Saturday, 28 January 2017

Why we should stop waiting for 'the right time'

We've all been there; sat thinking about what we want to achieve, and how amazing it will be when we do it. I'd love to count the number of times I've psyched myself up ready to smash my goals, but when it comes down to it I've just come up with excuse after excuse, essentially ending up achieving nothing.

The biggest excuse (lie) I have told myself over and over again is 'it's not the right time', 'I'll do it once exams are over' or 'I'll do it in the new year'. I doubt I'm the only one who's said this to themselves, for the simple reason that it 'not being the right time' is an incredibly versatile excuse, that can be used whenever we want. Here's the thing though - we always have something we're busy with. We rationalise our putting off of activities by thinking that after something in particular is finished, we'll have a clear schedule and the timing will be perfect. The stars will align, everything will fall into place and we will easily achieve our goals. However, I guarantee this is a plan that will never work, because however much we plan for life, the 'right time' never comes. Really it's just a lie we tell ourselves as a cover-up; simply to make us feel better and to justify why we're not doing what we want to be doing. The simple reality is, we're not doing it because we don't want to. We're not doing it because although the idea seems great, when it comes down to it we realise that the thing we want to achieve is actually not that easy. We say it's not the right time because we are giving up before we've even begun.

Of course, there is a simple solution to this predicament - just do it. That thing that you've been putting off for months or even years because now's not the right time; because you'll do it after exams, or you'll start on Monday. Get up right now, and do it. I think half of the time we put things off so we can keep the idealistic image of how great it will be. In a way, it's a method of protecting ourselves from disappointment. However, everything worth doing takes time, effort and often a hell of a lot of frustration or disappointment. By putting things off I think we're subconsciously trying to protect ourselves from this, whereas in reality it only makes us more frustrated. So next time you're sat there thinking 'I will start the gym next year' or 'I will start revising on Monday', put aside the excuses and ask yourself if there really is any reason you can't do it now.

Standing up and just going for it can be a daunting prospect, but I guarantee the alternative is much scarier. However busy you are, if you have an ambition it's so important to make time for it; you will thank yourself in the future.


Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Mental illness: My story

Somewhere deep down, I always knew I was a bit different. I wanted to write about this - my story from start to the present day, because I recently realised that despite my few years of mental health campaigning, I've never written a detailed account of where my passion comes from.

Even as a small child, I suspected that I felt things more deeply than most people of my age. It never took a lot to make me cry and looking back, I'm sure my anxiety levels were much higher than they should have been. Once I was actually diagnosed at the age of 16, my mental health issues were put into the bracket of depression, although they have manifested themselves in a range of different forms over the years. It's kind of been a random mashup of depression, SAD, different types of anxiety and phobias. As I've already mentioned, it started out primarily as anxiety. As a small child I remember having anxiety about going to school - there were days up until being about 8 or 9 where the thought of going would be so upsetting to me. I would occasionally have to be physically carried into school. I suppose this to some extent is quite normal for a young child, but I never really grew out of the anxiety; it just transferred itself to different situations. By the age of about 9 I had developed a complete and utter phobia of buses - more specifically of travel sickness. Travel sickness is something I've always suffered with, but in this situation I think it was a vicious cycle. The anxiety made me feel sick hours or even days before I knew I had to get on a bus, so on the day I thought 'I'm already ill so I definitely can't go on the bus or I'll be more ill'. The next time the memory made the fear even stronger. I got myself so worked up that even on short bus journeys I would often end up being sick.

However, it was only when I started secondary school that my issues really began to interfere with my life regularly. At the beginning of year 7 I got really ill - just being sick all the time. I was so scared of being sick at school and so had a lot of time off in my first term there. I would often get into school but end up throwing up and having to go home. It was a complete mystery illness at the time; I lost a lot of weight but when I went to the doctors, they couldn't find anything wrong. Looking back, it's blatantly obvious to me that it was all anxiety. Deep down, I was terrified of going to school, which was making me feel sick. My mind was telling me that the sickness was causing the anxiety, but in reality is was the other way round. It seems crazy that I had no idea, but I know all too well how your mind can play tricks on you, in an effort to protect you from the truth.

