Uni

Growing Up

I’ve been having a bit of a freakout. I’m nearing the end of my degree, my time at university is nearly over, and soon I will have to get a real job and be a real person and live my life without an academic structure (I know, woe is me).

I think a lot about ‘real life’ and ‘real jobs’ like I’m some sort of infantilised child, but the thing is, it just seems so unachievable. Aside from the student debt, the rising house prices that mean that really I’m just never going to buy a house, the lack of jobs available in the arts, aside from all that, certain people just seem to have their lives together and unfortunately, I don’t think I’m one of them.

And the thing is, it’s very easy to beat yourself up about that.

There’s been a shift, among everyone I know recently. They just seem much more… grown up. They’re dedicating time to working hard and looking after themselves and making dinners and sleeping properly. And I’m starting to do it too, a bit. Sleeping proper nights and waking up before 11 am and leaving the house before 9 on some mornings. Noticing when my mood drops, and assessing why, and doing the right things about it. I even went running. For a week. We can’t have everything.

And I think that’s the key thing – you can’t do everything. You can’t be this person who exercises and sleeps and eats healthily and has a buzzing social life and a healthy mental state and gets good grades. And that’s okay. If I learned anything from a combination of CBT and a very good Simon Stephens playwriting talk, it’s that success does not equal happiness. I thought it did, for a long time. I thought that if I did a million things then that was success, because I was running myself ragged and loudly telling everyone how tired I was. That I had to be the best, making the best things, and having other people tell me how good they were. But self-validation is so much better. Letting yourself fail, or get it wrong, or even, to just doing nothing is one of the kindest things you can do to yourself if you’re happy doing it.

It’s particularly easy to not feel good enough when you’re constantly living your life through a screen, constantly comparing your reality to the social media posts of everyone having a nice time, the Instagram stories of what you wish you were doing, those people who are 5 years ahead of you in both career and life-planning and got their play on at the Royal Court aged 21 (I am not bitter, I promise). But comparison is dangerous, because it’s easy to while your days away wishing you were someone else, without fully appreciating who you are, that your hair looks great, and that you are great fun to go to the pub with.

I think that’s being a grown up. Learning to stop constantly punishing yourself about not being grown up. And I’m getting there. I might even start running again.

 

Words by Sian Brett.

 

 

 

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Q&A: Oxford Dignity Drive

Hello to the gang at Oxford Dignity Drive! Can you tell us a bit about yourselves; who you are and what you all do?

In March 2015, Dignity Drive was set up by Wadham College students Rachel Besenyei and Niamh McIntyre, to raise awareness and combat period poverty! This took the form of an initial week of fundraising events, and a drive for donations of sanitary products which were then delivered to homeless shelters, and refuges around Oxford. We (Laura, Issy, and Hannah-Lily) took over last summer., and since then we have been raising more funds, and distributing products around Oxford. 

Why are you working for this cause? Do you believe it to be an international issue?

The issue of period poverty is especially prevalent in the UK at the moment because of the current government’s massive cuts to homelessness services, which often hit women harder. There has been a 50% cut in services since 2010, and in that time homelessness in the UK has doubled.

The lack of sanitary products for women is often talked about as the ‘unseen’ side of homelessness, and so even when people donate to food banks, often they just don’t consider it. Periods remain a taboo subject across the world, but we are focusing on Oxford in particular because of the widely acknowledged issue of homelessness in the city.

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So what do the Oxford Dignity Drive do to help?

In 2015 we ran a week of events aimed to raise awareness around the unspoken issue of period poverty, including film screenings, panel events, and an exhibition. Increasing the discussion around menstruation as a means of combatting this taboo is vital, and we hope that by doing so it will become part of every discussion surrounding homelessness.

The other major work we do is raising money, and taking physical donations. Recently we have been raising funds through union motions, and then delivering them as soon as we can to food banks and refuges in Oxfordshire. As necessary as raising awareness is, we know that this is a tangible, urgent issue, and so our aim is to provide resources as quickly as possible.

Tell us about some of these events that you’ve been holding, or plans you have!

Last term we worked on diversifying the places we donate to, and identified that there was a potential issue in that homeless shelters are predominantly used by men. So we contacted a number of women’s refuges, and are now aiming to help them too. We’ve also been continuing to raise awareness through social media, and are planning some more events, as well as a week-long drive in mid-February. You can follow our Facebook page to keep up-to-date, and watch this space!

What would you ask of local residents to do in support?

If you’re thinking about donating to food banks or shelters, make sure you include sanitary products as well as food products (this can include toiletries too, they’re all greatly appreciated!).

Spread the word, confront the taboo, and tell all your friends about Dignity Drive!

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Perhaps on a more national scale, what can everyone do to help?

It’s really the same as above; there is a nationwide campaign called #thehomelessperiod which has a big petition, and takes just 10 seconds to sign. There are also a number of regional campaigns doing the same as us – at universities in particular – so check whether your university has one, and if not you could consider setting one up! We can help, so please get in touch if you would like any advice.

