Like Her Type has been nominated for a Leibster award

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Like Her Type has been nominated for a Liebster award, and it couldn’t have come at a better time. Thank you so much to Rosie over at La Grenouille Anglaise for the incredibly thoughtful nomination and, of course, for taking the time to discover my blog. It means more than you might think.

I think about my blog pretty much every day. I write posts on my phone, I conjure up what to say in my head and how to build relatable stories around anecdotes and passing thoughts. The ideas come easily, so why have I stopped posting so much?

It’s a combination of things. Occasionally I worry that I’m sharing too much information. Plus my Macbook died a few months ago and posting on your phone has its issues. But mostly, I can’t seem to find the time at the moment (‘find’ it, like its lurking somewhere in a dark corner, covered in dust?) and I feel guilty every day when I go too long without posting. Like I’m failing someone I care about. And it’s purely because I love doing it. Not having time to do something you love is not ok.

And then Rosie nominated Like Her Type for a Liebster Award. It lifted my spirits to say the least. The Liebster Award was created so that emerging bloggers could help each other gain exposure and recognition.

Like Her Type is about connecting people through the life experiences we all share, turning them into valuable lessons that might help someone else in need of honest advice.

The Liebster award is built on connecting chains of bloggers. It serves as a reminder that there really is a “social” element to social media. One that helps people to connect on a personal, useful level that we often don’t experience face to face.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that I contemplated giving up my blog because I feared I wasn’t connecting people in the way I hoped, and this incredibly thoughtful nomination proves otherwise.

A stranger read my thoughts and felt compelled to share with other strangers to benefit them in some small way. And that is kind of beautiful, isn’t it?

The Rules of The Liebster Award

1. Thank the person/blog who nominated you and post a link to their blog on your blog.
2. Display the award on your blog. This can be done by including it in your post and/or displaying it using a widget (note: the best way to do this is to save the image to your own computer and then upload it to your blog/post).
3. Answer the 10 questions about yourself that your nominating blogger chooses for you.
4. Nominate blogs that you feel deserve the award. These must be new bloggers (less than two years blogging) who have fewer than 1000 followers.
5. Create a list of questions for your nominated bloggers to answer.
6. List these rules in your post (feel free to cut & paste!)
7. Inform the blogs that you nominated that they have been awarded the award and provide a link for them to your post so that they can learn about it.

Question Time

Great questions Rosie – here are my answers.

Q: City break or countryside escape?

A: Oooohhh that’s actually a really tough question. Living in London, there comes a point every now and again that I crave fresh air and greenery. Like an environmental detox. There’s something incredibly humbling about staring at a powerful waterfall or the sun setting over a vast canyon or calm sea. You feel insignificant in the best way possible. The scale and wonder of nature often helps put worries and problems into perspective. It’s so important to switch off mentally every now and again and exploring a busy city simply doesn’t allow you to do that. However, once my batteries are recharged, I always welcome the excitement of a new city with open arms. Bright lights, bars, historical architecture, museums, great food, new cultures. The appeal of the city is often just as strong.

Q: Which country could you never tire of visiting?

A: Japan. Without a doubt. I was lucky enough to spend three weeks there in April this year and I cannot wait to go back. Japan is an astounding place to travel. The people, the culture, the history, the landscape, the buildings, THE FOOD, the nightlife, the authenticity, did I mention the food? If you’re after a culture shock, Japan is like nowhere I’ve ever encountered. Every day was an adventure. One moment we were lost in a labyrinth of bars in Tokyo’s Golden Gai, and the next we were looking for snow monkeys and skiing the Japanese Alps. I cannot recommend this mesmerising country enough.

Q: What’s your favourite dessert? (Because let’s face it, the last course is the best one).

It would probably be some sort of chocolate cake, with raspberries and cream. Oooo or apple crumble with loads and loads of custard.

Q: If you were your country’s Prime Minister/ President, what’s the first law you would pass?

I would propose a three-day weekend. I’m all about the work-life balance, and I think fours days on, three days off would work perfectly…

Q: Which holiday destination do you think is over-hyped?

Oh God, definitely Phi Phi in Thailand. Don’t get me wrong, I love a party, but give give me Ibiza over Phi Phi any day. Phi Phi is kind of fun, in a way that Magaluf is fun if you’re a 16-year-old boy, but it smells, ‘The Beach’ is a tourist trap, the food isn’t exactly Thailand’s finest and the bars are cheesy as hell. I’ve heard there are nice parts of Phi Phi, but if you’re travelling on a budget you’ll never find them.

The internet. Best or worst thing to happen to humanity?

