Slipping Back into Normality

And as a result, I’m feeling exhausted. Anyone else?


On Monday, just after 7:30 am, I boarded a train for the first time since March 2020. The chilly air wrapped around my face but gave me some welcome relief from the claggyness of wearing a mask. It was a bit of a surreal moment, but an important one for stepping back into normality — whatever that’s supposed to now mean.

Apart from a brief three-week stint in the run-up to Christmas, Monday was my first day back at work in fourteen months. If you had told me at the beginning of March this was what my life would be like for over a year; I would have laughed. It’s funny how small things — like getting a train — have become so abnormal in the last year. Amidst the excitement of something that seemed so ‘new,’ it was nice to be able to sit on a creaky train and rumble into the town where I work.

Despite customers not fully returning until next week, I found the day to be exhausting, to say the least, but it was nice to see colleagues I haven’t seen for the best part of a year. As I ease my way back into what my life used to be like in March 2020, I want to continue the writing habit I formulated during those empty months. It’s given me a great form of release, creativity and an integral coping mechanism to this uncertain year. It might be harder to fit around work and everything else, but I will try.

I hope this week’s newsletter finds you all well and gradually slotting back into ‘normal’ life. Remember, it’s perfectly acceptable to go at your own pace. Only do things you are comfortable with.


Article recommendations 

  • For those of us who tend to have an addictive, obsessive personality, it can be easy to slip into unhealthy patterns of exercise, eating, and restriction. When I used to run regularly, I would beat myself up every time I hadn’t improved my distance or pace. I’ve since been able to have a better relationship with running (on the rarity that I do go!), and Sophie F. writes about this so well — My Experience with Disordered Eating and a Fitness Obsession.
  • A refreshing and uplifting take on why age is predominately a societal construction. For those of us who fear edging slowly but surely towards our 30s, this is a brilliant read by Dan Cadmus — Why I Don’t Fear Turning 30
  • Sometimes I think even I am too old to want to be a writer/journalist and I should have started years ago (I’m 23 for reference), but I know this is silly, as some people start way later in life. This is an inspiring and uplifting article (Are You Waiting To Be Too Old To Start Writing?) about always being prepared to pursue your dreams, even when you think it’s too late. By Vishnu*s Virtues.
  • Everyone has had a different experience of the pandemic. This group article by all the Backbench editor’s (including me!) really shines a light on this difficult year — The Pandemic: Our Personal Perspectives.

Book recommendations 

Image created by the author using Canva

Merging the Drift, Tom Bray

Although this took me a long time to read, this is no reflection on what I thought of the book. I’m reading everything at a snail pace at the moment because that’s all I can do. Also, I read about 3–4 books at once so it’s bound to take me that bit longer with every read. I thought this was a highly original and uplifting book. It’s an intriguing story with lots of twists and turns that all comes together with a satisfying ending. I may be a little biased, as I interviewed Tom for a feature in A Thousand Lives, but I highly enjoyed his first novel. I will be writing a full review soon.

Stoner, John Williams

It’s been a while since I read this (2016, in fact) but I can remember absolutely loving it. It’s a strange, untypical novel that follows the life of William Stoner, born at the end of the nineteenth century. He studies English literature, becomes a professor and falls in love with a student, which is a million words away from his upbringing in a farming family. As a result, he’s estranged from his parents and lives a life of perpetual loneliness. It’s a novel about circumstance, regret, love and the shortness of life.


What I wrote this week



This hefty chunk of reading material should be enough for one week! In all seriousness, I need to up my reading game. Not because I feel pressured to read loads of books this year (quite the opposite) but just because I miss having that quiet time curled up with a book. I hope you all have a great weekend, Violet x

If you enjoyed this newsletter, please consider giving me a tip at paypal.me/Violet977I don’t feel comfortable charging anyone for this newsletter, but I am a graduate who is just starting and trying to make a living. Whether you can donate 5p or £5, I’d be forever grateful. Thank you.



4 Benefits of Experiencing Grief and Loss

And what it can mean for eventually living a better life.


Life, at its core, is about death. There’s no escaping from its eventuality. We’ve all been through a year of prominent loss, and some of us even losing loved ones before their time. The pandemic has thrown death into the forefront and caused it to often be experienced behind closed doors.

As it has become such a main feature, it serves as a daily reminder of how we are such futile beings. We never know when the next day could be our last or how much time we have got left. That’s part of the wonder, uncertainty and joy of being human and having the privilege of being alive.

