Self care, skin care,
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Living life with good intention, loving with soul, searching for pure happiness & joy

May 14, 2018

Living with Dermatillomania

Happy Monday gang - I hope your week's start off on the right foot and you're feeling optimistic and full of motivation. Today I wanted to discuss with you all the fact that Mental Health Awareness Week is taking place this week (14th-20th May 2018) and as I took part in the campaign last year by sharing my story on what it's like living with anxiety, I thought I would carry on this new tradition and take part in MHAW again this year. I've said it many times before and I'll say it many times again, but openly discussing mental health is so important. It leads to accessibility, which leads to education, which leads to acceptance and understanding in society and that's what we all need a lot more of. This year, the Mental Health Foundation have focused their campaign on stress as, as they state:

"Research has shown that two thirds of us experience a mental health problem in our lifetimes, and stress is a key factor in this."

Two thirds is a staggering statistic. That means mental health is incredibly common and stress is undoubtedly an aspect of life that all of us have felt at some point. It can be a crippling experience in the workplace, in our home lives, in social settings, or even through self-deprecation or external influences. Stress is seemingly inescapable and it can be a catalyst for so many MH issues from anxiety and depression to self harm and suicide. That's why today I'm going to share with you how my stress can manifest itself in Dermatillomania.

Dermatillomania is a skin picking disorder and whilst many people pick at their skin from time to time *que that meme about pulling one tiny bit of skin around your finger nail and ripping off every part of you*, if you suffer from Dermatillomania, you just don't know when to stop. It is often placed into the same category as Trichotillomania (repetitive hair pulling) and generalised along side this similar disorder as being a "body-focused repetitive disorder". It is often viewed as a obsessive compulsive disorder and has been related to body dysmorphic disorder due to it being this excessively body-focused preoccupation by the individual carrying out the picking. There's many reasons why OCDs and Dermatillomania can become an issue for people and there's also many reasons behind why people find it difficult to stop picking.

I'm not entirely sure when my Dermatillomania really started to be that and not just me occasionally picking spots, but it's definitely something I have dealt with since college. Since around the age of 12/13, I've battled with acne all over my face, neck, shoulders, chest and back. I have talked about this *so* many times on the blog but this has definitely been the root of my skin picking and I think unfortunately, always will be. At college I would wear heavy thick foundations all over my face but also all over my chest if I wasn't wearing a high neck top because I was so ashamed of my skin's condition. I would pick at my acne every evening to try to create a smoother, less red and noticeable surface texture but of course, that never really worked out in the long run. Nowadays I'm pleased to say my acne has gotten so much better and I feel almost like a fraud to claim I have acne. Whilst it's has felt like a weight has been lifted as I don't have as many sore, completely confidence-crushing, spots visible on my skin, it's almost created more of a problem for my skin picking because I haven't got as many imperfections to pick but I pick anyway.

One of the worst things about Dermatillomania is that there is often no rhyme or reason to picking. Picking acne meant I almost had an excuse for my actions as I could challenge any questions by pointing out every whitehead or bump and showcasing them as my reasons why. But now if I'm having a good skin day or week, it tends to not last long because I'll start picking and cause stress to my skin so it will inevitably break out for me to carry on picking, or I will basically damage my skin through seeking something to pick. As I've continuously gotten less and less spots on my shoulders and chest over the last year or two especially, this has caused my Dermatillomania some distress as now I have to work extra hard at picking. I will literally sit and smooth my fingertips over my shoulders, chest, back, neck and face, hoping to hit a bump in the skin road that I can them squeeze and prune until I feel satisfied that I've "smoothed" out the imperfections. It has sometimes meant I've accidentally picked moles or freckles and caused them to bleed and I've sometimes cut or bruised my skin squeezing and scratching at simply nothing.

Actively picking doesn't just occur when I'm "searching" to smooth out my imperfections. I occasionally pick in my sleep and only realise upon waking up to see a small pool of blood or dried wounds on my face. I can sometimes reach a level of boredom and genuinely think "I could sit and pick and that might cure it". If I'm stressed at work, I will pick at my desk. If I'm feeling anxious on the train or out in public, or in a restaurant - I will pick. I don't have a filter with my picking and more often than not, I don't realise I'm doing it until a loved one says "stop picking". The worst part about it for me in a way is the fact that after I've went on a picking spree, I can feel really good as if I've accomplished something. This is always a little bit disheartening from me in a cool down period from it all because it means I've took some joy in harming myself and inflicting damage on my skin. In relatively recent years that has been something that has really stuck with me and is what has pushed me to want to seek help for it this year.

