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Vietnam Travel Diary #04: Last day in Ho Chi Minh City

We woke up in Ho Chi Minh City for the last time and headed to breakfast, where we ate a hearty helping of Pho. I got two pork balls in my broth, so I knew it was going to be a good day. We packed our bags and left them at the hotel reception, and we then travelled to the Buddhist Institute (Minh Dang Quang). We travelled by taxi and it took around 20 minutes. Our driver actually got a bit lost and dropped around the back of the institute which was completely walled off, so it took us about 15 minutes to walk all the way around and finally get inside! Once we were there though, it was a wonderful experience. It was a very hot day but we took our time exploring the grounds and climbing the many steps to the top of the institute.

Buddhist Institute Tower

Buddha Statue

Buddhist flags were lined like bunting all the way up towards top of the institute, and lotus flowers (Vietnam’s national flower) were placed all over the grounds. It was a really colourful, peaceful place. A gentle breeze blew the smell of intense around. As the city bustled around us, this seemed like a den of tranquillity and stillness.

The Buddhist Institute

Lotus Flower

When we got to the top of the institute we went into the alter room. The floor was cool and cold on my feet, and the entire room was quiet and peaceful. We sat on the cold floor of the alter room, calmly and mindfully resting and taking in the atmosphere.

In the Alter room


After exploring the rest of the institute, we headed back down to the entrance and got a taxi to Ben Thanh Market. Stepping out of the taxi and into the market was like going from 0-100 in a matter of seconds. After sitting in the taxi and letting the calm of the Buddhist institute wash over us, we then jumped head first into narrow rows of clothes and bags and jewellery and food. Ben Thanh Market was pretty intense at first. Sellers were very keen to approach us and beckon us towards their products. Eventually though, it became easier and we got used to the chaos.

I felt uncomfortable haggling, even though I was well aware that many of the starting prices were inflated because we were tourists. There’s just something about haggling that I am absolutely terrible at. Luckily my boyfriend is an amazing haggler and we realised that we could easily always walk away from a sale if things were becoming too overwhelming. I ended up buying some trousers from a woman who convinced me by saying “They have two pockets, the one’s you’re wearing now only have one pocket!” She was very observant and she had a point, it’s all about the pockets!

After getting a few souvenirs we headed back to the hotel and booked a taxi to take us to Saigon Railway Station. The concierge at the hotel was considerate and reminded us that we should eat some dinner before getting on the sleeper train. We headed to the station and got a quick bite to eat. As we were eating the heavens opened and it started to pour with rain.

Whilst we were at the station I spent a while searching for toilet paper; every travel blog and Vietnam travel guide seemed to suggest that this was a good idea, and they were right. If you’re taking a long train or bus journey in Vietnam then definitely take your own toilet paper. We then walked over the train tracks and onto the train. I’ll go into more detail about our journey on the sleeper train in the next blog. Next stop, Nha Trang!

To see my previous post about tasting Pho for the first time and seeing breathtaking views of Ho Chi Minh City click here

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Vietnam Travel Diary #03: Ho Chi Minh City – Delicious Pho and Breathtaking Views

I woke up with some seriously low energy after being very sleep deprived. The jet lag still had me fully and firmly in it’s grasp. But then… it was time for breakfast. All of a sudden, it was like I had been gifted a bowl of pure joy to cure all of my woes.

I’m talking about Pho…

Pho

Pho is a delicious mixture of broth, rice noodles, herbs and usually either beef or chicken. In our hotel they put a little Vietnamese meatball in there too! You can add beansprouts, lemon juice, and also red chillies if you’re up for a bit of spice! There are slight regional variants to the taste of Pho, and in the South of Vietnam the broth usually has a sweeter flavour.

After being far too cautious and eating mostly from the buffet the morning before, I decided to venture into new territory and went up to the Pho counter. As an incredibly socially awkward human being, I got very flustered when I saw all of the extra ingredients that were placed by the station. Just to put how confused I was into context… I put my lemon wedge into my broth WHOLE. I didn’t even squeeze it… I just dropped it in there like a berocca tablet in a glass of water. But the chef at the station was so lovely. She used tongs to take it out for me, and then got a new lemon and squeezed the juice into my broth. Within 10 seconds, and without speaking, she had properly instructed me on how to properly garnish a bowl of Pho.

