Mental Health

Mental Health - A Pretty Place To Play

On World Mental Health yesterday my feed was full of posts about how it’s ok not to be ok. Although it might not be the best sample, after all I curate my own feed, there’s the sense that mental health is being talked about more. Women’s Health, a magazine with a circulation of more than 130,000, has a whole month devoted to the issue, and brands are increasingly jumping on the bandwagon (or posting rhetoric at opportune moments). This is all great. I am genuinely pleased mental health is becoming something people talk about, and to be honest if it wasn’t for this environment I probably wouldn’t be as open as I am. However, what if it’s not as good as it seems?

Chatting to friends off the back of World Mental Health Day there was a sense of frustration.  Some expressed the feeling they’d been reduced to a statistic, a 1 in 4, and concerns were voiced that our, often traumatising, conditions were somehow being glamourised, cooped by anyone with an Instagram account and an agenda. Another hashtag. Hattie Gladwell wrote an article last year about her frustration around mental illness being portrayed as ‘quirky’ and her concerns that people may not understand the seriousness of these disorders. That this may give the impression that mental illness is something that can be controlled through simple steps - going for a run, meditating, drinking more water (these things help, but they don’t solve the problem). An impression that is damaging to people who don’t understand mental illness. There was the concern that white anxiety has resulted in people were supportive around mental health to a point, but as soon as things get uncomfortable that support vanished.

My own experiences mirror these frustrations. Being told that the most interesting people always have mental health conditions, yet when I have a crisis that I need to walk into the fire, toughen up, stop sulking. There’s the sense that sometimes you have to have the right sort of mental health issues. Nothing too serious. Nothing that manifests itself in an ugly way. You can be ‘quirky’ but god forbid if things get ugly. And that’s the thing, mental illness is ugly. OCD isn’t about cleaning, it’s dark intrusive thoughts that leave you traumatised and consume every part of you. Anxiety isn’t about worrying about a test, it’s an overwhelming feeling of fear and dread that stops you in your tracks and pins you down. Depression isn’t feeling sad, it’s a black cloud that follows you, pouring down on you as you try to struggle through. Of course everyone experiences these conditions differently, but what I’m trying to say is that these conditions are serious, debilitating and traumatising. And that’s before I’ve even mentioned the conditions that are deemed unpalatable - Hannah Jane Parkinson wrote about this aspect beautifully in The Guardian. I accept my anxiety, but my God I’d rather not have it.

Writing about this stuff is difficult. Everyone experiences their own feelings their own way, and I don’t want to reduce anyone’s personal feelings, how you identify is your choice. However, I do want to say be careful. Be careful about saying you have OCD, anxiety or depression. If things feel bad go and see a doctor, don’t self-diagnose, don’t push a pathology on yourself that may not be applicable. Don’t say you cured your pathology through kale and HIIT, because when you do these things you risk reducing mental illness to something that can be easily dismissed, which is what things like World Mental Health Day has been trying to overcome. It is ok not to be ok, let’s make it ok for not being ok to be ugly.

* image: Alex Dixon Photography

Cycling Essentials with B'Twin

Cycling Essentials with B'Twin - A Pretty Place To Play

A month in to being a cyclist in London and I have to say I AM LOVING IT! Seriously, Doris has changed my life. I love wizzing around London on my little red bike. The freedom is amazing, and I love the boost that being out in the fresh air gives me. It’s so much fun! Doris has definitely been a life changer!

Doris is pretty perfect all by herself, but there are a few other essentials that I reckon complement her perfectly, and I wanted to share them with you!

Cycling Essentials with B'Twin - A Pretty Place To Play

B’Twin 500 Cycling Bowl Helmet

Wearing a helmet when I cycle is super important to me. When we were kids my brother was knocked off his bike by a car, he broke his leg but was generally fine, but things could’ve been quite different if he hadn’t been wearing a helmet. I know lots of people have lots of different opinions when it comes to lids, but for me it’s a non-negotiable. I ride on the road in central London, I don’t know who is driving, who isn’t looking when they cross the road or what other cyclists are doing, so I’m taking no risks. Also, how cool is this helmet?! When your bike is a little frumpy (in the best possible way) a sleek racing helmet just isn’t the one, and I love how this one fits around my head and is easy to adjust with a simple dial at the back.

Cycling Essentials with B'Twin - A Pretty Place To Play

B’Twin 500 Women’s Waterproof Urban Cycling Jacket

I live in London. It rains here. This jacket is cool, both in looks and because it has pit zips, and practical because it’ll keep me dry and won’t ride up as I move. I do kind of wish it came in a colour that coordinated better with Doris, but it is bright and that’s important on grey days when you might not be so obvious to drivers (don’t worry, Doris came kitted out with lights too!). It also packs away into the rear pocket so I can stash it in my backpack when I’m not wearing it.