Oddly when I've spoken to people about this before, a few people have brushed it off like it isn't a real issue. As it is so self-inflicted and doesn't have a definite cause, it is almost hard for people to process and I've been asked before by colleagues why I don't just "snap out of it". Well sorry Susan, I simply can't. Now before anyone claims I'm not trying to help myself, trust me, I'm always trying. I got a large backpiece tattooed to stop me from picking as it would create a barrier I didn't want to destroy. I wear hair extensions, not just to thicken up my thin hair, but to also make it more difficult to search my scalp for any lumps and bumps I will inevitably pick and leave sore and exposed. I used to have incredibly long nails but now keep them short in the hopes that I make it more difficult to break the skin.

Options for Dermatillomania Sufferers
Unfortunately, there's often not a great deal that can be done about Dermatillomania generally. Most doctors will typically prescribe medication or send sufferers to therapy only if their skin picking is becoming dangerous (i.e. infectious, causing lasting damage etc.) but all is not lost! Cognitive Behavioural Therapy has worked for many people and has helped people stop picking so if that's an option for you, ask your GP about it. If not, or if you have not spoken to your doctor about the possibility of suffering with Dermatillomania, there's a few things you could do that I found can help me:

- Keep your nails cut short and ensure they are always clean so even if you manage to pick, you can lessen the chance of infection
- Keep your hands busy. If you're ever feeling stressed, nervous, agitated etc., have something to keep your hands occupied to try and distract your mind. Fidget toys can be great for this and are often used for stress relief, so keeping one at hand or in your pocket can help. Low on money? Use a piece of Blu Tac instead!
- If wearing makeup is an option for you, possibly try that. It might sound counter-productive as makeup tends to worsen the skin's condition, but whenever I have makeup on, it acts as a barrier so I don't want to pick as it will ruin it
- Meditation isn't for everyone and it's certainly not a "cure all", but meditation can help you suppress the urge to pick
- Try creating a log of when you pick. You could detail what time of day it was, what mood you were in, where you targeted, how long you picked for... Trying to find the trigger of when you pick the most can help a great deal in terms of managing your picking
- Lastly, I've been trying some of the NHS' advice recently and it seems to be having a positive effect. They suggest that you nourish and pamper your skin whenever you feel the urge to pick. I've been applying a face mask almost every evening (sometimes more than once in one evening) to stop me from wanting to pick and it has not only helped my acne so I pick that less, but also just helped with my picking in general

Get Involved in MHAW
Although Dermatillomania is often the result of my stress, there are of course many other issues stress can cause and stress even within itself is a terrible thing that unfortunately, so many of us deal with on a day to day basis. Mental Health Awareness Week is a great opportunity to get involved and share your stories, your tips and tricks that could help another individual, and simply helping raise awareness as the name of the campaign suggests. MHAW have a few other ways you can support the campaign - ranging from donations to fundraising - but you can also help by simply voicing your support. Stress is something that affects all of us, both directly and indirectly via our loved ones, so talk about it. Support others and receive support yourself at the same time.

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May 09, 2018

Self Interaction & The Beauty Routine

Around 4 years ago now, I remember stumbling across a photo series called Rituals by a talented photographer, Noorann Matties. The series was full of just candid, true-to-life snaps of women basically getting ready; sat at their dining table, sat in the bathtub, curling their hair in front of the mirror in the bathroom, perched on the end of their beds with a mirror balanced on a pile of books... It was a series that kind of struck a cord with me because of it's simplicity but it's striking beauty. It was the thought of all these women in the photographs just being caught in their usual daily routine and it has had me thinking about it ever since. Many of us spend at least some time in the morning looking at ourselves in the mirror. Whether it's just to brush our teeth and wash our faces or whether it's a full blown 3 hour full face of skincare & makeup and hair-do extravaganza - we all spend time "gussying" ourselves up ready to take on the day. We look at ourselves but I don't think we interact with ourselves. We tend to focus on the surface and perfecting it but we don't delve deeper; we don't really truly *look* at ourselves. So what would this girl see if she did?

