Thursday, 28 April 2016


Hi all,

Thanks so much to everyone who read my last blogpost on what it's really like to live with anxiety. I hope it's given you some insight and understanding into the condition. If you haven't yet read it, you can do so HERE.

I mentioned in the post that I try to deal with stress in a natural way.

One of the things I've been practicing over the last year has been mindfulness, which has been proven to relieve the symptoms of anxiety. In the most simple of terms, mindfulness means being aware of what you are doing while you are doing it. I spoke in a previous blog post about "living in the now" so to not have any regrets (see HERE); mindfulness is exactly that. It is not a behavior to help you completely forget whatever strains or stresses you may have in your life at present; it simply means pushing them aside and allowing yourself to be present in this moment. As more people are more aware of the unpleasant side effects of medication, mindfulness has really taken off.

I expected mindfulness to be really complex; and it can be if you over think it too much. But it's best to keep things as simple as possible when it comes to practicing it. I should mention here that it requires practice; not loads but if the thought of sitting still makes you anxious, it does require practice. There is no 'perfect' way to do mindfulness either. You don't need to do a course, you don't need to fork out lots of money to be trained in how to do it (contrary to what you may think). I'm not an expert in this field by any means, so what works for me might not work for you, but this is just what I do and what helps me.

I find it easier to engage in mindfulness when I am looking at a pretty view. When I was in Ireland, I was never too far away from a beach when I was in college or at home, but since I've moved to England I'm nowhere near a beach unfortunately but the local Bitts Park does the job just as well. Obviously, the weather isn't great most of the time but a week or so ago the weather was lovely and sunny so I decided to head there to practice my mindfulness.

I sat on a bench overlooking the river and switched off my phone. I focused on the reflections the trees made on the river, how serene the view was. Even though I have quite an irrational fear of water, I like to look at it. I find it very peaceful. I focused on the clouds drifting by, the different shapes created in the sky, off setted by the very rarely seen sun.

I closed my eyes and focused on my breathing in through my nose and out through my mouth, feeling the cool air drift in and out of my body. Inhale the good thoughts, exhale the not so good thoughts.

I immediately felt calm after my mindfulness session. It truly is amazing what some simple breathing techniques can do.

I decided to take advantage of the weather and go for a walk down by the river. I focused on my breathing, in and out slowly. I walked slowly and carefully, being aware of each step I took and the sound my footsteps made on the earth. I noticed the things around me. I listened to the birds singing in the sky and in the trees. I looked at the buds starting to appear on the trees and the grass nestled in near the river. I heard the children laughing near the river.

Being a blogger and writer, everything I see can be inspiration for my blog or diary, which I guess isn't a bad thing, but it does cause me to become quite distracted. I reined it in and got back to the present moment. I didn't look at my watch or my phone for a while. Instead, I continued to be in the now.

I observed at nature as I walked around. The daffodils in bloom near the river, their bright petals fluttering in the wind.

Some people may say mindfulness is too simplistic, but it should be. It does take time to become accustomed to it, when I first tried it I wasn't sure whether it was for me or not, as I had all these slightly skewed misconceptions about it.

I find the benefits of mindfulness to be invaluable. From less than an hour of practicing in the park, I felt in a better mood, more calm and definitely less stressed. For that reason I'd definitely recommend you all to give it a go.

Thanks for reading guys xxx

All photographs taken in this blogpost are of Bitts Park, Carlisle, Cumbria, UK. They were all taken by myself using my iPhone 5S phone (no filter used).

Monday, 18 April 2016

Thoughts: My Secret Struggle

Hi guys,

I have debated with myself for a long time about whether to publish this blog post. I rarely ever debate with myself this long over any blog post. Usually within a few hours (or days, for a longer post), it's written , photos added and the publish button is hit before sharing on my social media sites without too much of a second thought. It is a personal blog post, more personal than even the skinny shaming one I have written. But I felt like this needed to be posted.

I'm a 23-year-old woman, normal in a lot of ways. I'm a university student studying the course of my dreams, I have a weekend job, I'm obsessed with makeup and all things girly and love my family and friends to bits. I love to read all kinds of books, from literary greats to romantic novels, listening to the latest music playlists added to Spotify (as well as the cheesy songs playlists) and I love to write in my blog. But anyone that has ever got close to me knows that I also have another side and that side is my battle with anxiety.