It was so delicious. A beautiful blend of flavours and textures… With every spoonful of broth that I had, I felt better and better. You know how Popeye needs spinach to get all strong and brave? That day I needed Pho, and Pho worked. It warmed my soul and reminded me that travel is a wonderful and unpredictable experience that creates something truly priceless memories. I thanked the lady again when I left and she nodded and gave me a warm smile. She’ll never know how much she cheered me up that day.

We’d already seen the majority of the things we had wanted to see in the city the day before, so we decided to spend the afternoon chilling out at our hotel’s amazing rooftop pool.

Rooftop Pool

We set up two sunbeds by the pool and had a relaxing swim. It was so refreshing up there and the views weren’t half bad either!

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After we got out we sat on the sunbeds drying off and feeling the gorgeous breeze that drifted past us. We watched the occasional dragon fly come and explore the pool area. I listened to an audio book and watched the clouds roll by.

In the early evening we headed to Bitexco Financial Tower. Until January 2011 this was the tallest building in Vietnam, and you really can’t miss it! We headed up in an elevator that whisked us all the way up to the observation deck. Once you’re up there, you can see panoramic views of the entire city.

Daylight View from Bitexco Financial TowerInside Bitexco Financial Tower

We had aimed to get there about 30 minutes – 1 hour before sunset, and luckily we made it in time to see Ho Chi Minh City both in the daylight, during the sunset, and also after dark.

Night view from Bitexco Financial TowerNight View from Bitexco Financial Tower 2

This was such a wonderful way to spend our last night in the city. As I sat there, I just kept thinking about how much this skyline has changed throughout history, and how different it may look in the future.

To see my previous post all about the history and culture in Ho Chi Minh City click here

 

 

 

 

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Vietnam Travel Diary #02: Ho Chi Minh City – Heat, History and Culture

I have to say that, no matter how much preparation, research and planning we had done for this trip, nothing had quite prepared me for the HEAT. I knew it was going to be very hot, but I didn’t fully realise that Ho Chi Minh City would have heat and humidity more intense than anything I had ever experienced before. We decided to take it slow, and started the morning with a stroll through Tao Dan Park.

Tao Dan Park

As we walked through the park we noticed groups of people doing Tai Chi. It looked so graceful and elegant. We also saw people doing fan dancing, and others doing their own individual exercise routines. Another group of people were playing badminton and instead of using rackets they were kicking the shuttlecock to each other over the net.

We then headed to the Reunification Palace. This was a really grand piece of architecture. I will admit that I took every possible opportunity to casually stop and stand under the cool air vents inside the building for as long as I could without looking too much like a tourist way out of her temperature comfort zone.

Reunification Palace

It was so interesting to take a glimpse inside the state rooms. The building was very open, and light poured through each room. It was surrounded by greenery and as we walked past the windows in the hallways, we could hear the sound of birds chirping and the distant whirl of the traffic.

State Dining RoomState Meeting Room

The next place we visited was incredibly sobering. We travelled to the War remnants museum; a building dedicated to preserving photographs and artefacts from the Vietnam war and the first Indochina War. As you enter the area, you are given a sticker that depicts a white dove in front of three falling bombs. For me this was a reminder that we should always continue to strive for tranquillity, kindness and peace. The symbol can be seen on the building in the image below:

The War Remnants Museum

Inside the building there were a variety of exhibitions on both the Vietnam war and the First Indochina War. In Vietnam, they often refer to the Vietnam War as the ‘Resistance War Against America’ or ‘The American War’. The exhibitions were harrowing, and the photographs were graphic, raw and uncensored. Inside that building I saw photographs that shocked me to my core.

One of the most poignant exhibitions was one dedicated to those who photographed the Vietnam War. This was so informative as it showed the transition from black and white to colour photography, and how these photographs were used to bring awareness to the realities of the war. Photojournalism helped to raise a huge amount of awareness surrounding the Vietnam war, and many photographers gave their lives in the quest to document it’s brutal realities. A plaque in the middle of the exhibition had a list of photographers who had died or had gone missing during the war.

Photographers In the War

We took a moment in the museum to just sit and digest what we had seen. We just sat silently for a while. Visiting the War Remnants Museum was so important, and I’m really glad that it was one of the first things we’ve did. I think this was a really important stop to make.

