31 October 2016

You've got to pick a pumpkin or two...

You've got to pick a pumpkin or two... or three. Because in the Harrison household, all children are equal and need a pumpkin to carve! (We'll overlook the fact that the youngest child has four paws and fell asleep during Hocus Pocus).

It has been a longtime dream of mine to visit a Pumpkin Patch; to be exact, ever since I was an 8-year-old zombie bride in Miami, Florida. Yet it was Nicole's pumpkin patch post that stole my heart; that same day, I scoured the search engine for a squash farm near me. Lo and Behold, I was successful - the nearest none other than the Farm Shop from my childhood, Farrington Gurney! It was a stone's throw away from my Grandparents' old house, but I hadn't been in years. That was all about to change...   
In a roasted nutshell, The pumpkin spiced latte has been well and truly trumped this season... or should I say Trumpkined? For my pumpkin patch experience was about as far removed from the Election horror story as you can get. 

I will definitely be making it an annual event, perhaps next year I could travel further afield... any excuse to return to New EnglandSome girls want groomsmen, gowns and a golden carriage; I choose pumpkins, ponchos and four fluffy pawsMillie loves doing her best Beyonce wiggle...
Every season also brings a new fashion story, and none is more beautiful than Autumn... My wardrobe wonder of the month has to be this Ichi poncho from Joy. This is my first ever relationship with a poncho, but we're already going steady. Not only is it warmer than most winter coats (seriously!), but the grey colour goes with everything. 
Initially, I thought my CSC push-lock was a spring/summer investment; however, with the help of Ugly Snuggly Betty over here, October has fallen under the periwinkle spell. Who knew orange and baby blue could look so grool? (couldn't do a Halloween post without a Mean Girls reference, could I?) Trust me, put the poncho on your WonderList and you won't regret it! 

Speaking of bucket lists, I'm on a role this month. Not only have I fulfilled the childhood goal of being a Pumpkin Patch kid, but I decided to actually use Pinterest. I can pin until the pumpkins come home, but the tutorials rarely make it beyond the screen.... until last week. With a leap of faith, trust and a little bit of Pumpkin dust, we searched for some carving patterns and let it all go.... 
...with some Frozen self-portraits! Charlotte is Anna, I'm Elsa and Millie is Olaf. It's all about the warm and fluffy hugs this season... Some pumpkins are worth melting for. 

What pumpkin pattern would you melt for?

25 October 2016

All things Boston beautiful

If there was a dictionary example for "long overdue", you'd probably find this post... between work, dissertation research and my own anxious head, Autumn has been a physical and mental busy-bee. Moreover, I wanted to do it justice.

In a nutshell, my heart now belongs to Boston. You know those places that just click? My hometown of Bath is one of them, Disneyworld Florida another (no apologies), while the Portobello Market and Cambodia Tree Temple are up there too! They are culturally and geographically far apart, but they are places I feel at home.

Yet, as of August 2016, Boston may have secured the top spot. Even the squirrels are feeling the love, as my macro shots at the end will show... So here is a glimpse into all things Boston beautiful, ft. skyscrapers, sailboats, public gardens and a message from Grandmother Willow...
The title will become clear in a couple of photos, but I had to open with this - the view from the Prudential Tower! The Skywalk Observatory is Boston's version of The Shard/Empire State, which gives a complete 360 of the City. You can see the Victorian architecture of Back Bay, the green expanse of The Public Gardens and the Modernist influence of the distinctive John Hancock Center (the glass skyscraper in the opening photo). 

If you ever visit Boston, make the Prudential Tower your first stop; it is the best way to get an overview of the City, along with its historical  context. Boston was built on a grid, so it is far 'tidier' than a City like London - I felt terrible for being so underwhelmed by the Shard, but the view was an eyesore in comparison to Boston! Nevehrtles, the Skywalk isn't the only way to see the City. Another must on any Boston bucket list is... 
...the Duck Tour! Trust me, this little dynamo will make Boston look a million bucks. You start off with a land tour of the City, seeing sights such as Copley Square's Public Library, the golden-domed State House and our friend from the Prudential - Mr John Hancock Centre (we were practically in a relationship by the end of the trip!) 

