Unpolished Journey

It’s nearly two years since I ‘came out’ about my mental health, and one of the most amazing outcomes of being brave and speaking up is that people have started to approach me to share their stories. It’s an amazing privilege when someone tells you their struggles, that they trust you to open up to you. Not too long ago I got an email from Emily and Morgan, the creators of Unpolished Journey, an e-commerce platform specifically for creators who’ve used their art to manage their mental health. Morgan in particular was keen to share her story of using creativity to share how creativity has, in her words, defined her recovery journey. Of course I couldn’t refuse…

Unpolished Journey - creativity and mental health recovery - A Pretty Place To Play

I spent a lot of time in the dark. Dark rooms filled with Kleenex from tears releasing years of suppressed emotions, dark bathrooms purging out those feelings in attempt to numb them once again, and dark headspaces filled with hopelessness and exhaustion from the years of fighting my mental illness. I was sick, head sick with an eating disorder and PTSD, and at the time I felt like there was no way out. I felt trapped in a tunnel of darkness with no ladder or rope. I was just there floating in my pain, feeling alone and forgotten.

Art is unique in so many ways. I am convinced that art comes straight from a person’s entire body’s experience. It tells a story of where each person was at a moment in time - their thoughts, their desires, their fears. It is a compilation of everything within that person being purged out for the world to see. Art is personal. Writing, painting, photography, dance, drawing, videography, textiles, and so many other forms of creativity have literally been created from someone’s mind.

Did you know that listening to music is the only time that you use your entire brain? Your whole mind is consumed with the melodies and lyrics. It is a deeply personal experience, which is why I never critic anyone’s music preferences. Those songs are theirs. They speak to them in a way I’ll never understand, which is beautiful and something I don’t feel worthy to have an opinion on. In the same way that music is uses your entire brain, I have a theory that the creation of art uses your entire body.

I came up with this theory through the evidence spilling across the pages of my sketchbooks. I spent a lot of time in the dark and my artwork reflects this - scribbles of dark images, filled with red monsters, and terrifying compositions.  I look at these images and my body remembers. It remembers the pain, suffering, and struggle that I was consumed with during that time in my life. I used every part of myself to purge creations onto those pages. It was my release, my singular way of documenting to the world what it was like to be trapped inside my brain. As the years past and I began to receive help for my mental illnesses a narrative of healing began to unfold.

Slowly those images began to gain color. The black and white scribbles starting taking shapes. Birds symbolizing a reach towards freedom, water symbolizing renewal, and trees symbolizing growth became common motifs among my work. I gained strength both physically and mentally as I began to nourish my body and mind with words of hope and meals of kindness. My artwork reflected this. As the years of recovery would pass, my artwork became more and more free. Rainbow colors and playfulness entered into my sketchbook as I fell deeper into the person I was created to be. This became my evidence that my creativity matched my body’s experience. As my soul grew healthier so did my artwork. My body remembers. It remembers everything and the artwork that spilled out of my soul throughout the years documents my body’s narrative.

Art is unique in this way. It is a deeply personal act of vulnerability as it documents a person’s journey through life. My evidence comes from my own recovery journey. My creativity is a full body experience, leaving behind stamps on the world defining healing and change. Art became my unique means of sharing with the world what my recovery actually looked like.

Unpolished Journey - creativity and mental health recovery - A Pretty Place to Play

Unpolished Journey is a community of artists seeking to share their stories of recovery from mental illness through art. Unpolished Journey has launched a marketplace where artists of any medium who have a story of recovery can sell their work to the world and share pieces of their journey along the way.

Recharging with Ayurveda and E.On

This post is in collaboration with E.On.

Ayurveda for a healthy autumn - A Pretty Place to Play

I know it’s not on trend to say, but I really don’t love Autumn. Pumpkin Spice makes me gag, I hate that the nights are closing in and while I do enjoy both flannel and knitwear, I’d sacrifice my jumper collection for warmth and sunshine any day. It’s a time of year when I often end up feeling totally depleted and really lack motivation. However, I also live in London, have no plans to move in the immediate future and a massive to do list, so I need to suck it up and find ways to cope as the leaves fall around me.