We then took a long walk to the pink church, more formally known as Tan Dinh Church. On the way to the pink church a few guys said ‘Hello!’ and held up peace signs.  The pink church was actually closed when we got there, but the outside was a marvel in itself.

The Pink Church

As you can see, it’s a very pink church. Can you spot a very small human? That’s me. The clouds above us began to get a little grey, so we anticipated that it might rain soon. After seeing the church we headed towards the post office, and on our way we stumbled across the aptly nicknamed Book Street. It was amazing! There were umbrellas hung above the street and a sudden rain started to drizzle onto them just as we got under the canopy.

Book Street

The street had lots of independent book shops and quaint coffee shops. There was also a lush sunshade of trees above us. We sat on a bench for a little while taking in the sounds of rain splashing, people chatting and coffee cups clinking. One of my favourite things to do is just sit, observe and take in the atmosphere. This was the perfect place to do it. I’d found my own personal Eden in Ho Chi Minh City.

We got to the post office and looked around the shops for a bundle of postcards to send to friends and family. The building was another brilliant piece of architecture.

The Post Office

Whilst we were searching for postcards and stamps I had a bit of a funny turn and had to sit down for a while. I sat in the post office looking at the old fashioned phone booths, and eventually felt alright after a nice rest.

We then headed to the opera house. I’m a massive opera nerd so, when I can, I always make an effort to see the opera house in each city I visit.

The Opera House

After that we stumbled upon the town hall which was a welcome surprise, and the last item on our list of things to see on that day. We strolled to the waterfront where we sat and watched the water.

We then headed back to the hotel to have a rest. In the evening we went to dinner at Pizza 4P’s which is a Japanese Italian Pizza Restaurant based in Vietnam (quite a mouthful!). The pizza didn’t disappoint and we had a lovely evening just relaxing, eating, and talking about what else we might want to do in HMC. We walked home late, and on the way to the hotel I saw three lizards scuttling around on the size of a movie poster.

When I got back to the hotel, I felt… exhausted. As wonderful as Ho Chi Minh City had been so far, it was also proving to be quite overwhelming at times. I vowed that most of the extra anxiety was coming from jet lag, and that tomorrow would be a new day full of even more adventure!

Thank you for reading! You can see my previous travel diary all about my first impressions of the city here.

 

 

 

 

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Vietnam Travel Diary #01: Ho Chi Minh City – First Impressions

We hadn’t got much sleep on the red eye flight from Doha, despite there only being about 30 of us on the plane and having ample room to spread out (I’m serious – it was bliss). I spent the majority of the flight surfing the entertainment system; this included ‘The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants‘, which made me very happy.

The flight to Tan Son Nhat International Airport

When we stepped out of the airport and into Ho Chi Minh City it was an instant sensory overload. The humidity hit us and we were met with a whirl of noises and smells. There were people sleeping, eating and reading on their parked motorbikes, motorbikes zooming and weaving in and out of each other, the smell of petrol and heat and the constant sound of horns. It was a bustling symphony of metropolitan sounds. As we travelled into district 1 of Ho Chi Minh City in our taxi we saw motorbikes that were piled with pallets, gallons of water, piles of straw, all sorts! One man had a few tall ladders stacked on the back of his bike. The road’s were chaos, but it just… worked! It was fascinating to see the way the city flows.

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We got to our hotel and had to wait a while for the room to be done, so we dropped our bags off and went to explore some of the city. One of the first things I noticed was that we were getting a lot of looks from the locals. Not nasty or sinister stares, just a few interested looks and smiles. After just one short stroll down the pavement we had seen street vendors cooking corn and rice, Luke had been offered a shoe shine, and I had seen about six different types of fruit being pushed along the pavement in bike baskets. We popped into a 7-eleven to look for some snacks and the staff gave us a very enthusiastic ‘Xin Chào!’. There was so much to see. It was slightly overwhelming at first, but it was the best way to become acquainted with Vietnam.

