew of back in the day, before this culture of celebrity chefs was really a thing. The charismatic and adventurous New Yorker put a solid two middle fingers up to any kind of health food fad or pretentious, showy, Hollywood sensationalism and instead let himself be immersed in what truly mattered: culture and cuisine.

Having grown up abroad, this resonated with me. The foods I was exposed to growing up – particularly in my early childhood in Morocco – have shaped the person I am today in many ways. I am bold, adventurous and forever on a quest to try new things. Anthony Bourdain spoke to that part of me. The explorer. And the part of me that is captivated by the Human Condition, as was he.

I remember watching episode after episode of A Cook’s Tour and No Reservations, fascinated as Bourdain would take himself around the world, trying the most diverse array of foods. He would laugh and ask questions and learn from his hosts and had this way of making those places commonly left off the map newly desirable locations for foodie enthusiasts watching from around the globe.

Although these days I eat in such a way that I try to minimise my environmental footprint, I still can’t help but have a place in my heart for what Bourdain stood for, underneath the surface; food as a vessel for the coming together of people. And food as an art form. Food as the medium through which a culture can express itself and tell its story. Even if those foods include a bunch of things that we know in this day and age we would be better leaving off the table to preserve a healthy planet. Much of the world eats what’s local and what has helped them survive for millenia. Those foods mean something, regardless of whether or not they fit into the current desirable paradigm of ‘sexy vegan cuisine’.

In much of the world, people have a far more intimate relationship with their food than those of us surviving on microwave dinners and single-serving fruit cups purchased and consumed on the go. In these places, food is an experience. Every moment, from the sowing of seeds or birth of new livestock through to the nuturing, harvest and preparation of meals, culture is comprised of the life cycle of food as a whole. We are who we are based on how we deeply we interact with that life cycle.

The headline came through this week that Bourdain had died by suicide and I couldn’t quite believe it. He was so full of life, so fascinating and had so much going for him. How could this be? What drove such a successful person to think this was the only way out? We’ll never know and I sure as hell have no place speculating.

Many people around the world commit suicide every day. That sentence makes it sound like I wrote that without emotion and – believe me – that couldn’t be further from the truth. But I must state the fact; they do. And the majority of those people won’t raise global alarm because they are everyday people with small social circles and their cases considered ‘ordinary’. But whenever a celebrity does it, it always makes the headlines and it’s easy to see why.

Celebrities appear to have it all, don’t they? The status, the money, the power. They’re at the top of the foodchain. They’re the people we should all look up to, right? They had a big dream, worked hard to achieve that thing and have the luxury lifestyle that most of us will only ever aspire to. Get rich or die trying, right?

So how can it be then, that these people with their perfect lives can fall down a cavern of darkness so deep that the only way they know how to escape is through suicide? Ding! You got it: their lives aren’t perfect. I know. It’s a revelation. In fact, the enormous pressure of feeling so bad when you’re supposed to feel the polar opposite can near drive a person to insanity. I’m no celebrity (chef or otherwise) but I certainly know at least a thing or two about feeling the unbearable guilt of asking the universe why you don’t feel better; why you don’t feel the sum of all the wonderful things that you can list about your life. Those things that, of course, you are grateful for. But somehow, those things aren’t enough.

I spent most of 2016 wanting to die. It was the only viable option that I saw for myself. The only way that things would get easier would be if I didn’t have to keep going at all. I felt a million miles from the kind of life that I wanted for myself and a ten-tonne weight bore down on my chest everytime I’d look at all the boxes I ticked which said, ‘hey girl, you’re doing better than most’ and felt an emptiness outweighing them all.

I sought therapy and reduced my work hours and those decisions were the catalyst that turned things around for me and eventually made me come off hormonal birth control which made me realise that that had been about 80% of the problem all along (read more about that here). And after all of it, when I finally felt my ‘Day 1’ of starting afresh, do you know what the most common response was, from the majority of people who knew me best?

“Wow, I never knew you’d been feeling that bad. You always seemed so happy.”

Some of us can hide ourselves under layer upon layer of responsible adulting that can create such an opaque mask over what’s really going on inside that even those closest to us wouldn’t be able to guess in a million years. We still go to work. We do the grocery shopping. We run our errands. We fulfill all of our familial obligations. We make jokes and we laugh sometimes. And meanwhile on the inside we are empty and lifeless.

It really surprised me that my sharing this newfound joy with others elicited such an unexpected response. In my head I had been a shell of myself. How could my closest friends, family and boyfriend not know just how low I’d felt this whole time? How was that even possible?

And then something like Anthony Bourdain’s suicide happens and suddenly it all makes sense. No matter how well we think we know each other, the truth is that none of us are mind readers. And so it is paramount that you ask questions and cultivate your empathy to try your best to step into the shoes of those that you love if you want to truly support them. And not just when they’re turning to drugs or alcohol or sex to numb the pain. Much before that. In the everyday.

