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Run
Eleven
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Sex Appeal II: Come Again
Under Cover: Erotica and Sexism
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Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Run 

I used to be very cynical when I read how depression could be improved through exercise. So many writers of articles seem to claim that they have magically and instantly overcome their depression simply by exercising; their underlying (and sometimes blatant) smugness is incredibly off-putting. It’s especially frustrating to read if, like many people, one leads an active life and still suffers from mental health difficulties. Exercise is not the cure-all it’s often made out to be, and people have in no way failed if it does little to assist them.

So I feel somewhat cautious about writing this post, because right now I am evangelical about exercise, and that’s not something I ever expected myself to feel, let alone say publicly. I can only speak for myself, obviously, and I’m posting this mostly just to put my thoughts out there, but also to share my own personal experience in case it might be helpful. I’m also very nervous about publishing this, because it is an incredibly personal post, and, well, I don’t share this stuff in public usually. But if doing so assists someone else, I think it’s worth it.

Please note, this is a post about depression: some people may find details below triggering.

Earlier this year I was experiencing possibly the worst depression I’ve ever had. I felt constantly anxious, sad, but also numb. Even basic things like eating became difficult; how is it possible that even food can taste grey and lacking pleasure? Nothing in my life seemed to have colour. I was heartbroken over an incredibly painful breakup, I felt unable to write - the only thing I could produce were tears - and I was full of self-hatred at lost opportunities both personal and professional. Even my sex drive disappeared.

I wanted something to distract me from my persistent grief and self-loathing and I discovered that external pain temporarily made the internal pain disappear. But with no partner around to whip my arse full of delightful marks, I took instead to hurting myself. Punching myself to the point of painful bruising gave me a form of release that was much needed and it also made me forget how much my insides were hurting. I liked how it felt, but it was when I wanted more, where I was constantly fantasising about cutting myself, that I knew what I was doing was fucked up (and I talked about it with a therapist) and needed to stop.

I really was in the depths then. I had got to the point where I just didn’t want to be alive, because every day that I was, I was overwhelmed and suffocated by how awful I felt and it seemed better - it seemed easier - to just quit. I felt like I had used up all my favours with friends with my incessant talking about my silly broken heart, that I was boring even myself with my permanently low mood. I longed for quiet, for my stupid brain and heart to shut up, and many, many times the idea of ending it seemed so, so appealing.

I don’t know what changed, or when it changed. There was no epiphany. This wasn’t a movie where some knight in shining armour appears, or some fairy godmother waves a happy wand. No magic pill took the pain or darkness away. Nothing radical happened. But something in me shifted. It was subtle, very quiet, but present: it was a vague desire to move. To shift. To put one foot in front of the other and walk forwards. To leave the bad stuff behind. And so I did.

My first forays were walks in a local nature reserve. I would walk until the panic I felt lessened, and instead of hearing my own whiny voice in my head, I was listening to the birdsong that surrounded me. I began walking a few times a week and soon my walks got faster and longer and more frequent. At some point, a few weeks in, I decided there was no point walking anymore, because now I wanted to run.

Running was, for me, something I used to do regularly. Indeed, in this blog’s earliest posts over ten years ago, much of it is filled with dull recounts of distances I had run and speeds I had achieved. I had begun running as a hobby in 2003, as a result of a back injury which had left me off work for six months and depressed. After my recuperation, I kept running for some years - for pleasure mostly, but also for fitness - and it’s only been in recent years that I’ve let this slip from my life.

So that was how I found myself, in the depths of miserable February, dressed in all the warm layers I could find, running in my local park when it was dark, 5ºC and pouring with rain. As I ran through the physical pain - and god, it really did hurt back then - I kept thinking: Zoe, if you can do this, if you can make it through this and how fucking grim and horrible it is outside, you can make it through anything. I do remember that day, because that was really the start of it all for me. Every day I run now, I say the same thing to myself: if you can do this, you can do anything. Four months in and I know it’s true.

And so I ran. I continue to run and run. Every step forwards is a step away from pain, a step closer to feeling better. But this isn’t just some mind-game mantra I play with myself, I know that 45 minutes in (and for me, it’s never sooner), endorphins kick in, and suddenly I feel flooded with huge amounts of positive brain chemistry which overwhelms the negative. I’m not going to cite sources or quote scientists on this, or explain how and why it happens, but for me this stuff is real. The equation, in my experience, is simple: I feel shit, so I run. Some happy brain chemistry happens, then I feel brilliant. That’s it. Nothing more.

