The Second Year Slump

After my first year at Napier university in Edinburgh I wrote my first post on this blog about what a memorable, amazing and life-changing experience it had all been, and I would love to be sitting here this year writing roughly along the same line.  Unfortunately that is definitely not the case.  Second year has been a rough slog, of disappointment and comparison to an amazing first year which it never really matched up to in any way and all I’m left feeling is a bit defeated and, quite frankly, relief that it’s over.

I guess what I should state up front is that when you have moved away and are experiencing university in a different city, and especially when you are at a university with quite such limited class/contact time as Napier, the year is more about the overall time itself rather than the course you are studying because, strangely enough, I haven’t hated second year of English and Film.  Sure, I still have a nagging feeling that I should really have learnt more by halfway through my degree, and that the only reason I have enjoyed it quite so much is because I have personally pushed myself to take part in the reading and because I love the subject quite so much but still, I know a lot of people who have questioned what on earth they are doing in their degrees by this stage and I am very thankful that this is one worry I don’t have to think about.  English and Film may leave me working in my part-time barista job for the rest of my life, but hey, at least I’ve had a jolly good time while doing it.

And that’s another thing that’s new and that I am going to place in the mainly positive side of the post because during the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, aside from the month I spent working with Edinburgh Gin at a pop-up bar, I actually managed to secure my first proper job at a shop I love in the very heart of the city centre.  And it involves a discount on books – score!  Sure I moan about it and it definitely has contributed to a drop in my social activities (although I’m mainly thinking that’s just my overall inflexibility at play too) but when it truly comes down to it I have always said I wanted to work in a coffee shop and honestly if you’d told me two years ago that I’d be employed by Waterstones I would have told you to stop getting my hopes up.  But here I am, becoming a grown-up with a grown-up job and learning to have the grown up excuse of ‘I can’t, I’m working’ at the ready.  What more could you ask for?

And one of my main worries for the new year was the flat I was to live in because, when I envisioned moving out of halls and into our own rented place, I certainly did not have a slightly dingy, ex-student halls building in mind but that too has actually worked out a lot better than I could ever have hoped.  There has been a lot of work getting done to the flat over the course of the year and it’s in a brilliant location and sure it’s not super luxurious but it does the job and I am happy to eat my words over the decision to move in here.  In fact, it was a good choice.  (Slightly hard to admit there, eh Ash?).

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And so what then, you may be wondering, was so wrong with my year?  But that’s pretty much it.  There was nothing terrible wrong with my year – apart from completely losing control of my drinking and making some utterly shocking calls when it comes to relationships – but it was just wholeheartedly, unmistakably meh.  After the incredible excitement of striking out on my own for the first time, living with new people, meeting new friends, having so many new experiences, second year just seemed to make everything come to a stop.  I had the awful feeling that every time I went to do something that I had been there before but, in an equally awful way, each time I did something I made it worse because I was trying so hard to make it match up to how good it had felt before.  There is just not the same feeling that you have done something momentous in your life which has purpose and meaning and after the full-on, whirlwind which is first year. Second year just seems to enter you into into a slump which, unfortunately for me, was impossible to get out of until now.

And yet I know I am not the only one to feel this way.  I am not the only one to have found themselves becoming down and disillusioned with the whole thing and I am certainly not the only one who has found second year insanely difficult.  But somehow, when you’re in it, it feels like you are the only one who has coped by hiding themselves away from things and allowing destructive habits to creep in.

So the Second Year Slump has definitely got hold of me and dragged me down but that isn’t to say I have suddenly become someone who gives up and loses all hope because, if you ever speak to me on certain subjects, you will know that couldn’t be further from the truth.  Yes it’s been hard but I have still achieved so much this year and have learnt so many things that I can now use to make third year the upward climb I know it will be.

