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READ ABOUT LIVING <br>KINDLY
& what it means to me

WHERE THE MAGIC HAPPENS

I have wandered into dangerous territory, my friends. I have managed to veganise my favourite sweet treat from my childhood and I have already made them three times in three weeks. BUT this does mean that I have pretty much perfected the recipe and so really, I was simply sacrificing my time and waistline to assist you in making the perfect vegan cookies...

The original recipe, which is just as delicious, was concocted by my talented grandma and the only rule for this bake is that you have to credit her whenever you make them (so mind that you do!).


Ingredients:

Vegan spread (8 oz or 230 g)
Demerara sugar (6 oz or 170 g)
Vanilla (2 teaspoons)
Ground flaxseed OR whole chia seeds (2 tablespoons)
Self-raising flour (14 oz or 400 g)
Baking powder (1/2 a teaspoon)
Vegan chocolate, preferably half milk/dark and half white (7 oz or 200g)


Method

1. Get the ground flaxseed and put in a small bowl. If you have whole flaxseed, then grind it up as much as possible, using either a spice grinder, blender or a mortar and pestle (the latter is very hard work though, take it from me!). Add 4 tablespoons of water to the flaxseed in the small bowl and use a hand whisk to mix together - you will then see this become gelatinous and gloopy! This is your egg replacement (1 tablespoon of ground flaxseed + 2 tablespoons of water = 1 egg replacement). Pop this small bowl with the gloopy fake egg into the fridge to chill for a little bit. Alternatively, if using chia seeds, then 1 tablespoon of whole chia seeds + 3 tablespoons of water = 1 egg replacement. So for this recipe, 6 tablespoons of water is needed if using chia
2. Then get a big mixing bowl and cream together the vegan spread (I used Vitalite spread) with the demerara sugar and the vanilla until light and fluffy
3. Get the flaxseed 'egg' out of the fridge (it doesn't need to be that cold so don't worry if you're quick) or the chia seed 'egg' from the side and GRADUALLY add this into the creamy sugary mix
4. Then you can fold in the self-raising flour and the baking powder into the mix too! Don't worry if this takes a while, you've added a lot of flour so it does take some working to fold it in with the rest of the mix. It helps to get your hands mucky at this step, so wash them and start mixing until you end up with a beautiful big ball of cookie dough
5. At this point, I preheat the oven to 180 °C. Then it's time to add in the chocolate! You can either use chocolate chips or use bars of chocolate and break them up into smaller chunks. I found it quite difficult  and expensive to find vegan chocolate chips so I just break up the Tesco's Free From Kitchen Co. milk and white chocolate bars (1 of each) and chuck those in instead! I love the combo of two types of chocolate in my cookies
5. Then roll the dough into balls that are about the size of a golf ball. Pop these onto a baking tray with baking parchment on and make sure they're fairly spaced out so they don't just meld into a mega cookie (although they'll still taste fantastic if they do!). You can then gently flatten your cookie balls with the palm of your hand but don't make them too thin. The fluffy middles taste amazing if they're quite thick
6. You then just pop your trays in the oven for 19 minutes. If the cookies still look pale, don't be fooled! They might look pasty and soft when you take them out of the oven, but they're just right once they've cooled down. At this point, I take a spatula and push any leaking white vegan chocolate back into the cookie so you don't have any crystallised bits once cool. Leave them in their tray for about 5 minutes and then transfer them onto a cooling rack to carry on cooling. And, of course, sample one after 10 minutes of cooling when they're still slightly warm
7. Enjoy your cookies and let me know how they taste!


To sign the Greenpeace petition to stop big brands from using unsustainable palm oil in their products, click here.

Despite many of us hearing whispers about the widespread use of cheap palm oil and its effects on the environment for a couple of years now, the public are starting to feel the rumble caused by a new huge campaign. This has been led by Greenpeace and, rather unexpectedly, Iceland.

You've very probably seen their Christmas video about an orangutan that's been left homeless due to the production of palm oil, which was banned from being aired on TV but has gone viral online. Iceland themselves have removed palm oil from all their own-brand foods, which is a huge step forward that other supermarkets and food brands need to follow.

What is palm oil?
Palm oil is a vegetable oil that is made from the fruits and seeds of African oil palm trees, grown mainly in Malaysia and Indonesia. Palm oil is super cheap to use, and really versatile so tends to be the fat of choice for many food and beauty products. Seriously, just check the ingredients of some of your food at home, and it's likely that at least half of them contain palm oil (if not, then well done!).

Why is palm oil bad for the environment?
The demand for palm oil is so great, that new plantations are springing up constantly in a bid to keep up. African oil palm trees grow best in low-lying, hot and wet climates, which is naturally where rainforests tend to be. These rainforests, which are areas of great biodiversity and homes to many endangered animal species, get torn down to make way for the huge palm oil plantations. In fact, a football-pitch-sized area of rainforest is torn down every 25 seconds on average. This has been devastating for species at risk, such as the Borneo elephants, Sumatran tigers and, of course, orangutans. Orangutan numbers have fallen by 150,000 between 1999 and 2015.

Deforestation can happen either by trees being felled or, more commonly, by fires being purposefully spread. Not only does this quickly kill hundreds of animals living in these forests, but the burning itself releases greenhouse gases into our atmosphere, contributing to global warming.

The deforestation and the new roads built for easy access to the new plantations can also be utilised by poachers and wildlife hunters, who prey on those few alive, terrified and confused animals that are left once the fires burn out. Without the forest to hide and protect them, these animals are at even more risk of being hunted or captured.

Palm oil production is harmful to humans too. There have been reports of many indigenous people who have been driven out of their homes by plantation owners to make room for more palm oil tree crops, as well as multiple human rights violations.

