Mental Health Myths

This week is Mental Health Awareness week! Fortunately, in recent years we have become a bit more open about mental health, however, there are still some stubborn myths that are sticking around. We’ve written up five of the most common misconceptions about anxiety and depression, along with our thoughts on how we can start to think differently about mental health.

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Mentally ill people are different:

With media hype around the ‘depression gene’ and the inaccurate stereotypes that are perpetuated by popular culture, it’s not hard to arrive at the idea that people who are depressed or experiencing mental illness are fundamentally different from those who do not.

Whilst some studies have shown that learning about so-called ‘depression genes’ can make people less likely to blame their friends for being depressed, the biological side of mental health is still a contentious subject. If we are not careful, we still run the risk of increasing the “perceived distance between those who are afflicted and those who are not”, even though the so-called ‘depression gene’ is only weakly linked with the condition.

It’s important to remember that anyone can be affected by depression, and in very different ways. Approximately one in four* of us are likely to experience some symptoms of a mental health disorder at some point in our lives, and even if we’re fortunate enough not to, we should remember that people experiencing struggles with mental health should not be viewed as ‘other.’

 

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People with depression are always sad:

Like any illness, people with depression or anxiety can have good days and bad days, and what seems easy to them one day may seem totally impossible for them at another time.

Whilst someone suffering from depression or anxiety might have messy hair, unkempt clothing and seem to be on the verge of crying at all times, they may also be well dressed, smiley and talkative. A person may put a lot of effort into hiding the symptoms or effects of what they’re going through, and it’s important not to discount someone’s experiences simply because they don’t match up to preconceived stereotypes.

 

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Meds are bad:

Contrary to popular opinion, taking medication for mental health problems does not turn you into a constantly-smiling zombie-person! Medication can be a very effective treatment, either alongside therapy and other treatments or on its own. I was a little nervous to try medication for the first time because of all the horror stories I’d heard, but it turned out to be just what I needed. It’s important to note that whilst it is awesome if medication can alleviate your symptoms, if you find it is not working for you, speak to your doctor and you can explore different medications and treatment options.

 

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Young people are just ‘being teenagers:’

We’re often told that childhood and adolescence are times that are carefree and fun, and children and teenagers can be perceived by older generations as not having any responsibilities or ‘real problems.’ Whilst this may be true to an extent, it doesn’t mean young people are immune to mental health problems or their experiences aren’t as serious. The Mental Health Foundation says that “Depression is the predominant mental health problem worldwide” and one study found that “ in 2014, 19.7% of people in the UK aged 16 and older showed symptoms of anxiety or depression.”

From personal experience growing up, many of my problems that I now recognise as relating to my later diagnosed depression & anxiety, were chalked up to “being a teenager” and going through puberty. Family members were quick to judge my behaviour as being a stroppy teenager (which I definitely was sometimes!), rather than being open to discussing depression. Only when I took myself to see a health professional did they begin to consider other ideas. This is something I have heard similar stories about from other friends and forums online, and we need to remain aware that mental health can affect people of any age. Young people need mental health support even if the problems they are going through might not seem ‘real’ to someone else.

 

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Mental illness is a choice or phase:

If you’ve ever had the privilege of having a well-meaning but uninformed person give you such sage advice as “just be positive!” or “you’ve got so much to be happy about!” in relation to your anxiety or depression or [insert pretty much any mood disorder here] then you’ll know the frustration of trying to explain that your mental health is not something you’ve just decided to let go of or struggle with.

However, this isn’t just from the perspective of someone who is not mentally ill judging someone who is. It is important to remember that just like most things, mental health is a spectrum, and if you have been through issues yourself, it still doesn’t mean you can expect to know how another person feels, or that what worked to help you will work for them.

The best thing we can do is be supportive and listen. Try not to adopt the view that someone who is depressed or anxious is not helping themselves enough; everyone’s journey is different and it is important that we respect people living with mental health issues as we would anyone else.

The conversation surrounding mental health has come so far in recent years, but there’s still room for improvement. As long as we keep on talking to each other we can keep learning, and that’s always a good thing.