These celebrity deaths, as heartbreaking as they are for everyone who’s lives they have enriched, are so vital in triggering a reality check for us all. They show  usthat celebrities are, well, people. First and foremost, they are humans with complicated emotions and brain chemistry and inner demons. You can have all the money in the world and a team of staff and great career prospects and plenty of vacation time, but you are not exempt from those demons that prey on us all. You are not exempt from trauma and heartbreak and loss and yourself.

I didn’t know Bourdain and which demons got the better of him in the end. Or well-known fashion designer, Kate Spade, who too was found dead in her apartment from suicide this week. My heart bursts with sadness for those closest to them and their millions of fans around the world. But I hope we learn from this. I do. May they get conversations flowing and may humanity change in their wake.

Photos via Paper City Mag, GQ

 

May has been and gone in the blink of an eye, but boy, what a month it has been! I write this from the patio of my new home, freshly returned from a spot of frolicking in the wilderness of Colorado and the Pacific Northwest. It’s a hard life, isn’t it?

It’s a weird thing coming back from your vacation to the unfamiliarity of a new home. Jetlagged and in desperate need of both a shower and the use of a washing machine, I knew not how to work the shower and scalded myself in my delirious state and my washing machine hasn’t yet arrived. It feels a bit like I’m still traveling; still on the journey. And I suppose I will be until I’ve settled in and made this bombsite feel like home. But in the meantime, I have a south-facing garden that is a heavenly oasis upon which to sip my morning brew. Life could be worse.

I digress! The subject of today’s post is an account of an important lesson I’ve learned. One I want to shout from the rooftops! Schooltime with Kennedy, if you will. It’s nothing revolutionary, but it absolutely has a tendency to lurk in plain sight; fooling us all. It’s the key to happiness; to fulfillment; to contentment. You’re dying to know, aren’t you?

I was stateside this past month visiting friends for the first time in a long time. It was much-needed after a very stressful couple years. So, we packed the trip full to the brim and explored far and wide, leaving little time for twiddling our thumbs. That suited me just fine.

If you’re fortunate enough to have done your fair share of traveling, you’ll likely understand what I mean when I say that some places call to the soul more than others. It’s never logical, either. It’s entirely emotional and mysterious and magical and shouldn’t be stared at too closely. A bit like the sun. These feelings guide us; in tune with our gut instinct and our sense of spirit that drives us from our very foundations, these sensations are to be respected. If you simply don’t like a place – even if you can’t quite articulate why – trust that that’s enough. You don’t need to psychoanalyse all of the sensations. The beauty of our incredible internal guidance system is that it can handle the wheel remarkably well, if only we let it. The struggle comes when we try to slip into manual override as though we know what’s best for ourselves (we don’t).

It’s impossibly difficult to follow your gut instinct 100% of the time, though I believe that it is in these moments that we faulter that most of our mistakes can be linked to. How many times can you recall saying to yourself, “I knew I shouldn’t have trusted him!” or “I knew I had a bad feeling about that car,” etc? If it’s anything like me, your response is “countless”.

If we all learned to follow our guts a little more and our brains a little less, we’d be well on the way to living happier, more fulfilling lives. The whole point of life; all we ever try to do (whether we’re consciously aware of it or not) is to follow our joy. These is no feeling remotely comparable to the immense satisfaction of feeling like you’re in the right place. Where you’re meant to be. It stimulates this sense of home or belonging that could never be matched by bricks and cement alone (no matter how physically beautiful the structure). Akin to the “flow state”, following your joy is the practice of choosing to pursue what feels good, because, well, it feels good.

It sounds easy right? It sounds So. Damn. Easy. But it isn’t. Especially if you’re not in the practice of doing this already. In fact, for most of us it is the complete opposite: a challenge that must be chipped away at, like Michelangelo’s David. Our brains tell us no, but our body is telling us yeeesss (#sorrynotsorry for that). If you’ve been raised to believe you’re a smart girl (or guy) who has always done the logical thing, you’re essentially on a par with a newborn baby in terms of life experience following your gut. Scary thought, huh? Although actually, the baby has an advantage, somewhat. At least they are starting with a clean slate. You might well have to undo years of terrible decision-making and face things like ending your relationship, changing careers or moving halfway across the world to get back on track with your soul’s desires.

But before I scare you off, let me emphasise that any trade-offs end up with you better off every single time. One hundred percent success rate, people! Suddenly it doesn’t seem so bad right? Any uncomfortable, intermediate stages of stress/anger/sadness/frustration are only fleeting, soon to be replaced by better-than-your-wildest dreams kinds of things. Alluring, huh?