Where is your “happy place” and why?

What inspires you to connect with strangers?

If you could travel back in time, where would you visit first?

What’s your biggest fear?

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Falling for Koh Lanta

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A couple of days ago, my best friend asked over the phone, “So, how do you know where to go?” Which was actually a very good question. It is quite hard planning a 3-week trip to Thailand. So many people have been for so many different reasons: partying in Koh Phi Phi, slowing down the pace in Pai, trying to beat the crowds to Koh Lipe etc etc. What happens if you want a bit of everything? Or if someone tells you the place you had in mind is rubbish? Trying to figure out which islands and areas might suit you best via your own research is problematic when every other person you speak to claims to be an expert. How much of the hype do you believe? The reason I’m saying this is because some websites and people warned us away from Koh Lanta, and it was somewhere we’d always wanted to visit. We read it had become crowded and touristy, and we almost didn’t go. Fortunately, we trusted our instincts and gave it a chance because a lot of what we read online was wrong. The island is beautiful. With maybe 10 people to share the beach with. At high season. Here are a few reasons we loved Lanta so much.

THE BEACH BARS

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We arrived at night, and every other path from the road (Lanta South Island is basically one really long road) was lined with lanterns and candles leading down to the beach. We followed one on Khlong Dao and came out to a row of relaxed, beautifully lit beach-side bars and restaurants, each with its own personality and each very chilled. It was actual heaven after our 12-hour stint from Bangkok. Drinking a cold beer with hundreds of stars above, the sand under your feet and candles everywhere does a lot for the soul.

THE FOOD

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I was so surprised to discover the price of the food is pretty similar to Bangkok – averaging at about 120 baht (£2.40) for all the Thai classics. The food is so good. I don’t think I will ever get bored of rotating papaya salad, massaman curry and tom yam soup. Beer and cocktails are slightly more expensive but still not a scratch on London – about 60 baht (£1.20) for a beer and 160 baht for a cocktail (£3.20). Quick tip: the more traditonal places up on the road usually serve better food than the expensive-looking places on the beach, plus they’re cheaper and quieter.

THE SUNSETS

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The sun starts to set at 6pm in Lanta and was pretty impressive every night. The best viewing place we found was the Diamond Cliff Restaurant at the very south of the island, which has its own beach and huge horizon. We shared the experience with about 15 others, which cast a bit of a shadow on my once-loved crowded spot at Ibiza’s Cafe Mambo. But maybe that’s just me getting old.

THE SCUBA DIVING

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I’ll talk more about this in my next post, but in Lanta I decided to do my open-water scuba-diving course at a dive centre called Dive & Relax. Paying just a little bit extra meant only having one other person in my group, doing my theory in a luxury resort and generally having the best service. I was pretty nervous so this was really important to me and now I can see why Dive & Relax come so highly recommended on Trip Advisor.

THE CAVES

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On our last day we trekked to one of Lanta’s caves, avoiding the cave you can trek to riding an elephant. Read ‘Beginning in Bangkok‘ if you want to know why elephant trekking is cruel. Anyway, we trekked by foot to a cave and went inside with a guide. Let’s just say I was glad I wore my hiking boots, and have never felt happier to be a small person. I would not have wanted to squeeze through those gaps if I was Joe! We also got to see hundreds of bats all fast asleep. A great 3-hour trip if you’re quite outdoorsy.

THE NATIONAL PARK

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This was an embarrassingly big moment for me because I’d never seen monkeys just wandering around. I was so excited. Shame they went around in mobs, terrorising everyone. The national park is beautiful and not at all busy. It’s at the very bottom of the island and we drove there on a moped in about an hour from Klong Dao. You can rent a moped for about 250 baht (£5) for 24 hours.

THE TRAVEL LINKS

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Koh Lanta is a very practical island to visit. You can get their easily from Phi Phi and Krabi by boat, and then to smaller islands like Koh Jum and Koh Mook if that takes your fancy.

We originally planned to stay in Lanta for 4 nights and stayed a whopping 9! Partly because I did a 4-day course and partly because it just had a bit of everything. You can party at Pangea or Mushroom bar, learn to cook Thai food, practice yoga or simply soak up the sun. Let’s just hope it stays exactly as it is.

