30 December 2015

learning to be

I have always had the mindset of keep going no matter what. Ever since I was diagnosed with Type One Diabetes, at the age of seven, I've developed a knack for working through more difficult circumstances. There comes a point, however, where the strongest thing you can do is accept that strength alone may not be enough. I have been struggling with an eating disorder - alongside diabetes - for many years now. I have had periods of recovery, some stronger than others, but I have never found true freedom. 

Though I may have appeared to be coping well at University, the act of 'doing' can easily disguise the true picture. True to character, I have thrown myself into my University degree and societies, in addition to writing on here and other media outlets. I have found comfort in the thought that I am being productive and also 'giving something back.' For me, people-pleasing and perfectionism go hand-in-hand; one of my greatest fears in life is the thought of letting people down. 

While giving everything on a performance level, however, I have been unable to translate this into my day-to-day life. I am continually trapped by anorexia, anxiety and the added complication of my diabetes. I am existing but I am not living, and being surrounded by so much vitality at University has only placed this in starker context. In a bittersweet way, however am thankful for this; it has shown me just how much more there can be to life. So much that I am missing out on and. 

My head continually tells me that I simply 'don't deserve it', but there is a small part of Sophie that still knows this is a lie. Somehow, I need to find the truth again and that begins with letting go. The greatest irony is that, for as long as I can remember, I have defined my life by numbers. The readings on a blood sugar metre, the percentages on an exam paper, the weight on a scale, or the carb and fat grams in a slice of cake I am too scared to eat. 

"The reality is, I have been a mathematician in writer's clothing for too long. I always advocate honesty towards mental health - people have told me how much my words inspire them - yet I have largely hidden my struggles away and suffered in silence. I love blogging, because it has allowed me an escape; talking about tea and happy things has made me, momentarily, break free of the cloud of mental illness. Nonetheless, I want this blog to be a place where I chart my real life moments of joy; not a dreamboard of flowers, flatlays and flat whites - photographed but sipped with shaking hands and the condemning voice of anorexia on my shoulder. 

Currently, I am struggling more than ever. I have pulled myself out of many lapses in the past couple of years, but the illness always comes back with a stronger vengeance. I cannot continue in this prison any longer, mentally or physically.After much discussion with my medical team, I am deferring my final term of study and beginning inpatient treatment. My admission is today and it is possibly the hardest decision I have ever made. Even as I type this, hours before I go into hospital, I am plagued with doubts. 

I am within touching distance of my completed degree and have convinced myself time and time again to simply 'get through' the dissertation and put it behind me - but at what cost? I won't have put anorexia behind me; conversely  I would almost certainly end up in a position where I no longer have a choice over treatment; I cannot do that to my family, friends and all those who care about me - because yes, anorexia,people do care. I also cannot do it to myself. 

The thought of letting people down has never been stronger. Given that my anxiety is largely rooted in wanting to please others, you can imagine the last week has been less than peaceful; I am indebted to my incredible family for helping me through this, and the understanding of flatmates/University societies. It has been a privilege to be Features Editor for Exeposé and publicity Officer for Mind Your Head. However, no role or article matters more than health. I could never give up something as big as my health. I could never let anyone down more than myself, if I continue to listen to the voices that would not stop until I am dead.

Mental illness can completely destroy lives, and anorexia has the highest mortality rate of any mental illness. As with many who suffer from it, I have continually told myself "I'm not sick enough/I don't deserve help". I need to put my trust in those around me. I would not be offered this treatment if I was a 'fraud'. With the NHS as under-resourced as it is, especially mental health services, I do deserve this support. If I have to remind myself of these facts ten, twenty or a hundred times a day, I must do it. Accepting further treatment has been terrifying beyond belief; however, being offered help is a huge change from the continual stop signs I faced in Exeter. 