She'd see years of acne, scarring and large pores. She would huff and puff at the state of her skin, foolishly asking some higher beauty being what she did to deserve such problematic skin. She'd see discolouration under her eyes and lots of very small white bumps - bumps she's never quite known the function or cause of so she will continuously gloss over them with an abundance of tonics, eye creams, and solutions that all promise to make them go away. But they never really go away. She'd look at the frown lines and pesky little crows feet that are starting to take up permanent residency around her eyes rather than just being the occasional blessed visitor during laughter or angry passionate discussions. She'd notice the peach fuzz around her top lip as the morning sunlight begins to creep in through the window and almost as quickly, dismiss acknowledging in the hopes that ignoring the issue of it will make it disappear.

She will proceed to complain about every fine, fly away hair that is hanging limp and lying out of place. She'll tug at it and smother it in products yet again hoping that this will be the remedy despite mastering this technique over the years and still seeing no change - maybe today is the day, though. She won't just stop there; she will look at her chest and shoulders, cursing remnants of and fresh brewing acne whilst also cursing her insistence on picking at this skin until there's no other option but to cover it up no matter how sunny or hot it may be outside. She'll make sure whatever choice of top or dress covers the tops of her arms that are always now a little too plump and wobbly for her liking. She'll graze over the aptly named "pooch" that should be her stomach and pretend that the yoga she now sporadically does will counter-balance her insatiable appetite for pizza all the goddamn time.

She will wonder why all these imperfections and negativities are so endearing in others - why they're the things she loves the most about everyone she meets - yet she can't stomach her own in the same manner. Hers are something to hide away and shy away from. Hers are something to draw attention away from by any means possible yet she celebrates those of others. Those crooked smiles, those freckled noses, those wrinkles around the eyes of others will always be her favourite parts of those individuals, but she just can't express the same interest in her own.

"Forced to examine ourselves in ways many normally avoid, Rituals as a project sought to capture the moment in which our lives become devoid of distraction and we become intimately aware of ourselves. By photographing people’s personal beauty rituals I attempted to capture this awareness, this intimacy that occurs only when one is
forced to examine their own body, the most basic thing that is theirs, and build upon it."
- Noorann Matties

Eventually she'll change her ways though. As she grows in years, she grows in mindset and acceptance too. She begins to realise that she is surrounded by love in so many forms - from friends, family, partners, and strangers - and she will realise the only love she is lacking is the love and acceptance from the person who should always matter the most - herself. She, no... me. I realised I needed to accept myself for who I am. I came to terms with the fact that that old cliché "beauty is only skin deep" is the most honest and trustworthy thing anyone will ever say to another. I accepted that my skin will never be perfect. It's my foundation to build upon and that's not necessarily a bad thing. It might reduce me to tears at times because I can be so incredibly unhappy with it, but I also enjoy the fact that I have a routine every morning in which I improve myself - both inside and out - so I can confidently take on my day, looking how I want to.

I no longer worry about that spot that will eventually disappear. I no longer spend hours trying to fill and smooth out every fine line and pore to look like some porcelain perfection. I still have some ways to go - and sometimes the thought of studying myself in the mirror that morning is the *last* thing I want to do but, I'm getting there. I'm growing. I'm beginning to accept all those hairs that are out of place and that soft tummy that is sculpted from a love of carbs yet a healthy and nourishing diet (for the most part). I've actually begun to like the way my eyes look and the fact that I have got some good cheekbones. Being shrouded in a continuous haze of love from many sources is a luxury and something I never take for granted, but there's room for one more amongst that haze, there's room for one more friend to feed my confidence and self-love, and there's only one form who can take that spot. That form has to be self love. That form has to be me.

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April 30, 2018

Fighting Feeling Lonely

"Lonely: Sad because one has no friends or company."
"Lonely: (of a place) unfrequented and remote; isolation."

The words 'lonely' and 'loneliness' have the most negative connotations and instil a sense of sympathetic sadness in us as soon as we hear the words uttered. But the problem with that is that so many of us feel loneliness in our lives and for some, it can be frequent, distressing, and downright disheartening. Loneliness is often misunderstood, that word that is in fact multi-faceted and means something unique and different for each and every individual. Someone sat alone at home watching TV can feel lonely. Someone in a stadium watching a band play live to the 500,000-strong crowd they are part of can feel lonely. It has different meanings and affects on each of us but one thing is for certain - it fucking sucks if you're feeling it.