From this, my health continued to steadily decline. It's so strange to think that it never occurred to me that I may actually have a mental illness, when looking back it is so clear; I was incredibly sensitive and in tears almost every day for years. This is why I believe mental health education from a young age is vital, and I will always stick by this belief. Whenever I've brought this up before, teachers have shied away from it because it's deemed as too heavy a topic for very young children. However I believe it doesn't have to be scary; there are ways to present mental health education in an age-appropriate manner. I would also argue that a child growing up as I did, convinced that they are just 'pathetic', is vastly more scary.

At the age of 15, things took a real turn for the worst. A variety of factors really triggered something in me, and I just fell into complete despair. I isolated myself every day and barely even spoke to my friends for about a year. At the worst point, I felt completely detached from my body. It was the weirdest feeling and it's probably hard to imagine unless you've felt it yourself. The best way I can describe it is that it was as though I was floating above my body - not living my life, but just observing it. I couldn't feel anything at all. I could see myself walking around, and hear myself talking, but it wasn't me that was doing it. I think it was my mind's way of trying to protect me from feeling so depressed, but it was counterproductive. For me, feeling nothing was so much worse than feeling awful. Expressing what you feel is how you heal, and not being able to feel what you need to is actually indescribably frustrating. I used to try to make myself cry because I needed to get the emotions out, but I just couldn't make myself feel anything. I was so detached from my own life that I can barely remember that year at all - it's completely lost. My one vivid memory is standing in front of the mirror at college one day and physically jumping, because I didn't recognise my own reflection. I eventually plucked up the courage and went to my GP, because by this point I knew what I was experiencing was not at all normal. However, it was completely brushed off and I was told that every teenager feels this way - it was devastating. I actually wanted something to be wrong; if something was actually wrong with me, measures could be taken to make it better, but if what I was experiencing was deemed as normal, I essentially just had to live with it. I knew in my heart something was seriously wrong, but was so defeated I just buried my head in the sand.

When I was 17, I was suddenly hit with an awful anxiety related to my health. I don't want to go into details about this because, of everything, I actually find this the hardest thing to talk about. It was so strong that it actually caused some of the physical things in my body which I was worried about to happen. This is the one experience that cemented my belief that mental and physical health are so closely connected. My health was constantly on my mind. At about the same time I started getting into strange habits of repeating phrases in my head and touching certain objects at certain times because it temporarily eased my anxiety. I knew logically it made no difference to anything, but it felt as though it 'balanced' things in my head somehow. However the immediate sense of comfort these actions gave me never lasted long, and at the worst point I was doing them hundreds of times a day. It was very easy to hide because it was mostly just silently saying words in my head, but it meant my head always felt 'full', it was so frustrating and impossible to concentrate. This is a habit I managed to cut down on massively, although I still to this day repeat a set of phrases in my head every night before I sleep. It's so ingrained in me that I honestly don't know if I will ever be able to stop doing it - but it doesn't really affect my life much anymore, so it doesn't particularly bother me. Like I said, the anxiety I was experiencing also caused physical symptoms, which just fed the anxiety even further, so it turned into a vicious cycle. It was at this point I decided to go to a different GP, armed with everything I had experienced written down in my phone. I was a lot more prepared and made sure I really put across how miserable these issues were making my life. This time, I was taken seriously; I was diagnosed with depression and prescribed medication - and was already having counselling at school.

Since then, it's been a constant journey and I can honestly say that not a single day has gone by where I haven't learnt something new about myself. I've tried tons of different treatments; medications, counselling, CBT and hypnotherapy to name a few. I've had so many issues with side effects of medications (one of which almost ruined my A-Levels). I've lost count of the number of times I have fought to get myself better and then completely gone back on myself. However, every time it happens, I eventually pick myself up and it strengthens me. I used to get frustrated with myself for letting things slip over and over again, but I've found that a better way of looking at things is from a 'what will be, will be' stance. Taking every day one at a time and trying to stay focused on being well, but not torturing myself if I go downhill again. At the end of the day, falling down and making mistakes are a vital part of the process of learning how to heal. I think mental health issues are often seen as something that somebody gets, recovers from and then it's left behind and forgotten about. From my point of view, I don't believe in that; I think it takes constant work. I don't think there will ever be a day in my life where I don't have to consciously decide to keep working on my health. I think recovery from mental illness is not a destination to be reached, but a constant state of making the right choices for yourself, and of knowing what to do if things do start to decline again. Nowadays I don't really put myself in a bracket of 'this is what I have' and 'these are the clinical symptoms I have', because it's never been that black and white for me. I simply have come to the conclusion that I feel the same feelings as everyone else, it's just that whatever emotion I feel, it's to the extreme. I am either happy as hell or everything is terrible, and every situation that provokes an emotion, that emotion is without fail, so intense. Part of me hates this, but another part of me thinks what a beautiful thing it is to be able to feel everything so deeply. The year where I felt nothing at all makes me - in a strange way - grateful for my excess of emotion now.

