Destination, Barcelona.

Features, Uncategorized

People travel for many different reasons. To find themselves, to lose themselves, to escape daily life and to experience the unknown. Travel is a mental journey, just as much as a physical one. For me, travel is what I turn to when I don’t know where I’m headed. When my life reaches a sudden point of change and I am forced to decide on the next step, that step is usually in the direction of the nearest airport check-in desk.

It all started when I finished school and didn’t know what I wanted to study at university. Instead of dealing with this unnerving prospect, I decided to take a gap year and booked a flight to South East Asia. I spent six months backpacking through various countries and while I was there decided I wanted to study many things, photography, psychology and nutrition, to name just a few. I ended up choosing none of these subjects but having one of the best experiences of my life. Fast forward three years and I graduated from university and was faced with the even more daunting task of entering the ‘real world’ and perhaps even finding a job, so me and my best friend – neither of us particularly thrilled by this prospect – began planning a trip to Indonesia and Malaysia. When I was diagnosed with a chronic illness last year, despite the fact that just getting out of bed was the last thing I felt like doing, I cautiously packed my bags and spent two weeks travelling up the Croatian coastline with my boyfriend. The amount of prescription drugs I was carrying was enough to get me stopped at security, but the best medication was being in a new country, experiencing the unknown, discovering the undiscovered.

This habit of reaching for my trusty old backpack when things get complicated has stuck with me as the years have gone on – although admittedly now it is often a suitcase I’m packing for a weekend mini-break, rather than a six month expedition. When I’m feeling low or unfulfilled I find myself scrolling through stranger’s beach snaps on Instagram, manically Googling holiday deals online and day-dreaming about my next adventure.

Recently, my agreeable nine to five existence came abruptly to a halt and I was faced with whole load of those dreaded, daunting decisions, so naturally I reached for my laptop and Lonely Planet and began planning a trip.

Funnily enough, one thing I don’t mind deciding on is where to travel to on my next journey. This time I settled on four nights in dynamic Barcelona. A city bustling with art, culture, history, shopping, beaches and of course, nightlife. I would go so far as to say that Barcelona is the pretty much the perfect destination for a mini-break, whether you have in mind a romantic escape for you and your other half or an energetic girls weekend away. Culture buffs, sun-worshippers, shopaholics and alcoholics, Barcelona will prevail. Absorb yourself in Gaudi’s awe-inspiring architecture, soak up some sun on the beautiful coastline (the weather was just about warm enough for sunbathing when we visited, although I didn’t brave the bikini) or treat your tastebuds to the illustrious tapas dishes and sip copious amounts of Sangria. Do any or all of these things. This city is what you make it.

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13 Things No One Tells You About Depression

Features

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1. It physically hurts.
Although depression is a mental illness it can cause physical pain too. From muscle ache and joint pain to stabbing sensations and that physical dull ache you feel in your gut when totally overcome with misery.

2. You literally feel like you are going insane.
Depression manifests in various different ways, including panic attacks, irrational thoughts and social anxiety. It can make you feel like you are crazy, you’re not you’re just sick.

3. You can’t differentiate between which thoughts are rational and which are the depression speaking.
Suddenly your head is filled with intrusive, depressive thoughts. Identifying these against your rational thoughts is tough and confusing, but an important step towards recovery.

4. Depression often makes you feel nothing at all.
People assume that depression means you are sad or “down” but it can actually mean not feeling anything at all. Feeling numb and emotionally exhausted is a definite a symptom of depression.

5. Except guilt, you feel guilty all the time.
If suffering from depression isn’t bad enough, imagine feeling guilty for suffering from depression. The guilt is a depressive emotion that makes you feel selfish, ungrateful and a failure, but the illness is out of your control, it’s not your fault.

6. The future is the most terrifying thing out there.
The future is a huge black, meaningless void that you cannot bear to even think about.

