Monday, 17 December 2012

2013: What will your focus be?

2012 has been a weird year. It's been phenomenally good in parts, but has also left me feeling a lot less confident, sparky, strong and independent than I did at the start of the year. Now, that's not to say that I'm weak and boring and shy - I'm pretty fucking strong and positive all things considered. I'm just not quite the super strong badass that I know I can be. Which has got me thinking about what I want next year to be.

I learnt a long time ago that having a list of new year's resolutions that I decide whilst half-baked on New Year's Eve is never going to hold, so instead I've been thinking about the idea of my focus for the year. A broad theme that I want to be inspired and motivated by. And three words come into my head over and over again:

Strength. Challenge. Adventure.

So that's what my 2013 is going to be. I have lots of ideas buzzing around my head about what that's going to look like, and I'm currently in the process of writing down plans and dreams and projects that I think might be awesome. I can tell you now that the phrase Super Strong Badass is pretty much going to be my mantra for the year (and I'll probably be encouraging everyone I know to make it theirs too).

What is your focus for 2013 going to be?

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Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Time skips and the whowhatwherewhatwhys?

For the most part, I'm quiet on this blog at the moment. My passions have changed, my life has changed - a lot of the things I want to blog about don't really fit this blog. So I leave it here and spend my time talking about wishing I wrote more and attempting to come up with a snappy title for a new blog, where I'll write about the things that are dear to me. But here's where I come back to when I just need to write it all out. This is more for me I suppose, although it may be interesting to read if you've found my other blogs on Non Epileptics Seizures interesting (there's a link at the bottom to the first one if you want to read it)

My seizures had, for the most part, gone. I was having the odd very small one (and the very occasional large one) for the best part of a couple of months, which was nice. Then I had a three fairly stressful weeks, and somewhere in amongst the stress, my brain opened up whatever shitty door it is, and my seizures crept back out. In general, it's been easier this time. They're nowhere near as unrelenting, their general tone has been calmer and I've been in a much stronger place to deal with them, both mentally and physically.

Yesterday was different though. Yesterday I had a seizure which, including the run up and the aftershocks, lasted from 8.30am to 3pm. It's difficult to explain quite what my seizures are like, but often, they're not like you'd think they are. For the bulk of this one, I was sat in Starbucks, on a chair in the corner, shaking uncontrollably. From the way people looked at me, I clearly looked like I'd decided to get over the Monday blues with a handful of class As or a few bottles of gin. Either that, or I looked like a crazy person, which I suppose in many ways is right. My seizures can be classed as a dissociative disorder and even when they're not, they come under that gloriously under-funded umbrella we like to call "Mental Health".

The thing about this seizure that made it quite so scary is the loss of knowledge of who I was, where I was and what the hell I was meant to be doing. I'd pick up my cup of tea, raise it to my lips and then pause, looking at the cup with what I imagine was confusion, as I attempted to understand why that cup was near my lips in the first place. I thanked my brain for the gift of auto-pilot as I crossed the road from my bus stop with no real idea of where I was, and managed to find myself in a Starbucks. I took the few minutes of lucidity to text Jed and let him know where I was and what was happening. I felt lost, alone and disoriented. And yet all people did was sit and stare at the shaking girl. I should know by now not to expect better, merely to be pleasantly surprised and thankful when people do offer to help, but when you feel that lost and confused, having people stare doesn't help you feel less vulnerable.

It's not the first time this has happened - I have whole patches of my summer that I genuinely can't recall. I couldn't put events that happened between the end of March (when I first started having seizures) and the end of August (when they cooled down) in chronological order if I tried. I'm aware of the fact that I find it harder to recall and retain facts than I did before I started having seizures, and I get patches where I don't know what I'm saying or doing.

These are the bits that upset me the most I think. The shaking and the aching and the exhausted, wobbly feelings that fill my body are frustrating but fine. I can deal. The loss of control of my words and thoughts though - that side cuts deep. I see the fear and the worry in the eyes of people who love me, and I wish desperately that I could make it stop, that I could remember who I am and where I am and remove the look of terror and desperation from my face.

And I will. I will overcome these. I reflect back on the progress I've made, and I feel nothing but pride for what a badass I've become. And for what a badass Jed is. Some of you reading this might know him, a lot of you won't, but seriously, that man is incredible. He's pretty much single handedly cared for me the whole time, and that's a pretty exhausting, frustrating task. I'll shush now because he'll probably tell me off for gushing over him, but if you know him, and you know I'm having seizures, he's probably appreciate the hugs. And I'll stop here, because I'm teary with gratitude and exhausted by frustration, but to write this out has helped. If you've read this far, thank you.

