Self-care for summertime sadness

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Summer. Some people get through the winter months, subsisting on the mere thought of it; some people cringe at the thought of all that daylight and those sweaty nights. I tend towards the latter, personally. Whatever your stance on summer, it happens. It’s important to keep up with good self-care practices, whatever the weather, so here are a few suggestions:

  • Asparagus weather: Indulge in some seasonal vegetables. I recently made this asparagus and radish risotto and it was divine!
  • Don’t shave it: If you’re a person that shaves, it can be a ballache when it’s too hot to wear tights or to have your legs covered up. Shaving too often can be damaging for your skin though, especially if you have a skin condition like ezcema. Give your skin a break and go au naturale.
  • Sunnies and sun creams: Protect your little eyeballs and your skin, especially if you’re fair and can easily burn. Don’t underestimate the blazing solar overlord.
  • Nature or nurture: Summertime can make us feel guilty for being indoors. Whilst it’s true that we need to top up our vitamin D levels, sometimes our self-care has to come first. Don’t feel beholden to the sunshine – do what you need to do, regardless of the temperature outside.
  • Goddamn mermaid: Water your animals, your plants and yourself. One of my favourite mottos is ‘Keep your friends hydrated’.
  • House rule #1: Simple – Don’t beat yourself up.
  • Pal up: Spend nice times with nice people. Picnics, ice-cream and walks are delightful ways to do this, but watching Ru Paul’s Drag Race obsessively with the curtains drawn is equally valid and awesome.
  • Juicy peach: Have some fruity goodness in your life. Vitamin D is not the only vitamin.
  • Follow your fancy: Be whimsical. Even if you get the summertime sadness, it can be nice to treat it like a holiday season. Revisit childhood summer shenanigans. Splash about in a paddling pool, buy pick’n’mix and eat it walking round town or go messing about in boats.

 

Keep cool and don’t sweat it.

 

In the chair: How to prepare for therapy

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Starting counselling can be very stressful. Often it comes after months on a waiting list and it’s entirely feasible that the original motivation for your therapy has long since ceased to dominate your daily life. That doesn’t mean that the work doesn’t still need to be done. For some people, starting that process will be a massive relief, for others it presents multiple challenges, mixed feelings and a lot of anxiety. Having been through the process various times in recent years, here are a few pointers that might help alleviate the anxiety of the hot seat:

 

  • Housekeeping: Make sure that you know all the administrative details in advance of your session i.e. where it will take place, cost, time constraints, cancellation policies etc. Minimising any complications ahead of time will help it to be a therapeutic, rather than anxiety-ridden experience.
  • What a girl wants: To make most effective use of your sessions, you should spend some time thinking about what you see as the ideal outcome. It will help you to have an overarching focus or theme during your sessions.  Some examples might be: ‘I want to feel more confident in social situations’ or ‘I want to learn to recognise toxic people around me’.
  • Talking therapy: It’s called talking therapy for a reason – that’s what you’re there for. Try to think of your therapist as a sounding board. They aren’t there to judge or to advise you, but to help you recognise where you are and what you’re struggling with.
  • It’s not you, it’s them: If you don’t feel comfortable with the therapist that you are allocated (if you go through your GP or a large organisation) then it is totally fine to ask to see someone else. It’s not a personal affront, it’s your preference and it is ALL ABOUT YOU.
  • A room of one’s own: Just like finding the right therapist to work with, the space in which you do it is also important. Taking the time to make the space your own should make you feel safe, as well as powerful. It might be helpful to bring some home comforts with you, such as a pair of slippers, a favourite blanket or scarf to get cosy with. If you fancy it, essential oils can be helpful for calming or energising.

 

Above all, there are no rules. Counselling is an intensely personal process that should be both challenging and supportive. It’s a self-centric, but by no means selfish endeavour. Pull up a chair and get stuck in!

Don’t be blue, it’s only January

Dark days, we had plenty last year, but the new year can be just as daunting. The lure of over-sleeping and over-eating can feel irresistible. Our bodies tend toward hibernation from a survival instinct, but not necessarily because this is the best thing for us or what we actually need. It’s worth taking some time to remind yourself of what makes you feel most energised and fulfilled and continuing those practices into the new year. Trying to tackle each and every of your *perceived* flaws in one of the darkest, coldest, most miserable months is unrealistic at best. Whilst it seems like a natural time to build new practices into your life, putting an unhealthy amount of emphasis on being ‘successful’ or ‘achieving’ is unlikely to bring balance. It’s more likely to bring anxiety and feelings of unworthiness.

