‘Living’ with Anorexia

The time has come, or is perhaps well overdue, when I put slightly more of myself into this blog and, in a lot of ways, I suddenly feel like I have to write about this topic as much for myself as for the sake of simply making a post.  In fact, it’s a very good time to write it as I sit here drinking a cup of green tea while just casually calculating all the calories I have eaten today on a notepad beside my desk.  I know the nutritional value of everything, down to the grams of carrot I had at lunch to the millilitres of fruit juice I allowed myself this morning and yet somehow, maybe because I have been doing it for quite so long, I have simply accepted this as my normal.  But I don’t want this to be my normal.  I no longer want to be held in an anorexic hell that really only I can see.

The truth is if you were to go out for drinks, or even go out for lunch or for a proper meal with me then you would hardly notice anything was wrong.  I’m at the stage where I could go almost anywhere and act entirely normal – probably even eat more than a lot of people – and I have to admit that I am so, so proud of how far I have come from a few years back when there’s a good chance I would have sat crying into my plate of pasta.  But here’s what people don’t see: the recalling of every mouthful and the endless guilt as I think of what a fat pig I must have looked like, the meticulous planning days in advance thinking of what to have and what I can cut out the rest of the day just so I can eat what I want, and finally, the gnawing panic as I realise that I’ve let my anorexic guard down and, god forbid, might lose that part of myself if I don’t instantly claw it back with some mindless exercise or restriction of intake.

And so with that I have become what I first read about as a dangerously underweight adolescent first trying to claw at some sense of recovery in Emma Wolff’s book ‘An Apple A Day.’  The term ‘functioning anorexic’ scared me at the time but never quite as much as it does now.  It basically describes people who can continue with their daily lives – go to work, get married, even have children, in some cases – but who also carry with them the horrific and life-threatening thoughts and behaviours of the illness.  They may not end up in some psychiatric hospital somewhere or worse but they still have anorexia and they still suffer day to day – the only thing they aren’t doing is dying.  And I guess I can finally say that this is where I find myself.  In this grey area of ‘functioning’ but never really recovering.  I can eat and appear fine when really I am still entrenched in anorexia’s wilful ways.  It terrifies me more than a clinic room ever could have done at the tender age of sixteen because at least then I knew it was either die or recover, now it just seems static, like a forgotten problem among the rest of the actions and tendencies of my daily life.

And perhaps I may have more of an issue than most because I have been in the situation about a hundred times when my anorexia has gone from ‘functioning’ to ‘dangerous’ but look around you, how many of your friends are on crash diets or saying that they ‘must start losing weight?’  How many times have you finished eating something deemed ‘unhealthy’ and felt that terrible sense of guilt that everyone knows only too well?  How many times have you looked in the mirror recently and told yourself that you’re not good enough – that you’re too fat, too pale, too ugly to be worth anything?  It’s a societal problem and one I would give anything to get rid of.

But here I am, at a crossroads once more, because recently my anorexia has ramped up the volume on the malicious thoughts and desires for action and over the past couple of months I have started listening to the poison it constantly tells me once again, even though I know the damage it could do.  And I can’t lie, it feels way too damn good to be starving, it feels way too damn good to have people worrying about me again, it feels way too damn good not to have quite so much guilt when I go to sleep each night, as I feel another bone on my stomach that I couldn’t the week before.

Anorexia is my safety blanket.  It’s what I cling to when things get hard and it’s been something which has stopped me from having to face real life for over five years now.  But not only that, I see it as me.  I am so terrified of letting go of it because if I do, what’s left?  No-one could possibly be interested by plain old me, no-one could possibly be attracted to ‘fat’, average Ashleigh when everyone else is so beautiful and amazing?  Without anorexia I have nothing…or so it keeps telling me.

But then there’s the truth.  I am nothing with Anorexia.  I am nothing while I hold on to the idea that I must be skin and bones for people to take me seriously.  I am nothing while I spend yet another day half-asleep at uni or dying of exhaustion at dance because I got up and ran to the gym at half six in the morning.  I am nothing while I continue to care what other people think of what I eat and what I look like because the truth is, I could be everything without anorexia.  So here I am, solemnly promising to love myself and nourish myself every day until I am no longer just ‘functioning’ but living instead because the idea that you can be living at all with anorexia is a big fat lie.

What a difference a year with anorexia can make…(Summer 2012-2013).  I think its time we realised just how much life anorexia can suck out of someone…and high time I stopped it from sucking any more out of mine.

 

Featured image courtesy of Chloe Helena Duff.

Advertisements

Summer Reading 2017

Somehow Summer is now coming to an end and that period of time which seemed so vast back in May has shrunk away to nothing and I haven’t managed to do half the blog posts that I wanted to.  But no matter because secretly I’m really excited to catch up with everyone I haven’t seen since last term after what has been a particularly difficult Summer for me overall.

One of the main joys of my Summer however, has been the reading for leisure, that, while studying an English and Film course, you just don’t get during term time because you’re too busy reading a hideous number of Victorian novels and feverishly taking notes on them all…or is that just me?

And so now, being the slow reader and feverish note taker that I am, I have packed up all my leisure reading and started yet again on the assigned readings for next trimester but since I enjoyed a number of the books I read over the past couple of months quite so much, then I thought this might be a good opportunity to share them with you too.  So here is my Summer reading of 2017 ranked in order of my favourites.

 

#8 Neil Gaiman – American Gods

Neil Gaiman is one of the top fiction writers of the moment so I was really looking forward to having my first chance to read one of his novels, however, I hate to say that I was left unimpressed.  The story follows the character of Shadow as he re-enters society after a period in prison.  When he learns of his wife’s death he is distraught and, with no better offers on the table, takes a job with the mysterious Wednesday, who leads him into situations that he never thought possible.

