Michelle Elman on how to relieve the unfair burden of ‘survivor’s guilt’

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Going through a traumatic illness or experience is unimaginably difficult – so making it through the other side is something to celebrate, right? But what people often struggle to vocalise is the confusing mixture of feelings that accompany this, and the burden of guilt that can, unfairly, weigh heavy on you

Michelle Elman on how to relieve the unfair burden of ‘survivor’s guilt’

I remember the first time I heard the words ‘survivor’s guilt’. It caught my attention because it was finally a phrase that I could put to how I had been feeling for the last decade of my life.

For a little context, I’ve had 15 surgeries and, in many ways, shouldn’t have survived. If I had been born a few years earlier, or in a family with less financial privilege to afford the medical care I did, I would not be alive, and I have been acutely aware of that fact since the age of 11.

The problem is, at 11, it is a very adult problem to have when you are still very much a child, and with the limitations of the vocabulary of a child, and the confusion that comes with not being able to articulate how you feel. At 11 years old, I had been in the ICU for three months, and because the ICU was where the most ill children were in the hospital, I witnessed more deaths of children from six months to 15 years old than one should ever experience, and as each death occurred, it often made me wonder why I was still here. Why was I surviving? What was so special about me?

The only way I found to console myself at that age was to tell myself that I would do my best to compensate for those lives by spending my own trying to help as many people as humanly possible… I hoped that it would make up for it, and decided to never vocalise this guilt.

As much as it’s called survivor’s guilt, there are many other emotions encompassed in it, and the other main one was shame. Shame breeds silence, and so this became my deep dark secret, and ultimately led to me working so hard to overcompensate for all the lives lost.

I was often told in hospital ‘Everything happens for a reason,’ and this made the guilt so much worse. It forced me to try to make meaning out of something that has no meaning and doesn’t make sense. When someone tells you that everything happens for a reason, and you can’t find one, you begin to believe the reason is you, and that’s where the blame comes, along with the shame. Survivor’s guilt is nonsensical. Logically and rationally, you can understand you did not do anything to cause their death, but emotionally, it feels unjust and unfair.

What I wish someone had told me back then was that it was not my responsibility. It was not my fault that others had died and I had lived and, most of all, no one should have to earn their right to life. The fact is there is nothing special about me. There isn’t a reason why I survived and others didn’t, and the most peace I have found is understanding that sometimes shitty things happen, and not everything has a reason or a purpose.

I only began processing all of this while writing my first book, Am I Ugly?, and discussing it in depth meant I finally put words to how I’d felt for decades, and those wo

What are age-gap relationships (and why are they controversial?)

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Can age-gap relationships really work? We answer your frequently asked questions about age gap relationships and explain more about what the research has to say

What are age-gap relationships (and why are they controversial?)

If there’s one thing that is bound to make headlines, it’s celebrity relationships with a big age gap. From the trending chart of Leonardo DiCaprio’s dating history (which revealed the then 47-year-old had never dated anyone over the age of 25), to top 10 lists of celeb couples successfully (and not so successfully) navigating big age gaps, we’re fascinated with the idea that there may be a ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ number of years between our perfect partner and us.

But why is it that relationships with age gaps cause so much controversy? And what does the research actually have to say? We explore some of the most commonly asked questions about dating someone who is significantly older or younger than you.

What are age gap relationships?

An ‘age gap relationship’ typically refers to a couple who are seriously or casually dating, with an age difference of at least 10 years, though some people use the term to refer to shorter gaps. The exact number of years for a relationship to ‘count’ as having an age gap can also vary based on what is considered culturally normal, with other factors – such as a person’s gender or age – affecting how ‘acceptable’ others may see that gap as. For example, someone may be more likely to show concern over a younger woman dating an older man due to fears of grooming, despite the fact that young people of any gender identity and sexual preference can be at risk of grooming.

Anyone can be in an age-gap relationship – a celebrity, a friend, a family member, or a colleague. Age gap relationships can also happen at any point in your life, though someone in their 20s dating someone in their 30s may be more likely to experience comments or pushback from others than a couple in their 50s and 60s.

Why are age-gap relationships frowned upon?

Many people in age-gap relationships report facing stigma, despite nearly four in 10 (39%) of us have dated someone 10 years older or younger than us. According to research, men are more likely to have dated someone 10 or more years younger than them (25% vs 14% of women), while women are more likely to have dated someone 10+ years older (28% vs 21% of men). Over half (57%) of us would be open to dating someone a decade or more older than us, while just under half of us (49%) would consider seeing someone 10 years younger.

Despite around half of us being open to age-gap dating, research has shown an imbalance in how socially acceptable we see it to be for men and women to date someone significantly younger than them. 55% of people believe it’s

Seasonal friendships: how to find closure when companionship comes to an end

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Is it OK for BFFs to not actually last forever?

Seasonal friendships: how to find closure when companionship comes to an end

There’s a saying about friendships that goes something like this: ‘We have three types of friends: friends for a reason, friends for a season, and friends for a lifetime.’ Of course, there are no hard and fast rules about these sorts of things, but clearly, the sentiment resonates. So let’s talk about it. Specifically, let’s talk about perhaps the trickiest one: friends for a season. The idea behind this is that some friends are right for a period of our life. Maybe it’s for months, maybe years, but there’s a beginning and an end to the relationship.

And, apparently, it’s not an uncommon experience. According to a UK poll by Disney, the average friendship lasts for 17 years. Another study from researchers from Aalto University in Finland, and the University of Oxford, took a look at the ways that friendships evolve throughout our lives. In order to do so, they reviewed data from three million phone users to identify the frequency and patterns of who they were contacting, and when, as well as overall activity within their networks. What they found was that men and women tended to make more friends – being ‘socially promiscuous’ – up until the age of 25. After that, the researchers saw a drop in the number of friends people had.