But it doesn’t have a permanent effect, alas. For me, my depression whilst now manageable, is still very much at arm’s reach. If I don’t do any exercise on a given day, my mood immediately becomes low. If it’s a few days, the black cloud hovers directly over me and I feel awful. Its return really is that quick. So the only thing I can do is keep running - keep moving forwards - because as long as I do that, I feel good about myself.

Of course, there are other positive side effects which have helped to improve my mood: I feel fitter than I have done for years; I am constantly impressed by my body’s abilities and achievements; and I adore how my body is changing, becoming firmer and stronger and more powerful. I look in the mirror now and instead of hating what I see, I know I’m strong and determined and beautifully more muscular. I like me now and every day I run, or go to the gym, or do a boxing class, I like myself even more.

Exercise, for me, has quite literally saved my life and continues to do so on a daily basis. I want to be alive now - I love how alive I feel after running for five miles. Because of that, I began thinking: if this has helped me, maybe it can benefit others? That’s when I remembered: ten years ago I ran the London 10K race for a charity. Wouldn’t it be a nice, pleasingly-circular thing to run it again, ten years later, so that something else even more positive can come out of my depression?

That’s why I am running the London 10K race again this July 12th, on behalf of The Nia Project - a charity who support women and children who are suffering domestic violence. Running the race is not just about proving to myself that I can do it once more, but wanting to give something back to people whose situation is far more desperate than my own. I’m running for Nia because I want to help women who are experiencing violence and fear escape from it, and get back on their feet. So please, if you can donate even a quid, it would be greatly appreciated.

If this post has resonated with you in any way, I hope that it’s been for good reasons, not because I come across as smug or lecturing others on a “cure” for depression. I just hope that it might help some people, or at least shed some light on an area that is very dark and hard to talk about. And also this is my way of poking my head out of the dark waters, waving a bit and saying I’m okay. I’m going to be okay.


P.S. The comment box isn't working, but if you'd like to talk about this post, please @ me on Twitter: I'm @girlonetrack

Thursday, January 01, 2015

Eleven 


I realise that posting this on here today now just marks an annual event, not another of what used to be my daily writings, and I do feel sad about that. I miss having this as a regular outlet for my thoughts - it was so cathartic for me - and it's a shame I can't write as openly or often on here the way I once did. However, I'm not going to wallow in self-pity about that; I might post here more frequently this year, even if it'll be thoughts and feelings about subjects other than sex. Because, christ, I have OPINIONS, like all the other fuckwits on the internet, and I need some place to express those. (Twitter is not the platform for considered thought. Take note, ignorant trolls.) I might even write more about film and feminism as those are my other true loves. I may still include navel gazing though. Hey, it's my blog, deal with it.

Looking at the post I published on here exactly a year ago it strikes me what a similar place I'm in now: I could publish the exact same thing today and it wouldn't be far off from where I'm at. I'm not sure whether to be sad about that, or happy. We all try to learn lessons from our mistakes, as well as our successes, so it is kind of odd to read something I wrote a year ago and feel that not much has changed. Did I learn much over the past year? Probably not enough. Have I been trapped in aspects of my life which don't entirely make me happy? Probably yes.

I spent a lot of this past year a bit stuck and quite frustrated. Not sexually, thank god, as I have had some of the best sex in my life, but emotionally and creatively. The relationship which I thought would be life-long ended, and that has really thrown me, leaving me feeling pretty fragile and more than a bit sad. It took me a long time to realise what I wanted from a romantic relationship and an even longer time to meet someone with whom I thought I would be compatible. So it's hard to learn that love isn't always enough and that even when two people match 99% of the time, and are best friends, it can be their non-matching 1% which sadly means the relationship has no future.

Breakups are hard at any time and mine has been compounded by a difficult period of work frustrations combined with depression. I'm not going to go into that in any great detail other than to say it's been pretty fucking shit, it's affected my ability to be productive, and I am not special in any way from suffering with it. I am really glad to see the back of 2014, because so much of it was spent under a black cloud of hopelessness, and I am determined that 2015 will be better for me.

So I'm approaching this new year with a fighting attitude, a hopeful heart and an open mind. As well as running Sex Appeal, the annual comedy benefit in January which I do for Brook, the young people's sexual health charity, I am also working on two projects which I'm really excited about: one for film, and one for TV. And yes, you will be seeing something else happening with Girl With A One Track Mind in the near future... Oh, and if any commissioning editors are reading this, I'm always up for writing about and commenting on feminism, film, food and fucking (and other, non-f-word subjects like politics, pop-culture, technology and travel), so drop me a line.

To all of you, I wish you good health, happiness, love and lust for the coming year. My advice? Try not to Wankrastinate too much: it only leads to Bully Wanks and I think we all know how disappointing they are.






