Time. It may be a construct created by humankind, but it sure is complex – even without mentioning the scientific side.
Time soars by when you’re enjoying yourself. When you’re laughing and joking with your loved ones or exploring exotic new places, bam! It’s suddenly time to leave. Night has fallen, the music has stopped or your transport back to the airport has arrived.
But time almost stops moving (or I swear sometimes goes backwards) when you’re doing something mundane like watching your freshly decorated bedroom wall as it dries. When you’re sat in that lesson for that subject you were forced to pick; when you’re slumped at your desk doing the job you loathe or when you’re awaiting critical results – did you pass the exam? Did the surgery go well? The seconds hand seems to take an hour to make one lap of the clock face.
Yet, when you’ve lost someone, time is the only ‘healer’. Its passing is the only means by which you learn to adjust and cope with the grief and loss a little better.
But when you’re remembering those lost loved ones, the concept of time can become hazy. It can strangely feel like just yesterday when you were with them, cuddled up beside them in their chair together watching afternoon gameshows, tackling the crosswords in the daily newspaper and working through a packet of biscuits. It feels like just yesterday when you last saw the deep, unconditional love they had for you in their eyes as they hugged you goodbye. It feels like just yesterday since they smiled as they told you they loved you and they’d see you soon. It can feel like no time has passed at all and yet it’s actually been months, years or even decades.
Months on, you may still go into their house expecting to see them sitting in their armchair drinking a cuppa while pouring over an old book on wood carving. Years on, you may still find yourself unintentionally veering towards the street where they used to live as your muscle memory takes over, only to relive the pain that they’re no longer there and you can’t visit. You can’t have that hug you long so much for. You can’t look into their eyes and tell them one last time how much you love them.
Then, that moment passes, taking some of the pain back with it, and you move on until the next unexpected occurrence when grief, memory and time trip you up.
The thing about time is, although it’s constantly and unstoppably passing us by, the preciousness of these memories and the importance these people had in our lives don’t age with it. The love, fondness, pain and memories are in the past but they are still with us in our present, and they will continue on with us in our future.
Some people are robbed of time, but most people always feel they don’t have enough of it. We should use it more wisely.
Dilemma: You’ve got several holidays from work to use up by the end of the month but no one else can take the time off. What do you do?
My options were to sit watching the inevitably miserable Scottish weather through my flat windows like a Rom Com scene after the protagonist lovers have had a tiff; or to go on holiday alone.
Go abroad alone? I’d never done such a thing, and neither have most of my friends. I know a lot of people do it, but in my small world, it was a rather alien concept.
After multiple traumatic occurrences involving my family over the past few months, I’ve felt as if my normal self has absconded into the distance, leaving a more fragile, fragmented version roaming aimlessly in her wake. I felt it was time to catch her up and start gluing my pieces back together. Thus, it felt wrong to hold myself back from a much-needed stint in the sun all because I’d be alone.
So I did it. I went to Gran Canaria solo. Six nights in Las Palmas por mi cuenta. Just me, myself and my overactive mind. It sounds like the start of an interesting adventure (more like a disaster waiting to happen!), doesn’t it?
Excited but undoubtedly anxious, I waited in the hallway of my building until my phone vibrated in my hand with the alert of the taxi’s arrival. It was literally sub-zero in Glasgow on that early Sunday morning at the beginning of March – there was no way I was going to wait outside.
“On your own?” my taxi driver exclaimed, clearly shocked. “Oh, I couldn’t do that!”
I felt a pang of nerves, a niggle of stupidity and a little glimmer of pride. Was I making a huge mistake? If this grown man, ages with my own parents, wouldn’t do this solo trip, was I, a twenty-something lone female, daft to be doing so? Or did this make me brave and strong to be venturing out on my own? Plenty of other people did it, and to much further, more exotic places for much longer periods of time, so surely it wasn’t as big of a deal as he and many others had made it sound?
Other than the ridiculously long queue at security in Glasgow Airport and being patted down (honestly, I must look like a drug smuggler or some weirdo who’d traffic exotic reptile eggs in their socks because they ALWAYS pick me to frisk) as my hand luggage sailed along the conveyor belt, the journey was thankfully rather uneventful.
My nerves began to ease as we touched down with a bump at Las Palmas airport. The bright, warm sun caressed my face as I stepped out of the aircraft; a foreign sensation that’s universally known to confirm you’re officially on holiday. The other passengers and I powered through the airport, locator forms and passports at the ready, and then the race to find a good spot near the luggage carrousel commenced.
A couple of hours later, I was queueing in a sophisticated reception area at my hotel, The Bull Astoria, ready to check in. As I was travelling solo and as my room was advertised to only sleep one person, I was pretty much expecting it to be like Harry Potter’s cupboard under the stairs at Privet Drive; or for it to be where they stored the mops and buckets with a camp-bed crammed into the back corner. To my surprise, the room was lovely – spacious with twin beds pushed together, and with a TV too. At long last, I dumped my belongings, changed and ventured out to discover what the local area had to offer.
After a short period of sunbathing (rather unsuccessfully thanks to the aggressive breeze and the creepy old git in speedos who was blatantly leering at me and other women nearby every single time I turned around – so flagrantly that he didn’t even bother to look away whenever I glared right at him), I took a quick stroll along the very windy Las Canteras Beach late in the afternoon. I noticed a few odd-looking blue blobs stranded on the sand and a couple mashed into the rocks, so I snapped a couple of photos to research when I got back to my hotel. After some in-depth Googling, the blue blobs were most likely to be Portuguese Man o’ War jellyfish, which can be very dangerous due to the neurotoxins in their excessively long tendrils. Oddly enough, I suddenly lost all desire to swim in the sea.