(I'm going to put a link here to my first post on life with Non-Epileptic Seizures because it explains what they are and all that jazz)
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Sunday, 16 September 2012

Incredible talent (aka lovely things for you to buy)

A bit of a break from the norm, but I wanted to share the work of three of my housemates with you this morning. All three of them are artists or designers who are starting their own businesses and are immensely talented. All take commissions or are selling from their current collections. As much as it pains me to say it, Christmas is coming down the road, and something from an independent, talented small business is surely a more awesome gift than most things (given that the turn around time for commissions is 4-6 weeks, I actually feel a little less dirty for suggesting this - forward planning and all of that).

One thing I will say is don't expect to pick up a corset for £30 or a huge commissioned painting for a tenner. These are people's businesses - they're trying to make a living, and to earn a fair wage.

First up Matthew Knight's Art (aka Wittle Creations)
It always amazes me that Matthew's work is done by hand - the vibrancy and detail of it makes it come across as computer illustrations. We have some of this work hanging up in our studios and it's quite honestly stunning. Quirky, colourful, engaging. He also works on found objects (oil cans, bits of wood), which adds to the gorgeous visual impact of his work. The best thing to do if you see a piece of his that you want is to go chat with him on his Facebook page or drop him an email. Ditto for if you have something in mind that you'd like to commission him to make.

Website (under construction)
Tumblr (amazing showcase of his back catalogue)
Big Cartel (A3 prints for a mere £15)

Next up is Kiran-Lee Designs
Oh God, I want everything Kiran ever makes ever. I spend so much of my time perving over the sheer beauty of the corsets she makes that I'm pretty certain I'll end up with a restraining order by the time I'm done living with her. One I'm settled in my new job, I'm commissioning her to make me a beautiful corset. She only has a limited selection on her website, but she's open to commissions and has made some gorgeous things. These are honestly some of the best made corsets I've seen. She takes a lot of time getting them just right, and the quality of the stitching is second to none. She also designs other lingerie (bras, knickers etc) and costume pieces (pasties, masks, hair clips etc). Also, if it helps, she has one of the most scathingly sarcastic senses of humour ever.


And finally, Tatterdemillion Bazaar
Living with Lorrianne (who runs Tatterdemillion) is best described as living with a modern day courtisan. She's always off somewhere or other bringing laughter and entertainment and generally being her own wonderful, entertaining self, often dressed in naught but a pair of horns she's made and some gold body paint. When she's not generally being fabulous, she's making beautiful things for other people to be fabulous in too. Tiny hats, massive horns, obscenely ornate necklaces... anything to add an extra bit of wow factor to a costume or outfit (and I can confirm that her horns are wonderfully comfortable to wear and look awesome on)


As I said at the start, these are fledgling businesses and they'd appreciate all the sharing, love and purchases you can send in their direction, so go like, comment, chat and maybe even buy. They're all lovely, lovely people and I'm sure if you went and said hello, they'd be happy to chat with you and maybe even put together a one of a kind commission.

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Monday, 13 August 2012

Making progress (and dancing irreverently)

So, there's an exciting thing happening today (although not the exciting thing that I keep saying I can't talk about.... there's a post coming about that later).

Today, I'm starting Grade 1 Ballet with Irreverent Dance. Now, partially this is massively exciting because I'm learning ballet with a bunch of awesome people in a safe and encouraging environment. It's a place where I can be myself, and not feel the pressure of trying to fit into the Ballet stereotype. I know for a fact (from the people who raved about last term) that I'm going to have fun and make some amazing new friends. And the classes won't be *too* serious.

But the thing that makes me most excited is that I'm well enough to go this time around. I registered for last term, hoping to have got my seizures under control enough to deal with something like a ballet class and all the things that come with it (travelling into London, concentrating on learning a new thing etc), but the week before I was due to start, my seizures kicked off with a fearsome vengeance. It was a pretty hard knock to my confidence and my happiness. At the time, it felt like seizures were blocked me from just doing the normal things I wanted to do (and the reason it felt like that was because they really were, in a horrible, boring way).