Would you like to say anything else to the lovely Anthem readers?

We would like you to help us in raising awareness around period poverty. Whether it’s sharing an article, telling your friends, or making donations to food banks yourself. We are always looking for more people to help Oxford Dignity Drive as well, so locals to the area can contact us on Facebook, and we’ll let you know how to get involved.

Lastly, we will always continue trying to combat this issue, but ultimately we are picking up the slack of deficient government services. Write to your MP, and be considerate of any party’s policies surrounding homelessness when making personal political choices!

Sanitary products are not a luxury – they are a necessity. 

 

Oxford Dignity Drive do some great work, and you can keep learning about their work, and what you can do via the following:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/oxdignitydrive/?fref=ts 
GoFundMe: https://www.gofundme.com/sfdprg

Words by Briony Brake with responses from the team at Oxford Dignity Drive
Images by Oxford Dignity Drive

Hello First Year

Welcome to university, and sincere congratulations on getting here. Yes a lot of people are at university, but that doesn’t mean you getting here is any less of an accomplishment. No doubt your family and friends and maybe even teachers are proud of you, and you should be proud of yourself too. The joyful feelings of getting in are fleeting, so absorb them and revel in them until the reality hits. The reality first that you need to go to IKEA stat before everyone else goes and you spend 5 hours in a queue, but also that you have no idea how to go to university. What do you wear? Should you bake something? Is that weird? Should your parents stay the first night? When can you go home? Do you need an NUS card? Saucepans? How much underwear do you take? All of it?

University is weird. It is three years (occasionally four or more), and it is not necessarily going to be the best three years of your life. That is a popular saying I know, but it doesn’t make any sense. It is your life, and every year is better or worse or about the same as the last one. How the hell are you supposed to know which years are the best? Every year is happy and sad in equal parts. Why is it the best anyway? Because your parents aren’t there to get mad if you come home late? Personally I’ve yet to have a year where I’ve thought ‘this is the best so far’. Point being, don’t push your expectations so high up that you’ll never reach them. It’s only uni. It is three years of writing essays and doing exams, making new friends and learning to live without adults. It’s like school except you won’t get reminded to eat when you get home from classes.

University, contrary to what some schools believe, is not for everyone. So it’s not the end of the world if you don’t like it. However, you cannot leave before you’ve tried one whole term. My heads of sixth form were very clear; “don’t leave before Christmas”. They are so right, you have no idea. If you don’t like it, stay until Christmas. At Christmas you can go home, catch up with all your friends, spend time with family, and probably go back to working a till somewhere. After Christmas you can go back and try again, you can think straight, you can work out your game plan, and chances are, the second semester will be much easier. If you do want to leave university, unfortunately you will still owe them money, and if you got a grant you’d have to pay that back – but don’t worry they scrapped that. Now you will just owe them even more. Yet it is still an option. Do not think of university as a trap. There are options. I know many people who have done year one again, who have re-applied to the same university for a different course and people who have switched uni after one year. There’s loads of things you can do. You can even take time out.

General advice from me would start with ‘go to your lectures’. I skipped so many in first year when I realised it wasn’t like school and they had no idea who I was so they didn’t know if I was there or not. The lectures can be shit, to be perfectly honest, but they are there to help you. In second year you can at least make sure you go to the lectures that will be relevant to your essay topics; notice what and who the staff are talking about, and what texts they reference. You’ll get way higher marks if your writing is relevant, particularly to what they were actually teaching. Secondly, although I would advise against it in first year, is extensions. Up-to-a-week extensions are available if you are struggling. If mental health, family or illness is getting you down and you’ve not done as much work, then you can apply to your lecturers for a week extra. I’ve used them before when I’ve needed them, and I would recommend them if you are really struggling. It’s only a couple of days but it can make all the difference. Don’t let anyone make you feel bad for using them.

You shouldn’t let anyone make you feel bad. People fail modules all the time, most people I know in third year had extensions, most people struggle. It’s university. It is hard, otherwise they wouldn’t have wanted your best grades to get here. If they wanted As at A-level, it’s because they want to know you can cope. University is a step up, but it’s so achievable. Honestly, just sit down and do your work. I’m not saying you need a really strict routine in which you never do anything but read, write, and go to classes. I’m saying, if a reading is important, or they’ll test you on it then read it. It’s quite simple. If you have an essay deadline in a week then go get your books out and start planning. Once you realise you can do it, it becomes a lot easier to start work in other years. As you get higher up, the word count will probably increase from the hundreds to thousands until you’re telling yourself you can write a 10,000 word dissertation. Which you can. The important thing to remember at uni is that you can do it. Never tell yourself you can’t. You got here on your own, you did the work and you made your way into a university that wanted you. You can do the rest too. You can do it, and there’s nothing wrong with asking for help if you don’t feel like that.

