Tuesday, 29 March 2016

The Reading List #37

Are you a Kindle or a physical book person? I absolutely love my Kindle for the tube, but I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to let go of physical books entirely… Maybe it’s the ex-English Literature student in me!

Here’s my latest round-up of mini-reviews:-

Pompeii, Robert Harris

This novel starts a few days before the eruption of Vesuvius and tells the story from four different perspectives: an engineer, a young girl, a corrupt millionaire and an elderly scientist. I absolutely loved this book. It reminded the geeky side of me of studying for my Latin GCSE, and I found it interesting reading more about such a fascinating and heart-breaking event in history. I really liked the way it brought in the scientific, the geographic and the personal, and entwined in a beautiful narrative. This one is well worth a read.

The Shining Girls, Lauren Beukes

Starting in the 1930s, Harper Curtis selects and kills his ‘shining girls’, believing he is unstoppable. In 1992 Kirby’s life is changed forever after her attempted murder as a young girl, and ex-homicide detective Dan is helping her to track down the culprit. This was well-written, and I enjoyed the jumps around in time and switching between narrators. It was fairly scary and gruesome at times, but a very good read.

Finders Keepers, Belinda Bauer

Children are disappearing, and left in their path are notes reading ‘you don’t love him/her/them’. With no ransom demands or suspects, PC Jonas Holly must investigate, despite being a man with many secrets himself. I was impressed by the way this story unfolded, and it was intriguing trying to figure out what the notes and clues could mean. I wasn’t too sure about the ending, but there were good characters and the suspense was built well.

The Thirteenth Tale, Diane Setterfield

Margaret Lea is investigating Angelfield House’s past and the mysterious March family. Why does she feel such a connection to them, and how is the author Vida Winter connected to their tale? The novel is narrated through multiple voices, and occasionally punctuated with stories or ‘tales’ from the writer in the book. There were certainly many layers to this novel – at times potentially too many – but overall it’s a compelling mystery about stories, storytelling and the truth.

Let me know what should be next on the list…

Wednesday, 9 March 2016

Sticks and Stones

Do you remember that rhyme from the playground, which said ‘words will never hurt me’.

It’s not always true.

Words have such incredible power, and there’s one comment which was made to me which has stuck with me more powerfully than any physical ‘injury’ I’ve ever had.

Sometimes it’s the words that are said, sometimes it’s where the words come from. And sometimes it’s a combination of the two.

Words have immense power, and they can be used to inspire every emotion under the sun.

There are times when one nice comment can lift your mood after a terrible week.

There are comments from friends which make you laugh until you cry.

There are words that remind you of treasured moments.

There are novels which people re-read again and again to be whisked away to another world.

There are non-fiction books to educate, to teach and to inspire.

But there are words which hurt. They cause a pain that feels almost physical.

And sometimes we say words which have an impact we’d never have intended them to, or wanted them to.

It can be hard to take back words.

But the effect those words caused can be worked on.

These thoughts have been prompted by reflection on a comment made to me around two years ago which have had a huge impact on me, and on friends of mine.

An example of words not intended to hurt.

But hurt me they did.

And of words that were never retracted.

Words I still hear.

And words spoken by someone I no longer exchange any words with at all.

I want to say today that words matter.

Feelings matter.

People around you matter.

Misunderstandings happen.

Misinterpretations happen.

But if these are not discussed or figured out, the weight of those words remains heavy.

The words repeat.

The words circle.

The words creep in on a bad day.

Because when I was struggling the most with my anxiety, I was told that I had ‘got really skinny. And not nice skinny.’

To this day, I hear those words.

And the comment was never explained. Never retracted. Never withdrawn.

When you’re at your most vulnerable, and an insensitive or misjudged comment hits you, its force is huge.

I hear those words in my head on a day I’m panicky. On a day I’m doubting how someone sees me. On a day I’m feeling a bit down about myself. On a day I’m feeling self-conscious.

Be careful with your words.

Care for those you care about.

And remember that, above all things, kindness and empathy should be the aim.

Monday, 7 March 2016

Curtain Up! at the V&A

If you love West End theatre, you won't want to miss the current exhibition in the 'Theatre and Performance' section of the V & A. I went with my mum on Saturday to Curtain Up! and it's a complete visual treat.

Telling the West End and Broadway story, mainly over the last 40 years, the exhibition features costumes, designs, set models, scripts, budget sheets and programmes / playbills from shows like The Lion King, Matilda, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime, and The Producers.

I'd say the more shows you've seen, the more you'll love it as it's amazing to see up close what went into the shows you've loved. There were sketches of Roxie's costumes in Chicago, and of the costumes of each lead adult in Matilda, along with one of Helen Mirren's outfits as the Queen and one worn by Judi Dench as Cleopatra.

The space dedicated to the Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime reminded me just what a feast for all the senses the play had been, and there were scenes playing on a screen to introduce the clever lighting and set design to those who hadn't seen it.

