Tuesday, 31 March 2015

\\ My March Favourites 2015! //

Having just broken up for the Easter holidays and with some free time to kill, I figured now would be a good time to write up my March favourites. It's been a month of free-trials, with some emotional moments cropping up every now and again. I've really been looking after myself this month!

1) Lzzy Hale
Earlier on this month I had the pleasure of taking my dad to his (and my) first Halestorm gig at our favourite live music venue, Rock City. Fronted by female lead-singer Lzzy Hale, Halestorm is one of the hottest bands out there right now - with their most popular song I Miss The Misery recently making the Gold record standard. If you listen to Halestorm, you'll probably notice that a lot of their songs - despite most band members being male - are very much 'girl power' and feminism-related, with God being depicted in their song lyrics as a 'she'. But I didn't realise to what extent Halestorm were into feminism until I saw them live. Lzzy took a moment to talk about how rock music empowers her, and gave a shoutout to lots of other female-fronted rock bands, such as The Pretty Reckless who they recently toured with.  But what really struck me was, not only her incredible talent or appreciation for music, but how she held her own when the drummer and two guitarists had to leave the stage. Maybe it was an equipment malfunction that caused them to leave, or maybe it was planned, I don't know, but Lzzy was left on her own to perform a heart-wrenching acoustic rendition of I Hate It When You See Me Cry. If you know of Lzzy, you'll know - and even she admitted this - that she acts like a hard-ass most of the time (it's part of their image, after all), but in that moment she was vulnerable to the audience and it only made us respect her more. She also told us she originally wrote the song while drunk in a hotel room, sad and alone. That one performance of that one song was one of the most amazing things I've ever seen - one woman up there in a room full of thousands of people - in an otherwise male-dominated rock industry. It made me feel so proud to be a girl, and really opened my eyes to what women can achieve. On that night, she definitely became one of my biggest inspirations.

2) Graze boxes. As I'm still hoping to travel in the future, it occurred to me that I'm probably going to need to open my mind to different foods. I decided I'd been pretty stuck in my ways and it was time for a change. I coincidentally received a Graze box voucher in the post with my free monthly Asos magazine - which promised me my first and fifth boxes for free. Needless to say, I decided to give it a go. One of the best things about the subscription, I found, was that the website helps you personalise your order. Next to the picture of the snack, you choose either 'bin', 'try', 'like', or 'love,' and it's by this rating system that Graze decides which healthy snack to send you. You can also choose how often you would like to recieve your boxes. My first box, which arrived yesterday, was a bit of a surprise. I was expecting one snack, not one box with four compartments! For my starter box, which came in environmentally-friendly packaging and was small enough to fit through my letterbox, I received: Summer Berry Compote with Wholemeal Shortbread (which was gorgeous and so rich in flavour!), 'Hot Cross Yum' (orange raisins, sponge pieces and cinnamon & honey almonds - also lovely! I did like the almonds but my boyfriend had to finish them off), as well as Cheddar Gorge and Sour Cream and Garlic Costini, both of which I am yet to try. Accompanying the box came two £5 vouchers for me to pass on, as well as 4 more 'get your first and fifth box free' friendcodes to give to any of my friends that want to try Graze. If you know me and you want one, please give me a shout! But it doesn't stop there - I also received a little letter detailing the dietary content of each compartment box and how long they'll stay in date for (this is great for me, being a college student, as I'll be able to take a couple of boxes in with me each week). I personally loved it - I got to eat my breakfast in bed! Despite being healthy, the food tastes great, and also filled me up for a good while, although I haven't been that active this week. I'm definitely considering carrying on my subscription.

3) It's safe to say I've never had the most extensive skin care routine, but this month I've turned this around. I used to use the Clearasil Rapid Action Pads, but I found that using this often made my skin worse. It also stung to put it on over especially sensitive areas, as, being honest, I tend to pick at my skin a lot. A while ago, my dad's partner, who's a pharmacist, picked up Garnier's Skin Naturals Fresh Clarifying Wash for oily skin (why do they all have such long names?!) for me, which has been doing the job perfectly. After the first application, my skin felt a little bit tight (but refreshed) and it's for this reason that I decided to go out and buy the Moisture Matte Oil-Free Moisturiser from the same range. This is great to use if you're about to apply makeup on top, as the foundation just glides over. Having these products on my skin made me feel a lot better, a lot more hydrated, and I also noticed that I largely left my skin alone rather than picking at it. I use these together usually once a day, and I've really been noticing a difference. If however, any spots do arise, I use the Witch Doctor Skin Treatment Gel that my family swears by. This reduces their appearance and often makes them less painful and angry. And I feel a little bit better about myself.