As for freshers, girls and boys I’m going to start by saying don’t buy any bloody club wristbands. Honestly it’s £30+ that you will need in a few weeks. I went out twice in freshers, but spent plenty of nights in playing cards, learning about my housemates, talking, watching films and drinking on the kitchen floor. You really don’t need to buy a wristband for anything, and if you do go out every night that’s great – you can always buy tickets on the door. Don’t let anything pressure you into the idea that you’re supposed to be doing something else at university. Do what you want.

Be yourself. It might take a while for that to happen, I’m still learning in my third year, but you will not make friends trying to be someone you’re not. If you like something, someone else will like it too, I guarantee. You’ll never know if you don’t ask, or if you don’t tell people. Don’t hide what you believe in. Christian? Feminist? Conservative? Great, there is literally a society for all of them. There’s societies that drink, play sport, play games, dance, sing, run, read and whatever you’re interested. True, you don’t know anyone there, but that’s because you haven’t been yet. Go, meet people, and try things because the harsh reality is that it will only get harder once you leave university.

University is hard, but the world outside is much the same. You made the choice to come here, so embrace it. You could meet the love of your life, the friend you’ll keep forever. You could find your passion, your calling in life, or you might not. You might get the placement of your dreams and hate it. You might realise you never really liked your course and that you regret your choice of degree. Whatever way it turns, you’ll only know if you try. Listen to the bounds of advice people give you about uni because it will help you whilst you’re there, and it will probably be just as valuable after too. The world is your oyster, do with it what you will.

My final advice is merely to try, because even if you fail, you learn something new every time, and if you succeed, you’ve opened up another door for yourself. Be proud of yourself, look after yourself, and don’t forget that university, like life, is what you make it. Good luck fresher.

Q&A: Laura Pettitt’s Gap Year

Hi Laura! Thank you so much for speaking to Anthem about your gap year. I definitely feel like a gap year wasn’t seen as an option as I never found out anything about them, so I’m hoping speaking to you might help other people see it as one!

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BMP Farmhouse on Elephant Care Day

So to begin, you’ve been back home for a little while now, what’s it been like settling back in after a 3 month trip?

It was crazy how quickly I adapted to being back actually. I’ve been home for just over 2 months but within a few days of being home I’d settled back into old routines and full time work. I was really worried about getting proper post-travelling blues and even cried on the plane coming back, but as much as I loved travelling, there is something so comforting about being home that you can never properly replicate in a hostel, especially as I spent the last few weeks travelling on my own. I don’t think I’d realised how much I missed my friends, but the second I look back at my photos or someone mentions somewhere I went, the prospect of booking a flight for the next day becomes very tempting.

 

Is there anything you miss?

Ah so much! Probably the most prominent thing was how cheap travel is over there; we did a couple of internal flights in Malaysia for £8. I’d pay that for a 20 minute train journey here. Obviously living costs are cheaper in the parts of Asia I visited but even relative to that travel was seriously cheap, and it makes it so easy to do and see more. Asia especially was so chilled and laid back. You run to get a bus that’s due to leave and end up sitting on it stationary for 2 hours. In India we asked about paragliding and 2 hours and £25 later we’d been driven up a mountain in a Jeep to paraglide off the Himalayas. It’s weird because it felt like life was moving at a much faster pace while we were travelling but it was also like the calmest and most stress-free time of my life.

 

Is there anything you’re glad to have back?

It is so nice to not sweat all the time. Honestly between landing in Bangkok on March 2nd and flying to Singapore at the end of May I’m pretty sure there was just a constant layer of sweat on my skin (which resurfaced a month later when I returned to Asia). The heat was great when lounging around on the beach but it was borderline unbearable at times so I don’t miss that. Although there’s obviously poverty in England, it’s so much more blatant in parts of Asia that it’s almost nice not to see it. That’s the most awfully privileged sentence I know, but it becomes depressing seeing all these people living in unimaginable conditions who you just can’t help. Sure you can buy them some food or sponsor a child or whatever but it just becomes a bit depressing knowing you can’t sustainably change their lives. You kind of have to detach yourself from it after a while or you’d just spend the whole time deeply depressed over it

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Halong Bay, Vietnam

Could you walk us through the trip?

So I flew out to Bangkok with 2 of my best friends from school on March 1st, we spent a couple of days there looking around markets and temples, and then got a night train to Chiang Mai. We spent about a week there, did a 2 day jungle trek and an elephant care day (it was so great we got to feed them and swim with them), and then spent 20 hours on buses to Laos. We stayed in Luang Prabang for a few nights which we loved, right on the Mekong River where there was a really good night market and waterfalls. They also randomly did such good baguettes in Laos! Then we got a bus to Vang Vieng, also in Laos, the most bizarre place with loads of “happy bars” and everyone goes tubing (going down the river in a massive rubber ring). Just a really bizarre place! We then had a 32 hour adventure on buses (on my birthday so that was fun) to get to Hanoi in Vietnam. It was the craziest place which was just constantly loud and we almost got run over so many times.