I eventually gave up wrestling my hair away from my face and rubbing sand out of my eyes and headed to the supermarket, Super Dino, to pick up some holiday essentials – Lays crisps and cans of Fanta Lemon, obviously.
After breakfast the next morning, I wandered down to the opposite end of Las Canteras beach which I hadn’t explored yet. After a brief browse round the large shopping centre, I hopped in a taxi to the old town in Las Palmas called Santa Ana. I sauntered through the beautiful old streets, taking in the traditional Canarian wooden balconies, and occasionally referring to Google maps to check my bearings. I strolled towards the famous Cathedral (Catedral de Santa Ana) and paid to go up to the tower for a breath-taking panoramic view of the surrounding areas. I skipped the unmoving queue for the lift which seemed to be M.I.A. and took on the spiralling stairs. Despite my legs’ protest, the endless winding stairs were worth it. As it happens, J-Lo (yes, J-Lo!) had been filming a movie, a thriller called ‘The Mother’, in Gran Canaria. It turns out the square outside the Cathedral was cordoned off for the purpose of the movie. If only she’d been there too! As unfortunate as it was that I didn’t meet an idol, it’s probably for the best that the legend herself wasn’t there so I at least left with my dignity somewhat intact. (I was still the nature nerd trying to follow the parakeets around to capture a good photo…no shame).
An issue when you are travelling alone is getting photos of nice places with you actually in them.
Travel Tip: The secret is to offer to take a photo of others who are together so they can all be in their picture, and this often prompts them to offer to return the favour. Although, it obviously only works when there are other people around to participate…
I continued strolling around past the orange trees planted along the streets, treated myself to a lemon sorbet as I watched the green parakeets soaring around, and enjoyed soaking up the good weather and the relaxed way of life. I reckon I could easily get used to life with a permanent summer and daily siestas.
My next adventure was the following day when I ventured further out from the city to a rural area called Bandama. I decided to hike around the edge of the Caldera de Bandama (a volcanic crater!) and walked up the highest peak – Pico de Bandama. Avoiding deciphering which buses to get (Google kept changing its mind), I jumped in a taxi to the bus station and got the bus to Bandama from there. My rookie mistake was disembarking too early after reasoning I should get off at the same place as the girl who boarded in front of me at the bus station because she also said ‘Bandama’… The realisation that it was the wrong stop tackled me when no other passengers vacated the bus, but I’d already stood up. Panicking, I felt I’d committed to it and was too embarrassed to return to my seat so off I got. On the bright side, the weather was nice and there only appeared to be one road ahead for me to follow. (The girl I followed off the bus took a narrow pathway winding downhill through some farmland so even my directionally-challenged self was sure I was not supposed to go that way).
As I meandered up the hill taking in the stunning views, some rogue chickens emerged from the bushes and began to cross the road to follow me. Showing absolutely no fear, one of them came right up beside me and posed for a photo shoot, displaying his vibrant colours. I imagine most people would find this odd, but the nature-lover in me was ecstatic for the random, close encounter. The drivers who happened to pass my chicken posse and I were also in for some intriguing sights as the chickens continued to saunter across the road – curious and unfazed by the vehicles – still keenly following me. Hats off to the all of the drivers for stopping and not turning them into roadkill – I hope they got a chuckle from the comical view of me giggling to myself as the chickens continued to follow me on the road to Bandama.
I was in my element as the sun came out for a chunk of the afternoon as I hiked around the volcanic crater, stopping frequently to take photos and to search in the undergrowth for the lizards creating the non-stop scuttling sounds as they scurried around.
Once I’d completed the circle of the crater, I strolled up the winding road to Pico de Bandama – the highest peak of that volcanic formation – for a surround view.
Upon my return, I stopped at the little café at the bottom for a nice cold Fanta Lemon (because let’s face it; it really is the ultimate holiday juice – everyone knows it tastes better abroad). I also had a fair wait for the next bus back to the bus station and wanted to use the toilet (we all know that hospitality places are very over-protective of their toilets if you’re not a paying customer!).
Back at the bus station, I again had no idea which bus I should be getting back towards my hotel, I found another taxi rank and clambered in. For the sake of a few Euros, it really did spare me some unnecessary stress and anxiety. For some reason, I found situations like that a little more intimidating on my own. I suppose the fear of getting lost in a foreign country, especially where their native tongue is different from yours, is quite an understandable concern, particularly as a lone female.
During my holiday, an easy way to spot the tourists was to seek out the people in shorts and T-shirts – a lot of the locals stuck to jeans even in the twenty-two-degree heat; several were wearing jackets and one young woman even walked past me with a picnic-blanket-sized winter scarf on! I’ll admit though, at night, I mostly stuck to jeans and always wore a light cardigan or jumper because the coastal breeze made it feel quite chilly. One night, I deliberately got ready earlier in the hopes of catching the sunset from the promenade at Las Canteras beach. For obvious reasons, I was not disappointed.
For the remainder of the holiday, I had developed a mild cold and also felt I hadn’t spent much time just relaxing so I decided against anymore adventures out-with walking distance from my hotel. There was still plenty to explore, and I thoroughly enjoyed walking along the beaches and the promenade looking out to sea anyway.
First thing in the morning on my last day, I dragged myself up and power-walked to Playa de las Alcaravaneras Beach to watch the sunrise. It doesn’t do it justice to say it was beautiful or spectacular. I may have been tired, but I was incredibly grateful to witness such a breath-taking sight before I had to dive back into reality.