I particularly loved these costume designs below, which were for Phantom of the Opera. The costumes are so rich and intricate that it was fascinating to see where they first began.

Curtain Up! is a free exhibition, and you can probably make your way round it in 30-45 minutes, if you're someone that likes to read everything properly. I'd recommend it to anyone that loves theatre, or anyone into fashion and design. It's a real celebration of performance, and I'm very glad we got the chance to pop along.

Thursday, 3 March 2016

A follow-up to that Newsbeat article

Last week, I spoke to Felicity at BBC Newsbeat on the topic of mental health and social media. Her post (which is fantastic and can be read HERE) got me thinking on the topic and my story a little more.

The article summarised my own experience: when I first started to see the symptoms of my anxiety when I was at university, I had no idea what it was. It was through reading blogs and reading what people were saying on social media what I learned more about it, got the courage to see my GP, and learned it was ok to talk to my friends and family about it. I learned it was ok to talk, and ok to need some help.

Since speaking to Felicity, this idea has been stuck in my head so I thought I’d write a bit of a follow-up on exactly how social media helped me.

As I said, it was at university that my anxiety began to take on a big role in my life, and began to have a big effect. It was also during university that I completely fell for the world of blogging and social media. I was quite unhappy in my first year, which meant online was a safe place or an escape, and then as my anxiety really kicked in I was spending more and more time indoors, and hence more and more time online.

I don’t think my overall relationship with the online world at the time was that healthy – I spent too long online, and sometimes at the expense of my ‘real life’ – but in terms of my anxiety the online world helped me more than I can describe.

In ‘real life’, people still don’t speak much about mental illness. It’s mentioned, and I do think it’s improving, but there is an awful lot left to learn and to be done. I myself knew next to nothing about mental health until I began my journey to deal with my anxiety.

Online, the story is a little different. So many bloggers are open about their stories, and Twitter is another place where I see regular mental health discussions taking place. I can’t remember who tweeted the first thing I saw that made me realise that the daily nausea and painfully tight chest I had could be symptoms of my anxiety, but I really wish I could because I need to thank them. From there, I googled related topics and came across blog post after blog post of people describing me.

They were people like me. They were maybe my age. They had similar interests to me. They were people I’d want to associate myself with.

And they also happened to be struggling with this thing called anxiety.

As I read through these posts, I began to learn more about what steps I could take next and about the journeys these other people had been on to try and work through their anxiety.

When I first went to my GP, I mentioned how much these things had been helping me, and she recommended an online course I could take, through Living Life to the Full. This first course helped me so much, in terms of beginning to learn some techniques to cope, and I will definitely have to write a post on them at some point. It’s a free service, and helped me in huge ways.

Again, the online world triumphed.

Unfortunately, some of my face-to-face experiences with anxiety treatments haven’t gone so well. My experience with private counselling was disappointing, due to having no connection with the counsellor, and my treatment with the NHS seemed to fall through the cracks after my initial assessment made it clear that I needed some help.

In between, there have been fantastic experiences, namely the conversations with the two GPs I’ve seen through this journey. The first was a woman who had felt just like me when she was younger, and I felt really connected to me in that way. The man I saw when I moved back home was wonderful, and he would schedule in regular phone calls to catch up with me, always remembering the tiniest details of things I had spoken to him about.

As time has gone on, I’ve opened up myself about my anxiety online. My blog has been a place where I’ve felt I can speak about it, and the process of writing these posts has also helped me to sort through my own feelings.

Here are some of my recent ones:

I think the point I want to make here is that everyone’s journey will be different, but that the power of the online world cannot be underestimated. At a time where I was confused, worried and embarrassed about what was happening to me, I was able to read the words of people I’d never met who were just like me. I was able to learn from their journeys and learn that it was ok to talk about what was happening to me.

For that, I can’t thank this wonderful little world of the internet enough.

Tuesday, 1 March 2016

Hello, March

You’ve come round quickly.

January seemed to last for weeks on end, but February crept by without me really even noticing. I’ve had a fairly quiet month, mainly working then relaxing in good company.

March is a busy one, this year.

I’ve filled up my weekends with things I’m really looking forward to.

There’s the day my mum is coming to London for food and museums and exhibitions.

There are two shows in my diary.

There’s an overnight stay in a place which looks beautiful and calm.

We have a big event at work mid-month which I know will be a long day, but I’m interested to see how it all runs, as I hadn’t joined the company yet when it ran last year.

I’ve started seeing a new counsellor. More to come on that soon, but those sessions will be another key feature of the month. We had our first appointment last week and I’m feeling good about it.

Apart from that, there are catch-ups with friends lined up, and a couple of my favourite people have birthdays.

The days are getting longer and hopefully Spring will announce itself properly soon. I’m bored of the cold now - bring me warmth.

There are a lot of other thoughts, plans and hopes whizzing round my head at the moment so I’m trying to make those more concrete and put some things into motion.

Watch this space.

March, welcome back. I’m looking forward to a busy month.

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