First up: who else has found the last two or three years somewhat… difficult?
I could also ask if it’s been demanding for you. Challenging, even. Or painful, tough, problematic, grim, or (but I hope it hasn’t been this for you), devastating.
For me, the word that I’m using to describe the last few years is…
And that could be interpreted in different ways by different people. But for me, my pandemic and post-pandemic worlds have been unsettling on a scale of anything from 3 to, at times, 11 out of 10.
Until quite recently, I’d felt like my world had been turned upside down. But it took me a long time to realise that it had been like that for a long time.
Upside down, inside out and (to quote a great movie title) everything everywhere all at once. And it will probably take a long time to get “back to normal”, but I feel like I’m getting there.
Heck, I’m back to writing regular blog posts. Considering my four-month absence from these parts, that’s major progress.
[Reading time: 15 mins… yeah, it’s a wordy one. But I hope it resonates.]
Trying to find the point in something that seems pointless
I wasn’t sure how to start this blog post, or where I wanted to go with it. But I needed to analyse where it all started to go wrong, so here we are.*
*I actually started to write this post a while back, before I’d started posting regularly to the blog again. I decided it should be published after a few weeks of my usual, somewhat more upbeat/less philosophical, posts.
I thought I’d write something that hopefully might resonate more than a little with some of you. So if you’re reading this and thinking, Yes, life is so different now to three and a half years ago, and I have no idea what is really happening within me… then I SEE YOU. Because that’s how I feel: I don’t really know what’s been going on.
Well, to be honest I do know – it’s many things.
It’s having elderly parents.
It’s financial instability.
It’s the cost of living crisis.
It’s the feckin’ government and the state of the country (that’s as political as I’m going to get here).
It’s health issues.
It’s sadness after sadness within my family.
What I also know is that through circumstances [that would have occurred anyway] and the pandemic coming along at the same time, life has got horribly, horribly messy and problematic.
Does anyone else feel like they’re not the same person they were three years ago? Do you feel like the pandemic exacerbated stuff that you might have been able to cope with just fine under “normal” life conditions?
If so, you’re not alone. I’m with you all the way.
What killed my enthusiasm for work, the blog, self-care, etc.
So in a way, this, I hope, will explain why the blog had been so neglected for so long. I never intended it to happen; I used to post two or three times a week almost without fail. I couldn’t have possibly imagined I’d leave it for a week, let alone four months.
Confession: I longed for the “good old days” of blogging. (Still do.)
There, I said it.
I didn’t like the nearly 100% switch to social media, but no one can expect things to stay the same. But I started this blogging lark because I loved writing, photography, and clothes. However, those three things became almost obsolete during the course of the pandemic and post-pandemic years.
Let’s look at the evidence. Apparently…
No one has time to read more than a caption. Does anyone read social media captions AT ALL? Because you’ll write something in an Instagram caption but no one wants to read it. Therefore, it becomes disheartening to think that you’re writing 1,000+ words in a blog post and people just aren’t interested. It seems nobody reads anymore.
[Despite me saying that I’m going to carry on because if YOU’RE here then I know you’re one of the ones that DO want a “proper read”.]
It’s all about video, isn’t it? We were told [by them, you know, “them”] to forget still images on Instagram and to concentrate on reels. Apparently, your average Instagram follower doesn’t want to stare at an image that doesn’t move. But a blog post with 2, 4, 6 or more still images? Noooooo, no one wants to see that. So all that time I spend shooting on a DSLR, editing the photos through Lightroom, uploading them to a photo library (for safekeeping) and then deciding which 5 or 6 are the best to put into the blog post is supposedly a complete waste of time.
We’re all wearing sweatpants and WFH clothes now. Forget that wardrobe you have of “going out out” clothes, vintage dresses and high heels. Your followers want to see How to Dress Up Your Joggers and The Most Comfy Trainers You’ll Ever Wear in Your Life, apparently.