7. No matter how much outsiders try, they will always lose an argument with depression.
However much they reassure and argue with you, your people will never be any match for the arsehole that is depression. “You ARE worthless, useless etc…”

8. Most things people will say to you are not just not helpful, but categorically unhelpful.
Unfortunately, a lot of people just don’t understand depression which is why we so often here things like “just cheer up” or “don’t be so depressed.” This is not only completely pointless advice but it can also be detrimental to how the sufferer feels.

9. It doesn’t make you sad all the time.
Believe it or not, depression doesn’t have to mean lying, weeping in bed in the dark for months on end. Many people living with depression go out, carry on working and even make jokes. Stereotypes don’t allow for this.

10. Likewise, even people with a happy disposition can be depressed.
It is a medical illness, individual to the sufferer and it can affect anyone.

11. Everything that ever meant something, suddenly means nothing.
In a depressive state, you lose sight of everything that you ever loved or enjoyed previously – hobbies, interests and relationships. It’s like you never even existed before the illness.

12. You can’t just take a pill to make it all go away.
Doctors are pretty quick to prescribe antidepressants these days, but while they can help some people with depression to live a more normal life, they are not a long term or permanent solution. Getting better is a long and complex process.

13. It’s a lonely place.
Depression is a seriously lonely illness. It feels like no one in the world understands, and it’s no wonder, because a lot of people don’t. What’s important is that some people do and some are willing to try. Surround yourself with these people or be one of these people. They’re the ones who matter.

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How Hannah Altman is Glitterbombing Beauty Standards

Features

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“Sugar and spice and all things nice, that’s what little girls are made of.”

Not according to Hannah Altman, a 20 year old photography student from Pittsburgh, who is, to put it bluntly, glitterbombing, beauty standards through her thought-provoking, poignant exhibition of feminist art. Hannah’s photo series, titled “And Everything Nice” is a distinct expression of the pressures on women to look a certain way. In the photos, of which her best friends are the models, Hannah substitutes glitter for various body fluids, including blood, vomit and tears to draw attention to societies instinct to sanitise and ornament women’s bodies. Hannah has used glitter visualise the pressure women feel to be attractive regardless of anything else, despite what might actually be going on.The result is a striking and haunting look at today’s beauty standards.

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Hanging Out In Krakow

Features, Food

Briefly put aside Krakow’s extensive, captivating history and the horrors which bring 1.4 million fascinated tourists to the area each year, and the city itself can best be described as, well, a lovely place.

While the Auschwitz museum and memorial is responsible for the majority of these visitors, I couldn’t think of a nicer place to return to after perhaps one of the most overwhelming and emotionally exhausting days of my life. Though it doesn’t take long to complete TripAdvisor’s Krakow ‘must-do’ list – we found we had ticked almost everything off in a couple of days – it is the diverse selection of “hang-outs” which will keep you enthralled day after day. Oh, and the vodka is pretty good too.
Eszeweria, Jewish Quarter

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I confess, I had a little help from The Guardian in finding this little gem, suitably hidden in the Jewish Quarter of Krakow, this bar is the archetype of the bohemian bar. One gloomy, bare-walled room, leads to the next, winding through the dusty antiques and clusters of locals chatting in the candle-light. Screaming character and authenticity, Eszeweria is no attempt at capturing the spirit of Kazimierz, it is the real deal.
Alchemia, Jewish Quarter

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If you have been to Kazimierz at night, you have probably been to Alchemia, as it is the place to go to enjoy a drink whilst experiencing the atmosphere of the former Jewish district. This it does exceptionally well, with its candle-lit rooms, forgotten photographs and intriguing furnishings, the only downside is, every tourist in Krakow is doing the same thing.
La Habana, Jewish Quarter

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Looking for something a little bit more Cuban? No, I wasn’t either, but La Habana was just across the street from our hotel and I couldn’t help but be intrigued by this shabby looking little den. A super-friendly barmaid offered us a selection of vodkas to try (but they also have a extensive menu of beer cocktails,) while subtle lighting and Latin American tunes offered a laid-back but cheerful atmosphere and the locals puffed away on hand-rolled Cuban cigars.