The reason I decided to write this blogpost was not only to talk openly about my own experiences with anxiety in the hope it may let somebody in the same situation know they are not alone in their struggle, but really, it's to give you some insight on what it's really like to live with anxiety, everyday.

One of the biggest misconceptions about anxiety is that it is worrying. Yes, it is, but it's a lot more than that. Most people worry about things like exams, and that is perfectly rational. There's the fear that you may not progress to your next year of study and lose funding, all that. With anxiety, I worry, but at a much more heightened degree. It can be anything that can trigger me off. I think of the time I left the hair straightener on when I was at home three years ago and start panicking at university thinking I did the same thing this morning before I dashed off to my lecture. I can be asleep in bed and suddenly wake up, convinced the house is going to go on fire, despite there being numerous fire alarms all over the house. I find a mark on my arm and wonder how that got there, suddenly panicking that it's skin cancer. I think of the time I was 15 that some girl called me "ugly" and suddenly don't want to go on that night out I have been excited for, gradually convincing myself over the course of the evening that people will laugh and make fun of me for being so ugly. As you may have guessed, common sense is not on my side when I go through these "episodes" and along with my naturally stubborn nature, there is not one thing that can convince me otherwise.

People often assume that panic attacks and anxiety go hand in hand, that is not true either. I've never had a panic attack in my life and if I tremble, it's only for a short time. It is however, very physically draining. I usually have the worst episodes at night time with all these thoughts rushing around in my head, and it can be 6 or 7am before I realized I haven't managed to sleep at all. This insomnia only leads to me feeling anxious the following day, before having another episode that night, and this may go on for weeks. It often makes me feel physically sick in my stomach, not wanting to eat. It makes me so tired and lethargic that I sometimes struggle to get out of bed, let alone take any pride in my appearance.

My university work has thankfully never suffered as a result of my anxiety, because I genuinely can say hand on heart, that I absolutely love the course that I'm doing at the moment and it sounds cheesy but I believe I was made to do it. Things that may worry the average student, like assignment deadlines, usually never bother me because I'm one of those strange, strange people that actually enjoy writing assignments. But, I could barely sleep the weekend before I went on my first placement in early March, terrified I wouldn't gather the 'right' information from the patient, or do something cringe like say something idiotic in front of all the professionals present. The first week there was not only physically demanding, from running up and down stairs to wards with wheelchairs and what not, but mentally demanding as I was convincing myself I was going to fail it and would have to re-do it in the summer, meaning I wouldn't get to go home to Ireland.

As you might guess, friendships are difficult to start and maintain. I'm a natural introvert, which usually can be presumed the reason behind why I tend to be quite shy around people, when really though I'm worrying about what to say, what I look like, how I'm coming across. It's all heightened when anxiety starts spending a bit too much time with me, leaving me sleep deprived and generally worn out. It convinces me that I'm simply not worthy enough to be somebody's friend, that they deserve better than me, and that they are probably bitching about me anyway. I think about the time I said something silly a year ago. They're probably still talking about it, about what an idiot I am and I know they probably don't like me that much anyway and are just hanging around me because they're bored and have nobody else. This leads to un-returned phone calls and text messages, as well as the awkward silences when we pass each other on the street. Which only serves to add more fuel to the burning out of control fire that is anxiety in my brain: they really don't like me at all.

Relationships are even more difficult. Again, they start the same way, and anxiety causes me to be scared of what I look like and how I'm coming across to someone. Anxiety notices I'm becoming happy and comfortable with a guy but it reckons it needs to make its presence even more obviously known, determined to ruin things. Often I've dated guys who have exams and work and are genuinely otherwise occupied. However, anxiety convinces me that they don't like me, that they are just dating me because they are bored. But when you're in a relationship for six months or a year and you're still having to ask someone whether they like you or not, it becomes less cute and more of a strain. They don't consider the fact if I care for and eventually fall in love with someone, I will support them through virtually everything and anything. They usually only view the clingy girlfriend I become.

Some people try and help me. The most common thing I've heard is to "calm down", but it's safe to say it won't work, so don't even waste your breath telling me this. When I'm going through an episode, sleep deprived and on the brink of collapsing due to a virtually non existent appetite, I get angry. I start crying in front of people (which I don't ever like to do). I say things in the spur of the moment I later regret that genuinely hurt the people who care for me the most; the people that would do anything to make me happy, even if it means sacrificing their own happiness. Apologies come later, but often people don't understand why I've reacted the way I have, and so they rarely ever work. Anxiety is like that selfish person that just wants you to spend all of your time with them, alone with your thoughts. I've been labelled a drama queen, an attention seeker, a self-absorbed bitch among other terms that only heightens my condition even more so, without people realizing that all I need in these times is just cup of tea and maybe a hug or a cuddle.