Don’t get me wrong, the plot premise was quite an intriguing idea which is why it still made my list but in the same way that I didn’t enjoy the television series Breaking Bad, I sometimes felt it was trying way too hard to be clever or original and just failing miserably.  Maybe I went into this novel with too high expectations?  Maybe I’m just not cultured enough for a story of this calibre?  But all I can say is that I was left a little bored and lost at the number of plot twists and slightly unbelievable events as they played out within the narrative.

I also think that to truly enjoy this novel you need to have a really good grasp of the Greek and other Gods from history and even though I though I had quite a good knowledge of this, I struggled at points to match the character from the novel to the god they represented,  All in all, it didn’t leave me running to watch the Amazon television series that is newly based on this story.

#7 Irvine Welsh – Trainspotting 

Now, if you know me, you know that Trainspotting the film is one of my favourites and so I thought it about time that I got round to reading the original novel which inspired it but I think inspiration is as far as we can go to make links between the film and the novel itself.  For anyone who isn’t so familiar with the story itself it basically follows a group of young heroine addicts from Edinburgh as they try and fail to get on in life.

I found that there are far more characters involved in the novel than in the film and the narrator changes between chapters so it is not only Mark Renton who we hear from which was an aspect of the novel I actually quite liked. The additional plot lines in the novel also gave a deeper insight into the community in which the characters were living in as well as the heavier focus on the illness of aids as a theme  gave the book a higher sense of seriousness and depth that the film lacks, perhaps.

However, why I will possibly stick with the film in this case is because I thought that the plot itself in the novel was quite jagged and slightly disjointed and just didn’t run as smoothly as it did onscreen.  I also think the story of Trainspotting just works better when you can visually see what’s going on and it seems to have more impact in this way.  For me, Trainspotting needs Danny Boyle’s visual effects to make it great so this book remains quite low on my list.

#6 Andrea Levy – Small Island

Small Island was actually a book that I acquired by accident while ordering last years uni books but, since I had enjoyed Andrea Levy’s other novel, Fruit of the Lemon, I decided to give this one a go too.  Small Island has similar themes to Fruit of the Lemon in which race and racial prejudices are key but it is set back at the time of the Second World War which gave it a completely different feel as a novel.

It follows four main characters, that of Queenie, Hortense, Bernard and Gilbert and their varying experiences during the war and in post-war Britain as well as exploring how this differs as a result of their ethnicity and the colour of their skin.  Just as you would expect this was a really thought-provoking and important novel in so many ways but Levy’s use of comedy and light-heartedness throughout made it pleasant to read at the same time.

Although it was slightly too close to term time reading and a number of the themes I had covered in my first year modules to fully appreciate the novel at this time, I enjoyed it much more than I thought I would and I would urge everyone to give this book a try.

#5 Jonas Jonasson – The Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed out of the Window and Disappeared

This novel is an experience to say the least and I can honestly say it is just as delightfully odd as its title may suggest.  For a long time I actually wanted to write a specific blog post entirely dedicated to this book, mainly to help myself to get my head around it too, but I unfortunately ran out of time to do so.

The story begins with hundred-year old Allan Karlsson deciding on a whim one day to leave his care home behind and go on an adventure and, believe me, he gets exactly that.  Not only do we get to follow Allan through all the weird and wonderful scenarios that he gets himself into on his travels but as the story unfolds we also get an insight into the weird and wonderful past that he has already lived.

For a while, I was a sceptic that thought the story was just too downright ridiculous to actually work but as I read on I discovered a great fondness for the silliness and the humour which is used so well throughout.  I have to warn you before you read it that it is a little bit bonkers and doesn’t really make any logical sense at all but if you are looking for an easy, enjoyable read, especially for holidays, then you can’t possibly find a more perfect book than this.

#4 – Emma Donoghue – Room

And from one very light-hearted read to one with a much more serious message to convey.  Room is, in many parts, a very difficult one to power through but one that should definitely not be disregarded.  It basically manages to give an insight into the world of Jack and his mother who live in Room.  It is told from the perspective of five year-old Jack which gives a child-like innocence to the story which is very much needed when we learn the truth about why they both live in one solitary room with no means of ever seeing the outside world.

I actually read Room very quickly by my terms because the suspenseful nature of, especially the middle section of the novel, makes you desperate to see what will become of the two protagonists of the story, so much so that you find yourself completely losing track of time.  Another thing really got me about it was the fact that you fully connected with the characters of Jack and his mum and are so desperate, for his mother especially, to get on well after everything that has happened to her that you sometimes forget that it is fiction.

But I guess, one of the things that is so shocking about this novel is it’s real-life aspect because as horrible as it is, what happened to Jack’s mother has actually happened in today’s society and this novel is able to show us, however slightly, just how terrible a thing that truly is.

#3 – Louis de Bernières – Captain Corelli’s Mandolin

Captain Corelli’s Mandolin is a novel which was recommended to me a number of years ago but, and I hate to say it, I kind of judged it on it’s cover for a long time and simply thought it might be quite tedious and boring.  I am happy to announce that I was very wrong.

The story is set in Cephalonia in Greece during the Second World War and the German and Italian invasion which occurred there during that time.  It follows the family of a doctor and his daughter, Pelagia, in particular as they see their village overrun by soldiers including the eccentric but highly lovable character of Captain Corelli, who is assigned to live with the family.  It also jumps to other aspects of the war as we hear about soldier Carlo’s experiences and difficulties both in life and throughout combat while giving us an overall view of wartime Greece and how life changed there.

One of the biggest strengths of the novel was definitely its ability to completely transport the reader to the Greek island it was set on, to a degree which I have never before experienced and I honestly felt myself falling in love with a place I had never even visited which was a wonderful thing.  The characterisation was also second to none as I felt myself feeling such strong feelings for each and every one of the characters involved as the story progressed and I couldn’t quite get over just how much I cared about what was going to become of them all.