Beginning in Bangkok

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When I told people I’d be celebrating New Year’s Eve in Bangkok, I was either met with an unenthusiastic ‘oh cool’ or an even more worrying ‘oh god’. Bangkok seems to have a terrible reputation, and in all honestly I was expecting the worst. Maybe this was why I was actually pleasantly surprised. Sure it’s crowed and dirty, but so is London. And I love London. I wouldn’t go as far as to say I love Bangkok, but it’s lively energy and weakness for taking the world’s most interesting characters under it’s wing are enchanting. It’s also ridiculously cheap, the street food is incredible and you can buy 50 baht (£1) beers from cool boxes on the street. We all go crazy over Notting Hill Carnival, so why do we give Bangkok such a hard time? Here are a few things worth staying a little longer to see.

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As much as I enjoyed my time in Bangkok, I’m not sure how I would have fared arriving on my own. I usually walk around with my head in the clouds, so I’m lucky Joe’s a bit more streetwise. Some people are simply out to take you for a ride.  The tuk-tuk drivers definitely seem to be running the show when it comes to scamming tourists. Always agree the price upfront if you really need to get one, but I would stick to taxis with a meter.

Contrary to our original plan, we were in Bangkok for 4 days. 2 nights were spent in a hotel (Nouvo City) with a rooftop pool, and 2 nights in a slightly dodgy guesthouse. I think the bed was made from concrete, and we couldn’t figure out how to turn the lights off, but we survived. On our last day in Bangkok, we arranged to visit a wildlife sanctuary a 2-hours drive south, by which point I was desperate to get out of the city and into an open space, with oxygen and trees.

Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand (WFFT), is a not-for-profit organisation devoted to rescuing and rehabilitating animals previously used for entertainment. It was such an eye-opening day, and really explained the abuse that goes on behind the scenes of some of Thailand’s original tourist attractions, like elephants rides, tiger temples and dancing bears. The cost of the day trip (about £69) is currently going towards building a modern elephant hospital, and in return we were able to take one of the elephants for a walk around the park, feed her and give her a bath, which was pretty much a dream come true. We were also given a tour of the park, which is home to sun bears, gibbons, exotic birds and more. The day included lunch and transfers and I couldn’t recommend it enough.

The elephant trekking you see advertised in all Thai tourist offices should be avoided at all costs. Never ever ride an elephant. No matter how kind the mahouts seem to their elephants, the only reason you are able to ride them is because they are terrified and have been badly abused. They are trained with spikes and chains, babies separated from the mother far too young and forced to carry people until they are broken. YouTube it. In 5 years time we’ll be lucky if Thailand has elephants at all. I felt very lucky to be so close to these beautiful creatures in the right environment.

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I had the best time in Bangkok, and I was so sure I would hate it! Here are a few things you might want to squeeze in rather than getting shit-faced on Khaosan Road (which, admittedly, we did do):

  •  Amazing (and amazingly cheap) street food on Soi Rambuttri.
  • Thai and foot massages at Shewaspa – the same price as most places but definitely the best.
  • Wat Poh Temple – nowhere near as busy as The Grand Palace and shuts later.
  • The flower market – pretty surreal.
  • Chatuchak market (JJ market), where you’ll find everything from vintage Levis to good fake-designer shit to husky puppies. It is HUGE.
  • Ethos – incredible vegan restaurant down a backstreet and the best place for breakfast

It’s weird writing this now from Koh Lanta, which couldn’t be more different to Bangkok (and is fast becoming the best place I have ever been) but don’t knock Bangkok until you’ve tried it! It might just surprise you.

A lesson on keeping a clear head

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In October, when I proudly announced that I’d be going travelling at Christmas, my plan was to document the build-up. The build-up is just intermittent butterflies and last-minute packing for some, but for me it was the strange and stressful journey I guessed it would be. So strange, that I haven’t attempted to write about it until now. ‘Now’ being on board a plane to Bangkok. I don’t think it’s really felt real until today, and I went through of phase of wishing maybe it wasn’t. Fortunately, I ignored the voice that told me I wasn’t quite up to it, because I know it only gets a look in when I haven’t slept or rested enough. For that reason I wanted to do a post about overdoing it. And I don’t mean overdoing it in terms of too much Christmas pudding, I mean by simply doing too much.

Understandably, Christmas is often the hardest time to rest. You have this image of yourself curled up on the sofa with a blanket and a box of Quality Streets all week, when in reality you’re still shopping on Christmas Eve, you’re constantly keeping an eye out for elderly relatives needing the toilet, and trying to visit as many people as possible in the name of Christmas cheer. Throw in a few family tiffs and you end up either drunk as a dodo or have the hangover from hell. I for one, did not feel particularly rested over Christmas, although I did feel more content in some ways. I wouldn’t have wanted to miss a moment with my friends and family, but one day of nothing to yourself is something you’re entitled to no matter the time of year. I guess I felt that I’d have all the time in the world to rest in Thailand, but then I thought that about Christmas, too. When is it supposed to end?