A couple of weeks ago E.On invited me down to their Recharge Retreat on the Southbank to hangout with Jasmine Hemsley and get some ideas around how to recharge as the winter closes in. I always find Jasmine’s perspective interesting, and as we discussed the change in seasons she spoke about how we can respond to feeling drained in a way that is nurturing.

Ayurveda for a healthy autumn - A Pretty Place to Play

Much of Jasmine’s thinking focuses around Ayurveda, an ancient holistic system of wellbeing. It’s about harmony between the body, mind and spirit and tuning into the ebb and flow of our nature. While it might sound like another trend, it’s a science of life that’s more than 5,000 years old and was developed to help people thrive in an ever-changing environment, something that’s never been more relevant than it is today. A medical system in it’s own right, Ayurveda literally translates from Sanskrit at life (Ayur) knowledge (Veda). There’s a lot to Ayerveda, but at it’s core it’s an energetic system. We each have a Dosha (body type), and our Dosha has individual needs that need to be addressed through how we eat, move and live in our space. However, the really beautiful thing about Ayerveda is that we can incorporate it’s principles into our lives in little ways. No big lifestyle changes, just tweaks that will help you thrive, and one of the most practical ways to do this is with food.

Ayurveda for a healthy autumn - A Pretty Place to Play

Huddled in a makeshift kitchen on the Southbank, Jasmine told me how what, how and when we eat is at the heart of Ayurveda. We should be focused on nourishing and satisfying our bodies, something that’s a real departure from all the noise that surrounds us about low-calorie, low-fat diets and the tendency to grab-and-go. Food sustains us at the most basic level, but we need to understand how to let it benefit us so that it recharges our systems. We can’t just ingest mindlessly. In Ayerveda this comes down to healthy digestion, and Jasmine has a few simple tips we can all adopt easily to keep our digestive systems healthy and get the most out of what we eat this autumn.

1. Switch from cold or iced drinks to hot. In Ayurveda, digestion is understood as a fire – “Agni” – which we want to be working optimally when we introduce food to it. Cold foods and iced drinks (even room temperature as we move into winter) can dampen it. Opt for hot water or herbal tea to keep your digestive fire ablaze!

2. Prioritise well cooked foods, such as freshly cooked soups and stews, as these are more readily digestible. Avoid too much raw food (regarded in Ayurveda as cold, dry, light and rough) which can put a strain on your digestive fire, in turn leading to poor absorption of nutrients and imbalances in your body.

3. Savour your food. Eat mindfully without distractions and in a stress-free environment to nurture your digestion and connect with the food that ultimately becomes you. This can make a big difference to your overall sense of wellbeing and becomes a regular opportunity to create calm in a fast-paced world.

4. Use herbs and spices (aka nature’s medicine cabinet) in your everyday cooking, not only to create delicious flavours and keep seasonal foods interesting, but also to support our health by helping to maintain important functions in our immune, hormonal and digestive systems. 

5. Have your main meal at lunchtime when your digestion is at its peak and go back to traditional suppers — light meals eaten earlier in the evening to make sure you are able to fully digest your food before bed for a better night's sleep.

*images: Anna Rachel Photography. Bra gifted by Shock Absorber.

Active Skincare with Charles James and Bianchi Dama

This post is in collaboration with Charles James Skinhealth.

Active Skincare - A Pretty Place to Play

On an average day I reckon I wash my face at least three times, if I’ve trained more than once then I’ll be washing even more, getting rid of the sweat and gunk that builds up while I live my life. Sometimes I have the time to do a complicated (for me) multi-stage skincare routine, usually I don’t, most of the time I just about have time to splash water on my face and be on my way, smearing on moisturiser on my way to my next appointment. It’s not dignified, Caroline Hirons would squirm, but needs must…or at least they did, thankfully last month the team at Charles James Skinhealth took me in hand and sorted me out with skincare that’s perfect for my lifestyle.