Then is was time to cross the road…

If you aren’t familiar with the roads in Vietnam, you should know that there isn’t much of a strict pedestrian system in place. There are traffic lights and pedestrian crossings, but many motorists don’t stop at them. The general rule for crossing the road in Vietnam is to look left and right, and then walk at a steady and confident pace across the road. This is to allow the riders to anticipate where you are walking and let them weave around you. It’s kind of like playing frogger! It’s a trust exercise with a bunch of strangers you’ve never met and it sounds insane, but it’s weirdly exhilarating! If you’re worried about crossing, a good tip is to follow someone who looks like they know what they’re doing! Ho Chi Minh City probably had the most chaotic roads of all of the places we visited, motorbikes even mounted the pavement, so we had to be constantly alert. But it was a real rush!

In the evening we thought we would take it easy and just stroll through the city to find some dinner. Ho Chi Minh City was gorgeous at night and the culture shock that I had initially felt was slowly wearing off at this point. We headed to the ‘Saigon Centre’ which was a huge modern mall filled with all kinds of shops and restaurants.

The Saigon Centre

We walked out onto a rooftop garden in the centre and had a great view of the city. It was so alive, and watching the bustle of the city from the tranquillity of that garden was such a wonderful experience.

The Roof Garden

Ho Chi Minh City at night

Tomorrow, we thought, it’s time to explore!

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Dear Late Bloomer

 

At the age of 23, I was suddenly hit with a perpetual degree of self-induced pressure to succeed as soon as possible. I moved away from home to a very large, very loud and (for a time) very lonely city. I ventured into the unknown with a head full of anxieties and a heart full of appreciation and determination. I had been propelled into a course in London with the help of an incredible group of friends and family, and everything I had ever dreamt of doing was suddenly a reality.

I instantly put pressure on myself, not just because of how many people were rooting for me, but also because I already felt like I was so behind in life. Despite the many chats I had with friends and family, I had convinced myself that I needed to take this chance and succeed as fast as possible, and as young as possible.

When you look at the way the media glorifies young achievers, it’s no wonder  many of us feel a crippling amount of pressure to become one. As a society, for some reason, we place so much value and prestige on child prodigies and being the youngest person to achieve a certain accolade. The issue with this logic though, is that it assumes that someone reaching certain milestones in their life at a young age is more impressive than if they were in their 30s, 40s, heck even their 80s or 90s and beyond.

I have often felt like I’m so far behind other people my age because I’m reaching certain milestones later than they did, or later than I feel I am ‘expected’ to. This is a deceitful and deep-rooted thought process that it has taken me years to unpick. Expecting people to reach certain milestones by a certain age refuses to see the struggles, challenges and ups and downs of each individual. Thinking that someone is running late or growing too slow neglects to acknowledge that our paths are all wonderfully different, and we tread them with a unique stride.

Within my first year living in London I had convinced myself that there was an end point and that I needed to reach it as soon as possible. The reality was that my experience would turn out to be completely different and more wonderful than I had ever expected.

We each have a beautifully unique journey ahead of us, and life is about enjoying that ride. It’s just like Billy Joel says, “Vienna waits for you”. Life is all about change and growth, it’s about embracing what COULD be and not striving for what you think MUST be.

For me, success is measured in things like; growth, laughter, memories, travel, awareness, experiences, learning, kindness and empathy. And not one of those has an expiry date. So from one late bloomer to another, know this…

Uncertainty is scary but its okay.

Your journey is unique, nobody knows what it’s like to be you.

Don’t compare yourself to other people.

Don’t forget how far you’ve come.

It’s okay to be you, just as you are.

It’s okay to slow down.

It’s okay to not know what you’re doing yet.

It’s okay to never know what you’re true calling is.

It’s okay to reach milestones later in life.

It’s okay.

Take your time.

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Dogs in Vietnam

As mentioned in my previous post, I recently visited Vietnam with my boyfriend and we travelled from the South to the North of the country. Throughout our travels we experienced so much and saw so many breathtaking, vibrant and surprising sights. However one thing that I really noticed was how many beautiful dogs there were in Vietnam!

This was a particularly happy ‘hotel dog’. He lay curled up behind a large flowerpot in the lobby of one of our hotels in Hoi An, and met us at the door when we came home that night! I’ll admit that he was one of the reasons I was sad to leave that hotel, that and the lovely staff!

Although I was very wary about touching or interfering with any animals in Vietnam (for reasons of safety and respect), this dog was particularly loving and amiable, and the hotel staff assured me he wouldn’t bite!

There were a particularly large number of dogs in Hoi An, and many of them could be found sitting outside the quaint shops in the ancient town. This particular doggo was doing a fabulous job of guarding an Art shop, and the beverages!

