You are safe and you are loved


“What I know is that it’s going to be better. If it’s bad, it might get worse, but I know that it’s going to be better. And you have to know that. There’s a country song out now, which I wish I’d written, that says, ‘Every storm runs out of rain.’ I’d make a sign of that if I were you. Put that on your writing pad. No matter how dull and seemingly unpromising life is right now, it’s going to change. It’s going to be better. But you have to keep working.” MAYA ANGELOU


Hello loves

When I write to you about personal insights I’ve usually let some time pass before I share my thoughts, so it’s very odd to be writing to you right in the centre of the storm, but here we are — all of us! As I swirl up and down through frustration and anxiety, I also feel tiny hits of wonderment. It’s surreal that this is happening but also extraordinary that something is going down that unites the entire planet. Not perfectly united, mind. We’re still believing there are borders that separate us, but here we are, a planet filled with humans, all affected by something we can’t even see.

Each of us is dealing with this in our own way and we all have different concerns. For me I’m having to trust that my family is safe — which is hard when your first urge is to go be with them and help — and I’m focussing on keeping myself well and avoiding contact with others. Which you’d think would be easy when you’re an introvert but I’m realising that what keeps me sane — and I mean that quite literally as someone who has a history of depression — are the times I spend with friends and the time I spend OUTSIDE of the house. I can easily do five days straight on my own at home, but by day six I need to go out and be in the world. So the prospect of several months without that is daunting, I’m not going to lie. I live alone and I enjoy it very much, but right now I’d be happier if I had someone here to give me a bloody hug!

So, knowing that life is gonna be upside for a while, I’ve instigated Operation Mental Health Self-Care. Last night I compiled a list of my absolute must-dos while this is going on and I’m sharing it here in case you need some inspiration or a gentle nudge to consider what YOUR absolute must-dos will be.

This is especially important for those of you who are at home alone like me.

The non-negotiables:

1. Daily walks outside

2. Daily journaling

3. Daily juice and lots of water

4. Daily meditation

5. Daily shower

6. Daily calls/messages with family and friends

7. Only check Guardian website once per day, no more

Also very needed:

8. Daily yoga/weights/kettlebells

9. Switch up where I work in the house

10. Daily garden sit!

11. Off phone by 8pm

12. Plan future trips

A lot of this I already do but never has it been more important for me to look after my body and my mind. Some days I will do all of this and some days I won’t, and that’s okay, but my goal is to do as much as I can Every. Single. Day. I’m not tripping on too many thoughts of the future but I am looking ahead at what I’ll need to stay in a good place internally. Just as I’ve bought a few extras for my pantry, I’m also considering what’s going to support me as I square up to a few months of solitude. Having a loose plan helps me feel safe and calm.

There are lots more thoughts I could share but I don’t want to overwhelm you. Like me you’ve probably been getting loads of emails from well-meaning peeps sharing their tools and strategies for getting through this time. There is SO MUCH out there right now! It’s like the online world is truly having its moment, as if all of us content creators and teachers have been in training for exactly this moment. And I absolutely do have a couple of things to share that I hope will help! But I also just want to say it’s okay if this is overwhelming you and you just need to be still. I feel that too. It’s okay to get some sofa time. It’s okay to eat chocolate for dinner. It’s okay to feel lost and not want to do an at-home fitness video! And it’s also okay to do lots of work because it helps you feel safe. It’s okay to want to throw yourself into making things to help you feel productive. It’s okay to want to serve. Just as it’s okay to simply receive right now.

Basically it’s okay to feel however you feel. To do whatever you need or want to do. There’s no map for this journey so we have to trust ourselves, listen inwards and act accordingly. To gently and lovingly parent ourselves just as we parent and look after the kids and animals and loved ones in our lives.

Look after yourselves and your loved ones and know that this will pass and we will soon be looking back at the time we stayed inside to look after each other. What a loving thing we are doing for the human race.

I love you

Susannah xo

* This is an excerpt from my most recent Love Letter – sign up over here to get on this love list <3

How to enjoy working from home


I’ve been self-employed for the last 16 years and have worked solely from home for the last 11. I was lucky to transition into home-working really quite smoothly — as an introvert I found I became so much more productive (and calm) working in the quiet of my home. Working in an office always drained me and it never felt like a fit.

For those of you who are now figuring how to best work from home while we wade through this highly unusual and unexpected time, I hope this feels like an opportunity to try something new. In my years of working in this online world I’ve noticed that some people work best with lots of structure, while others need a more free-flowing day. I’m the latter — as soon as I try to schedule my day I feel suffocated. I work from home because I like having the freedom to UNstructure my day.