The novel’s one weakness is that I found the ending to be too obvious and drawn out and I kind of wished the story had ended maybe fifty pages before the end just for more of a fitting, poignant and clean conclusion but every other aspect of this novel having been done so well still catapults it to very close to the top of my list.

#2 Bret Easton Ellis – American Psycho

I don’t know whether the fact that this novel is second on my list should worry me or not but I can’t deny the fact that this was one of the most interesting and unapologetic novels I have ever read in my life.  It follows the life of Patrick Bateman, a highly successful businessman on Wall Street who, on the surface, is wealthy, well-groomed, completely in control and exactly what society wants to see, but his life also has an unexpected flip-side as he doubles as one of the most gruesome serial-killers I have ever encountered.

Never before have I felt quite so much like throwing up during a novel, never before have I wondered quite so many times what on earth is going on in a section of a book, never before has an author managed to fit quite so many designer labels and brands into one chapter but never before has my interest been peaked quite so much by the nature of a man in society and how everyone views him versus who he actually is.

This novel is not for the faint-hearted or the squeamish among us but it is an exceptional critique of modern day society and materiality as well as showing us a character who is quite so clearly psychopathic that I started to wonder about Bret Easton Ellis’s own psyche whilst writing it.  There’s a reason it has become such a modern classic and I say just to read it because it will be a novel that you never forget.

#1 Stieg Larsson – The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

The Millennium trilogy rose to popularity a number of years ago and has been something on my must-read list for a long time.  Unfortunately, when it first came out it really wasn’t appropriate for seven year old me to be reading so it has taken me until now to finally get round to it, and I am so glad that I did.  As you can probably see from my top two choices, my favourite genre in both books and films is psychological thrillers and this novel managed to mix this genre with an incredible who dunnit style mystery which keeps you guessing until the very last piece of the puzzle has been put in place.

The mystery itself is decades old but is something that wealthy businessman Henrik Vanger is determined to discover the truth about before he dies.  He calls in financial journalist Mikael Blomkvist to look over the mystery of the disappearance of his niece Harriet Vanger one more time and, along with the help of expert computer hacker and social introvert Lisbeth Salander, you won’t believe what secrets are uncovered as their investigations play out…

The mystery itself is a highly intriguing one and you find yourself examining the clues found for yourself too, desperate to find out what happened to Harriet and why certain characters act the way they do before Mikael discovers it for himself.  Not only that, but the dynamic and seriously unconventional figure of Lisbeth Salander is an incredibly strong addition as we follow her individual story just as closely.  It is hard-hitting and suspenseful and just plain brilliant at times and is honestly up there with one of the best crime novels I have ever encountered.

I can’t wait to read the next instalments in the trilogy and plan to do so very soon once I get through some of the endless amounts of reading I am now entrenched in for my course as I can’t wait to find out what will happen next for Lisbeth and the other characters involved in her life now that the mystery of Harriet has been solved.  But one thing that makes me incredibly sad is the fact that Stieg Larsson, the author of this amazing narrative, did not live to see the amazing success and acclaim that it has achieved.

So there you have it.  My Summer reading is now finished and after writing this article I think its high time that I returned to feverishly taking notes on Victorian novels and, rather weirdly, stories about monsters which also seem to be rather prevalent on my course…but I really hope that this list gives you some inspiration next time you’re looking for an interesting read and that no-one changes their perspective of me once they learn that my two favourite books this Summer were almost completely concerned serial killers…Happy reading folks!

 

 

 

 

The Art of Simply ‘Being’

I am a worrier.  I’m obsessive.  I compulsively plan each and every thing in my life and can get horribly upset when things don’t work out exactly as they’re meant to.  I make lists for everything and am always one step ahead of my own reality, despite never quite being able to decide what that step is.  I also know however, that I’m not alone.  Having a diagnosis for Obsessive Compulsive Disorder as well as recovering from Anorexia can often heighten my stress levels and my inability to live in the moment but I know, at least to some degree, that these days pretty much all of us find it difficult to switch off and see the world around us and experience our lives as they are truly meant to be lived – in the moment.

And here is where the art of simply being comes in.  It is something that many people may never have thought about and, in today’s society, something that is pretty much impossible to fully embrace but even letting go of the need to control slightly and allowing yourself to appreciate what you have seen a million times as the miraculous and beautiful things that they are, would go a long, long way.  My understanding of ‘simply being’ comes from an accumulation of spiritual practices and ideas which I have tried over the years in an attempt to improve my mental health and so it may be different to what others believe and, ultimately, what you believe, but for me its important and that’s why I want to share a little bit about it with you here.

My journey into practices of the mind and towards trying to finally embrace the art of simply being started when I first tried mindfulness during one of my hospital admissions for anorexia.  Lets just say that at the time I wasn’t impressed and was just as sceptical as the majority of the population, but now I am so glad that my nurse (who I was less than fond of, I might add) forced me to sit down and practice and read the information she gave me because a few years later I  have realised that the concept of mindfulness was exactly what I needed.  Mindfulness is basically the practice of living in the here and now and recognising the processes of your body and mind in the very second in which you are living.  It means not obsessing about the future or the past or even about how much stuff you had planned to do that day but never got round to.  It originally comes from Buddhist practices and is a chance for us to let go of our insatiable need for planning and thinking and would hopefully lead to a peace of mind I have been forever searching for.  I have tried and failed many times to fully commit to the practices and doing the meditations on a regular basis but now that my journey in this field has progressed I can see why its so important to keep it up and keep adding to your ability because calming the mind is a skill that takes practice, just like any other skill you may choose to learn.