Last summer, I made the decision to register with Bristol services and have been with them ever since. Without this support, I do not think I would have been able to return to Exeter in September, nor would I be offered the help I am now. To my distress, so many people will continue to struggle in Exeter, where eating disorder treatment is a paradox - it has one of the most highly-regarded inpatient units in the country, but no outpatient service to speak of. I have heard stories of people who have been on waiting lists for nearly a year, who are given appalling advice by ill-informed therapists and who will continue to struggle without support. Though I will no longer be in Exeter, I will never stop advocating for better treatment there and encourage others to do likewise.

I will miss Exeter so much and have adored my time there. I admit that my head convinces me I will be more missed by what I do, rather than the person I am. My delightful head also convinces me that no one would even notice if I didn't come back. I realise that I have been quite disconnected from the social side of things for a while, partly due to anxiety but mostly lack of energy. I look at everyone around me and it places into context just how far removed I am from it all. I will return to complete my degree, and hopefully enjoy some of the experiences I have missed out on. I am also hopeful that I will be well enough to visit, before this academic year is finished, to see all the friends who will be graduating in June 2016.

I do not know how much I will blog in the coming months. This in itself makes me feel as though I am letting people down, but I know that this is part of the reason a break may be good. I would like to be more open about my experiences with mental health, but want to speak from the position of recovery. This in itself is a huge motivation, alongside having the energy to really build my blog. No more writing posts throughout the night, spending hours editing a single photo or crying over the guilt that I "haven't posted in a week." Beauty begins with be, not do. I want my blog to reflect this.  
I was the child who believed in everything. For many years I would make elf houses with my dad, write to Santa in summertime and herd everyone to bed on Christmas Eve. To this day, a little part of me is still convinced that my Hogwarts letter will arrive. When I went to Hogwarts in the Snow earlier this month, the highlight of my day was seeing the Hogwarts Express and imagining I was stepping through the barrier onto Platform 9 3/4. 

All my life, I have continually believed in so many things around me. What I haven't believed in is myself. I hope that, in the coming months, I will find the ability to do so. I also hope that I can turn my compassion for others into compassion for myself. Right now, my primary motivation is my family, who have experienced more of this illness than any mother, father or sister should ever have to. They deserve so much more, but I also know that their biggest wish is to see Sophie be truly happy again. The smile that would come from sleigh bells, storybooks or the letter that finally came.

I have told myself many times in the past few months that it is simply too late; that this illness has gone on for too long and that I need to accept it as my lot. Then yesterday, as I looked at the photo of me in Leavesdon Studios, I realised something. If a Hogwarts letter ever came, whether it be tomorrow, next month or fifty years from now, I would respond with the same unwavering belief. I would board that train without question.

Being is no different - it is never too late. Possibility begins the moment you pick up the pen and realise that no one writes the story but you. As terrified as I am and as weak as I feel, I must believe that 2016 will open a far brighter chapter than the one I am leaving behind. I apologise for the rambling nature of this post; writing is quite difficult at present. Thank-you to everyone who has been so supportive in the last few days, all my love x

Wishing everyone a peaceful New Year 

29 December 2015

Under the Tree

Following the success of my gifts less ordinary last year, I once again turned to Not On The High Street for my Elf-scapades this Christmas. From customised diaries to some novel tea bath products, some small brands really stood out for me this year and are definitely worth looking out for!  

My mum has recently started a Masters course at The University of Bristol, and she is very much a student less ordinary. She's somehow balancing a full time job with library dashes, panicked questions about essay referencing and the occasional shopping spree - hello student discount!

I decided I definitely wanted one of her presents to be for University, so when I spotted this notebook it was instant love. The fact you can customise it so personally, from degree title to quote (thank-you Walt Disney), was wonderful. The cover design was also my mum in a colour palette. 

Some may say that this gift is a bit Hermione; I conclude that my mum is a lot Hermione, and this gift is about as close to a time turner as you can get - unless you have £150 to spare at Harry Potter Studios.