Clearly, the producers of palm oil have a lot to answer for, and it's time that we, as consumers, put a stop to this unnecessary destruction of valuable rainforests and the animals that live there.

What about sustainable palm oil?
You may have heard about sustainable palm oil and the RSPO. When any of the British supermarkets (bar Iceland, of course) have been called out about their use of palm oil, they have all insisted that they haven't done anything wrong because their palm oil is from the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO).

The RSPO is the world's largest palm oil certification scheme and, similar to Fairtrade and its products, it certifies certain palm oils as 'sustainable' if they meet certain criteria. But, deforestation is not considered in the RSPO's criteria, so palm oil could have been grown on a patch of land specifically deforested and still be 'RSPO sustainable'. Its standards also do not ban the destruction of peatlands, which is another way that palm oil growth can damange the environment. For this and other reasons, some environmentalists have accused RSPO of being a greenwash, which is when something claims to be better for the environment than it actually is.

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) carried out a study that discovered that 'sustainable' palm oil is only slightly better than normal palm oil in terms of preventing environmental damage (deforestation, peatland destruction, decreases in biodiversity etc). Clearly, more needs to be done to protect nature from people and their palm oil.

But, banning palm oil completely might have terrible consequences because people would seek an alternative cheap vegetable oil to take its place, and the problem would be replaced by a different oil.

So what is the best thing for us to do?
Personally, I've decided to try to cut out foods that contain palm oil. It's tough though, because it really is in everything - chocolate, biscuits, spread, processed vegan alternatives, bread, shampoos. The list goes on and on. If anything, this shows how pervasive the palm oil problem is, and how important it is that we change our ways.

As individuals, we need to think about how much we are driving the demand for products that contain palm oil. So what do these foods have in common? They are heavily processed, they are pretty bad for your health and now we know that they are also bad for the environment. This is why home-cooked meals are the way forward - with fresh simple ingredients, where you add your own oil (if you use it) such as olive oil or sunflower oil. Food is so much tastier when you've made it yourself and you can have that extra feeling of satisfaction, knowing that you haven't contributed to the palm oil crisis.

Since turning vegan, I definitely pay a lot more attention to food labels than I did before, and now I've started adding palm oil to the list of no-nos that I look out for (no more Oreos for me!). Even if it's just a few products that you cut out of your diet, you can really make a difference to the environment.

Of course, the other way to help is to speak about palm oil. You can sign petitions, tweet about it or just mention it to a friend. Conversations lead to action, and they can inspire change both here in the UK and in all the countries desperately trying to keep up with our palm oil craze.

If boycotting Oreos will help to save the world, then its a small price to pay.

Final reminder that if you want to sign the Greenpeace petition to stop big brands from using unsustainable palm oil in their products, then click here and add your name!

References:
1. https://www.greenpeace.org.uk/faqs-palm-oil-answered/
2. https://www.rainforest-rescue.org/topics/palm-oil#start
3. http://www.saynotopalmoil.com/Whats_the_issue.php
4. https://www.telegraph.co.uk/food-and-drink/news/palm-oil-found-can-avoid/
5. https://www.theweek.co.uk/94596/what-foods-and-beauty-products-contain-palm-oil
6. https://theconversation.com/palm-oil-boycott-could-actually-increase-deforestation-sustainable-products-are-the-solution-106733


What is coconut oil?
Coconut oil is extracted from the fleshy part of the coconut and is especially exciting because it can be used for many different purposes, without adding a single thing to it! Unlike most oils, coconut oil is actually a creamy-white solid at room temperature. It melts very quickly from body heat though, making it easy to spread and apply. Many people use it to cook and bake with, or even as a vegan spread.

If you fancy taking it to the bedroom, it's a natural, nice-smelling-and-tasting lube and massage oil, though I'd recommend getting a separate pot for this purpose! No one wants that cross-contamination in their baking... I mostly use coconut oil in my beauty routine now, and I know of other people who use it as a hair conditioner, as a deodorant, and even apparently as a teeth whitener?! I take some of the claims about the wonders of coconut oil with a pinch of salt, but saying that, I know from experience that coconut oil can definitely be a brilliant vegan, natural and cruelty-free alternative in the kitchen and the bathroom (plus the bedroom, *ahem*). 

How do I use it in my beauty regime?
In my slow but steady quest to eliminate more waste from my way of living, I began to realise that one ridiculous steady-stream of waste was coming from the make-up removal wipes that I had been buying. It was time to change, so I started looking up more natural ways to take all of my make-up off, and coconut oil just kept cropping up in my research. When using as a make-up remover, I simply scoop some up with my finger tips, and apply all over my made-up face, rubbing it in gently. I then take a flannel, dunk it in warm water, then use it to wipe off the make-up-coconut-oil combo from my face. And then repeat once more to ensure that my face is completely clean.

I'd also started running out of moisturiser, and again, coconut oil seemed to be a popular vegan option. So, I figured I could probably kill two birds with one stone (what an awful phrase) and starting using it pretty-much daily on my face. I don't put too much on, as it can look a bit greasy if you over-apply it, but just a small amount goes a long way and has made my skin a lot happier.

Why is it better for the environment? 
Coconut oil alone is not necessarily better for the environment, which is why you have to make sure that you buy sustainable, organic and cold-pressed coconut oil, in order to make a difference. Coconuts, when produced traditionally, are pretty low-impact and eco-friendly, as well as organic. One reason for this is because they don't require pesticides or herbicides, since coconuts are from palm trees which don't require special conditions to grow and can out-compete/live alongside nearby low lying plants. Coconuts also have to be hand picked from the trees, so tractors and other machines are rendered useless.

However, nowadays you can buy coconut oil that isn't organic, because the demand from consumers has massively increased in recent years. Coastal mangroves have been cleared in certain countries, such as Sri Lanka, and replaced with coconut-only crops (monocrops) which reduce the biodiversity of these areas and require fertilisers.