It's only really in the last couple of weeks that I've started to see my confidence eeking back, my happiness raising a little and my body feeling up for the challenge of exercise and activity. I've been spinning poi daily, and spinning a little hula hoop here and there too. I span fire poi on a beach a few weeks ago. And on Friday, I went for my first run in about 5 months. It was nothing special, just 2 laps around a fairly small park, maybe 10 minutes of running in total, if that, but it was something. A run has genuinely never felt as good as that one. Seeing my body able to do the thing I've missed so dearly. It felt like a significant moment. A symbol of freedom being given back.

It's weird - I'm not completely better - I still have a blacklist of cafes that I know will trigger seizures within 10 minutes of entering, I still take my giant (awesome) headphones and a bottle of diazepam everywhere with me, just in case. I still leave parties early if they get too loud and have odd patches where I space out and forget entire conversations. I still see the looks of concern on my best friend's face if I'm staring into the middle distance for no apparent reason, and I still have days where I end up collapsed in a shaking heap on the bed, biting back tears of frustration. But I feel better, stronger, more in control. A seizure or a patch of spaceyness doesn't throw me as much as it did. I'm not as angry at my body. I don't feel so sad or so alone. I actually spend a lot of my time feeling lucky and appreciative that things are getting better and that I'm surrounded by so many wonderful people who've done and given so much.

For me, starting a Ballet class today isn't just another exciting event on a sometimes too busy calendar. It's a symbolic marker in my journey towards normal life again. And that, my friends, makes me happier than you could possibly know.
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Saturday, 14 July 2012

The way things were

I remember what life was like before seizures came along.

I remember being able to travel on the tube or a noisy bus without having to wear headphones or contemplate another route.

I remember planning days or evenings with my friends where we did the thing we'd planned to do, and the night didn't end with me shaking in the arms of my best friend and noting the look of concern on his face and the stares of passers by.

I remember working in a bustling office and chatting to everyone and anyone, and going to noisy parties where I could dance and laugh and not be bothered by the booming sound system.

I'm sick of being careful and cautious and worrying about whether x or y will make me ill. It's tiring and tedious and boring as fuck.

I deal with them all in the same way - mild exasperation and boredom coupled with a resolute steadfastness and refusal to let my spirits be dampened too much.

But I do miss the way things were. I'm really looking forward to that coming back.
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Monday, 25 June 2012

Tired of looking at the same four walls (aka a bit more on life with Non Epileptic Seziures)

Firstly, let me say thank you to everyone who got in touch and said some really lovely things about my last post on Non Epileptic Seizures (which you can find here) - it's always nice to know that something I've written has been informative or helpful in some way.

I thought I'd give you a bit of an update and also share a few coping strategies that I've been finding helpful. I know that a couple of my readers have Non Epileptic Seizures, and I'm hoping that by the wonder of google, a few more might find this post helpful too.

I've been having seizures since mid-April now. At first they were sparse, then they disappeared pretty much completely, then they came back with destructive vengeance, averaging around 20-25 a day for a good 3 or 4 weeks. Right now, I seem to be sitting in the lull, the aftermath and I'm only really having small wobbles with very few seizures at all for the last week.

Now obviously, this is nothing but a good thing - it's nice to see some of the bruises start to fade and to feel a bit less exhausted all the time. It's nice to be able to go out and not be quite so worried that a loud noise is going to suddenly trigger a seizure (although sometimes it does). Essentially, it's nice to feel like I can socialise again.

One thing I have found though is that as the seizures have started to decrease, my general sadness and frustration as started to increase. I think part of this is down to working from home and being pretty isolated as a result, part of it is guilt from feeling like I've put so much on my best friend who's been looking after me most of the time, part of it is an adrenaline drop and part of it is that I just want life to go back to normal. Although I can socialise a lot more, I still have to be careful with how I use my time.

Part of it is also down to starting to understand (with the help of Jed and a lovely psychiatrist) the root causes of my seizure. Part of it is OCD and anxiety based (I have huge issues surrounding time), part of it is rooted in stuff from my childhood. Most of it though seems to stem from my time in the church. That's something I'm still not very comfortable talking about, and even writing and publicly acknowledging that is a painful thing to do. But it's important that I do.

So, what have I been doing to cope? I've been working from home, which has removed a lot of the stress of travelling. Sadly, it's been counter productive in terms of other mental health issues, and means that I tend to be quite teary during the day because I feel very alone. I'm hoping to get back in the office soon now that the worst of it seems to have died down some.