The second major step in my journey towards simply being is a slightly more recent one.  My mum’s friend is a great believer in spiritual healing and practices reiki and reflexology on a regular basis and, especially since I became unwell, she has continued to give me books about spirituality, crystals and self-help.  And, while I did read the books she gave me, I just never really believed it could work or help me in any way – until about two months ago.  Just after handing in my final essay at university I was looking for a new book to read and, as I was rather low on funds (just for a change) I found I didn’t want to spend money on the novel I had been fancying and decided to read something I already had instead, which turned out to be Gabrielle Bernstein’s ‘The Universe Has Your Back’, which I had received as a gift from her over a year earlier.  I started reading it and I guess something finally clicked.  The timing was right and I honestly believe that I was meant to read that book at that time and, just to prove it, when the book asked me to look for a sign in my everyday life, I found the exact book I had wanted to read instead of ‘The Universe Has Your Back’ in a charity shop for £2 in a place I would never usually had ventured, just half an hour later.

In ‘The Universe Has Your Back’, Gabrielle discusses letting go of some of our control and allowing the universe to give us what is right, instead of obsessing over having to get it ourselves.  It also talks about the power of positive thinking (which I am obsessed with) and how mantras and meditations can help us to not only make our own lives better, but the lives of everyone else around us better too.  The meditations are slightly different to mindfulness practices but run along the same lines and, I feel, are in some cases even more helpful for me personally than the former.  It was an incredibly freeing experience to read this book and it is ultimately why I am writing this today and why I wanted to share the act of simply being with you all.  A lot of you will be thinking that it sounds like nonsense and that’s ok because for a long time I did too but I simply ask you to be open minded and to give it a try to see if it can help even slightly to give you  a bit more peace and calm in your mind and, ultimately, in your life.

And so by this stage, my idea of the art of simply being became a mixture of mindfulness, Gabrielle Bernstein’s theories and Buddhist teachings but the final part of it also became my own personal opinions and beliefs in life which I found were just as important in shaping how I practiced these philosophies as the ideas themselves.  I don’t believe that you can just wait around for opportunities to fall into your lap and sometimes the best thing you can do is fight and work hard for something to make sure you get what you want because then, and only then, if it doesn’t happen then you can be satisfied that, in this place and in this time, what you really want is not the right thing for you.  I also don’t believe that its possible not to sometimes look ahead and plan things just as its also nice to sometimes look back and appreciate happy memories and what used to be and I think that recognising the times where planning and remembering are helpful are important practices too.  But probably the most important thing I’d like to add is that its ok not to follow spiritual practices or theories of self-help to the letter because everyone is different and everyone will find a different way of living which works for them.  As long as what you do makes you happy and makes other people happy too then it’s a worthwhile practice to me.

Personally, I am really hoping that giving my art of simply being a final try will be the thing I need to stop overthinking everything and, quite often, still being a slave to my own thoughts.  June has been a particularly difficult month for me but I am glad to be coming away from it with something much more positive than I could have imagined and, by sharing these positive practices with you all, perhaps something even more positive still.  And I know it seems daunting but its ok to slip up and its ok to not understand what you’re actually trying to do but being truly present in your everyday life and letting go of some of the fears and doubts you have really can help.  And to help you get started below you will find some of my favourite and easiest ways of practicing the art of simply being in everyday life from books and resources I have used in the past, and, if you do want to take it that step further, I have also added a number of links to resources which may help.

How To Practice The Art of Simply Being in Everyday Life

  • A good way to start is with simply breaking one of your normal routines.  Say you usually sit in a particular chair in your house or at work or you do things in a set order when getting ready in the morning etc. then just switch this up.  Sit in a different place or have your breakfast before you do your makeup for a change – it can be amazing what a change can be made from breaking away from your default pattern!
  • As soon as you wake up in the morning tell yourself, either out loud or in your head, that today is going to be a good day.  Say it a couple of times and use it as a positive mantra to show that you’re ready for whatever the day will bring.
  • Go for a walk and leave your headphones at home for a change.  Simply walk around and try to do nothing to experience the world around you.  You will be amazed by the different sights, sounds and smells that you usually completely miss.
  • Take a social media break for a day or leave your phone at home.  Or, if you can’t manage that then leave your television and laptop off for the night. Cutting yourself off from technology for a while can seem really daunting but its often one of the only ways we can truly experience the world around you and trust me, it feels great to get a bit of freedom from it!
  • Try out one of my favourite, basic mindfulness practices called the raisin meditation.  All you have to do is take a handful of raisins and a notebook and start by really studying one of the raisins.  Look at it’s physical appearance and write down what you find.  Then, think about the texture of the raisin and how it feels in your hand.  Finally, put the raisin in your mouth and, very slowly, bite into it and think about what it tastes like.  Write down the results and try again with the next one.  You will probably find that you’ve never truly tasted a raisin more and you’ll realise all the times you’ve absent-mindedly eaten things without even giving it a second thought…oh, and you can also do this meditation with chocolate if you want!
  • Each time something frustrating happens or you find yourself faced with a problem, stop for a minute, take a deep breath and think about it differently.  See it as a challenge that you have to overcome and use the minute to think how you can produce a more positive outcome from this situation, than if you had just acted straight away.  You may find that this is just the universe testing you, waiting to see how you are going to react.
  • A good time to practice being mindful is while cleaning your teeth.  You will find that you are so used to the activity that you’re mind will wander on to a number of different topics and you won’t even really pay attention to the brushing itself.  So, next time you brush your teeth don’t think about anything but the activity itself.  Notice the way the brush moves across the teeth and take your time to cover each and every one and see how the action feels.  There’s two great opportunities per day to be mindful without taking any time out of your day!
  • And this last tip is all my own and its very simple: get more sleep.  It is impossible to be completely present in your life if you can hardly keep your eyes open during it.  Simply being is not about coasting through your life, it is actually about being awake and aware and you can’t do this on four hours of sleep a night!