I've talked about being an introvert here on NB before many times and I've shared how much I can enjoy my own company and very rarely crave the company of others. Despite being like that, there are times that my anxiety can come into play and prevent me from socialising so it's no longer a choice to hide myself away from the world, but more of a restriction I've put on myself and thus making my "lonewolf" attitude actually quite loathsome. Being introverted, shy, quiet, or someone who enjoys their own company can always be subject to pangs of loneliness just as much as the next person in a completely different social context of preference. Loneliness doesn't always mean there is a lack of human interaction but it can be a longing or an aching for other things such at places, comforts, things that simply make us feel whole and happy. Whilst my loneliness comes and goes, it really gets me down when it does rear it's ugly head so I have a few ways to try and help me cope when the big L does show up at my door:

Reading, Podcasts, & Gaming
It's probably cliché to say, but reading gives you the option to immerse yourself in a different world entirely contrasting reality most of the time and that can help a lonely mind escape. If reading isn't your thing, podcasts are a great alternative. I don't know about anyone else, but whenever there's a podcast on in my household, I feel almost like I'm having a conversation. Hearing other voices no doubt has this effect, but if it's a podcast I'm invested in and have an opinion on, it can make me feel included in the content as I will feel I have that own opinion to add to the current chat. Podcasts can also be great for escapism, for laughter, and for just generally making you feel better if you pick the right ones! The last thing to mention is this sort of "pass-time" category is definitely gaming. Just like reading, video games can certainly help you lose yourself in another world but there's also the added benefit of being able to play so many games in online multi-player, co-op styles that you can be social from the comfort of your own home, even if you thought you weren't up for speaking to anyone.

The Pantheon, Rome, Italy

Social Media & Online Communities
Now, I know this next point could be a double-edged sword, but hear me out. Whilst I'm definitely someone who sees social media as a damaging thing sometimes, the flip side of that is that it is fantastic for bringing people together. Twitter is my go-to no matter how I'm feeling, but I know if I'm particularly feeling down or lonely, there's someone always there to talk me around. It's interesting for me that that platform, full of people I've never met, can usually be more reliable and supportive than say Facebook that just include my friends and family... Social media can help you find like-minded people and means that you can talk, debate, transfer stories etc. again, all from the comfort of home if going out to shake of the loneliness isn't for you. Online communities on forums and various different club sites can also be an avenue to explore. Although Tumblr was not necessarily one of those, it was a huge crutch for my as a late teen when I was first coming to terms with my social anxiety. I actually "met" two of my best friends on that site who I have since spent so much time with so they can work wonders.

Getting Outside
If staying at home just simply isn't an option or you're happy to explore every avenue to get rid of that lonely feeling, getting outside can work *wonders*. I've talked about the benefits of getting outside so many times before, but I'm still a firm believer that getting out - particularly in nature - can really help any negative thoughts or feelings you may be experiencing disappear. Going to the woods or the coastline can be so quiet and helps you realign with nature. You might be alone, but being alone doesn't necessarily equal lonely. Being alone in these surroundings can actually feel empowering or can at least produce some clarity on why exactly it might be that you are feeling lonely in the first place.

Leave the House at Least Once a Day & Spend Time in Coffee Shops, Libraries, Museums etc.
Kind of linked to that previous point, getting out of the house or out of a mundane routine can be incredibly beneficial. As much as I'm homebody and an introvert and therefore my favourite place is at home and not with large groups of people I have to socialise with, I notice a considerable difference in my optimism, motivation, productivity, and just general happiness if I'm ultra lazy and don't leave the house over the weekend. It almost creates this unfulfilling cycle that you play out in loop so I always recommend getting out of the house - even if it's just to pick up milk at the supermarket - so you've had that burst of fresh air and environmental change. Although some people experience loneliness in group settings or in crowds, spending time in coffee shops, libraries, museums etc. can help fight the lonely feeling too. These places can be a bit of an introvert haven as you're still surrounded by bodies but there's minimal interaction. It can really help shake that loneliness without making the socially awkward amongst us heave. It can also be a complete change of pace for those extroverts who need to take a step back.

The Pantheon Ceiling

Self Care & Getting Dressed
Now now, you should all know by now I'm the biggest advocate of the self love and self care because I think it can really elevate your mood and particularly when you're feeling lonely, it can help shake the surface feeling of that away. Obviously self care can manifest itself in a whole range of different activities, but I personally find making sure I have a good morning routine so I start the day off on the right foot and practicing yoga (if and when I remember) can really help with my mood. Self care things like this aren't of course directly linked to battling loneliness, but they can help you regain control of your life, helps you to be mindful, and generally feel more cared for within yourself which can have a positive effect on other feelings - such as loneliness. Another step that I think can really help in this whole "generally feeling better so therefore possible not feeling lonely too" grouping is getting dressed. Something so simple as having a shower and getting dressed can really change a day and mood around for me, so it's a simple one to practice so you can assess just how serious the down-feelings are once you've made that first step.