 

Words by Ellie Cook and Lauren Barnard
Images by House with No Steps, Texvet.org, The Odyssey Online, Pranita Kocharekar and Getty Images/ThinkStock. 

References:
https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/publications/fundamental-facts-about-mental-health-2016
Heine, S.J. (2017) DNA is Not Destiny W.W. Norton & Company
https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/types-of-mental-health-problems/statistics-and-facts-about-mental-health/how-common-are-mental-health-problems/#.Wvta94jwbIU *

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A Space of One’s Own

In many creative industries, as well as in the wider world, women are not encouraged, but are actively discouraged from taking up space. When you don’t see women like you, or in fact any women at all, in mainstream media, it can be hard to convince yourself to take up that space. Taking up space is both physical and metaphorical here; if society expects you to be thin and petite, then being anything other than that feels wrong. When you are told be quiet, talked over, and interrupted, speaking up and out can feel hard.

A solution to this is to carve your own space. To create something that is for you and for other women like you to share in. I chatted to some women who have done just this.

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Kate Eveling is the creator of The View From The Other Side, a blog and youtube channel where she talks openly about what it’s like to have Cystic Fibrosis. The videos are incredibly informative, well-made and fun to watch. “CF has always been a negative in my life but creative writing and making videos is something that I thoroughly enjoy – so I thought, why not take that and use it to turn something negative into a positive” she told me.

It’s particularly interesting to explore CF online, because, as Kate puts it “us CFers can’t actually meet face to face because of the risk of giving each other chest infections.” When you can’t meet the people who share in your experience, creating an online space to talk and discuss (and also to explain what it’s like living with your condition to everyone else) is key to changing the conversation around something like CF.

Kate also says that it’s important most of all to keep these videos interesting. “The ‘10 Facts About Me’ video isn’t one where I sit in front of the camera and drone out ten facts. I try to make it energetic and fun but also cringeworthy – it wouldn’t be a Kate Eveling video if it wasn’t cringeworthy right?!”

I ask Kate who inspires her, and she describes how starting A View From The Other Side led her to discover other CFers documenting their lives. “This might sound cheesy but every story I read on their lives was such an inspiration to me. Because they have CF and they are fighting it every day. Simple as that.” It’s clear to see here how one person carving their own space can inspire another.

It’s a space that’s growing as well. Kate recently made a video campaigning for the drug Orkambi, which greatly improves the lives of CF sufferers but which the British Government claim is too expensive.

Find out more about The View From The Other Side.

 

Splint

Another online space for women is Splint, a platform for innovative women looking to network, collaborate and create. “We just kind of decided that it was necessary to provide a space for women to share creative skills, successes and experiences, whilst also championing the women we know and love” co-creator Abbie Claxton tells me. Abbie and her co-founder Syd interview a series of women about what they make and why, and what it’s like to be a woman doing that. “We both know a lot of women doing things that should really be talked about, and we just realised that not a lot of people know about them or what they’re up to. I am always asking people how they got to where they are today, and Splint kind of offers that answer for people.”

The wonderful thing about Splint is the way it’s pure purpose is to champion women doing cool things, and allowing them to share that.

I ask Abbie who inspires her. “The women around us inspire Splint, without them we would have nothing to talk about.” It’s the perfect description of what sharing space means for women today.

Find out more about Splint.

 

Liberate

Laura Mead is an actor and playwright whose debut play Liberate was recently performed at the White Bear Theatre. I asked her about the move from acting into writing.

“There’s a lot more freedom in writing than I personally found in acting. That goes along with flexibility. I also find I’m not having to ‘look’ or ‘feel’ a certain way to write – I just let what I want spill out on paper.” And why is theatre right for this?

“Art forms are so great because they can be enjoyable whilst also showcasing an idea, which may or may not have been in somebody’s minds beforehand. I also think it’s all about HOW you discuss it; Liberate is full of humour – so it means that feminism is being pushed to the front of the discussion whilst a joke is being made.”

I asked Laura what’s next on the agenda.

“Carry on making coffee at my little coffee-shop. Read books. Shove the candles on. And have a bloody large gin. Who knows?!”

Liberate is on for one more night at the Etcetera Theatre in Camden.