I've been prescribed medication, with varying degrees of success. They usually make me feeling like I'm so relaxed and have no concerns, feeling numb and devoid of any feeling, or the opposite end of the scale: so utterly hopeless that I feel my anxiety is taking over my life and feeling so very depressed that I sometimes feel like everything is going wrong. I feel guilty, I think why am I feeling these thoughts: from the outside world and to even myself, I know I have a lot more in my life than most people could ever imagined; a family that love and support me (even throughout the crazy decisions), friends that are always available for a chat and a few laughs (even if that is via Skype) and the chance to study the course I've always wanted to do. I haven't used medication in quite some time though for those reasons, and so I try to deal with anxiety in the most natural ways possible; that is, distracting myself with something that relaxes me, like writing in my diary or blog, reading or simply meeting up with friends. It's super important for me to always remain busy, and not give anxiety time to spend with me.

I didn't write this blog post to be pitied or have people feel sorry for me, because I don't think that's what anyone with anxiety or any other mental illness or indeed physical illness wants to be treated.

I wrote this because I genuinely want others to know what it's really like. There are changing opinions on mental illness; people are openly talking about their struggles with depression on social media and I for one am really pleased about this. But like I said, there are way too many misconceptions regarding anxiety and many people simply struggle to realise just how debilitating it really is, brushing it off as "everyone worries". That's a concerning thought because 1 in 6 young people in the UK, from all different backgrounds and walks of life, currently suffer with anxiety. Anxiety is often viewed as the "less severe" of mental illnesses because like myself, people can live a relatively normal life with it. But it's definitely not "cute" to be stuck with it. I may smile and put on a bright pink lipstick but like the way your lipstick hides your natural lip colour, this smile only serves to hide what's really just bubbling beneath the surface.

I've just had a week of re-occurring episodes of anxiety. I don't even know what triggered it. Maybe it was general bad nutrition over the duration of the placement. Maybe it was just plain old exhaustion from the long shifts and the travelling each day. But I had just finished placement and was elated at the news that I had not only passed it, but got a really high grade in it too. I was happy and was delighted to have two weeks off uni to relax.

Why then, did anxiety turn up to ruin things? One day I was fine, then the next day I was barely sleeping or eating, constantly thinking very irrational thoughts, worrying about the most trivial things. yet I somehow managed to pull myself together by Friday and eat and sleep properly before dragging myself into work and complete long and tiring shifts over the course of the weekend. I smiled and joked with my colleagues. I did my weekly food shop earlier today and attempted to dye my hair. But inside, I was more damaged than my bleached hair, trying to repair what emotional damage had been done over the course of the week.

Anxiety is as much a part of me as is this blog, and will continue to be for the rest of my life.

Although I'd rather not have it, it has taught me a few things: despite what anxiety has you inclined to believe, there are people who genuinely care about you regardless, and those are truly the people that will make things so much easier to bear.

If nothing else, anxiety has given me a heightened sense of empathy. I worked with a patient on my placement who had anxiety. She wasn't taking her medications because she said she had experienced some of the not-so-pleasant side effects I mentioned above, so she was labelled as being "difficult" by some of the staff. I decided to get out of my comfort zone and try to speak to this lady, and put my anxiety aside for a minute to try and help her with hers. Despite her obvious anxieties, I didn't try and reassure her because I knew from my own personal experience that would be pointless and falling on deaf ears. Instead, I thought about what helps me the most when I'm anxious. I asked her how she liked her tea and came back with two mugs for us, while we sat and spoke about our lives. She told me about her mischievous grandson, her travelling adventures around Europe with her husband (she told me they had been to Ireland and loved it), and her two dogs. I went to see her every day for about an hour over the duration of the placement but on my last week, she was about to be discharged. As I left that day, she took my hand and said "Thank you for listening to me." I smiled; I hadn't really done anything except for sitting down with her for a chat with a cuppa. Yet I realised that that was what was most needed.