Staropolskie Trunki Regionalne, Old Town

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This place is somewhere between a bar and an alcohol shop, with a friendly sign outside inviting passers by to come and try traditional polish tipples, namely, vodka. Though pretty intimidating at first – the selection of flavours is quite spectacular – after a couple of free taster shots we were happily sitting, sipping and watching the world go by. I challenge anyone to leave this bar without falling in love with vodka all over again.
Cryano de Bergerac, Slawkowska 26

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We spent our last evening dining by candlelight in the brick-lined cellar of one of Krakow’s many old buildings. This cellar has been transformed into one of Krakow’s premier restaurants, serving gourmet French and Polish cuisine in spectacularly authentic surroundings and has seen guests such as Roman Polanski and Prince Charles dine at its tables. Although a bit on the more expensive side for Poland prices, the ambience and location, not to mention the mouthwatering food, were worth every zloty.

Is Depression Affecting Someone YOU Know?

Features

depression-13061 If depression affects one in five adults at some point during their lives, then the chances are we will all know at least one person to be affected by the illness. Recently, I learnt of two separate situations, where someone close to me could be suffering from depression and this compelled me to ask the question, had I not been made aware of it, would I of spotted the signs and symptoms before things went too far?

This thought process then escalated. If I, as someone who would consider themselves to be relatively familiar with the illness couldn’t spot the signs, then how could we expect someone who has never come into contact with mental health problems before to recognise someone close to them was suffering?

The signs of a mental health problem can be screamingly obvious to the sufferer but almost impossible for an outsider to spot, and when treating someone the focus is often on what has led to the illness, rather than how to prevent it.

On World Mental Health Day this year, Radio 5’s Stephen Nolan led an insightful discussion about the need for us to understand the range of mental health problems, just as we do for physical health. The answer to this is obvious yet proportionally absent, education and awareness.

If the people surrounding the sufferer, be it friends, family or colleagues, have been educated about mental health, have a good understanding of illnesses such as depression, and can recognise the signs, this gives them the ability to intervene in an appropriate way and begin to break down the three overwhelming thoughts in the sufferers mind –

“I’m the only one to feel like this”

“Nobody cares”

“Nobody wants to listen”

Here’s a list of symptoms for clinical depression, taken from the NHS website. Take it seriously, depression is real.

“The symptoms of depression can be complex and vary widely between people. But as a general rule, if you are depressed, you feel sad, hopeless and lose interest in things you used to enjoy. The symptoms persist for weeks or months and are bad enough to interfere with your work, social life and family life. There are many other symptoms of depression and you’re unlikely to have every one listed below. If you experience some of these symptoms for most of the day, every day for more than two weeks, you should seek help from your GP.

Psychological symptoms include:

• continuous low mood or sadness

• feeling hopeless and helpless

• having low self-esteem

• feeling tearful

• feeling guilt-ridden

• feeling irritable and intolerant of others

• having no motivation or interest in things

• finding it difficult to make decisions

• not getting any enjoyment out of life

• feeling anxious or worried

• having suicidal thoughts or thoughts of harming yourself

Physical symptoms include:

• moving or speaking more slowly than usual

• change in appetite or weight (usually decreased, but sometimes increased)

• constipation

• unexplained aches and pains

• lack of energy or lack of interest in sex (loss of libido) •

changes to your menstrual cycle

• disturbed sleep (for example, finding it hard to fall asleep at night or waking up very early in the morning)

Social symptoms include:

• not doing well at work

• taking part in fewer social activities and avoiding contact with friends

• neglecting your hobbies and interests

• having difficulties in your home and family life

Depression can come on gradually, so it can be difficult to notice something is wrong. Many people continue to try to cope with their symptoms without realising they are ill. It can take a friend or family member to suggest something is wrong.

