Author: Lauren

‘Beige Walls And Navy Sofas’: A Camden Fringe Review

Beige Walls And Navy Sofas played at Camden People’s Theatre 2nd – 3rd Aug as part of The Camden Fringe 2019. We previously reviewed this show when it debuted at Catford Fringe’s scratch night back in 2018, which you can read here.

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Last night I attended the performance at the Camden People’s Theatre as part of this year’s Camden Fringe. CPT is an intimate and welcoming venue that prides itself on giving a platform to shows that push boundaries and explore much-needed topics and voices; Beige Walls And Navy Sofas does just that.

As soon as Courtney McMahon enters stage everyone is intrigued. Although it is a solo performance, it is engaging from the offset and quickly feels like a privilege to be invited into this autobiographical tale. Beige Walls And Navy Sofas takes us on a journey through Courtney’s childhood as her mother becomes a foster carer, and the adjustments to suddenly having some brand new siblings to call family.

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Having lived with approximately 50 siblings in her lifetime, Courtney’s retelling of her experiences and the open and honest dialogue she creates, weaving a picture of the good alongside the challenging aspects of fostering, is a crucial one. It is one that’s told with humour, love, and a whole mix of emotions in between.

The snapshots of Courtney’s life are pieced together in an endearing, arresting way, and the 60-minute journey flies by so quickly that you don’t want it to end. I could have definitely watched more of this story, but at the same time, the show that Ghosted Ink have created is a fantastic way to start the conversation and raise awareness of experiences of fostering. Especially, from the siblings’ point of view, which is not something often represented at all. 

I was drawn to see this show because of my own experience of my family becoming foster carers when I was younger and thought it was brilliant that someone had made a performance piece about something that before now, I didn’t think anybody else could ever really “get.” Coping not just with living with new brothers and sisters, but also inevitably saying goodbye to them was something that I really struggled to articulate growing up, and still do. Yet here, watching Beige Walls And Navy Sofas, someone was standing in front of me doing just that.

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What the show did brilliantly was raise the point of loss. Loss is something that is overlooked in our perceptions of the care system in all different ways, and this show gives a platform to that. It also made me realise though, that even when those connected to foster care will have very similar experiences in some ways, we can never expect to know someone’s own unique pathways of loss.

Even though Beige Walls And Navy Sofas does not shy away from tackling these complex topics, it is still punctuated with many moments of light relief and genuine laughs.

The minimal props and set dressing supporting the world of the performance fit delightfully well, and capture some early 2000s nostalgia in working-class London perfectly. We easily transport ourselves to the family living room for TV dinners, Christmas, and fights over Bratz Dolls without question. Watching Courtney’s character cycling around on a pink kids bicycle, or talking to a Yorkshire pudding that’s meant to be her Nan’s dog is both amusing and entirely fitting. The way that more serious tones are balanced with comic moments is well placed and sincere, meaning that we enjoy every minute.

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I think that if you don’t know much about fostering then this show would be a really eye-opening experience from a lesser-voiced perspective. That said, even if you would just like to see a great play that makes you laugh, think, pull Christmas crackers and sing to George Michael (yes, really) then this production is a must-see.

Perhaps the most poignant part for me was toward the end of the show, when Courtney reveals a chart marking the growth of herself and all her siblings through the years, adorned with photographs and memories of all the brothers and sisters that have passed through her and her Mum’s house, and sat on those Navy Sofas with cups of tea, watching Saturday Night Takeaway. It really brings home that beyond all else, this is a show about experiencing family, but that acknowledges family in all its different shapes and sizes and confronts what it’s like to deal with those shapes and sizes changing.

Congratulations to Courtney and the Ghosted Ink crew on a moving and much-needed show. I’m excited to see this play continue to grow and am very much looking forward to seeing what the collective do next.

Five Stars for Beige Walls And Navy Sofas.

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Keep up to date with all things Ghosted Ink here:

Facebook: Ghosted Ink: Arts Collective
Twitter: @GhostedInk_Arts
Instagram: @ghostedink

You can visit https://www.fcwu.org.uk/ for information about the Foster Carers IWGB Union.