Despite it, I'm so very determined to not let anxiety control me. I'm may have not slept or ate very well due to it last week and other days, but I will still get up, do my makeup and hair, and go into uni or work and do whatever I have to do. I'm aware I have a very mild form, but even so sometimes that makes life difficult, but I still do whatever I have to do and I will do it with a smile. To quote Rocky Balboa, Life "ain't about how hard you can hit, it's about how hard you can get hit and still keep moving forward."

I know people will judge me differently because of this post, but the way I see it, that's irrelevant to me. We all have a mental health and it needs to be looked after just as well as physical health. To be honest, the only people whose opinions I care about are the people who care about me and the people who are close to me and are a part of my life at the moment and they are some pretty amazing people; other people's opinions simply don't matter. And this blog post like I said, isn't really about me. It's about all those who suffer in silence each day, with a more severe form of anxiety that I have, struggling for breath, worried, feeling hopeless, fighting this invisible illness. I honestly think people that suffer with invisible illnesses are the bravest people in the world. I wish I could meet all of you and share a mug of tea with you and give you a hug and tell you that somehow, everything is going to be OK.

Thanks for reading xxx

Wednesday, 13 April 2016

Beauty - Review of L'Oréal Full Restore 5 Repairing Hair Mask

I've mentioned a few times on the blog that I have an addiction to my hair straighteners. I know it's so so bad for your hair, but any girl with hair that is more than a bit on the frizzy side will tell you that it's so difficult to resist the urge to use it everyday! As well as that, my hair is obviously bleached blonde at the ends.

I noticed however that my hair was becoming really brittle and dry, and it was having that annoying flyaway hairs at the top of my head that just wouldn't be tamed, even with numerous grips and a hairband. It was making me feel really self conscious and made me look like a five year old child, so I decided to buy a hair mask to sort out my hair nightmare! I also bought a heat protect spray and dry shampoo at the time (of course, because I have absolutely no restraint when it comes to shopping in Superdrug!), which I'll review on the blog at a later stage. 

I've used L'Oréal hair masks before, and there's dozens of them to choose from. I decided in the end to choose the Full Restore 5 hair mask (you know the one that Cheryl Cole promotes the shampoo of it), as truth be told I really liked the smell of it and it came in quite a huge 300ml pot for £4.99, which is quite good value for a L'Oréal product. It contains cicamide and pro-keratin. Cicamide is basically a technology that mimics the hair's natural cement and restores smoothness to the hair fibre, leaving your hair with a healthy looking shine. When you have damaged hair like I so obviously have, it's a good idea to look out for products with pro-keratin especially because keratin will reinforce the hair fibre and give your hair strength. It also claims to work against five main problems your hair is facing - strength (mine was breaking at the ends), vitality (mine looked lifeless), density (mine looked super thin), shine (mine was lacklustre and lacking any shine) and silkiness (my hair felt slightly hard, especially at the ends).

The label says to leave on for about 3 minutes but I smothered it all over my hair, popped on a shower cap and kept it on while I chilled in the bath for nearly an hour, while breathing in that beautiful scent. When I washed it, the first thing I noticed was how soft my hair was! I didn't have that experience in a while, that's for sure. My split ends were virtually gone, and there was a lovely subtle scent off it. As I left my hair to dry naturally, it developed into these beautiful curls, and the softness stayed for a few days.

At the moment, I use this mask once a week while I enjoy my weekly bath. I have tried many hair masks, but this is honestly one of the best masks I have ever tried. I do love Aussie hair masks, but for the amount you get and price paid, this one definitely pips it to the post! I recently bought a new Dove one, but I think I will always have a serious love for this one.

My rating: 4.5/5.

Monday, 11 April 2016

Thoughts: What truly is living life to the fullest?

Hey guys, and welcome back to my blog!

As some of you are probably aware, I have been taking a break from blogging from the past few weeks as I've been on my first 'proper' clinical placement as part of my course, in the elderly rehabilitation ward in a busy hospital. It's a bit of a deep post, even for me, but one I felt oh-so-compelled to write.

We're told that death is as fundamental a part of a life as birth. Every living creature that has ever walked this earth will one day, pass on. It's an inevitability that will come for each one of us one day regardless of our nationality, wealth, sexual orientation and gender.

You can die at any age of course, but obviously your chance of dying increases the older you get, and this is something that the elderly patients and their spouses are so aware of.