Finally, my time to leave the sunshine arrived. I braced myself for the stress of the journey home and began to mentally prepare for the return to normality, which I really wasn’t feeling ready for. I arrived back at Las Palmas airport via minibus to realise that there was no queue at either the check-in desk or security. I was impressed with how slick the process was – until I realised I then had almost two hours to kill before they even displayed the departure gate, and all of the seating areas were rather busy. After a brief jaunt through the duty-free shops, I found myself a quiet spot on the floor next to a pillar with a charging port. I gazed out at the beaming sunshine through the tinted floor-to-ceiling airport windows, longing to be back out by the sea, absorbing the rays. I missed it already. I missed the Fanta Lemon and the Lotus ice cream cones, and I already missed the liberty of having very little to worry about and no responsibilities.
However, once I was seated on the plane, I hit the next phase of the end-of-holiday emotions: I was fed up with the travelling fiasco and was ready to get home and to sleep in my own bed again. Plus, for all of us Brits, and especially us Scots, I was simultaneously dreading the temperature that would punch me as I stepped off the plane back in wintry Glasgow.
Again, another almost seamless flight (thanks to some exciting bouts of turbulence) with the added bonus of having the window seat and being able to embrace the Canary Islands’ and all their beautiful glory from a birds-eye view. It really puts into perspective how massive Mount Teide on Tenerife is!
All-in-all, my first solo abroad adventure was great, and I’d definitely do it again; but I do prefer having company. You can’t beat having someone to laugh with, or sharing a sunset or a nice meal with your friends or family. When these magical moments are shared with the ones you love, they just have that extra special sparkle, and I did feel that void.
My advice is: If you want to visit new places and no one can accompany you, you should absolutely go for it if you feel safe and comfortable enough to do so. You may have a different experience than if you had friends with you, but you won’t regret it if you’ve got your wits about you and if you make the most of your situation.
I stumbled upon a quote online about travelling, for which I believe the source is unknown, and it got me thinking:
“We travel not to escape life, but for life not to escape us.”
Only, this time, I think I was partially travelling to escape life. Reality has been very harsh over the past few months and now the dust has somewhat settled, I needed out. I needed a break from the worry, the sadness, the grief, and the true reality that life is different now. I am different now. I think the break helped in some ways; but I also reckon that unexpectedly testing positive for Covid-19 on the night of my return and therefore enduring a week of isolation confined to my bedroom also undid some of the relaxation. I definitely ended up with more solitude than I bargained for!
I did leap out of isolation with a new desire for a social life – a feeling which had deserted me for the majority of the past few months; and something that hadn’t been quite possible throughout that time either. It made seeing my friends and family that weekend that little bit more precious.
May the remainder of 2022 bring you all more adventure, safety and the ability to satisfy your wanderlust to make up for all which we were robbed of over the past two years.
Her reflection looked back at her, the sparkle in her hazel eyes long gone; run away with the glint that used to light up her smile. Would they ever come home?
Storm clouds had rolled in. They’d settled comfortably under those lost eyes which nowadays only ever glistened with fear and trauma; real happiness and safety long forgotten. Would the sun come back to burn through them? Or would it abandon ship and leave her in the darkness? So many people endured so much worse than her on a daily basis and come out the other side, so surely the rays would return to light up her world again some day? All those others appeared to cope, but could she?
She stared at her reflection once more. The only words which sprang to mind were “broken” and “haunted”. She knew there was much more pain to come. She knew that pain was lurking in the doorway, gathering intel on her family while awaiting it’s moment to strike. Soon. It’s imminence was already gripping her, tighter and tighter each time she thought about the inevitable. The hands of grief gently raked their way up her body, grasping at her ribs, preparing to crush the breath out of her lungs when the devastation finally bursts the dams and floods her family.
Meanwhile, the world moves on, still celebrating, laughing and joking, yet, her sky is ever-darkening. The sun is only just peeping through now, it’s magic slowly and sadly burning out.
Everything hurts. And yet, it doesnt. Numb with anguish, she tries to plod on, straining to see even just a glimmer of light. It must be here somewhere. She pushes on, keeping her head down when others look in her direction whilst she wipes her tears on her sleeves. She fights back against the insomnia which attacks her in the dark of night once the world is even quieter, lonelier.
Perhaps she’s not fighting hard enough to escape the storm. Perhaps staying in those dark clouds is her attempt to prepare herself for the hurricane that’s yet to hit. Perhaps it’s her preparation for the imminent battle to keep her head above the water when the next dam breaks. Or perhaps she just needs to be thrown a life raft.
She ponders: ‘Is it worth loving so ferociously when you know that one day, or if you’re as lucky as she is, that there will be many, many days where your heart is ripped from your chest, squeezed by the hands of death, and hung out to dry by grief?’
Her head paused, but her heart didn’t skip a beat.
Yes. Yes, it absolutely is.
Things may continue to worsen, but in time, it’s possible to heal, to recover and to replenish your zest for life. Hopefully some day, hers will too. Hopefully her ‘some day’ is soon. Hopefully.
Hi everyone, it’s been a while. To be honest, the intention to write has always been with me; but sometimes, the time, other times the motivation and mental capacity to write have not. This post has actually been inspired by a very wholesome Messenger chat shared by my friends and I recently about our ‘highlights’ of 2021.