 

Words by Sian Brett with interviews from Laura Mead, Abbie Claxton and Kate Eveling.
Images from The View From The Other Side, Splint and Liberate.

The Manley guide to female authors

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I am definitely a bookworm. There is nothing I love more than curling up with a good book, a blanket and a cup of tea – it’s my happy place. At the last count, I had just over 400 books in my bedroom alone. I also love talking about and recommending books to others so it only seemed natural to spread this to the internet. Enjoy!


‘Spectacles’ – Sue Perkins

When I read this book I couldn’t put it down, and when I finished it I still couldn’t (I sat and hugged it for a while). I first came across Sue Perkins on Bake Off in 2010 and, along with most of the nation, fell in love with her and her friendship with Mel Giedroyc. However ‘Spectacles’ offers us something different to the cake pocketing Sue we see on TV, whilst retaining the humour that we all know and love.

Throughout this book, we learn about all the trials and tribulations of her life and get to see her come out the other side, and she talks about her dogs a lot which is a definite bonus! I truly loved this book and how human it was. Upon finishing (once I had stopped hugging it) I proceeded to tell almost everyone I met to read it, and here I am doing the same.


‘Wuthering Heights’ – Emily Brontë

‘Wuthering Heights’ is the only novel written by Emily Brontë. It is a classic gothic novel filled with drama, complex characters and the Yorkshire Moors. It’s a great book to read with someone or find someone who has already read it as it’s a great book to discuss – you can find out where each of you falls on the Heathcliff debate. If for no other reason, you should read this so that you can channel Kate Bush and dance wildly around your living room in a red dress.

‘Hot Milk’ – Deborah Levy

‘Hot Milk’ is the story of a mother and daughter travelling to Spain in search of a miracle cure. I have to confess, I actually found this book a little strange, and struggled to get my head around it to begin with. Despite the slight oddities, Levy takes us on a journey about mental health, mother and daughter relationships and the toll caring for someone can take  – no matter how much you love them – and also the guilt and anxiety the cared-for can feel. I had been sceptical at the start but by the end, I felt like I had read something really powerful.


‘Love Sick’ – Jessie Cave

‘Love Sick’ by Jessie Cave is not so much a book you read (although it does have words) but a book of satirical, and in her own words, “neurotic doodles” about life, friendships, love and what that person on the bus really thought about you.

I first discovered Cave on Twitter and then followed her on Instagram (@jessiecave) to see more of her doodles, so when I found out she was releasing this book I was really excited. It’s a great book to look at whilst snuggled up with a cup of tea or to share and laugh at with friends. Well worth a read, and a follow on Instagram as well if you like her stuff.

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‘We Should All Be Feminists’ – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

‘We Should All Be Feminists’ is Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s essay on, as the title suggests, why we should all be feminists. It’s a powerful, insightful and thought-provoking read and a book you end up nodding along to a lot. If that’s not enough to convince you, she was also featured in Beyonce’s ‘***Flawless’ (2013), reciting her work.


‘In My Hands’ – Irene Gut Opdyke

‘In My Hands’ is the incredible true story of Irene Gut Opdyke’s life during wartime Poland and her personal mission to save as many Jews from the concentration and labour camps as possible, by hiding them in the house of the Nazi Army Major she worked for. Through her efforts, she was able to save twelve Jewish people from certain death. It’s a wonderful, moving, compelling and important book that remains with you, and is a clear reminder of our past.


‘My Life on the Road’ – Gloria Steinem

I have to be honest, I knew very little about Gloria Steinem when I bought this book, but it was recommended by Hermione Granger so really I had no choice, but by George it’s fantastic! Gloria Steinem has had an incredible life; fighting for women’s rights, travelling the world, campaigning for various presidents and presidential candidates, having some of the most amazing friends, and witnessing Martin Luther King in action amongst many more unbelievable things. I don’t think I’ve ever said wow so many times in one go.

 

Words by Eleanor Manley for Anthem.
Video and image courtesy of Comic Relief and Jessie Cave.

Tips for Travelling in 2018

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Whether you’re taking a quick trip away or embarking on a longer adventure, here’s a list of some of the top tips I found useful when travelling solo in the past year, and some I wish I had known sooner!