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It became clear that dogs are a much loved pet in Hoi An, and I loved seeing so many of them trundling along and lounging on the porches of their owners’ shops and homes.

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I saw this beautiful dog sitting on a shaded porch and watching the tourists and locals walking and cycling by. As a Brit who could only just about cope with the sweltering heat, I thought this dog’s choice to have a nice rest in the shade was very sensible!

After our visit to Hoi An, we travelled North to Hue on Motorbikes (which I’ll talk about in detail in another post – stay tuned!) and on our way we saw lots of dogs.

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This dog was trotting about on Monkey Mountain.

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In contrast, this serene looking dog was guarding one of the the pagodas. He sat very still, but as soon as we came closer his head perked up with so much pride and authority; he was a very good guard dog!

After travelling back down from Monkey Mountain, we headed to an incredibly tranquil spring, where two sweet dogs were lying on the sun bathed rocks and lapping at the cool water.

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We had an amazing time at this spring and the dogs were so calm and still. It’s almost as if the animals here practised Buddhism! This was definitely one of the highlights of our trips and it was lovely to meet these two dogs.

From the springs we then travelled the final stretch to Hue. Whilst exploring Hue, we saw a very excitable Pug!

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He was so excitable, in fact, that we couldn’t get a clear picture of him, just a blur of utter doggo excitement! From Hue, we travelled to Hanoi, were there were lots and lots of dogs. One of the sweetest things we saw on our trip was a litter of fluffy puppies who were playing on the side street near our hotel.

As you can see they were really tiny. One of them was so fluffy it looked like a loofa with legs! After staying in Hanoi for a short time, we travelled to Sapa for a few days. When we got there is was rainy and misty, which was a welcome relief from the heat! On our first day in Sapa we saw this gorgeous dog:

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This lovely dog had such beautiful colouring, she was wandering about in the square in Sapa and got lots of positive attention from the locals and the tourists in the area. After a brief stay in gorgeous Sapa, we travelled back to Hanoi to spend the remainder of our trip exploring the bustling city.

Vietnam was a wonderful adventure, and seeing these friendly dogs made it feel so much more homely. I actually never once saw a local shoo a dog away.

Although I’m very aware that there are people in Vietnam who do not treat dogs humanely, the majority of interactions I saw were positive. Whilst we were in Vietnam, an article about the condemnation of the consumption of dog meat in Hanoi was published on the BBC. Most of the dogs in Hanoi are pets, and it seems to me that the majority of people in Vietnam wish to treat these animals with respect, and they are trying hard to phase out the cultural ‘habit’ of consuming and selling dog meat.

With this slightly more negative point aside, it was lovely to see the positive interactions between dogs and humans in Vietnam, and how much love the locals have for their furry friends!

BONUS: Just for the cat lovers, here’s a picture of a sleepy cat in the Ancient Town of Hoi An!

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To the NHS nurse who held my hand

When I was 17 years old I had a Cancer scare. The ultimate outcome was that I was far too young to go through invasive screening and that they were certain I was fine. This unfortunately led to a series of health related anxieties, doctors visits and serious hypochondria. When I say the word “hypochondria’ I’m sure many people envisage a germaphobe or a comedy sketch with Dr Google sentencing me to death. It is and was, however, a serious and debilitating form of health anxiety which affects me in profound ways. I’ve written a more specific post about Hypochondria and you can find it here.

In May 2017 at age 24, the symptoms that I had gotten at age 17 came back. Without going into too much detail, I ended up getting a procedure done to screen for Cancer. This was the ‘invasive’ screening that the doctors in my teens had told me I was too young to go through, and good grief were they right. Let’s just say it involved a needle and an ultrasound machine.

When I got to the screening clinic I had no idea that I would end up getting this procedure. I was greeted by two lovely smiling receptionists and sat down in the reception amongst the rest of the people waiting. I was called through to a doctors office and I remember it being oddly dark in there. I’m sure there’s a technical or medical reason for it but it made the experience extra trippy. For the life of me I can’t remember the Doctor’s name. I only remember that she looked like Charlotte Rampling and that she was a little bit scary (though I expect anyone holding a needle with the intention of stabbing you with it is terrifying).