Here are a few suggestions for an energising new year:

  • Birthday bonanza: Celebrate someone’s birthday. Make a cake for your dog, organise a lovely meal for a friend or perform an act of homage to a hero with a January birthday.

 

  • Spice of life: January can be quite a stagnant month but you can try some new flavour combinations to keep things spicy. Maybe find a dish that uses something different like star anise or cardamom pods. (Try these cardamom biscuits)

 

  •  That’s life: Look after something living, whether its borrowing a pup or cultivating a windowsill herb-box – nourish and flourish is the way forward.

 

  • Reflect not ruminate: Remember the good things of the past year, reflect on where you have been strong but don’t give an unnecessary amount of time to thinking over the bad stuff. Focus forward.

 

  • Evolution/ revolution:  Making over the make-over – stick your head in your wardrobe and recycle anything that doesn’t make you tingle! Try something new like a bow-tie, or refresh an old favourite with tie-dye or a fresh ribbon. There’s not much that ribbons can’t solve…

Pin Up Girl Problems: A.K.A. Why is Pin Up Culture Problematic?

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One of the many things I love about modern pin-up culture is that it is diversifying. There are so many gorgeous models who are ‘plus-size’, of colour, alternative (i.e. heavily tattooed/ pierced). I think these are all stunning and magnificent things that traditional, mainstream pin-up images were lacking. Increasingly, the online presence of these pin-ups is body-positive, supportive and inclusive. It seems to be a community-spirited affair that encourages women to build each other up, rather than compete in damaging and pointless ways.

Discouragingly, some media targeted at vintage lovers is very unhealthy. For example, many ‘Pin-up’ memes glorify alcohol abuse, materialism, bitchiness and even violence. I think it unwise to understate what damage these messages can do. They are, perhaps, intended to be bold exclamations of “empowerment”, but for who? Personally, the empowerment that I’m looking for doesn’t come from undermining or criticising others. Nor does it depend on toxic sarcasm or alcohol abuse. These memes promote inebriation, rather than liberation. They also suggest that female empowerment is incomplete without misandry.

Perhaps these modern interpretations  intend to reject reducing women into mere sexual objects, as per the war-time origins of pin-up culture. However, the repetitive portrayal of pin-up women as man-hating bitches with stunted or repressed emotional capacity is only feeding already harmful female archetypes.

Pin-up is for anyone and everyone that wants it. Lots of good work towards this has already been done but the media representation, and even that of retro and vintage-reproduction companies,  is making a laughing stock of pin-up. Social media’s output regarding pin-up culture is shallow and judgemental – the opposite of the sentiments which attracted me. There is so much emphasis in the community on sharing pursuits outside the fashion and beauty elements. Likewise, there is a huge focus on self-care and spreading positivity that are entirely missed in harmful memes and images.

For me, pin-up culture is far from superficial. It’s about feeling good in yourself and helping others to do the same. It’s not about drinking to oblivion, slagging off other people’s appearances or cutting away human emotional depth and genuineness.

I’m a pin-up girl and I’m proud of what that means. We can write our own definitions, especially when they have been mistaken by others.

Fun and fancy for free

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They say the best things in life are free and I wholeheartedly agree (with the exception of buying dresses, of course). A person can’t live on dresses alone and nor should they try! Since wages aren’t what they should be and, anyway, Money Makes You Mean, here’s a list of shenanigans that won’t cost the earth (or even an island). Some of them cost nothing at all. Imagine that.

 

  • If you’ve got it, flaunt it: Use that gym membership that is totally neglected, delve deep into the recesses of Netflix, wiggle to your premium Spotify and enjoy your ad-free fantasy world (damn you). Read an entire book of poems that you haven’t picked up yet. Just an idea.
  • Stroke an ego: Maybe your own, but not necessarily. You could beat down a friend’s door with flowers and serenade them in a creepy Ginny Weasley’s cupid kind of way.
  • Deal with it: Crack out a pack of cards or a chessboard and make a move.
  • Booked up: Raid a library, whether a public one or a friend’s. Get stuck in. Reading can sometimes feel daunting if you’re out of the habit so start light – maybe don’t go straight for War & Peace… try one of the Very Short Introduction series by Oxford University Press, maybe. Or Mills and Boon.
  • Dirty Dancing: Learn an iconic dance routine. Become Kevin Bacon. Or leap into Jennifer Beals‘ dancing shoes.
  • Creative cooking: Dig out everything in your cupboards and create something from what’s in there. Things might get interesting…
  • Snuggle ‘n’ snacks: Is there anything better than a cosy cutch and some first-rate munchies. The correct response is no.
  • Water baby: Go for a muddy walk and splash in a puddle. Put a watering can out in the rain. Steam your face. Try watersports…
  • Found you: Grab some free magazines, chop them up and make found poems with the headlines (see main picture for ‘Here’s one I made earlier…).
  • Beauty queen: Go through your beauty supplies and spend some time experimenting. Try some basic nail art or play around with a shade of lipstick you never use. Try repurposing it as a blush stick. Try something a little different, or get ready for halloween… Youtube is your friend.