Like every year preceding it and every year that will follow it, 2021 has been an up-and-down-side-to-side-back-to-front rollercoaster. However, as humans, it seems inherent in our nature to focus on the negatives. Placing more emphasis on the adverse events and unpleasant experiences is by no means healthy; yet something I am very well-versed in as a chronic over-thinker. Therefore, I thought it might be beneficial for myself to make a note of my ‘best bits’ from the past year. I know there is a lot of stigma in relation to people only showing their ‘highlight reel’ on social media, and I do agree that it creates an unhealthy view of how ‘the rest of the world’ lives, as well as sets expectations of what life should be like which are unattainable for the majority of the population. That is not what I’m selling. I’m not ignoring the shadows, storms and demons of 2021. Far from it. I often give them too much attention, and I’m sure I’m not the only one. As a combative measure to give myself a better internal balance and a more evenly represented account of my life over this past year, I simply thought that listing the positives (and I don’t mean Covid-19 tests) may be a good way to start.
1. My dad very recently – and without any warning – collapsed at work due to a ruptured brain aneurysm, which also caused a couple of seizures. The ruptured aneurysm caused a subarachnoid hemorrhage (basically, this means there is bleeding in the space that surrounds the brain which can cause severe irritation). This lead to vasospasms (when the arteries narrow/constrict which can reduce the blood flow and so can be very serious if not dealt with immediately). Despite these past few weeks being the most terrifying times in my life so far, we got incredibly lucky in that my dad – the unbelievable fighter that he is – exceeded the doctor’s expectations and after 3 weeks, was well enough to be released home to us in time for Christmas. He truly has been our Christmas miracle and my family will be eternally grateful. For obvious reasons, the worst part of my year shortly lead to the best part of my year (although, I would’ve rathered we’d skipped the critical illness altogether and he’d remained healthy throughout – but since that’s not an option, I’m overwhelmingly relieved that he should make a full recovery after lots of rest).
2. Being reunited with my dad’s side of the family – my grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins down in England after around 15 months of lockdowns and travel restrictions was a true blessing. We’d never been apart for so long, and with the world being such an uncertain and scary place throughout the duration of separation, finally being able to hold them again, laugh with them in person and tell them we love them face-to-face meant everything to us all – as I’m sure similar reunions across the globe did to others too.
3. The girls in my friends group developed a much closer bond over this past year. Some of us were close or even very close, but we’d all joined the group at different stages and knew each other through other people so some of us were more like acquaintances. I’m very thankful that we’ve made more of an effort to get to know one another better and realised how well we all click. It’s special knowing you have more girls at your side whom you can trust and who are ready to fight your corner should you ever need them to – after all, as the saying goes: “It’s a man’s world.”
4. My cousin’s fiancé, Roz, asked my other cousin (her best friend) Maddy and I to be her bridesmaids this year. I was truly honoured to be asked to be part of such a special day for her and my cousin, especially as it’s like gaining another sister instead of a ‘cousin-in-law’. I can’t wait for their big day in 2023!
5. I pushed myself out of the comfort of my safe and cosy nest this year to climb Ben Nevis to raise money for a charity in memory of my late gran – the Alzheimer’s Society. I travelled through to Fort William, explored the town and stayed on my own, then tackled the mountain as good as solo too – it was an organised event but a lot of participants had enrolled with friends or family members. I met some incredible people, the views were stunning and I’d love to set myself another charity challenge in 2022.
6. My mum and I reunited with my first ever best friend and her mum on a weekend in Newcastle during the summer. My friend and I met at just 2 years old – her family from Manchester and mine from Glasgow – whilst on holiday in Majorca! Although we’d been in touch on and off through social media for years, Daryl and I had not seen one another in person since we were around 11 years old! It was the most special weekend and the two of us clicked as if we’d only been apart for a week. That’s when you know that those friends are in fact your family.
7. My mum celebrated her big 5-0 in July! Thankfully, the covid-restrictions preventing us from leaving Glasgow were no longer in place and we managed a wholesome family holiday for a week down in East Sussex staying on a beautiful nature reserve. Although the weather was not particularly pleasant at times, it remained warm and we visited some stunning places in the surrounding areas and saw beautiful wildlife.
8. As well as Fort William, East Sussex and the surrounding areas such as Brighton, Hastings and Eastbourne where we walked the Seven Sisters Cliffs, I got to visit some other really beautiful places this year: Glen Coe – particularly The Lost Valley; Edinburgh; Tenerife; The Isle of Arran; and I climbed a couple of Munros at Crianlarich and Loch Earn. I also did an inflatable obstacle course on a lake in England with my family as a surprise celebration for my aunt’s 60th, which is something I never thought I’d do or enjoy – I HATE being cold and wet! But, it was a brilliant laugh and as a bonus, it wasn’t even particularly cold!
9. My holiday to Playa de Las Americas in Tenerife with my bestie was definitely a highlight. Leaving Scotland after around 18 months of being stuck at home in lockdowns, with travel restrictions, being forced to stay away from loved ones and uncertainty about when we’d ever be able to reclaim any form of normality back from the virus, stepping off the plane in Tenerife felt surreal in the best way. We explored beautiful beaches, witnessed the most beautiful sunset on Mount Teide, went to bars and nightclubs, out for delicious meals and had an absolute blast at the water park. Oddly enough, our horrifyingly hilarious encounter with a skateboard-sized cockroach in my suitcase became a traumatic highlight of the holiday due to the sheer combined state of panic, laughter and fear we were in. This set us up for round two when another cockroach resurrected itself outside our front door. Of course, sod’s law would have it that we had an audience of three very confused Spanish guys across the road as we ‘handled’ the situation (a.k.a. Hannah dramtically and bravely jumping on it and scooting it away with a fully-extended selfie stick). One of the poor guys started coming over to check on us before we closed the door. I wonder what they thought was going on? Poor lads.