I’m sure you’ve realised that this was a bit of a tongue-in-cheek [read: sarcastic] analysis, but it’s not far from a realistic analysis of the past three years within the world of digital content creation (I’d say “blogosphere” but even that term seems redundant now, though it is far catchier). It was as if the very reasons that I started blogging were slowly and gradually being taken away from me and I’d been left scrambling around wondering where they’d gone.
And the last thing I want to do [for a living, which blogging is for me] is something that my heart’s not committed to.
So I had a choice to make: continue the blog, or not?
All the things that caused my sharp decline in productivity
If my life were a Netflix series then I’d have ended the season right there on that “Will she, won’t she?” cliffhanger…
Season 2 of ‘Blogging: Where did it all go wrong?’ coming in Autumn 2024! What will Catherine decide? You’ll have to wait for over a year to find out.
Don’t worry, I’m not presenting any cliffhangers here. In a nutshell: I decided to put my big girl pants on and bloody well sort myself out – I had to make it work for me. But along with that, I’ve had to sort out so many other aspects of my life. I’ll try and keep this as brief as possible* – I could talk about this all day – but these are all the things that caused my decline in productivity in my career:
*”brief” was never going to happen, was it… strap yourself in.
My declining health has brought me down so much in the last few years. SO much. Perimenopause really kicked in for me during the pandemic. Along with the night sweats, the chronic pain in my legs and feet, the brain fog (I swear my everyday vocabulary dropped by 50% when I turned 50), my eyesight failing exponentially and all the heightened emotions*, the rapid, extreme weight gain is what has shocked and debilitated me the most.
My small frame isn’t coping with THIS much extra weight and it’s exacerbating all the aches, pains and lethargy.
The tendons in my feet and calves have been so painful since the beginning of the year that I cannot “jump out of bed” or put weight on my feet after resting without excruciating pain. I hobble around for about 15 minutes before they loosen up and I can walk properly (albeit still in pain). I’m currently waiting to see a podiatry specialist after having had X-rays of my feet taken. My doctor said that losing some weight will likely do a lot to help with all these pains, but she added that she knows how hard losing weight in (peri)menopause can be (I think she’s of a similar age to me).
*Until recently I’d been on HRT for over a year which almost immediately stopped the night sweats when I started taking it. Other symptoms are ongoing, though, and I’m currently seeing my doctor about tweaking my current dose/trying something new. I can’t stress how much it has helped and how much faith I have in it, despite not yet finding the right HRT for me.
This is a killer, isn’t it? Stress manifests itself in all sorts of ways, and the pandemic years have either made stress worse for people or created it where it never existed. I don’t think any of us can say the pandemic was a breeze; even if you were fortunate enough to escape illness, bereavement, employment woes or similar, it was still an uncertain and unforgiving time.
For me, one of the main causes of stress was having elderly parents who are now 89 and 94 (both with failing physical health but the latter also having dementia) and how the lockdowns and threats of hospitalisation were affecting them. Staying home and being cut off from friends and family advanced the dementia rapidly, so our responsibilities in caring for both of them increased tenfold.
They’re right when they say dementia is “the slow goodbye”. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.
We’ve also had a string of sadness in our family. As well as losing both my uncle and my mother-in-law very suddenly in 2022, we’ve lost two beloved family dogs unexpectedly at very young ages in the last year. It’s all been awful.
Another (equally) stressful thing was my job, or should I say lack of one.
Since I went full-time with the blog in 2013, I’d never once been short of income. I’d had a steady stream of blog work coming in for seven years, and although some years were less lucrative than others, there was a time when I was turning down more work than I could take on. I was the main breadwinner in the house for quite a while (not that it’s ever been a competition between Keith and I, quite the opposite), and while we were never exactly “rolling in it”, we had a comfortable lifestyle.
That all changed in 2020.
It was understandable that as a freelancer, one who relied on collaborations both remotely and in person (photo and video shoots were my best-paying jobs), the pandemic was going to hit me hard. But I could NEVER have foreseen how bad it would get. The years 2020-21 were surprisingly okay; I was lucky enough to receive the SEISS (Self-Employment Income Support Scheme) payments and I actually had a couple of major in-person collaborations (at the end of 2020, don’t ask me how) and a few smaller remote ones. And I thought that once everything was “back to normal”, things would pick up again.