BUT! As you first transition into working from home it’s going to feel weird not having a boss holding you accountable and no colleagues to chat to. So here are my tips for making working from home as joyful and productive as possible.

— Get ready for work in the morning. Working in your PJs is great until day 4 when you feel a mess and can’t motivate yourself. So shower, get dressed in something comfortable that makes you feel put together and eat a good breakfast.

— Find your space and set it up. Commandeer the end of the dining table or clear space on the kitchen table. Even better if this is a permanent space. Gather your favourite pens, notebooks, a scented candle or incense. Make a cosy creative cave. Make a space you want to hang out in.

— Keep to “office hours”, but decide what those hours should be. You don’t have to sit at your desk/table for 15 hours. Enjoy the flexibility of setting up your days to flow with your energy levels. You could start at 7am and finish at 2pm. You could do four focussed hours then rest the rest of the day. Or work every other day. Obviously if you have a remote team or are expected to keep traditional hours while we’re in this transitional time that’s another story, but if you’re entering into full self-employment make it work FOR you.

— Keep your day spacious within those office hours. The whole point of working from home is space, so take a whole hour for lunch and don’t eat at your desk. Pause to dance it out in the kitchen. Linger in the garden if you have one. Take lots of coffee breaks, with or without coffee. It helps to lessen the intensity of the day (which is so needed right now).



— Make a to-do list. Sounds obvious but easy to forget when faced with the freedom to do what you want. I make mine in a notebook. Pro tip: it’s possible to spend an entire day “organising” so watch out for that. Keep it simple. And don’t try to complete your to-do list every day. The top three items are enough.

— Schedule your day if that works for you. Knowing exactly what you’re doing hour-by-hour might free your brain up to switch from task to task but don’t be annoyed with yourself if it doesn’t. Some people love it, others don’t. See what works best for your temperament.

— Make time for lunch. Now you’re home you could make it from scratch every day – and if you enjoy that, do it – but my fave thing to do is make a big batch of something (stew, soup, quinoa) that will last several days. Love not having to think about what I’m going to eat every day!

— Give yourself permission to take a nap if you need it.

— Just because you’re at home doesn’t mean you have to do the laundry. You’ll feel guilty when you see the dishes in the sink but ignore them! When you’re in your work hours, BE in your work hours. The dishes can wait.

— If you’re a procrastinator like me, use a timer to get things done in an allotted time (20 min chunks work best for me). Switch off the internet to work offline. Use app-blockers so you can’t access certain sites. Switch your mobile to silent (mine’s always on silent – it’s a sanity saver).

— Drink lots of water!

— Weave in self-care treats. My new fave thing is to read a chapter of my current novel when I need to recharge my brain. This could be while I’m eating lunch, but it could also be at 3pm when my energy dips and I have no more inspiration. I’m also a big fan of the decadent lunchtime bath. What would feel like a treat for you?

— Learn new skills online. This is the perfect time to invest in your learning while you have time to actually do the courses.

— Organise Skype dates with colleagues and cohorts. Normally I’d suggest lunch dates and co-working days out of the house, but for now, Skype, FaceTime, Zoom, Voxer and WhatsApp voice messages will keep us connected. This is especially helpful for extroverted peeps who like to brainstorm out loud with other people. Organise daily check-ins.

— Finally, at the end of the day do something to switch your brain from WORK mode to HOME mode. Not being able to leave work at work can be tricky, so it’s a good idea to mark the transition in a way that’s meaningful to you. Ideas: put your laptop in a drawer, take a shower, walk round the block (if you’re allowed out), change up your music playlist, change your clothes. Having your work space away from your living space will help – try not to work in your bedroom!

I hope some of these tips help. I don’t have kids so obviously my days are differently shaped to those of you who do, but if you can create the space for work it’s amazing how much you can get in done in a lot less time.

Now if only I could stop procrastinating on Reddit :-)

How to get back into fiction


I bloody love books. I’m the kind of person who keeps a stack of books teetering on the bedside table and arranges bookshelves by colour. I’ve got copies of my favourites on my Kindle so they’re always on my phone and while I grew up on a steady diet of Enid Blyton, and remember parts of The Magic Faraway Tree like they’re childhood memories, it was Stephen King that got me through my teens. I dutifully read the classics for school but at home I wanted thrilling, spine-tingling stories to devour. Books were my escape and while other kids were out riding their bikes, I was getting lost in another world.