I was under no illusion that I’d be super busy between the day I handed my notice in at work until the day I flew to the Far East 10 weeks later, but looking back now, I can’t actually believe how much I packed in. I wanted to go away with no regrets, so I said yes to everything. Right now, I can’t help but wish I’d reserved a few days to gather my thoughts. I have a friend who schedules ‘rest days’ into her diary, which I have so much respect for. After a point, it becomes impossible to enjoy anything if you haven’t first had a moment to yourself to catch-up and compose yourself. I mean, you should see my bloody toenails right now. I didn’t even give myself 10 minutes to paint my toenails! Over the last 10 weeks, I have flitted from one thing to the next without pausing to think. Typically, it all kind of hit me when I was skiing down a mountain in Austria a couple of weeks ago.

My dad has always wanted to go skiing, so for his 50th birthday, we found a pre-season deal and flew out to Austria the day after I left my job. A skiing holiday can be pretty intense. I knew in my mind and body that all I really needed was rest, but I was determined to hold out for just a few more days. Moving out of our flat, commuting and working my notice period in amongst the standard stresses of Christmas turned out to be more emotionally and physically draining than I had hoped. Anyway, one minute I was skiing perfectly and the next I convinced myself I couldn’t do it. The danger of falling off the side of the mountain suddenly felt so real that I crouched down, dug myself into the snow and started to panic, which is exactly how I’ve felt about going away. It was that voice, the one that’s only there when I’m ridiculously tired. You know how sometimes a piece of bad news feels much worse just before bed than it does the following morning? It’s because tiredness affects our ability to cope much more than we care to admit. If I could give anyone who’s about to travel or make some big changes some advice, it would be to put a few days of rest at the top of your list, and tell everything else to wait.

I am so thankful that I’ve squeezed in seeing all the people I care about before I head off round the world, but there are times where I should have said I was ‘busy’ resting. Saying yes to opportunities that come your way is so important, but learning when it’s best to say no can be more beneficial for everyone in the long run.

I’m sure at the end of this 11-hour flight I’ll be wondering what all the fuss was about, but right now I’m just really happy to have an hour to myself to write something. I was going to write about how hard it was to say goodbye to everyone I love, and how moved I was by the cards and kind words. I don’t think I have ever felt so loved in all my life. But those words belong to the people I’ve already shared them with, and these words belong to you, whoever is reading this now: thank you so much for reading the first post from my little adventure, and a very happy New Year.

A lesson on Christmas traditions

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Picture me aged 3. I’m making a snowman from cotton wool and toilet roll. I proudly present snowman to Mum and Dad when I get home from playgroup, and then again the following Christmas when he emerges from a dusty box of decorations. And just like that, a tradition is born. Snowman is a running family joke every Christmas, with his green fez and droopy eyes. Every year, he reminds us how much we’ve grown, what’s changed and what will never change. He represents the purest kind of innocence and he is protected and preserved the way we wish we could preserve time. He is a fond memory, and yet he is still there for us to touch, display and laugh at every year.

Well, he was there. This year, 23 years later, something quite terrible happened. This year, my dog ATE SNOWMAN. And I cried. And so did my mum. My mum and I cried over a small pile of cotton wool and toilet roll.

Admittedly, a part of me felt like Christmas would never be the same again. That silly tradition of unveiling snowman every year was gone. Which is ridiculous because the sentiment lives on regardless – I’d still have the memory without the physical reminder. Perhaps what we’re really afraid of is forgetting the small things; the forgettable things that are actually quite lovely to keep safe. After all, the moment an object jogs a memory (that might otherwise have been lost forever) is far too wonderful not to protect.

But still, why the hell do we want Christmas to be the same every single year? What is our relentless obsession with reliving the past?

After a couple of hours grieving over poor old snowman, I started to think about the impact personal traditions can have on our ability to cope with change and embrace the unknown. The truth is, there have been some big changes in my life this year, and seeing snowman in little pieces was like a visual reminder that my life, like most people’s, is subject to uncontrollable change and unplanned disruption. Shit happens, basically.

My mum and I were faced with two choices: a) to feel extremely sorry for ourselves, or b) make a bigger, better snowman, rebuilding him and adding to the story he represents. Our story. Which is of course guided by the way we respond to the unplanned. Sometimes all we can do is laugh and carry on.

