Oops! I was in Berlin.

I went to Berlin for a week.

To be honest, I wish I still was there!

Leaving real life behind for a new city allowed me to breathe freely for the first time in what feels like forever. There was no worrying about college or work or anything. There was just me, Phil, and a beautiful city that needed to be explored.

Continue reading “Oops! I was in Berlin.”

Tesla and Thembo animating the shark tent

They are such cheeky boys! Poor Taylor hadn’t a clue what was going on!

Coming off Sertraline

I had a chat with my doctor, and he has recommended that it might be time to ween me off my antidepressants. The suggestion has left me feeling really apprehensive.

I’ve tried a number of different antidepressants over the past seven years of struggling with my mental health, including fluoxetine and citalopram. Sertraline was the first one that actually made a difference to my mood. I’m no longer bursting into tears at the drop of a hat. I was able to control my anxiety during my assessed presentations for my course. I can actually eat solids before an exam, which is huge for me. Overall I have become quite dependent on the way the antidepressants have flattened my negative moods.

The problem with sertraline, however, is that it flattens all of your emotions – not just the negative ones. It has put a dampener on my motivation and sense of achievement, which hasn’t helped with meeting assignment deadlines. I just don’t care enough. Another problem is that – like all antidepressants – they’re not supposed to be used forever. I have been on sertraline for nearly a year, and now apparently it’s time to try coming off them.

Part of me wants the chance to feel more motivated again. It would be nice to not feel so apathetic about everything. However I’m so scared of reverting back to the manic mess I was last year, who cries whenever someone asks me how I am, and has random anxiety attacks because I feel like a failure in life. It was horrible, and I just don’t want to risk going back there. But the doctor knows what he’s talking about, right?

So now I only have to take them every other day, and I have a follow up appointment in August to see how I’m getting on. Hopefully it will be okay, but right now I’m nervous.

Depression 101: It’s okay to ask for help

Anyone who has suffered with depression knows how difficult it can be to reach out for help. Depression makes you feel completely alone in a well of hopelessness that goes so far down that there can’t possibly be a long enough piece of rope to reach and rescue you. So it can seem pointless or impossible to ask for help of any kind, especially when it comes to university. I get it. I totally get it. Continue reading “Depression 101: It’s okay to ask for help”

Knitting for Baby Rhinos!

A few months ago I decided to learn how to knit for a cause that I am particularly passionate about.

 
The ivory trade has long since spiralled out of control, with an estimated 1054 rhinos poached last in South Africa alone, according to Minister Molewa’s annual report. Hundreds of baby rhinos become orphans every year, making charitable organisations like the Fundimvelo Thula Thula Rhino Orphanage more and more important in protecting and conserving the numbers of these beautiful creatures.
 
Baby J’aime with some of the donated blankets.
Photo credit: Jamie Traynor, Thula Thula.
I came across a group on Facebook – Blankets for Baby Rhinos – with people who were using their knitting and crochet skills to create blankets for the orphans at Thula Thula, and I just had to get involved too. Not that I knew how to knit or crochet, but I could learn.
 
The Facebook page was started by Sue Brown, founder of the organisation Rhino Alerts, and friend of the director of Thula Thula – Karen Trendler – at the beginning of the year. It may sound a bit daft to be making blankets for animals that live in hot climates like South Africa, but baby rhinos rely heavily on their mothers for warmth and comfort, since they can’t maintain their body temperatures very well on their own. The blankets are basically a substitute mother, keeping them warm so that they can ensure that they can gain weight and grow in the best condition they can. 1,889 members later, and Blankets for Baby Rhinos are now making blankets for rhinos, elephants, vervet monkeys, baboons, and chimpanzees.
 
Getting there slowly but surely!
I thought knitting would be easier, so I’ve started with that first; I’ll try my hand at crochet after this current project. So far I’ve managed to get the width of the blanket, and just need to finish the length of it. It’s taking a long time, and meanwhile my mum is throwing squares off her crochet hook like it’s the easiest thing in the world. But I’m getting there, and I’ve found that knitting is actually very therapeutic. And the cause keeps me motivated enough to work towards a constant feeling of accomplishment, which really helps.
 