As I’ve gotten older the book love hasn’t diminished but the type of books has noticeably shifted. Truthfully I don’t remember reading much fiction in my twenties because college and career-building took up most of my time, but into my thirties things changed. I was 32 when my partner died and one of the most important things I did in the first month was type “grief” into the Amazon search bar. I bought a huge stack of books that day. Most of the authors wrote in a clinical way that felt far away from what I was feeling, but there were others with stories that helped me feel less alone. As the months passed I found solace in fiction that took me out of myself, reading Jane Eyre and Rebecca for the first time and crying my eyes out at the end of The Time Traveller’s Wife.

As I began to heal in earnest my creativity blossomed again, spurred on by guidance from The Artist’s Way and the soul-nourishing poetry of Sharon Olds, Jane Kenyon and Mary Oliver. Within a few years I was building my own business and my bookshelves now bulged with non-fiction titles. Spare time was dedicated to reading for work and soon life became a fiction-less desert. I thought I didn’t miss it — social media and Netflix do a very good job of plugging the gaps — but something was definitely missing.

At the start of 2019 I made a conscious effort to get back into reading fiction and I’ve read 10 novels from start to finish this year. There’s been about 10 others I didn’t finish, several short story anthologies I’ve devoured and easily 20 or more non-fiction titles I’ve purchased for work. My Kindle is littered with book samples and my Audible account’s been getting a workout too. And while 10 finished books might not sound a lot, it’s 10 more fiction titles than the last ten years put together.

The truth is, if you want to read more fiction you have to aggressively make time for it. You have to steal time away from other activities and purposefully use those gaps in your day. Train rides, bus journeys and lunch hours are made for rehabilitating bookworms. Choosing to watch one less episode on Netflix and read a chapter instead is a game-changer. It can feel strange to read in silence when you’re out of practice so playing music quietly in the background or leaving the TV on but turned down low can help. I can confirm that reading in the bath is heavenly!

Figuring out the sort of fiction I enjoy has helped enormously. I started with a book everyone was talking about — Normal People by Sally Rooney — then stumbled upon a brilliant book of short stories in Foyles bookshop (Her Body and Other Parties). After that I started playing book detective, tracking down similar titles and reading interviews with authors to discover their inspirations. Subscribing to booksellers’ newsletters has alerted me to a few great books, and I’m currently obsessed with recommendations on

The best books I’ve read lately were ones I lost myself in. I’d eagerly hit the sofa after dinner so I could read just a bit more, staying up late to finish a book in bed, something I haven’t done since I was a kid. I wholeheartedly believe reading should be a pleasure and if you’re not enjoying a book you should simply stop reading it. Skip to the last chapter if you must know what happens but don’t stick it out otherwise. Life is too short to finish books that bore you, so donate your half-finished books to charity, and while you’re there pick up a few new ones to explore. Keep the book energy moving!


Start small — With most novels clocking in at 90,000 words it feels intimidating committing to a book when you’re out of practice, so start with short stories. Finishing a couple of stories in an evening is wonderfully satisfying and will spur you on to longer texts.

Change the format — Audio books are perfect for long car rides and dog walks so set up an Audible account and start listening to stories. If physical books feel clunky invest in a Kindle and sync it with your phone so you always have a book with you.

Go on reading dates — Treat yourself to an hour in a coffee shop, a bookshop or a library. Put reading dates in your day planner and make them happen. Join (or start!) a book club so you have a sociable reason to read.

Let it be fun — Don’t feel you have to slog through Uylsses if you’d rather be reading Harry Potter. Read whatever makes you excited to curl up with a book again.


Salt Slow by Julia Armfield

The Loss of All Lost Things by Amina Gautier

Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri

Things We Say in The Dark by Kirsty Logan

Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado

What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours by Helen Oyeyemi


The Power by Naomi Alderman

My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite

Stories for my Sister by Elizabeth Duvivier

I Who Have Never Know Men by Jacqueline Harpman

Normal People by Sally Rooney

10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World by Elif Shafak


The original version of this post first appeared in Project Calm magazine

On boundaries and friendship

Dear Susannah

I’m writing with a question about friendship. Last year, a new family moved into our neighborhood, and the woman — who’s a friendly person — joined our book club and biweekly dinner group. (Yes, we’ve got a very social neighborhood and it’s lovely.) My new neighbor is very social and has started organizing many other activities with our neighbor group — going to films, out for lunch, shopping trips, etc — and we’re all pleased about that too. My problem? This woman wants to talk on the phone almost daily or she wants to get together several times a week — and I just don’t have time for that. I’ve told her repeatedly that I still have part-time assignments and other family or friend commitments, but she either gets hurt or pressures me later. She has asked me if I am “avoiding” her when I decline her invitations. There are plenty of others in our neighborhood who will socialize with her, but she takes it personally when I am busy. This woman doesn’t work, has no children, and her husband works 12 hours every day, at least. For me, friendship is a slow developing process. I have a few besties who’ve been in my life for decades, and while I love meeting new friends, I am not able to socialize all day. I feel this new neighbor expects more time from me that I even have for my best friends of two and three decades. I am not sure how to explain that without hurting her feelings. She is a sweet person but very persistent. Any ideas?