We become so dependant on our traditions for things to feel ‘right’ that we often forget the bigger picture or fear life without them. Wrongly or rightly, we assign a great deal of profound emotion to the most useless physical objects or rituals. Cut yourself loose and you’ll be surprised how well you cope on the other side.

Christmas also has a tendency to make us EVEN MORE dependant on material things. We feel like we’re being sentimental, when in reality most of the sentiment is just another dose of consumerism in disguise. I mean, what is the point in crackers? Sure it’s ‘tradition’ but isn’t it also a royal waist of money? I love Christmas as much as the next person, but it does a bloody good job of distorting our perception of things. We run the risk of doing the same things over and over and over again, without pausing to stop and think about why. Christmas is a prime example of our susceptibility  to finding security in nostalgia  which is no way to live in the long term.

The lesson? Take Christmas and all your traditions with the biggest pinch of salt you can afford, take the pressure off yourself and remember what’s important. Shared traditions are a big part of celebrating a certain culture, but having the ability to break free from them when necessary is essential for culture (and your own sanity), too.

Winter beauty remedies

Static hair, scaly hands, eczema and terrible circulation are generally what Mother Nature blesses me with this time every year. And let me tell you, it’s not a good look. Having moved back in with my mum near Brighton before I go travelling after Christmas, I’m also commuting to London every day, which means an extra two hours of recycled air to dry out my already suffering Winter complexion. Constantly searching for products that ease the redness and replenish a bit of vitality, here are five of the best Winter beauty remedies I’ve been using this year.

Balance Me Super Moisturising Hand Cream, £14.50
Best for: very dry hands and eczema flair ups

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Not only does this hand cream smell amazing, it’s made using nearly 100% natural ingredients and won’t irritate your skin. I suffer with quite bad eczema on my hands and found this more soothing than lifelong favourite, E45. It really is worth spending that little bit extra on a good-quality hand cream when it’s cold. I was lucky enough to receive a free sample at work and now I’m obsessed.

Burt’s Bees Replenishing Lip Balm with Pomegranate Oil, £3.99
Best for: chapped lips and loss of lip pigment

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When I am cold, my lips go blue. And when I’m sitting in an over-heated office all day, my lips dry out. On days where I can’t be bothered with lipstick (most days then), I wear this. It is much, much more moisturising than Vaseline, Carmex or Lip Salve and has a nice subtle hint of colour that lasts. Better still, there are different shades to choose from. Infused with antioxidants, this great little beauty buy is 100% natural.

Bumble and Bumble Styling Crème, £20.50
Best for: giving dull hair a bit of a lift

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I’m a huge fan of going to bed with damp hair coiled in a top knot. My hair is naturally very straight. Too straight. When it’s exposed to extreme weather, all it wants to do is hang limply on my head. This styling cream from Bumble and bumble adds just the right amount of texture without weighing my hair down, for an almost-messy natural look that’s really quick and easy to do. I apply to damp hair before bed.

Liz Earle Cleanse & Polish Hot Cloth Cleanser, £15.50
Best for: wiping off the grime of a long day in London

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I was given a mini version of this for Christmas a few years ago and it is just divine. This year I’m so happy I’ve got the full-size bottle in my life. I have incredibly sensitive skin. I battle on and off with acne and this cleanser doesn’t cause breakouts, which is rare. I usually only use Simple products, but Liz Earle’s are all completely natural and incredibly soothing. The muslin cloth really feels like you’ve treated yourself at the end of the day.

Simple Regeneration Age Resisting Night Cream, £5.25
Best for: Sensitive skin that needs gentle but powerful hydration

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If, like me, you have oily, sensitive skin, there’s the temptation to avoid moisturizing. Too thick and your face is shiny, the wrong ingredients and your face is red. However, avoiding moisturizer will leave skin dehydrated and too dry for foundation. I only use Simple moisturizers and natural oils on my face. This night cream is thick without being greasy, with soothing green tea. I really notice a difference in the morning when I use it.

I would love to hear your beauty recommendations for Winter, so please feel free to comment below with any tips or suggestions!

A lesson on feeling nervous

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Why you should never let feeling nervous impact your life in a negative way, no matter how great the fear, or how real the threat.