If you want to get involved with this cause, please visit the Blankets for Baby Rhinos Facebook group. And if you want to donate money to the cause (after all, blankets aren’t exactly going to feed and house the rhinos!), do so here.

Dermatillomania: the Skin Picking Disorder

Dermatillomania (also known as compulsive skin picking or excoriation disorder) is a mental disorder that causes sufferers to feel compelled to pick at their skin to ease anxiety. This is often linked to OCD and perfectionism, picking at every little imperfection on the skin such as scabs and pimples. The horrible irony is that the sufferer falls into a wicked spiral of creating more imperfections in the pursuit of perfect skin, and potentially leading to greater mental disorders such as anxiety and depression.

Hollywood Trips Into Diversity

Progress is finally being made in Hollywood!

Viola Davis won an Oscar for Supporting Actress in Fences, and thus became the first black woman to win a Tony, Emmy, and Oscar award for acting.

Moonlight star Mahershala Ali has become the first ever Muslim actor to win an Oscar!

And, after a particularly awkward mix-up that even trumps the epic fail for the Miss Universe pageant back in 2015, Moonlight won Best Picture (and Best Adapted Screenplay).

But let’s not focus on the blunder and consider what this means for non-white film-makers.

It’s 2017 and we’re still struggling with racism and racial inequality, and the EU referendum and the Presidential election have not helped with this. There have been people shouting at black and Asian people in the streets, telling them to “go back to your own country”, and it’s disgusting. And Hollywood has not exactly helped to deter this ridiculous idea that white people are supposedly more superior. And I’m not just talking about Oscar, Emmy, and Tony winners. I’m looking at the fact that there are still so many white leads, and the fact that – especially now – the only acting roles that Arab men seem to be able to get are the roles of terrorists, and black men in gangs, like there aren’t any white people who do things like that. It’s insane that non-white people are still portrayed as the bad guys in a lot of films, because by now we just know for a fact that that is certainly not the case.

So I was rooting for Moonlight at the Oscars, which is a beautiful film about a young black man struggling with his sexuality and finding his place in life. The fantastic thing about this film winning Best Picture is the fact that it finally shows a response from Hollywood to the lack of diversity in films in the past. There are so many different stories out there to be told, and finally something is being done to ensure that we as an audience get to hear them.

Source: MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images

Of course, racial equality still has a long way to go, unfortunately, but this year is already a year to be celebrated for these milestones. Let’s hope that Hollywood and society continue to progress.

Well done to everyone at the Oscars!

8 Ideas For Coping With Depression

Around one in five people in the UK suffer from anxiety or depression, according to figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

Depression is slowly becoming more understood and accepted in society, and there are now some well-known ways that a person can use to overcome their battle with depression. I would like to share with you eight ideas for coping with depression.


Make exercise more of a convenience

We’re always told that exercise helps battle depression due to the release of endorphins that trigger a positive feeling in the body. The problem with exercise, for me, however, is the inconvenience of physically having to go out to the gym or out for a run, especially with it being cold. After all, it’s just me I’m letting down, right? Who cares?

NO.

If that’s the state of mind you’re in when you think about exercise, change it. Find a way to make exercise more convenient for you, whether it’s by getting a gym membership to motivate you to get your money’s worth or having a partner to exercise with on a regular basis (this can be running, or going to the gym, or playing a game like squash or football – anything).

If you have the money to splash out a bit, you could even start exercising from the comfort of your own home by buying your own personal exercise machine. I purchased a Ultrasport Home Trainer F-Bike on eBay (it cost me £40 second hand and is in fantastic condition) and try to do at least 2 km two days a week. Sometimes I come home from college or work feeling extremely annoyed and I take my frustrations out on the bike; 3+ km later I feel the euphoric rush of endorphins and no longer care about the exasperations of the day. And I haven’t even had to leave my house to get that hit.