The OPPOSITE happened. Work literally dried up. We’re talking tumbleweeds.
It was the worst timing because when you rely on your own image as a major part of your brand, it affects you massively when your image goes out the window. And by that I mean my health affected my sleep / which affected my desire to look after my appearance / which affected my weight / which affected my self-esteem… the last thing I wanted to do was to shoot photos of myself other than from the neck up.
No clothes fitted me; by this I mean nothing but sweatpants and one pair of jeans, maybe an oversized, loose-fitting dress. I don’t mean my clothes were “a bit tight” and needed a top button undoing – I mean I literally couldn’t get anything even vaguely on. It was the sort of weight gain that really concerned my doctor during my various health checks – I was borderline clinically obese, not just overweight.
So the combination of feeling physically like shit and thinking I looked like shit meant I had no yearning of any kind to put together cute outfits. We had no money for me to buy new clothes, so my longstanding position as a style blogger went out the window.
Ergo, I dropped off the face of the social media/blogging Earth. I stopped shooting outfits and deep down I knew I wasn’t being seen by anyone who might consider me for a campaign. But because I practically hid myself away, I became my own worst enemy. I obviously wasn’t helping myself, and it became a vicious cycle as the less work that came in, the more it affected my self-esteem (see below), and the more I withdrew from putting myself online.
As a result of no work coming in and the massive rise in living costs, we found ourselves in the worst financial position we’d ever been in.
The cost of living is now so high, Keith’s salary now only covers our fixed monthly payments. So that’s mortgage, energy bills (I’m staggered at what you have to pay for that in the UK right now), car, insurances, council tax, etc. In other words, if I don’t earn any money, we have NOTHING for food, petrol or toiletries. Forget “leisure activities” or going out for a meal or a coffee. With each month that passed without an income from me, our financial situation got worse and worse and worse.
That’s despite me being good – I mean really good – at managing money. I learnt the hard way when I was younger when I finally got myself out of the debt I got myself into living in London (hence the move to Devon 20 years ago). Despite me being financially savvy in every way, we still found ourselves struggling massively. I mean the “getting into debt just to buy ourselves food” kind of struggle.
I will explain what I’m doing now shortly, but in case you’re thinking “Why didn’t she just go out and get herself a job…”, let me explain. We have a dog, and I refuse to go out to work and leave her alone all day. It’s just not going to happen. Suki is an Irish (hence, most likely badly treated) ex-racing greyhound and her life was probably pretty shitty before we adopted her. I see what we do for her as the same sort of sacrifices you’d make for a child, parent, partner or ANYONE who has specific needs.
We took on the responsibility to give her a good life, so we’ll eat gruel for the rest of her life if we have to in order to have one of us at home with her.
She doesn’t do well with strangers or lots of dogs so we can’t/won’t send her to doggy daycare. As for getting a job that requires remote working… it’s not that simple, as I found out to my detriment after months of job hunting. Every remote working job I saw had one of two problems (or both):
1) It still required me to go in once or twice a month – usually in London or a major city (not even slightly logistically possible), so not actually properly remote at all
2) It was fully remote, but those positions had hundreds, often thousands of applicants. It wasn’t unusual to see “number of applicants: 1,257” (I promise that’s not an exaggeration) next to a great job posting. If you want to work 100% remotely, you’re up against people from all over the country, not just your local area.
I applied for loads of those positions, but unsurprisingly I heard nothing back. The last time I applied for and got an advertised job was 20 years ago, and before that I would always at least get an interview for the jobs I applied for. The job market has changed beyond recognition, and it was a hard pill to swallow.
Loss of self-confidence
The biggest hit I’ve taken in the past three years has been what all of this has done to my self-confidence. It is [was] at rock bottom. I’ve never before known – truly known – the feeling of not recognising the person staring back at me in the mirror. This is why I started this post by using the word unsettling to describe how things have been for me.
