A NEW PROJECT – OFF YOUR CHEST

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Hi guys!

Long time no see, I know, but that’s because I’ve been working on something new!

Off Your Chest is a blog that aims to build a community through interesting discussions, reflections, and advice on mental health/managing mental illness. You can read more about it here.

We want you guys to contribute anything and everything that might be useful to others/interesting to the community, so please don’t be shy about that – more info is on the site and anonymous posts are absolutely fine!

I’m really happy with how it’s going so far, and would love for you guys to be involved. Follow the new page to stay updated, and share it with anyone that it could help!

Love to you all!

Fred x

LAUGHING AT ROSES – A POEM

Writing

February, in bitter cold

we found ourselves

staring upon shelves

upon shelves;

glaring rows of roses,

roads of crimson cut with white.

 

Your hand tore away

from the cuff of mine,

you laughed, howled at

the inadequacy of thorns,

fingered the blade and

mocked its rust;

you saw no beauty in the blunt,

no mirror for your trust.

 

Pulling past pallets, stacked

and packed in plastic wrap,

suffocating them all,

we hid in the glass house,

bathed in the warmth;

cacti, ugly leather staring

from the eyes of needles, fine.

 

Stood in grainy earth, dry

desert, clumsy cucumber length,

you couldn’t resist

the itch to test the spines;

a drop of blood, blushing

on your finger, now in mine,

I want one

I could hear you think

I know it can survive.

MANAGING ANXIETY – SOME ADVICE

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As some of you may have noticed, I haven’t been posting much in recent weeks, but there’s more to this brief hiatus than a simple explanation of idle laziness. It all started with the news that I would be starting a new job in the second week of January, the details of which I will spare you, but the significance of this opportunity is great; it’s something that I have wanted to achieve for a long, long time, and felt sure that I wasn’t going to let anxiety creep up and ruin anything before I’d even had time to enjoy it. I have, therefore, busied myself with strengthening my mental steel, and have discovered a few tips that may be of use to you. Without further ado, here they are:

FORM A ROUTINE, AND STICK BY IT!

Routines are something that I usually dread, but I’ve grown especially fond of them. The premise of laying out a particular set of activities may seem boring and useless at a superficial glance, but I think this has impacted my mental health in a rather extreme way, and I would seriously urge you to try it before mocking its worth.

A good routine is one that is personal to you, and this is where I messed up at first; trust me, it’s no use finding a template from the internet and deciding that you’ll do that, because you will have different preferences to the person that created it, and all that you’re doing is making it harder for you to stick to. I, for example, don’t feel like whole day routines benefit me in any way, as I do an eclectic mixture of things and to try and schedule them all would be absolute chaos, so I have a ‘Split Routine’, which includes the early morning and the late evening. For the sake of a demonstration, here is mine:

  • 5.30 AM – WAKE UP, SHOWER, GET DRESSED, GLASS OF WATER
  • 5.50 AM – MEDITATE
  • 6.20 AM – BREAKFAST AND PR READING
  • 7.20 AM – WRITE
  • 8.30 AM – HAVE A PRODUCTIVE DAY

Which then leads to my evening routine:

  • 8.00 PM – GLASS OF WATER, MEDITATE
  • 8.30 PM – BATH OR SHOWER
  • 9.00 PM – DIARY ENTRY AND LEISURE READING
  • 10.00 PM – SLEEP

Now, obviously, this is extremely tailored to me: I like early rises, you may not; I read books about PR & Marketing with breakfast, as that’s relevant to my work; I go to bed relatively early as I find that’s what suits me… The whole point is that you make something that ensures you do something that’s valuable, enjoyable, and calming, and hopefully, you will reap the same reward that I have. With my routine there to ground my day, I find myself not worrying about what I have to do or when I have to do it, and it also ensures that I’ve done something productive with my time. It isn’t a particularly strict schedule, as I feel that would make me more anxious rather than alleviate anything, but it anchors my mornings and evenings perfectly. 