I have also started completing some of the 30 day exercise challenges, which make me feel a sense of achievement, even if they do sometimes hurt like hell. These challenges give you targets to meet every day, whether it be lunges, push ups, crunches, or sit ups. There are rest days every five days for you to recover as well. I am coming to the end of the 30 Day Easy Squat Challenge, and although I am so looking forward to it ending, I can’t wait for the next challenge. I may do the sit up challenge next.

Even dancing around like a lunatic in your room is a form of exercise; plus it can be really fun and allow you to loosen up after a tense day. Do whatever you can. The idea is to make it as easy and as convenient as possible for you to exercise regularly. Get those muscles pumping!

Source: Headspace
 


Breathe: Yoga or Meditation

Yoga and meditation can be used to train your mind to dismiss negative thoughts that can worsen your anxiety or depression. Just ten minutes of yoga or meditation a day can be enough to reduce your anxiety, improve your sleeping patterns, and relieve any strain in relationships with friends, family and co-workers.

Yoga and deep breathing classes are a great way to maintain a routine, learn different poses from a professional yoga trainer, and meet new people. However, if this does not suit you, there are other alternatives. Does anyone still have the WiiFit? If you do, there are a number of different yoga poses to try on there. There are also a number of YouTube channels to choose from for your yoga fix. YogiApproved.com have a list of 18 recommended YouTube channels to suit your needs.

In terms of meditation, again there are a number of meditation classes and YouTube videos to choose from – check out Mindful Muscle’s 7 Best YouTube Guided Meditations for some inspiration and see what fits your needs. There are also a number of apps to choose from. I personally use Headspace. It’s available both on iPhone and Android and each session is just 10 minutes long – ideal if you don’t have a lot of time.

 

Medical Assistance

This probably seems an obvious one, but I’ve still put it on the list because it’s incredible how many people dismiss it for whatever reason. There is no shame in asking for professional help. Some people just need a leg up, and some need a bit more assistance. Either way, counsellors and antidepressants are there for a reason. And if something isn’t working, don’t do what I did and give up: try something else.

I tried a number of different counsellors in my area, as well as fluoxetine and citalopram, and nothing was making me feel better, so I just gave up and somewhat submitted to the dark cloud of depression over my head until my boyfriend pressed me to try again. I have now been on 50 mg of sertraline for about 6 months and I finally feel like I can start to overcome depression with these different ideas. So definitely go back to your doctor if you feel your prescription isn’t working for you.

Your doctor might also suggest you set a monthly or bi-monthly appointment with them to monitor your progress on the medication, which you should definitely do if possible. Note any side effects and hopefully you will find an antidepressant that works for you. If not, don’t worry – there are other types of treatment out there, which I’m sure your doctor will go through with you.

Counselling aims to talk through any problems you are having, identify key events that may have lead to your mental illness, and coach you on how to challenge any negative thoughts that you may be having. Just because the counsellors in my area didn’t suit me doesn’t mean that they won’t be useful for you.

There are a number of different types of counselling to choose from, including Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), Interpersonal therapy, and Psychodynamic therapy. Talk through your choices with your doctor and see how it goes. And if you do go to counselling, try to be as open as possible with your feelings and requirements as possible (I asked my counsellor to be less sympathetic because I got enough of it back home, and he was actually really great about it). And if you feel you’re not progressing with that counsellor, try another. They are paid to help you, so shop around as much as you can.

 

One of my rats, Chadwick
One of my rats, Chadwick

Therapy Pets

Animals might be the key to your recovery – how amazing is that?

A therapy pet’s duty is to give a person struggling with mental health issues a loyal companion while also helping to boost their confidence and reduce their anxiety. The fact that a living creature depends on you to feed it and look after it can give a person a strong sense of routine, something that they may have lost track of if they are struggling with depression or anxiety, and the reward of gaining their love and trust is inconceivable. Just simply stroking an animal or watching fish swim around is well known to lower blood pressure and reduce stress.