Credits:
Writer/Performer – Courtney McMahon
Director – Niamh Parker-Whitehead
Technical Manager & Designer – Lilly Woodford-Lewis
Stage Manager – Molly O’Niell
Assistant Stage Manager – Isabelle Leach
Set Design – Niamh Parker-Whitehead & Constance Price
Producer – Ghosted Ink: Arts Collective
Field Recordings – Sam Kemp & Catherine Hawthorn
Special thanks to Elizabeth Parker, Cerys Barker & Arnold Senoga

Words by Lauren Barnard for Anthem Online.
Images from Ghosted Ink.

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Wellbeing and Winter

For a lot of us, it can be difficult to feel on top form during the colder months. Even if you are a winter fanatic, love all things Christmassy and get excited about what comes with the new year, it can still be difficult to manage wellness on cold and gloomy days. So, in anticipation of the winter blues/January blues/Monday blues/basically any unwanted blueness, I’ve worked up a checklist of things to help prioritise our wellbeing this winter.*

((*Note: This article isn’t medical advice. If you’re looking for more specific mental health material – check out the links at the end!))

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Diet and Nutrients

No, I’m not going to tell you to chuck out all the Christmas choccies! This isn’t about having an immaculate diet; what I suggest here is just keeping a mental note of when you last said ‘Hi’ to some fruit and veg. As we head into December and beyond, it can be tricky to keep on top of doing a healthy food shop – especially when there are so many tempting treats. Indulgence is fun, especially in the festive period, but do make sure to balance it out.

Our digestive system and brain are linked by the vagus nerve, and long story short (and all science averted because I don’t really get it), what we eat contributes to how we think and feel. As good old Saint Nick gets ready to do the rounds, by all means, head to the Quality Street! The praline triangles aren’t going to steal themselves. But remember to get in those greens and some vitamin C too. Similarly, because we lack so much sunlight during this time of year, if you’re someone who gets particularly down in the darker months, it could be worth picking up some vitamin D as well!

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Exercise

NO GYM REQUIRED. Fear not- this isn’t a you-must-start-a-spinning-class-and-go-to-boxercise-every-day article. Just get out and about. It doesn’t have to be a lot and it doesn’t have to be the same thing each time. In fact – the more variety the better. If you’re someone who likes exercise or sport then fab! Doing what you enjoy is a great way to get out of the house. It can be gross to go into *nature* when it’s cold and wet and windy, but when the weather is relatively calm, jump at the chance to go out and explore. Anything from a quick stroll to a little micro adventure to a local park.

Remember the Vitamin D we talked about earlier – making the most of the daylight hours is key when it is of limited availability. If you have a hobby that you can adapt to doing outside then use it as an excuse for a change of scenery. For example, photography or other artistic pursuits are a great way to explore outside and get some exercise in at the same time.

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The Power of Plants

There’s a lot of research to show that plants can have a positive effect on us. Having some greenery or flowers around the place can be a mood booster. Equally, having to care for a plant reminds us to care for ourselves. When we’re watering or feeding the plants, and making sure they get enough sunlight, it’s a casual reminder to make sure we pay attention to our own needs. Caring for something else and having that small responsibility with plants can also make us feel good and remind us that we are accomplishing things even if they’re small. (Also, they look really cute!!) 

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Another thing about FOOD

If you’re someone (like me) who finds it a drag to prepare food when your wellbeing isn’t amazing, here are some ideas. Find foods that minimise prep time and are good for you. For instance, yoghurts require zero effort and can be eaten whenever. Also, consider fresh veg and fruit that is in season and doesn’t need a lot of intervention. (And when you do feel like making stuff, stews are great, because they use all the in-season veg, you just leave the pot to do its thing, and you can freeze portions for ages.) Lastly, meal replacement powders (not weight-loss ones – just complete nutrient ones) could also be a solution for some people – I find them handy when my work schedule is a bit crazy or if I don’t have the energy for a big food shop.

In the new year, when everyone’s insisting they’ll start going to the gym, hating going back to work, and remembering how cold February is, this can all be handy to remember. Having quick fix food around that is not just junk food makes it much easier to look after yourself.

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Reach out!

We shouldn’t leave it until we’re actually feeling unwell or not taking care of ourselves to reach out to others. Make sure you check in with your loved ones over the winter period. This can be especially important if you live away from the rest of your family or are a university student away for the holidays. Reach out to close friends and make an effort to get together, or at least call for a catch-up.

Socialising can be difficult to organise over the Christmas period when people can be quite busy and public transport ceases to function, but come the new year when everyone’s aligning themselves with the ‘normal,’ it’s really important to make sure you’re maintaining those connections with people.