Embrace the Loneliness for the Sake of Creativity
I'm going to finish up this post by suggesting possibly the silliest "fix" for this problem. Embrace it. There I said it. Daft right? No, you're wrong. Loneliness changes with the flow and ebb of the tides of time and can disappear overnight or it might linger around you for a while, either way it's never a constant and it can be tackled. As it's not something all of us experience all of the time, it's actually quite nice to embrace it sometimes. Feeling lonely has sometimes been the culprit of some of the most beautiful art to be painted, some of the most heartfelt words to be written, some of the most relatable songs to be sung... It can actually be fantastic if you're someone who enjoys being creative from time to time so maybe this time when the lonely bug is catching, don't be so quick to fight it. Invite it in and see what it has to offer you.

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April 23, 2018

How to be a Fashion Revolutionary & Ask #whomademyclothes

Happy Monday you wonderful souls. Today I want to talk about something that I honestly think is so incredibly important and I just hope has as much of a positive impact as it did last year. Of course I'm talking about Fashion Revolution. On 24th April 2O13, 1,138 people were killed and 2,5Oo injured in the collapse of the Rana Plaza building in Dhaka, Bangladesh. The collapse of this building is the fourth largest industrial disaster in history and prompted many to ask what the working conditions are like for those who make our clothes all over the world. In this world of fast fashion, we often naively overlook the journey our garments go through before they're in our possession. Speaking for myself, it took me a long time before I started to pick up clothing in shops and thought "I wonder how much this cost to make? I wonder how many hours someone laboured over this for me to enjoy? I wonder what sort of environment it was stitched and sewn together in?" because naturally, we just don't think about those things when we buy clothing in this ever-changing "what's on trend?!" mindset. The Fashion Revolution was born to answer those questions though. It was created for those who can stand up for others and demand transparency and accountability from big name brands and as the movement itself explains: "Fashion Revolution is a global movement calling for a fairer, safer, cleaner, more transparent fashion industry".

As it's Fashion Revolution Week (23rd - 29th April 2O18), I wanted to show my support for this movement and encourage you all to take part. Fast fashion used to be something I was heavily invested in. Being a blogger and enjoying Fashion content meant it was always in my face. Everyone seemed to be doing a haul of some high street brand every week, clothes seemed to be rotating in a what's *in* and what's *out* way on a more-than-regular basis, and it just seemed to demonstrate an incredibly greedy consumerism mindset. I decided to take a step back from it all almost a year ago and looking back on that now, my lifestyle and spending habits were so shallow. That's not to say anyone who shops fast fashion is shallow. Not at all. It is there, it's accessible, it's affordable, it's enjoyable, but I realised that for me, I spent *so* much money on it and it actually didn't bring me any joy. If anything, the more I read about the impact it was having on the world - both environmentally and socially - it made me feel intense pangs of guilt and thus I opted out for the most part. I realised the fact that I could be wearing garments that were mass produced that were polluting the planet, made by someone who was living in poverty and working in unethical environments, just didn't sit right with me. I really enjoy fashion and personal style and I'm a huge advocate of it, but I realised that I could still enjoy that whilst also educating myself on the importance of people having happy, fulfilling, comfortable, and fair work and home lives. I could actually ensure my money was going towards a greater good rather than lining the pockets of a capitalist economy (I'll save the flag waving and bra burning 'til the end of the post). I realised I could support brands and campaigns that were trying to improve things, not brush it all under the carpet.

Many garments we have in the fast fashion industry are mass produced in garment factories in Asia. The individuals who work in these factories can be subject to abhorrently long working hours, cramp and unclean conditions, unsafe environments and machinery, not to mention verbal and physical abuse, harassment, complete lack of workers rights, and ridiculously low pay that prevents them from even affording the most basic necessities. These workers basically don't have half of the worker or even human rights we'd naturally expect in a workplace and that needs to change. It is believed that 75 million people could be working under these conditions everyday - 8O% of which are women aged 18-35 years old. It should strike a cord with many as that same demographic is responsible for consuming the most fast fashion. That makes this not just an issue of general workers rights, but also an issue of women's rights, equality, and social justice. It is an oppressive machine that is kept alive and running through sales across the globe but particularly in western society. We can often be oblivious to this because of course, the brands who use these factories don't tend to shout from the rooftops about it. They make profit from the fact that they can underpay and undercut these employees in every which way and then sell the garments for inflated prices to us and they're used to many not questioning this - until now.