            Gold heart notebook, £12                                  'Star Baker' notebook, £12                                Alphabet notebook, £12

Like me, mum loves tea. Unlike me, she also loves bubble baths - put them together and what have you got? Bibbetea Bobbitea bath bags! In no less than her favourite tea flavour, Mint. I was pretty ecstatic when I found this gift, although I slightly regret I didn't go for the full 'tea party' box below. 

The Gift Oasis have a gorgeous selection of gifts and I spent quite some time browsing through all the various products. Along the same lines of "all is not what it seems", The 'Seed Money' paper coins - each coin contains a seed - were a strong contender, before I spotted the bath tea. Anything with a pun and I am sold! 

Incidentally, one of my gifts from dad was a seed pen from a company called Sprout; bought when he and mum went to Boston in September, at the end of the pen there's a cherry tomato seed waiting to be planted. Sprout definitely has the Not on the Highstreet ethos down to a tee.

            Tea Party bath bombs£15                         'Seed Money' paper coins, £10                        Cocktail Party bath bombs, £15

My sister Charlotte has mentioned her love for G&T recently, so I went on the hunt for Gin Tonic with a twist. At first, I found lots of gin lip balm and make-your-own kits. They were good options, but nothing popped out at me until... popcorn! Like the bath tea, this present united two loves in one - a shopping basket breakthrough. 

What's more the other flavours sounded equally exotic. This might be popcorn's answer to Bertie Botts; alongside other cocktails - hello Fruity Cosmo and Mojito - you also have gingerbread latte, madras curry and cheese-on-toast. Yes, you heard me correctly, cheese-on-toast! 

             Cosmopolitan popcorn, £5                                Mojito popcorn, £6.95                              Gingerbread latte popcorn, £5

This was one of those items that I simply couldn't not buy. It consists of 10 vials, filled with personalised positive affirmations, I included this as an extra gift for my sister, Charlotte. I was also able to customise the front with "worth melting for", to honour our long-standing obsession with Frozen. 

Incidentally, one of the "10 reasons" I wrote was "you are the Anna to my Elsa" (Millie is Olaf). The remaining nine will remain a secret between Anna and I, but the idea is that they are there for her to open, if she's having a hard day or simply wants a little reason to smile.

Bread & Jam have a truly amazing selections of gifts. I think Charlotte may have visited them for one of my presents last year! I also purchased two of the items below (centre and right) for close friends of mine and couldn't be happier with the reaction. I will definitely be back to this shop - not least of all because it makes think of the "Jam and Bread" lyric from The Sound of Music. It is simply one of my new favourite things

         Little notes of gratitude, £6.35                     Little box of pick-me-ups, £11.95                            Motivational desk jotter, £7.95 

Pens and Puns would be me... inspired by my Quotemas calendar, I channelled my inner craftmas in the wrapping department too! What happens when you combine a longtime loyalty to puns with a newfound love for calligraphy? You get a very excitable Sophie and a very merry Harrison family. Each label gave a clue as to the gift inside, so the very process of unwrapping was a present in itself! 

Admittedly, I can't take full credit for Let it Jon Snow; nonetheless, this one might have to be my favourite. I used this label for a book called "The Wit of Tyrrian Lannister, which was a gift for dad. Along with a subscription to Coffee Direct, his Merry Woofmas parcel was a set of dog top trumps; I found these in Oliver Bonas and they were a perfect nostalgia trip. We used to adore playing top trumps when I was little, namely Harry Potter and Dinosaurs. Who needs Barbie? 

The Holly & the Diary and Under the Mistletea had more originality (sorry, I couldn't help myself), but I was also quite proud of Gin-gle Bells for the G&T popcorn. For Under the Mistletea, I used bubble wrap under the tissue paper for an extra clue as to the 'bubble' bath part. However, I think my mum was slightly mislead to think she was getting some bubble tea - I didn't quite think that through! 

One of the nicest parts is that my family have kept labels and all said how beautiful the wrapping was. I've always been awful at this particular life skill, so I did feel a small sense of accomplishment.  