Depending on individual needs, doing what you love either solo or sharing it with friends can give you some well-needed space to relax – which does wonders for wellbeing.

Remember not to put your wellbeing on hold just because normality gets a bit suspended during Christmas and New Year, and opportunities to get out and about can seem to dwindle during winter as a whole. When considering your self-care regime, factor both your physical and mental wellness into it!

 

I hope this gets the ball rolling with some ideas you can utilise for maintaining wellbeing this winter. Below are some further sources of wellbeing advice, and also more distinct mental health resources:

https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/tips-for-everyday-living/wellbeing/#.W_24Yq2cbPA
https://www.wellbeingnands.co.uk
https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/stress-anxiety-depression/improve-mental-wellbeing/
https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/blog/what-wellbeing-how-can-we-measure-it-and-how-can-we-support-people-improve-it
https://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/entry/things-to-do-this-weekend-to-boost-your-mental-wellbeing_uk_5bd2d714e4b0a8f17ef6413f?utm_hp_ref=uk-wellbeing
 

Words by Lauren Barnard for Anthem Online.
Images from Be Brain Fit, Mental Health Zen, Garden Collage, The Best Brain Possible and Practice Business.

How YouTubers Are Helping LGBT+ Sex Education

LGBT+ sex education in schools is limited at best, and most times non-existent. Despite the growing argument for more equal sex ed to be taught in schools, there is still a gap in the quality of information provided and the resources available for LGBT+ students.

I remember a PSHE lesson in high school, where we were handed out leaflets on safe sex. The first half of the page concerned sex between a man and a woman, whilst the other half was about safe sex between two men. I flipped over the page for the final section about lesbian sex only to find there wasn’t one. I stared blankly for a moment. Teenage me was angry at the fact that sexual relations between two women weren’t even acknowledged. Teenage me also had a mild panic because wHaT dO LeSbIAnS DO? I had so many questions at this age and I’d hoped to find out at least a little bit of info. Frequent googling and reading stuff about scissoring didn’t prove too helpful.

Fast forward ten years and luckily I’m a long way from high school. As a society, we’re now even more submerged in the digital revolution, and the YouTube era is well underway. Just a quick search brings up so much content on sex ed and, finally, content on sex ed that’s not heteronormative. Personally, I can be quite critical of social media, usually arguing it can cause more harm than good, and with the rapid development of social influencers and advertising through YouTube and other socials, I’m still wary of it. However, a lot of creators are posting really helpful content on the subject of sexual health, education and identity, and I find myself wishing I had some of these resources available as a kid. For Sex Ed September, I’ve made a quick rundown of a few of the users and their videos that give really helpful sex ed tips for the Lesbian/Bi community:

Stevie Boebi

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Stevie uses her own experiences to give advice and share personal stories, creating an open discussion surrounding sexual education/health. She’s also collaborated with health professionals. Some of the videos I found myself wishing I could have seen as a teenager include the Lesbian Sex 101 series, which talks about both pleasure and enjoyment of sex. She also does some myth-busting videos about sexual anatomy and ‘facts’ about lesbian sex. On her channel, Stevie also reflects on issues surrounding mental health, including a video about sex after trauma. Content such as this goes miles in taking away the stigma of talking about difficult issues. she also does Q&As answering viewers’ questions, therefore setting up a platform for people to learn from as well as the opportunity to ask things viewers otherwise wouldn’t have the opportunity to.

Sexplanations

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Dr Doe of Sexplanations offers great sexual health advice no matter what your sexual/gender identity. There is all sorts of medical info on this channel. The videos cover subjects from painful sex and sexual definitions, to genital piercings and dealing with shame. Sexplanations has a dedicated LGBT playlist section including videos on vulva confidence, sexual identities and trans sex.

Melanie Murphy

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Murphy boasts a whole variety of videos on her channel ranging from lifestyle to pms to mental health. Whilst not exclusively a sex educator, this Youtuber’s sexuality playlist contains a whole bunch of information relating to bisexuality: answering questions and chats, as well as discussions on bi-erasure that I myself learnt A LOT from in 10 minutes. You can also, very importantly, find information on this channel about contraception and safe sex, alongside masturbation, orgasms, vibrators, and relationship advice too.