10. My bestie, Hannah, surprised me with a day out for my birthday – I wasn’t given any details, I was only told a time and to meet her at the train station. After guessing we were heading through to the capital, another of my besties met us in Glasgow to get the train through. This was a lovely surprise in itself, but when another four of my best girls were sat waiting for me in Las Iguanas in Edinburgh later that day, my mind was blown. I was truly humbled that these girls had taken the time out of their weekend to travel through there as a surprise for me. It lead to a few too many cocktails and shots – and a nightclub in Glasgow for the last 4 of us standing (which meant it was 5am the next morning before I returned home). My friends really are the best.
11. My family adopted the cat (Bruce) of a close friend of mine who was returning to live in Australia with her family and couldn’t take him. As sad as I was to see her go, taking him in has felt like a silver lining. He’s fit right in with my family (I’m currently his favourite although I don’t actually live there…), except him and our other cat, Oscar, who have yet to become besties. I hope this is on the cards one day, but they’re fine with each other as is. Having him around has been a real comfort for us over the past few weeks while my dad was critically ill due to his loving nature and his crazy antics which kept us entertained.
12. One of my fascinations is with the night sky. The stars and planets on a clear night have always mesmorised me and I spent many nights wrapped in blankets lying in my parents’ back garden watching out for shooting stars. This year, whilst on a trip up Mount Teide, we stopped to witness the Milky Way in all her glory. The tour guide pointed out constellations and planets and told us stories and facts about our galaxy. A few weeks later when I was on the Isle of Arran (Scotland), I was fortunate enough to witness the milky way again on a magical night with my family. We even spotted a shooting star or two. Experiences like these really do mean so much more to me than anything money can buy.
13. One of my grandparents’ favourite places is the Isle of Arran. Before they had to give up driving, they used to make annual trips there. My aunt and her friend brought them up from Nottingham in October and we joined them for a few days on the beautiful island. Spending time with them in a place so important to them was incredibly special and one of those trips I will always cherish. Whilst in Arran, I FINALLY saw a golden eagle in the wild – a dream I’ve been obsessed with for many years! I saw it from afar through binoculars and through my dad’s camera lens, but it was magnificent all the same. Due to the distance, the photos weren’t particularly good quality, but it’s clear enough proof that it’s an eagle! My dad, aunt, brother and I also tackled the biggest Corbett on the island – Goat Fell – which was brilliant despite the wind, and the views were absolutely worth the trek. My grandparents’ love for the island has rubbed off on me without a doubt and I can’t wait to visit again.
14. Over the past year, I’ve become a bit more content and confident in myself through learning more about who I am and the kind of person I want to be. In part, this has helped me to develop the confidence to share some of my writing – such as this blog. This is colossal progress for me as although writing is something I’m passionate about, I’m also extremely self-conscious about it, which means I struggle to share it through fear of failure and criticism. Again, this is not a particularly healthy mindset to have, but I am working on it – and making this blog public was a big step in the right direction for me at the start of 2021.
15. This year, I have started becoming more comfortable in my own skin. For as long as I can remember, I’ve never been satisfied with my appearance. I’ve always idolised ‘beautiful’ celebrities who had completely flat stomachs or washboard abs all year round; who’s skin was always flawless, and who were highly regarded in the media for their ‘natural’ beauty. It sounds sad, and I guess it is, but I’ve never felt ‘good enough’. I’ve never felt ‘thin enough’; ‘pretty enough’; ‘smart enough’; or ‘popular enough’. However, this year, I’ve started to accept myself, and my body for what it is. I work hard in the gym to keep myself strong and fit, and it helps my mental wellbeing too. I generally eat a balanced diet (excluding Christmas… and Easter, holidays and birthdays…) but whilst trying to maintain an equilibrium which allows me to enjoy myself. I’ve began to accept that it’s okay, in fact, normal to have some body fat. It’s normal to have scars, cellulite and some ‘wobbly’ bits. Any time I’ve achieved or been close to my ‘goal’ body composition, it’s generally been at the expense of having a social life or enjoying the meals and snacks that I love. As I’m getting older, I’m realising that aiming for visible abs to look like celebrities and fitness models year-round are not worth missing out on life for. I’m learning to be okay with these things. I’ll be honest, it’s a slow process, and I still have days where I feel bad about myself, but I believe that’s common too. Perfection isn’t attainable, it’s not a goal. Just be yourself, do your best and treat yourself well like you would treat your loved ones. I’m working on being happily imperfect.
If you’ve made it this far, thank you for taking the time to read my random wafflings. I know these are the positives from my 2021 and they’ll likely be very different from other people’s; but I challenge you to make your own list. It can be solely for yourself, you don’t have to show anyone, but I think it is a good way to gain another perspective and it may make you feel a little bit better if you’re having ‘one of those days’.
The train journey through from Glasgow to Fort William was incredibly scenic. As we hurtled past mile after mile of glens, valleys, mountains and streams, I gazed proudly at the beauty of my home country. I re-adjusted my mask (again) in discomfort caused by a combination of the heat and the length of time it had been hooked around my tiny ears. For me, at least, I believe the magic of nature will never fade. I still feel my insides leap with joy every time I spot any form of wildlife (except spiders – my whole body leaps in the opposite direction when I see one and the jump is usually accompanied by a pathetic squeal). Birds of prey hovered impressively, sheep ambled about, cows grazed amongst their many calves who darted about clumsily, a red doe poked her head up through a thicket of vibrant green ferns and two heron stood upright in a field, like imposter scarecrows. These seemingly insignificant sightings made my heart swell. I couldn’t decide which window to look out of from fear of missing something incredible.