We spent about a week there and then flew to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) for a week. There was so much to do and see and we went on a lot of day trips to places like the Cu Chi Tunnels, and Halong Bay. It was really cheap, and a nice mix between traditional and western, and the street food was incred. Then we got a night bus to Cambodia where we stayed in Pnomh Penh. We went to S-21 and the Killing Fields and learned about Cambodia’s horrible history (would definitely recommend a quick google or a watch of the film The Killing Fields to learn more) which were so shocking and sad but definitely worth learning about. Then we went to where there are loads of temples, the main one was Angkor Wat, and we went to them at sunrise. After Cambodia we headed back to Thailand, this time to the south islands. We went to Phuket, Krabi and Ko Phi Phi which were all idyllic honeymoon type places where I went scuba diving. Then we headed to Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia. We basically booked our main flights in England so we just knew we had to be in Singapore by the end of May, and so ended up with a couple of weeks in Malaysia. I knew nothing about it but ended up loving it! After a few nights in KL we got a bargain internal flight to a little island called Langkawi. We spent a few days lounging on the beach and then flew to Penang, which is described as Malaysia’s food capital. It was amazing and we ended up missing our return flight (it was only £12 to be fair) on purpose because we weren’t ready to leave.

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Monkey Island, Thailand

From there we got a coach to the Cameron Highlands which were so much cooler (in temperature) than everywhere we’d been previously, and we spent a couple of days doing a bit of walking and visiting the tea plantations. We got a coach back to KL and after a couple of nights got a coach to Singapore. We spent 3 or 4 nights here, looking at the quirky little shops, food halls and a trip to Universal Studios before an overnight flight to Melbourne. Here we had a week in a vile 16 bed dorm but spent the days looking round the city before being joined by my friend from work, Abi. We then picked up a camper van and set off on a 2 week adventure. We went to Great Ocean Road where we saw koalas up close (they’re so soft!) and then drove to Sydney. We made a spontaneous decision to go all the way to Byron Bay which made a couple of long days of driving and some nights parked at the side of the road (and one in a stranger’s back garden). We only stayed in Byron for 2 nights but all loved it and then headed to Sydney. Abi flew home and we went to spend a week with Lauren’s (one of the three original travellers) family friends in a place called WoyWoy. We had a really nice week living in a proper house eating home cooked meals exploring the little town and also spent a night in Sydney and one in the Blue Mountains before the others flew home.

Originally we were all due to fly back together on June 2nd but I wasn’t ready to leave so flew back to KL, spent 2 nights there, and then went to Delhi. I was met at the airport and spent 16 days volunteering, helping women learn English and helping slum children with their English and Maths, and the evenings and weekends visiting Delhi, the Taj Mahal, and an amazing place called Dharamshala. The whole thing was incredible and so surreal, we were followed round a water park like celebrities, asked for photographs by virtually everyone we met, and I went paragliding in the Himalayas. Sadly after 16 days it was time to leave, and I had 2 flights to get to Bali. This was my first proper extended solo travelling, and I spent a couple of nights in a place called Ubud. I saw lots of monkeys, did some yoga, and ate a lot of green vegan food. It was so chilled out there, but I spoke to virtually no one and it was all just a bit surreal. I then got a mini bus and a boat over to Gili T, possibly one of the nicest places on earth. It’s such a small island that the only public transport is horses and carriages. The sunsets are amazing (though I never witnessed them properly because I got lost). It’s beyond beautiful and I spent a couple of nights there, went out with people from the hostel I was staying in and also got practically adopted by a lovely Indonesian family I met on a snorkelling trip who kept taking me out for food and said I was welcome to stay with them any time. On June 25th I had to head to the airport which I was very sad about, and had my final 2 flights to get home. I finished off my 4 month adventure on a trusty national express coach driving through rainy England.

 

How did the idea to travel these places begin?

I’d always had a strange fixation with India and Vietnam (which ended up being among my favourite places). India became a bit of an obsession after a year 8 Geography project, but I remember discussing Thailand/Laos etc in the common room at school in year 12. A couple of my brother’s friends had travelled a similar route a couple of years before, and then we spoke to people at STA and came up with a route, but pretty much everyone does the same thing. Everyone you speak to out there has stayed in virtually the same places as you – it’s almost funny.

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Torquay, Victoria

 

Did everything go to plan?

Amazingly yes! I was constantly expecting to miss a bus or a flight, be scammed out of all my money and so on, but everything was fine! I feel very lucky because a few things could have ended in disaster; I left my card in an ATM in Bangkok and someone shouted after me and gave it back, I left my passport in a hostel in Singapore and managed to just hop on a bus to get it back. I even managed to get on the metro in Delhi and have the doors close before my friends could get on, but even during rush hour when it was packed, nothing bad happened to me.

 

What was it like travelling with friends?