Useful Items to Take With You:

Before you go, make life a little easier on the road by doing some research, and make some handy purchases to aid the budget lifestyle, such as…

Travelling Clothes Line
An amazingly useful piece of kit, a packable clothes line that you can hang up wherever you are, and not have to worry about damp clothes or paying a fortune to use the in-house dryer!

Dr. Bronner’s Soap
A natural and beautifully fragranced all-purpose soap, that’s available as bars or liquid. You can use it as body soap, as well as on your hair and your clothes. You can find other similar multi-purpose products easily, both in online shops and specific travelling websites; this one’s just a personal favourite of mine.

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Universal Sink Stopper
Another absolute blessing! No more clothing shortages as this means you can do your emergency laundry anywhere! It also means you can pack minimally. They are easy to find online or in D.I.Y shops.

GoToobs
GoToobs are reusable silicon travel bottles that come in a range of sizes and colours, and are especially good for short trips when you only want to take a small amount of liquids, or if you have items you need to decant before coming back!

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Staying Safe Whilst Solo:

Use Your Judgement
Making new friends on your adventures is part of the fun when travelling, but don’t give out personal information too freely. Keep your accommodation as somewhere just you can chill and recharge alone if you need to. Even if it is a room with 8 bunk bends or a kitchen shared between 200 people…

Make Digital Back-Ups
In case you do lose anything super important, you don’t want it to be the end of the world. Keep a scan or copy of your important stuff, such as passport, insurance, and bookings accessible online or on a memory stick.

This means that if you do end up needing to replace a lost passport, you could save valuable time and worry as you have the details to hand should you need to take a trip to the embassy.

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Know Where You’re Going!
Sounds simple, yet in today’s world, most of us couldn’t imagine travelling without a smartphone, not to mention surviving without WiFi. Try not to be dependent on your phone battery or internet connection to get from A to B.

Downloading maps offline is handy, as it allows you to have a record of your route even if you can’t determine your location via GPS. Or you can even draw up your own! Figuring out my plan whilst at a hostel and then jotting down my own way there is something I did quite often.

It’s partly to do with blending in a little more; when I’m out and about I can check my notebook rather than gawking at my phone or turning a guide map upside-down, with a disgruntled expression that reads “CONFUSED TOURIST HERE” .

Writing it out yourself also helps you remember road names and details better, so if you re-visit the same area again you should be able to get there easier.

Practical Tips:

WATER!!!
It sounds obvious, but do make sure you are equipped with a sturdy water bottle throughout your trip, no matter the duration. It will save you money in the long run and is better for you and the environment, especially if BPA free! If you’re visiting somewhere where the water isn’t drinkable, you could think about taking water-purifying tablets. You can get these from any pharmacy relatively cheaply.

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My trusty Nike bottle (approx. 875ml). They are a particular favourite of mine, partly because of the lid that’s easily clipped onto backpacks/belongings and partly because there’s a discount store round the corner from my house.

Dress to Impr…ove Your Chances of Avoiding Frostbite:

Unless you can guarantee the only weather you’re facing is a beautiful beach climate for weeks on end, you’ll need more than a bikini and summer accessories to get you through.

That said, it’s surprising how little luggage we actually need. The amount of clothes you think you need to take probably ends up being half that. The key is to make sure you are prepared for a range of conditions, especially if experiencing multiple seasons and different climates.

Must-haves include:

  • A lightweight rain jacket
  • A good hoodie
  • Thermals
  • Supportive shoes
  • Good socks
  • Light layers that you can build up.

If you are going to be very active, make sure to include quick-drying materials. A travel towel is also really useful and dries very quickly, taking up a fraction of the space of a regular one.

You can also get hand-roll vacuum bags to minimise space that don’t require a vacuum/electricity to use. Or you can roll your clothes or bundle-wrap them to use up as little space as needed!

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Personal Advice:

Be prepared for periods!
If you’re travelling and you’re going to be on your period, it’s a good idea to make a note of the dates. You don’t want it to spoil your time or become difficult if you are in a particularly remote place! Also factor sanitary products into your budget if you need to. They can often be a forgotten about expense!

If you use disposable products, you can stock up before you leave.