The way that the coconut oil is processed is important too: many coconut oils are produced by transporting coconuts to an industrial plant, where they are cooked down, then shipped somewhere else to make oil, which is then bleached and deodorised, which are intensive processes hazardous to the environment. Alternatively, if the coconut oil that you buy is raw and cold-pressed then you are avoiding that lengthy processing.

Unless you are lucky enough to live in one of the beautiful hot countries that export coconuts, your oil will have travelled a fair way to end up in one of your cupboards. And additionally, who knows where it's been on its journey from the fruit to the oil?! Transportation produces greenhouse gases and contributes to climate change, so buying local is always best for the environment. Coconut oil is still better than any alternatives that I have found so far, but if you have something more local to the UK that I can try then please let me know!

Where is mine from and why?
You can find coconut oil in so many shops now, even in supermarkets! But, if you want to find one that's more eco-friendly, then you should do your research and not buy willy-nilly. I bought my most recent jar from my local Holland and Barratt store, because I didn't want to order anything online and be showered in horrible plastic packaging. The brand that I went for in the end was Vita Coco. Their coconut oil is raw, cold-pressed and organic (perfect for the reasons that I described above) and comes in a glass jar, which I will repurpose once I've used all of the oil up.

Another common issue with coconut oil, is that it can be produced by farmers who are exploited by the companies they work for, being paid very low wages and experiencing a low quality of life. Therefore, I tried to look for either Fair Trade coconut oil or companies with schemes in place for their workers, to improve their communities. Vita Coco has such a scheme, where they invest in projects that help local schools, teach farmers how to improve their crops and therefore their income, and they also utilise all parts of the coconut, by giving the coconut shells back to the farmers to be used as rooves for buildings.

I'm not sure about how quickly I will use up the coconut oil at the moment, so I decided to buy a 200 g jar to start with, and it cost me £5.25. I'll keep you updated but so far, it's doing the trick and costs less than I would have spent on a new moisturiser of the same size and a new pack of face wipes!

Do you have a special use for coconut oil that you would recommend?

References:
1. https://ecocult.com/is-coconut-oil-eco-friendly/
2. https://grist.org/food/are-coconut-products-bad-for-the-environment/
3. https://www.vitacoco.com/vita-coco-project

Mental health is no longer a taboo subject, but it can still be tough to know exactly what to do or say to support someone who is struggling. Due to the wonderful work of charities like Mind and the huge public campaign Time To Change, mental health is finally being talked about. More and more people are opening up to loved ones and friends about their mental health issues, whilst less and less people stigmatise them. Thankfully, these problems do not have to be dealt with alone - having the love and understanding of those around us can truly make a difference in an individual's recovery.

The nature of mental health means that there is no magical way to make someone feel better and no perfect way to support someone. I, myself, am no expert, but since having lived with depression and anxiety, and supported many other friends suffering with their mental health, I have learnt some of the dos and don'ts. Sharing is caring, so here is my advice for helping with a friend or family member with mental health problems:

Just Listen
Being able to open up and share those toxic thoughts, scary feelings or horrible experiences can be so difficult, that having someone to sit there and listen to you babble, without fear of judgement or interruption, is such an amazing thing. People with mental health can feel so isolated and terrified of communicating what they are coping with. They don't expect answers or magic cures, they just want to express themselves and you can be a positive part of that.

Don't Make Them Feel Guilty
I can still remember the first time that I admitted to an adult that I was self-harming and having depressive thoughts, and it was horrible. It was never going to be a nice experience, but I wasn't allowed time to explain exactly how I felt or how scared I was, because instead, they panicked. They told me that I could have therapy but it would show on my medical records and I would find it harder to be employed. They cried a lot, and I felt really guilty, like I was a burden. I was fifteen years old and it made me instantly regret sharing my issues and I didn't share with anyone again until years later. I understand that they were coming from a place of love, and that they were just as scared as I was but their initial reaction hindered me from getting help for a long time.

Do Your Research
There are so many different mental health disorders, that you can't just place them in the same box and try to handle them in the same way. Luckily, we live in the age of the internet and there are tons of resources that you can find to help you understand mental health. Mind has an amazing A-Z of mental health that is a great place if you want information!

Know That You Can't Fix Them
Mental health issues are awful and it can be painful to see someone you care about degenerate and worsen in their condition. But, being controlling and forcing people into treatments they don't believe in or are not ready for, does not help. With mental health, a delicate and caring attitude is needed. If your friend is in immediate danger (for example, attempting to commit suicide or self harm), then do call the emergency services and/or take them to a safe place, but being too forceful can often hurt more than help.

Understand How Their Mental Health Affects Them Everyday
Mental health is more than being sad or nervous or having mood swings, it can make everyday tasks and outings feel like huge obstacles. So try to be understanding if your friend can't make it to your big party or if they prefer you to visit them in their home. Although it can be hard, remember that how they act is not personal if it's related to their mental health.

Give Them Time To Heal
Mental health is just as important as physical health, but the former tends to heal much slower than the latter. Improvement is not always linear with mental health, and people can take years, or even decades, to recover or learn to look after their mental health. Continue giving your constant support and try not to get impatient or frustrated. It will mean so much to your loved one.

Look After Yourself
If you are feeling bad yourself, then put yourself first. Self-care is very important, and it's okay to take a step back and explain that you need to work on your own mental health.

If you need more specific advice, then please do check out Mind's extensive information about supporting a friend with a mental health problem. I hope that this little post has helped and I am always sending you, and your friends/family, lots of love and hugs.