In partnership with Bianchi Dama, one of the UK’s leading elite female cycling teams, Charles James have achieve what feels like the unachievable, skincare for people with demanding lives who want healthy, protected skin but are low on time/energy/inclination. It’s a unique partnership, no skincare development has ever been been established with such an active team, but who better to put it through it’s paces than the pros? Women who sweat a lot and are juggling not only their cycling careers, but jobs and lives too. It’s fair to say Bianchi Dama presented the team at Charles James with some serious challenges - probably more than they anticipated - when it came to developing their skincare line, but they stepped up and put the work in to delivering. Pretty much what Bianchi Dama do when they train and race.

Active Skincare - A Pretty Place to Play

Together Charles James and Bianchi Dama created two products that do literally everything. Two bottles to shove in your bag that’ll deliver the same benefits as hauling around multiple vials, tubes and pots. Perfect if you’re constantly on the go, aiming for a quick turn around in the gym changing room or off of an adventure and you need to travel light. Of course, this is all great, but a skincare product is nothing if it doesn’t live up to its claims, so I put Charles James and Bianchi Dama’s creations to the test for a month, and here’s what I thought…

Active Skincare - A Pretty Place to Play

Active Cleanse

Hands up if you reach for a wet wipe after your workout? Yep me too. They’re a quick, easy solution when you’re in a rush, but they’re also generally not that effective and can have a pretty horrible impact on the environment, which is why I was so excited to try Active Cleanse. Use with or without (!!) water to lift away ingrained impurities, surplus oils and dead skin cells to leave your skin fresh, clean and revitalised as if by magic! I’ll admit, the first time I used this product I didn’t realise you should wipe it off with a tissue if you’re using it without water and thought it was a bit too sticky, but now I know how to use it I can confirm it does exactly what it says on the tin. I love that it’s just one bottle for everything, and that comes in at a hand-luggage friendly 100ml, perfect for on the go. I’ve used it for more than a month and at no point has the formula irritated my hella sensitive skin, plus I’ve been breakout free! Winning! My only criticism is the smell, it reminds me a bit too much of hand sanitiser (it doesn’t help that its a gel formula too), which is a bit off putting when you’re putting it on your face.

Active Skincare - A Pretty Place to Play

Enhance and Protect

If you spend a lot of time training outside your skin is bound to take a beating, so it’s important to protect it, which is where Enhance and Protect comes in. This potion seems to do everything - it stimulates cell turnover, moisturises and firms the skin, while also protecting it from free radicals and the sun, and it contains a whole host of active ingredients including retinol, hyaluronic acid, hydrolysed wheat protein, DMAE, aloe vera, vitamins C and E and SPF 30 sunscreen. Normally you’d find yourself layering multiple creams and serums to get all this stuff on your skin, Charles James have managed to cram it into one cream! However, the big draw of this cream is that it doesn’t run into your eyes when you get sweaty - no one likes stinging eyes when they’re trying to perform, and it’s what sets this product apart from others that claim to protect your skin. I loved the texture of this cream, it was the perfect weight to feel nourishing without being heavy and I could easily apply it several times a day. Again, there was no irritation and I felt like it left my skin looking fresh and even, which is always a win!

I really admire what Charles James and Bianchi Dama have achieved here, the products they’ve produced are innovative and really thoughtfully developed, which sets them apart from other ‘sport’ skincare products I’ve tried. They realise that a multi-step routine with lots of bottles and pots just isn’t viable and focused on how to deliver the biggest bang for your buck in the most user friendly formats. Retailing at between £14 and £24 for the Active Cleanse and £22 to £38 for the Enhance and Protect these products aren’t the cheapest, but they’re good value as the pack so much in you should end up buying fewer products over all. Plus they last for ages. I’ll definitely be making room for these products when it comes to packing for The Speed Project next year!

*I was gifted both the Active Cleanse and the Enhance and Protect, but all opinions are my own.

**images care of Charles James Skinhealth