Nervousness, like hunger or happiness, is something I feel quite naturally throughout the day. It’s ingrained not only in my personality, but in the fabric of my instinctive bodily reactions, and has been since I can remember. Speaking to somebody new, answering the phone, leading a meeting, public speaking, getting on the tube, preparing for a night out, hearing a loud noise etc, etc. I am jumpy, a worrier, a worst-case-scenario thinker. It’s an endless, annoying disposition, and one I’ve wholeheartedly come to terms with. It’s an irrational, unreasonable feeling I’ve learnt to mask and ignore. I counter my nervousness with a very distracting kind of faux confidence, a performance of the character I’d rather have that’s so much a part of my everyday life its 99% real. Hand me a glass of wine and you can make it 100%. I have learnt to combat nervous feelings by acting as though they aren’t there. And it works. If I were to submit myself to every worried thought, every increased heart rate, every quivering hand, I simply would not be able to do the things I love, or be the person I want to be. We are bigger and more powerful than the confines of our own negativity.

In light of recent events in Paris and around the world, it’s fair to say that nervousness is currently a trending theme. I am writing this simply because I want to urge people never to let nervousness creep up and steel your personality, your identity or your life, no matter what. After Friday night’s terrorist attack in Paris, I was in awe of the people standing triumphantly in the streets the following day, from near victims to news reporters. Their strong defiance and bravery in the face of true threat echoes the strength we should always ensure to apply when faced with any demon, metaphorical or not. Saying you aren’t scared and acting as though you aren’t scared is enough to prove you aren’t, no matter what the little voice in the back of your head is telling you.

Much of my personal nervousness stems from an irrational fear of the unknown. But what happens when we have a legitimate reason to feel afraid? When we’re forced to picture ourselves trying to flee London’s equivalent of The Bataclan? What happens when suddenly it seems very sensible to avoid certain things, just in case? In my opinion, the most important thing anyone can do, is to live your life as normal. Terrorism can only ever win if we act terrified. To remain calm, optimistic, peaceful and brave is to counter terrorism itself.

 Last week, prior to Friday’s events, I found myself in a couple of situations that were interesting in terms of observing other people’s nervousness. Everyday things a lot of us are familiar with – a group presentation at work and two interviews (of which I was doing the interviewing, thank god). Clear and classic signs of nervousness were obvious in all cases: shaky hands, rattled speach, talking too quickly etc. These instances really dramatised how nervous feelings often equate to how much you want something to be good. I have OCD, and therefore want everything to be perfect all the time, which is probably why I end up feeling unnecessarily nervous. It’s fair to say, therefore, that any unified feeling of nervousness around terrorism on a national scale is nothing but a universal prayer for goodness over evil. Nervous feelings, if treated properly, can provide a useful energy, like performing under pressure in a test.

My advice? Never feel ashamed to be nervous, and never translate nervousness as a fear you can’t control. Meme pas peur.

Lesson 31: giving death a voice

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What do you say to someone when they tell you a loved one has died?

What do you wish people would say to you?

If there’s one life lesson worth sharing, surely it has to be this? It’s the hardest thing to think about, let alone talk about, but how are we meant to even begin to understand something we very rarely confront?

I am not a councillor and I do not have lots of experience dealing with grief, but I do have a strong belief that words can make you feel better. The mantra and purpose of my blog is to connect people through the shared experiences we don’t always draw attention to, and I think one of hardest things about grief, is that we do not talk about dying enough. It’s a terrifying taboo not worth thinking about, so no wonder we struggle the way we do when we lose someone close. The other side of the coin, of course, is that there’s always a danger of obsessing over death. The final-ness of death can consume you if you let it. Most of us choose to brush the idea under the carpet until we really have to face it.

Earlier this year, when I started to struggle more and more with OCD, I thought about dying all the time. More precisely, I worried about dying all the time. It snuck up on me on the tube, in the shower, in the middle of the night: “one day you won’t be here… one day so and so will die… this time 2 years ago so and so was here…” and it provoked panic. Therapy quickly taught me that really, there is no point in worrying, or panicking, or dwelling, because it won’t change a thing. In many ways this is reassuring, but in others it’s the foundation of the problem. We are completely and utterly ruled by nature. We have next to no control when it comes to death, and that’s what’s so scary.

We do, however, have full control when it comes to life. So, the one true way to stare death in the face? Simply, to live the best life you can.

A full and beautiful life isn’t just happiness and rainbows; it is catastrophe, sadness, anger, heartbreak and all the extremes that make us the emotional humans we are. To live a life without the negative is not living, it is half living. All these fiery, dramatic, powerful emotions make us feel alive. They’re difficult to process and cope with, but they’re integral to the human condition, particularly where love is concerned. Perhaps this is why when we grieve, we experience every catastrophic emotion there is. The person we loved and lost casts us on a journey through what it means to live, and what it means to love. It is painful, but to experience it means you have truly lived, and that is a blessing. You were brave enough to love someone so much that you ran the risk of inflicting this much pain on yourself in return. Being prepared to die for someone is the same as being prepared to grieve for someone; and both are the bravest declarations of love you can make.