This is not going to be some forcefully positive story about how death and grief is always a wonderful and enlightening experience — because it’s not all of the time. Additionally, everybody is different. No person grieves in the same way, and it takes some longer than others to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

But in this year of prominent loss, I wanted to add in some light. As nobody can escape a life without loss, we all have to eventually come to terms with it.

Doing so can cause a re-appreciation for life or even a fundamental reshaping of how we see the world. Under its layers of darkness, there are glimmers of light. Here’s how to seek them out and eventually start leading a more fulfilling life when you’re ready.


1. You learn heaps about yourself

Many of us probably go about our day to day lives, not entirely feeling in tune with ourselves. Maybe we are people pleasers who often say yes to invitations and requests at the detriment of our own well being. Maybe we are trying to fit in with a friendship group we shouldn’t be a part of. Or maybe we have strained, unfixable relationships with our family that we continue to persist with despite the strain on our mental health.

Whatever it is — there will be times in our lives where we push our needs to one side to accommodate others — there is a time and place for being selfless. But experiencing grief and loss is one point in our lives where we should be unashamedly selfish.

When I lost my older brother last year, just before lockdown happened for the first time, I had no idea how to process the grief and wealth of emotions that came with it. Apart from losing a few family pets and distant family members in the past, I had never dealt with grief on such a personal level. I had no idea what to do with those emotions. It was a year-long process of working out how best I could cope with it, and it was pretty unconventional.

I requested family and friends to leave me alone.

Despite the thoughtful messages and barrage of ‘how are you?’ constantly, I just wanted to be left to it. I needed to be undisturbed to process these emotions in the best way for me.

Everybody will have a different coping mechanism, but silent solitude was the way I got through it. Not replying to anyone, not talking and processing these emotions through journaling, mindful exercise and eventually falling in love with writing was my way out. It certainly won’t be everybody’s — but that’s what this process taught me.

Of course, nobody craves grief or wants to go through it, but it will certainly teach you a lot about yourself and how you process difficult emotions. This will undoubtedly then stay with you for life.


2. It can bring us closer together

Although this contrasts with the solitude I just expressed, it’s nonetheless an important facet of going through grief. Death is the one asset of life that everybody will share — despite other differences beyond our control.

In the deepest, rawest thaws of grief, it’s easy to forget. Believe me, I did. For me, this realisation definitely took time, and it might for you too. It might take months or even years to gain this sense of commonality, but once you do, it will make you realise just how similar we all are.

“Despite grief being individual, it is also universal.” — William Berry, LMHC., CAP

Although grief is such an individual experience, death in a wider sense is universal. Once you are out of the darkest side, it can be a great comfort to know that everybody around us — whether stranger or friend — will at some point go through a similar range of emotions. After all, death is such an integral part of our lives. It’s what makes us human.

In a year where death has featured so heavily across the world with the pandemic, knowing that all of us will never be able to escape it is strangely comforting.

In the depths of isolation and pain, sometimes this realisation can help, but it will definitely become an advantage once you are through the other side. Realising our universality, rather than difference, encourages us to be more empathetic and understanding towards each other.


3. It teaches us to be better listeners

I’ve never been the best listener, and I think it’s because my mind likes to whirl at one hundred miles an hour. But I’m working on it. For me, solitude was an essential part of processing grief for the first year after I lost my brother.

But when I started to feel comfortable with opening up and talking about it all, I realised how important it was that the other person was a good listener. It can be easy to smother the grieving person in positive sentiments, affirmations of love and all the rest, and forget to pause and listen.

Before I lost someone, I didn’t know how to comfort another person going through grief. It felt alien and beyond my realm. If I had known then that one of the most important things was to listen, I would have saved myself many worries.

If you’re stuck with finding the right words to say to someone, the best bet is to provide them with a space to vent and for you to listen. It can be tempting to fill the void with positive words and thoughts, but when you’re in the thick of grief and processing it all, in reality, this is meaningless. You just want to be heard.

Listening as a skill is underrated. We live in a world where we all want to be heard on some level, whether that’s through social media or in real life. Politics has become more polarised because individuals fail to listen and have a valuable conversation with each other. If in doubt, we should all be prepared to sit back and listen, as words are meaningless if used just to fill a void.