So you might have noticed I said land tour - this wasn't a simply a statement of the obvious. As the name suggests, the Duckmobile  has gone undercover as... a boat. Yes, it's quite literally a Duck to water; halfway through the tour, it dives into the Charles River and gives you this view to remember... 

     A WALK IN THE PARK     
From sky to 'sea', Boston has hit the tourism ball out the park. Yet when it comes to the park itself, only a stroll will do! Boston Public Garden, aka a tree-lover's paradise. The closest thing I could compare it to was Central Park in NYC; this leafy oasis among a sea of skyscrapers. You can pretty much capture this in a single photo... 

Fun fact, New England Squirrels are a far friendlier then British Squirrels... which is essentially a metaphor for the people, too! Throughout my time on the East Coast, which covered 4 states, the New Englanders were consistently warm, engaging, helpful and proud of their heritage. Their love for New England was infectious and helped us fall in love with it too...

...along with my furry friend Cedric, because squirrels are special too. Give me a woodland ramble and my heart is content, which practically makes me a Disney Princess.. or Luna Lovegood! You can choose; I'm not picky. Some girls may choose diamonds, but my happiness is found in the duckiest of times....

    Has Boston made your Bucket List?    
Discover more of my New England rambles here... 


23 October 2016

A message for 'superior starver' Liz Jones

As much as I love writing, sometimes only incredulous expressions and hand gestures will do... 

Dear Liz Jones: I feel deeply sorry for you. Behind the provocative words, there is a mind in self-denial; a prisoner who refuses to accept their sentence. 

Dear Editors at the Daily Mail: stop sensationalising mental illnesses for a story. Stop exploiting other humans for a headline. WAKE UP AND REALISE that society has no place for low-weight statistics and triggering soundbites. 



16 October 2016

The October Wonderlist

Hello lovely people! Who can help but fall in love with autumn? Cosy fires, piping hot tea, rustling leaves, couchy cushions and all the knitwear - I've just entered my first ever relationship with a Poncho and we're already going steady.

Quite simply, it's the season to make yourself snug as a bug on a fairisle rug. So I simply  couldn't resist sharing my favourite Fall things! Disclaimer: Hygge and Hedgehogs are the unofficial sponsors of this post...

     A Song of Spice and Fire     

Ponchos and duffle coats may be the fairest fashions of Fall; they're clothing's answer to warm Olaf hugs! I got my paddington bear coat last year (from Miss Selfridge) and it is the best coat I have ever owned. Slippers are always a good idea; I tend to go to Next and White Stuff, although I may try knitting my own winter woollies this year... Next craft project maybe?

I went into the Yankee candle store the other day and picked up cosy by the fire as a little surprise for my mum; I cannot recommend it enough! I'm pretty certain this is what Hygge heaven would smell like.

     The Bears and the Bees     

Okay so we might be going slightly Festive with the polar bears here, but I'm the girl who rocks her Polar PJs in July... so no apologies. Whenever I think of Autumn, woodland animals immediately spring to mind; call me Mrs Weasley, but hedgehogs and foxes are a one-knit wonder!

Last year I missed out on the best jumper in the Universe - a beret-wearing hedgehog  - so will be hunting the high *and low* streets for a similar version. I'm quite hopeful that Joy and Joules will answer my prayers; if not, I could attempt to knit my own, but I'll get back to you on that one...

    A Heart of Glastonberry Gold           

Every year, fashion falls under an Oxblood spell and I loyally follow; you simply can't compare to this cosiest of colours, even if the name is a bit Hocus Pocus. This autumn I want to brave some  trends I've avoided, namely the deep berry lip (am I the only one who likes Candice's colours?). The Zoella tutorial from last year has put Glastonberry firmly on my radar, especially as Charlotte Tilbury is cruelty free. Very Victoria is the best lipstick I've ever owned, so it certainly won't be my last from CT. is a dream, Have you bought anything from her makeup range?