And because I refuse to put this year down as a total loss – because it most certainly has not been – here are a few highlights of really, really good things that have happened despite the difficulties I have had with my time:

Napier dance became an even bigger part of my year with my committee role as social secretary.  It was an amazing year for the club as a whole – we even won club of the year!

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I fulfilled a lifelong dream to be Sandy from Greece on a very ‘interesting’ Halloween night.img_2447-1

I got a new tattoo which I am in LOVE with.img_3521

 

I got to be a really proud flatmate supporting Trampled Daisy as the band really got going!img_3041

There were some ok nights out, in the end.img_2739

I visited my Dad in Doha for only the second time during reading week in trimester two

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Celebrated my 20th birthday with my amazing family

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And I successfully completed the academic year, and even met some wonderful people on the way.

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And spent countless great days with this wonderful individual 🙂

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Goodbye second year, maybe you weren’t so bad after all.

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Doha: A Destination of the Future

It’s now been over a week since I arrived back in rather snowy Edinburgh and the days I spent visiting my Dad in Doha, Qatar already seem like a distant memory but what better way to keep the memory alive (and avoid the endless other tasks I have to do) than to tell you all about it.

I have to say that before I left I was very apprehensive and unsure what to expect from a city I had only been to once before and where I had been made to feel insecure, embarrassed and, to put it simply, a bit wrong.  Five years ago, Doha was a place which was definitely up and coming but which was in the very early days of this future glory.  It only had a very small airport, as blonde, white females my mother and I were very much in the minority and the location itself was somewhat intimidating to someone who had never fully experienced a Muslim country before.  And my Dad certainly isn’t the best tour guide when left to his own devices.  I did have a nice time but I was in no hurry to go back and could never see myself ever feeling comfortable in a place which, to me, was quite so alien to everything I had ever known.

In 2018, Doha is still very much this up and coming city which has the resources and ambitions to rival Dubai one day, it is still very different to a lot of the places I have visited over the years but I can also say that in so many ways Doha has changed.  I do think a lot of this change in perspective is to do with my own maturation and ability to cope with things but, if a city can progress towards modernity and, let’s face it, build such impressive infrastructure in such a short time one can’t help but be impressed.

Even as soon as I stepped off the plane I knew this time would be different.  Hamad International Airport is multiple times bigger than the one I arrived at last time and instead of feeling in the minority it was clear to me that the majority of the flight I arrived on were other European visitors like myself.  This just shows that Doha’s hard work and effort is beginning to pay off as more and more people see it as a viable tourist destination.  And this time my aim was to be the proper tourist and not wholly rely on my Dad’s rather shocking knowledge of what is good to do and see while in the city and here I want to share some of these things with you.

Souq Wakif

Souq Wakif is one of the only places I fully remember visiting from the first time I was in Doha and is definitely one of the key tourist centres in the entire city.  As far as I know, IMG_1372 (1)the souq itself is entirely artificially constructed and is not a traditional souq as you may be led to believe but it is not hard to see why people could be fooled into thinking this.  It captures the Arabian culture and historic aspect which is missing from a lot of the rest of the architecture that you see.  It is always bustling with activity and contains winding little streets filled with small shops, as well as a number of bars, restaurants and cafes and is a perfect place to sit, try out a shisha pipe and watch the rest of the world go by.  For all those animal lovers out there like myself however, watch out for the tied-up camels on one side of the Souq and the small section where animals are kept in cages as it is not pleasant and is probably the only drawback I see for the whole site.  I do highly recommend visiting this area both during the day and at night though.

The Museum of Islamic Art

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I have to admit that this location as a museum did not interest me very much at all.  Museum’s can be a bit hit and miss and I think a lot of the displays here miss quite spectacularly.  Call me uncultured but there are only so many Arabian style vases, buckets and bowls with no other significance other than that they are old that you can look at.  Despite this, the Museum of Islamic art as a building in itself is definitely worth a visit.  The architecture is stunning and the museum has one of the most impressive views of the Doha skyline you are likely to see.  I would recommend going mid-afternoon and heading to the perfectly placed café at the far side of the museum as it looks out at the river and is ideal for watching the sun go down.  It was beautiful.  There is also a really nice courtyard off to the side for great photo opportunities.  Oh, and it has a pretty nice gift shop too.

