This girl is me

Celebrating being a woman on the International Day of the Girl Child

Monday marked International Day of the Girl Child, an UN-led campaign that aims to improve gender equality by harnessing the power of female voices in the digital space. Focusing on education, employment and digital literacy, the campaign aims to inspire and empower this generation of girls - “regardless of race, gender, language, ability, economic status and geographic origin.”

I first learned about this campaign from fellow freelancer Emma Page, who wrote an issue of her newsletter The Stamford Arms dedicated to her younger self. Then on Tuesday, another beautiful piece of writing landed in my inbox from copywriter and editor, Gina Jackson. I highly recommend you go and read those pieces, as they are both fantastically written (wouldn’t expect anything less from my writer pals).

So, without further ado, this little girl is me.

The third and final of three children to Miriam and Brian Forster, this little girl was born a fortnight late in October 1991. Miriam was so pregnant that it became a running joke among other parents on the school run to ask: “still here?” and she’d respond with a groan and a nod. What can I say? It was comfy in there.

And then one day, the rabble at the school gate asked “still here?” and Miriam said: “nope, she’s in the car” and they all shuffled along to peer through the glass at all 8’15” of her, tucked into the car seat fast asleep.

This girl was born at 3 am and Miriam was out by breakfast, ready to pick up her older siblings at school by 3.30 pm. And that’s pretty much Miriam in a nutshell.

This girl’s upbringing was pretty straightforward. She was very privileged to live spitting distance from the sea and, other than desperately begging for the dog of her dreams to no avail, she had a pretty sweet childhood — holidays in France and, later, trips to Mauritius to visit Miriam’s family; the earliest iteration of every games console to keep tech-obsessed Joe happy; family teas; decent grades in school and other such canny things.

At school, this girl was bored. That’s not to say she didn’t do well, because she was pretty smart. But she struggled to understand what was the point of it all. By 15, she turned her back on most social occasions in favour of writing her deepest thoughts on Livejournal and learning HTML to build websites in honour of her favourite anime characters.

Historically a bit of an outcast, she found a group of accepting and friendly faces under the golden arches at her first job. Then, in the last year of her A-Levels, Brian fell suddenly ill. That morning, she headed off to class leaving Brian in bed with a suspected ear infection, she returned to a frantic Miriam, having rung the ambulance because Brian was pacing the house, hallucinating and just generally going a bit nuts (medical term).

This girl’s dad spent a week in Intensive Care with Meningococcal Meningitis, a relatively rare form of bacterial meningitis. The top lad that he is, Brian made a slow and difficult recovery but ended up with life-long symptoms including partial deafness, vertigo and Meniere’s Disease. (Hi Dad! I know you read this.)

Having spent the majority of her final days of school at her Dad’s beside or out on the piss in her local seaside town, it would be safe to say this girl didn’t meet her teacher’s expectations when it came to A-Level results. Thankfully, despite missing her grades to attend the local uni, she was offered a place to study French & Spanish at the University of Hull. And, little did she know, this would be the making of her.

This girl spent three years travelling between Hull and Newcastle (and a short period of a failed ERASMUS year in Barcelona, but that’s a story for another time). In 2013, she graduated with a 2:1 and returned home to the Toon. Faced with a long summer ahead, she decided to get a job bartending at a popular student pub in town.

And it was there that this girl met a canny lad called Craig. Known for slamming his head against the wall when posh uni students requested mojitos, it’s safe to safe Craig’s customer service skills left a lot to be desired. But a few shifts together revealed that Craig was pretty cool. He was an amateur MMA fighter with a degree in Engish and Journalism, and a passion for all the same TV this girl devoured growing up.

After bonding over Red Dwarf and The League of Gentlemen, this girl decided Craig was worth her time, so she ask him and his little racing striped Citroen C1 to help her move into a pokey studio flat. So he did. And then he never left.

While working at the pub, this girl started a local food blog, writing reviews of her favourite establishments across Newcastle and beyond. This was when she realised that the best part of her degree wasn’t the languages, it was writing - and this is what she wanted to do for a living.

So, armed with a food blog and the gift of the gab, she went to a job interview for a Content Manager position at a local business news website. And she got it. £14,000 a year barely paid the rent plus amenities, but it didn’t matter - she got to write (and play pool) every day.

However, this girl wasn’t well. On the surface, she was doing great. But if you looked closely, you’d see someone wracked with anxiety and a slave to her increasingly agonising IBS. Even the two-mile walk to work became virtually impossible for her and, ultimately, this is when she first realised she had a problem.

You see, this girl was so focused on finding the right job, enjoying her social life, making ends meet and maintaining her loving relationship, she didn’t realise that her anxiety and panic attacks had gotten so bad that she could barely leave the house. And when she did leave the house, she had to know the location of every single toilet.