 

Enjoy!

 

 

Self-care for dummies

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Taking care of your emotional well-being is the most important thing you can do. But, it’s not easy and might take a bit of getting used to if you’ve been in the habit of neglecting yourself. It’s good to build habits that will let you move forward through difficult times. The best way to go about it, in my experience, is make it an everyday habit, rather than a big blow-out. While planning a spa experience does sound lovely, it’s not necessarily practical or affordable. Little things will give you a boost and keep you buoyant.

Here are a few things you might find helpful:

  • Wash that stress out of your hair: Have a long hot bath and lather up. Add bubbles and heat your towels. Light a candle – it’s nice to feel nice.
  • That’s a mouthful: Have a little snack of whatever you fancy – a row of chocolate or a handful of nuts.
  • Brideshead Revisited: Revisit a favourite book that helps you to feel safe.
  • Savour the flavour: Make an event out of tea time – infuse a special brew in a teapot, drink out of your granny’s china, have a nice little biscuit on the side… Make it a ritual.
  • Change as good as a rest: Try walking a different way to work or order something new from the takeaway.
  • Light up: Light a candle or some incense and focus on the flame or light.
  • Clean your act up: Take care of your garments or gadgets. Take a few moments to polish and freshen up your shoes or delete some apps to make things go smoother.
  • Tiger, tiger: Try Tiger Balm for your aches and pains. Lush have a great range of massage bars that’ll do the trick, too.
  • Get it off: Switch off all your devices, it’s incredibly liberating – find a new part of town, get some undisturbed shut-eye, read the dictionary, stand on your head, or maybe get it oooon with some sweet guy or gal…
  • Present you: Future You is going to love Past You – make sure you have a nice lunch and an enchanting ensemble ready for tomorrow, set your alarm a little earlier so you can ease into the day.

 

For more ideas, have a look at my lists, 50 Things To Do On Dog Days and 50 MORE Things To Do On Dog Days

Take care!

Here’s why Freshers’ won’t be the best week of your life

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So, you did good in your exams and got into university – nice one. Now you have to continue that success by carving out a new little life for yourself, maybe away from home for the first time, maybe in another country. That’s awesome. ‘Have the time of your life!’, people will tell you, and maybe you will! But, if you’re not having the best week ever in the whole of your existence on planet earth, you’re  not alone, you’re not weird and you’re not going to feel this way forever.

Here are a few things you might experience during Freshers’ that don’t make the headlines:

  • Burnout: Your body will hate you and every human in sight. Everyone gets sick (sometimes self-inflicted, sometimes Freshers’ flu) and it spreads like wildfire in halls. Take your vitamins and Drink Aware, but read up on other illnesses such as meningitis, which can be particularly nasty.
  • Brain-ache: You won’t understand a word of your lectures/ you will immediately regret everything in your life that led you to the decision to study this crappy course. There will be a lot of reading which after week 1 you will never finish.
  • Social caterpillar: All your life’s fears of being inadequate will probably come to the fore during a conversation with someone who speaks 5 languages, plays 5 instruments and is a semi-pro golfer in their spare time. Also, they will be good looking, well-spoken and bubbly. Whatever, you managed to get out of bed today, so who’s the butterfly?
  • Ground-hog day: There’s a 98% chance that you will have the exact same conversation at least 564 times during Freshers’ Week. It will go like this: ‘Hi, I’m [insert name here]’, ‘Hi, my name’s [insert name here]. Where are you from?’, ‘[insert hometown here], you?’, ‘Oh, cool. I’m from near [insert major city here]. What are you studying?’ etc. etc. etc. and so on and so forth. Eventually the boring will filter out.
  • Under pressure: You will feel like you should be doing certain things and in a certain way. Destroy this notion. If you want to sleep, sleep. If you want to go to a museum rather than a poster sale, do it. IF YOU DON’T WANT TO DRINK ALCOHOL, DON’T. If you do things that you are comfortable with, you will meet like-minded people and make nice friends. Winner.
  • Culture shock: You will miss your family/ partners/ pets. You’ll be around unfamiliar people with unfamiliar (and uncomfortable) opinions and habits. The water will be different, the noises at night-time, the smells and sights will all be big, bright neon signs that you’re not in Kansas any more, Dorothy. Don’t forget you can always click your heels and book a ticket home…