Therapy pets can be any animal you wish, and since the needs of different pets vary widely there is no need to worry about biting off more than you can chew. Whether you want a dog to help you to start walking every day, or a goldfish that just needs a pinch of food every day and regular tank cleans, a therapy pet can help significantly with your mental health.

I have five rats as therapy pets (I know, that sounds absolutely insane!), and they brighten up my life so much.

The reason I chose rats is because I missed having rodents in my life, and rats are perhaps the most rewarding rodents you could keep as pets. They are extremely affectionate (I just wanted all of the love), and highly intelligent – you can train them much like you can a dog. They also really love to play, so I knew I would never feel alone with them in my life. They don’t get overly grumpy or judgemental like humans can, and their love is unconditional. Basically whenever I feel down I turn to my rats to cheer me up, and they haven’t failed me yet.

Another great thing about rats is that, like dogs, you can enter them into shows! I am a member of the North of England Rat Society, which is fantastic for meeting new people and giving and receiving advice on looking after your rats.

There are a lot of pros and cons to each animal, so it’s always worth doing some research before you choose a therapy animal, and make sure that you can afford potential vet bills.

Of course, there are people out there who can’t get their own therapy pet due to living circumstances or just not having the time or the money to keep them. However there are other ways in which to get your furry fix. Going horse riding has the added benefit of fresh air and exercise.


Do things that make you feel good – even if you don’t feel like it

One of the ways in which depression makes us feel utterly alone and useless in the world is by making us lose interest in the things we used to love. It makes us feel too overwhelmed to even think about doing those fun things, and before we know it life just seems pointless.

While you may not be able to force those feelings away and have fun, you can push yourself to do things that you enjoyed once, whether that be a sport that you enjoyed, a walk in the park, some music or art, or just going out with friends. Set yourself little goals that are really easy to achieve and you could be surprised by how much better you feel for it. You might even start to have some fun again!

I used to do a lot of writing, which I haven’t done for a good couple of years due to my depression. I recently decided to set myself a daily task of 100 words a day – or more if I feel like it – just to get back into the habit of writing again. It didn’t have to be good or make much sense. It just had to be a minimum of 100 words each day. Sometimes I don’t manage it, and I have to remind myself that it’s okay to not always meet this target – it’s a work in progress to make this a habit again. But the fact that I am writing – somewhat – again feels amazing. I feel as though I’m slowly seeing the real Claire again. I try not to think about the fact that this post took me three weeks to write!


Learn something new!

What better way to earn a sense of achievement? It can be absolutely anything and has the potential to become a new hobby for you to turn to in times of need. I’m learning how to knit and crochet and it’s actually been so ideal for me. I can do it whenever I want, whether it’s while I’m watching TV or working out on my exercise bike, and it also gives my hands something to do – I have a condition called dermatillomania, which causes me to obsessively pick at my skin, so knitting and crochet have reduced this significantly for me.

You could also try learning a language, photography, sewing, a musical instrument, anything that is doable for you and that will give you a real sense of achievement.

Stay connected to friends and family who can offer you support

This may seem like an obvious one, but one of the biggest things that depression does is make you feel alone in the world. You don’t feel like going out with friends anymore because you feel like you’ll just be a constant downer and they won’t want to hang out with you.

You are WRONG.

We are fortunate today that society is becoming more aware of mental illnesses, and understand better that depression is a whole lot more than just “feeling down”. There is more respect and support now for those who struggle with mental illnesses than ever before.

The worst thing you can do is shut yourself away from those who can help you overcome this. Friends and family are there for us to reach out to when we’re in the darkest of places, just like we are for them in their hour of need. You are not a burden; you are a human being fighting a mental illness. The fact that you have decided that you have accepted this and decided to find ways in which to conquer it just shows how strong you are. But a battle is never won alone. You need comrades.

Going out with friends can take your mind off your depression for a little while and make you feel better about yourself. You can also confide in them about how you’re feeling, and maybe help support them in their woes – if you’re anything like me, then you can deal with anyone’s issues but your own!