Read more about my experiences with IBS in this piece I wrote for The Mighty & Yahoo: What Came First, The Poop or the Panic?

This girl took her first big corporate job. She was poorly but it didn’t matter because she was ticking all the boxes. The job title, company car and potential for promotion were all part and parcel of doing a proper job. The daily panic attacks were just something she had to deal with.

Then, this girl was made redundant. And suddenly it was all for nothing. Years of working towards a career goal were all erased within seconds. She was sitting in her rental flat at 3 pm on a Monday afternoon, having been escorted from the office building in front of her team and colleagues.

This girl decided she was ready to overcome the anxiety and panic, and she wanted to see the world - at least as much of it as she could afford by living with her parents for three months, crammed in her childhood bedroom with Craig.

In July 2018, this girl and her now-fiancé embarked on the most terrifying and exciting adventure of their lives - starting with a one-way ticket to Bangkok, and ending with a two-year sponsorship in Sydney.

But unfortunately, this girl only spent eight weeks in Sydney. A fateful phone call revealed that Miriam was ill, very ill. She hopped on a plane, leaving Craig behind to hold the fort. She’d be back in a few weeks, they agreed, Miriam had always been a bit of a hypochondriac.

But this time it wasn’t alright. This girl came home to find Miriam had lost weight, a lot of weight. She went from being one of only two MS Specialist Nurses serving the Northumbria NHS Trust to being unable to breathe without oxygen and, 11 weeks after this girl’s plane touched down at Newcastle Airport, she was sitting in the back of a funeral car saying a final goodbye to Miriam.

Read more about Potter and Harmony in this issue of Conversations By The Sea: The rescue dogs that rescued us.

Thankfully, this girl wasn’t alone. Accompanied by Craig, Potter (the rescue greyhound) and, eventually Harmony (another younger but much lazier greyhound), she managed to slowly move forward with her life.

This girl decided she was done with the world of corporate bullshit and set up on her own under the moniker Content By The Sea. And, by September 2020, Craig quit his job to join her working from home, writing content and building websites for clients all over the UK.

Lessons learned

To all the girls (and women) reading this, here are some things this girl learned the hard way:

  • If you make a joke or a good point in a meeting, a man will steal it and repeat it. They will laugh with him.

  • If someone asks you when you’re planning to have kids, you can ask them when they’re planning to move into a care home (other hilarious responses to rude questions in the responses to this tweet).

  • Pets can be your children.

  • You can talk about poop, periods and other such topics - if people don’t like it, it’s their problem, not yours.

  • If you don’t smile, someone will tell you to smile. If you do smile, someone will ask why you are so smug. You can never win.

So, what else is there to say about this girl? Things started out okay, got hard, got easier, got even harder and, eventually, got the best they’ve ever been. She overcame anxiety and panic attacks, but will never be able to tell her Mam about running the Great North Run or marrying her soulmate. This girl is me.

To all the anxious, kind-of weird girls out there - stay silly and don’t waste another second with anyone who doesn’t deserve you.

As always, you can come chat with me on Twitter @ContentByTheSea or reply to this email for a confidential chinwag.

📚 The Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow - The perfect October read, Harrow tells the tale of three sisters living in New Salem in the late 19th century, two hundred years after the Salem witch trials. I adored this book, Harrow’s writing style is very unique and certainly not for everyone, but I would recommend it if you’re looking for a heart-warming and poetic read this Autumn.

📺 Adult Material (Netflix) - To say we enjoyed this would be a lie. Netflix was promoting Adult Material to us on the main slot and a quick Google revealed that the show had received good reviews, so we figured it was probably going to be a funny and light-hearted depiction of the porn industry. We were wrong. It turned out to be a traumatic portrayal of one woman’s battle to stay afloat as an adult entertainer, victim of abuse, mother and wife. I do recommend this but it’s certainly not for the light-hearted.

📺 Clique (Netflix) - From the writer of Skins, this is a gripping story of a student who finds herself in the wrong crowd at Edinburgh Uni. A bit farfetched at times, this show is definitely worth a watch if you’re looking for something to draw you in and keep you guessing.

That’s all from me this week, see you next week!

Ellen x

Enjoyed this? You might like these past issues:

6 October: Everything is awful… or is it?

29 September: That’s dope

22 September: Have a word with yourself

15 September: Running changed my life

8 September: Okay, boomer

25 August: Bridezilla returns

18 August: Find your zen

10 August: The fear factor

3 August: You shall not pass

28 July: Recharging your mental battery

21 July: How much is too much to share

14 July: We’ve got to talk about Twitter

7 July: Meet my poison parrot