 

So, the moral of the tale is: don’t try to be anybody but yourself. You probably won’t meet your friends for life in Freshers’ Week and, if you do, they’ll understand that Freshers’ Week ain’t all it’s cracked up to be. Don’t rush – this is your grace period – use it.

Empaths Anonymous

Every now and then, I like to read my horoscope. Whether its 4am and me and my girls are putting the world to rights, or I need some vague reassurance that I’m going in the right direction, a horoscope can be just the ticket. I don’t swear by it, I don’t obsess over it, but it gives me a buzz (or a reality check). I am, according to most definitions, a ‘typical Pisces‘, acting from intuition and sensitivity, as well as having my head in the clouds and being naturally disposed to melancholy. Empathy is another trait strongly associated with water signs, like Pisces. Astrology aside, empathy is a powerful but painful thing.

With the exception of psychopaths, we all have empathy to some degree. It’s the ability to sense and experience other people’s emotions. Some people claim to physically feel others’ pain. Being an empath means that it is a struggle to switch off from other people’s problems or hurt. Being with large groups of people can often be emotionally draining and exhausting. It’s common for highly empathetic people to also suffer with depression or anxiety. We’re not called Sensitive Souls for nothing.

Empaths especially need to have good self-care practices to help maintain healthy boundaries between themselves and others. Empathy helps to build deep bonds with other people, but it can also complicate relationships. Empaths also have the unfortunate tendency to be attracted to, or to fall into relationships with, narcissists. This can be particularly damaging as empaths are natural nurturers; narcissists will absorb this attention but rarely return the favour. Do yourself a favour and ditch Narcissus.

 

Here’s a quick 12-step plan for Empaths Anonymous:

  • Home bird: Lots of empaths are quite introverted – if this applies to you, make sure you get time on your own to recuperate and focus on your own emotions.
  • Not my stuff: Learn to separate your baggage with that of those around you. If your friend is very socially anxious, support them but do not take responsibility for them. Process your own stuff first.
  • Big, bad world: Don’t let the big bad world get you down. We’re living in a scary, depressing world. Don’t forget that the personal is political. Small actions make real impacts on others’ lives and your own.
  • Hang about: Surround yourself with a community of socially engaged, positive people. It will help you to understand your pain as well as lessen it.
  • You may confer: Ask a (more or less) impartial friend/ relative to help you assess problems – they will be able to advise you on where to draw the boundaries.
  • Hard lines: Be strict with people who tend to overstep the line or who don’t give anything back to you. It might be that they need to be unceremoniously deleted from your life or it could be that a gentle word will help the situation.
  • And… release: Maybe you need a good cry to get it all out of your system. Maybe you need an endorphin hit. Maybe you need an orgasm.
  • Suck it up: Absorb some positive energy instead. One positive of being an empath is that you can glory in other people’s joys, as well as struggle with their pain.
  • New and used: Try something different to get a new perspective on things. Get recommendations or get back to something you miss doing.
  • Hibernate: Take a sabbatical and hunker down for a while. Take some annual leave…
  • Somewhere only we know: Pit-stop somewhere familiar or that feels safe and take regular breaks during the day. Safe could be a group chat that you check into, or a cafe that you spend your special moments in.
  • Film fiend: Watch a movie marathon, remove yourself from the current/ real world.

 

Maybe the best advice is the most general: Be kind to yourself, whatever that looks like!

 

Living with eczema and anxiety

Baby, I was born this way. And, unlike a lot of people, I stayed this way, too. Eczema in babies and children is quite common, but it is thought that most people will grow out of acute or chronic eczema by the time they reach adulthood.

Apparently, my mother knew that I would be a scratcher because she was constantly itchy during her pregnancy. I’ve tried lots of lotions, potions and products since I was born with varying amounts of success. Prescription creams and bath oils made me feel greasy and dirty, but moisturising is the most important thing in managing the condition. Atopic dermatitis, as it is also known in the trade, is partially due to faster shedding skin, but also involves the skin reacting to allergens and other factors. Common allergens are dust and dairy. Eczema can often be exacerbated by over-washing or using perfumed products, or even hard water. But, one of my biggest triggers is stress – my skin is basically a big old drama queen. It likes to throw a hissy fit every time things are not going my way.