Feminism: to achieve and establish political, economic, personal and social equality of the sexes. It is 2018 and feminism is still a dirty word. As someone who proudly identifies as a feminist, it baffles me how many of my peers are afraid to use the word to define themselves. Feminism and feminist are both words that have been tainted in the minds of the majority, because of a very successful media campaign against them that has been ongoing for centuries.

I think it's easy for many modern young women to forget how far we have come, only in the last few decades. The change that we have seen in British society has been monumental for women's rights. When your crotchety old neighbour snidely remarks that you have it easy as a woman in today's society compared to how it used to be, then they are right (though they didn't have to put it in such a rude way). We should be grateful for the work that past feminists have done for us. We generally experience less harassment at work; we do have the vote; many more of us are paid more than we would have; more women own land; more women successfully choose to have careers; there are more female politicians; women can now attend schools and universities. After so much has changed for the better because of the resilience of the women, the feminists, who came before us, how can feminism still be such a bad word? The tiny man-hating minority should not tar the names of the millions of women who have fought, and are fighting, for equality between the sexes, around the world. Feminism is not about women being on top but of people of all genders standing side by side on an equal footing.

The fight for equality has won many battles but the war is not over yet. Rape, wage inequality, sexual harassment, equal opportunities for women in work and in the home are just a few examples of where change is still needed to improve the lives of women. These issues are still present in the West today, and it's not acceptable. Even if you are a woman and think that you have it perfect where you live, think instead of the women all over the world who are forced into arranged marriages; banned from education and will never learn to read or write; who are forced into prostitution or slavery; who are forced to bear children for a husband they never loved; who work the same amount of hours, in the same job, as a man but will earn half as much. These women need their voices to be amplified, and they need to know that they have allies in us. We will fight for them and won't let them be forgotten.

Feminism is not burning bras, shunning femininity or hating men. It's not forcing your husband to stay at home while you go out to work, it's not beating up your son and it's not putting down other women for wearing make-up, being a mom or wearing a hijab. It is about giving everybody equal opportunities and choices about their lives, free from oppression and discrimination based on gender.

For feminism to truly no longer be needed, we need to make feminists of everyone: every woman, every man and every person who identifies as gender fluid. Feminism should unite people of every gender, colour, nationality, sexuality, body type. Feminism is not just beneficial to women, it aims to eliminate toxic masculinity, to make it easy for men to become stay at home dads, for people to identify as whatever gender they feel they are, to make families equal and fair. Feminism allows people to be judged by their individuality, not by their gender. I feel very passionately that every person is valuable and free to make their own choices, regardless of what gender they were assigned at birth. It's 2018 and I shouldn't have to identify as a feminist. We should all be feminists.

I have been following the Instagram account Girlgaze for some time now as they post beautiful photos taken by mostly female photographers. They share plenty of gorgeous work but one post that really captivated my attention was about "radical softness as a weapon", an idea created by an artist called Lora Mathis. Girlgaze explained it as: "Radical softness is the idea that unapologetically sharing your emotions is a political move and a way to combat the societal idea that feelings are a sign of weakness."

Though I'm not sure about the wording exactly ('weapon' in particular sounds too violent to me), the idea that sharing your feelings as a way of fighting the stigma of being "emotional" did strike a cord with me. I've always hated how talking about how you feel, which is great for your mental health and creating healthy relationships, is generally seen as being weak... Whereas staying silent, keeping it all in and retaining a composed facade whilst having an internal break down and staying distant from people is seen as being strong by society?

The more I think about this idea of silent equals strong and vocal equals weak, the more I am convinced it is down to sexist bullshit. Even now, people love to throw around the word "emotional" as an insult, and it is usually associated with women.

It's 2018 now, and we have had thousands of years of evidence that girls are strong as hell, so first we need to completely get rid of this idea that women are weak. Secondly, humans are not robots. We all have emotions, whatever gender we identify as - being open simply varies from person to person.

I've always been fairly open, particularly with my feelings, and despite many small digs about it over the years from people, I'm proud of it. For me, the only time I was hesitant to share my feelings was when I was really depressed, because that negative voice in my head was telling me that I would be annoying people with my feelings. Now that I'm feeling better, I know that if someone does get annoyed by listening to how you feel, then they aren't a good friend and you shouldn't let it affect you. Talking about emotions is better for your health, it's essentially an act of self care.

Rejecting this stigma is something that I've been doing for years without giving it a name. Being emotional is not a bad thing. It is not a feminine trait - everyone has emotions and it varies completely between person to person how naturally open we are, regardless of gender. I think it's important to see the strength in sharing and I for one am going to continue being radically soft.

Talking about my own mental health is pretty damn scary. But I've found in the past that it can also be really rewarding and I love starting conversations with people about mental health and self-care. I talked a while back about being diagnosed with depression two years ago, but in that post, I didn't really talk much about my treatment, which first involved just therapy (CBT in particular) and then, at my therapists recommendation, included taking anti-depressants.

I'll admit that by the time I started my anti-depressants, I was already wary of them and had heard a tonne of horror stories. A lot of my close friends had felt suicidal taking certain medications for depression and anxiety, and had been on them for years. So when my lovely therapist suggested trying medication to support my recovery, my initial reaction was fear. But my best friend, who had been on medication for her mental health for a while, gave me some amazing advice that has stayed with me to this day: "Recovery is like a ladder, and you're at the bottom when you have depression. Sometimes therapy isn't enough to get you all the way up the ladder, sometimes it isn't even enough to get you onto the first rung. The anti-depressions help you onto that rung so that therapy can get you to the top of the ladder." And now, I can say that I completely understand that metaphor. I feel like I'm at the top of the ladder.