I've also been practicing Mindfulness meditation daily, which really helps a lot. There's a notable difference between the days when I meditate and the days when I don't (namely, how likely I am to have a seizure). I also try to practice yoga daily and do bits and bobs of hula hooping and poi.

I try to get out and see people, although I've been asking most of those people to come see me in the town where I live, instead of going into central London to do them. I've felt quite guilty about this, as I live a fair way out, but I also know that it's been the most important thing I could have done, and most people don't mind travelling if you explain it to them properly.

I've been lucky enough to find other people with the same condition and talk to them about it, although I've tried to make sure that I stick with the pro-active positive people and stay away from the scary "Your life is oveerrrrrr" facebook groups. Positivity and pro-activeness are crucial.

I've been learning that it's ok to be pissed off and cry sometimes, but it's important not to wallow. At the moment, this is one of the thing that I find hardest. I feel so frustrated and trapped that I end up crying when I don't want to and then don't know how to stop. I try hard to just communicate well.

I treated myself to a really good pair of headphones (these ones) that I can throw on if noise or outside distractions get too much. They block out quite a lot of outside noise and have stopped several seizures dead in their tracks. Definitely recommend them.

So that's sort of where things have got to. I've been referred on to yet another psychiatrist who is a bit better equipped to deal with transition issues and I'm trying to muddle my way through. Mainly, I'm trying to find ways to not lose my mind whilst working at home, so if you have any suggestions, I'll welcome them with open, loving arms.
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Sunday, 27 May 2012

The Walls of Hermitage Road (aka Life with Non Epileptic Seizures)

So you may well have noticed, I've not really been around here much at all. If you follow me on Twitter, something you may well have noticed is a heck of a lot of frustrated tweets about being ill and having seizures. I haven't really had the chance to properly explain what exactly it is that's been going on to a lot of people, and I figure here is the easiest place to do it.

A couple of months ago, I was watching a film with my best friend and some other wonderful, lovely people. We'd been chilling out on Easter Monday, eating a copious amount of chocolate (thank to my friend Chris), playing Cranium and had settled down to watch a film. We'd partied pretty hard over the weekend, so decided a quiet, sober Monday was in order. There'd been some varnishing going on, which meant the place was pretty fumey, so we had a couple of windows open too. I was pretty happy and incredibly chilled. I was going back to work the next day after a couple of shitty weeks in which my mum had gone to hospital, we'd been told my sister had cancer (turns out she didn't... but that's another story for another time) and a few bits of my social life had got a bit stressful too.

Halfway through the film, I freaked out massively at a domestic abuse scene, and squeezed poor Jed's hand so hard I think I almost broke it. A bit later, I said I'd started to feel woozy. We figured it was the fumes and the weird tunnel scenes (we were watching Being John Malkovich if you're wondering). 5 minutes later, I collapsed dead weight onto Jed, fell to the floor and started having convulsions. Nothing like this had ever happened before, although thankfully we have a few epileptic friends, so the people with me knew the basics of how to deal with someone having a seizure and called an ambulance straight away. The only way I can describe the whole thing is as a fucking weird. I felt disconnected from reality. I was vaguely aware of what was going on, I didn't pass out, but even now, it's a fuzzy and quiet hazy memory, almost like I was incredibly drunk. I couldn't speak, even though I wanted to, and, quite understandably, I panicked. After 5 minutes of convulsions, and another 5 minutes of sheer panic, the ambulance arrived and did my obs. Everything was fine. Blood sugar normal, slight sinus arrhythmia to my ECG (which is a new thing), blood pressure perfect. I was still spaced out and not quite making sense so off to hospital we trotted, where I promptly had another, much smaller seizure and got taken into resus. The queue was horrendous, so I self discharged after feeling much better.
What followed was a week of other smaller seizures, eventually resulting in my doctor deciding I needed three weeks rest, sending me for an MRI scan and getting me fast tracked for Neurology. We were told to act as though it was epilepsy, but every doctor I saw seemed confused. At times, it felt like they thought I was putting it on. I was scared, frustrated and exhausted. Jed was an utter hero and looked after me pretty much 24/7. I started to see the warning signs for when I was about to have a seizure, and we successfully managed to stave off quite a few. Getting outside, breathing deeply and being reminded of where I am all helped. I managed to go I think 4 or 5 weeks without a seizure just by using these techniques.