Most of the time it was great, but I just think being with the same people all the time is always going to cause a few minor disagreements. We never really argue at home but obviously you’re not spending every moment together. I mean, we shared a room for 3 months, and sometimes you just won’t all agree on something, or someone will just be in a bad mood. I definitely argue a lot more with my family at home. It was really nice to be able to experience everything together, and laugh at funny stories both at the time and now. I did enjoy the little bit of travelling I did on my own, but I’m really glad I was with them for the bulk of my trip.

 

Could you tell us about the preparation for your trip?

So I told my family I wanted to take a gap year back in about year 11, no one took much notice and just kind of assumed I’d change my mind. When it came to UCAS and stuff suddenly they all got a bit like “is this a good idea, should you be doing it” but I’m very stubborn and I think they probably realised I was going to go regardless of what they thought. In August after year 13 we went to STA and booked our flights to Bangkok, from Singapore to Melbourne and Sydney to home (I ended up changing my last one) and started discussing stuff like budgeting. My summer job let me stay on and I worked until February with the goal of saving £4000 to spend out there plus the initial £1500 for flights and loads of other little costs. We had to start getting vaccinations about 4 months before. We needed Hep A (and a booster after we flew home), 3 Hep B ones (they’re meant to be around £100 but for some reason I wasn’t charged…), and a typhoid vaccination. We also had to get malaria tablets – you just book an appointment with a nurse, tell them where you’re going and they advise you on what to get. You can get other optional vaccinations like rabies but after a bit of research I opted against it. Also just a tip for anyone going travelling; malaria tablets are about half the price of high street pharmacies if you go to the ASDA pharmacy. Don’t pay double for the same drug!

I didn’t start packing until a couple of weeks before, and I basically bought loads of back up stuff for my phone and camera because I was so paranoid about not being able to take a million photos of everything. With packing it’s definitely a case of less is more, and I wish I’d taken less clothing, especially as a lot of what I packed was too warm to wear. You just need a couple of thin cotton tops, dresses, and shorts. We took a lot of medical stuff though you can buy everything out there. I would advise anti-sickness and Imodium just because you don’t want to find you don’t have any on a long bus journey, trust me. I also really recommend a portable phone charger for the same reason. Packing isn’t too difficult because everything is so cheap out there that if you’ve forgotten something it doesn’t matter.

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Taj Mahal, India

 

Were there any surprises?

I was surprised by how western everywhere is! Walking down the road in Cambodia and coming out of the airport in Delhi to see Costa Coffee or Domino’s is so surreal, and that took some getting used to. Also nearly everyone we encountered spoke such good English which I kind of expected but like crazy good! It was so impressive and made me feel a bit stupid!

 

What were the highlights? What wasn’t as good?

Oh God I can’t narrow it down! I did some crazy things like seeing the Taj Mahal, scuba diving in Thailand, paragliding in the Himalayas. All of those were so amazing, but just lying on a beach with friends and even just bus journeys through such interesting landscapes were fun too. Getting street food in Vietnam and the curries in India also just stand out in my mind. But it was just so good. Night buses are definitely not something I miss, though. They’re cheap and convenient but honestly after spending a couple of hours trying and failing to find a comfortable position, and the one time my friend was sick all over my stuff at the start of the journey… That I wouldn’t mind skipping. I also found the heat difficult to deal with, it made it hard to do things during the day and I was tired a lot as well. It was great again for beach days but that was about it.

 

Would you do it again? Where would you like to go next?

It’s practically all I think about! I would love to go back to where I volunteered in India to see the children again, and stay for a longer time, but I would also love to revisit Vietnam and Malaysia. I wouldn’t turn down a trip to anywhere I went though! Eventually I would like to travel around South America but I don’t feel like I’ve seen enough of Asia yet!

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Chiang Mai, Thailand

 

What’s next for you now that you’re home?

I’ve spent my summer working full time at my old job, now I’ve just got a couple of weeks left and then I’m off to Bath to study psychology.

 

Do you feel you learned anything from travelling that’s affected you or changed you?

I have definitely relaxed with money a lot. I used to kind of fuss over spending but I’ve just calmed down and realised that spending a bit more for something fun is worth it. And after you see the conditions some people are living in you realise how fortunate you are to be able to do stuff like go out to eat and plan holidays. I haven’t gotten crazy generous but definitely more so. I also feel more appreciative of pretty much everything. Even just appreciative or the place I live, and having a house, and healthcare system. It isn’t until you see first-hand what it’s like not to have those things that it hits you how lucky you are.

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Penang, Malaysia

Finally, do you think it was worth the money you spent?

I really do. I know we could have done things for cheaper and in future I would book flights myself, and skip the luxury Contiki holiday, but I still think we budgeted well. I was very fortunate to be in the position of living at home, not paying bills or having financial obligations which meant that almost everything I was earning could go towards travelling. Although the 12 hour shifts in the run up were a bit hellish, it was so so so worth it when we were out there. It’s easy to limit yourself, and not do expensive activities but I definitely think it’s important to find the balance between travelling on a budget and missing out.