What I do remember though, was Louise. Louise was the nurse that called me into the room and stayed with me the whole time. I remembered her name because she was like my guardian angel that day. Thank the stars for her. When it all started she held my hand as if I was her own daughter, and I just kept wondering how many hands she’d held before.

As I looked at the details of one particular ceiling tile I realised my feet were freezing cold. I had my running shoes on and I remember looking down at them, desperately trying to put the thoughts of illness and disease and infection out of my mind, and to quiet the voice asking ‘what if she finds something?’. On the other side of the room I could see my boyfriend, who was told he had to stay on the other side of the half drawn curtain. There was a piece of fluff hanging from the ceiling vent and I stared at it… and stared and stared.

When the procedure started the Doctor said ‘You poor girl’, and I just kept holding Louise’s hand. She made everything seem okay, because she’s a bloody good nurse. When it was all finished Louise took us out of the room and asked me how I felt, I said ‘tired’ and she said ‘me too’, she was definitely more tired than me. I went home, ate monster munch and watched Lilo and Stitch.

For the first time in a long time, I couldn’t obsess about an invisible illness or an itch or a dirty hand rail on the tube, I had finally seen what I had been terrified about for so long, and it was smaller than an M&M. The fears of death and illness were suddenly replaced with rationality and planning calmly for the various scenarios that might surface.

When it all came through clear, I was relieved, but I also felt silly, and thankful, and blessed that we have a National Health Service in this country with hundreds of thousands of of Louises.

The NHS is immeasurable, irreplaceable and essential. But it’s slowly being driven to the point of total breakdown. Louise does a job that I could never do, she sees people through their most vulnerable times with a smile and profound strength. I have friends who are nurses, I have a boyfriend who’s training to be a doctor, these people are amazing and I honestly couldn’t imagine having to do what they do. The NHS has been incredible to me. It works, and it works hard.

I hope we can continue to spread our stories and share our gratitude towards the NHS staff who have held our hands, saved our lives, helped us through illness and fought for us. In a world full of hatred, selfishness and fear… I think we should all strive to be a little more ‘Louise’.

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The Ship Might Sink

This blog post was my first ever, and for some reason I deleted it. I’m not sure why but I only recently found it and decided it deserved a re-upload. Since starting my blog, my grandparents have sadly both since passed away, but they stay with us in memories such as this. I hope you enjoy this old blog post which explains my blog title.

When me and my family used to sit at the dinner table for our weekly visit to my Grandparents’ house we would listen to the most obscure stories. Within them were some utter gems, and some of the most poignant, rare observations came from my Grandad, (affectionately known to us as Mandad).

One of these hidden gems seemed to come out more often than others. Imagine this, my sister is happily digging in to her meal but, like she does every week, she leaves her meat until the end. Mandad notices this, and looks on with narrow, but jovial eyes and says “Jessica! Why are you leaving the chicken?” for what seems to be at least the fifth time, and we see where it’s going. “I’m just leaving it till last…” she says with a smile “…because it’s the best bit!”. And now Mandad lets out that signature phrase we’re all waiting for “Ah, but Jess! The ship might sink!”. What’s the moral of that story? Well, we had no idea, so we asked. “Well, when you’re on a ship you never know when it might sink!” says Mandad “So, you always eat the best bit first, because it might be your last meal, or you might need that strength when you get shipwrecked!” He exhales a loud chuckle, we giggle, and Jess saves her meat till last again.

The more I heard this reappear in conversation, the more insightful it seemed. “The ship might sink” kept playing over and over as such an interesting message. “The ship might sink”, is just like saying live life to the fullest and take every opportunity as soon as possible before it passes you by… Obviously it’s a bleaker way of saying it, since in Mandad’s version you are looking at some kind of naval disaster, but it makes for an interesting blog title. And the ship sinking isn’t just a metaphor for death, or anything else which is as severe and sombre. I think the ship just signifies an opportunity, a time in which you need to seize your destiny, and try not to make the mistake of playing it safe.

 

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Still

 

Still

Your cold fists scrunch tufts of hair into birds nests

But now It’s time to go

Just put on your shoes

One at a time

 

Bite the skin on your lips

Give your fingers time to breath

Now put on that bag of artefacts

I feels heavier than before

 

Glance down and down

Further than that

Until the core of the earth can see you

Until it stares back

 

Can you hear it yet?