It has motivated me to keep going with calligraphy; I'm finding it an effective coping strategy for anxiety. I also struggle with biting my fingernails/hands, so it helps me with that too. I definitely recommend it if you want a new pastime for New Year - Quotemas doesn't have to end in December!

Have you ever tried calligraphy? 

Have you ever visited Not On The High Street?

 What was the most original gift you received for Christmas?
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24 December 2015

Seasonal Small Things

For me, the festive season is all about the small things. Despite its reputation for all things merry and bright, I do think it's very easy to become overwhelmed and allow perfectionism to take over. 

I can definitely empathise with this. I only had to read Sophie's post on Blogging the Perfect Christmas, to find myself nodding at the screen more times than I can count! I haven't talked about my health on my blog in quite a long time. In truth, I am struggling a lot right now and this has left me feeling a little lost amidst the yuletide joy. 

It is in these moments, however that I have tried turning to some some simpler things - coincidentally including my favourite magazine, The Simple ThingsIn this round up, you may not find Ciate nail polishes or Winter Wonderland rambles, but with some home crafts and cuddly Cavachons I have found reasons to smile this December.

I've fallen a little in love with calligraphy this month, inspired by both the wonderful quote prints on Etsy, and some gorgeous calligraphy accounts on instagram. 

It's definitely a work in progress, but I find it really cathartic and I've been able to produce 24 quotes so far - one for each day of advent! It shows that you don't need to spend a small fortune on a calender to celebrate the festive season, and makes for rather beautiful bunting.  

My next plan is to send them with thank-you letters, or simply to people who deserve a little pick-me-up. Either way, I hope they can bring smiles for the the New Year. 

I had a wonderful surprise through the letterbox last week from The Cambridge Satchel Company - I couldn't quite believe it. I have made no secret of my love for my own Cambridge Satchel and now Millie can join the CSC family too with her Snoopy collar! It even matches her Christmas onesie, so was clearly meant to be. 

The picture they also sent is, quite simply,  one of most thoughtful gifts I have ever received and has taken pride of place on my windowsill - I feel Etsy/Not on the Highstreet would definitely approve! 

This photo came at a particularly fitting time; it has filled me with motivation for a healthier 2016, filled with dog walks and sunshine smiles. I am so very grateful to CSC; from brightening my Autumn with satchel happiness, they have truly spread the woofmas cheer. 

The Highstreet is never more beautiful than at Christmas, and my love for "pretty things" shops never more fitting! They are the Etsy equivalent for the High Street, with Vinegar Hill and French Grey putting on particularly glorious displays this year! 

I couldn't resist getting a snowman... santa in the latter shop. Yes, I somehow refrained from investing in another snowman - I realised that my existing two - Olaf and Jon Snowman - might be enough! 

Here he is! We also picked up some 'the boardroom' tights, so I thought it was only fitting to name the Santa 'Sir Alan'. You can see him hanging happily from the window beam in my calligraphy photos above. 

I have also brought the festive tights back out, while mum treated me to a copy of The Simple Things and some festive pyjamas from Hollister. Ft. my beloved polar bears, you really can't go wrong.
My room is looking rather cosy, so I wanted to keep my christmas parcels equally rustic. With the help of Paperchase wrapping, string and calligraphy pun clues, I'm pretty happy with the end result! 

These tags have add a little extra magic to my gifts; however, like the Quotemas calendar, they didn't require a small fortune. It sounds cliche, but it is the thought that counts. Personal thought, that little bit extra time - ideally accompanied by a black pen that works! 

Once again, the labels are also not perfect. Perfectionism did get in the way at times, but I realised that this defeated the object of doing it! The letters may not be uniform and the pen may have run out, but that's okay. This holiday isn't about embellishment or making things picture-perfect. It's about living the moment you capture -  sharing the day with people you love.


19 December 2015

Hogwarts in the Snow

I have been dreaming of this day for around about fifteen years... no pressure Leavesden. The one thing better than Hogwarts? Hogwarts in the snow, complete with festive wizardry (hello levitating baubles), Weasley jumpers and a cracker of a wardrobe, courtesy of Luna Lovegood. 