Doctors describe depression by how serious it is:

•mild depression has some impact on your daily life

• moderate depression has a significant impact on your daily life

• severe depression makes it almost impossible to get through daily life – a few people with severe depression may have psychotic symptoms”

If you’re worried that you or someone close to you could be suffering from depression there are various websites and helplines you can go to for advice: www.mind.org.uk www.samaritans.org  (08457 90 90 90 24-hour helpline) www.rethink.org www.youngminds.org

Stoptober – 2/3 Weeks Smoke Free

Features, News, Opinion

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Okay, I’m going to be honest here, after the success of my first week smoke free I have somewhat let myself down over the last week and a half. Lets just say I’ve had a few “moments of weakness.” According to my Stoptober app, at this point I should be in control of my cravings rather than being controlled by them and they should be gradually decreasing by the day, in other words I should have almost cracked it. As I write this I realise I am much more disappointed in myself than I thought, I am forced to ask myself the question, was it worth it? The answer of course, is no.

My first slip-up was last Saturday night during a long-overdue night out. I actually bought a packet of cigarettes – which is almost unheard of for me – but honestly, I think I was craving the idea rather than the actual smoke itself. After I spent the first two battling through the truly awful taste, I gave up. I suppose this is the silver lining here, realising that what you’ve been telling yourself is true, smoking is horrid. Sometimes you just need to make sure.

However I still didn’t learn my lesson, one morning last week I woke up severely lacking in motivation. As ridiculous as it sounds, it was as if the part of me which had been telling me not to smoke just didn’t wake up that day. In a moment of madness, I purchased my first packet of tobacco since the beginning of the challenge, fully intending to smoke the whole lot, I smoked two. I am both pleased and relieved to say that this (still full) packet is now lying dormant somewhere on my bedroom floor, and hasn’t been touched since.

As I near to entering the final week, my sense of achievement is severely lacking due to these discrepancies, which I feel are over-shadowing the main positive. I can only console myself with the fact that I haven’t given up all together, in fact it actually shows great willpower to slip up, get over it and get back on track.

Stoptober – One Week Smoke Free

Features, Opinion

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Here I am, exactly one week after I sat in this very seat desperately trying to distract myself from the enticing packet of Golden Virginia, screaming seductively at me from the bottom of my bag. One week on, I wish I could say that those cravings have miraculously disappeared, that I don’t feel any of those overpowering urges, but that would be lying to everyone, including myself. As I write this I don’t feel a great deal different to how I did last week, the cancer sticks are still niggling at my brain, but there’s one big difference. A week has past, a week which has seen me resist the greatest forms of temptation and not smoke one single cigarette. I’m feeling proud.

This week has faced me with some situations which I was sure I would fall back on, take for example, “the very strong cocktails,” “the boyfriend smoking” and “the long journey.” I was genuinely surprised by own willpower – even though after two cocktails I did beg my boyfriend for “just a drag” – he kindly refused.

According to my Stoptober App, I have achieved various things this week by staying smoke free. After 24 hours my body was completely Carbon Monoxide free (I’m not entirely sure what this means for my body, but I like the sound of it,) my senses of smell and taste should be improving, my sleep pattern should be returning to normal and my lungs beginning to produce more oxygen – if this isn’t enough to convince me I’ve done the right thing then there’s no hope for me. Oh, I have also saved £16.58 by not smoking 40 cigarettes.

I have made it through the first and hardest week of this particular journey and although I am proud, I am also shocked that I’ve stuck it out this far. Honestly, I think I’m starting to get used to being a non-smoker, the cravings are starting to become fewer and I don’t have to constantly remind myself that I can’t smoke. I am on my way to breaking the habit, but god I miss it.