Wednesday, January 01, 2014

Ten 


Ten years ago today, I posted my inaugural entry on this blog. It makes me feel quite old and very nostalgic to be looking back to then; a lot has changed in my life since that initial moment I pressed ‘publish’. I remember being filled with excitement when I did. Finally, I had a platform all of my own, a soapbox on which I could say what I wanted without fear of judgement. Because my day-to-day life at that time consisted of working on male-dominated, very sexist, film sets, I feared ridicule for speaking my mind, so it was amazingly liberating to be able to do that here.
Looking back, I can see how naïve I was then: really, I knew little about being safe online and my enthusiasm for the medium overshadowed my instinctive hesitancy regarding my own security. I probably was a little too forthcoming with the truth - a ‘quality’ of mine that both hinders and helps me to this day - and if I knew then what I knew now, about how one’s privacy can be breached, exploited, violated, I probably would have been less honest in what I shared on here.
But then, that was what my blog was: a true account of a real woman’s sex life, blogged with total veracity, not fictionalised, glossed-up, or softened for audience approval or advertising revenue. I guess the honesty is what made readers connect with it: the good, bad and ugly were all covered (let’s face it, sex can be pretty disappointing sometimes) and people could relate to that.
I’ve always said that my obvious neuroses and insecurities as detailed on the blog made it clear that I didn’t write it to titillate; there’s as much introspective navel-gazing in the posts as there are descriptions of wanking. Speaking of which, quite a few men have written to me over the years to tell me that whilst they initially explored the blog for its erotic content and their own self-pleasure, they ended up staying for the personal-reflection, political ruminations and humour. Or, more bluntly, they came (pun intended) to wank, and left thinking about sex, but with two hands still firmly on their keyboards, not in their laps. Hearing that made me proud, not because there’s anything wrong with finding this blog, or any other sex blog arousing, but to know that men connected with it beyond their cocks, and in an intellectual way, meant I had achieved what I set out to do: to get people to think differently about sex.
Funnily enough, I never thought women would connect with the blog at all. When I began writing it, I felt alienated from other women, which may have had something to do with my daily working environment, or, perhaps, just a product of the era: in 2004, online communities were a bit more fragmented and it wasn’t as easy as it is now (say, with Twitter) to feel part of an alliance of like-minded individuals whose experiences are shared.
Back then, it felt like I was shouting about sex into a vacuum where there were two extreme, opposing perspectives: one, in women’s magazines, where women were portrayed as basically ‘innocent’ non-sexual beings who ‘give’ away their virginity to men and whose objective is to a) find a man and b) please him; and two, the other end of the media spectrum, where women were seen as 'sluts', and sexual ‘liberation’ meant the 'freedom' to be objectified for men’s titillation and gratification. I related to neither position.
How was it possible, I wondered, to express that I, as a feminist woman, was a desirous being who had sexual agency and who was neither ashamed of that, nor interested in expressing my sexuality through a patriarchal capitalist lens which solely focused on male pleasure? The answer, for me, was this blog: here would be my authentic female experience. I loved sex and was not going to apologise for that.
What I did not expect was that other women might relate to what I had written - which shows both my ignorance and my feeling isolated at that time. I really had no idea that the blog - and later, the books - would resonate so much with women; I had imagined that my online ramblings about my sex life might be read by a few nerds, rather than, a few years in, more than eight million people.
I’ve been told that some young women refer to my first book with an alternative title: ‘The Bible’. Now, stating that here will make me sound like an arrogant arse, I know. But you know what? Fuck it. I’ve had scores - no, hundreds - of emails from young women telling me they have passed around and shared battered, bookmarked, copies of my book with their friends and that from it they have learned that there is no shame in sex, or in owning their desire; that deriving pleasure from their own bodies is a positive thing; that they feel more confident in finding out what they enjoy in sex (and asking for it); and you know what? That makes me so proud. It never occurred to me that the book would be helpful to others in this way and knowing that it has, means that whatever difficulties I faced as a result of its publication makes the writing of it, and the blog, all worthwhile.
I have to mention the loss of my anonymity, of course I do. How could I not? (For those at the back of the class, a quick catch-up: I wrote this blog anonymously; in late 2005 I was offered a publishing deal; the book was published in late 2006; a few days after the book was out, the Sunday Times ran an expose ‘outing’ me as the author; the tabloids hounded me and my family; I went into hiding.) I think the violation of my privacy damaged me in ways I couldn’t comprehend and I am still suffering, emotionally, now. Sure, it’s some years later, and I’m far more savvy about the press, especially given I am now part of the media, but privately there’s still a hole, a tear in me, which is unhealed and raw and painful.
I realise I am still unable to fully trust people, find it hard to let people get close to me, and am far more suspicious than I used to be of other’s motives when it comes to sex and relationships. Perhaps this is good - cynicism can offer emotional protection - but it’s also restrictive: you have to open up to be able to be intimate with people, and it’s this part of me which is still, to this day, fragile and damaged.
I’ve learned this wound gets reopened and triggered by unexpected things. While in a happily non-monogamous relationship with someone, seeing others publicly flirt with him, or try to date him made me feel like my life was transparent, on display: I felt invaded, naked, nothing to hide or protect me. Rather than see other people’s interactions with my partner as something sweet (as I may once have done), and separate to me, it reignited my memory of violation once again, where I felt I had no control over what people know or don’t know about my personal life. Ironically, for someone who lived their (albeit anonymous) sex life very publicly on here, I am now - as a necessity of my own emotional survival - incredibly private.
This is why I have not written about the most meaningful relationship of my life so far, or about my realising I want a life partner and children. Or why I’ve not shared the threesomes, foursomes and fivesomes I’ve had, the sex parties I’ve been to, the forays into London’s poly scene, or the fact I finally ticked pegging off my list (and loved it). Why make public any of this, if it makes me feel like I have nothing of my own to cherish any more? Or if it makes me unsafe, untrusting and unable to enjoy the casual sex I once had? The little privacy I have now is sacred to me; what’s difficult is that it appears that others, even those close to me, or close to my partner, rarely understand this. People seem to assume that because I have been so open about sex, I am therefore offering others an access-all-areas pass to the most intimate parts of my life. Nothing could be further from the truth; this is why I’ve dozens of draft posts here which I’ve never published and probably never will, both to protect me and the privacy of those in my private life.
I’m not entirely fragile though; the despicable newspaper ‘outing’ of me was years ago (self-plug: I wrote about the experience in my second book) and I’m a tough cookie really: I still don’t take shit from people and I’m glad I can hold my own on Newsight against Louise Mensch or Germaine Greer and Toby Young on the Review Show. I never started the blog with the intention to write a book, or, indeed, become a telly pundit, and whilst I still nostalgically long for the days of anonymity on here, I’m also appreciative that I get a platform to write and speak out about sex education, publicly support the young people’s sexual health charity Brook and the British Humanist Association, and mock sexist, crappy sex advice.
I feel like I should be ending this with a list, as I did in my very first post, but beyond a dull, bullet-pointed agenda of upcoming projects I am excited about and currently spinning a variety of plates over, there’s not anything I can offer. I will say that I’m happy and that I’m determined not to let negative arseholes get me down this year. I’m also hoping that, for personal reasons, this upcoming year is better than 2013 was. I’m optimistic about the future, about my life being enriched by good people, love, and plenty of board games. And I’m crossing my fingers for lots more sex - if there’s one thing I’ve learned in the ten years since I began this blog, it’s that sex gets even better the older you get. Something to look forward to over the next decade, indeed.