Resources Which May Help

  • The Headspace App, available on apple and android, is a really user-friendly app which allows you to do meditation practices anywhere.  It takes you right from the beginning and seems like a much more ‘acceptable’ way to clear your mind if you don’t feel ready to jump into the heavily spiritual stuff yet.  It gives you a ten session free trial and after that costs hardly anything for a full year subscription.  It’s a great tool and I would highly recommend it.
  • https://gabbybernstein.com/ – if you want to find out more about Gabrielle Bernstein and any of her books or products or are looking for more resources about this aspect of spiritual teaching then definitely check out her website.  She really is a great figure in this field although some of the things she talks about may be quite daunting for someone completely new to meditation or spirituality in general.  But if you’re open to it, I know this could be a real help.
  • Mindfulness: A practical guide to finding peace in a frantic world, written by Mark Williams and Danny Penman – this book is where it all started for me and is really user-friendly.  You get a CD with the book which gives you some of the best mindfulness meditations that I have ever used and has a good number of chapters just talking about what mindfulness is and why it is useful and each week you get a set of different tasks to complete which makes it really simple to follow.  Only challenge you have to face with this one is fully committing, and staying fully committed for the entire eight weeks!

GOOD LUCK!

 

 

Orange Is No Longer The New Black

PLEASE NOTE:  THIS REVIEW DOES CONTAIN SPOILERS.

I am often overly critical in my analysis of films, television series and books and I know myself that I will always look for the problems and the parts I didn’t like before I start thinking of the positives.  I’m a pessimistic critic, and I accept that.  It is for this reason that I usually like to take a bit of time to process my thoughts before I actually write any reviews or give my opinions on things to make them more balanced however, after finally getting to the season finale of what was previously one of my favourite Netflix original series’, I already knew that my mind was well and truly made up about what I believe to be the downfall of Orange is the New Black.

Just like every other fan of the show, I was counting down the days to June 9th when Season 5 of the hit series would finally come out and we would be reunited with our favourite felons and the suspense would ultimately be over about what Dayanara chose to do with that gun.  However, as the episodes continued, I felt like something was missing.  The riot, which I assumed would end after, perhaps, a couple of episodes simply dragged on and on and I found myself losing interest pretty quickly as the plot became more convoluted and, at times, frankly ridiculous.

I didn’t like seeing Red lose the steely Russian stance she has always owned so well and end up with some crazy vendetta while on speed, I didn’t like how the first thing the inmates thought to do with the hostages was to unclothe them all and then – wait for it – make them take part in a talent show.  I didn’t like how everyone suddenly had smartphones and access to the outside world and I didn’t like how Maritza and Flaca became ‘Youtube famous,’ and completely lost their ability to make snappy one-liners. I felt like all of the plot lines used were just very obvious and forced and it cheapened the humour of the show no end.  I mean, don’t get me wrong, Orange is the New Black has always been ridiculous, but it’s been ridiculous in a way which is shocking and out there and makes you wonder how they got away with it.  But in season 5 the humour is really tacky a lot of the time and makes it seem like the writers have just run out of ideas.  None of the jokes or antics have anything on Crazy Eyes singing ‘chocolate and vanilla swirl’ or Doggett finally getting new teeth and I can’t think of a single time I really sat back and laughed while watching this new season at all.

I guess I should have seen this coming.  The show has slowly been becoming much more serious and dark than it’s former humorous days and that was ok because I cried like a baby when Poussey died and hailed the show as a success (despite standing by the opinion that season one and two are undoubtedly the best) because it still made me feel something.  But, and I really, really hate to say it, I kind of ended up not caring whether any of the inmates had their demands met at the end of the riot, and I may have even stopped caring about what happened to the prisoners themselves.  Not only was the humour gone but the sentimentality was too and the relationships became less endearing with every empty phrase or stupid decision that people made.

And one thing that I have loved about Orange is the New Black in the past is their frequent flashback sequences, which gave us a clear insight into why each individual found themselves in prison, and, for a lot of them, made us see them as human and oddly justified in what they did.  But although there remained flashback sequences, the ones we did see, such as that of Tastyee meeting her birth mother and Daya as a teenager getting advice from Aleida, were a bit misguided and didn’t really fit for me with those we had seen in the past for the same characters.  There was also a flashback about Alison Abdullah which I found quite gripping to begin with but then the back story just seemed to stop and I was left wondering what the whole point of showing us anything was.  The one saving grace for this season’s flashback sequences was that of Piscatella’s secret relationship with a former inmate in his past career as this seemed to be a nod to the old format and gave me a profound sense of feeling for a character which was few and far between in other parts of the show.

For me though, maybe the whole problem was the basis of the season altogether because the riot meant that we were watching the characters as free women, in a sense.  They no longer had to stick to routines, go to work, sneak around, deal with staff or anything which, in my opinion, has made Orange is the New Black so popular in the first place.  I don’t know about anyone else but when I watch a show where the whole basis is watching the mishaps of women serving time in a correctional facility, I don’t think it really works if they are all free women with free rein of the place.  Hell, that’s just some folk sitting around in a confined space!  It’s funny really, because my Mum is just starting the series herself and so I re-watched the first ever episode last week and I couldn’t get over how much I missed that part of the show.  Mr Healy and Mendez, Bennett and O’Neil…for me they were just as much a part of the show as Piper is and they really made those first few seasons the wonderful things they are now, but, not only are they gone but there was no sense of order at all and it was just as chaotic watching the show as the prison riot itself.

For me, order was restored way too late and in way too unconvincing circumstances and I for one have been left bitterly disappointed by this half baked concoction of cheesy humour and obvious antics.  I want passion, I want good, untasteful humour, I want scandal and betrayal, I want steamy relationships and criminal plans but most of all, I want the old Litchfield back.  In this case, I think Ill be sticking to my little black dress over an orange jumpsuit any day.