Eventually, I got to see a neurologist. For the record South Londoners, Dr Cocco is amazing. Completely mad, a little tricky to understand but amazing. If you get him, know that you're in safe hands. I explained the whole thing again, with the slight dampened spirit of someone who's had to tell this story more times than they care for, and waited for him to laugh at me or to tell me there was nothing he could do because I was clearly making it all up (it might sound paranoid, but this is what happened last time I saw a neurologist). Instead, he asked me one question - "Have you ever been sexually abused?" It took me by surprise. Sadly, along with many other women I know, I have, and I went on to explain the various times and forms it took. He listened and then asked me another question "Aren't you wondering why I'm asking you this? After all, I'm a neurologist. This isn't my field."
I had been wondering, of course. I'd also been making the slow connection myself of the troubling domestic abuse scene and some of the things I'd been telling him. The next words that left him mouth were the most important words of all "I want you to know that you're not making these seizures up. They're completely real. It's not all in your head." I could have cried.

Dr Cocco went on to explain I'd been having something called Non Epileptic Seizures. There are a fair few names for these, with one of the common names for the condition itself being Non Epileptic Attack Disorder, or NEAD for short. It's a condition that not much is known about, other than the fact that unlike epilepsy, the seizures aren't caused by electrical impulses in the brain, but instead are a physical response to both physiological and psychological triggers. It's a condition that generally starts in early adulthood, is more common in women and can often affect people with a history of trauma. I repeat though - these are not psychosomatic or "pretend" seizures, nor are they just an extended form of panic attack. They're very much real. If I catch my warning signs early enough, quite often I can bring myself back round from one, but not always. Around 15-30 people in ever 100,000 have NEAD, and over half of people taken to hospital with suspected epilepsy are diagnosed with it.

The seizures are, as already suggested, slightly different from epileptic ones. For me, I have convulsions and rapid breathing, often accompanied by an inability to speak (although I can communicate. They're dissociative in nature, so I "space out" quite heavily before, during and after them - feeling completely distant and detached from things. After a seizure, it can take me a couple of days to feel properly "normal" again - I'm normally exhausted and aching, with a grim headache and crappy sleep.
The reason I've called this post The Wall of Hermitage Road is because that's where I feel like I've spent the bulk of my week. I had 8 seizures last week, which was both frustrating and tiring, so any walk to the shop or attempt to go back to work saw me spending a lot of time sitting on various walls along Hermitage Road trying to making sure I didn't have a seizure (or, in one case, having a seizure whilst being looked after by some lovely bin men).

For me, there's two important reasons for writing this somewhat rambly post - the first is to educate people about NEAD, and explain a little of what you can do if you're a friend who's likely to spend time with me and I end up having a seizure. The second is that I refuse to let this run my life - I don't cause or bring on my seizures, but I can certainly do things to help myself get as strong and healthy as possible.

So, first off: what can you do if you happen to be with me (or someone else with NEAD) whilst I'm having a seizure?

  1. DO NOT CALL AN AMBULANCE - unless I do something that injures me or unless I communicate with you that this isn't a normal seizure. Wastes my time, wastes their time. If an ambulance does need to be called (for example if the seizure won't stop after an extended amount of time or if I'm injured), make sure they know it's a non-epileptic seizure.
  2. Try to stay calm - as selfish as it sounds, having someone else panicking really doesn't help. Speaking to me in a calm and reassuring way will bring me round far quicker.
  3. Make sure I'm safe and try to place a pillow or something soft under my head but don't hold me down. It hurts me and there's a high likelyhood it'll hurt you too. If you can, the recovery position is the safest way for me to lay one it's calmed down enough.
  4. Talk to me about where I am, what I can see, what the day is, who I am, who you are... these all help. Afterwards, I might be a bit upset and will probably still not quite seem "with it". This is all normal - again, try to stay calm and talk to me. Do something to try and focus my attention. Let me stay in the recovery position. Talk to me about something that interests you - my friend Slinky once lay on the bed, stroking my arm and talking to me about cameras, processing methods and f-stops after a seizure. It was incredibly effective. 
  5. Be aware of my triggers, and try to make them stop if they're near me. Sometimes, it can just be a perfectly normal situation and a seizure happens. Things I know trigger them include flashing or strobing lights, sudden loud noises (ie fire alarms) and two sets of conflicting noises (so someone singing whilst someone else is watching a loud film).
And what am I planning on doing? Mainly just lots of looking after myself - getting back into yoga practice, starting ballet classes, starting to meditate, hula hooping, going for a spa day (funds allowing...), staying away from stressful or triggering situations, eating more healthily... maybe running, although at the moment I'm a bit fearful of it. At the moment, it's frustrating because my seizures are impacting my work life and my social life. There's a fairly high chance I have to cancel on people if I make plans with them at the moment, because they're not stable enough to be fully under control. I had to cancel a holiday I was planning on taking because after 8 in a week, I'm not entirely certain heading in an aeroplane to another country is the best idea. Despite all of my frustration and my anger at my own body, I'm almost certain that I'll pull through and start to live life normally again. I'm fortunate enough to be surrounded by incredible friends and have a wonderfully supportive work place. Mainly what I want is to feel healthy and happy again. Any suggestions of other things I can do to make this happen are gratefully received :)