I'm also a little enchanted by the march of metallic on the high-street; however, once more I haven't found the confidence to try it! Metallic shoes look amazing on Kendall Jenner, but I would probably look like Luna at the Slughorn Christmas Party. Then again, is this ever a bad thing?! Cambridge Satchel Company's golden poppy bag is top of my sidebar Wishlist for the month, along with their Star satchel; I can see both going perfectly with the Valley of the Dolls star blouse, Glastonberry... and these Office patent brogues (which I ordered last night and are half price - so I will not feel guilty.)

In short, this collection is basically my Fall FairytaleI've thought it all through guys, apart from the grow-your-own Money tree... I'm still working on this one! That being said, with Joy you can grow your own Coffee and Cactus... which is basically the same thing? 
     What are you falling in love with this Autumn?     


10 October 2016

I talk because

As I wasn't initially planning to write a post specifically for World Mental Health Day. However, the volume and variety of voices speaking out has motivated me to write this. As recently as this year, I often began Mental Health posts with an "apology for talking about this again."

Today, I am apologising...  to me. For apologising in the first place. I would never apologise for talking about diabetes, cancer, poverty or any subject deemed  "important" for societal wellbeing. In this context, the subject of Mental Health is inescapable.

25% of people will experience a mental health problem every year; 1 in 6 report poor mental health each week. Mental illness accounts for 43% of working days lost, costing UK employers an estimated 26 billion a year; even the heartless Tin Men of the world, compassion aside, cannot overlook the economic repercussions. Thousands of students each year are driven out of education, faced by an ever-winding road of stop signs.

    Anyone can support First Aid for Mental Health          

... It is not an issue for 'other' people. It affects us all. We all have mental health and we all, therefore, have a responsibility to recognise it and respond. The theme for this World Mental Health Day is Mental Health First Aid for all I and I can't think of a better choice. Education is a fundamental to Parity for physical and mental health health education, particularly in Education and the Workplace. 

I have heard workplace anxiety dismissed by "we all have it". At University, my department's  head of student 'welfare' remarked that "I thought DSLA was only for real illnesses." My the GP had encouraged me to ask about extensions and disability allowance for train fares, as I was travelling to Bristol for weekly therapy; Exeter Services had been unable to offer support. In this moment I felt like a fraud, a feeling that I am certain is not exclusive to me.

While MHFA is a specific course in Mental Health First Aid, we can support its ethos in a variety of ways. We can educate ourselves through websites (Mind), articles and blog posts, or simply talking to those with more experience. Additionally, we can educate others through volunteering, joining University mental health societies, writing for Student Minds, organising awareness days and sharing our own experiences. Through education, we can unlock the room and Let the Elephant Speak.

     It shouldn't be a big deal     

While I so thankful that Prince Harry and the Cambridges are championing mental health, Prince Wiliam's words rung true: "It shouldn't be a big deal." When James Arthur mentioned WMHD on the X Factor stage, it was rightly met with huge gratitude across social media... yet such a response also highlights the absence of conversation. We have come such a long way over the last two years, but I will never lose sight of how far we have to go; how many more lives could be saved by speaking up.

Following the latest #TalkMH chat on twitter, I saw someone mention the idea of a fundraising night for Mental Health, inspired by Comic Relief and Children in Need. There has been a huge rise in mental health depictions across the Arts, from the 2016 Edinburgh Fringe, to authors such as Bryony Gordon, Matt Haig and Nathan Filer. Moreover, Mental Health has garnered a Star Cast of advocates, including Miranda Hart, Adele, Graham Norton, Stephen Fry Zoe Sugg... forget one evening, you could take a month and still have material to spare!

Seriously though, this could actually happen. If we make it happen. Let's make it happen!