Living with eczema and anxiety side-by-side sometimes feels more like existing than living because it’s a non-stop cycle of stress causing flare-ups causing bad skin causing stress causing flare-ups and so on. It’s also an exhausting combination because both take their toll on self-confidence. Whilst anxiety is busy nibbling away at your brain telling you that you are ugly and worthless, eczema gives a helping hand by destroying your skin in a very visible way which gets reactions ranging from, ‘poor you’ to ‘is it contagious?’.

Here are a few ways I manage my eczema:

  • Nailed it: Keep your nails cut short and filed down to help keep damage to a minimum.
  • Move on: Don’t try and stick it out with a product that doesn’t do you any favours. It can be a total pain, especially if you’ve spent money on a new magic lotion and then it gives you hives.
  • Keep it clean: Wash sheets on a high temperature to kill any dusty-mitey-itchy stuff. Also, use unscented, non-bio, sensitive washing liquid or powder.
  • But not too clean: Over-washing and washing in water that is too hot can make the problem worse. Wash in warm, not scalding water and don’t sit in the bath for too long because that won’t do you any favours either.
  • Food diary: Keep a track on what you’re letting into your body – there might be some allergy issues making your skin act up. I’m a recent convert to soya milk.
  • Whatever you’re doing, stop it!: Stop scratching. Now. No, stop it. Seriously. Try patting, rubbing, gently slapping to stimulate your skin without drawing blood.
  • Take it easy: Keeping your stress levels down is key because it’s one hell of a climb back up from the bottom of that cycle.

 

Body and mind as one! Be gentle to both 🙂

 

Be a pal: How to spot depression and anxiety

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Mental illnesses are often isolating and lonely. They can make social situations difficult to navigate. Self-confidence takes a hit. Expectations of normality jump out of the window. When everything seems totally futile, why bother showering? We’re all going to die so it doesn’t matter if your bills don’t get paid, does it? These are things we are taught to notice in those around us. If one of your work colleagues starts turning up in the same, unwashed clothes, with a distinct odour of whiskey and cheese, you can probably assume something is not quite right. If your friend stops speaking for days at a time and just cries, they are probably working through some stuff. But not all signs of people struggling to cope are so clear-cut.

 

Here are a few to look out for:

  • Small time: Sometimes, when people are feeling high levels of anxiety, they lose perspective and can become fixated on small details which seem insignificant to other people. They may go over and over the same thing or talk about a topic which the conversation has moved on from.
  • Grumpy: Anger or irritability often signal someone under a lot of stress or unable to cope with the intensity of their emotions. Of course, some people are just grumpy in general, but keep an eye out if this explosiveness or intolerance is a new development. They might seem like they’ve lost their sense of humour, too.
  • Shopaholic: Feeling depressed can spark a desire to fill your life with, well, anything. A sudden urge to buy expensive knickknacks might be a sign.  Keep an eye out for anyone with a crystal pineapple – they probably need help.
  • Drink me: Alcohol and substance abuse is often part and parcel of mental illness, used to escape painful feelings. This can be difficult to spot if the person is drinking or taking drugs alone, but don’t ignore your instincts.
  • Hideout: Becoming socially withdrawn, whether refusing invitations or talking less (or less openly) than usual is common for people struggling with depression or anxiety. They can often get trapped inside their own head, which is, more often than not, their own worst enemy.
  • Sleepless nights: Depression may be a mental illness but it shows itself in many physical ways. Changes in sleeping patterns (i.e. sleeping a lot more or a lot less) and eating habits/ fluctuations in weight can suggest stress.

 

Remember panic/ anxiety attacks can manifest in lots of different ways:

  • Sieve brain: The person might be unable to retain any information; they can seem confused and inattentive.
  • Space cadet: Being totally zoned out or in their own world. Not seeming to be engaged with their surroundings.
  • Fisticuffs: Physical tension may seem like a fairly obvious example, but this can be very subtle, including jaw-clenching, teeth grinding or small repeated movements like rubbing hands together or cracking knuckles.
  • Too much: Sensory overload can be very distressing. Exposure to too many stimuli can be overwhelming – too much noise, heat or light can increase levels of anxiety.
  • Sweat, sick and tears: Sweating palms, nausea and crying are all common during panic attacks.

 

Keep an eye out. Letting someone know that you care is sometimes the only, and best, thing you can do to help!