Cycling Essentials with B'Twin - A Pretty Place To Play

B’Twin 900 Mini Bike D-Lock

Having a foldie is awesome, Doris can go pretty much anywhere with me and tucks into most corners, but from time to time she needs to hangout at the bike rack and because she’s so damn pretty a decent D-Lock is crucial. D-Locks can be crazy cumbersome, but this one is nice and neat, so I can shove it in my backpack just in case there’s nowhere for Doris to hangout while I have a meeting.

Cycling Essentials with B'Twin - A Pretty Place To Play

CityMapper App

One of the things that I’d been most concerned I was most concerned about when I started cycling was finding safe routes around the city. CityMapper really came to my rescue, it’s got a setting that shows you the quietest route to your destination. This app has helped me workout where all the Quietways near me are and plan a route to university that’s 80% on segregated cycle paths! Finding routes that work for me have really boosted my confidence, and that makes a massive difference when you’re cycling in the city.

What are your cycling essentials? Let me know in the comments! You can also follow Doris’s adventures using the hashtag #AdventuresWithDoris!

* Doris was kindly gifted to me by Decathlon, along with her accessories, but as always all opinions are my own.

Hitting the Ground Running as a PhD Student

Hitting the Ground Running as a PhD Student - A Pretty Place To Play

It blows my mind that I get to study for a living. It’s surreal and a dream come true. I can’t begin to describe how privileged I feel to have this opportunity. Getting to the stage where you’re taking on a PhD (and getting paid for it) takes serious effort, and I want to make the most of this amazing opportunity to do what I love, so I’m the ground running from day one (this coming Monday!).

Over the last couple of months I’ve been giving this some thought, reading about other people’s experiences and reflecting on what worked well during my MSc. I think I have it nailed (maybe. I hope), so I thought I’d share what I’ve been doing to prepare.

Hitting the Ground Running as a PhD Student - A Pretty Place to Play

start building a relationship with your supervisor

All PhD students have a supervisor who they work closely with through their research. Your supervisor is going to be a seriously important person in your life, so it’s important to build a good relationship with them. I’ve had a bit of a head start on this one because my supervisor Richard also supervised my MSc research, and he has been one of the people who has encouraged me the most. Over the last year we’ve caught up regularly and I really trust him to steer me in the right direction (and tell me when I’ve gone off course!).

Hitting the Ground Running as a PhD Student - A Pretty Place To Play

understand the format of your course

The format of PhD programmes can vary from place to place. At Birkbeck I’m expected to complete an MPhil in management in the first year, which will then be upgraded to a PhD on completion of my research. This means that I’m being eased into life as a full time student because I have some taught units in the first year and will be in a classroom a couple of days a week. I’m really glad I’ve got this opportunity to refine my skills as a researcher, but different institutions might do things differently. Of course, this also means I have courses to prep for, so I’m making sure I’m familiar with the syllabus for each one and know how they’re assessed so I can plan my time. Oh and sourcing second hand textbooks (I never buy new, and scored one of my texts for this term for a bargain £3.50!).

create a space to study

gone are the days when PhD students got offices, and although there’s some shared space (and of course the library), I like having my own desk. Until recently we didn’t have any desk space in our house, and I knew working at the kitchen counter was a no go, so I’ve taken the opportunity to create my ideal workspace! Tucked in a weird little alcove in our bedroom, right in front of a window it’s the perfect spot to get stuff done. Ive invested in a decent lamp, chair (who knew desk chairs were so expensive!) and some other bits to make the space comfortable and practical. Plus it’s been a great excuse to hang some of the art work we’ve been sitting on for ages!

Hitting the Ground Running as a PhD Student - A Pretty Place To Play

get a planner

whether you prefer digital or paper, when you’re juggling loads of deadlines and commitments you need a planner. I opted for a massive gold planner from Kikki K to keep me organised, it’s big enough for me to schedule studying, work, blogging and training and has loads of space to jot down notes, ideas and things I have to remember.

build a routine

Going from a full time 9-5 job to full time study is daunting, especially when you don’t have loads of contact hours (I have about 6 per week this term, plus supervisor meetings) and most of those are in the evening (Birkbeck teaches on an alternative timetable), so there’s a high risk I could procrastinate the days away! To get over this I’m making the effort to schedule each week in advance - when I’ll study, work, blog, train and deal with other projects. Ive set myself a clear time to get up each day and a lunch slot so that I’ll be a productive as possible!

Hitting the Ground Running as a PhD Student

and relax!

Finally, even with all this prep, I want to try and be relaxed, flexible and open minded. Change is something I find tricky, and I don’t really know what’s ahead, so I need to give myself some leeway to respond to things as they arise and to enjoy the journey!

Do you have any tips for hitting the ground running?

*images: Anna Rachel Photography