But how does knowing this help with anything? Understanding grief does little to help you through it. And in all honesty, grief never really goes. It fades, sure, but it will linger for as long as you love that person. The trick is learning to comfort yourself rather than taunt yourself with ‘what ifs’. Your mind and memory will take you on a journey through time, always dumping you in the present with a big hole in your heart. My advice to you is to fill that hole with stories. Say them out loud, write them down and share them with people who care about you. Keep that person’s voice alive. Make it your duty to protect their memory.

Talking about death is integral to coping with grief. It also encourages us to fear the unknown a little less. This is what I tell myself when thoughts of death catch me off guard – I hope it comforts you too:

“…You know that moment when you start drifting off to sleep? It’s by far the most peaceful, welcoming feeling you ever experience. Your eyes are heavy and your body happily succumbs to the beckoning quiet. You want nothing but darkness and nothing else matters…”

That is how I imagine death to feel. Death is remaining in that blissful, content couple of seconds just before we fall sleep, handing ourselves over because it feels irresistibly natural. Maybe that’s why the dead visit us in our dreams. What if, when you die, you become the essence of a feeling? And what if you can’t quite settle into being the essence of peacefulness until the people who love you feel peaceful?

Last night, I dreamt that I had my purse stolen. My Granddad, my Dad’s dad, was in my dream, trying to help me find it. Oddly enough, I woke up to a text from my Dad (who is currently is Japan) saying that he’d had his wallet stolen. It was weird enough that I had experienced the same anguish and frustration asleep as my Dad had when he was awake, but it was even weirder that my Dad’s dad was there to comfort me. This was just a strange coincidence, but I can’t help but believe that maybe there are all sorts of different energies and forces we don’t understand. Our sensitivity to the people we love is much stronger than we realise. Who’s to say that bond is broken after we die?

Death, like anything traumatic and confusing, needs a narrative, even if the narrative is just a big open space that we write ‘who knows?’ in. Because, like life, maybe death can be whatever you want it to be.

Lessons from you: transforming your body

I love a strange coincidence. Earlier this week, when I was thinking to myself “I really must start asking people to guest post”, one of my close friends sent me this and asked if I’d like to feature it. I don’t know what moved me more; the story behind Omar’s incredible transformation, or the fact he’s associated such a positive life lesson with my blog. If there’s anything to inspire you to turn something negative completely around, it’s this. Enjoy.

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“Let me take you back a year or so and introduce you to my past self. I was skinny-fat, unhealthy and binge drinking every weekend, constantly planning my next big night out. Eating was just something I did to fill my forever-growling belly. I didn’t care what it was. If I was hungry, I would eat anything, never pausing to consider what effect it might be having on my body. Exercise was, in my opinion, a myth. And as for people who posted on social media about fitness, well, they were absolute losers that needed to get a life.

I became quite ill earlier in the year, and food was suddenly something I had to pay a lot of attention to. Monitoring what foods my body could and couldn’t tolerate daily became a huge part of my life. I went from life and soul of the party, to sitting at home in pain, feeling sorry for myself. I was put on medication, which thankfully made the pain go away. I started feeling better and came off the meds, looking forward to getting on with my life as normal. Only, the side effects of the medication meant that I’d gained a lot of weight.

I had no choice but to re-evaluate my entire lifestyle. If I wanted to remain healthy and live a normal life, I would have to make some serious changes.  My diet was in check, but I just didn’t feel or look good. I set about trying to lose the weight that I’d gained by doing youtube workouts at home and I really enjoyed it. My friend and I would meet up every day after work for some high-intensity interval training and ab work outs. I started to feel really good, although progress was slow at first; I was feeling better in myself.

Then, I made the best decision I’ve ever made; I joined the gym. Armed with knowledge of the weight room through various youtube videos, I tackled those dumbbells everyday on my own. I didn’t really have a clue what I was doing at first, but as my knowledge grew, I set myself a muscle split for the week and it became my life.

My goal was to gain a six-pack. I achieved this after three months of training and completely changed my body. I felt amazing. Let’s be honest, who doesn’t want six pack abs?

And now?

Well, after those initial three months, I decided that I love the sport of sculpting your body so much that I’ve set myself a new goal. I want to compete. I want to be on stage and show off what I love to do and what I’ve achieved. So, now I have a coach, Kyle from Colossus Fitness, who helps me with nutrition, training schedules and general motivation. He’s helped me so much. I think my friends appreciate Kyle as much as I do – they don’t have to listen to me go on about the gym (as much) now that I have an outlet for that. I still have a long way to go, but I am so proud of my progress so far.