I’ve been to Fort William briefly before, and I’ve been hiking before, so what was the big deal? Firstly, it was my first proper hike without being accompanied by someone I knew and whom I was comfortable with. It was also the first time I’d actually travelled and stayed overnight in accommodation on my own. This fact only occurred to me on the train journey as I’ve done a fair amount of travelling (nowhere near as much as I’d like!) and have flown down to England alone numerous times to visit family. The difference was that there was always someone waiting for me on the other side. As a rather nervous and anxious person, this was a relatively big deal for me as it was pushing me out of my comfort zone. There was no one to rely on, no one to hide behind. I was pushing myself out of the nest. Furthermore, my hike was for charity to raise funds for the Alzheimer’s Society in memory of my late gran whom we lost to dementia. Fittingly, the charity hike was taking place the week before the second anniversary of her tragic passing, also known as probably the most difficult week of my twenty-six years so far.
When the train stopped at Speak Bridge, the stop prior to Fort William, I knew it was going to be an emotional couple of days when I found myself welling up merely from witnessing an elderly woman being greeted off the train by (presumably) her daughter and young grandsons. My heart ached knowing I’d never again have a special moment like that with my own gran, but it was beautiful to watch all the same.
That Thursday was a day of many firsts. It was the first time I’d checked into accommodation alone. It was the first time I was going on an adventure without someone to bounce my nervous and excitable energy off of. It was also the first time I’d asked for a table for one at a proper restaurant and been on the receiving end of the pitiful look when the waitress realised I was alone. I felt a little awkward, but mainly, I was irritated by the fact that being alone is viewed as ‘a wee shame’ or ‘tragic’. As I’m mostly introverted, I’m definitely one of those individuals who requires some solitude now and again to recuperate and recharge their social battery, so I didn’t really mind. However, I have to admit, eating out on my own did feel a little tragic purely because all of the other tables were full, and I was the only person without someone to chat to!
The next day, upon meeting at staggered times at the Alzheimer’s Society event tent, the groups set off one by one approximately ten minutes apart. My slot was roughly in the middle of the two hours’ worth of slots, at around 7am. A nerve-tinged excitement reverberated around the tent as people readjusted their hiking gear, stocked up on snacks and lunches and served themselves hot drinks provided by the charity. I slowly ate my croissant and sought out the starting point, mentally and physically bracing myself for I wasn’t quite sure what (and silently pleading with all the Gods that they’d hold the rain at least until we were back at the tent).
Somehow, I actually reached the summit first out of the Alzheimer’s Society group! For that reason, I lingered around for a while, taking plenty of photos, video-calling my mum from the summit and having a quick snack. I had prepared an important, personal and emotional post for my Facebook page and blog to upload upon my arrival at the summit. It was a piece I’d written about our experience with my gran’s decline with dementia, and a way I chosen to look at it to make it feel ever-so-slightly more bearable, that I’d always been too shy to share with those I wasn’t close to, despite my mum loving it and having copies printed for my gran’s funeral. The link to that post is here, if you are interested in having a read.
Shortly after my arrival at the summit, thick clouds had rolled in, unfortunately obscuring the view almost completely. Eventually, the chilly breeze kicked in, so I put my zipper back on and decided to begin my descent. I video-called my best friend at the start of my descent to let her know I’d made it (and show her the large patch of icy snow I had to climb down to get back to the path because my inner child was thrilled, obviously).
Although I did spend time chatting to people on my journey up, part of me wishes I’d dawdled more so I could’ve spent more time chatting to all of the interesting people participating. However, in a sense, I think it was also important that I did it on my own. I needed to know I could do it without relying on anyone. After all, although I was doing it for the Alzheimer’s Society and in memory of my gran, I was also doing it for me. The past couple of years have been tough on everyone, and I’ve personally struggled quite a lot throughout some of the lockdowns. I realised during the lockdowns how crucial it is to protect your mental health, and I think part of doing this is to challenge your inner strength – not so much that it breaks you, but enough to help you grow and for your self-confidence to build. For me, conquering Ben Nevis was one of those opportunities to do so.
The hike itself was a dream (for me at least). For starters, it was dry. In Scotland. No rain. I repeat, NO RAIN. It was a miracle! It was warm, there were no midges, there was good visibility for the majority of the climb, excluding the actual summit where the clouds tumbled in as I arrived), it wasn’t windy and the SUN even came out for a while! I had hiked in disgusting weather conditions prior to Ben Nevis – through sub-zero temperatures, gale-force winds, horizontal hailstones which provided the most extreme exfoliation my face had ever experienced (do not recommend!) and can’t-see-a-bloody-thing fog on top of that. As a sun-worshiper who adores countryside scenery, being able to absorb the beautiful sights from half-way up our country’s highest mountain in the glorious sunshine, was, literally, heavenly.
I still met some very interesting people. Unsurprisingly, after my apparently rapid ascent, I was the fifth person to reach the bottom and lingered chatting to the volunteers and the other few who had succeeded before me. Gradually, more and more participants joined us for a delicious feast provided by the Alzheimer’s Society. They served up generous portions of mac’n’cheese, lasagne, and vegetable ragu with the options for garlic bread, salad and tomato soup. Naturally, I devoured a mac’n’cheese with garlic bread, followed by a slab of chocolate cake and cream and eventually followed by a second helping of mac’n’cheese as they had so much leftover food. Unfortunately, around half of the intended participants were unable to join due to complications with covid restrictions and some from having to isolate, hence the immense excess of food (the charity volunteers were joking that no one was allowed to leave until they’d had two helpings – so my two portions of mac’n’cheese was all for the greater good…).