Many of us will go through life entering different eras – school, work, university, moving away, starting a family, changing jobs, picking up new interests – we evolve with time, and sometimes the friendships that were so valuable to us are not, or cannot be, fulfilling. Sometimes they end with a confrontation, sometimes they just quietly fade away. Either way, the end of a friendship isn’t something we’re overly accustomed to, making them difficult to deal with. But we have some advice to help you navigate these times.

Is there a right way to end a friendship?

Yes, and also no. If a friendship just fizzles out over time, with no ill-wishes, perhaps simply because you’ve become different people with different priorities, and there are no burning questions or unfulfilled needs from either party, then there’s not necessarily anything wrong with just letting it be.

But when it comes to ending a friendship that has turned sour – perhaps because they overstep your new boundaries, or a change in priorities or lifestyle has caused disagreements – you may need to take a more direct approach.

The same rules for confrontation that apply to romantic relationships work here. Try to approach the person when you are not at the height of your emotions, so you can remain calm. Use ‘I’ statements to express how you feel – for example, ‘I feel like my boundaries are not being respected,’ rather than ‘You always cross the line.’ You can go into detail if you need to, and be willing to answer questions if you can. But if the conversation turns hostile or aggressive, know that you’re under no obligation to remain in it. And then, like with a romantic relationship, make it clear what you want to do next, for example: ‘I think it would be best if we didn’t see each other anymore.’

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6 sleep sounds to listen to tonight

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From white noise to music and meditations, we’re rounding up six sleep tracks to help you drift off tonight

6 sleep sounds to listen to tonight

The idea of playing some kind of sound to help you fall asleep may feel very 2023. But, when you think about it, drifting off to soothing sounds isn’t entirely new. Humans have been singing lullabies for millennia, and there’s something about repetitive, gentle sounds that really help us to switch off.

For some people, playing sounds as they fall asleep helps them to focus on something other than anxious thoughts, or worries about what the next day might bring them. For others, the sounds can help combat the distractions that come with living in built-up areas. But, whatever the reason behind it might be, the genre is booming right now.

Interested in trying something new tonight? We’ve brought together six sleep sounds to help you find your perfect bedmate.

White noise

White noise is a sound that contains all the frequencies across the spectrum of audible sound. It sounds a bit like the static you might hear on an untuned TV or radio. There have been several studies into what makes this seemingly uninspiring sound so soothing for some people. The results have been mixed – it works for some, and not for others – but when it does work, it has been found to be very effective, with one study from The National Center for Biotechnology finding that adults fell asleep 38% faster while listening to white noise.


Classical music

Studies have shown that music that has 60 beats per minute, about that of a resting heart rate, is shown to have a soothing effect on our minds. Now, technically that opens the door to music across the genres, but the thing about classical music is that it doesn’t contain distracting lyrics, and depends much more on movement and melody – elements that enhance relaxation.


Guided sleep meditation

Meditation is a fantastic tool for relaxation and wellbeing, and it’s a growing area of content, which means that you can find plenty of guided meditations designed specifically to help you fall into a deep and restful sleep. This example, from Jason Stephenson, will help you to slow down your breathing, let go of stress, and find a sense of serenity. Plus, the addition of the rainforest sounds adds another dimension to the relaxing soundscape.


Sound baths

Sound, or gong, baths have been used for healing since ancient times, with some records suggesting they go back as far as 16,000 B.C. One study, from 2017, found evidence to sugges

12 affirmations to support you through the year

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Claire Titmus, author of ‘The Crystal Year’, shares her monthly affirmations for 2023  

12 affirmations to support you through the year

The seasonal cycles of the year often affect our focus, natural rhythms, and physical and mental wellbeing throughout the 365 days. This has been observed since time began, and even led to the full moons receiving their celestial and spiritual names, due to different poignant nature-driven activities. Affirmations are a wonderful way to help you focus in alignment with this energy, offering you emotional support or encouragement when you need a dose of positivity.

The meaning ‘to affirm’ is to state something out loud. To give yourself the confirmation that you are speaking the truth, to affirm to your mind that you believe in the power of the words being spoken.

Whilst you can practice these affirmations at times of meditation, during relaxation, or as part of a ritual, know that keeping them to hand to read out when you need to is absolutely fine. In fact, keeping it simple and bringing them into your day-to-day routine will make them even more beneficial, as the words will be associated with activities you and your mind are familiar with.

12 affirmations to support you through the year
The Crystal Year (Quadrille, £15)

The following affirmations have been chosen to use in the given month, however, if you feel drawn to one at any other time, just go with it. You know you best.

  • January - Associated with a fresh start – I am strong, capable and resilient. I am determined to build the life that I aspire to. I deserve the best.
  • February – Associated with love – I am deserving of genuine friendships and love. I am loved and I love everything about my beautiful self.
  • March – Associated with new beginnings – I am ready for spring, the signs of new growth and life remind me of the new possibilities ahead of me. I am ready to grow.
  • April – Associated with cleansing – I am ready to let go of what no longer serves me, and welcome new opportunities in abundance.
  • May – Associated with growth – I feel empowered to live, learn and grow. My challenges are opportunities that will feed me wisdom.
  • June – Associated with gratitude – All that I desire is manifesting. I am grateful for the abundance flowing my way.
  • July – Associated with adventure and travel – I attract my dream opportunities with ease. July is an amazing month for new experiences for me.
  • August – Associated with regen
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