Over the duration of the placement, I frequently worked with patients that were entering or had entered end of life care. Honesty comes to the fore front as there is literally no time left for anything else. Most of the time, the patient will say that they are satisfied with the way their life turned out - they married, they had children, they had a good career, they traveled to exotic parts of the world.

But there is the unsatisfied patients. The laments. The sadness of a life gone by. They spent more time in the office than travelling the world. They didn't get the chance to fall in love and spend the rest of their lives with someone who loved and cared for them. They didn't spend enough time with their children because they were more concerned with making more pounds.

Perhaps it's morbid, but I couldn't walk out of that ward without reflecting on my own mortality; not necessarily about death itself but more about not living while you're still alive.

It's a cliché, but I often see these quotes similar to the one I've posted below on social media about "living life to the fullest" and "not having any regrets". I wonder really how many people actually live by these quotes, or are they just something posted to gain more likes? What really is living life to the fullest and not having any regrets?

I suppose it's difficult when you're still alive and in relatively good health to not really think too much about the inevitability of death; after all, we have what often feels forever left. Tellingly, on the train journey home each day from placement, I noticed the abundance of  people glued to their mobiles or laptops, completely disengaging with their companions or even the beautiful breathtaking view of the mountains passing us by, more focused on what was happening on social media sites than in the present moment. But sometimes, it may be a good idea to remind ourselves an odd time that we are not immortal, we are fragile, and human, and as much as we'd like it to be, our lives are not infinite. It's all worth bearing in mind that our lives could end tomorrow. In my opinion, I believe that most people do not live their lives to the fullest due to fear and consequently,  reach the end of their lives with regrets and these laments I've mentioned I saw all too often on hospital wards.

I'm a person that doesn't believe in regrets. Perhaps that's something that has come with time. Of course I have little regrets, the ones everyone has, like regretting I ate that massive takeaway or drank too much the other night, but they rarely last more than a day. I don't regret big "life changing" stuff. Sure, I've been in some situations I'd not like to be in again, and made some decisions that probably weren't the best but looking back, they taught me something, and at the time, they made perfect sense to me and if given the chance, I'd probably end up making the same decisions all over again. Even the most awful relationships or the most difficult time in your life teaches you things, and for me personally, I believe difficult times teach you more life lessons than 'good' times in your life, if only to learn from them for future reference (though in reality, that's easier said than done).

For those who may not know me personally, I'd describe myself as being quite a shy person around people I don't know all that well. It's usually down to a fear of embarrassing myself. It usually takes a couple of months before I start becoming very comfortable around people (and let my inner weirdness show). So even though I'm studying to be a health professional, the thought of placement where I'd have to communicate with strangers on a daily basis was enough to send me into a complete tizzy. But I knew it was something I had to  do and if I didn't do it, I wouldn't be able to do my dream career and live my life to the fullest. So what if I embarrassed myself in front of the patients? I'd dust myself off, and try again, I was (and still will be everyday) still learning. I certainty didn't want to be that person at the end of my life lamenting I hadn't been able to do the career I wanted to because fear happened to get in the way. Instead, I wanted to be the person that said I took a chance that not only gave me the satisfaction of having achieved my goals of a career but also a career that would help others reach their independence and learn to cope with their fears and their anxieties.

Another example I'll give you is with relationships. So many people are secretly in love with someone else, but afraid to tell them how they truly feel because of the fear of being rejected and possibly being grounds for humiliation.  It's not easy, but I always try to be as completely honest as I can about what I'm feeling about someone. If there's even the slightest inkling that I may have feelings for someone, I will act on it. I have a severe case of hopeless romantic which unfortunately means I'm more awkward and more nervous around someone I actually like, and which also means usually the person has sussed I feel something for them before I get the chance to be all gushy about it (usually over text, ah romance in the 21st century). No, not all of my declarations of love have ended up in happily ever after and contrary to what people may think, I have been rejected a bunch of times, but at the very least I was aware of where I stood (sometimes) and what if I brushed my fear aside for a moment and took a chance and it led to really being happy ever after? In that case I think it would be very worth it. Not saying that life is a Disney movie by any means, but it can be in certain areas.

I could give you dozen more examples of fear getting in the way of truly living your life, and these range from as something as simple as swimming in the sea to not wearing that beautiful dress. In each of these situations, place a hand on your heart and think to yourself: "I only have one life. It's simply now or never." Think of yourself at the end of your life, you certainty don't want to be having regrets of any sort attributed to fear.

Thank you for reading xx