I was only on a low dosage of citalopram, of two lovely little pills (perfect for me as I can't swallow big ones) that I took once a day. I was really lucky in that I didn't suffer many bad side effects apart from memory loss and feeling suicidal in the first month or so as my body got used to the medication. I was warned about the initial potential feelings of suicide before taking the drugs though, and I'm really glad that I told my close family and friends about it so they could help me through it. The memory loss didn't affect me much day-to-day, but it definitely affected me during exam season when I found myself struggling to revise and retain information like I never had before.

I kept on with my medication for 15 months though because the positives far outweighed those two negatives. Citalopram allowed me to get my life back. I could finally sleep during the night *and* actually get up in the morning! I had the strength to combat my negative thoughts *and* dress myself everyday. I generally felt less anxious and more positive about my life and where it was headed. I firmly believe that this was due to the combination of CBT and my medication. The doctor who prescribed the citalopram for me advised that I needed to keep taking the pills every day for a year before stopping them, to ensure that my depression was being properly treated. I gave it a little longer than this but ultimately made the decision on my own to stop renewing my monthly prescription just before my final exams for my Masters degree.

I won't pretend it was all butterflies and roses - it was still hard to come off my medication. But I had faith that I could do it. I was three-quarters of the way up my ladder, and I could see that the top was in sight! It felt like the right time for me and I wanted my memory to be better for my exams, so I took the plunge. There were a few times over the next few months when I considered going back onto anti-depressants because I would have some really "down days", as I've come to call them. Days when I go back to swimming in negative thoughts of self-hatred and low confidence in my abilities. But I'm fortunate that these days were few and far between, and I quickly went back to feeling well again.

These down days, in the first 8 months after stopping my medication, were almost always while I was on my period. Now I've been having periods for over 10 years now so I know what a normal Sarah period mood is like - grumpy, bitchy and sarcastic as hell. But then there was suddenly an added element of self-pitying, doubting and hating that reminded me of how I felt before I started taking citalopram. I went to the doctors about these strange periods a couple of months before I left on my trip, and they offered me anti-depressants again, but just for my week a month that I was on my period. I decided to think about it and monitor how I felt before jumping straight onto medication again. I realised that though I was more prone to negative thoughts on my period, I wasn't acting on the negative thoughts like when I was depressed and I could still function in my day-to-day activities. I also realised that each period was better than the last one.

6 months into my trip, and my periods are almost back to normal - I'm just a slightly grumpy troll once a month, instead of feeling ill again. I'm really enjoying travelling and feeling stress free. I honestly recommend travelling if you haven't yet had a break from the world of academia and work. By travelling, I don't mean having a schedule, bouncing around quickly from one place to another and feeling stressed by foreign things and having to be somewhere at certain times. Instead, I advise going slowly, without pressures and time constraints and just go with the flow. Not having concrete plans is really freeing, and I think it's allowed my brain to reset. I feel much more able to cope when things go wrong because I have a different attitude, and instead of going straight into panic mode, I can step back and think clearly about what to do to fix it.

It sounds silly to say so bluntly, but I'm also just really happy and content with my life and with myself now. It's not like I ever had a huge eureka moment when I was suddenly better and wasn't depressed anymore, it has been a very gradual process with ups and downs. I can, however, say that I feel more myself than I have since when I was a teenager. I feel pretty great generally. When I look back to just two years ago, I feel almost like a completely different person!

Everyone's recovery journey is different, and I think I've been lucky in that I caught my depression quickly when it got quite bad, and I had lots of people supporting me. I was also lucky to get put on a medication that worked perfectly for me, whereas many have to try different anti-depressants before they find the one that fits them best. I also didn't have too many bad side effects. To be feeling like this two years after feeling at my worst makes me feel so fortunate.

Remember, there is light at the end of the tunnel, no matter how long your tunnel (or your ladder) is.


T.W. Depression, mental health illnesses and self harm.

I was officially diagnosed with depression by my doctor in 2016, which wasn't long ago, despite how much I've changed since then. They said that they thought from my description of how I'd been feeling that I'd already suffered from depression for a couple of years prior to being diagnosed, but for me, 2016 was my breaking point. I finally had to admit to myself that I couldn't function any more and that I desperately needed help to feel like myself again. It's still difficult for me to write about now, but I'm hoping that by sharing it, I can encourage others to seek help and to say that there can be light at the end of the tunnel. As a warning, this probably isn't going to be well structured - I'm just letting my thoughts tumble out as I write. It's therapeutic in a way.

I feel so different now, I've slowly reclaimed myself from the illness and though I'm still discovering myself (lame I know, but necessary), I feel like I'm getting there and I am Sarah again. It's strange to think back to how I felt two years ago... I was sad, deflated, angry at myself (and others who I blamed for pushing me to the edge), and defeatist. I wondered if being depressed was just part of my personality and if I was meant to be this way (spoiler, I wasn't). Part of me fully embraced being sad all the time, as I felt like I deserved it. That I was such an awful person and I deserved to be sad.

I feel very lucky that I had so many amazing people to support me. Even friends who I had pushed away when I was ill, because I couldn't bear to be a burden or because I was half convinced that everyone hated me, rallied round when I shared with them what I'd been going through. That's a life lesson there: people can surprise you with their kindness. I do still firmly believe that if someone is toxic to you though, then you are better keeping them at an arm's length away. Though it is hard, especially if you have depression I think, you have to put your own health first. Blocking out several people who just brought me down helped my recovery immensely, even though it felt super shitty at the time and I was ridden with guilt.

The hardest part about trying to get better was forgiving and loving myself. I still have to try hard some days, even now. I used to punish myself mentally and physically, and now it seems so drastic and I can't even explain WHY I did it. I guess I just hated myself with a passion. My personality, my body, my own brain had turned against me and I needed to hurt. In the end though, I wasn't the one who hurt most from my self harm, it was the people who cared about me who felt it the most.