 

You can read even more about Laura’s travels on her blog: http://the-perks-of-being-laura.blogspot.co.uk/ 

 

Words by Briony Brake and Laura Pettitt
Photos by Laura Pettitt

 

 

 

My Body Image & I: From Feud to Friendship

Body Image. Seems like quite a self-explanatory phrase doesn’t it; an accurate reflection of your body. But it hasn’t meant that in a long time. Instead it stands for the dislike many young people feel towards their own bodies, how uncomfortable they feel in their own skin, how looking at themselves in a mirror makes them feel like they’re never going to be good enough.

“I’m too fat.”
“My hair’s too frizzy”
“My nose is too big”
“My cheeks are too round”
“I don’t have long legs”

Words you would never think of saying to the people around you. So why do we talk like that about ourselves? Thinking more about your body during puberty is normal. We develop, we grow, we change and all do so differently. And that’s normal. But when I was growing up looking at adverts spread across billboards and magazines all I saw were the perfect bodies of models and celebrities.

I began to see this ‘perfection’ as normal, found myself wanting to achieve beauty standards that are beyond possible without the help of Photoshop or silicone. Looking at myself in the mirror, I was constantly comparing; my waist wasn’t as small as the celebrity’s in the next advert so I was fat, my hair wasn’t as smooth as the model’s in the magazine so I was obviously ugly. This seeped into everyday life. I saw girls in school who seemed to have achieved this amazing image, making me question what I was doing wrong. Why couldn’t I look like that too?

The sad reality was that seeing the girl sitting in front of me in class with a figure like Kate Moss, my first thoughts weren’t “she looks lovely like that and I look lovely as I am” or “everyone is built differently, I shouldn’t compare myself”. Instead thoughts of “why don’t I have that figure?”, “I need to lose weight”, “she looks amazing and I look horrible in comparison” led me to continuously beat myself up about the way I looked. Influenced by the media, my self-esteem was pushed down to a point of sadness and self-loathing, never feeling like I was perfect.

maxeneBI&I young

I looked at myself in the mirror and cried. Got angry. Was I fat? No. I was overweight for my age by a few kilograms, but I was also 12, loved the Sugababes and covered my Facebook profile pictures in stickers. I was a normal child, with a bit of puppy fat that would disappear in a few years’ time. I had nothing to worry about. But everything made me feel like I did. I was sure that I’d never be thin or pretty and therefore never good enough.

Honestly, I had this mind-set for most of my teenage life, until I came to what I thought was the solution. Of everything I saw when I looked in the mirror my weight bothered me the most. So I decided that action needed to be taken. I monitored my diet, measured portions, made sure I covered all food groups, didn’t eat sweets and followed a strict exercise plan. Did I lose weight? Yep. Did I feel amazing? Nope. But to me this was the logical solution. Alter my body until I looked like I thought I should.

I’m 5”3, let’s be real I was never going to look like a model, but that didn’t even cross my mind. I was determined to carry this through until I felt happy with myself. Until I came to uni, struggled with my course and fell into this pit of sadness. I would look at myself in the mirror, and see my round 12-year-old self. No matter what weight I had lost, it still hadn’t given me the confidence or the happiness I so desperately wanted.

Throughout first year, with the help of some fab people, I did a lot of thinking, learning about myself and appreciating who I am to get myself out of the rut I had become stuck in. And this led me to a realisation. My body image had far less to do with how I actually looked, and far more to do with how I thought of myself. I didn’t see a confident and happy person because I wasn’t. I was broken and frail and that made me feel worse and worse about myself.

I realised that it felt so much better having positivity shine through your body, than having my positivity rely on my body.

Appearance is never something to rely on. Everyone who looks at you will perceive you differently, and most likely won’t be half as critical as you are of yourself. Any physical change you make, should be to aid your mental well-being, something you want to do, not something you feel like you have to do. I wear make-up, because I enjoy it and I honestly find it relaxing, but I don’t feel any less pretty not wearing it. I just feel normal. Like me. Which is why it’s so important that you learn to understand yourself as a person, not just a shell.

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Study your personality in as much detail as you would otherwise look at your face for spots. Know your ins and outs, the things you love, the things you want to improve and familiarise yourself. They’re yours. And next time you go out wearing that crop top you doubted would suit you, think about yourself. Not your appearance. But you – your great sense of humour or your open-minded attitude. The satisfaction you feel with yourself will emanate from you like a confidence you’ve never experienced before.

Don’t get me wrong, if you want to go to the gym 5 times a week and tone up, you do that! But do it because you’ll feel good showing off your hard work or it’s your hour to get away from everything, not because you won’t go to the beach this summer without a “bikini body”.