4. You learn to find joy in the simplest of things

Being at your worst mentally can cause you to see the beauty in the every day, as often it’s the only way through the struggle. Whether it’s finding appreciation in an indulgent cup of coffee in the morning, harnessing a new appreciation for nature or devoting time to doing one thing that you love every day, grief reminds us of these snippets of joy.

As it’s a time to be unashamedly selfish and putting ourselves first, it also involves a process of discovering what makes you feel your best and what can brighten a dark day. Importantly, doing so isn’t implying all the pain will go away but offering a sense of respite.

Nancy Berns, PhD, writing in Psychology Today, talks about the process of learning how to ‘wade through’ and fight against the tide during grief.

Imperative to this is learning how to find the positives even in moments of great pain and loss. This, in turn, will put us on the path to acceptance but importantly, this doesn’t mean those feelings of grief will go away. Part of accepting it is knowing that it may always be there, gently simmering in the background.

“Wade into the pain (like getting use to the cold) until you feel some warmth. Face the pain long enough to be able to look around and see that joy and life remain. You can learn to float while immersed in grief.” — Nancy Berns Ph.D

Finding pleasure and happiness in the smallest things can help you through grief and is an ideal way to approach life. It encourages us to be grateful, resourceful, and live a far more sustainable life than constantly craving excess, which will not further our overall happiness or state of mind.


Going through grief can expose the importance of learning about ourselves, bringing people closer together in their shared struggle, knowing when to listen rather than talk and find joy even in the darkest of times. Nobody wants to experience grief, but it is inevitable for us all and a part of life.

Although grief is a universal emotion, the way we process it can be different. However, like many things in life, there are positives you can take away from the experience if only you know where to look.

Originally published in Mind Cafe on Medium.com


Further reading:

5 Mindfulness Strategies You Can Adopt to Help with Grief and Loss

Dear Ryan


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I Went Back to Work for the First Time in 14 months

Observations and thoughts from this momentous day and returning to normality


The sun was already shining into the room before it hit 6 o’clock this morning. I knew as I had been awake before my alarm. The night before, I panicked that I would sleep through because I am not used to being awake at that early hour.

My body was high on the excitement and nerves of returning to work for the first time since March 2020. I briefly did a stint at another store in the three weeks before Christmas, but this was going to be something else. I had to brave public transport, the commute and a whole set of people I haven’t seen for fourteen months.

Despite the lack of sleep and being awake at 6:30 am on a Monday in May, it made me think about how much the world had changed since the last time I took that journey. And most importantly, how much I had, too.


The town I work in somehow looks emptier but packed full of life

As I wandered down all too familiar streets as the morning sun hit the shiny windows, I was struck by how many places were boarded up and empty. Many livelihoods and local businesses had obviously not made it out to the other side of the pandemic. Those people would never be able to make a return journey to a place they knew and worked in before. It was all gone.


But as I walked, I noticed that there were new leases of life everywhere. Another set of people were willing to take a shot at owning a bar, pub, shop or restaurant when a lot of the street had given up hope, thanks to the pandemic. As I went about my day and eased myself back into work, I found myself taking frequent glances out of the window. I was shocked to see streams of people — having been on my own for most of the year.


People were sitting outside in the sun, walking dogs, carrying children and living life for all of us to see. Because for months before this, it has largely been behind closed doors, and our streets have been stagnant.


Life was bursting out of the seams when I looked out of that window, but yet there was so much that had grown lethargic, even motionless.


There’s something entirely comforting about being surrounded by books and like-minded people


I’ve been curled up in my flat for the best part of the year. In the darkest months of the pandemic, I would go for weeks without seeing another person (aside from my partner.) Today felt better. Being surrounded by books in my flat felt like being in a room full of lots of people and stories, because in essence, that’s exactly what they are, aside from physical objects.


And I was getting hints of that familiar feeling by being back at work. In case you hadn’t guessed by now, I work in a bookshop. A wonderful bookshop in a busy high street, staffed by some of the nicest, most welcoming and friendly people I have ever met. As I walked through the door, I was hit by that familiar book smell and the comfort that being surrounded by shelves full to the brim with books often brings.


It takes a particular type of person to walk (and browse in) a bookshop. But we are usually all pretty similar. Being back there today made me realise just how comforting it is and how much it was missed during the empty months that have just been.