GET A LITTLE HEADSPACE!

If I say meditation to you, you’ll probably think of sitting crossed legged on the floor, choking on the thick clouds of incense, and singing some strange chants that are meant to awaken some long forgotten part of you that may or may not even exist. I don’t blame you; having a father that is rather spiritually inclined, and having watched him do the above ritual since I was a small child, I had the same thoughts, but I’m glad I’ve been proven wrong.

Here is where I introduce you all to Headspace, an app that provides guided meditation (based on secular teachings and scientifically proven results), and I now wouldn’t dream of starting my day with anything else. Taking as little as ten minutes out of your day to stop and process your thoughts can dramatically change your relationship to anxiety, and enable you to retain some clarity of thought when you need it most. It has worked wonders, and teaches you an awful lot about how your mind works. If there’s anything from this list that I think you should try, it would have to be this.

DAILY DIARY!

The daily diary is really quite a fun thing to do, and allows you to express your emotions and thoughts about the past 24 hours, thus freeing up a little of your mind to relax. I write every evening in a little notebook, in pencil for some reason, and simply write a chronological entry of my day, including any further thoughts I may have, or an emotion I’ve felt. 

This makes me feel that I have gone some way to processing my thoughts and emotions, and allows a little reflection, thus becoming a preventative measure that stops these things building up and clouding your thoughts/actions. 

READ/WATCH/LEARN!

I know some people don’t enjoy reading, but I suppose this works with anything that you can lose yourself in (film, music, art, etc). Just set a little time out of your day to read or watch something that you can immerse yourself in; this process can be so relieving, and often you’ll find yourself relating to a character, or an experience, and realising that there are other people out there that think in similar ways. That is always comforting.

On another note, watching a TedTalk (or similar thing) or reading an essay on something you find interesting is another thing that I’d recommend. Learning new things/expanding what you know makes you feel like you’ve achieved something with your day, and I don’t know why, or if it will work for anyone else, but it seems to make me less anxious if I have these things as reliable and interesting conversation pieces. If you’re always learning, you’re always going to be in the possession of some interesting anecdotes or facts. 

TRY AND EXPLORE A HOBBY AT LEAST ONCE A WEEK!

This one is simple, but can be easily ignored if you’re stuck in a busy schedule. If you love photography, go out and take some photos. If you like writing, sit down and write. If you like knitting jumpers, cooking excited food, or flying around a racecourse at 200mph, then make sure you bloody well do it. It’s so easy to be caught up in worry or anxious thoughts and forget to please yourself, so try get some time to yourself!

REGULAR EXERCISE, CLEAN DIET

I will hold my hands up right now and say that of late, this hasn’t been me, but that doesn’t change the fact that both of these things are absolutely vital to a stable mental health. Regular exercise not only makes you feel better and more confident in yourself, but it releases endorphins to chemically buzz you up. Eating well is much the same – if you know you’re looking and feeling your best, it perks you up on an every day basis. Writing this, I’ve just woken up on the morning after a poker night with my friends, and really wish I’d taken this point more seriously.

COUNT TO FIVE AND DO IT

This may not be relevant, as it probably depends on how severe your anxiety is and how you approach different situations, but this is becoming a useful thought to have in moments where you feel anxiety coming on. Approaching something that I know I want to do, but feel anxious about, I’ve gotten quite good at powering on through it and having a good time: three deep breaths, count to five, and fucking do it. Whatever it is. Because you know you can.

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I really hope that there’s something here that you might find useful, and if you feel you’ve got something worth sharing please comment it below! I have started to write some poetry again, so that will be uploaded soon. 

Merry Christmas!

Fred xo

NEARING THE END, A REFLECTION ON 2017

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2017 has been the most tumultuous year of my existence, and has marched forward with such a pace that I’ve had to force myself to reflect upon these rushing days, and how they have fluctuated so wildly between the macabre and the wonderful.