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Taking On Stoptober…

Features

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I like to think of myself as a relatively healthy person. I eat my spinach, I drag myself out for a run a few times a week and of late I’ve even ditched the coffee. I make a conscious effort try to maintain my health as best I can in both the physical and mental aspects of my life, but as I sit here writing my blog, a blog which ultimately stands for the health of the body and mind, I feel a touch hypocritical. There is one thing about me which is not healthy in the slightest, I am (or was – can I say that yet or is it too soon?) a smoker. We all have our bad habits and this one has become mine.

Before I go on, I should set the scene a little. I’m not a packet-a-day smoker, I smoke on average maybe five a day – more if you give me alcohol. I have never really seen my smoking as an issue, I’ve never been one of those people who religiously tries to quit every Monday morning, I’ve always felt that if the time came when I didn’t want to do it anymore I could just, not do it anymore.

That time came the other day as I inhaled on my rather pathetic looking rolled up cigarette on my way home from work, and I thought, as I often do, “I’m not even enjoying this.” Later when I was scrolling down my Facebook timeline the advert for Stoptober popped up, it was decided.

There are endless reasons to give up smoking aside from the three choices the Stoptober App gives you, those being health, money and family. Of course I want to look after my health, save money and make all my Mum’s Christmases come at once, but I also wanted to set myself a challenge.

If I’m being totally honest, I suppose I wanted to see how easy it would actually be for me to stop, and at the end of day one I can tell you that the answer is not very, not very easy at all. It’s been an emotional day, I’ve gone from super positive and motivated, to pure self-hatred, to pretty much mourning the loss of cigarettes. It’s okay though, my app tells me that the first day is the hardest.

“If Not You, Who? If Not Now, When?” #HeForShe

Features, News, Opinion

I didn’t know what to expect when I clicked play on the video of Emma Watson’s U.N speech, which is now rapidly overtaking social media. Until coming across this video, I doubt many of us even knew that she was a U.N Women Goodwill Ambassador, and now her “game-changing” speech has sparked global passion, causing a remarkable stir across the internet and getting people rooting for feminism.

Watson’s speech signifies the launch of the #HeForShe campaign, which aims to get one billion men on board, as advocates, for equal rights for women globally. The campaign is taking a refreshingly different approach to other women’s rights campaigns, by directing itself at men, rather than just focusing on women. The speech highlights how equal rights effect males too, for instance, not having to suffer mental health problems in silence, being able to talk openly and being able to show vulnerability.

Watson goes on to say what we are all thinking, making light of herself, the “Harry Potter girl” who might not have been taken seriously to begin with, but within a few minutes of speaking, has captivated her audience. She is no longer the school girl with the magic wand, she i a strong, influential woman standing up and speaking about something that she truly believes in.

Perhaps what I find most significant in Watson’s speech is how she talks about the actual word “feminism,” recognising and clarifying today’s common misconceptions.

“I decided that I was a feminist. This seemed uncomplicated to me. But my recent research has shown me that feminism has become an unpopular word. Women are choosing not to identify as feminists.”

Unfortunately, I also find this to be true. Women can often be ashamed to be thought of as feminists because it would mean they were too aggressive, too strong and of course, too man-hating. Why is it that feminism has become something to shy away from? How can an idea that men and women should be equal be seen as something negative?

The truth is many people can’t shift the idea that feminism simply means “anti-men.” Even though most people are informed enough to know that this couldn’t be further from the truth, it is a stigma which seems to be sticking around. I know young women who would never admit to being a feminist, particularly in front of men, for fear of being mocked or causing outrage, but what is so outrageous about an idea, a movement, where everyone in the world has equal rights?

If the young women of today cannot call themselves feminists and do not believe in this idea then what hope do campaigns such as #HeForShe actually have? This is but one of the reasons why Watson’s speech holds such importance and has made such a far-reaching impact.

If everyone – male and female – who watches the speech, while scrolling through Twitter, thinks for a second about what feminism actually means, not just for women, but for everyone, and not just for today, but for the long-term, then Watson’s speech has made a difference.