At this point in my life, in a strange sort of way, I feel grateful for everything that has happened. It has made me incredibly self-aware, determined and ambitious in a way that I don't think I ever would have been, had I not experienced all of this. Weirdly, it's sculpted me into a much more positive person; I think when you have seen such catastrophic lows, it makes you more grateful for everything that is good in life. Although never in quite as much detail as this, I have told this story so many times now. Each time I feel more comfortable revealing more and more, because as I continually grow I become more at peace with my past. I worry that speaking about this so much makes me look self-absorbed, but I don't tell my story to generate attention for myself. I tell it to generate attention towards mental health. My input is small and although my personal story may not reach many, if it can encourage one other person to be open about their struggles, or to reach out for help if they're struggling right now, then surely it's worth putting it out there. I've always said this, but in a way I feel as though I was dealt this card in life so I could work through it, and then turn it into a positive and help others. I think the sharing of personal stories is one of the most powerful tools in mental health awareness. Sometimes it's hard to put into words how you feel, but the more people who share their experiences, the more likely it is that somebody will read something that strikes a chord with them, and suddenly they will realise they're not alone. If that hope makes me attention-seeking or self-absorbed, then so be it.


Sunday, 22 January 2017

Selfie sabotage

Imagine a world without social media. Nothing to scroll through, no way to message your friends instantly, no likes, no comments, no way of knowing what everyone else is doing. How does it feel? Scary? Boring? Or peaceful?

When the rise of social media steadily began back in the mid-noughties, it was probably deemed by most as intriguing, but nonetheless relatively harmless. In the decade following, social media has boomed more than we could have ever imagined. It follows us every second of the day; sat in our back pockets, next to our beds, on every screen we own, ingrained into our minds near constantly. It seems impossible to avoid, and I believe that this once innocent means of connecting the world may be turning ever more insidious.

For people predisposed to anxiety, over-analysis, or low self-esteem I truly believe that social media can be a massive trigger. After years of navigating and learning about my own depression and anxiety, I've realised it can be a huge trigger for me. The vicious cycle it creates can be so damaging; when you're starting to feel vulnerable, it can be enough to push you that extra bit into a full-blown pit of insecurity.

A few years ago, I read an article somewhere about 'selfie addiction', discussing the destructive effects that social media can have, and from first-hand experience, I really do believe it. I think the main issue with social media - particularly Instagram, is that it's so easy to start judging your worth on what other people think of you. Admittedly, there have been so many nights out in my life where I've spent hours getting ready and then, feeling happy with my appearance, decided to take a selfie. It almost always takes me countless numbers of 'tries' to get the 'perfect' picture, and if it doesn't go right, it genuinely has the power to ruin my entire night. Which I know is completely stupid, and it's actually kind of embarrassing to admit, but I bet I'm not the only one. On other occasions, I will take a picture that I actually like, but as soon as it is posted I start judging myself on the number of 'likes'; literally checking my phone throughout the night. This is the second hurdle that has the power to ruin my entire day, which is absolutely absurd.