Fashion Revolution Week is about kicking up as much of a stink as possible so brands have to be transparent. Big-name brands who sell on the high street need to be held accountable for all of their workers and each individual's rights. They need to be looking after the staff they use - whether they're directly related to the company or subcontracted - all workers are deserving of the same treatment. All workers deserve to work in a safe place, with fair and equal pay, with breaks, and with health and needs considered. This should be a blanket approach and not something that should only be exercised here and there. Not only does every worker along the way deserve all these rights but just at the base level of being a fellow human being, they should not have their dignity, pride, creativity, or joy stripped from them. Unfortunately, the fast fashion industry has a long way to go due to consumerist society and such high demand, but changes are happening and Fashion Revolution are creating huge waves.

Source: Fashion Revolution

Taking part in the Revolution this week and being a warrior against the mistreatment of garment workers is very simple but has proven to be so effective over the last few years. You can get involved from the comfort of your own home or go out and join forces with others. Tweet, Instagram, and Facebook your favourite brands the hashtag "who made my clothes" and see if you get a response. As Fashion Revolution stated, "if a brand doesn’t respond, keep asking. Our power is in persistence. The more people who keep asking #whomademyclothes, the more brands will listen". Check out the Fashion Revolution site Events page and find out what is going on locally in your area - there's workshops to breathe life into your old unworn clothes to clothe swap shops to lectures to photobooths! There's so many great individuals getting involved off their own backs to promote sustainability, human rights, and slow fashion in the hopes that one day fast fashion will listen and be forced to change its ways or take a back seat. If you can't make an event but you're able to and passionate about the cause, you can donate directly to the movement to help mobilise and promote ethical changes in the fashion industry. Being a conscious consumer isn't the easiest thing and it's not possible for some people to completely change their spending habits for a multitude of reasons, but being more aware of your shopping habits and making brands also be accountable for their treatment of their workers and the natural world we live in will help in the long run.

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April 16, 2018

Book Club No.14

Hey folks, welcome back to Book Club: a chance to delve into some of the works I've been indulging in lately and whether or not I rate or slate them. This instalment has a real mixed bag but in the best possible way and what's even better is I *actually* enjoyed all three books I'm going to mention today! Whether you're fan of drama, poetry, or murder, I've got you covered in this latest Book Club.

Zodiac by Sam Wilson
Zodiac is my most recently finished book and it was certainly a pleasant surprise to read. I picked it up on a relatively recent trip to The Works (which, if you live in the UK, can be an absolute gem for finding unusual and popular titles in the 3 for £5 section!) and I'm so glad I did. The cover and the general *crime thriller vibes* are what initially drew me in. The title and wee blurb gave me a little bit of insight that astrology and starsigns might play a part in the drama that unfolds so of course, that had me hook line and sinker as I'm partial to a bit of the ol' horoscopes as it is.

The story essentially follows a Detective Burton and his astrological helper, Lindi Childs, as they try to work out why some high-profile individuals are being murdered and try to uncover what their connection is. Zodiac takes place generally in a place called San Celeste and it has an LA sort of feel to it as you read delve further into the story. The interesting thing about San Celeste and the world of Zodiac in general is the fact that society is dictated by zodiac/star signs. For example, if you're a Capricorn, chances are you're a hot-shot CEO of some company and have millions of dollars invested in yourself as a brand and individual and many businesses whereas if you're an Aries, you probably live in the shithole aptly named Ariesville and have turned to life of drink, drugs, crime, or all three just to get by. I'm a big believer in our starsigns and birth dates having a lot to do with our personalities and general traits so it was a nice read for me to get into that interest via another interest of mine (i.e. crime thriller genre fiction). Burton and Childs basically discover that the murders of these high-profile men are linked to their elemental signs - Earth, Air, Fire, Water - and they need to predict who is going to be next based on this. Of course, as they investigate, they uncover more information about different things and individuals in San Celeste that opens more problems for them and the police.