Social support is essential to your recovery, so make the time to call or hang out or send a message.

 

Keep a Bullet Journal


This is a fantastic way to plan your days, set goals for yourself, and unleash your creative side. As the Bullet Journal website puts it, “The Bullet Journal is a customizable and forgiving organization system. It can be your to-do list, sketchbook, notebook, and diary, but most likely, it will be all of the above. It will teach you to do more with less.”

Your bullet journal can be as simple or as extensive as you want it to be. You can jot down a list of things to do and goals to aim towards each day and places you need to be. You can also create ‘collections’ of information you want to keep a record of, such as books you want to read, movies you want to see, new healthy habits you want to start up and maintain, and savings goals. It can also help you to introduce the previous coping ideas into your life without you having to remember it all in your head.

It is your own planning and creative haven for you to do as you wish with.

If you’re still not sure about bullet journals, there are plenty of websites and YouTube videos out there to help you figure out if keeping one would be useful for you. Boho Berry is a particularly good channel to go to in order to gain a good idea of how to start and use a bullet journal.

I hope that these ideas help you to get onto the road to recovery. Regardless of whether you have suffered with depression for a day or 10+ years, you are not alone and you can get through this. You just need love and support, and with that you can get through anything, even this horrible chapter in your life.

And remember: you are worth every second that you are in this world.

 
Keep smiling!
 
Claire

A Brief Description of Depression: Wooden Wheel

Ring o’ ring o’ roses… Ring o’ ring o’ roses…
Ring o’ ring o’ roses…
Ring o’ ring o’ roses…

It’s dark behind the lids. The clouds are blacker than night and they stick like tar melted to the eyeballs. The brain is numb and the tears blotch the skin and every day they sit on the chest and whisper and snarl, and laugh and sneer. And they bounce and jump and flop and loll. They wear dark grey suits and never walk alone. Instead they catch a ride on the first poor soul who stops, who only too late understands the ignorance and apathy of the others as they choke from the dangling bodies now swinging around the neck.

The definition of maybe is never. Weight and daggered tongues press against the skin and flesh and bones, and the saliva eats through all like acid. Decrepit and insane, the feast is only just beginning as the chains close around tendons and wood and the cries are choked and strained and ignored. And the spinning…

Ring o’ ring o’ roses…
Ring o’ ring o’ roses…
Ring o’ ring o’ roses…
Ring o’ ring o’ roses…

The wheel never stops; it just keeps turning, and turning, and turning… The angle of the spine is excruciating and the shoulder blades dig into the hard wood; bone dowels mated to the circumference, and the hot sweated glue locks it air tight. The carvings deepen with each turn; the dancing of fire illuminates the crazed red eyes and the skin melted off to reveal the bloody flesh and the wide maw opens and closes as shrieks of psychotic joy leave through its teeth.

The axle screeches its miserable tune as the cackling continues…

The fog is thick and the hands are cold as they close around both wrists and slam them into the hard dirt. A crash and a shriek are drowned by the roars of monstrous laughter and the cracking of ribs as the weight increases and blood rushes out in streams of ruby wonder.

Its heat soon dissipates; as do the memories of good times in which smiles were wide and pearls glistened in the golden rays of the sun. As do the hopes and pleas and the nails that bite into the wood and splinter, and the limbs that struggle and strain and fight, and the tears that glistened and fell and the thoughts of conquer and prevalence. All of them: gone.

The dark darkens and the light ceases to have ever had a meaning.

Source: Kevin Casper

Overworked and Underpaid: The Painful Truth About Being a Waitress

Before I got my current position as a quality inspector for an engineering firm, I was a waitress for a total of three years. I can safely say that it was the worst job I have ever had – and I’ve cleaned toilets for goodness’ sake!

During high school I never imagined I would ever be a waitress. I can be a bit clumsy on my feet, and I couldn’t see me managing to balance trays of glasses and meals on my forearms without dropping them. But I quickly learned that jobs are really hard to come by, and so when I finally got offered a job as waiting on staff, I didn’t hesitate in taking it.