I got chatting to a man and a woman who were staying in the same AirBnB accommodation as me while we were having our well-deserved calorific delights who were a brilliant laugh. They’d travelled up from the bottom of England to do the climb and had a lot of travelling to do the following day. After getting back, collapsing on to the single bed in my room for a while, I peeled my fatigued (and unsurprisingly rather full) self up to shower and get ready to meet them and some others for drinks nearby. With most people having a long day of travelling or an early start the next day, the night was tame but still lovely to sit with a stunning view of the loch, hear other people’s stories and laugh until we ached.
On the Saturday, a little achy but pleasantly surprised I wasn’t waddling around like a penguin or in need of an adult-sized buggy (okay, large child-sized since I’m only 5ft tall), I packed up my belongings, and sauntered off to find somewhere for breakfast for one.
Somehow, ordering breakfast alone felt a little less awkward than dinner on the first night, despite the added discomfort of lugging a small suitcase and hiking rucksack in tow. I suppose with it being Wetherspoons and being able to order through the app made things easier, but it just somehow felt a little different. I somehow felt a little different. Looking back now, I think I felt accomplished. Successful. I’d achieved something on my own. I was proud of myself. I felt too content to care what other people may or may not be thinking of me. I don’t often feel this way so I guess it probably was an unusual feeling.
I felt a new sense of contentment for the remainder of the day as I sat patiently watching the stunning scenery whizz by once more on my return journey back to Glasgow. I noticed a woman I’d briefly chatted to on the climb sat a few rows in front and wandered up (child-sized face mask on, of course) to find out how she’d got on with the hike. We ended up spending the remainder of the journey chatting about our lives. She’d travelled all the way from Northen Ireland to join the hike! I enjoyed learning her story and about her family, and sharing some stories about my own too. We’re actually looking to meet in the future to do more hikes together, which I’m already excited for.
Other people’s lives always intrigue and inspire me. It never fails to amaze me how much people can touch your life, even through the briefest of encounters. Everyone who participated in the charity hike for the Alzheimer’s Society that day is bonded by a shared achievement, and many also, but perhaps unknowingly, by their reasons for being there.
With matched funding of £1000 from my work, I raised a total of £2,467 for the Alzheimer’s Society. The generosity and support from so many family members, friends and friends of friends and family will stay with me forever. Dementia stole my gran and I’ll never forget the heartbreak it caused my family; so, I am eternally grateful for every contribution towards fighting the disease and supporting those who are impacted by it.
Today, I tackled Ben Nevis on a charity hike to raise funds for the Alzheimer’s Society. I couldn’t think of a more fitting time to post this little piece I wrote about my gran a couple of years ago as we were losing more and more of her to dementia. For my own comfort more than anything, I chose to perceive it as the more of her we lost, the closer she was to reuniting with my grandpa, her beloved husband John, whom we lost to leukaemia 21 years ago.
Recogniseable sounds approached her ears, piercing the dullness. Voices? No, music? Or was it laughter? Who was laughing? Familiar faces approached, mildly illuminating the fog, generating a warmth in her heart. These were nice people, she loved them, whoever they were.
Her unfamiliar surroundings were blending into one obscure blur. Getting darker and darker. Quieter and quieter. Each object, each face, each sound becoming more and more alien each day.
But as she drifted away from familiarity, she floated closer and closer towards the light.
Curious and radiant. Intense and sparkling.
The light dimmed a little. Who was this woman holding her right hand? And the girl holding her left? They seemed nice. They shared her eyes.
They sang to her, she joined in. They spoke to her softly. Were they laughing? She chuckled too. They asked her questions. “Yes.”
As the darkness reached for her, arms outstretched, the accompanying turmoil and frustration enveloping her, she gazed vacantly at the incandescent light.
The darkness, the uncertainty, the confusion; drifting further and further away. Becoming a distant memory.
Memories danced towards her. Memories of love, pain, adoration, laughter. Memories of lost loved ones. Some lost decades ago, some ever-present, yet now unbeknownst to her.
Brighter and brighter.
Now she was dancing. Familiar voices sang to her. Proximate, but miles in the distance.
A familiar sound interrupted the music.
That laugh. Unmistakable. The laugh she’d craved to hear one last time for over nineteen years.
Brighter and brighter. Closer and closer.
As the darkness tightened it’s grip, the extravagant light widened it’s welcoming grin, almost beckoning.
His smile. So vivid now. Twinkling. Infectious and mischevious, loving and kind, as it always was.
Closer and closer.
He was dancing too. Awaiting his leading lady. So elegant and beautiful, just as the day he met her.
Recognisable silhouettes danced around him. That daft dog circling his feet excitedly.
The blackness was overpowering now. But it didn’t matter.
The imminent light was already engulfing her. Filling her with warmth, love, hope.
And just like that; she realised, she was no longer alone.
Hello, I’ve been very quiet on here for the past several weeks. In all honesty, I’ve just been enjoying the freedoms entailed with the lockdown restrictions gradually easing. I’ve spent the past couple of months reconnecting with my family and friends – it had been around 15 months since I’d seen my grandparents. They live near Nottingham and thanks to the risks of Covid-19 and the lockdown restrictions, we were unable to visit them for the longest time. It had been the longest my dad or any of us had been apart from his parents and siblings. We have now thoroughly enjoyed a couple of visits down to see our loved ones – my grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and also friends who are like family.
I had also barely seen any of my friends who live locally due to the tight restrictions on meeting other households and all indoor places being closed for such a long time (outdoor meetings aren’t ideal in “sunny” Scotland…). I caught up with a good friend and met her beautiful new baby for the first time, and had much-needed catch-ups with other friends too. In fact, June was full of my friend’s birthdays, so, naturally, A LOT of alcohol was consumed in celebration, and yes, I absolutely suffered the consequences. It was worth it though (mostly).