Ash Hardell

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I am including Ash here because even though they don’t discuss sex ed directly, the nature of the topics you can find here are extremely helpful to the overall discussion of sexual health, identity and gender identity. Ash is AFAB (assigned female at birth), and genderqueer/trans non-binary. As they say in their July Video Why I’m Not A Boy, “Looks don’t equal gender”. As someone who has been frequently misgendered since I cut my hair – and apparently when I wear jeans – I now find myself relating to this a lot more than I thought I ever would!

Their videos chronicling their relationship with their body and their life in general go along way in expanding the conversation, allowing our awareness and knowledge of both ourselves and others to grow. I found this particularly useful as a reminder that there are so many alternative ways of being yourself, and so much more than we get told about in mainstream education.

Ash has a video (and book!) called the ABC’s of LGBT on their other channel with lots more LGBT content made with their wife Grace.

There are many many more people I could have included here. As well as these examples, a quick search for LGBT+ Youtubers that talk about sex/relationships brings up some hundreds of users, most notably nowthisisliving,  Rose and Rosie, Ingrid Nilsen, Ari Fitz, Amber’s Closet, MyHarto, Rowan Ellis, As/Is and UnsolicitedProject. Many users share coming out stories as well as relationship advice, providing relatable and informative media for the wider community.

Whilst some of these content creators mentioned are not specifically aimed at sex ed, I’d argue that sexual identity is a big part of sexual health education. Especially when we are young and growing up, trying to make sense of the world. We all have questions we might be embarrassed about asking and some of us might not have anyone to turn to. But with all the video content in social media literally at our fingertips, that situation is in some ways becoming a thing of the past. YouTubers have suddenly created a new form of celebrity and those who have younger teenage fan bases are fast becoming role models to a wider digital community, with the most-watched users garnering hundreds of thousands of subscribers and Instagram followers.

So even when LGBT+ content isn’t specifically created as sexual education, general visibility of the queer community is greatly helped by Youtubers. There is a conversation that has been given more voices because of this platform, and it is a necessary and worthwhile one.

Having video content so readily available on topics that are equal parts important and sensitive means that information on protection, health (both physical and mental) and education is accessible to pretty much anyone who can use the internet, regardless of how conservative or restrictive your home or school life is. It is especially important for people who are not out but can equally be utilised by people who are just interested in getting more information. 

Hopefully, with the increasing conversation around sexual education, young people will grow up equipped with the info they need and will be much more clued up than the confused gay girl in a rather crap 2008 PSHE lesson.

 

Words: Lauren Barnard
Images: YouTube, Stevie Boebi, Sexplanations, Melanie Murphy and Ash Hardell.
For September Sex Education Week on Anthem Online

‘Congratulations You B@$T@*D!’: Edinburgh Fringe Review

Showing from 20th – 25th Aug 2018 at Venue 36, The Perth Theatre @ theSpace on North Bridge Hilton Edinburgh Carlton Hotel, 19 North Bridge, Edinburgh, EH1 2HE.

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Whether you’re a die-hard fringe goer, or you’ve just popped up for a weekend to see what it’s all about, there’s no doubt you’ll find something that’s up your street.
An explosion of veteran stand up comics, first time performers, scripted, unscripted, spoken word, silent movie; you name it, it’s probably at Fringe.

And whilst it can be great to immerse ourselves in the kind of shows we know and love, a lot of the beauty of Fringe comes from the unexpected. It comes from experiencing the unknown and choosing to see something you might not usually go for. So when I got the chance to see Congratulations You B@$T@*D, I decided to do exactly that.

A theatre piece created by South East London based Ghosted Ink, the up-and-coming art collective’s debut show sees Mia and Nick, two down on their luck writers, wondering if they should give up on their ambition. However, after one drunken night of creativity, they find they might just have cracked it.

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Congratulations You B@$T@*D delights the audience with its humour and witty dialogue from the outset. Brought expertly to life by both performers, creating recognisable characters we all know (or are) in our lives.

We meet the wonderful whirlwind of nuanced expletives that is Mia (Georgia Crowther) and the seemingly more logical and tempered Nick (Laurence Platt) just as their newest script has been rejected again. Their carefully crafted characters are instantly brought to life in a relationship familiar to us all. Two friends who in equal parts love, and are infuriated by, each other.

The first half of the performance builds the dynamic between the two friends wonderfully. Despite the piece only lasting 45 minutes, I felt as though these were people I was so familiar with; people who had struggled together but also experienced joy and hilarity with one another. I laughed with them, got angry when they did, was sad when they were.