Even with my brain all confused, I knew it had to stop so I found a way to cope: playing a certain song and singing (badly) to it, having a bit of a cry and letting myself be emotional. It really helped. It was hard but it helped. I guess though that there is no cure all - therapy and my anti-depressants really helped me get to the point where I could figure out how to counter my self harm thoughts. But the process will be different for everybody.

I've had a lot of friends who have suffered with depression and all of our experiences have been completely different, and I'm aware that I'm still pretty ignorant of depression in general and of other mental illnesses. I think the most important thing when discussing mental health is to be open to learning and to being supportive and unselfish. Anything otherwise is just more harmful to someone with a mental health disorder.

To anyone suffering with your own mental illnesses, I just want to say that sharing how I felt and seeking help took me a long time, but it was the best thing I ever did. I know it's hard, and the process of recovery is not a quick or easy one, but you always have people who have your back. Do what is right for you. And if you're already on the path to recovery, I'm proud of ya and sending love your way too!

Brain ramble is done, over and out.

Self care is a phrase that's only recently entered my vocabulary. It's banded about everywhere nowadays though - YouTubers will urge you to buy their new bath bomb as part of a "self care routine" and even big brands are hopping onto the self care bandwagon.

When these people/companies preach about self care, what they ACTUALLY mean is "treat yourself and give us your money". And this is a very different thing to self care, mostly because a new face mask is not going to cure your anxiety or make you mentally healthier.

Additionally, if you are having money problems which are bringing you down, then this idea of having to spend to look after yourself is truly toxic. It's also just not true.

Looking after yourself and improving your well-being does not need you to dig deep into your pockets. As someone recovering from depression and travelling on a budget, without a bath for bombing or an oven for baking, I'm going to share with you my self care rituals and goals.

Being present in the moment

I am so sorry about how hippy and wishy-washy that sounds but hear me out... So last Summer my mama found this course on "mindfulness" (another trendy word at the mo) at the Mac in Birmingham and I decided to give it a go.

It really wasn't very good... I felt very silly doing the exercises and I made friends with an 80 year old lady who laughed at the sessions' ridiculousness even more than I did.

But now, I realise that I did take some things away from it - such as living in the moment. It's so easy to sleep walk through life; to tune out while doing a task or to just do things without taking it in. I am still guilty of it. But snapping out of it and purposefully trying to concentrate on the now, letting go of worries about the past or future and just enjoying the moment is so good for your brain.

Immersing yourself in nature

Just going for a walk and being surrounded by greenery is so healing. Breathing in fresh air, noticing the details and textures in the plants and keeping an eye out for wildlife. There's nothing like it and it's the best free therapy.

Focusing on experiences, not things

Before travelling, I used to have a lot of things - clothes, books, decorations, general tat. I had to get rid of a lot of stuff so that I could fit my life into half a van (maybe more than half as I still have more stuff than Ross!). Since actually moving into the van, I now know that I could have got rid of a lot more and I probably will throw it out when we return home.

It's easy to hide things away in drawers and boxes and cupboards but getting rid of all the extra baggage floating around is kind of therapeutic. When I was cleaning everything out, I found things from my ex boyfriend and tough times in my life and it felt SO good to chuck them away!

We are also living on a strict budget now so I don't buy anything that I don't *need*. I am operating on a one-in, one-out basis so things have to break before I replace them.

Instead of getting pleasure from buying things, I'm enjoying my experiences and adventures. Going somewhere new; getting back to nature; learning something historical; spending time with someone who makes you laugh. These memories are worth so much more than material items and will definitely make you happier in the long run.

Getting rid of lists

I've already written a blog post about when I got rid of my lists. But essentially, it felt like a huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders. My lists and schedules had really been stressing me out and making me feel down.

Recently, my wonderful friend Zoe (check out her blog here) told me that instead of writing lists of things she had to do, she only wrote things down once she had done them. Therefore at the end of each day or week etc, she could feel good about her achievements. Achievements can be big or small - from getting out of bed or doing some cleaning, to planning a trip or doing some more of an essay. I think that is a wonderful way to celebrate what we've done, instead of worrying about what we haven't.

Writing down or talking about feelings

You don't have to keep your jumbled up, confusing feelings in your head. They can be voiced. If I'm feeling really shitty or confused, I like to write a letter about what I'm feeling. Just a lil tip though- don't send these letters to other people because feelings can be transient and the letters are for you alone. I usually delete them afterwards because the letters are not a record, but are instead a way for me to order my thoughts. Once they are in order, I can start thinking about how to counter the bad feelings, fix situations and work on any problems that caused the feelings.

I also think it is important to talk about persistent feelings. It is good to share and often other people can give you advice or an alternative perspective on a problem.

Doing more physical exercise

I am baaaaad at this one at the moment. When we were in France, we went on morning runs on most days but since arriving in Spain, we haven't ran once. I'm going to blame the snow and torrential rain... But I think mostly we just forget.

I hate running. My body literally screams "NO! GO BACK TO BED AND NEVER LEAVE IT AGAIN!" with every stride, but it does make me feel better afterwards. Not physically better, but instead there's a smug little Sarah in my brain saying "See?! I told you that I could do it.". That feels pretty good if I am being honest so I should start going again...

One of my favourite exercises is swimming but unfortunately Ross didn't think to fit a swimming pool in the van so I'm stuck with running, I suppose.

We do a lot of hiking and walking though, which leaves my legs nice and sore, indicating that something good is happening down there in my limbs. Walking is great for the soul too - lots of time for thinking or chatting away to your walking partner (Ross is slowly getting my entire life history from these walks).

Realising you are worthy

The most important thing about self care is that we are all worthy of it. Our happiness and wellbeing is so important and it doesn't matter who you are, how much money you have, what you do. We need to look after ourselves and each other. Take care and let me know if you have any self care tips that I haven't mentioned!