This need for the approval of others can become a vicious cycle, and one that is hard to let go of. Looking back, I cringe at my own use of social media when I was younger, and in a really bad place mentally. Selfies were a huge issue; I had such wretched self-esteem that I craved the approval of others near constantly. I guess posting selfies and analysing the number of likes was a 'quick fix' when I needed reassurance. Unfortunately, this can easily become a self-fulfilling prophecy, driven by a need for love and attention. For starters, the actual process of taking the selfies was awful. There were times when I would spend up to an hour, literally taking hundreds and ending up in tears by the end. Yet it still became an almost addictive behaviour; I would eventually give in and post a selfie that I thought was kind of ok, and wait for likes. While the likes were coming in, it gave me a temporary buzz and feelings of worthiness, but inevitably in the end, whatever I got was never enough. Because of course, deep down, self-worth is driven by what we think of ourselves; if you don't believe you're good enough then nothing anyone else says will really get rid of that thought.  Feeling dissatisfied with the likes I had 'achieved', my self-esteem would drop even further than what it was to start with, and the whole process would start again. It seems strange that people with such low feelings of self-worth may actually be the ones that post more pictures of themselves, but if you think about it in this way, it does kind of make sense.

As I've grown up I have thankfully recognised the behaviour in myself, and really got to the roots of why I was doing it. However when I'm feeling vulnerable, some of those warped logics still come to the surface even now. Over the years I've found that the best way of tackling this is to do a 'social media cleanse'. Literally just log out of everything for a set period of time and live your life. It feels weird to be unconnected, but I promise it's so peaceful. For me, every time I do this, without fail, my feeling of self-worth improve. The longest I've done it for is 3 months and although I felt disconnected with the world, I felt more connected with myself than ever. It was a true turning point for me. It doesn't have to be this extreme though, even a day or two without constant social pressure can clear your mind and leave you feeling so refreshed.

It actually feels really embarrassing to admit to this as being an issue, but I'm certain I won't be the only one. Unfortunately, so many of us are looking for self-worth in the wrong place; turn your gaze inwards and life will become a hell of a lot more peaceful and fulfilling.


Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Political déjà vu?

Politics is something that has always fascinated me, in a way. Not so much politics on the surface; I probably couldn't summarise the budget, or name the defence secretary in 1992, for example. What interests me is the population's approach to politics; what makes people vote a certain way? What is it that makes some pretty unsavoury characters become so worshipped by hundreds of thousands of people? With Brexit in motion and Trump's inauguration looming, I have found myself considering the thinking patterns behind these decisions more deeply.

In the weeks and months leading up to the presidential election in the USA, we all saw the Facebook posts in which Donald Trump is likened to Adolf Hitler. This is what first got me thinking; with those similarities so prominent and undeniable, why was Trump still appealing to so many voters? After many hours pondering this question, I finally reached my conclusion.

I believe that the type of people favoured in politics is, and always will be, a cycle. As human beings we tend to remember the bad in people and situations. I suppose this is an evolutionary trait; a certain lack of trust will have been advantageous as far as survival in the distant past. After all, if a caveman thought another person was out to kill him, he's going to be a lot more prepared to fight than if he always saw the best in him. If you take this deep rooted human trait and apply it to the here and now, this essentially means that whatever politician is in power at the time, we notice the bad things about them. Ultimately, this means that every time there is an election, much of the population will be looking for someone who is the complete opposite to the last person. Our brains are hardwired to see the negative in current situations, and we therefore look for the opposite; the 'grass is greener on the other side' mentality, I suppose.

Don't get me wrong, I don't for one minute believe Trump is 'the same' as Hitler, as these social media posts suggest. I think it's important to remember the atrocities Hitler actually committed, and I don't believe that this should be in a way 'played down' to liken him to a presidential candidate nowadays. However, I don't think we can deny that the way Trump captured his audience before being elected was remarkably similar to the way Hitler attracted his. The hate directed at particular groups of people, the empty promises of making the country 'great', and the idealistic yet unrealistic views.

I believe that twenty years ago, Trump would have had no chance, and neither would Brexit. I believe that these things go in a cycle simply because people forget, which is why it's so important to remember what atrocities an attitude of hate and discrimination have caused in the past. The first and second world war shaped our views as human beings; we saw the inhumane suffering caused by hate and intolerance, and in the years afterwards - influenced by this, we changed our views. The world became more liberal and accepting, and so different leaders were sought after, and rightly so. However as the years have passed, I fear some of us may be failing to remember the horrors that an intolerant attitude can cause, and therefore be falling again into this trap of idealistic 'perfection'. After all, most of us nowadays did not experience the wars first hand, so it is difficult for us to have a full understanding. In no way am I suggesting that a 'world war 3' situation is looming, as I hope and believe that in a modern world, there are measures to prevent this from happening. However, I think it's important to remember the lessons that were learnt from those tragic years, and to be careful not to fall into a trap of hate and discrimination for the sake of unrealistic ideals.