Featured image is not my own.  It is copied from: https://womensvoicesforchange.org/the-pros-and-cons-of-orange-is-the-new-black.htm

 

The How, What and Where of Barcelona

My Mum and I love going on city breaks.  It all started a couple of years ago when we decided to spend a long weekend in New York for my Mum’s birthday with the rest of the family and the concept was even more of a success for the two of us when we left my brother and Dad behind last year and headed off to Paris for my eighteenth.  The weather may have been terrible from start to finish during our Parisian adventure but it had been such a good laugh and a chance for us to spend such good quality time with one another we booked up to go to Barcelona at the end of May this year, with hopes for better weather but just as good experiences.

Barcelona is a vibrant, incredibly diverse and architecturally stunning city with lots to offer any tourist.  From the beach and the historical buildings, to the shops and the sangria – the city really seems to be becoming the location of the moment and, due to this,  I thought I would share my thoughts on HOW to get around and plan your trip to gain maximum success, WHAT to go and see while in Barcelona and WHERE to eat and drink while there.  All of my recommendations are based on my own experiences over our jam-packed four days and so can’t possibly give the full extent of what Barcelona has to offer, but if there’s one thing My Mum and I do well, it is seeing as much of a city in one weekend as is humanly possible.

IMG_1066.JPG

HOW

First things first, getting from the airport into the heart of Barcelona really has only one cheap but sensible option, the Aerobus, which stops very near to the airport exit.  It only costs around $5,90 pp. as opposed to a taxi which could cost as much as $35-40!  A great money saver and the bus stops in four locations throughout the city, terminating in the most popular destination of the Placa de Catalunya, between La Rambla and the main shopping street, Passeig de Grácia.  Staying in and around the Plaςa de Catalunya will also make it easier when travelling to other destinations because, excluding the attraction, Park Güell, everything else you will want to do or see is pretty much within walking distance and the whole area has a great feel to it.  If you do find yourself needing a taxi however, you will have no trouble getting one as Barcelona has one of the highest taxi to population ratios in the world – even more than New York!

We stayed at The Catalonia Hotel just a five minute walk from the Plaça de Catalunya and I personally couldn’t fault it – great breakfast, beautiful rooftop terrace with plunge pool, free wine and basic tapas in the afternoon – what more could you ask for?!  The price tag for this particular accommodation was quite high however, and I’m not sure its always worth spending so much on a hotel on a city break because you will often find that you don’t spend much time there.  So, when picking somewhere to stay this could be something to consider.

As for exploring the city itself, I am always a great believer that walking around and just getting a proper feel of the surroundings is the best way to truly experience it all.  You will often find a number of things that you never would have found if you had taken a taxi or a bus or any other mode of transport and, with Barcelona, this is no different.  What I will recommend however, are two particular tours my Mum and I took which really enhanced our ability to see the city in new and exciting ways.

The tours were booked through Viator, an online tour company run by TripAdvisor and the first was a bus tour on our first night which took us around the beach area and then up through Montjuic to the castle where you are able to view the Magic Fountain Show, which is put on every Saturday night only – perhaps something to consider when IMG_1015.JPGbooking your trip!  The Magic Fountain Show itself was an amazing start to our holiday because from the moment ‘Barcelona’ by Freddie Mercury began to play and the fountains began to dance, the atmosphere of the place was breath-taking, and it only became more and more magical as the sun went down and the lights came on.  It really is a must-see, and that’s even before we mention the beauty of the castle itself!

Our second tour, also booked through Viator, was possibly my highlight of the entire trip which was the Segway tour that I forced my Mum to do with me on the morning of our second day.  The tour was organised by the company Barcelona Segway Fun and our IMG_1054.JPGtour guide David made the experience even more enjoyable with his very easy-going and pleasant manner and his helpful information about the sights we saw – which included the beach and harbour area, the Arc de Triompf, the Parc de la Ciutadella among much more. Honestly, it is one of the most fun experiences I have ever had on holiday and even my Mum loved the Segway by the end!  All I can say is if you don’t do this tour then you are missing out big style, because it’s a great way to see many sights you may otherwise miss out.

 WHAT

When it comes to attractions and must-see’s in Barcelona there is really only one truly IMG_1115.JPGobvious sight:  the world-famous Sagrada Familia.  Designed by Antoni Gaudi and still under construction even today, it is one of the most beautiful buildings I have ever visited and I can completely understand why so many tourists flock here.  I would really take your time while studying the two finished exteriors and the roof of the church in particular (not that you can really help yourself) because the extreme detailing is amazing and, I do think its worth booking to go up one of the two currently finished towers, because the views from the top are really something.  What I will say though, is that the Sagrada Familia is just as busy as you believe it to be and, if you don’t book entry in advance then you are unlikely to make it inside – so please book online first!

And, to give you some prior warning before you book up to visit Barcelona, if you don’t IMG_0991.JPGlike the architecture and art of Antoni Gaudi, then just don’t bother because he crops up everywhere.  Luckily I’m a fan but even I was slightly fed up of hearing his name by the time I returned home as I visited three other Gaudi sights during my stay.  The first was the Casa Battló, a house within walking distance of the Plaça de Catalunya, which takes on an underwater or skeletal theme, depending on which way you look at it, and I have to say I was very impressed with this building.  It is incredibly beautiful both in exterior and interior qualities and I believe it is just as much a must-see as the Sagrada Familia itself, so do make some time for this.

I cannot say however, that all of Gaudi’s architectural buildings are as worth visiting because after booking a night tour quite last minute of The Pedrera, an apartment building designed by the man himself, I was left highly disappointed with the experience.  Yes, it’s pretty as apartment buildings go but it is just that – an apartment building.  I kind of felt they were just spinning out the Gaudi name to make some extra profit and honestly, I would probably miss out this particular site from your visit because it just didn’t give me the wow factor of the previous two.