You can find more information about NEAD here or in this handy NHS booklet
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Just a little note

... to let you know that I've fixed all the links on the recipe page again. My dot com url expired a while ago (and I have litterally no idea who the hell it was originally registered with, so I can't re-register it) and I've completely forgotten all of the recipe links were stored as instead of Also, I'm planning on picking up on blogging again. It'll be a little different, but then again, it wouldn't be Sparkle and Shade if I didn't go away for a while and come back with a slightly different tack. The recipes and rambles will stay, but there might be a bit more political blogging too (although I am currently toying with whether or not that stays here or goes into another blog). Hope you're all enjoying the wonderful summer sun! xx
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Thursday, 15 March 2012

Buy a gift Spa Day Review

A few weeks ago, an email popped into my inbox, asking me if I'd like to receive a voucher from Buy-A-Gift  for a Spa Day for Two. I, of course, jumped at the chance. My back is utterly screwed, and the thought of a lovely, calming massage was extremely welcome after a month of incessant stress and faff and difficulty. Spa Days, in general, freak me out a bit - I don't ever quite know what to do with myself - but massages are lovely.

The Buy-A-Gift process is wonderfully faff free. They send you a box with your voucher on, which you then activate online, presenting you with a list of places offering your treatment. One of the things I really like is that the vouchers are transferable - so say you buy someone a voucher for a spa day for two, but instead they decide they want a luxury spa day for one... they can transfer it. There's also the option to add money to your voucher to upgrade it, as well as retaining some if you swap for a cheaper treatment. Lovely idea, very easy to navigate site - brilliant. Not a bad word to say about them.

The spa experience itself wasn't really that great. We were at Bannatynes, Millbank. It's small and a bit scummy looking. It didn't feel clean and airy, it felt like we were trapped in a basement gym with tiny corridors, surly staff and a swimming pool full of agressive men (well, I say it felt like that... it was that). We didn't really stick around in the spa itself - there was nowhere to just sit and lounge (apart from one slightly broken looking lounger) so instead we just waited in the lounge, read the papers and drank free tea until my friend's treatment (I missed mine due to someone jumping in front of a train, and they were unable to rebook it or offer me any sort of compensation - not even a smile)

The conclusion? I'd most definitely use Buy-A-Gift again - I may well get my sister something from them for her next birthday as there's a huge range of options but Londoners, you'd do well to avoid the Millbank Bannatynes, unless an underground gym full of grumpy people is your scene. In which case, know yourselves out!

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Thursday, 8 March 2012

The (Wo)men of Twitter

So today is International Women's Day. I hate this. I truly, truly hate it.* I hate that we still need to have an International Women's Day. That we need to have a day for any gender pisses me off. Why can't every day just be "International Accepting That All People of All Gender's Are Ace" Day? Why haven't we yet reached a point where exclusion is no longer acceptable, where discrimination isn't allowed to pass by with an "if we ignore it maybe it'll go away" attitude?

Why is it that women do 66% of the world's work, earn 10% of the world's income and own 1% of the world's property? Why is it 1 in 4 women are victims of domestic violence and yet the Government are removing funding from Refuge and domestic violence shelters are going to shut down? Why is it that there are so few women in positions of power and influence? I mean hell, even the Independent's Top 100 Twitter list only listed 1 woman in the top 25 and around a fifth overall, which sparked this article on whether or not women support one another on Twitter.