On a side note, I am not trying to undermine anyone who voted a certain way in any situation, as I am a firm believer that everyone is entitled to their own opinion. I understand that many people will, of course, have campaigned non-hatefully, and voted by weighing up both sides and deciding what they thought was right. However, I do believe that many people may have got caught up in a hate-driven mob mentality in regards to recent politics, and I think we sometimes need to step back and really consider whether our actions are driven by love or hate.

Saturday, 14 January 2017

Nurturing nature

Nothing fascinates me quite as much as the nurturing power of the outdoors. Having lived in the countryside my entire life so far, I've been brought up constantly surrounded by natural beauty. I mean, living in the sticks definitely has it's downsides, e.g. the pain of £25 taxis after nights out (that's 15 Jägerbombs worth!). Bless my Mam for getting up to give me a lift 9/10 times. However, I wouldn't change where I live for the world.

There's something that's just so calming about being alone in a beautiful, quiet place, surrounded by wildlife and trees. I think getting out of the house and enjoying the outdoors is something we could all benefit from. Personally, though I've always enjoyed the countryside, I didn't realise what a therapeutic effect it had on me until relatively recently. It started out when I would get on my horse and go for a ride to let go of my troubles. This is one of my fondest memories; I would literally just sit and talk to him about my troubles whilst the fresh air blew away my worries. 3 years ago, my horse died and I decided to stop horse riding - this is when I moved on to walking.

I think the thing I love the most about nature and the outdoors is the sense of freedom it evokes. I, as I'm sure a lot of people do, have a terrible habit of sitting and dwelling on my thoughts whilst I'm at home doing nothing. It often leaves me feeling almost trapped in my own head. I noticed a few years ago that going out for a walk really tackles that feeling of being 'pursued' by my own thoughts. Just the act of getting up, sticking in my earphones and going for a short walk can completely change my outlook on life. My favourite place to wander is in the woods and near a beck or stream, as I find the sound of running water incredibly relaxing.  

Sometimes, instead of listening to music along the way, it's nice to go for a mindful walk. Mindfulness essentially means paying close attention to the present moment; sounds, sights, the feel of the ground beneath your feet, and so on. This is a really healthy thing to do as often as possible, as it keeps you grounded in the here and now. Almost all of our worries are rooted either in the past or the future, so to pay close attention to being present in the moment can really ease those fears. Next time you find yourself worrying, ask yourself 'in this precise moment, is anything actually wrong?' the majority of time the answer will be no. Going out and focusing on the beauty that surrounds you can be almost hypnotic, I would even say it's similar to meditation.

I realise of course that I'm incredibly lucky to live in such a quiet and pretty place, but I think going outside and walking, wherever it may be, can be therapeutic. One of my favourite holidays ever was Scotland, the scenery was so breathtaking and I honestly felt so spiritual, balanced and calm for the week we were there, even though my exams were looming! Below is one of the pictures I took on that trip. If you ever find yourself fretting or upset and don't know what to do, don't sit and dwell on things - get up, go for a walk somewhere beautiful and you're sure to come back feeling refreshed and calmed.


Why water is magical

e all know the benefits; it's great for your skin, it helps you concentrate, it flushes out toxins, etc etc. But do we really drink enough water? For many, many years, I certainly didn't. First of all, I really dislike the taste of water - always have done, probably always will. I have never understood how some people argue it has no taste! I'm so fussy about it, I even have preferred taps in the house.