The process for following your gut is incredibly simple really; you make all of your decisions based off of feeling rather than logic. It can certainly take some practice though, so here’s a good place to start if you really feel like you have no idea and are, like, totally overwhelmed by this potential lifestyle change.

  1. Start small. Rome wasn’t built in a day and all that jazz. Start with decisions as simple as which brand of lotion to buy, or which hot drink to order in the coffee shop. Practice the art of making choices that are totally in line with where you’re at on any given day.
  2. Get familiar with “the feeling”. If you’re totally out of touch with your gut instinct, a really easy practice to follow is taking some time out in a quiet seat or lying flat on your back. Place your hands to your solar plexus and then, allow your thoughts to drift over the following, paying attention to the sensations that arise in your body:
    1. Your pet
    2. Your partner
    3. Your child
    4. Your favourite vacation
    5. Someone who has let you down
    6. Something unjust going on in the world right now
    7. A time that you hurt someone

You’ll notice that there is a feeling signature assigned to each of the above. You can choose to articulate the emotions either aloud to yourself or written in a journal if this helps. The point is, notice the physical sensations that arise as you think through all of these different things. When faced with a new decision, our gut will echo these sensations. It’s important that we take note and pick the one that is uplifting rather than the one that causes that heavy, knotted sensation at our core.

Life is indeed much like Forest’s box of chocolates. You really don’t know what you’re gonna get. But making decisions that are aligned with our gut instinct will either generate more of the good stuff, or more of the bad. I know which one I’d rather. I encourage you to follow suit.

I’ve come to realise something that’s really thrown me. And if you know me well, you’ll know that I live for this kind of stuff. I’m game for anything that turns my thinking on its head and forces me to reassess my perspective and where I stand. Because after all, what is life if not one big, long, lesson? Some parts more comfortable than others.

Let’s backtrack for a minute to last September when this all started. I took a month off social media and boy, was that a good call. You can read about it here, if you like. It allowed me to gain some all important perspective on why it was causing me so much stress; why I was oscillating between trying to convince myself I could handle it one minute and then wanting to run in the other direction the next. The lesson learned was simple, really. I was struggling because I’m a human. An imperfect, emotional human. And last I checked, everyone else using social media is human too (alien conspiracy theories aside), which must mean that the things I was feeling were being felt by everyone else too. More on that later.

The entire point of life is to experience joy and make connections. No, not the superficial kind consisting of follows and likes, but the kind where communication takes the form of body language and expression. The kind where ideas are encouraged and something beautiful churned out because two heads are better than one. Meaningful relationships where we see the bad alongside the good in a person and accept it; supporting them and understanding why they are who they are by really seeing them through walking a mile in his or her shoes.

But we’ve walked a dangerously sharp knife edge as we’ve let social media rule our lives in recent years, without really understanding that it cannot ever be a substitute for genuine, human interaction. It isn’t a supplement; It’s just another way that we can spend our time.

As soon as I realised this, I was freed. It was really that simple. I had wriggled free of its tight grip that had suffocated me for so long. That, and realising that it was a tool that I could use to start conversations and implement social change; a way of sharing my lifestyle and beliefs in the hope that I could encourage others to make different choices; choices that I believed were kinder to our environment. But don’t get me wrong; I don’t know all the answers and I openly welcome a discussion around anything that I post about. It’s how I learn. I’m self-assured, but at the same time I understand that I don’t know all the solutions and sometimes I am wrong.

When I came back from my month off social media last year, I also made a pretty huge life choice; I came off hormonal birth control that I had been taking for near on a decade. That’s a whole other topic (that you can read about here), but one that also fits into the puzzle. It allowed me to get to know my true self for the first time in years. Kind of a big deal. And in the process of transitioning from numb human to sprightly self, I realised that something else had been bumming me out as I’d been trying to “do” social media; I wasn’t really following those who inspired me. So, I switched my focus from brands and individuals who didn’t seem to have values that aligned with my own and I tell ya, it made all the difference.

These days, I relish the fact that I’ve been able to cultivate some really special connections with actual humans who are passionate about the same things that I am interested in. We encourage each other, educate each other and shine as bright little beacons in a world that often feels very dark and cold. It’s a world that feels like it can break you and beat you down and, well, win. And that’s why social media isn’t the problem. It’s the scapegoat.

The various avenues of social media have never been the cause of our anxiety, misery and loneliness as I’ve seen them portrayed to be and as I, too, believed. They’ve never been deleterious to our health. What we have been and continue to struggle with is our own shadows; the work that we need to put in for ourselves to be better, to heal and to succeed. We are a broken people raised by parents who never knew any better and brought up in an education system that does us no good. We are square pegs meticulously forced into round holes and we’re deeply unhappy because we have this yearning to be more creative than society is set up for us to live and thrive in.