If you wanted to try reusable products then you could go with a menstrual cup such as a Moon Cup or Diva Cup, which would again save you money whilst you’re on your travels. (Other alternatives include: reusable cloth pads and menstrual sponges.)

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Know Your Budget
Depending on whether you’ve saved up huge amounts of cash for a luxury trip or you’re doing some more economic backpacking, it’s super important to have at least a rough idea of your expenses.

Not just accommodation, but activities too. Is there something you’ve specifically come to this country to do? Factor it in, and any other things you think are likely to pique your interest.

Also be realistic. If you are someone who likes to have a few beers in an evening, give room in your budget for these little extras, rather than not including them and trying to be ‘good,’ if that’s going to be tricky! This way, splashing out for the odd social night with your new companions wont ruin the budget.

Have a Sort-Of Plan
To a certain degree, you’re going to want the freedom to change your plans, to up and go to the next adventure in the spur of the moment, particularly as you meet new friends along the way. And this can sometimes be the best part about travelling, just make sure you never leave yourself in a vulnerable situation.

Always have an idea of where you’re going to stay and when. Which town do you want to be in? Check out hostel and accommodation options, and if you are leaving it late to book because you don’t know your exact itinerary, have a plan B. (And possibly C & D if travelling at peak season.)

Many hostels offer better deals if booked directly, so bear this in mind if you’re prone to using booking sites that charge commission like Hostelworld etc.

Hostels usually release their availability in the evening for the next day, so check back then if you have your eye on a certain place.

Lastly, this might come across as painstakingly patronising, but…

Have a return ticket!
This from the person who went London-NZ via Asia and Australia with no escape plan… The idea was to work, and when this didn’t work out as well as I’d dreamed up, I was stuck & had to rely on my family members to scrape together and help me back sooner than I anticipated.

Even if you are on a working holiday VISA, be sure that it’s definitely the right call; know the areas that you’re going to try and agencies that you can sign up with.

If you’re not, but you don’t know when exactly you’ll be back, purchasing a flexible ticket is a good option. STA and similar companies provide flexible tickets with a set number of changes/destinations.

 

Hopefully this mix of advice and handy products is useful to some of you first-timers. You will most likely discover your own must-haves and handy hacks. This is just a collection of things that worked for one weary traveller.     

If you want further reading, other great places to look are:

  • LonelyPlanet.com – they have lots of traveller lead forums
  • Trip Advisor – if you want opinions on particular accommodation, areas, or activities

And of course, look at posts from other independent travellers themselves. The chances are, if you Google a question or worry you have about travelling, many of us have already been in that same position. The more wisdom you can glean from other’s experiences (and mistakes) the better!

 

Words by Lauren Barnard for Anthem.
Images from Lauren Barnard, Amazon and Earth Wise Girls.

Why We Focus On Women

Why do we march for women and not men? Why do we have an international day for women but not for men? Why do we have girl power but not boy power? Why is it called feminism if it supports women and men?

There is a very simple answer to all of these questions, and it is as follows…

We march for women because equality is the finish line, and men had a head start. We march for women, because we’ve got further to go before we can catch up. We’ll meet at the finish line and celebrate together, but we cannot push you to the finish line when we are too far back to even see you.

We celebrate women’s days and not men’s days because in a patriarchal society, every day is a men’s day. You might not have wanted it that way, but it’s how it is. One day a year is all we take, and in all fairness, we did give birth to the entire human race.

We celebrate women because someone has to. We are not raised to shout and scream and praise ourselves. We are not taught to believe in our power the way that men are. So we celebrate ourselves once a year as a baby step. One day we will celebrate humans altogether, but we’ve got a long way to go until that day.

Girl power was born because we were sick of not having power. Men and boys have power because they are born men and boys. We are born female, and thus powerless. We have to fight for what we want. We have to claim our own power. Girl power is how we celebrate our claim and our fight. You can have boy power if you really want, but then you already do. You just don’t have a name for it, because it’s the norm. It’s how things already are.

It is called feminism because women are the more disadvantaged and wronged party. We all have a long way to go, and none of us should be discriminated against for being born one way or another, but women (and really anyone who doesn’t identify as male) have greater obstacles preventing them from gaining equality. We want everyone from every background to feel equal, and not judged for being a boy or girl or somewhere in between. We just need your help getting a foot up first.