If you know me well, you'll know that Twitter is my true love. I tweet to excess about the general stuff and nonsense of life, about the beautiful things I see, about the things that make me angry, the things that inspire me. I also have a policy of sharing whatever's going on in my life with the Twittering world (you poor, poor things). If I'm happy, I'll let you know. If I'm sad, I'll let you know. And do you know what? I've never seen or experience a support network and community like it.

It's rare you'll see me talk exclusively about one gender group in a certain way, but today I'm making the exception to talk about the women of Twitter and their support and love for one another. That's not to say men (or people with a variety of other gender identifications) are complete and utter bastards and offer no support at all - they most definitely do - but I've been lucky enough to have been supported by some of the most wonderful women I've ever known on Twitter. I've been helped through some of the most difficult times of my life by a support network of women who, despite the fact they're from disperate parts of the world, band together around one another. Many of them are bloggers - be it health or beauty or politics or relationships. Networks of women, communities of women, willing to offer near complete strangers a shoulder to cry on and an email address to rant to.

Through Twitter, I've seen women supported through the potential fear of breast cancer. I've seen women supported as their lives are turned upside down, facing homelessness and dealing with shitty people making their lives terrible. I've seen women cheering on other women to turn their lives around, to discover that they're able to do things they never thought possible, giving each other helping hands to start new businesses, new projects, new ways of living their lives. When we're told that women are not supporting one another, it saddens my heart. It makes me want to run out into the streets and show the beautiful community I'm lucky enough to be exposed to. Women who find each other lawyers, who give each other pep talks, who help each other move through the shit of life.

I'm fully aware this is a bit of a soppy love letter to the women of Twitter. I'm fully aware that it's not just the women that do this. But I think there's something wonderful about day after day after day being exposed to groups of people supporting each other just because they can and I sort of want to share that. To be honest, their gender is irrelevant, and I'm slightly hijacking IWD as an excuse to wax lyrical about the love and support that can come from small communities of people with varying connections, but it just hit home for me today, as I shared some confidence wobbles, that the women of twitter most definitely do support one another, contrary to what Laura Davis thinks. Although the statistics may not show it, although women may not be high ranking, that doesn't mean that the love and support isn't still there. The flurry of tweets of received this morning looking after me prove that indefinitely.

*Just to clarify, I don't actually hate International Women's Day itself... I hate the fact that we still have to have it.

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Monday, 5 March 2012

Dear John Letter: The Reply

I know a lot of you were wondering whether or not my letter would get a reply... well, it did. It arrived last week, and this is what the Archbishop had to say to me:

"Dear Emily,
Thank you for your e-mail regarding my column in The Sun last Sunday.

I do remember you from your baptism outside York Minster in 2006. I have for a long time wondered what happened to you and what you are doing. Thank you for getting in touch. However, I am saddened to hear that since that time you feel you have lost your faith. As far as I know God has not abandoned you. You are still dearly loved.

I write articles for a variety of newspapers across a wide spectrum. For example, in recent months I have written in The Guardian, The Observer, The Times, The Sunday Times, The Independent, The Independent on Sunday, The Daily Mail, The Mail on Sunday, The Telegraph, The Sunday Telegraph, The Yorkshire Post and The York Press, amongst other titles.

I will continue to use these opportunities to spread the Gospel message as widely as possible.

I hope that you had the opportunity to read my full piece from last week's Sun. I have attached a copy for information in case you have not.

One of the main points I was making is that we need to remember that God loves us and forgives us no matter how many times we mess up, and whether we deserve it or not. That applies no matter who we are.

It is clear from the Leveson Inquiry that there have been serious failings at News International and other news organisations for a number of years. We need to encourage a media in this country which is both responsible and fair. We also need to encourage people to make fresh starts. My writing does not mean condoning what was illegal and scandalous in the past.

All proceeds from articles I write are donated to local charities - in this instance, St Leonard's Hospice in York.

Please do keep in touch. Why not come for a cup of tea?

I appreciate you taking the time to send me your concerns. I will pray for you that God will reveal himself anew in your life and strengthen you.

+Sentamu Ebor:"

And before you ask, yes I might go for tea.
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Monday, 27 February 2012

A Dear John Letter.

Dear John (Or Archbishop John Sentamu, as you're more commonly known),

Hello, it's me, Emily. You may remember me from the time you baptised me on Easter Sunday:

How are you doing? I hope things are well at your end. Anyway, since I got baptised in 2006, a lot of things have happened. I worked for the church, I did a lot of missions, I set up a children's charity, I lost my faith (but that's another extremely long story for another time). Guessing things have been pretty busy your end too.