When I started university – and thus at the hotel I’d been working at for the past two years – I started to really see how rubbish it can be in the world of hospitality. I know it’s not as bad waiting on in America, where you rely on tips to make a living, but because everything was prepaid for, I received no tips whatsoever. I was being paid below minimum wage, and asked to work pretty much every hour I possibly could; in order to pay my rent I needed to work 52 hours a month on top of my full time course at university. Not only that, but or every 4.5 hours we worked, 30 minutes’ wages would be deducted for breaks that we didn’t even have. Needless to say, what with the amount of work my course demanded from me, I was rather grateful for my student loan to fall back on.

As a waitress I have had to deal with a few really nice customers who I’ve been able to have a laugh with, and a helluva lot of really horrible customers I’ve wanted to punch in the face. Here are some of the types of customers I want to rob blind to compensate for the pain they’ve put me through serving them:

1. It would be funny how many people think that because you’re waiting tables you must be dumb and thus proceed to speak to you in a really patronising tone…if you weren’t so knackered from pulling all-nighters studying and completing your assignments towards your degree. I can’t wait for the day when I become a chartered engineer so I can wait for them to come back to the hotel and throw my CEng in their faces: “Remember your ‘idiot’ waitress back in 2013?”

2. If you have kids who don’t know how to behave at a function such as a wedding or whatever you’ve been invited to because you’ve just let them do whatever the hell they want, I really hate you. Do you know how hard it is to run around after customers with trays full of food when there are tiny children screaming and running around underfoot? And when they actually run into me while I’m trying to serve soup…*deep breaths*

And for the love of God, when I ask your kids to please leave the piano alone because it disrupts other guests, that is not an invitation for you to join them in bashing the piano keys (seriously, this has happened on too many occasions).

3. If you have preordered a particular course and decide that you don’t want that, you want a different one instead, that’s annoying but fine. If you decide that you want something else that is not on any of the menus because we don’t have that, that is not okay! One gentleman at a Christmas function decided he wanted chocolate cake instead of his crème brûlée, and regardless of the fact that three of us on different occasions told him that we didn’t have chocolate cake because it was not on the menus, and that we were running round like headless chickens, proceeded to argue with us for about half an hour. I avoided that man like the plague for the rest of the night.

4. When your food is taking too long, 99.9% of the time it is because of the chefs. Therefore your food isn’t going to turn up any quicker if you spend five or ten minutes having a go at me infront of 100, 200, 300+ customers because your food hasn’t arrived yet. I don’t care if you’re family of the bride, the host of your grandmother’s 90th birthday party, or even the lead singer of some band no one has ever heard of. I can’t snap my fingers and magically make the food ready – and even if I could, since you have been so rude as to try and humiliate me during such a big function, I wouldn’t. Just remember who’s serving your food…when the chefs finally cook it.

5. Snapping your fingers at me is rude and degrading. I’m not a dog or a naughty little child, so don’t treat me like one.

6. When I warn you that the plates are hot – and you can see that I am serving them with tea towels because they are goddamn hot – don’t grab it off me and then complain that it burned you.

And people think waitresses are dumb…

7. Don’t wolf-whistle, jeer, or hackle at me. I won’t hesitate in “accidentally” spilling something down your suit.

By my final year as a waitress I had more or less gotten to the point where I just didn’t give a damn. It’s a career that can really get you down because sometimes (most of the time) it is a thankless job where you’re only recognised for when you screw up. It can sometimes feel like you can do nothing right and that you are unappreciated, and I can’t express how happy I was to quit. Seriously, I was grinning from ear to ear as I handed in my badge and apron and clocked out that final time.

I know I will perhaps one day have to go back to waitressing, and that’s okay. I’m older and more experienced in that line of work now than back when I was 17, and I know I won’t stand for the nonsense I did from the staff again. Of course, I’ll have to deal with it all again from the customers, but if I can get a slightly better pay rate, tips, and basically don’t get screwed over, I will be much happier.

Until then though, screw waitressing. It sucks.