We’re not sure why this is such a big ask, and this is why we get angry sometimes. We march because we’re sick and tired and want to shout about how unfair it all is. We don’t do it often though. We just want equality, and don’t understand why some of you don’t too. It’s just equality. It’s not that hard, is it?

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Words and Image by Briony Brake for Anthem.

The Best Valentine’s Day I’ve Had

I am single and it’s Valentine’s Day.

I will still be single on the 15th February, so why focus on this frequently overwhelming and loved-up day? Because it gives me a chance to reflect on a great night spent with one of my favourite women and a relationship, which after eight years, is still going strong.

Last year I had the best Valentine’s Day I have had in a long time with one of my best friends!

A few weeks before this lovely evening, I was having a low, self-pitying Sunday night. Sat alone in the flat watching an old rom-com, I started to think about my own non-existent love life. My mind was busy with the bad kind of thoughts: this is it, this is your lot, you’ll never find that person, you’ll sit and watch loved ones find new loved ones, all while you sit alone. The cycle of thoughts didn’t stop until I was a weeping mess, messaging the girls back home asking for advice and comfort. (This feels like an appropriate time to say that I love you all, and couldn’t imagine my life without you, to the women who have been a part of my life for nearly seven years).

The girls sent me messages of comfort, love and laughter. In the mist of this WhatsApp conversation was my friend, Mica saying we could and should go out on Valentine’s Day for a meal and a drink, lots of drink. My immediate response was “YES! But what about your other half?”, to which she replied that she would be back from a mini break with him and that she wanted to spend it with me. I was genuinely touched.

Fast forward two weeks and I was sat in an Italian restaurant in town waiting for my hot date. We had arranged to meet at the local cinema at 6 pm for a meal and a film but our poor organisational skills plus the fact that it was Valentine’s Day meant the cinema was fully booked. With Mica running late, I walked to the restaurant to secure our romantic table for two.  

Walking towards the candlelit table, I passed a sea of couples and actually had to stifle a laugh. I was laughing at the fact that this was my most romantic Valentine’s Day to date. Sat with a glass of water, I saw my date approaching, with the accompanying words “Is this the lady? Yes, this is my lady.”  

Neither of us could contain our laughter as we looked around at all the other diners at their candlelit tables. We were the only two women sharing a table together. Mica asked the question, “What if they think we’re a couple?”, to which I quickly responded, “And what a lovely couple we make”. It was a wonderful night filled with great food, lots of drink and the best company. We spent the meal catching up on everything we had missed since we last saw each other: her recent trip to Oslo, her other half, my last year of uni, films we had seen and loved, and as always desperately finding a time for all of us to meet up again.

Just as we were tucking into our dessert for two, Mica suggested a film next, returning to our original plan. She was still yet to see La La Land and I couldn’t think of a better film to see with a friend on Valentine’s Day. Mica fleetingly suggested seeing the new Fifty Shades film, but I protested. I would not be giving that film my money.

As we were waiting for the bill and getting excited to see La La Land, we joked that we were celebrating ‘Galentine’s day’ a day late. For those of you who don’t know, Galentine’s Day was thought up by Amy Poehler’s character Leslie Knope from the show Parks & Recreation as a day for women to celebrate the importance of female friendship in and amongst the build-up to Valentine’s Day.

Still waiting for the bill, we realised that we had missed the last screening of La La Land, and contemplated calling it a night. Mica pointed out that we had finished a whole bottle of Prosecco between us, and therefore might be drunk enough to endure the new Fifty Shades film.

Cut to us in our seats, a glass of wine in hand and already shocked at the number of couples around us. I genuinely thought this was the kind of film you would see on a drunken night with friends (hence me spending money on a ticket). Regardless, we laughed until we cried, and for all the wrong reasons and in all the wrong places. We stuffed our faces with chocolates and ruined the romantic atmosphere for all of the couples in that screening.  

I texted Mica on the way home, thanking her for a wonderfully unromantic Valentine’s Day and for being a part of one of the funniest cinematic experiences I had in a long time.