Around four months ago, however, after reading Khloé Kardashian's book and hearing her rave about this simple yet apparently magical liquid - I decided to test things out for myself. I downloaded the app 'water log', which is a really simple yet effective way to keep track of what you're drinking. I set my daily target to 1.5 litres, after researching how much someone my size should have (1.5 litres of 'pure water', that is - not including tea, coffee etc). I was sceptical, because after all, I'd lived the rest of my life drinking literally no pure water at all, and I'd managed. It took a while for me to notice any difference, but after four months of drinking the right amount per day, here are a few things I've noticed. Some are probably what you would expect, but a few came as a surprise to me:

  1. Concentration. This has improved leaps and bounds. A ton of factors have meant I've always had real issues with concentration and focus. I've been a sufferer of 'brain fog' for as long as I can remember. It's a very hard thing to explain, but if you know, you know. It suddenly feels as though that cloud has been lifted and I can see things much clearer. I'm convinced it's the water, as well as a healthier diet that has done this. Nowadays, when I don't drink enough or whenever I eat something really unhealthy, I feel that brain fog creeping back.
  2. Skin. My skin is definitely a lot brighter now and my skin tone seems more even. I still have spots but I think I probably always will do, mainly due to the fact that I have a bad habit of touching my face when I'm anxious. Nonetheless, my skin still looks so much healthier.
  3. Stomach. I'm actually shocked by how much flatter my stomach is! Granted, some of this will be down to exercising a lot more, and more recently the teatox I've been doing, but I feel so much less sluggish and tired now. I've also always been prone to terrible stomach aches that seemed to extend right from my stomach up to my chest, and the frequency of these has reduced massively.
  4. Energy. My energy levels have peaked! I've always been a person with very little energy, constantly feeling groggy and exhausted. Now I feel so motivated and have enough energy to go about the day and achieve everything I want to, without feeling drained or needing a nap.
  5. Thirst. This is a change I didn't expect. I never realised in the past, but I hardly ever felt thirsty. I honestly think this is because my body got so used to running with very little hydration. Since drinking so much more water, my body has actually started telling me when I haven't drank enough, which I think shows how important it becomes once you're in the habit.
  6. Hangovers. They are so much less severe. No need to explain, but for someone who likes a beverage or two like I do, it's amazing.


Thursday, 12 January 2017

Inspiring reads

Reading is a pastime I've only really fallen in love with in the past year or so. I would say my favourite genre is quite specific; books which are not necessarily self-help, but that still inspire me to improve myself, or that simply offer a positive outlook on life. Here are a few of my favourites:

  • 'Confessions of a conjuror' and 'Tricks of the mind', both by Derren Brown. Two or three years ago, Derren Brown's stage show 'Infamous' left me both confused as hell (as you would expect), but also, to my surprise, absolutely uplifted and inspired. His ability to entwine classic 'magic tricks' with such inspiring philosophy had me hooked, and I immediately ordered these two books. 'Confession of a conjuror' is an autobiography, and without a doubt Derren's personality is projected directly onto the pages; the fact that the book is so in depth and at times hard to follow is what makes it so special. Despite being absolutely jam-packed with wisdom, this is also the only book that has ever made me laugh out loud. A genius mix of deep thoughts, comedy and personality. 'Tricks of the mind' is similarly witty, but focuses more on hypnosis, communication and 'thinking traps'. The last part of this book completely made me rethink my own though processes, and absolutely for the better. Once I finish the book I'm currently reading, I will be making a start on Derren Brown's newest book, 'Happy', which I don't doubt will be equally inspiring.
Favourite quote: "Each of us is leading a difficult life, and when we meet people we are seeing only a tiny part of the thinnest veneer of there complex, troubled existences. To practice anything but kindness towards them, to treat them in any way save generously, is to quietly deny their humanity." - Confessions of a conjuror.

  • 'Staying strong 365 days a year' by Demi Lovato. This is a book that I haven't actually picked up in a while, which is probably because I know it off by heart by now! This was the first inspirational book I ever bought, when I was in a very dark place. This book guided me through that period of time and for that it will always have a special place in my heart. Each page consists of the date, a quote, Demi's thoughts on the quote and a goal for the day. 'Staying strong' was written after Demi's recovery from drug and alcohol addiction, and she is clearly wise beyond her years. I always folded the corners of my favourite pages, but at this point almost all of them are folded. This is probably because every page is without a doubt relevant to all of us at different points in our lives.
Favourite quote: "The pain always passes, but the beauty that comes from your transformation will last forever."