I didn’t recognise myself. I didn’t like myself. Perimenopause affected everything from my weight to my sleep to my skin to my physical and mental/ability; the pandemic and personal circumstances heightened the effect they had on me.
I got it into my head that if brands didn’t want to work with me, it was partly because of my appearance. Maybe they (it’s “them” again) were right when they said you become invisible at 50. I certainly started to feel that way. If I didn’t want to look at myself in the mirror, why would anyone online want to see my tired, bloated face and outfits consisting of joggers and baggy sweaters?
I was completely ashamed when I realised that I’d had thin privilege most of my life – and not realised I’d had it. And while I’m not going to get into any sort of discussion about learning to love my size (not now, anyway, and not in this blog post so with respect I’m politely asking that you don’t bring that up in the comments, I’m working on that privately as it doesn’t happen overnight), I had a hard time trying to work out who this new person was… the one I didn’t recognise as me.
I’m not trying to present a sob story here. It’s more of a way for me to look back and see where it went wrong/what is happening now/where and how things can change. It’s my “Where Did It All Go Wrong and How Do I Fix It?” letter to myself, if you will.
And, I hope, it may resonate with you if you’ve found yourself in one or more similar situations.
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What’s happening now, and what’s happening next
Since restarting a regular posting schedule last month, I have, quite honestly, started to feel like my old self again. The one who enjoyed writing and bashing away at her keyboard. The one who enjoyed taking photos and editing them. The one who has started to feature a few outfits here and there because it’s summer, and I always feel better in summer.
Things are definitely on the up. While the financial situation isn’t any better right now, I have, at least, started to get some regular work coming in. Once I get paid for those jobs then (fingers crossed!) I might see a bit of regular income again.
To summarise all the things that have changed/that I have changed:
- I decided that blogging is still, IMO, far superior to social media. Writing is my forte (as I’ve proved with this gazillion-word blog post) and by going back to doing this regularly, I realised how much I missed it.
- I didn’t want to miss writing my annual birthday/blogiversary blog post this year, so I had to write something. It triggered the reboot and reignited my love for blogging.
- After months of trying, the excess weight is finally starting to shift (slowly), and it’s already eased the pressure a little on my feet. It makes exercising easier, which helps the weight loss. Hence, a snowball effect.
- HRT works for me where night sweats are concerned – but they have started to creep back now I’m not currently on any HRT. We’re running a few tests as the second one I tried wasn’t right for me. But I’ll be glad to get back on it.
- Although my parents’ health is still bad (and dementia never gets better, only worse), we have talked a lot about what their wishes are for various scenarios; it takes a lot of worry out of the equation. And I’ve taken on a structured part-time carer’s role for them – we live only a five-minute drive away – so I can keep on top of things far more easily as well as still having the support of my extended family, which thankfully we’ve always had. Everyone does their bit and [my parents] know they’ve always got help.
- I made the decision to change the niche of my blog and Instagram, which I’ll explain below.
- Work has finally started to come in, and strangely I’m getting almost as many enquiries about collaborations as I had pre-pandemic. Even more surprising: most enquiries are for blog content. That hasn’t happened since about 2018.
- I’m shooting outfit posts once more. Maybe not as frequently as before, but I’m doing it. I can fit into a few more clothes now, and I’ve discovered the joy of charity shop shopping for clothes. I’ve picked up some fabulous things this summer.
- Suki is still amazing. We love her to the ends of the Earth and back. She’s even improving in terms of her reactiveness to men she takes a dislike to (completely unexplained but probably linked to her racing days), as well as not barking like a lunatic every time someone knocks on the door (just sometimes). No way would I even want to leave her alone all day, even if she were able to be left alone.
- My self-confidence/self-esteem is slowly improving. I think the main reason is because I’m getting offers of work coming in regularly. In hindsight, I can see that having no work was the main cause of my mental health issues. I could probably have coped okay with everything else, but having no work and no income was ultimately devastating for me and made me reluctant/unable to tackle any of the other problems. I just didn’t know it at the time.