* * *

Dear Overwhelmed

You need to be prepared to hurt her feelings and you need to set some boundaries. Let’s start with the first bit…

Unless you’re a sociopath, nobody likes hurting someone else’s feelings. In fact, I’d wager most of us go out of our way to avoid doing that. None of us want to feel like the bad guy, because truthfully, when our actions make the other person feel bad, we also feel bad. We’d like to avoid that too, right?

Saying yes feels easier than saying no but the problem with saying yes when we’d rather say no is we end up hurting ourselves. There’s no good feeling being generated when we’re doing something we don’t want to do. We end up resenting the other person and they’ll feel that, whether they’re conscious of it or not.

Saying no can be really hard, I get it! I’ve become quite adept at declining invitations to work-related things — do I want to be interviewed for an online summit? No thank you. Do I want to take part in this free list building thing? No thank you. Do I want to do a TEDx talk in London? No thank you (that really happened and I really did say no). Saying no to strangers in my inbox is relatively easy but saying no to a member of my family? Hoo boy, that’s something else.

If we consider that inbox strangers and family members are the two ends of the spectrum, your persistent needy neighbour is somewhere in the middle. You’re a bit more than acquaintances but have yet to become close friends. She’s taking everything a bit too personally — more than is appropriate — so it’s time to start saying no to her. Kindly and firmly.

They say “no” is a complete sentence and it’s true. NO doesn’t have to be unkind or mean or rude. NO can be said with love and grace. It can said with a smile. It can come from the heart. A NO said with certainty and a peaceful heart is POWERFUL.

How other people choose to respond to a NO is completely on them. The important thing to remember here is you’re not responsible for her well-being, she is. You’re not responsible for keeping her entertained each day or helping her find purpose in her life, she is. It’s also not your place to try to communicate any of that to her so what you need to do is make this about you — because that’s the part of this equation you can control — and say no when you want to say no.

Boundary setting seems hard because it makes us feel like we’re being unkind or selfish or worst of all, unfriendly. We’re taught to be good girls and play nice with everyone. If you have any history of people-pleasing in your family dynamic you’ll be familiar with the guilt that saying no triggers. But setting a boundary, communicating it and upholding it is not only protecting your energy and time it’s also the antidote to misunderstandings.

How do you set a boundary? You start by clearly communicating your position. When she asks you to do something, say: “That sounds great but unfortunately I’m not free that day.” Or “Thanks for the invitation. Unfortunately I don’t have time to do that this week.” Full stop.

You uphold a boundary by reinforcing it when challenged. In this case when your neighbour asks again if you’re free you repeat: “Sorry, I don’t have time this week.”

The fact that she gets hurt, pressures you later and has directly asked if you are avoiding her shows quite a staggering lack of social awareness on her part. Most of us manage to pick up on cues from other people about whether or not they want to interact with us — your neighbour is lacking in this skill. At some point you may need to be more direct than I’m guessing you’re comfortable with. “Please stop asking me” feels harsh and I imagine will make neighbourhood get-togethers awkward, so I hope that by consistently refusing her requests she will eventually get the message. It might take a while.

When she asks if you’re avoiding her when you decline her invitations I’m wondering if perhaps you’re giving her too many reasons why you can’t do stuff together. Remember, you don’t need to give her any more information. You don’t need to justify how you spend your time to an acquaintance. If you genuinely enjoy her company and would like to build a friendship — at a pace that suits you — you can communicate when you ARE free and what you’re available to do together. If this week is hectic but you could spare the time next Wednesday for lunch, tell her that.

On the other hand, if you don’t want your relationship to go beyond an acquaintanceship, you’re going to have to get comfortable with the initial awkwardness of saying no kindly and firmly. Value your own time. Put yourself, your family and your inner circle first. You say your new neighbour is friendly, sweet and very social — I promise you, she’ll be fine!

Love, Susannah xo

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