Getting up before the rest of the world is tough but endlessly rewarding

Okay, 6:30 isn’t that early. I am exaggerating a bit. However, a lot of people aren’t up at that time. I was dreading it the night before, as I always get this feeling of nervous anticipation before starting something new. I wasn’t worried about going back or anything like that; I just had butterflies in my belly and found it hard to settle (and sleep.)

The thought of getting up at 6:30 when I’ve been treated to a year of getting up on my own terms and having lazy mornings was tough. But when it came round to it, I was raring to go, even waking up half an hour before my alarm.

As I sit here and write this, fourteen hours later, my eyes are weary, and I can feel an enormous weight of tiredness washing over me. My feet ache, and my brain is tired from the constant socialisation. But was it worth it? Yes, always, for the accomplishment it brings. I know my day has been spent well, and I have made another step back to normality.


I wanted to write today, but I didn’t quite know what I would feel up to because of the long day I’ve had. I’m not sure if this adds any value for anyone else, but that’s okay. Writing doesn’t always have to. It’s a means of expression at its finest, and sometimes, it’s okay to be selfish and only mean something to the person writing it.

At its core, this is a snapshot of my day, but maybe it will be enjoyable to read for others. I’m going to try and push through and continue to write whilst I’m at work, even if I’m tired because I love it. Writing to me is one of the only things that make sense in this world, so I have to do it.

I hope you have all had a good start to your week. What are you up to? Let me know if you like 😊

Further reading:

I Was One of the Top 1000 Medium Writers In April

3 History Books That Will Change the Way You See the World


Please note, this was originally published on Medium.com

Progress Isn’t Linear

Feeling the pressure? Don’t — you’re doing great.


In our day to day lives, we can all get bogged down with what we’re not doing rather than what we are. This can give us a false impression of the progress we’ve made and can obscure how far we have come.

The pandemic and the new working from home culture that has evolved from it has disrupted the balance between work and downtime, and for many of us, on furlough or spending more time at home, the pressure to fit something in at every hour of the day can be a lot.

When you’re not doing anything particularly ‘productive’, it can be easy to beat yourself up about it. But I’m here to remind you that progress isn’t linear. If it were, we’d all be where we want to be, instantaneously. Primarily, this is because life is inherently unpredictable. There will be days that are written off for a myriad of reasons, or even years, depending on everyone’s personal situation.

So don’t get down in the dumps if you are not where you want to be yet — and instead — focus on where you are right now and what you have done.

Often, I can get down in the dumps about being behind in my career and the fact I’ve spent nearly every day at home since March 2020. On bad days, I can take to social media and compare myself to people (especially those younger than me) and marvel and their positions. But then I remember how important this abundance of free time has been for me.

If it weren’t for the pandemic, I probably would have launched into some graduate job I wasn’t that keen on, never discovered my love for writing, and my anxiety would have spiralled. Although I may not be where I thought I would be by this age, there are other things I have achieved that I am proud of, especially when I make an effort to reflect on how far I’ve come.

Take my writing as one example. On the left is my total reach from just two months of writing on Medium. On the right, after eight months, is what it looks like today.

Image created by the author using Canva

I’m having a bit of a rough time with my writing now, especially on Medium. But when I look at that side by side, I realise just how much progress I have made. It puts everything into perspective. I can guarantee you’re making progress in whatever you are doing, but perhaps, you don’t realise it yet.


Articles


Books

Image created by the author using Canva

Jo Cox: More in Common, by Brendan Cox (biography)

As local elections are on the horizon here in the UK, I’m reminded of how much was lost when Thomas Mair murdered Jo Cox during the Brexit referendum campaign. Jo’s life and her approach to politics should be a reminder to us all that regardless of where you sit on the political spectrum, we do have more in common than what sets us apart.

Politics should be less divisive and binary, and it is a shame in recent years that it has become this way.

‘Jo Cox’s selfless service to others made the world a better place’ — Barack Obama, 44th President of the United States


Articles I wrote this week

  1. What are Local Elections and Why Do They Matter? Backbench UK
  2. Working as a Bookseller Convinced me to Always Prioritize BooksA Thousand Lives
  3. Should Writing be Approached as a Marathon or a Sprint? Writer’s Blokke

As always, I hope this newsletter finds everybody well! Remember, you make a little bit of progress every day, even if you don’t think you are. Until next week! Violet x


This is a weekly newsletter from Violet Recommends. Every week I give you some writing advice, reading recommendations and all my latest articles in one place. Sign up (it’s free!)

Originally published at https://violetdaniels.substack.com.