Too often we think to ourselves,”Who am I to talk about that?” “Who am I to make any difference?” Well, who was Emma Watson? She’s the girl who asked herself and us,

“If not you, who? If not now, when?”

Overcoming the Post-Holiday Blues

Features, Fitness

They say all good things must come to an end, so what happens afterwards?

I hadn’t thought much past the four flights and two days of travelling which I faced in order to get home. When I had thought about returning home, it consisted of the very basic and shallow luxuries such as sleeping in my own bed, not having to worry about toilet roll and eating copious amounts of cheese. It hadn’t occurred to me that after the jet lag had worn of, reality would kick in and I didn’t have a plan for reality.

After a few flight extensions I had spent a total of four months in South East Asia with little else to worry about apart from what I would have for dinner that night and whether I would get any sleep on the night bus. I hadn’t had a moment on my own (aside from showering) the whole time and this was perfect for me. When you’re on the other side of the world with your whole life confined to a backpack, problems I faced at home on a daily basis were non existent. My own head was no longer the enemy, it was my survival kit.

Life was much simpler and I had subconsciously gained perspective and a contentment with myself, but on returning to the UK, familiar feelings of anxiety, emptiness and a lack of motivation had me wondering if this had just been circumstantial.

Most people are familiar with that impending feeling of dismay that surfaces in the final few days of the holiday and sticks around for at least a good week afterwards. Returning to reality after having a week – or a few months in my case – of escapism is an anticlimax to say the least, everything seems dull compared with the sun-soaked greener grass. It seemed I had an extreme case of the post-holiday blues.

I’m sure I won’t be the only one to find themselves suffering this summer, so here is my tips for dealing with a case of the blues.

 

1. Sort your life out

I have a terrible habit of not unpacking when I return from a trip, usually because I’m depressed and I hate unpacking. Actually, as soon as you get home you should unpack your clothes, do your washing and de-clutter your life. It will give you so much space – both physically and mentally – and make your home a much nicer environment to be in.

2. Relive the memories

As painful as it may seem at first, getting all your photographs together and looking through them is a great remedy for holiday blues. Put a slideshow together to show your family and friends, they will appreciate it, plus you get to relive all the best times through them, you’ll soon be laughing as you try to explain that photo!

3. Go outside

If you’re lucky enough to have a bit of British sunshine, make the most of it. If you’re not working have a day out, go on a picnic or even just sunbathe in the back garden. It might not be as spectacular as your previous surroundings but the sun has the same effect wherever you are, and vitamin D is your best source of happiness.

4. Catch up with friends

Make time to see friends you haven’t seen for a while, this will cheer you up instantly, they will be dying to hear your stories and you’ll find yourself eager to tell them.

5. Eat well

Summer is the season of strawberries – and all other fruits – so there is no excuse not to be consuming them by the punnet. For me, coming home meant I could indulge on all my favourite foods I had craved whilst being away, but getting back into the routine of eating a balanced diet is so important to help you feel good. If you’ve overindulged on the all-inclusive, make sure you go back to a balanced diet as soon as you get home. Eat well and you’ll feel well.

6. Get moving

This point needs little explanation, but get exercising (outside if possible) and you’ll have your positive frame of mind back in no time. Especially if you’ve spent the last two weeks lying on the beach, it’s time to get moving again. The longer you’re stopped, the harder it is to get going again.

7. Grab a new book

The bookworm that I am, finding a new can’t-put-down novel always cheers me up and keeps me occupied. Summer is a great time for new releases and must-reads so engross yourself in that book you’ve been meaning to read, to help pass the long summer hours.

8. Think positive!

Thinking positive can seem impossible when you feel surrounded by negativity, but it is so worth it. Just one small positive thought can make a world of difference to your mood. Try and look for the positives in every situation, you might be feeling miserable because your trip is over but that is only because you had such a damn good time.

 

 

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