The groaning and the wheezing

The rumble and the racket

Your steed is here

 

Two steps too close

See the blur and the squabble

Cross your fingers in your pocket

And hope to breathe

 

Stand tall, don’t topple

Look past it, that’s far enough

Hand on heart, feel it beat

Remember that it’s there.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Anxiety: Four Areas of Perspective

I’ve not written a blog for a long old time. I’ve written posts and kept them safe and sound in the drafts folder; I’ve jotted down poems and penned notes in early morning delirium, but nothing has quite come together to form one coherent post. So this time I commit to writing this with a clear head and a calm heart, and posting it without hesitation.

I was recently diagnosed with Generalised Anxiety Disorder, which to me was simply the official term for something I have been experiencing since childhood. As an incredibly introverted Anxiety Sufferer, my mind serves as both a sanctuary and a carnival hall of mirrors. Through a life of ups and downs, doctors visits, deep conversations, painful bodily sensations and the occasional mind earthquake, I like to think I have learned a fair amount myself. The most important lesson I have learned throughout this time, however, is that many of the steps I have taken to help  stem from the power of perspective. Perspective is perhaps an umbrella term, covering a multitude of things such as mindfulness, awareness, reflection, hope and gratitude. Perspective is not only what shapes the way I see the world, but it is also what allows me to observe myself in a deeper way. Last summer I went through a health scare which brought on a myriad of triggers for my anxiety. During this time I was forced to commit to taking care of myself. I wrote this, wrapped tightly in a blanket and sitting on the sofa, right in the grip of anxiety:

“When going through a hard time there are few things more helpful than Nina Simone, Otis Redding, home made chocolate cake, white tulips, lush bath bombs, Yankee candles and funny YouTube videos. I just watched the most ‘so bad it’s good’ film on Netflix called Monte Carlo, and it made me feel a little better.”

It was almost as if I was in safe mode. Have you ever had your computer crash? Usually when you do, it comes up with the option to boot up in safe mode; everything is simpler, less confusing, safe. I had to turn down the volume, and that’s exactly what I did. In this particular post, I want to share with you a list of the four main aspects of perspective, which helped me through that time, and continue to guide me through the twists and turns that Anxiety can cause. I like to think of them as ways to better my peace of mind, live reflectively, learn, grow and improve my inner strength and awareness. Anxiety is a struggle, it is difficult and it is different for every single person who experiences it. This list is simply my personal treasure chest, into which I often delve in times of intense strain and struggle, but also in times of joy and peace. Whether or not these things help you, please know and trust that you are deeply loved and that you are never alone in your journey; we all walk with you.

1. Observe

Observing your own thoughts and physical sensations is one of the most tried and tested methods of relaxation, this is also more commonly referred to as mindfulness and/or meditation. Mindfulness is a huge part of observing, and one of the best things I ever did for myself was download the Calm App. This app is a wonderful tool. You can listen to guided meditation, soothing music and wonderful sleep stories, which are a particular favourite of mine and can help with the insomnia that Anxiety can often induce. The app can be used on your phone, tablet or even computer and is available here: https://www.calm.com/

The other aspect of observation is looking outside of ourselves at the world around us. Through times of stress, I believe that quietly observing nature can be extremely helpful. I like to observe anything from wide sprawling landscapes to small intricate details:

The first of these images is aptly taken from a lake hide. It is a place to observe the nature around you without being seen, a place to simply look and listen, I believe this is a wonderful symbol. The second is a picture of a large red damsel fly, which flew onto my knee and just sat contently for about 5 minutes. This was one very special and calming experience. In both cases, I was actively observing what was happening around me and to me, and simply taking in the beauty of the situation, as well as a whole lot of fresh air!

For me, the countryside is a particularly calming place, but everyone has their own preference. Perhaps you enjoy people watching, or looking at the city lights at dusk. Whatever it is you enjoy watching, do it. Consider the details, the stories and the origins of what you are looking at. Try to listen to and accept the noises, the smells and the atmosphere around you. I find that this is a useful strategy for staying calm during times where you are unable to look within yourself for comfort. As someone who lives in a big city, I am well aware of the stress that can be brought on by commuting around the city and the unrelenting hustle and bustle. In these times, I try to accept what is around me, and look for the positive sights. It could be as simple as a cat strolling down the street, or a brightly coloured front door.