4) And Headspace, how could I forget you?! I'd heard a lot about this app, and then it was recommended to me by a friend that I look up to a lot, and that was it, really. For those who don't know, it's intended to help you find ten minutes a day to meditate. You can download the app on Google Play to access the free ten-day routine, where you're guided by Andy, the creator, who actually has a really calming voice. It doesn't matter if you're a beginner like me; it's so easy and you'll probably pick it up really quickly. It's something anyone can do, and you don't have to use your phone while you're meditating, so don't worry about that putting you off. The app is great if you're stressed out a lot, as I know most college students are. It's really helped me just to find a few minutes each day to wind down, and I've only not managed it once since I've had the app. The only downside to it is that after those first ten days you have to subscribe for more content. As much as I like it, I think I'll stay with the basics until I have a bit more money in the bank but I'll be looking for a job soon.

Also this month: I've received a year's free membership with Vessel (like the new, exclusive YouTube) just for signing up in the first few days, and I'm hoping to let you know how that goes when I try it. Similarly, since it's the holidays I've activated my 30-day free trial of Amazon Prime, but so far I'm not liking it as much as Netflix. Also, I saw my favourite local band Parasight, live again at The Midland in Ripley. My dad's partner bought me the merch I've wanted for so long but I'm yet to wear it! Not only this, but guitarist Danny has just announced they'll be playing The Rescue Rooms in Nottingham with five other fledging bands soon - here's hoping they're making it big!

See you for another one next month, hopefully (we all know my monthly favourite posts occur about once a year)!
Meaghan :)

(Disclaimer: Some photos do not belong to me, click on the pictures to see the original websites)

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Paranoia // Dealing with Irrational Thoughts

Meaghan posts and it's not a book review? The world is broken.

Today I wanted to talk about something which bothers me quite a lot, and it might even get a little bit personal (so let's all put our mature hats on, guys). That something, as you've probably gathered, is paranoia. I've suffered it for a fairly long time, but can't pinpoint the moment when it first began to be a problem. I think it may stem from when I was bullied, but it most likely comes from the way I was treated in my last relationship. If this applies to anyone else, keep reading and I'll try not to be too depressing.

In my experience, it comes in waves. In fact, it usually occurs when I'm particularly stressed; for instance, I've had some irrational thoughts today, primarily because the rest of my coursework assignments are all due in this week (and believe me, that's non-stop work, yet I still don't feel like anything's good enough). My thoughts aren't so much the "oh my god are they talking about me?" kind of paranoia, although I do still tend to think that people will silently judge me. As a result I can get quite shy/reserved around other females (because I was bullied by a girl), which is a burden sometimes, especially when I'm trying to make a good impression. I'm much more comfortable around boys/men. But no, my thoughts revolve more around what people have said to me. I've found that I look for lies in everything. I constantly think that people are out to fool or trick me, and I won't have that, so I try to second-guess them, when most of the time their intentions haven't been malicious at all, and I've just been overthinking again. I'm aware that 90% of the time, these bad thoughts are completely irrational.

In the past, I used to let all my bad thoughts out, and as a result it's put a massive strain on my relationships, because I could come across as quite presumptuous and accusing. Generally, nowadays I'm a happier person and I'm absolutely nothing like the person I was at secondary school. But this only happened because I started to do what was right for me. I've had to let go of things that I didn't want to let go of, but in the end it's been worth it. Hopefully, I can pass some of this 'wisdom' on and help someone. My problems with paranoia used to be A LOT worse, but now I've managed to find ways to combat it.

Firstly, you'll have to learn to recognise the difference between rational and irrational. Is what you're worrying about plausible? Will worrying about it now actually solve anything? Do you have any evidence that what you're worried about is actually the case? Does it really matter? If the answer to those questions is no, you're most likely being irrational. I think it's easy to tell the difference - it's a gut feeling. We know when we're being silly or just having a go at someone because we feel shit. If you are concerned that what you're worrying about might definitely be true, it's best then, and only then, to confront the problem. This means talking to the person that your thoughts are directed at, otherwise the problem, whatever it is, won't be resolved. But for me this is always a last resort.