I'm writing to you because I can't fail to notice that you've decided to write a column in the Sun on Sunday. I have to say, even though I'm no longer a Christian, I'm massively disappointed in this choice. You were always a member of clergy who I respected. You had strong ethical standpoints and you weren't afraid to show them. You chopped up your dog collar in an act of political protest. you've always been outspoken. I really did respect you.

And yet, you choose to write for the Sun on Sunday, a "newspaper" founded on the priciples of corruption and lies. I struggle enough with the fact that the Church of England, an organisation I used to be associated with, an organisation I worked for, has £9 million of shares in News International and BSkyB. Not just because it means that the Church are invested in the press, which obviously impacts whether or not that press is able to speak freely, but also because of the hypocritical nature of the Church being invested into the soft porn industry. I wonder if you could explain to me how it's ok for the church to invest into soft porn whilst simultaneously telling Christians that they shouldn't have sex before marriage?

But the worst thing is, you're now a contributor to the Sun on Sunday, to something associated with hacking and scandal and lies and poor journalism. I'm assuming that you'll say you're attempting to communicate with the people, that you're reaching them where they're at, that this is an opportunity to speak to people on their own level, but I can't help but feel dismay and confusion about why you'd make this decision. I no longer choose to associate with the church, I no longer maintain anything close to a Christian faith, but I don't understand your decision on this.

I'd very much appreciate it if you'd take the time to respond.


Emily Birkinshaw
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Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Moleskine Wellness Journal

Hey Lovelies,

What you may or may not know about me is that my first love has always been and will always be stationery. As much as I love food and exercise and making things, it's stationery that really hits my buttons. Hence I was overjoyed when my housemate and her girlfriend presented me with this for Christmas:

I love keeping journals and I love tracking my exercising so this is just perfect. Look at all its gorgeous sections:

A food calendar telling me what's in season when... perfect for trying to eat locally and seasonally! There's also a list of foods and their nutritional content.

And then look at all the wonderful sections - Personal Goals, Exercise Log, Diet, General Health, Games/Sport, Inspirations. And then hiding behind there are 6 unmarked sections *and* and index.... drool, drool, drool.

I love that it has space for weekly and monthly goals - it's an excellent way of keeping goals in track and not getting overwhelmed by them. One thing I love about goals over resolutions is that they lend themselves to being modified and this is a perfect way of setting smaller, achievable ones.

It has a great exercise tracker with space for intensity, time, distance/reps, weather, notes... the whole shebang!

A daily diet tracker too! I got into the habit of tracking what I ate towards the end of last year and found  it really helpful... I want to get back into it, because it helped me to see some unhealthy habits I'd started to develop.

There's a whole heap more that I could show you, but I think I'll probably have bored you all to death! Needless to say it's utterly wonderful and if any of you are looking for a good fitness journal, I'd definitely recommend this one!

Do you keep a fitness/wellness journal?
What are some of your favourite inspirational quotes (I have a whole inspiration section ready and waiting to be filled!)
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Monday, 2 January 2012

2012 Goals

Hello Lovelies,

A belated happy new year to you all. I saw in the New Year with some delightful friends at a post-apocalyptic warehouse party... sooo many awesome costumes. I looked a little like this:

Annnyway, a new year is an excellent time to set some goals and think about what you want to achieve. I can't stand making resolutions because in all honesty, I find them too focused on taking things away from yourself and pressurising yourself into doing things. Goals, however, are all about making yourself more excellent and come with a degree of flexibility. You break a resolution, but you can always be working towards a goal - a far more positive and achievable way of doing things.

So, my 2012 goals list is:

  • Establish a weight training regime
  • Enter two 10k races
  • Possibly (depending on how my health holds up) enter a half marathon at the end of the year
  • Get my relationship with food back to a positive, happy place
  • Make more things! (Mainly sewing, but crocheting and knitting too)
  • Improve my posture and flexibility
  • Take better care of myself generally (or, as my housemate says, apply my own oxygen mask first before I look after everyone else)
  • See my sisters more
  • Visit 2 new countries
  • Journal more (I have a Wellbeing journal which I'll share with you in another post and a couple of person journals too)
Personally, I'm feeling pretty positive about all of these. All of them feel achievable, all of them are things which are going to make life a bit more awesome.

What are your goals for 2012?
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