     Mental Health stereotypes still exist  

OCD is the widespread and worrying example of this. It's the cutesy character quirk in sitcoms and a default synonym for neat-freaks. Katy Perry has “OCD on tour. If there is broken makeup in my purse I freak out,” while Naomi Cambell is “too OCD to trash a hotel room.” Last November, on ITV’s Good Morning Britain, Ultimo creator Michelle Mone claimed: ‘It [OCD] can prove really useful in business. It makes you really organised. So I love having OCD.’ She was criticised for her comments, but they typify the misguided beliefs of society. 
Does Katy Perry create a bulletproof case for her makeup, because she fears one spillage will cause her to fall on stage? Has Michelle Mone ever blamed low sales on the messiness of a single cupboard? The celebration of OCD is epitomised by Channel 4’s Obsessive Compulsive Cleaners. Now on its seventh series, the show effectively endorses a compulsion for cleanliness, with little regard for the devastating reality. Unlike "Baby Kangaroo" Tribbiani, OCD is not a synonym for a Monica Gellar love of cleaning. 

In the days before I started inpatient treatment, I remember genuinely panicking that it would be real-life Girl Interrupted/One Flew Over the Cuckoo Nest. As it happens, a group of us actually had a Girl Interrupted movie night; the irony seemed too good to miss! Between ourselves, we often used humour as a way of normalising our situation. On a more sobering note, wider society still views "psychiatric hospital" with a prison-like stigma; patients are 'unstable' and 'dangerous'. This is why, at some point, I will find the courage to talk about my time in treatment. The stereotypes will only stop with a new narrative; the voices of experience. 
     Nobody's life has no space for stigma     

Quite simply, I'm done with the facade. I've spent most of my life trying to please people; to do the 'right' thing, forgetting myself along the way. No one else is to blame for this; I piled the expectation on myself. Nevertheless, the pressure weighed down until, inevitably, it submerged me. I am terrified of judgement; it is possibly the thing that frightens me most. So you can imagine how I felt when, last December, I wrote about my decision to leave University and receive inpatient treatment. 

It felt like the biggest gamble of my life, risking all my friendships, future career. Anything and everything. Yet I talked. I talked and.... people listened. People responded with compassion, not criticism. Longer term? I admit that I feel isolated; my 22nd birthday definitely exposed this. Subsequently, I considered that maybe the stigma was there, but simply less overt? Nevertheless, perhaps we need these moments to see the silver lining; realise what we do have. 

I just need to look at my incredible family and tea-riffic Tea Twin (see 10!), whose birthday bouquets and handwritten letters have been like little lifeboats. Furthermore, through the blogging community I've found some truly wonderful people who have shared their experience: Lauren, Nicole, other Nicole, Hannah and Laura to name just a few. I finally feel less alone. Fingers crossed that our paths will soon cross in the non-virtual world! 

In sickness and in health - you don't need to put a ring on this to make it true. This applies to all relationships, professional and personal. We all deserve better than an employer who would discriminate. We all deserve better than a friend who would judge. YOU DESERVE MORE.

 I'm not okay

... but I will be. I have to trust that I will be. My greatest enemy in recovery has always been silence; a reality that has confronted me as recently as this month. Time and time again, my voice becomes stifled by the fear of letting people down and being the broken record. By admitting that it's okay not to always be okay, I go against everything my perfectionist mind tells me... but that is exactly why I need to.

After years of putting on a positive front, I won't erase the people pleaser overnight. However, only with honesty can I eventually heal. Simply put, I'm exhausted of the facade. Moreover, I know I am not the only one. So this one is for the people who keep smiling; who respond "I'm fine" when in reality they're falling.

Dear stranger, your experience is not a stranger. To millions of others, it is an all-too-familiar story. Like you, they have suffered in silence and fear of stigma. You can't choose to 'be okay', but you can choose to speak out. Please speak out. Being honest was one of the hardest things I have ever done, but it was possibly the most important. 
     Why are you talking about mental health?     