A Change of Direction

Long time no see! It has been a while since I’ve been posting on this blog regularly, so I thought I should get around to addressing the elephant in the room.

I started this blog a long time ago but committed myself to post on here regularly at the start of the year. This blog has offered me a lot of comfort and a way to express myself in a period of my life which has been fraught with a lot of uncertainty. Graduating in 2020, and then being hit by a global pandemic was not on the list of things I thought would happen this year, but there you go, it just goes to show we never know what’s around the corner.

I like to think I’ve grown a lot since starting this blog. I like to think that I have gotten better at writing, talking about books and of course, reading and expanding my horizons. I hope in some way I’ve managed to inspire someone to pick up a book after they’ve read one of my reviews.

During the pandemic and being out of work for 7 months, writing and reading have been my lifeline. It has been my source of distraction, escapism and labor of love during this rollercoaster period. Although I’m 23 and have nearly been a graduate for a year, I haven’t moved forwards much, and although I can’t blame the pandemic alone, it’s taken a significant toll on the kind of direction I see myself in.

Like many, I’m starting to question whether I want the big career that everyone always chases after. In recent months, I’ve preferred the idea of living a quiet life and having just enough money and savings to live comfortably and at ease.

Photo by cottonbro from Pexels

I still don’t know what I want to do with my life, and feel the pressure mounting everyday. I’m 23, and still haven’t ever had a “proper job” and sometimes it can be hard to see how I’m adding to the world in a positive way – which is something I’ve always wanted to do.

All I know is that I love writing and hope that one day it can be good enough to make me a living and make an impact on someone’s life. Maybe that’s selfish and a bit pig-headed, I don’t know. But all I do know is that I love both reading and writing and hope that one day I can spend the rest of my life doing these things. What’s the point in spending a minute of your life not doing something you love?

I’ve been quiet on this blog as I’ve been swept into the minefield that is Medium. Before I started writing on there, I had no idea what to expect. I didn’t know if my writing would get drowned out by the sheer range of amazing writers there, or if I could get more noticed than I do over here. I will stress that writing for me isn’t solely about getting noticed, but it’s nice to make an impact and be recognized for my work.

The brunt of it is, as each day passes I am growing more fond of Medium and seeing far more benefits. Not to say this doesn’t happen on WordPress from time to time, but the community of writers over there are incredibly supportive and some of the friendliest strangers I’ve ever come across. The wealth of publications and the standard of writing never fails to amaze me, and I generally feel kind of honoured to be part of it as I use it to explore and experiment into what kind of writer I want to be. In that respects, this blog is going to take a backseat now.

The reality of it is, I find Medium is easier to write on, and in two months I nearly have three times the audience over there than I do on here. I’m less into the blogging style of writing and that’s why I am attracted to the simplicity of Medium. I feel like it prioritizes the quality of writing over anything else – which appeals to me.

In many ways, this blog was the start of everything. When I felt truly alone and hopeless in my first year of university, I turned to this blog for the first time and wrote about how I felt. It was the first time I had been so honest online about my feelings and it paved the way for growing my confidence. Looking back, I like to think that I now write with greater eloquence, wit and appeal – but who knows!

This blog has also given me a lot of opportunities in recent months, as I’ve been approached by small publishers and authors to review and read books, which I never thought would happen! I’m so grateful for everyone who has ever reached out to me and feel truly humbled that I can play a small part in spreading the word for some wonderful books. I’m taking a small break from that at the moment, but I’ll be accepting review requests again soon.

In other words – from now on, I’m primarily going to be publishing over on Medium.

However, that doesn’t mean this blog is going to be deleted or that I won’t be active on here from time to time. I plan to use this platform primarily as a portfolio and a place to direct people to when looking for work, but I will still be posting book reviews. The WordPress and Medium community are very different, but I can find value in both, which is why I’m going to remain using them both.

If you are a Medium user, you can find my profile here and I’ve also started a publication over there with the same name as this blog, The Violet Review, if you would like to follow that too.

So, expect to see less content over here, as I focus more of my attention on Medium. That’s not to say I won’t be posting, but it will probably be more personal things, rants and ramblings, sandwiched between book reviews and the like.

Thank you to everyone who has followed, liked or commented on my blog posts – it means a lot to me and continues to do so. This isn’t a goodbye, but just to update you on some changes I’m making as to the direction of my writing.

Happy reading!

Violet