The narrative of Zodiac reminds me a lot of the kind of classic Dan Brown style in that the chapters tend to jump from Burton and his story to another character called Daniel and his story/interactions. It also switches between many other characters but it's easy to follow and with each page you learn more about how they are all interlinked. One thing I particularly liked about this writing style is that there is a bit of a plot twist in terms of the timeline that I did not piece together. I don't know if it was obvious and I just didn't pick up on it, but I think it was cleverly executed either way and I honestly believe that if I even knew the "twist" from the get-go, it wouldn't have dulled the enjoyment of it at all. The characters are all very interesting and fit within the stereotypes of each of their starsigns which helps make the societal divide more believable too. The one criticism (and I say that loosely) with this book is that I feel like the whole story had a great pace to it but then was over in a flash at the end. The whole book works up to a grand finale, but I definitely could have done with a few more chapters just to fully tie everything together and finish the whole story on a cleaner break. With that being said, I did really enjoy it and was also *so* pleased to see there was no random love interest scenario plopped in there like many crime thrillers do - so thank you Wilson for not being a shitty predictable writer! Pick up a copy of Zodiac in a variety of formats, here.

The Sun and Her Flowers by Rupi Kaur
One of my all-time favourite books is Milk & Honey by Rupi Kaur as it was the first poetry book I read as an adult that made me fall in love with poetry instead of loathing it due to what I was forced to read in school. Kaur's writing is incredibly relatable for so many people who read her work and I certainly include myself in that group. The Sun and Her Flowers is Kaur's second publication and has more of an "after the heartbreak" feel to it compared to Milk & Honey.

The Sun and Her Flowers starts with poetry covering relationship breakdown and realisations made in the grief afterwards. It then progresses into finding yourself, accepting flaws, and trying to practice self love. Kaur also explores how self love can then help you find the love you deserve elsewhere. I once again found myself reading every poem and finding comfort in Kaur's words and finding it consolable in aspects of my own life. My emotions can swing from feeling empowered by her words to feeling incredibly upset and needing to purge that upset but that's my favourite thing about it. An additional theme in The Sun and Her Flowers that I feel Kaur explored much more in this book compared to Milk & Honey is her ancestry and family. She writes such wonderfully honest and pure words about her mother and also writes about what it's like being the first generation to be born and live in a different country. There's passion running throughout every poem and it's incredibly infectious. Although I feel The Sun and Her Flowers is fantastic in its own right, I can't help but do what many others have done and compare it to Milk & Honey. I still prefer Milk & Honey over this book, but I still recommend reading this because Kaur has certainly managed to maintain her emotional rollercoaster effect. Pick up a copy here.

Holding by Graham Norton
Those of you who follow me on Instagram may have already seen me talking about this book, but this one was certainly one of those "pleasantly surprised" moments for me. I picked up Holding purely because I had heard good things about it. Graham Norton's writing has received some great reviews so I was intrigued to know whether or not this was because he's famous and loved by many or if his writing was *actually* good. Reading the blurb of Holding, I decided I might enjoy the story. It centres around a small Irish village and the drama in the local community. A skeleton is uncovered when a new housing development is started in the village and the main character, PJ the Guard (the only policeman in the village - no that's not a euphemism), feels it's his chance to shine to solve who this skeleton once was.

I described this book when I was only a few chapters deep as being like a tamer version of Emmerdale but in an Irish village and I fully stand by that still now I've finished it. The story does follow PJ mostly, but it doesn't just look at him solving this old crime - it also explores his relationships, how he views himself and more. It also looks at the stories and lifestyles of a few of the villagers and how they're all interlinked. Some aspects of the book gripped me that were on the verge of going down a dark route, but Norton keeps his writing light so it never gets too dark in the story which I was a little disappointed in (but it's not that sort of book so I guess I'm asking for too much!). There's a twist towards the end of the story and I honestly saw it coming a mile off but despite it not shocking me, it didn't ruin the story and I finished reading the book feeling content. I was so pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed this book as I just didn't expect to like it as much as I did. Although it's not the most gripping story I've ever read and I prefer darker, more weird plots, this book is a good read, it's easy and simple to follow and if you're a fan of drama or soap operas, you will probably really love this. Grab your copy here.

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April 13, 2018

How to Come Home Happy After Work

Hey gang - I've been back at work a matter of days after having over a week off and I have to let you in to a little secret: I'm not exactly thrilled about it. Don't get me wrong, I quite enjoy my job, but there's only so much of work one individual can and should stomach, y'know? Before I began working in my current role, I would come home usually pretty late, cry to Matt about how mentally and physically drained I was and I basically wanted to be doing absolutely anything else than going back to work the next day. The problem with any job or career is that it can effect your personal life so very much and that can be an issue. Obviously there can be positive implications but when the negative ones start to creep in - that's when I feel I've got a major problem on my hands.