7 October 2016

Mindfulness and the Busy Bee

So what's in a busy bee? If we want to be really literal, just think of Andy from  The Devil Wears Prada. *Note to self: sprinting and Starbucks will always end with your drink on the floor.. and sabotage that snazzy Instagram snap. The busy bees are go-go-go, running faster than Pheobe Bouffay through Central Park. Sound familiar? Maybe. Perhaps you're too busy to just be

On the subject of being, I've often used the word 'buzz' to describe my own experience of anxiety.   For any mental illness, your mind is in a constant state of alert. Your thoughts race like a hamster wheel; overthinking becomes your default and you crave the sound of silence. Forget running to a bus stop, you can be buried among a blanket fort and still here a relentless buzz. Nevertheless, sometimes it is the loudest buzz that goes unnoticed by others

Yet anxiety is not an anomaly; the more I engage with the blogging community, the more I realise just how common anxiety is; how many people are exhausted by the mind's own busy bee . In fact, I think most of us could use a pause button at times: a recovery remote. But, alas, Hogwarts and Earwax Bertie Botts exist only in fiction *sobs*, so magical solutions are off the cards. But I may have found something pretty close... Mindfulness!

It has become a bit of a buzz word (pardon the pun), but go with it; the Mindfulness hype can hold its own. I've mentioned is a few times on here, including my guide to managing Anxiety Abroad and Home Truths at 21 (see 12 & 14!) However, my favourite form of mindfulness has to be photography.

I first started using my camera way back in April (can you believe that's 6 months ago?!) I was just out of treatment and adjusting to life back home, so my mind was a abuzz with anxieties. I was distracting myself with 16693820 different craft projects - seriously, you couldn't see the wool for the trees - but I wanted something to get me outside. Then I read Nicole's brilliant post on mindful photography and something clicked.  

Despite buying Olympus Penny over a year ago (student loan priorities), I only started snapping in May. Somewhat ironically, anxiety got the better of me; I'm always hesitant to start new things, for fear of not being 'good enough'. However, I bit the bullet and have never looked back!
These photos were taken on a particularly anxious September morning; the eve of my 22nd birthday, to be exact! As I sat down to a bowl of less-than-cheery Cheerios , my mind reflected on a year of 'failures': University, friendships, recovery... I was trapped by my own thoughts, which were quickly joined by the  OCD fears of balance/contamination. Before I even picked up the breakfast spoon, I spent 10 minutes simply trying to find a 'balanced' position on the sofa. My my morning tea, meanwhile, was hardly touched; every time I tried to pick it up, I panicked that one hand was absorbing more heat than the other.

In these moments a way out can seem impossible. Nevertheless, on this particular morning I found a silver lining... It started with the arrival of the postman, which prompted Millie's daily leap onto the windowsill - she never learns. Yet as I moved to bring her down, I spotted these bumblebees out the window and had a moment of respite. I knew I needed to get out of the living room at the very least, as the thoughts were only growing more obtrusive. So 5 minutes, 2 chewed letters and a tug-of-war later, I decided to fetch Olympus Penny and gave mindful micrography a go. 

Within minutes of my  'shoot' (just call me Mario Testino), my anxieties faded into the background. It was all about the humble bumblebee! I snapped away for over half an hour, as bees will do their own thing; 90% of the time you'll be a split-second too early, yet this makes a successful shot all the more magical. Moreover, as I followed the bee's buzz from sprig sprig, it shifted all focus from the buzz inside my mind. 

Beyond my blogging namesake, photography has given me a newfound appreciation of the great outdoors. I'm no stranger to woodland rambles, but with a camera in hand you see things in a clearer light. I've also found that, since taking Penny on dog walks, I no longer rely on Mr iPhone to distract me. A few months ago, any solo trip outdoors would be accompanied by headphones. I used music to try and drown out anxiety/OCD, which partly worked... but I was still in my own world and disconnected from the outside. It was a sticking plaster, not a solution.

With photography, I'm relearning to be in the present moment. It's still a work in progress and, some days, I do lose sight of this; it would feel dishonest to present myself as a 'mindful messiah' when, to be blunt, I spent today in a bit of a slump. Nevertheless, tomorrow is a new day; perhaps, on my way back from work, I can make time to stop and see the roses sunflowers. Sunflowers, always.

For now, I'll leave you with some snaps from my Sunday stroll with Penny! Along with mum, dad and Millie, we popped along to Bath Spa Campus and caught a glimpse of Autumn awakening. The Campus is a stone's throw away from our house, but sometimes the simplest treasures are right on your doorstep....

What are your thoughts on capturing a frame of mindfulness? 
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