Changing my niche
As mentioned in the list above, I made the decision to change the niche of my blog and Instagram. It may seem quite subtle – hopefully long-term readers won’t have noticed much of a difference – but my decision to concentrate on well-being, health, menopause and ageing equally with style is – I think – what has earned me interest from brands again.
I think the pandemic, for me, killed my status as a (mainly) style blogger. Even in the two years or so in the run-up to the pandemic, fashion brands weren’t paying for content. It was (and still is) far too easy for them to offer clothes as payment.
After 12 years of blogging, I’ve been gifted all the clothes I could ever need (doesn’t mean I can fit in them, but as already explained I’m working on it). There is literally no point in me accepting clothes as payment because a) I don’t have the space to store them, b) I have a ton of clothes already and it’d just be wasteful/unethical, and c) clothes don’t pay the mortgage, or put food on my table.
I’ve also long encouraged content creators to not accept PR products as payment unless it’s under no obligation. Brands producing a long list of demands without actually paying you to jump through hoops is wrong and helps no one. They’ve been taking advantage of content creators for FAR too long and my “no obligation without payment” rule keeps everyone happy and makes it fair to everyone: brands, pro bloggers and hobby bloggers.
(I could only call bloggers “content creators” so many times before I caved… We’ll always be bloggers to me.)
Anyway, back to my change of niche: I changed my bio on Instagram. I made it mostly about wellness but kept a small nod to style over 50. And the content over there is more focused on lifestyle and health, midlife issues, etc. rather than just “Here are the photos of the outfit I posted on the blog”, which is all I did before.
I think once I did that, and a little time passed, I started getting noticed more [by brands] for my other content, rather than by the fashion brands I chased for so long.
Of course I want Instagram followers to enjoy the content I put out, but as this is my livelihood I need to think of it from a business point of view as well.
I was in a very dark place up until about 4 months ago; I was probably at my lowest during this last winter (because also, winter). But I can now see that a few tweaks here and there – plus the onset of summer which always helps me – has started the ball rolling in the direction I want it to go.
It’s all baby steps, but things are getting better in all areas.
My desire to get back to regular blogging has kicked right back in. During my hiatus, it never even occurred to me to write a blog post. Now, I’m always thinking about the next one I have to write and my content planner is full for the next six weeks or so.
My health is improving slowly, and I should get answers about/treatment for my painful feet soon.
I should start to see some healthy payments coming in imminently for the paid content I’ve already published, and this makes me more determined to start promoting myself again. (I would also like to say a massive THANK YOU to you for engaging with my paid content here and on Instagram – it literally means food on the table for me. LITERALLY. So thank you, I can’t tell you how much I appreciate and enjoy all your comments, likes, etc.)
I’m enjoying charity shop shopping for clothes and have vowed to only buy new if there’s a very valid reason for it.
I want to get back into the upcycling projects (furniture and various homewares) I started in earnest last year and to start making some money from all the unfinished projects I have waiting to be completed. Along with the caring role and the blogging, I effectively hold down three jobs now – but I see that as a positive.
I’m still self-employed.
I still dictate my own hours.
I’m still at home with Suki.
It’s all hard work, but I’ve found that I thrive on that. The poor mental health I suffered with for so long seems to be ebbing away, and I’m feeling like a weight is being lifted from my shoulders.
It’s not lifted off entirely, but I’ve found the strength to ease the pressure. And as long as I can keep that pressure off, I think I’ll be okay.
How have YOU found the last three years or so – can you relate to any of the things I’ve talked about here? How are you coping, or what have you found has helped you? Let me know in the comments box below…
Thanks for reading,
Linking up to… Monday: Stylish Monday (second Monday of the month), Inspire Me Monday, My Glittery Heart, On Mondays We Link Up || Tuesday: Style With a Smile, Trend Spin/Walking in Memphis in High Heels, Turning Heads Tuesday, Confident Twosday, Happy Now Blog Link Up || Wednesday: WowOnWednesday || Thursday: Chic & Stylish, Ageless Style Linkup (third Thursday of the month), || Friday: Neverending Style, Fancy Friday, On the Edge