If they are irrational, you can't stop the thoughts from happening in the first place, but you can control how long you dwell on them for. Distract yourself. By this, I don't mean procrastinate - if you procrastinate, i.e. go on your phone or gorm out, you're more likely to dwell. No - go out and do something. Take a walk with some music on. I do this on the way to college, and if I've been having a bit of a crappy morning, I usually feel better by the time I get there. Meditate (I've heard the Headspace app is great). Or, if worst comes to worst, just go straight to sleep. It's the only time you can't think. Don't bother texting anyone goodnight, just look after yourself. Your friends will understand that your conversation can wait. Hopefully, you'll have forgotten what was bothering you in the morning.

On the other hand, talk to someone you feel you can trust with your problems. If your bad thoughts are based around one person, and you know deep down that you're being irrational, my advice would be DO NOT TALK TO THAT PERSON. They will probably feel accused and upset. Talk to a different friend, someone outside of the situation, and tell them how you're feeling. But not that friend that always gossips about other friends. For the love of God, not that person. I am lucky that  I have two friends that I know I can tell anything to, and it will never go further than the three of us, even though we all have our loyalties to other people. As we say, "what happens in the stresh, stays in the stresh". 'Stresh' is a combination of the words 'stress' and 'session' and we mainly just use it so the boys don't know what we're on about. (Nice one, blowing that on the Internet, Meaghan.) But go on, have your own streshes, it really does help to get it off your chest. To the right person, it can be so relieving.

If you know it's mostly stress that's causing these thoughts, get yourself out of the stressful environment. For me, when I'm stressed my brain seems to operate 100 miles an hour - but not in a useful way. All motivation goes out of the window. I'll usually take everything everyone says the wrong way, and I can get quite sensitive. If I'm like this, it's best to not rile me up. If it's really bad, I'll get claustrophobic, and I'll probably shuffle slightly away from the people around me. I don't like to let people touch me, not even for hugs, which I usually love. This sucks, because when I need people the most, I instinctly turn to introversion. AND GOD HELP ME IF THERE'S NOISE. I get so snappy. Even as I write this, there's a group of teenagers sat right behind me in an otherwise empty atrium, being so loud that I kind of want to move or maybe even resort to violence (but not really, violence is never the answer). If this sounds like you, just take a breather. Go get a healthy cup of earl grey with your best friend (I recommend this option), or just sit a few minutes outside in the fresh air. Maybe even work at home, if it makes you feel more comfortable. We all know college can get a bit too much sometimes.

Good luck!

Saturday, 7 March 2015

Setting the Record Straight on Frequently Misinterpreted Books // Fifty Shades and Twilight

Today I'll be exploring the content of the following:
  1. Fifty Shades of Grey by E. L. James
  2. The Twilight Saga by Stephenie Meyer
I haven't read Fifty Shades, but am knowledgeable it about thanks to my close friends and family members, who have tried to educate me on it after rumours that it glamourises abuse. At the time they were quite offended by the rumours, and are generally quite defensive of the trilogy, so, because of this, I wanted to look into it further. Prior to hearing the opinions of my friends and family I actually started to write this blog with the intention of defending Christian, but after research, completely changed my mind. I think this shows just how important it is to educate yourself on something properly; looking at both sides of the argument before forming an opinion. Otherwise, this blog post would have been very different. I will, however, leave the blog title as it is.

Usually the same people who criticize Fifty Shades also target Twilight; primarily because in its earliest form Fifty Shades was supposedly Twilight fan-fiction, with parallels between the characters in both books. In Twilight, Edward is dangerous for Bella, of course! He's a VAMPIRE - you know, a fictional, violent, blood-sucking predator. But in the Saga there is never once any domestic violence (yes, he inadvertently bruises her when they have sex, but come on, he's a vampire, it's not real, please don't take yourselves so seriously). In fact, Bella punches Jacob in the face more times than she is ever hit herself. Edward is never abusive, he's at the top of the fucking food chain. It's like a bear dating a fish, or as Meyer more eloquently puts it; the lion falling in love with the lamb. Even so, Edward protects Bella, rather than treating her as prey. He saves her from James' vampire venom, and after the incident makes sure she is well guarded. Bella is always allowed to do what she wants, except where it will cause her harm. (I never thought I'd be defending Edward Cullen at eighteen years old. I was a Team Jacob, too.) I can summarise my thoughts on 'abuse' in this book quite quickly, because I think it is clear that this book is completely fictional and was never intended to be taken seriously.