The year began with a slither of hope; having left university due to various circumstances, I was ready to embrace January for its metaphorical clean slate, and set about trying to organise my life. After a rather chance conversation with my best friend, I suddenly found myself booking all of September off to travel around Europe, which, if I’m being honest, flooded my veins with an unshakeable feeling of dread and fear. I was concerned that I would be unable to get through it without the shadow of my anxiety swallowing me whole, and the image of me experiencing that panicky, illogical mindset somewhere in the middle of Prague wasn’t going a long way in regards to calming me down.

With that in the pipeline, I thought it best to revert from my usual reaction to such worries, and fought against the urge to shut myself up in my room, eat unhealthily, and refrain from human interaction as much as possible. I went out for daily walks with my camera, met up with friends as often as I could, and went on a beautiful trip to Pisa with my girlfriend. The latter was actually an event more significant than I originally thought; I had planned and actually enjoyed a trip abroad without any major incident, and besides from one little episode prior to the flight over there, it showed me that my month long trip would be nothing to worry about, and I let positivity control my brain for once. Upon our return, I worked part-time, and found that to be great too – I was interacting with strangers all day, and enjoying it, and I suddenly found myself free from my burdens.

However, I was pulled back down to reality rather quickly when we realised my grandmother was dying. I know a lot of my friends aren’t that close with their grandparents, yet Grandma was, ultimately, my best friend. Throughout my childhood, I had spent 5-6 days a week at her house, talking extensively about pretty much anything we could, and forming my life-long love affairs with cooking, literature, music, and cinema. She was an outrageously funny, incredibly fashionable, independent lady with a seemingly bottomless wealth of knowledge, and I am blessed to have even known her let alone be related, but that made it all much harder at the end. Watching such an energetic individual slip into their illness, unaware of anything around them, and ultimately become dreadfully frustrated with a life they can no longer enjoy, was possibly the most traumatising thing I have ever witnessed. I think a small portion of myself died with her that day.

The aftermath of the funeral was not great. By my own admission, I am pretty terrible at facing such things, yet I think I was more concerned with my mother to think too much about anything else; in a way, I count myself lucky that I was with Grandma in her final weeks, right up to the very end, as it enabled me to mourn in a gradual wave, rather than experience what others in the family had to. I just felt that everything was becoming a little bit too much, and that I had to get away.

Luckily, Europe was closing in. Before I knew it, Jacob and I were boarding our train for Paris and the journey had begun. I don’t know why, and perhaps I never will, but I did not experience one iota of anxiety throughout the entire trip (which you can see the photos from on my travel page – here). I think it was the relief of being somewhere so excitingly new that left me no time to dwell on anything from home, other than my girlfriend, but she was beginning her own adventure at university. It was, without a doubt, the most enjoyable month of my life, and I think I’ll be able to dwell on the inspiration for my writing for many years to come. More importantly, by the end of it, I was so glad to see Derbyshire, and be back in familiar territory that no longer felt like it was suffocating me. 

On the day I arrived home, however, my dog passed away. It was weird to leave a trip and return from it surrounded by elements of death, but Truffle was extremely old and frail and had given us so much love throughout the years that it felt strangely right she had gone; dare I say it, I was weirdly relieved. The next few weeks were spent writing and roaming around, visiting my girlfriend in York and reading good books on slow trains, and then I had one fateful weekend that has twisted the road of my future once more.

After attending an interview for what I thought was a two-week volunteering position, I accidentally left the room with an internship and, looking forward, the prospect of a full time job in something that enables me to work with the terminally ill, conduct creative writing groups, and work within PR and marketing. This should all start in January, and because of all that has happened this year, I don’t think my anxiety is going to fuck this one up. I am much stronger, happier, and healthier than I was this time last year, and I can’t thank the people around me enough. 

