Lessons learned from the eye of a hurricane

A little under three months ago, I was walking towards my best friend on the seafront with my laptop, camera and important business papers on my back, carrying a suitcase with 14 items of clothing, a few toiletry bits and my most loyal teddy bear, Scruffy, in my right hand. My bobble bottle, filled with stale water, was in my left.

For the first time in my life, I had no idea where I was going to sleep that night. 

Or any night following, for that matter.

Once I'd clobbered down the hill of pebbles rolling under my feet to where my friend was elegantly sunbathing, I laid my head on the top of my suitcase, looked up to the sky and let out two words: "Oh, fuck".

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On paper, the following two months could be viewed as one of the hardest times in my life. The list of personal battles was pretty extensive: homelessness, financial struggles, relationship breakdowns and health scares being the key pinnacles of my shit storm - or, for a better word, tenacious hurricane. 

The storm passed a few weeks ago when I finally moved into a place of my own, having saved enough for Brighton's extortionate moving admin costs and got the "false alarm" results for my simultaneous health scares. 

But it's taken me until this moment on a Sunday morning, with the sun pouring over the sofa I'm writing on and Cerys Matthews blaring from the kitchen, that I've found the space, courage and words to articulate that time in my life.

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Truth be told, I've tried a few times to write this post.

The furthest I've gotten was the following on 2nd September. 

"If I were ever to write a memoir, I'm almost certain that the prologue would begin by painting the picture of my life right now. 

Homeless, poorly and generally quite lost in life.

I'm writing this from a friend's sofa, with my suitcase lying beside me on the right and my teddy bear, Scruffy, leaning against my left shoulder. The holes in my jumper are starting to spread wider and a seam in my charcoal grey top is starting to break free. I now know why a sewing kit was seen as such an essential tool when I was a Brownie.

My hands keep leaving the keyboard as I type to cover my mouth as my chest wheezes out of it and an elastic band feels like it's tightening around my forehead, touching the tips of my eye sockets. It's moments like these when all I'd want to do is hide myself away until I'd recovered - but I have nowhere to hide."

That was a particularly dark moment - probably heightened by the chest infection - but I'm glad I captured it. 

I'm also glad that I left it in drafts for 7 more weeks. 

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A little under a year ago, I wrote a post titled 'Putting the 'life' back into lifestyle blogger', where I laid out my intentions to share an honest insight into my life.

"My life is changing in unfathomable ways, as it does when you start creeping out of your early twenties. I want to share it with you - as openly and honestly as the offline world will allow," I wrote.

Since publishing that post, along with the new look for my site on the 7th birthday of Pippa Says, I've felt more fulfilled working on this project than I had in years. 

I know now that the fulfilment was a direct result of being completely, unapologetically myself whilst writing those words and capturing the photographs to go with it. 

I also know now that I was struggling to let that same person shine through outside of the realms of Pippa Says. 

And that I had to be at the eye of a hurricane to figure that out.

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With the exception of my health troubles, I put myself in the situation where I was sleeping on 15 different beds, sofas, boats and floors over the course of two months. I put myself in the situation where my longest standing housemate over that period was an enthusiastic old biker I'll refer to here as 'J' from my storage container, who once introduced me as 'one of the longer tenants'.

I also put myself in a situation where I didn't have a rainy day fund - and didn't listen to my gut when it started telling me to build one.

But, as these things happen, the assault course that's taken me from then to now has forced me to deal with hard truths, heal old wounds and live a more fulfilled life.

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Pulling the rug from under my feet woke me up. I was so wrapped up in the driven, resilient and growingly ruthless "start up founder" persona that I blocked out the person I was before.

I'd become an Ice Queen.

I subconsciously shut down any relationship that tried to break past business talk because I was too disconnected from myself to know how to respond.

But when my personal life reached a "near rock bottom" point, the only person that could put the pieces back together was me.

The Ice Queen has no time for box packing, sofa surfing, house hunting, housemate interviews, hospital appointments, medical tests and personal relationships, after all - but she was brilliant when it came to getting the money together.

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It may sound cliche, as many parts of my story probably do, but when you don't have a place to hide, you're forced to face your problems.  

I had to face the lack of connection between my business and personal selves because my hurricane became such a hot topic with my friends.

And I had to listen to them as they pointed out that this disconnection had started to cause a rift in many of my relationships.

I also had to face the harsh truth that I simply didn't know myself all that well. That's a little angsty, I know, but a realisation nonetheless.

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Living out of a small suitcase and a rucksack for two months taught me how little I need in life. And as I sit here staring at the clothes and boxes stacked outside of my new bedroom - at now 3am on Monday morning after being distracted from this post from midday and battling with sleep since midnight - I can't help but wonder how much of that shit I actually need.

I've already thrown out a quarter of my stuff since moving in.

Re-connecting with my friends and being more conscious about keeping business talk to the side has highlighted a lot of visions and values that I'd been suppressing or "too busy to address". I've found my hot discussion topics to be centred around veganism, politics and environmental issues, with the latter focusing on how to engage the larger masses - basically, figuring out how to make recycling, composting, beach cleaning and telling off bars for using plastic straws cool.

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Prior to the moment of using my suitcase as a pillow on a pebbled bed, I thought I knew where my life was heading. I'd set the wheels in motion to move to Berlin early next year, the City Girl Network had a strategy and my freelance business was starting to take off, too.

But, with the exception of the City Girl Network strategy, it was heading there for all the wrong reasons - I was escaping life far more than embracing it.

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I decided to take a break from Pippa Says a few hours after leaving the beach, following the inevitable "it's all going to be ok, Pip" talk from my best friend. I dropped my stuff off at hers (who, of course, had me to stay in a heartbeat), borrowed her guitar, bought a 3D dinosaur notebook (it was all I could find) and sat under a tree in my favourite Brighton park. 

I sat there in the dirt for hours; free writing, playing, singing and talking to my closest friends about what had happened - all things I hadn't done for a long time.  

As the time passed and my dinosaur notebook filled, I realised that this hurricane I'd unleashed on my life was going to shake everything up and if I wanted the best from it, I needed to be in the eye. Not writing about it, capturing it, tweeting it or sharing it on Facebook - immersed in it. 

Pippa Says would return when the storm passed.

And let me tell you, it feels so damn good to be home.

Photographs were taken a few days ago by the very talented Ines Veiga Pena. The stripy blue skirt, black underdress and tights were part of my "capsule wardrobe" collection during my homelessness period. I also changed my glasses for the first time in 8 years and chopped my hair off - every life upheaval requires a makeover, right?

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