Now, someone out there will have read this and thought “but there’s nothing good about my personality either”. I know this, because a few months ago, I would have thought the same. Learning to love yourself is a journey that everyone has to go on themselves, at their own pace, with their own ups and downs. But I do have a word of advice, something a friend told me recently which has really stuck with me: go out, and do something good.

Don’t think about whether you’ll be good at it, don’t even think about it too long. Just do something good. Be it buying a homeless man a meal, or baking muffins for a bake sale. Something that you can walk away from, knowing that deed benefitted someone besides you. And from that point forward, every time you doubt yourself, or think there’s nothing to have a positive attitude about, remember that thing. Remember the good you did and it’ll help remind you that you are, and always will be a valuable human, an amazing person, someone you can always be proud of.

There are days where I wake up, take one look at myself and feel so sad. My mood reflects in my appearance and I just feel worse and worse. So instead, I for example, remind myself that I’m vegan [oooo controversial] and that through that I’m doing so much good for the planet, which in turn makes me very happy. So yes on that day I might think my thighs are too big, or my eyes are too small, but that’s okay, because I know that I’m more than that, in fact I’m great, so I smile and carry on with my day, and I hope that after this, you lovely ladies and gentlemen do too.

 

Words by Maxene Sommer
Photos courtesy of Maxene Sommer

How To Cheer Yourself Up When You’re Down

This post is an interesting one, because it’s not just me talking about my issues, it’s not just interviews with friends on similar issues, and it’s not just advice being passed on to you lovely readers. Instead, it’s all three.

The Personal

Since going to university (and generally just growing up some), I’ve become notoriously bad at looking after myself. It’s something millions of people struggle with, and it’s not something they teach you at school, but it is important to deal with. Often the worst part isn’t just feeling sad or upset, but feeling that way when you’re alone.

Everyone has friends, or partners, or family that they feel comfortable turning to, but sometimes these friends are asleep, at dinner, at work, or uni or so on. Sometimes, they can’t help. In some cases, people don’t want to reach out, or ‘bother’ their loved ones, but whoever you are within this mix, I’ve gone out to research what other people do, to help us both.

When I used to feel sad as a teenager, I would often watch YouTube videos and vloggers, or listen to my awful iTunes playlists, but I don’t really go for that anymore. These days I tend to light candles, carry on listening to music, don some comfy pjs and eat (and not just when I’m sad). It’s basic but effective. On better days, I’m smarter when it comes to looking after myself.

As a result, I’ve decided to ask what other people do. I’ve asked around and posted to social media to work out how my friends look after themselves when they only have themselves to turn to, and the results are all achievable and easy things to do. Seems only fair to start with myself…

The Interviews

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When I get down these days I tend to watch a classic Disney film like Cinderella or Beauty and the Beast, because they’re very uplifting. Alternatively I’ll stick on The Many Adventures of Winnie The Pooh – sounds childish I know but it’s so innocent and pure that it just makes me so much happier. Other methods involved adult colouring or dot-to-dot, and ultimately a cup of tea and an early night.

 

Next up, my housemate Nathan offered up his solution:anthemnathan
Most of the time I’d message a friend, but if I couldn’t do that I’d probably find a film or TV programme to watch. That always takes my mind off whatever is wrong, and I can just keep up with any current show I’m watching. If not, I try to get some fresh air and go for a walk. If all else fails, music can a God send, for me rock or grime especially – it’s a bit more fun and energetic.

 

What about fellow Anthem writer, Jess? She always seems to have wise words:anthemjess
To be honest, I do tend to just watch TV, or binge on whatever series I’m on currently and then I can forget about being down. Occasionally I’ll paint, bake or maybe cook a meal. A lot of it is mental, and so a lot of the time if I’m down I’ll sort of sit and take a moment to just redirect my thoughts to things that I know I’m lucky to have like family, my degree and so on. Something that always helps is going for a walk to look at all the lovely things that exist, and then I’m able to tell myself that good things have to mixed in with the bad so that we can understand and appreciate them better.

 

If you haven’t quite got the hang of the mindfulness skill yet, sometimes it really is quite simple to cheer yourself up. I asked my friend from uni, Jamie how he went about it: anthemjamkie
If I need cheering up, I’ll normally turn to a film and most of the time it will be Love Actually. It always makes me laugh and smile.

 

And what about my friend Amber? Well hers made me feel a bit better too:
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I had to think about this quite hard. It depends why I’m feeling sad I guess, and what kind of sad; like if I’m feeling defeated or shit about myself then I tend to write things down that are good about myself or that I have achieved. Sometimes I do something simple like having a nice long shower, or ‘mindful’ washing like really taking in smells of shower gel etc. which might sound super lame but it works. I have a teddy (judge me) and I cuddle that sometimes. If I need distracting, I watch Netflix or I’ll read. I like to go for walks as well if it’s a nice day and really take in my surroundings and tune out of my head if I can. A lot of them seem quite obvious but whatever works!