Let me know in the comments how your year has been – what were the ups and downs, what affect do you think it has had on you?

Anyway, here’s to another metaphorical clean slate, may it forever be chalked with positivity. 

Fred x

 

NEW YEARS RESOLUTIONS (IN OCTOBER)

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After my return from travelling, I had a long mental list of things I needed to change or do in order to get my life on track and achieve my aim of living beyond the age of 25; like most things, these are simply small adjustments to routines rather than monumental changes, as I find it much easier to adapt to a new way of life if it’s not too obvious how much I’m changing.

Firstly, I need to be healthier. I enjoyed the European lifestyle of wine, abundant food, and cigarettes, but my body didn’t, and thus I have pledged to eat healthier meals, run/exercise daily, and stop smoking. It’s actually quite encouraging writing this all down as it means I have the added pressure of keeping promises to you guys as well as myself, so thank you for being there to judge me. I threw my cigarettes out two days ago and currently don’t feel like throwing myself through a wall, so that’s a positive.

Secondly, I need to write more. After trawling through a few sites, I found out that I could write news articles and get some form of monetary compensation for them, so I now have a profile at Blasting News, which you can go to here. It would mean the world to me if you went and read a few of my pieces; I’ve written one about Saudi Arabia and women’s rights that I’m quite happy with, so check that out.

In addition to that, I have this blog for poetry, short prose, and travel posts, which I hope to continue to update on a daily basis, and my novel, which I’ve started to fully work on in recent days. Planning it has been quite fun and I’ve stumbled upon a way to make the plot so much more amusing than before; I don’t want it to stray too far into humour but I want to keep a balance of comedic action/depressing event; I’ve never particularly tried to be “funny” in serious work before, so I’ll have to see how that goes… I need to conduct a fair bit of research too, so I’ve had to send off a few emails and talk to a few people in order to set up a line of communication; I really hope this goes as well as I want it to, but I can only try my best, wait, and see.

I’d also love to get involved in some small scale poetry/fiction publications, so I have a few magazines I’m planning to try and get into, as well as a couple of online ones that have caught my eye. If you know of any good sites/great places to submit to (physical and digital) I would love for you to leave such information in the comment box below.

Anyway, I’m going to go and write an article about supermarkets wasting food instead of seizing the opportunity to help the homeless. I’m enjoying these little journalistic pieces; it’s a free pass to be as cynical and grumpy as I want (which might help with the lack of smoking). 

I’m working on something cool for here too, but that’s gunna take me a little while. I’ll upload some poetry soon.

Happy Writing;

Fred x

MY OTHER WRITING – HERE

 

TRAVEL BY NUMBERS

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Here’s my one month trip around Europe summarised into numbers:

Days: 29

Countries: 10

Cities: 13

Trains caught: 21

Trains missed: 1

Steps walked: 409,271

Miles walked: 63.47

Books read: 5

Pictures taken: 3,943

Time on trains: 70hrs 8mins (2.9 days)

Novel ideas thought of: 

Poems written: 11 

Pizzas eaten: 12

Wallets lost: 1

Wallets found: 1 (thank God)

Series of ‘The Walking Dead’ watched: 3

Men seen shitting in the street: 1

Men seen pissing in the street: 5

Men seen talking to pigeons: 1

 

 

 

FINITO! – TRAVELLING DAY #24/5

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After a couple of nights in Florence without any sleep, we were so tired yesterday morning that we sunk regretfully into our beds until 13:00PM, yet without this monstrous rest we would have been unable to enjoy the day.

Our first stop was a 2 mile walk to “The National Roman Museum” ; it’s just outside the main train station so if you have some changeovers in Rome with an hour or two to spare, you could easily pop over the road to this cheap and interesting museum! There are three floors of frescoes, statues, mosaics, and sculpture, and it’s only EUR 3.50 for the entrance fee! I actually saw two exhibits here that are my favourite pieces of the whole trip; the first is entitled ‘The Boxer’, a statue of exceptional quality depicting a post-fight boxer resting his battered body. Sitting with his legs apart, his hands are clasped together and still in gloves, and the way in which he is positioned draws the viewer’s gaze to his face. He concentrates with intensity from empty eye sockets, his cheeks and eyebrows covered in blood, bruises, and scars. It reeks of the brutality of combat and is really a sight to see.