This year, I will once again be using Valentine’s Day to catch up with a friend and will continue to treat this day like an extended Galentine’s day… which I hope would make Amy Poehler proud.

Happy Galentine's Day

The women who show me love, every day.

 

Words and images by Lara Scott.

How’s It Going?

Hello, there. Happy first week of February! How is it going? Have you given up on all your resolutions yet? Have you realised that you cannot alter your entire being in just 31 days? Will you promise to set yourself easier targets next year? No? Alright then, fine.

My new year resolution, if you can even call it that, is to watch lots of films – preferably ones I haven’t seen before. I did this last year and I did a great job and it made me feel better so I’m doing it again. I’m not really bothering because I don’t truly want to lose weight or eat better or run more. Sure, I’m trying to get back into swimming a couple of times a week, but I’m not totally grilling myself for it. What’s the point?

I don’t really bother with resolutions because not only do they not make sense (are you supposed to lose weight for the year, or forever? Is there a time limit on it?), but also because I have never once kept a resolution in my life that wasn’t something super easy like watching a bunch of new films. Surely, it is better to enter into a new year promising to yourself that you will look after yourself and endeavour to make yourself proud. So this year, I’m not really bothering at all, and so far I’m doing pretty damn well.

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With no real resolutions or goals to fulfil, I have managed to finish three whole (and admittedly rather short) books in January that I loved, and I’m now halfway through a fourth. I’ve read an autobiography, a professional toolkit and a book on women in ancient civilisations. I’ve learned so much in such a short space of time, and I’m genuinely quite proud of myself. I never finish books, I just carry them around London until ultimately putting them back on the shelf the next time I clean out my handbag. So I’ve celebrated, and I’ve bought new books to try and keep myself going. I’ve not set a target, I just want to read some more books.

When I was ill in the middle of January, I had two days at home that led me to finally starting my self-taught British Sign Language course (which I paid for a long time ago). I had so much free time because I was off work, that I had time to complete multiple lessons from it. Hell, I even signed up for a free online screenwriting course this week, because why not? I’m learning, and learning is what really makes me happy and makes me feel accomplished. It’s what I love, and when there are so many opportunities available to me to learn new things, and for free(!), I’d be a fool not to have a go.

I’ve been proud of myself for also signing up new people to Anthem; for finding great new people to join this family. I’m happy that I made it to the cinema a few times, particularly when I missed so many releases last year. I socialised and met friends (see below picture of cake for proof) for dinner, which is frankly an achievement for anyone working full-time in London, let alone someone desperately trying to budget their spending, living with anxiety, and only knowing a handful of people in this big ass city.

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I’ve been struggling to finish off this article because everything I think sounds really lame in my head, but it’s got some truth to it. We need to celebrate the happy more and stop being such a pain in the butt to ourselves when we make mistakes or feel sad. Life happens and part of that is that we feel sad and angry and we do things wrong, but if we focused on the things that we did well and the fun times we have with the amount of energy we focus on the bad… we’d probably be a lot happier. The thing about happy and wonderful times is that we only recognise how happy and wonderful they are because we’ve experienced the kind of shitty times. If every day was wonderful, we wouldn’t be able to appreciate them the way we can now.

So revel in the goodness. Make it your new motto to celebrate the teeny tiny victories. Buy yourself flowers and comfy socks. Go to a free exhibition or make time to see that new release in the cinema. I looked after myself this week by having one evening in to tidy my bombsite of a room, shower, eat, and watch a cheesy film from the 90s. You don’t have to spend all your money or scream and shout to do this well, you just need to remember that you saw a tiny dog in a tracksuit this morning. How great is that?

The next time you’re hard on yourself for not losing 1000lbs in two days, make a note to find a way of enjoying exercise so that you’ll actually want to go (Zumba, dance, boxing, swimming etc) and don’t waste your evening bullying yourself about it. The next time someone says you did something good at work, say thank you and smile and believe in yourself a little bit. The next time you spend a day reading in your room, be happy you had the time to read and be grateful that you’ve had the chance to learn more and experience new lives and worlds through that book.

There’s good and bad to be found in everything, it’s just up to you to do the searching. Here’s to February, guys. You’re going to do great!

 

Words and Images by Briony Brake