Why am I boring you with the story of my life? Quite simply, I don’t think I’ve ever been this happy. And it might sound silly, but if I can inspire anyone reading this that is feeling stressed with life, fed up or just wanting to look and feel good to get in the gym, I’ll feel like I’ve done my good deed.

If I’ve had a shitty day, as soon as I start training I immediately forget it. And if I’ve had a good day and I get in the gym, the day is even better. There’s no greater satisfaction than feeling like you’ve achieved something every single day.

Going back to me a year ago, him reading this would have laughed and told me to jog on (whilst eating an XL doner kebab with chilli sauce/salad boss). I’m the last person anyone would have expected to be living the way I do, if I can do it, seriously, so can you.

I’m not saying you need to dedicate your life and compete in bodybuilding. Just have a think about giving this fitness thing a try. Get in the gym this winter and you won’t have to shy away in the summer. What have you got to lose? Apart from maybe a bit of belly fat.”

Feeling inspired? Follow Omar’s progress on Instagram @omargod1

Omar2

Lesson 30: quitting your job to travel the world

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Being Joe’s birthday, 13th October was already on my list of important dates. As it happens, 13th October 2015 also turned out to be the day I quit my job to travel the world. I didn’t exactly shout ‘I QUIT!’ and storm out the office (as much as I’ve fantasised about doing precisely this). I have an 8 week notice period, which makes it slightly less dramatic. But still, I made the decision to pack up my lovely life in London and say a big fat YES to the slightly more terrifying option instead. I decided I would pursue my dreams after all. And best of all? The love of my life is in the exact same frame of mind as me, so we’re off around the world together.

As you can probably guess, I’m going to document the whole experience. I want to write about travelling from the point of view of someone who, in reality, isn’t particularly carefree. Someone who struggles with change, who feels anxious without a plan and who wears a full face of makeup every day. Someone who over-thinks everything, is a massive perfectionist, and often likes to be alone. Someone who recently went through a phase of feeling constantly scared and worried about quite literally everything.

Not your typical criteria for a free-spirit backpacker, and not at all how I come across to other people (I hope). These are all things that I generally keep to myself, but have started to confront in various ways. Being open about these incredibly common challenges over the last few months has taught me one major thing: you can change the way you think. What better opportunity to push yourself to the limit than to expose yourself to completely different beliefs, attitudes, cultures, histories, societies, weather… And what better opportunity for a writer?

I often feel like the reason I’ve become preoccupied with what’s going on inside my head is because I’ve forgotten how to utilize my time. Doing the same old job and having the same routine every day can leave big gaps in your mental capacity, gaps I seem to have filled with worrying about unimportant things, like how many Instagram followers I have, or what colour shellac I want next. In a nutshell, I want to care less about superficial rubbish, and much, much more about what’s important. These ‘important’ things, I hope and pray, will materialise somewhere along the way. And if go away to realise that I just want my old life back, that’s totally fine too.

Aside from doing a stereotypical bit of soul searching, I also hate how ignorant I am of how other people live. The only times I’ve travelled outside of Europe I’ve stayed in super-luxurious resorts, which I find quite embarrassing. I want to be able to read the news and associate and empathise more deeply with what’s going on. Another huge factor is that I’m wary of how incredibly dependent I’ve become on material things. Living out of a single bag for 6 months ought to teach me a thing or two about what I actually need in life. I’m already 99% it won’t be the Smashbox primer I wouldn’t dream of foregoing right now. It costs £25. I wonder what £25 will buy me in Cambodia.

Aside from all of this, I just want to have fun. Like, constant fun. With my boyfriend. For 6 months. Who the hell wouldn’t? And then when I get home, I promise to put the whole experience to good use. That’s fair, right? I know how privileged I am to be able to up and leave my life for a bit. I’ve worked hard and saved to be able to do this, so I’m determined to make it count in a way that I probably wouldn’t have a few years ago. Plus, I still want to be a writer, and I’ll be doing much more of that in my own time, instead writing about the same boring crap at work every day. Right now, I would rather write about Japanese culture for free than get paid to write about dressing gowns. And I can say that because a) I’m still young and stupid enough not to care and b) I have zero responsibilities.

I will always have an uncontrollable urge to write and tell stories, and I think travel goes hand in hand with that. That doesn’t mean I’m not completely TERRIFIED. If you have ANY tips, suggestions or words of advice for a first-time traveller, please, please, please comment below because I’d love to hear them.

But for now… WOOHOOOO!