I went to the studios roughly two years ago, to celebrate my 19th Birthday. For this particular trip, we united with my Uncle and three cousins - the eldest is, like me, Harry Potter obsessed. One of the best moments of the day was when we unanimously recited the first paragraph of Philosophers Stone, much to everyone's amazement! You can't fake a true love story. 
Woodland dressToyshop    Longline jacketToyshop    Oxblood BagCambridge Satchel Company  
Two-tone broguesAgnes & Norman     Always necklaceClotique (Etsy)
My outfit choice was a slightly more subtle nod to fandom. I decided to channel my inner Gryffindor, with the help of Cambridge Satchel Company and Topshop florals; however, this dress also gave a little nod to my original Pottermore house - Hufflepuff - along with the camel coat... we're just going to pretend camel counts as yellow, okay? Finally, the ultimate tribute: the Always necklace that Mum and Dad got me last christmas. If, like me, you're awfully fawnd of HP, look no further than Etsy


I never wanted to leave the festive great hall - the self-flaming christmas pud was the first of many magical surprises, along with the rotating witch on the tree - just as I dreamed it would be... As the tour progresses, moving objects abound in the wonderful world of Warner Bros. From self-cleaning pans to self-stirring pots, you could be forgiven for believing it's truly magic. Even then, nothing quite prepares you for automatic knitting. 
Can we please take a moment to appreciate Cheeri-Owls? This is sheer genius. Along with owl plates - a perfect match for the mug in my Christmas Tea post - the Weasleys are my new kitchen goals! Do you reckon if I say that loud enough, Molly would knit me a jumper? A girl can dream...
Thanks to an exclusive inside source (the audio guide) we discovered  great little anecdotes about the filming. We didn't get the guides last time, but they were definitely worth it! With regard to Umbridge's kitten plates, 40 felines were used; moreover, the owners are apparently unaware of their superstar status! Over 200 plates were used in total for the film - that's a lot of crazy cat love.
Luna is, quite simply, a christmas angel. From her outfits to her outlook on life, what's not to love? Possibly the best part is how much Evanna Lynch embraced the role - she worked with the costume department and even designed some of Luna's outfits! The christmas dress has to be my favourite. 

The station must be magical. As soon as we stepped through, we discovered Starbucks and Christmas blend. Sorry butter beer, you're not for me! A cappuccino was very welcome after our early start.
Less magical is the price tag of the interactive broomstick ride. My Maths-loving Mum had fun working out how much profit this would generate alone - it's impressive! I did partake the first time I went, but have since developed a more frugal approach. The graphics department were missing out on my dazzling skills with photoshop...
Sadly, Fred and George are not part of the tour itself. In the photo above (pre backdrop-wizardry), us mere Muggles got to stand in a magical 1.5 metre radius of snow. For filming, the production team used a variety of methods for creating snow, including shredded plastic, shredded paper and foam - by the look of my shoes below, I think they might have used foam for the guest experience... 
Notwithstanding flying cars and train carts, The true highlight of the tour has to be the end (so stop now if you really really don't want spoilers!) In those final moments, you walk into something truly magical - a complete model of Hogwarts, used for the exterior shots in all films, measures 50ft across and took 86 people to build; if you add up the total man hours spent on construction, that's an astonishing 74 years. Unless you're Nicholas-Flamel, in which case it seems like barely fifty winks... 
I had some fun with image editing, to show what it looks like with and without a backdrop. Along with earlier photoshopping, I'm practically a member of the graphics department.... 

Last but not least it was to the gift shop. Naturally, I could be found Matilda-style 'by the books', with one particular book catching my eye... I have seen this on so many bookstagrams and it is only more gorgeous in real life! Definitely one for the Wonder List, along with a Time Turner and real life Luna Lovegood. Just those little things. Dumbledore and I might have to disagree on that one...
I wish you a Merry Wartmas and a Hoggy New Year  

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