The Corniche

Whilst on the subject of good views of the impressive Doha skyline, the Corniche is a IMG_1458.JPGwalkway which curves right round the bay and goes basically from one end of Doha to the other, leaving you with numerous vantage points to take in the skyscrapers that dominate one side.  Once again, great to experience both day and night and is one of the only places really where you can enjoy a leisurely walk and explore within Doha outside of your car.  Lots of families come here to have picnics at the side of the Corniche and there are a number of small boats which, for a fee, will take you around the bay and back if you aren’t in the mood for the walk in the intense heat.  Definitely one of my favourite places.

Malls, Malls and More Malls

This is one aspect of Doha which I think they are really starting to try and rival Dubai on because, for the amount of people and built-up land here, there is an insane amount of shops.  There is the City Centre Mall, Landmark Mall, Villagio, Mall of Qatar to name but a few of the biggest and best shopping malls in the city and they are still building more.  My two favourites are Villagio and the Mall of Qatar so I will focus on them but just know that whatever capitalist, material (and often flashy and expensive) item you could imagine they’ve got it.  Qatar is a very rich country and they certainly show it.

The Mall of Qatar is relatively new and is a bit more difficult to get to than some of the others yet the scale and choice of shops there is amazing.  It has well-known brands like Nike, Topshop, Pull and Bear, Victoria’s Secret and Next as well as many restaurants and cafe’s including Le Pain Quotidien, Starbucks, The Cheesecake Factory and the odd chocolate café too.  It would take a whole day at least to get round it and you still probably wouldn’t be satisfied.  Oh, and if all this wasn’t extra enough, they have a collapsible stage in the middle of the centre that hosts impromptu performances throughout the day too.

Now Villagio, although a bit older, is just plain cool.  It is Venice themed with the gondolas and canals included and it’s high value quarter with every designer label imaginable is certainly worth a browse – even if you can’t afford to buy anything like me!  The selection of shops and restaurants is just as insane and at the end of the ‘expensive’ part there is a Laduree Macaron café, just in case the Venice theme wasn’t obvious enough.  You honestly have to see it to believe it.

 

Katara Cultural Village

Katara is basically a man-made beach with, you guessed it, yet more shops round the side, just in case you hadn’t quite got your fill of materialism quite yet.  Although I wasn’t overly impressed with this area and there really isn’t that much to do it’s still pretty to have a look around as the architecture and small streets at the back are still pretty nice.  One thing I did notice is that Katara is very popular with the tourists and is probably the place where i felt most in the minority and judged for my choice of clothing so be prepared to dress conservative or cope with a lot of staring.

The PearlIMG_1446.JPG

Now the Pearl to me is one of the gem’s (pardon the pun) of Doha.  It is absolutely stunning and although it is basically yet another shopping district, it is a beautiful area where you really feel like you’ve entered paradise.  It also felt a lot more Westernised and is where I saw majority of tourists.  Saying that, the place is almost always deserted and it can feel like a bit of a ghost town which is a real shame because it really does feel like a missed opportunity.  If I was to live in Doha this is where I would like to live however, and I know, that as the popularity of Doha as a destination increases, the Pearl’s popularity will increase too.  It’s just stunning.