P.S. The comment system below is b0rked, so if you want to respond to this post, please do so on Twitter - @girlonetrack - or on Facebook. Yeah, I know, I need to sort out OA/Disqus, pronto.



Wednesday, November 27, 2013

BuzzFeed 

I wrote a post for BuzzFeed, critiquing the utterly stupid sex advice found in men's magazines. (Obviously, the sex advice in women's magazines is just as awful.) It's so annoying to see this shit spouted on such a regular basis; whatever happened to just: be nice, be honest, be yourself? The piece is here.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Antonia 

As many readers will know, before I wrote books, or even this blog, I worked in the film industry; I spent many years working as a runner and assistant director. Before that, however, I was an aspiring writer-director, and worked on my own films (shorts) both prior to, and after, attending film school.

It was during this time that I met the British director Antonia Bird, who'd been my idol for some years, and she took me under her wing, mentoring me whilst I was a student filmmaker, and supporting and advising me on my graduation film.

I'm struggling to express just how much of an impact she had on me, because I am too upset by her tragic passing, but it's fair to say that my work, my writing, my political approach to art have all been massively influenced by her; I've tried to share a little of that in this article I wrote for the Guardian.

If you've not seen any of her work, I recommend searching it out. IMDB is a good place to start.

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Sex ed 

I was annoyed by the Tories paying lip service to the Telegraph's campaign for better sex ed, so I wrote a piece for the New Statesman about it. /rant

Friday, November 23, 2012

Sex Appeal II: Come Again 


Sex Appeal is back! Bigger, harder, longer, funnier. Come!

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