One parallel comes in with the stalker-esque behaviour. As we all know, Edward (creepily) watches Bella while she sleeps, while in Fifty Shades Christian actually follows Ana around. On one occasion, he locates her by tracking her mobile phone. This does bother me a little, and leans, in my opinion, towards relationship abuse. Relationship abuse, by definition, is: a pattern of abusive and coercive behaviours used to maintain power and control over a former or current intimate partner (www.stoprelationshipabuse.org). It can include physical and domestic abuse, but is mainly just verbal abuse and manipulating or controlling behaviour. You can take this quiz if you'd like to learn more about how a person would treat you during relationship abuse. Stalking can leave someone feeling threatened, and you should always feel safe within a relationship. Christian does display some quite manipulative character traits, and he requires that Ana signs a contract before their sexual relationship can begin. But even still, Ana has the power to sign it or not. (I'm going to steer away from the contract now though... it's a bit of a Grey area - hehe). 

One poignant thing that I've been told by one of my friends about Fifty Shades is that the book and the film are not identical (when are they ever?) and that the film doesn't accurately depict the kind of relationship they have. In the book, Christian's exes all used to sleep beneath him, representing a hierarchy within the relationship; a clear divide between the male dominant and the female submissive. However, importantly (in the books, at least), Ana sleeps with Christian in his own bed. This is symbolic that 1) Ana is Christian's equal, despite the fact that sexually, the dominant and submissive traits are present in their BDSM relationship and 2) that Christian grows to love her romantically, more than any girlfriend he's had previously. Disappointingly, I'm told that Ana is never seen sleeping in Christian's bed during the film, which is a bit sketchy. It makes me think that the film-makers wouldn't mind portraying the relationship as more unhealthy than it is, just to make a profit. But while love is present in a relationship, it doesn't mean that it can't be abusive or unhealthy at all.

One thing I was constantly reminded to understand is that Christian had a problematic childhood and was abused himself at a young age, leaving him psychologically damaged. It's clear from how scarily attached he is to Ana that there's something not right there. Of course, abuse would have a long-lasting effect on anyone, but I do not think it excuses abusing other people. BDSM does not constitute abuse when it is consented to by both parties, if it is practised in the correct way, obviously, but BDSM is not the problem. I've seen a lot of people claim that he ignores the safe word once, but have so far found no evidence of this. As far as I know, he stops what he was doing as soon as he realises what Ana has said. They do have a very unhealthy, even abusive, relationship... physically, emotionally... just not sexually. Multiple times, Ana says she's scared that Christian might hit her when they're out of the bedroom, and that's just not cool. I don't think Christian Grey should be a 'role model' for other men. If you're reading this and you're still in any doubt, please read Alys' blog or 50 Shades of Regret, as they both provide many more examples than I just have. 

What I've learned from this experience is that Fifty Shades of Grey is not for me at all. As for the effect it has on the public and 'impressionable' young women, that's up for debate. My opinion is that young girls aren't given enough credit and that they are more than able to make their own decisions on what they get involved in. When they say "I want a Christian Grey," yes they may be a tad misinformed but are they saying "ooh Jamie Dornan's a bit of alright" or "wow I really want someone to abuse me against my will". Come on guys, it's not the girls' fault - and anyway, they're usually more clever than they seem. I'm more worried about guys thinking it's acceptable to act like him (outside of the bedroom). One important thing to remember is that relationships like Christian and Ana's do exist, and I don't think E. L. James should be criticised for writing a book which has made people so aware of that and the issues that come with it. Grey is not a perfect character and I don't think he was intended to be. I think we should consider the possibility that she did want to incorporate relationship abuse into the book, simply because it exists and shouldn't be ignored. Abuse is not romance.