The comic timing of Crowther is spectacular and the way both actors seem to effortlessly bounce off one another is incredibly enjoyable to watch. The intimate space, and minimal but carefully thought out set design works perfectly to set the atmosphere. As soon as I saw all the crumpled-up-uncrumpled-and-then-crumpled-again pieces of work discarded everywhere and the random array of ideas and inspiration pinned up on stage, I thought “yep, been there.”

I spent most of the beginning half of the piece belly laughing at Nick and Mia hurling raucous insults, drinking copious amounts of ‘Pan Juice’ and spouting sparks of creative genius as they try to invent the next best thing. Punctuated with music from the likes of Bowie and Kate Bush as they take turns to type the masterpiece, the phrase that immediately came to mind was the popular mantra of ‘Write drunk, edit sober’. Yet as the play progressed it became clear it was much more like ‘Write drunk, edit drunker’, and whilst this was fabulously funny to witness, the script is very much flipped as we come into the second half of the play.

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A poignant scene arises as the two characters disagree on what the next step should be. Nick laments that he’s sick of being an “artist” and is sick of how they live, scrabbling to make ends meet and waiting for it all to get better when it never seems to. A far cry from the drunken hilarity witnessed moments ago, it suddenly hits home the reality of trying to make it, of struggling to pay rent, of doubting your own ability. It’s here that I really appreciated the thoughtful writing. Platt conjures a well-observed depiction of young friends and creative relationships in today’s competitive world those of us in the arts can relate to all too well.

For a group’s first Fringe run, its a credit to them how well they take the audience on a hidden rollercoaster of unexpected emotion, and it’s far more than just a play about getting wasted (even though they get very wasted.)

Congratulations You B@$T@*D explores artistic integrity, success and what ‘making it’ can actually mean. Moreover, we see the ever poignant themes of friendship throughout; we see two people pushing and pulling to hold onto a changing relationship as the both of them try to find their footing in the creative world, without sacrificing their own morals.

Ghosted Ink’s first show is a very worthwhile watch that I’d highly recommend checking out if you’re at Fringe this year, where it’s running from the 20th -25th August. If not, you can keep up to date with all their creative ventures by following @ghostedink on Instagram, @Ghostedink_AC on Twitter or Ghosted Ink Arts Collective on Facebook as well as with #CYBFringe.

A well deserved FOUR STARS for Congratulations You B@$T@*D!

 

Words by Lauren Barnard for Anthem Online.
Images courtesy of Ghosted Ink.

Likeability: An experiment into being more “popular”

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I have always been interested in Psychology, investigating why we do what we do and what influences our behaviour and thoughts. One of the most recent books I read because of this was Popular by Mitch Prinstein. It was an eye-opening analysis of popularity and how our early childhood and adolescent experiences with ‘popularity’ can have power over how we act today.

I use ‘popularity’ with inverted commas because the first thing I was surprised to learn was that there are actually two types of popularity that can be discerned from research. One is status based, and one is based on likability. A very brief overview is that whilst the popular crowd at school who we all longed to be in with had very high status, they were usually not very likeable. And whilst many of us become obsessed with striving for status, especially in the age of social media, it can be more rewarding to improve how likeable we are. This will not only affect how others perceive us but also how we feel about ourselves.

As a kid at school, I always felt as though I was on the sidelines, and from reading Popular it’s clear from my point of view that I would have fitted into the ‘Neglected’ social category. This means that I’m a textbook introvert, and as a teenager and for most of my adult life, I’ve dealt with social anxiety, so reading this book was extremely interesting when it came to describing ways we can change how we’re perceived by others and also how we think about ourselves.

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One of the book’s anecdotes I particularly appreciated involved the author having telephone conversations with various members of call centre staff to try and fix his internet. He informally conducted an experiment, deliberately making an effort to be polite and warm and interested to some call operators, whilst being curter with others. He then tested out being more positive in his day-to-day life. I was impressed by how different the author said he felt after making such changes and wanted to try it out for myself.

For the first few days, I did not make any deliberate changes to the way I behaved or acted. I did, however, jot down notes on who I had conversations with, and how often. After a few days, I started to change how I acted. Here are the small changes I made an effort to consciously adapt over the next week:

  • Be polite/positive in interactions with people. Whether it be family and friends, or someone over the phone, or a complete stranger who moves to let you past on the pavement.
  • Be interested in what the other person is saying.
  • Smile more.