 

The Advice

So it’s not as hard as I (probably you as well) make it out to be sometimes. Just have a drink (tea/hot chocolate/wine) and some food, watch a film that makes you happy, binge on some TV, do some painting and colouring or writing. These guys are a great bunch of people who I consider quite happy people as well, so how can I be sure I can do this next time I need to?

I guarantee that a lot of time if I’m sad I’ll either text Jess into the night until I fall asleep, or moan at my friends and boyfriend until they tell me I’m probably being silly and should just have a cup of tea and calm down (which is correct), but when I’m alone it is harder to get happy again. Something that you, I, and generally all of us can do is plan ahead. I know it sounds stupid but hear me out. 

Blurt Foundation Buddy Box Depression Care Package

There are companies built entirely on care packages (see: BuddyBox, PinkParcel), but if you’re as skint as I am, then you can make your own, or be super cute and make one for a friend. The idea in this case is to make sure you have what you need to look after yourself when sadness strikes. You can either go full Monica Geller and set aside a box full of snacks, treats, books and fun things and DVDs, or you can make sure you know what makes you happy. Simple as.

Asking other people has been useful because I feel like I’m not missing something that everyone else is doing. It seems clear that looking after yourself is as simple as eating, drinking, sleeping well and making time for a walk, or bath, or favourite film. If I can just remember that there are good things and happy things then all I need to do is find them and make use of them.

What else do you think is important to remember? Let us know how you look after yourself!

 

Words by Briony Brake
Interviews with Nathan Oliver, Jessica Yang, Jamie Clarkson, Amber Berry
Photo by BuddyBox: The Blurt Foundation

‘I AM LUCKY’

Recently a lot of things have changed for me, and as always in these sorts of stages in my life, it’s meant I’ve been learning a lot of important lessons. Moving away to university has meant having to learn to cook, clean and generally fend for myself. On an emotional note, it’s been an incredible learning curve.

The first thing I realised was that I was not the person I thought I was. Perhaps university changed me, or maybe I’d always been this person, and maybe it took moving away from my comfort zone to realise. My first year at university was hard. My head was constantly preoccupied with what I felt I should be doing, what I wanted to do and why this distinction between should and want was important. But you know what? It’s not. Now in my second year, I am blessed with new opportunities, better friends and most importantly, a far greater insight.

As well as all the lessons about friends, people and growing up, I learned the power of my own mind. I don’t mean that I realised I was some sort of genius or that I’d found enlightenment. Rather, that I could control how situations affected me, simply by changing my perspective on them. Instead of wasting my time and energy thinking about the things I should or wanted to do, I began to just pick one and go with it. And there’s another lesson in that, because you don’t learn unless you do things. This by no means meant I was making better choices, but the fact I was making choices at all meant I had something to show for them. I could go out for pre’s and decide that actually I’d rather be doing something else, and honestly what’s the worst that could happen? You just say you want to leave and you leave. I could go home and then go back again or even go to a different party and what would be the problem with that? Really, I’m lucky enough to have so many options for good night. Why waste time regretting an option when you made it yourself and that’s what you wanted at the time?

There’s a saying out there that goes something like, ‘keep your face to the sun and you will never see the shadows’, and I guess that’s what I’m trying to say. Believe me, I am not an optimistic person. Keeping this sort of mindset is far from easy. It’s so cliché. The ‘every cloud has a silver lining’ outlook on life seems naïve even to me now. But I’m beginning to see just how much it makes a difference.

Take my two sisters; both successful in their jobs, one married and the other in a long term relationship. In very similar situations really, but one is constantly troubled about where she wants to be in her career next, when she hopes to have kids, and always seems to find the negative side of any situation. The other has just as much stress in her life, but seems so much happier; laughing and joking about her daily stresses and enjoying herself regardless. She tells me, ‘I am lucky’. And that’s so important. Where both are high-functioning, powerful women that I look up to, only one of them seems to really appreciate where she is. Rather than constantly striving for more, she stops to look at where she is now, and sees everything she has made for herself. I don’t mean that people shouldn’t aim for the best, but never should that goal mean sacrificing your happiness, your relationships or your lifestyle. She is a great inspiration to me and above all else, has taught me that your mindset is everything.

Next year, my boyfriend will be moving 3,400 miles away for 8 months on placement and honestly, I’m terrified. Yet it will also be an incredible year, because I’ll be on placement too, and will have time to spend on my film editing, and sport and other things that take a back seat when he’s around. I have amazing friends, I’m doing a rewarding degree (even if I don’t always enjoy it) and these days I’ve probably got 80+ years to make something of myself.

So yes, I am lucky. Sometimes, I don’t feel like it, but I am. And so are you, whoever you are. You are fortunate enough to live and breathe, and be there to appreciate everything that life is and will be, for you. Look at where you are now and see not what you don’t have but what you do and exactly what that means for you.

Never forget that you are always the most powerful person in your life.

 

Words by Jessica Yang