Eating and Drinking in Doha

Another thing I was really worried about before I travelled to Doha was the fact that I didn’t expect the knowledge of veganism to be very good but boy was I surprised.  Sure I went to the odd place where they looked at me like I’d just fallen from Mars but the majority of places I went were happy to accommodate my needs and I didn’t worry about my meals too much.  (I have to say that the  website Happy Cow helped immensely with picking places to eat however, and if you are travelling as a vegan I couldn’t recommend it enough.)   As I was only there for four days I didn’t get to try out too many places but below are my top two locations to eat in Doha from this trip:

Evergreen Organics

Usually I would save the best until last but in this case I just can’t.  Evergreen Organics is that good.  Yes, being in the Pearl area of the city, it is somewhat pricey but it is the only fully vegan café in the whole of Doha and it boasts an extensive menu, the best selection of vegan cakes and bakes I have seen anywhere in the world and it also has possibly the most chilled out and wonderful vibe and atmosphere ever.  Can you tell I loved it?  It is hard to find and a little out of the way but basically whether you’re a vegan, vegetarian or meat-eater then please try this place because it is worth it.  In fact, if I ever go back to Doha then I think I will spend the majority of my time here.

Spice Market

I think the first thing I need to say about Spice Market is that it is located within the W hotel in the heart of Doha and so is incredibly expensive.  This is a place to go if you don’t mind spending a bit but I have to say the meal we had there was amazing.  My Mum and Dad were probably more impressed than me as I believe both of their meat dishes were out of this world but I too had a really nice stir-fry and the manager of the restaurant was happy to alter any of the dishes on the menu to my liking and my server was also very knowledgeable about veganism too.  They also had some really nice sorbets for dessert which I tried.  Lovely restaurant, lovely staff but, to be honest, for the price you have to pay, I don’t think you could expect anything else.

For my Fellow Vegans (Other than just go to Evergreen Organics!)…

  • Isaan is a restaurant in another of the hotels in Doha which makes it once again quite pricey but it actually has a fully separate vegan menu (they call it the healthy menu) with everything clearly labelled.  This is a really helpful thing to know if you visit the restaurant.
  • The Red Velvet Cupcakery is located within Katara and actually has a vegan chocolate cupcake on offer.  I didn’t really like the look of the café itself as it was a bit dark and out of the way but the cupcakes looked great and would be lovely to take away.
  • Go for traditional middle eastern foods!  There are so many places offering your favourite vegan fares such as falafel (watch out for these containing honey, remember), hummus, pitta bread, olives – the list goes on!  I was really surprised how easy it was to eat traditional and get by so Doha definitely is a much more vegan-friendly place than I had it down as!
  • Know that vegan-friendly chains have made it to Doha too as Nando’s, Wagamama’s, Le Pain Quotidien and Pizza Hut all have a reasonably large presence among a number of other chains.  Costa also had coconut milk on offer when I was there so there is still plenty of options if you are visiting Doha on more of a budget.

Another point to note, is that if you haven’t experienced a culture like that of Doha before, then you might not be aware that you can’t buy alcohol unless you go to one of the five star hotels around the city.  If you go to a restaurant you will be served soft drinks only.  This wasn’t a problem for me and I’d maybe take your trip as a time to ditch the drink and enjoy a break rather than pay extortionate prices for it but of course this is entirely up to you.

My Final Five Top Tips For Travelling to Doha

  1. Don’t go in the Summer.  This one is pretty self explanatory because you will melt.  Temperatures can reach the 50’s and it’s so hot outside that you basically just want to go from one air-conditioned building to the next.  From my experience the best times to go are either March or October.  February can be a dangerous time just simply because the weather is likely to break at some point before it starts getting really hot.
  2. Be prepared to dress conservatively and modestly.  This is a Muslim country which has not yet embraced all of Western culture so wearing a crop top and shorts around will mean you get a lot of disapproving stares.  I’m not saying I agree with it, but it’s definitely worth packing that extra light cardigan and some long trousers.
  3. Doha is not a walking-friendly city.  You will have to pay for taxi’s and transport to get from place to place because you just can’t walk around the same as you can in a number of other cities.  Hiring a car is possible but the driving can be slightly erratic and scary at times so it’s best to allow some money in your budget for travel once you get there.

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!