I'm not exactly a high profile blogger... But since I've started this blog, I've realised I do need to be mindful of the messages I send out with my content.

I know that whatever the subject matter of a post, I want to be kind. Racist, anti-LGBTQ+, body-shaming or any other hateful comments are not welcome on this blog, by anyone. And it's really important to me that my posts are a space to discuss difficult issues that I (and, potentially, readers) have come across and to offer help and advice where I can. I don't want my blog to become negative or to be used to bring myself or others down.

A few months ago, for example, I wrote a post about my "problem" with snacking and it was pretty popular. But the more I thought about it, the less comfortable I was about the article I had written. I didn't want to be advocating the idea that snacking at all is a problem - it's healthy to snack - and besides, I'm not a nutritionist or in any way qualified to talk about food. So I've deleted the post and feel much better about it - and about my snacking which I no longer punish myself for.

I was also worried that it could exacerbate someone's eating disorder, even just a little bit, and I couldn't stand that possibility. I want my blog to stand for positive mental health stories, not for making anyone's illnesses worse.

Thinking about responsible blogging also makes me think about the more general world of blogging and of sponsorship and adverts. Ads are almost synonymous with the word "blogger" nowadays so it is definitely something that needs to be thought about carefully.

As an influencer, even if you are getting a product for free to review as you like, I think that serious questions need to be asked before agreeing to take the product or service to your blog. Questions such as... Is it an ethical product/service - is it or its production harming people/animals/the environment? Will it genuinely help my readers to tell them about this product/service?

Again, these are not things that I really thought about at all when first blogging a couple of years ago. But I'm trying to be much more aware of where my things come from, especially clothes and food and beauty products. Kind and cruelty free products are not necessarily more expensive but do take more effort to find. I think that these things are worth the effort though.

As with blogging about anything, buying things can be easily done without much thought and it's exactly what I used to do. But I'm trying now to be more aware and careful, not only about my content, but also my lifestyle.

Essentially, my aim for this blog is to be realistic and honest whilst spreading positive messages and creating dialogue. It's also about self improvement and becoming a better, kinder person.

This also means it's important to be open to corrections and to being educated, so if I ever write something that is seen to be offensive or ignorant, then please message me so I know and can change it.

I really hope that this little website can be positive and relatable. So welcome everyone to my blog - I hope it can help you as it is helping me.
So, you might have seen my post where I opened up about being diagnosed with depression, and obviously the next steps that were taken were to try to treat it/get rid of the damn thing. Having depression sucks, obviously. But there are things that can make your life easier if you do have it. I started with therapy, because that was the route that I personally wanted to go down before trying anti-depressants, though there is absolutely nothing wrong with doing it another way.

My parents pretty much took charge here, which was great because I was pretty useless at thinking about what I needed. I am also aware of how extraordinarily lucky I am - I was able to have private therapy because of the health insurance that my family have. My parents decided that they wanted me to get better straight away, so made arrangements for me. All I had to do was choose one of about 6 therapists.

In an ideal world, everyone who needs therapy could have the same. I can't believe how ridiculous the waiting times are for NHS therapy, and that's why I think it's important to keep talking about it; sharing experiences and making it plain how the lack of funding in mental health is affecting our society (pls read and fix, Theresa the Appeaser).

But basically, I got a therapist, and her name was Rebecca, and she was lovely. It was really hard opening up at first, but once I started, it all came tumbling out - all the thoughts in my head that I kept to myself but were eating away at me everyday. It got to a point where I was so comfortable with her, I'd even share the thoughts I knew sounded ridiculous (like how I thought I was crazy sometimes, how I was avoiding doing my dissertation because it felt too hard for me, how I wondered if I deserved to be loved at all).

Now of course, therapists are just therapists - they can't solve all of your problems. That's still for you to do. But they help you to get in the right frame of mind to do so, and can advise you and give you confidence.For example, when I was having therapy, I'd also just started a new relationship, but had only just finished a whole lot of drama with an old best friend and ex-boyfriend. Both of them left me feeling used, vulnerable and worthless. But also with a heck of a lot of trust issues. I had so many doubts about my new relationship, not because of my new partner so much as my own feelings. How could I trust somebody new? Was he just stringing me along? Was I worth anything to him? Was this long-term? Did he really love me or was he just saying it? Rebecca's reply was obvious and simple: you are of course loved but you need to sit down and discuss it with him. It was terrifying, but after my session I found the strength to phone my partner and organise having that discussion in person. And I am so glad I asked those questions. It was something I needed to do.

Rebecca helped to give me closure from my experiences with my ex-boyfriend and ex-"best friend". She made me realise that I deserved more than how they treated me and that most people weren't out to hurt/control/put me down like they did.

But more importantly, she also taught me that I couldn't make everything better for everyone. Both my best and worst trait is that I am too concerned with other people's well-beings. I just want to make everyone happy and safe. Rebecca helped me distance myself slightly so that I have more healthy friendships and to focus on looking after myself first.

Therapy is a lot less scary and a lot less lame than I thought it would be when I was first diagnosed with depression. But before my first session, I decided I was going to give it my all and really take on board everything I would be told, because I hated feeling so down all the time. I wanted more than anything to combat my illness. In the end, it took the magic combo of anti-depressants and therapy to get me to where I am today - which is pretty damn good. I feel happy and I feel well. So I think that old saying "don't knock it 'til you've tried it" comes into it's own here. If you feel like you might want to try therapy, I definitely recommend it.

I only very recently heard about Mooncups, and if you have no idea what they are, then it’s time you were educated! Mooncups are essentially little silicone cups that you stick in your vagina to collect your blood when you are on your period.

Okay, so now you’ve made that wrinkly “ew” face, stay with me here… I’m going to be honest about the pros and cons of using one, and why I decided to buy one in the first place.