2. Do

Another useful Perspective I have frequently called upon is the use of ‘Doing’. This could be anything from physically doing things to being creatively and intellectually engaged.

The two physical activities I personally find the most helpful for soothing of Anxiety are walking and practising Yoga. I am not an athlete, I still have flashbacks of the middle school bleep test (if you’ve not heard of this save yourself and don’t look it up, it’s the stuff of nightmares). However, I really enjoy practising yoga. Finding an exercise you enjoy can be a really important tool for combating anxiety as it allows you to actively observe your body in an incredibly healthy way. I believe Yoga is the perfect exercise for Anxiety sufferers, not only because it has strong ties to meditation and mindful practise, but also because it is an exercise you can do in your own home. I practise yoga right from my living room by watching this wonderful woman:

Her practise relies heavily on self belief, free breathing and being kind to yourself, and she has several videos related to combating stress, anxiety and nerves specifically.

The other aspect of ‘Doing’ relates to the stimulation of the mind. This aspect of Perspective is something that helped me tremendously. The main outlets I began to use were cooking and baking, writing, and colouring:

These are a few of my little creations. I found that actually making things with my bare hands was a welcome channel for my mind, and allowed me to focus on something physical that I enjoy and is aesthetically pleasing. With each creation I felt like I had accomplished something, however small. With cooking, especially, I found that making a meal for myself and my boyfriend was really rewarding and therapeutic. Admittedly, for many people cooking is more of a source for stress than it is therapy, but there are a countless other pleasurable ways to stimulate the mind and the imagination in a constructive way, things like writing stories, doodling, gardening, pottery, carpentry, learning to knit or make origami animals, or even something as simple as buying some freshly cut flowers and trimming them before putting them on display. It’s about finding what makes you feel calm, but stimulated.

3. Rest

This is very much the most self-care centred aspect of Perspective. Rest is primarily about giving yourself the space to deal with the physical and mental sensations that your Anxiety is causing. It is about allowing yourself the opportunity to do things you enjoy; perceiving the things in your life which make you happy; and seeking out the time to do them. These should be activities that make you content and calm; things that allow your perspective to shift into a calm state in which you are simply resting and allowing yourself to heal. Rest is the balm that anxiety so desperately needs. It is the breath of fresh air and the calm after the storm. An important aspect of rest is also literal sleep, and this is often something which can shape our perspective of the next morning. When I was having trouble sleeping through a particularly stressful bout of anxiety and worry, I decided to purchase a body lotion from Lush called ‘Sleepy’. I’m sure a lot of you will already of heard of this product, and I want to assure you that is simply amazing. I use it for migraines, getting to sleep, and general times of stress in which I need a soothing and calming smell:

We all relax and rest in different ways. I like to eat tiramisu, take long baths, see my family, watch Steven Universe and listen to audio books. For you it might be a different list. I truly believe this aspect of perspective is one that everyone should observe. Taking time for yourself, even in the smallest ways, is always important. As you grow and change the list will get longer, and perhaps at certain times the amount of time you are able to give to yourself may change too, but please look after yourself, please rest.

4. Reflect

Reflection is perhaps one of the most important Perspectives. Reflection is about considering and in some cases documenting the way you feel. At times this will be about documenting how your anxiety is affecting you, what physical sensations you feel, what made you feel better, why you feel this way. At other times, and hopefully more frequently, your reflections on life will be filled with wonderful memories and times in which you felt good, calm, relaxed, brave, proud, happy or all of the above! It is important not to dwell on reflection, but to use when you need or want to, and when it will serve you well. Reflection can be harnessed through writing and journaling, speaking to loved ones or trained professionals, and also artistic outlets like photography and art.

I have personally used all of these methods to observe the way in which I am feeling and the sensations I am experiencing. As well as being a useful outlet for inner thoughts and feelings, it is also helpful and insightful to look back at these musings and see how far you have come since those moments. For me personally, reflection allows me to feel a great deal of gratitude, which is a precious thing indeed. Reflection is an important tool that has helped me grow and develop not only as someone with Anxiety but also as a human being.

I hope that this post has been of some use to those who have come upon it. Whether you have Anxiety or just want to feel a little more at peace with the world and yourself, I hope this list will help you to become aware, observant, reflective and content with the world around you.

It’s all about perspective.