We’re expected to be happy and have our shit together at all times. Because God forbid we openly admit that we’re not doing so great. God forbid that we ask for the world to cut us some slack and give us some breathing room. There’s money to be made and mouths to stay locked and emotions never allowed to see the light of day.

Only, time’s up, isn’t it?

Ah, yes. We’re at tipping point. In all aspects, from all angles, a paradigm long overdue a shift in a different direction. Because the world will keep on turning and technology keep on churning and there’s only one way to keep up: to wake up.

I look at social media now and I see it for what it is: a marvelous, beautiful, expansive tool that can be used to change the world for better. And I’m already seeing it: exponential growth in encouragement and cultivation of ideas and momentum continues to build each day. If you’re struggling, know that you too can learn to see things from a more positive place, but only if you put the work in first. We need to stop blaming social media for all of our problems and instead look in the mirror. All that social media does is highlight our shadows; those parts within us that need care and attention. It’s hard work and perfectly natural to want to turn the other way rather than put the effort in, but use those uncomfortable truths as focal points for where change needs to be made within yourself. I cannot encourage you enough. Only when you’re all right shining a light on yourself because you’re proud of who you are and truly want to encourage others to be their best selves and the world a better place will you feel comfortable using social media. 

Take the time off, do the work and come back stronger. You can change the world, but first you have to change yourself.

Happy New Year!

Whether you rang in 2018 with vodka shots and an all-night bender, a glass of bubbly next to the fire or slept the midnight chime, might I suggest taking some moments during this first week to meditate on the year that’s passed and plan for the year ahead.

Trust me, I am not about to be all resolution-preaching. In fact, 2017 was a year of monthly challenges for me instead which culminated in something pretty big. Take a read over here to see what I mean. Over the years, I’ve seen resolution after resolution dissipate into nothingness; sometimes before January has even come to a close. We have these really powerful intentions and know the ways in which we want to better ourselves, but there’s just something so completely impossible to adhere to. General resolutions are vague. We humans need a little more structure, I’ve come to realise.

So, if you want something a little different, here are some ideas for things you can do in 2018. See if one resonates with you. All offer the opportunity for self-growth and actualisation. Plus, the challenge likely will appeal to the competitive amongst you. So, without further ado.

1. Read 52 books. 52 weeks in a year, 52 books you can get through. This is a pretty hefty goal and it really might not be possible for the busiest of folks. However, if you have the luxury of time, put it to use by doing something you’ll be incredibly proud of come this time next year. Select a mixture of fiction and non-fiction. Some could be classics, others instructional, others historical. Learn about our world, bask in creative genius and study something new.

2. Daily Journal. Even if it’s only a few lines while you’re sipping your morning coffee, buy yourself a journal and record your thoughts every day for the next year. These are always immensely satisfying to look back over and see how you’ve grown, what’s bothered you and what you’ve enjoyed. Time has this way of slipping through our fingers and with it goes those beautiful little daily moments that we soon forget if they aren’t recorded. In 10 years time, you’ll treasure this creation.

3. Learn something new. Sign up to a class in that one thing that you’ve always wanted to learn and dive in. No one likes feeling like a newbie, but you must remember that we all have to start somewhere. In a year from now, you’ll thank yourself a million times over that you took the plunge.

4. Volunteer your time. One of the best things I did for my mental health in 2017 was volunteer my time for one day a week. Learn some skills, meet people you wouldn’t otherwise and experience the joy of hard work that you’re doing for free. There’s something really beautiful about putting your all into something simply because you want to. If only we could do that full time, eh?

5. Cuisine a month. One of the best parts of travelling around the world is the food IMO. Having your tastebuds tantalised by something foreign and interesting is truly enriching. But even if you can’t make it to India, Italy or Indonesia to try out the local culinary delights, there’s no reason you can’t bring the flavours to you. Focus on a cuisine you have little experience with for each month of 2018. Perhaps seek out an appropriate restaurant to head to at the start of the month for inspiration, then take to Google and get creative, trying out new spices, sauces and cooking techniques that you’ve never used before. Creativity at its best. Wow friends and family by hosting a dinner at the end of the month to share what you’ve learned and convert others.

6. Buy only secondhand. We’ve got far too much of everything accumulating on our planet, so why not commit to a year of purchasing only secondhand. Whether it be clothing, furniture, a car, appliances or whatever else, spend a little more time researching and swipe a good deal in the process. Know that by doing this you’re living completely waste-free and preventing yet another item end up in landfill.

So whether you try a year of monthly challenges, one of the above or something else entirely, know that you have the power to absolutely kick this year in the booty and become the person that you want to be. All it takes is hard work and dedication; nothing you can’t do with a little focus.