Being a teacher, particularly teaching young vulnerable people, often means that I take home a lot of emotional baggage with me at the end of each day and I've began to understand the importance of trying to leave this at work to pick up on my next shift and why this is beneficial to my mood, mental health, and my personal relationships. Realising this has meant I've tried to put in place some small things I make sure I do to try and come home from work each day feeling generally happy and ready to relax and enjoy my home life with all concerns or worries about work left behind.

Leave your work space tidy for the next day
A tip I cannot stress enough is making sure your workspace is neat and tidy. This obviously depends on your line of work and also potentially on other individuals and even more outside factors you have to consider, but I always make time at the end of each working day to tidy my office. One of the worst feelings in heading to work in the morning then stepping foot into my office to see tea-stained mugs from yesterday scattered around the room amongst paperwork I never filed and the odd crumb from one of my students stealing a cookie the day before. The Sims were bang on the money with the "environment" bar plummeting from bright green to hazardous red when your character walked into a messy room. A clean space means you're starting the day on the right foot and that's a little boost everyone needs.

Prepare what you can the shift before
Following on from my first point, something I like to try and do is do as much as I can the day before to make the next day smoother sailing. Obviously again, this isn't always possible depending on your job, but if there's anything I can put in place ahead of time - I will. For me, this is silly little tasks like writing the date and lesson objectives on the board and laying out the resources for the lesson the next day before I leave work. Having this organised before the next morning stops me from rushing around, being my typically disorganised frazzled self and helps me keep my anxiousness and worry at minimum levels.

Take time for *you*
Okay so this one is definitely a work in progress for me, but here my hypocritical ass out for a minute. Lunch breaks are required by law but let's be honest here - not all of us take them and we need to cut that shit out. My lunch breaks usually consist of frantically printing something extra out for the students to work on, calling people to ask why they're not in class, or listening to the students who have followed me into the office tell me who's been fighting with who over the weekend, all whilst shovelling a cereal bar into my face for some "substance" for the rest of the day. *Breathe*. Some of us might not be in the position to go out and enjoy fresh air or a full hour of uninterrupted break time, but making the most of what time you're given can really help elevate how you view work and your attitude towards it. As I can't leave my students unsupervised, I just simply make sure I spend a little time in our communal kitchen making a cup of tea and ensuring I have something properly to eat that's not just a packet of crisps nobody wanted. Just removing yourself from the four walls you're confined to for most of the day can increase your mood tenfold.

Lists lists and more lists
Although I would count myself as someone who is incredibly disorganised and quite frankly, frantic, at the best of times, I am a planner and my good goodness do I like making lists. Making lists for work is honestly life-saving for me as I am one wee forgetful goldfish but I also like to make lists for a sense of accomplishment. I'm a big procrastinator when I can get away with it so a list helps me gain focus on work and stops me from wasting my time but it also makes me feel quite proud at the end of each day to see what I've managed to get done despite spending most of my day teaching. I have a separate daily journal at work that is just full of daily lists and I purposefully leave this journal at work so it doesn't interfere with my personal life. Keeping lists also helps me keep on track for the foreseeable future too as it's crystal clear what things I haven't yet crossed off that I will need to complete the following day or that I will have to meet by a particular deadline. It takes away a lot of the stress and strain of work to just have it written down on paper so I can tackle it how I see fit.

If you commute, try to enjoy it
Again, this is subject to many factors, but commuting doesn't have to be awful if you can manage to have a positive mindset about it (sometimes *much* easier said than done I know). I thankfully only really commute one day of my working week now but when I do, I've tried my best recently to not stress about it. My train to and from work can be quite busy and hectic and instead of stressing about whether or not I'm going to get a seat or worrying about delays, I try to just enjoy the time I have in that moment. I used to be so apologetic and worry myself silly if my train got delayed or cancel but in reality? There's no point in worrying because worry isn't going to change the circumstance. Now I just make sure I find a spot on the train - whether that's a lucky rare seat or a patch of floor - open up whatever book I'm reading at the time and pop my headphones in if it's a particularly annoying/loud carriage. Having a commute of just under an hour is time I am now using to force myself to relax and take some "me" time and whilst the environment might be less than desirable, I certainly see a spring in my step once I finally get home and get that kettle on at the end of the day.

Work can be incredibly stressful and can be draining on many levels, but try to find any glimpses of the positives can become a great boost. Little small changes can make a world of difference to your attitude and outlook on work and trust me, I've been in those jobs that make you hate anything and everything - including yourself for making yourself go to the hell-hole every day - but you can try to change it around if you look deep enough.

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