The second, and best, exhibit that I will mention is “The Portonaccio Sarcophagus”. Found in 1932, the piece shows the progress of Roman horsemen as they annihilate those in their path; in a collage of soldiers, spears and devastating blows, the sculpture seems to leap from its bounds and re-enact each swing of the sword, stab of the spearhead, and crush of the fist as if it’s happening before your eyes. It’s absolutely incredible, and will definitely be remembered for years to come as a highlight of the trip.

Next, we trotted off to the “Capuchin Crypt” . Now, this place has no end of regulations that I’ll list so you don’t get caught out like the woman in front of us: no camera, no phones, no bare shoulders, no shorts, no smoking, no food, no drink. Who says the Church isn’t fun, right? Anyway, after paying EUR 8.50, we walked through the small museum rooms depicting monk’s clothing, religious artwork, and other interesting exhibits relating to their lives. We, however, were there for more macabre reasons, and swiftly made our way to the crypt itself. When the monks arrived at this church in the early 1600s, they trucked 300 cartloads of deceased friars with them, and packed some 3,700 skeletal remains into arrangements contained within the burial crypt. It’s really, really fucking weird.

Apparently, according to the Church, it isn’t macabre but rather an uplifting demonstration of the passage between life and death. For the monks, who lived lives of poverty waiting to earn their reward of being with Christ, that may have been so, but don’t ask me to walk into a dark room of decorated skulls, pelvic bones, and all sorts of deathly imagery and expect it to raise me up into some ecstatic state of freedom. It’s definitely worth visiting, as I suppose everyone will respond in different ways, but I found it a tiny bit unsettling, a tiny bit amusing (I have no idea why), and extremely interesting nonetheless. In the final crypt a sign, in five languages, declares: “What you are now we used to be; what we are now you will be…” Spooky.

After a little stroll about the place, we wanted some dinner and a good night out, finding both at “The Meeting Place”. This is one of my favourite night spots and was rammed with students dressed up for a fun night of drinks and food; their menu of cocktails, beers, and wines is given to you as a newspaper, and after ordering two glasses of Old Fashioned, we paid our EUR 10 each to access the buffet and cracked on with dinner. Forget the image of lukewarm shitty food in dirty bowls, this buffet was amazing; one corner held a sushi chef creating eleven different types of sushi and sashimi, which all tasted divine, and led to a bar top counter with paella, fresh pizzas, cold wheat salads, cold rice salads, pastries, and pasta. Everything was of amazing quality and prepared on the spot, and after a few runs we were stuffed.

After a couple of hours, there was barely room to move. The students had descended in their hoards and turned the spot into a vibrant space of conversation, drinks, and good music; if you want a few cocktails in a brilliant environment, then I’d definitely recommend going. Cocktails are about EUR. 8 each, and there’s even a room selling cigarettes in there if that’s something you’d need.

Today, I woke up to find out my dog had died, so wasn’t feeling too adventurous. As luck would have it, Jacob was also feeling pretty tired, so we’ve sauntered around in the sun, read our books, and had a bit of decent grub, ready for the two days of 12 hour trains that begin tomorrow, and will result in us being home.

It’s been an amazing month, it really has, and I’ll be posting some summaries and reflections as soon as I can. You guys have helped us find some incredible nights out, fantastic restaurants, and enjoyable day trips, so I can’t thank you enough. Special homage paid to Rebecca as she’s travelled near enough everywhere and is a walking encyclopaedia when it comes to this stuff. Check out her blog!

Ciao! 

Fred x