After the disappointment of The Pedrera, we did however, still decide to travel to Park Güell, a public park area also designed by Gaudi, and the park itself was lovely for a relaxed walk however, we unfortunately fell victim to the mistake of not pre-booking so we were unable to fully enter into the ‘Monumental Zone’ where a number of Gaudi’s most impressive mosaics and colourful sculptures are placed – so once again book in advance!  Still, the free part of the gardens themselves have a lovely atmosphere and would be a great stop for a picnic, if you have the time.

And, if you’ve finally had enough of Gaudi there is still a number of non-related things to fill the rest of your time with!  I would recommend just having a walk down La Rambla and into the Plaça Reale, which is not only really beautiful but has a lot of restaurants and bars, which might be of interest to you.  Unfortunately we didn’t explore this area until near the end of our trip so didn’t get a chance to try out any of the places around here but this was really the place where I felt most like I was in ‘Barcelona’ and La Rambla is definitely the best place to go if you want fresh fruit, churros or ice cream.  I would perhaps avoid this street at night though if you don’t want hassled to go to the night clubs in Barcelona which, if you’re on holiday with your Mum like I was, you probably won’t be interested in, as there are a lot of PR’s going around.

IMG_1152.JPG

So finally, and one of the last sights we visited during our trip, was the Cathedral of the Holy Cross, or, as it is otherwise known, Barcelona Cathedral.  I sometimes think this is a place which is often overlooked simply because of the beauty and popularity of the Sagrada Familia but this is still a stunning building to see and was very much more what you would expect from a religious building in terms of atmosphere and peace and it is also free to enter, with only donations being suggested, which is good for those on a strict budget.  Do remember to cover up a bit better for this sight however, as strappy tops and short skirts/shorts are prohibited here.

WHERE

And so my final, but often most important, section is related to the good (and bad) places my Mum and I found to eat and drink while on our travels and the place I feel I have to mention first is the vegetarian/vegan haven just off the Plaça de Catalyuna which is WokiIMG_1179.JPG Organic Market.  My mum, and all other meat-eaters, will not understand the euphoria which came across me when I realised I didn’t have to put up with any more cheese and tomato and had found a place where I could not only get fresh vegetables and exciting meals but I was also sure that my vegetarianism would be understood – it was brilliant!  Woki serves a lot of diverse dishes but have a fully vegan menu and make a range of gluten free options and cakes too.  It is open right through the day so would be good for a visit at any time and even people who are self-catering will be able to buy supplies as it doubles as an organic supermarket.  Can you tell that I really, really liked this place?

The second place that I ended up really liking was a small, café that we found on the last day, just round the corner from our hotel, called the Libreria Café (or Library café) and that’s pretty much all the description you need.  It’s situated in the upstairs of a bookshop and has a really peaceful and calm atmosphere and the staff are happy to make up a range of toasted rolls based on what you would like, as well as having a varied menu, fresh frittatas and pretty good looking cakes too.  It’s great for a quick bite between seeing the sights and could also be an option for dinner, as I think they serve more filling meals through the back of the café too.  And, you’re pretty much surrounded by books which will always earn them some brownie points with me.

As well as the Libreria Café, there does actually seem to be a lot of cute, independent bakeries in Barcelona which are really worth trying out.  Another one which I had recommended to me was the Hotel Praktik Bakery which I also found and thought looked like a really lovely place for a casual lunch.  The only reason I didn’t personally go here is because there was a lack of vegetarian sandwich fillings, although I’m sure they would be happy to make something up for you, on request.

This next one is going to sound like a bit of a strange recommendation since it is a supermarket but the Carrefour Market located on La Rambla is like no other supermarket I have ever visited.  They have a great selection of filled rolls and wraps, fresh smoothies and they even have separate stations where they serve sushi and freshly prepared stir-fry’s and noodle dishes.  It kind of left me wondering why supermarkets at home were so inferior in comparison but honestly, you have to see it to believe it.

The reason that I haven’t really mentioned a number of good restaurants for proper, sit down meals is because I wasn’t overly impressed with the two we did end up visiting.  One which my mum did enjoy however, was Margharita, an Italian restaurant located off a side street from the Passeig de Grácia.  They have a really good range of different pasta dishes and salads but I was left quite let down by the standard of their pizza, which, from an Italian restaurant, left me surprised.  Despite this, their rosé wine was very impressive, and if your that way inclined, it’s probably worth visiting just for that.

IMG_1183However, if a good rosé wine isn’t enough and you are looking solely for somewhere to get a good drink, and in my Mum and I’s case this means cocktails, then you’re probably going to come up with the name Dry Martini, which seems to rank pretty highly on a number of sources as being one of the oldest and best cocktail bars in Barcelona.  However, I am here to tell you that it’s probably not worth the bother of travelling there.  It’s quite fancy inside and looks like an old-fashioned speak-easy but it came over even a bit snobby to me and the cocktails were quite overpriced and the one both my Mum and I tried – The Amelie – wasn’t even that great.  It was highly alcoholic though, which was probably just a means to get you to forget about the price!  Perhaps give this one a miss and go get yourselves some sangria instead.

IMG_1187.JPGSo lastly, what better way to finish up my How, What and Where of Barcelona than with an excellent Gelateria recommendation in the heart of La Rambla.  We came across Amorino by accident while exploring this part of the city and was enticed to go inside by the beauty of the shop and the ice cream itself, housed just inside the door.  They have a great array of flavours and even have fully vegan certified sorbets which looked really good quality.  They also make the most beautiful displays on the cones and make them into the shape of flowers, with the option to add a mini macaroon to the top too, if you want one.  The flavours I tried were stracciatella, dolce du leche and chocolate hazelnut and honestly, for those few minutes, I was in heaven.  Its a lovely, lovely shop and will definitely satisfy any sweet craving.