To start, these simple things were the only 3 items I included. They sound basic and obvious (because they are) but they are things that sometimes slip or I don’t always pay attention to. Practising these three ways of approaching interactions with others, and life in general, had some interesting results…and a few situations stood out.

The first instance I recall was at a job interview. I’m not someone who naturally smiles a lot, and I have a severe case of ‘Resting Bitch Face’: not a great thing for a prospective employer to see. “Right,” I thought, as I went to introduce myself, “start smiling.” As the saying goes, smiles are contagious, and I definitely felt more at ease as the receptionist returned my smile. I paid attention to each interaction, even tiny stuff like being offered a drink. And not in the way of being obsessive or over analytical, just paying attention to how I conducted myself. It was very surprising how being attentive made me feel more present and actually took away some of my nerves, because I wasn’t allowing myself to overthink about where I was, and was instead focusing on who I was with.

I was surprised overall at the effect that these changes had in making me feel more grounded and present, and building up little likeable acts created a bigger picture that boosted my self-esteem.

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Before starting this, I was initiating 1 or 2 conversations a day, i.e. with a shop assistant, or other mandatory transactions when out and about (this is excluding conversations with people at home). Including these, the conversations themselves tended to be short. By the time I’d finished the next week, I made deliberate changes to the way I interacted – I was averaging about 6 conversations a day, including one I struck up with a randomer who sat on the same bench as me (which I would never have done in a million years).

As the number of conversations I participated in increased, I found that consciously being more aware of the way I interact lead to a number of discoveries:

  • Very quickly I was beginning to see interactions with others as opportunities rather than as chores. To start with I initiated conversations to observe what happened, but in the end, I just enjoyed having a chat and was more willing to learn about people I chatted to. Like the guy who runs our local convenience store or people I see walking their dogs in the morning. (The perks of living in a little town where it is customary to say ‘morning’ every five seconds came in handy here.)

  • I was less analytical of myself. If a social interaction got ‘fluffed up’ i.e. I got flustered and said something that didn’t come out right (which I do a lot), I made an effort to not be as hard on myself and laugh it off.
  • I found the more I try to maintain these ideals the more they become second nature. Instead of setting time aside to be conscious of these likeable factors, they started crossing over into work too. I found it less of a challenge to speak in meetings and was less nervous to ask questions and make suggestions. I was less hung up on being right and more concerned with attending to what was happening and being involved.
  • Making an effort to be more interested in what another person was telling me ended up in me being more interested in others generally. Asking questions, being present and discussing details with other people; whether it be chatting about family, work or some other topic like the latest Avengers movie ended up in providing the chance to strengthen my interpersonal relationships both professional & personal.

The more I strived to put effort into my day-to-day interactions, the more positive I felt. The littlest instances of finding out details of someone’s day or taking the time to thank someone where perhaps I usually wouldn’t have felt good and made me less socially anxious when initiating conversations.

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I am not saying that we could all do this, all of the time; or even that we should do. Obviously, there are still days when I’m not in a great mood or don’t feel like talking to anyone when I’ve gone out to run errands. However, being more mindful of how I present myself and how I listen to other people has surprisingly made it less daunting to be sociable. Which is interesting as this isn’t what I was intending to use it for, and was rather approaching it as a way of learning how to come across well. What I enjoyed the most about doing this is that it taught me how to listen more effectively. Now I make a better effort to really listen to what someone is saying to me and be present when I talk to them.

I’m also not saying for a minute that I’ve turned into a completely different person. There were still a couple of days throughout this week where I was exhausted from socialising. There are still times where I get pissed off by something or someone and the last thing I want to do is be interested and present so instead shut myself in my room and watch Netflix. What it has done however is make me more open to interactions with others. I still get anxious chatting to people, but I’ve seen some positive changes.

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Who knows if my efforts during this time have really made me more likeable? I definitely feel better about myself as a result, and I’ve noted changes in my own behaviours. Of course, I could just be coming off as a complete stalker who has an unhealthy interest in other people(!) but I hope that’s not the case.

After this experience I hope to continue my effort not to improve how ‘likeable’ I am but rather, to improve how confident and content I feel within myself.

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If anyone wants to read more here is a bad quality pic of the book ft. my thumb.

 

Words by Lauren Barnard for Anthem Online.
Images from Nathaniel Russel/Mitch Prinstein/NY Times, Explorying Your Mind, Robert Rolih, Salt 10.65 and Lauren Barnard.

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 *

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.