  • 'Beautiful' by Katie Piper. This book is truly incredible. Documenting the physical and mental trauma in the aftermath of a horrendous attack, and Katie's journey which led her to become the beautiful woman she is today, this book is so moving. It really demonstrates how it is possible to get through anything. Katie has since wrote more books, which I definitely plan on investing in.
Favourite quote: "I'd learned that kindness and love are the most wonderful things of all, and from that moment on I knew my life was going to be beautiful, in every single way."

  • 'Strong looks better naked' by Khloé Kardashian. It's no secret that I'm a huge fan of all the Kardashian women, but Khloé in particular motivates me to be the best person I can be. Her book is incredible. Split into three sections - 'mind', 'body', and 'heart', it just about covers everything. This is by far the most motivational book I have ever read, and I credit reading it as a true turning point for me. It helped me realise the huge relation between mind, body and soul. I 100% wouldn't have began my fitness journey without it, either. If you are in need of some serious motivation, or want a book to generally make you feel sassy AF, then this is the read for you.
Favourite quote: "If you're doing it to make yourself happy, you'll succeed. Success is a choice."


Why 'winging it' is the way forward

This may seem a little hypocritical, coming from a girl who prides herself on her borderline obsessive organisation skills, but one of the most valuable lessons I’ve learnt recently is that not having everything planned out is not always a bad thing.

To me, it feels as though as long as I remember, knowing what we wanted in our lives was of utmost importance; if we didn’t have our every move planned out, we would fail miserably and end up ‘working in the co-op’. On a side note, I’ve never really been sure why the co-op always seems to have been the synonym for having ‘failed’ – I mean, I can think of much less pleasant jobs out there, but whatever. Even in primary school it was, ‘revise hard for these SATs! They will influence which set you get put in which will influence what grade you get which will influence your GCSEs which will influence your career which will influence your ENTIRE LIFE!’ I distinctly remember at every ‘milestone’ in school being wholeheartedly assured that this, in fact, is THE most important, defining moment of our education; that once this stage is over, we are set for life.

In reality, none of it matters. Well, of course, it kind of does, but none of it is as important as we are led to believe. Having our entire life mapped is also relatively unimportant. Having a plan is great, and if you know what you want to do then good on you, go for it. But similarly, NOT having a plan is also great in its own way. I think sometimes when we have all these rigid plans mapped out for ourselves, it can be counter-productive, because you narrow your options. The realisation came to me through first-hand experience. Admittedly, I am a bit of a control freak in certain ways. Whilst doing my GCSEs, I decided I wanted to be a Psychologist. I chose my A-Levels based on this goal, and suddenly felt as though there was no going back. I thought it was already too late to change my mind, and I was trapped. I think the whole notion of being made to feel like we need to have our lives all planned out was partly to blame. This and my own need for order and stability were a recipe for disaster. I applied for university, to study Psychology. I visited open days, wrote my personal statement despite knowing deep down that it wasn’t right for me. I masked the truth completely, simply because the alternative was too frightening. The thought of having no idea what I was doing terrified me. The whole application process was incredibly stressful because I felt as though I had to pretend this was still what I wanted to do. I was going through the motions but had no passion or drive; I knew I wasn’t going to university but was too scared to admit it. Having received 5 offers I realised I had to at some point face up to my true feelings, but I put it off as long as possible. The day before my offers expired, I logged onto UCAS and declined all of them. But surprisingly, it didn’t feel like the end. It felt like the beginning.

I realised there and then that the best way to live life is honestly. Stay true to yourself, it’s ok to not know what you’re doing. In fact, it’s great. Having no rigid plans keeps you open to any opportunity that may present itself. No matter what anyone may lead you to believe, if you’re still figuring out what your purpose is, it’s ok. Let go of the stress and go where your heart naturally takes you, and it will come to you eventually. Alternatively, if you are stuck in a similar position to the one I was in, don’t let it make you miserable any longer. Take control, change what you’re doing and move on. It’s never too late. I have now applied for Events Management and university and feel so happy and excited about my choice. Even though this was something I’d never even considered before, when I let go of the pressure I was putting myself under, my heart naturally led me to where it wanted to be. Once you clear your mind, everything becomes simpler.