So there you have it, my brief but hopefully interesting look into the beautiful and exciting city of Barcelona.  Whether you are there for a week or simply a few days, like my Mum and I were, you can not fail to be impressed by the beauty of each and every building and the number of great opportunities the city has.  I would love to go back and spend more time at the beach area, as well as finally getting in to see some of those famous Gaudi mosaics at Park Güell, but, perhaps for now, a Gaudi break is very much what I need.  Happy travelling folks!

 

Looking Back on First Year at University

It’s now been nearly two weeks since I moved out of student halls and back into what I guess I have come to know as ‘my old life.’  All the boxes have been unpacked and the memories of first year at university are starting to become just that – memories.  However, I don’t want to forget the year I have had quite yet and I don’t exactly feel like letting go so I thought that one last reflection on what has been one of the most miraculous, surprising and freeing years of my entire life was very much necessary.

From the moment I arrived at university and first set foot in my new halls last September I promised myself that I would give the student life my all.  For the past four years really, my life has felt as if it was on pause, unable to move forward through the struggles I encountered with anorexia, my mental health and just generally not fitting in and so what I really wanted, more than anything, was for this to be my chance to fully press the play button on life once again. And, I can honestly say that I have thrown myself into everything I could have done and pushed myself further than I would have ever thought possible, and I know that it is for these reasons that I am sitting here today feeling so entirely satisfied and happy with all I have achieved in the space of eight to nine months.

One thing that didn’t really satisfy me and one of the first things that I learnt after moving is the truth about Freshers week because before I left home I guess I saw it as a highly important time where new friendships would form and I would perhaps instantly be able to know whether I would achieve the fresh start that I so desperately longed for or not.  But the truth is that Freshers week, for the majority of the new student population, is simply a week where you feel incredibly ill and tired all the time but still also have a strong sense of guilt for every night you don’t go out and drink yourself into oblivion.  I know I got to the end of it and really just wondered what I had to show for it which was, let’s be honest, a few new acquaintances on my Snapchat and some seriously bad dark circles under my eyes.  But hey, it’s a lesson right?

And so Freshers week had not lived up to the hype and I have to admit I was a little worried that the rest of the university experience would be the same but luckily for me, over the next few weeks and months, I started to see just how amazing my life could be, providing I stopped obsessing over when and how things would change.  And, in the end, it was sort of an accumulation of a number of things that finally made me see how great I really had it.

I know for a fact that one of the things that ultimately made my time so worthwhile was flat 22 and everyone in it.  Student halls is definitely a bit of a lucky dip since no-one can truly know the people who will get on and those who won’t but for the majority of those I ended up living with, I now couldn’t imagine my life without them. Flat 22 became our little family – people to laugh with, cry with and generally IMG_0625.JPGmake an idiot of yourself with and for someone who had always tried to hide the embarrassing or weird parts of my personality, it was amazing just to be forced to be myself and realise that everyone has their quirks – which turned out to be the best part of it.  They say you never really know a person until you live with them and I am sure that when we meet again in September I will remember all the really annoying things about everyone but right now I am just so glad that I got the chance to get to know each and every one of my flatmates.

Another thing that has really made my experience of first year so special is the chance it gave me to restart my dancing again after having to stop nearly five years ago for medical reasons.  The Edinburgh Napier Dance Squad was, I have to admit, a little bit more of a daunting aspect to get involved with, and I know that a lot of people even scoff at or look down at sports and societies but honestly, it has been great for so many reasons.  I have met some amazing people, it has filled my schedule with something other than drunken nights out (although there was some of that too!) and it also Dance Show 2017.jpgmanaged to help me realise how much further I had to go in my anorexia recovery, which is something that I never could have foreseen it doing.  It was dancing that first made me aware of how unfit my lifestyle was making me and how tired I would get compared to everyone else and I also started to feel frustrated by the anxiety I felt about having to eat my tea so much later as a result of classes.  And so, along with a number of other factors, I really have dance to thank for how much more recovered I am now, compared to when I started university in September.  And I have a feeling that dance will become an even bigger part of my life in second year because I managed to secure a place as Social Secretary on the new committee.  The fact that people picked me for this role actually means more than anyone could know.

I guess that one of the last things I should probably mention though is the actual course itself which has been a bit of an up and down experience.  In trimester one I loved it.  English and film are two of my favourite things in the world and so getting to go in and study and talk about it really blew my mind for a while and the fact that I was only actually in for nine hours a week was very attractive too.  But I don’t know if it was because the novelty had worn off or because I failed to engage with the modules so much in the second trimester but for me, something felt off.  I kind of clawed it back at the end but I just seemed to see that there was a number of holes in what I was learning and I got seriously fed up of every single debate coming back to the theme of feminism.  However, it remains a subject I love and so for that reason I am going back next year with a positive outlook and the hope of re-engaging with the wonderful world of movies and books even more.  And I came away with merits for every module I took so it can’t all be bad!

But now I guess that’s it.  I would be here all day if I went into exact details or the countless numbers of specific events which has made my year such a rewarding experience but I need to remember that first year doesn’t have to be placed in a box and cut off as something which has passed because, as cheesy as it sounds, going away and living independently and being placed in such a different setting has actually made me realise much more who I am as an individual and has made me a much better person in the long run too.  Sure, I made a lot of mistakes and did a lot of things that I now really, really regret but what is first year for if not for making a few wrong turns now and again?  And, now that I can clean a bathroom, have taken a real interest in cooking and actually have to think about my finances, I guess you could say that I am sort of an adult after all this!  And for anyone nervous or unsure about taking this massive step in their lives, I can only urge them to take it.  Going to university has been the single best decision of my life and I am happy to announce that the play button on my life is well and truly back on, and I can’t wait to see what new adventures are just around the corner.IMG_0185.JPG