After being told about them by a friend who’d encountered the brand at a vegan market, I was intrigued, but not particularly bothered enough to actually buy one. It was only when *another* friend told me that they were using the similar Lilycup that I decided to go for it because frankly, pads and tampons are just not great. You are always prone to little accidents with them, like when you leak onto your pants or onto someone’s sofa (you poor thing) and it’s always a bit of a gamble as to knowing when to check and swap for a new one.

With the Mooncup, I’ve kept it in for about 11 hours whilst on my heaviest day and it was fine. No spills, no leaks, and no discomfort. I mean, when you first start to use it, it’s quite a strange sensation… But it feels like using a tampon, except that it sits slightly lower down in your vagina and you can *definitely* feel it when you sneeze haaa.

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So no spills, no discomfort, no embarrassment. But the best thing about the Mooncup is that you aren’t throwing away a zillion pads or tampons every period – there’s no waste! And that, my friends, is really good for the environment. And also your bank account because you only have to buy one cup and you are sorted – no monthly runs to the shop to buy pads and praying you get a female cashier (we’ve all done it).

Okay, so those are the pros, now I’m going to be totally upfront about the cons. Taking out the cup is like having a tug of war with your own vagina. I mean, you start to learn a knack for it after a while, but I genuinely had no idea how hench my vagina was until I had to take a Mooncup out of it.

The other downside is that when you take it out, you definitely have to be by a sink, and that makes taking it out when you are at a public toilet more tricky. It’s doable… But not easy. The way I get around this is simply timing it well so that I only have to take it out at home so it’s workable.

And then I guess it goes without saying that you also have to be comfortable with seeing blood, because you do have the pour it out at the end of the day. Personally, I found it really interesting to see exactly how much blood is produced by a period, but I understand not everyone is as curious and/or gory as I am…

I mean, at the end of the day, the most important thing is that we’re all comfortable as possible while on our period, because we get enough pain and issues from being on it as it is. So if the Mooncup sounds intriguing to you, I recommend to just go for it and give it a go! I got mine from Amazon here (note that size A is for women who have had babies and/or are over 35 while size B is for us babyless young ‘uns).

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I am a firm believer that anyone should wear what they feel comfortable in. And of course that women should embrace their bodies, and should never be told how to dress. If you feel comfortable in a swimsuit or a burkini, then wear it! If you feel empowered by a hijab, or a buzzcut or long flowing hair, then go for it!

Now I am always the first to criticise my own body - especially if I'm feeling down that day. But I try not to let that stop me from wearing what I like. I hate that I'm not always confident with how I look, so I try to be brave and go for an outfit anyway.

But twice now, I have been made to feel awkward, unwelcome and ashamed for wearing a certain dress of mine and I just felt like it was time to talk about it on here.

So the first incident was while I was at a pub about a month ago, in the beautiful little town of Ulverston in the Lake District. While I was sat chatting and laughing with my boyfriend and his parents, the land lady shouted across the room at me to "please cover up, thank you". Which you know, was super embarrassing, especially in front of my boyfriend's lovely mum and step-dad. I could feel myself go bright red, and I began to get quite upset at the thought of all the people around the bar judging me. I felt too scared to go to the toilet, lest I be taken aside by the land lady, and sat quietly in the corner until we went home. It was suggested that we go to a different pub, but I didn't want to make a fuss.

All I had done was wear a dress - a dress I thought was pretty and cute, and I'd come home feeling disgusting and gossiped about and embarrassed. My boyfriend, Ross, came and talked to me about it later that evening. He had been as shocked as I was when it happened, and he wished he'd done more at the time. I felt the same way. I've always been quite vocal about body shaming and how people should wear what they want. But when *I* had something said to me, I was so surprised that I just didn't react in time. As well as all the horrible feelings from what had been said to me, I was also feeling guilt. Guilt for not having the balls to stand up for myself and be proud of my outfit.

So, with Ross' encouragement, I decided I was going to carry on wearing my dress when I wanted to. There was nothing wrong with it, this was a weird blip and no one else in society is as rude as the land lady at the pub.

Ha, if only that was true. Just this Monday, at the Fresher's Fayre of my university, I was helping out at the Blog Society stall and encouraging people to join us as members. That morning, I'd told myself I was being silly when I paused to put on my blue dress. Ross told me I looked beautiful and I left the house feeling confident but excited about the day to come.

I was by myself and talking to an interested student, when a middle-aged woman interrupted me. "I'm sorry, but your nudity... I can't help staring at it and it's making me uncomfortable. I just thought you should know." Not wanting to be rude at a public event, and again feeling that numb shock at being essentially publicly humiliated in front of other students around me, I mumbled "Urm, okay."

I have no idea what I was supposed to say, but felt my eyes pricking with tears. The student I had been talking to politely excused herself and left awkwardly. When I felt brave enough to look around me, I saw the lovely girl on the next stall, for "Sci Fi, Fantasy and Anime Society". She met my eyes and gave me a "who the hell does she think she is?!" kinda look, and it made me feel a lot better. It took a lot to then chat to other students after the incident, I felt like everyone was judging me.

The trouble with comments like those I've received, is that they are a subtle way for people to completely tear down a woman's confidence in her body and how she dresses. Maybe to some people, those comments were harmless. But when they are directed at you, especially in such a public way, all they serve to do is to shame and humiliate. And the people who say them must know this or they'd keep their opinions to themselves, or if they can't possibly keep their mouth shut, they'd take you aside privately.

I guess I'm just sharing my experiences to help others who've suffered similar situations. Keep wearing that top that makes your cleavage look amazing if you want to, your legs do look great in that skirt and if you want to cover your hair, then you do that. Don't let small minded people dictate to you how you look, because they have no right to.  And I think I needed to write this post to remind myself of this too.

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