One of the birthdays was my longest bestie’s 26th birthday. We’ve been best friends since we were around 6 years old and always do something to celebrate our birthdays together. Again, courtesy of the eternal lockdown 1, we met for a socially distanced picnic in a field by a large pond for her birthday last year, and so with restrictions being eased by June this year, I thought it was only fitting to take her out to somewhere with actual toilets! We went to the Windows Restaurant at the Carlton George Hotel next to George Square for afternoon tea and a couple of cocktails. Surprisingly, the weather played ball and the sun was shining (a rarity in Glasgow – if you know, you know), making the views from the Windows Restaurant even more satisfying as we tucked into delicious sandwiches and more meticulous miniature cakes than any one person can eat in one sitting (believe me, I tried!).
I’ve been able to go hiking again with my dad too since they lifted the rules about travelling out-with your council area in Scotland. Firstly, we tackled Ben Vorlich at Loch Earn, where we lucked out with great weather. However, when we attempted Ben Vorlich at Loch Lomond, the weather conditions were so dangerous, that we had to turn back around half way up (we think – the fog was so thick, it was impossible to tell!). Recently, we climbed Schiehallion in similar foggy conditions, but fortunately, the temperature was a little higher, the rain was much lighter and there wasn’t much of a wind so we did complete the Munro – it was just a shame that we missed out on what is purportedly a spectacular view.
Luckily, when we decided to walk to the ‘Lost Valley’ (Coire Gabhail) in Glen Coe, and then on a whim, also climb the two Munros (Stob Coire Sgreamhach and Bidean Nam Bian) and the Munro top (Stob Coire nan Lochan), there was no fog, no rain and the sun even came out and absolutely scorched me (it’s several days later and I’ve been peeling like a reptile for the last few days despite the fact I don’t usually burn much – yes, it’s very attractive).
Even although the weather was against us on some occasions, these hikes have been almost essential as some form of training for my charity hike up Ben Nevis for the Alzheimer’s Society in just a few days’ time.
I’m currently on holiday in East Sussex with my family to celebrate my mum’s big 5-0. The weather has been a bit sketchy but it has been relatively kind considering some of the storms and torrential rain other parts of the UK has had while we’ve been away. The highlights for me so far have been befriending the local wildlife (I laid out food for baby Little Owls which the owner of our accommodation is looking after due to their abandonment – laying out the frozen, dead baby mice was less than pleasant, I must admit). There are also a pair of barn owls nesting in a nearby barn, countless cute baby bunnies running around in the grass outside the house and fields of stunning wild horses, ducks and geese nearby too. Plus, there’s the added bonus of some time off work. Furthermore, England winning 4-0 against Ukraine on Saturday night made for a great night in the pub after a scrumptious meal and it was excellent being able to see my dad (who’s English) so ecstatic over their win!
I hope you’re all well and enjoying the freedoms as much as I am. I have an important post planned for the day of my Ben Nevis climb (Friday 9th July), so watch this space.
May 15th was Haemangioma Awareness Day and so I thought it was only fitting to share some information of this condition along with my own story. Please note: my blog post is not about giving any medical advice, it is merely some information I have researched and compiled (the sources are included at the end of the post) in order to raise awareness. Despite them being common, they appear to still be widely unheard of.
Haemangiomas – An Overview
A haemangioma is a benign (non-cancerous) tumour consisting of a collection of small blood vessels under the skin. They often appear as raised red marks on the surface of the skin – commonly known as “strawberry marks” as they look similar to that of the surface of a strawberry. There are different types of haemangiomas: superficial; deep or a mix of both. Superficial haemangiomas are normally a raised, red area on the surface of the skin (as aforementioned – known as “strawberry birth marks”. They often feel warm to the touch due to how close to the skin the abnormal blood vessels are. On the other hand, deep haemangiomas can look bluish in colour because, as the name suggests, they run deeper and appear as a lump instead.
Haemangiomas usually develop within the first few days to weeks after the birth of the baby, and often grow rapidly for the first several months. Most haemangiomas are harmless and tend to stop growing after this period, and then eventually begin to shrink. While the cause of haemangiomas is still largely unknown, there are a few factors which can make them more likely to occur. They appear to be more prevalent in:
Babies who are born prematurely
Babies with a low birth weight
Babies which are part of a multiple birth – i.e., in twins, triplets etc.
They are not hereditary, but the causes of haemangiomas are still largely unknown or not yet understood. The abnormal proliferation of the blood vessels is again unknown, but it is believed they may be caused by certain proteins produced in the placenta whilst the baby is in the womb.
Haemangiomas can also occur internally as benign tumours which affect the organs – such as on the liver, parts of the gastrointestinal tract, the respiratory tract and even on the brain. Although they are often asymptomatic both during and after their formation, this is dependent on the size and the location of the haemangioma. For example, a haemangioma of the gastrointestinal tract may cause signs such as nausea and vomiting, loss of appetite and discomfort of the abdomen. Internal haemangiomas are usually diagnosed using imaging tests such as ultrasounds, CT and MRI scans.
There are multiple different treatment options available if required nowadays (there appear to be more available now than when I was ill as a baby 25 years ago). Also, to reiterate, most haemangiomas do not require treatment unless their location or size is or could potentially cause issues, such as if they are located at the eye, mouth, neck or around the nappy area; or if they are ulcerated – like mine was. Mostly, haemangiomas can be left to their own devices and after the growth period, they ‘rest’ (stay the same size) and then gradually shrink and fade away. They are usually gone by the time the child is 10 years old, although they can leave some scarring or stretched skin in their wake.
Beta blockers are commonly used to slow the growth of haemangiomas. The commonly used oral beta blocker is Propranolol; while an example of the topical one is Timolol gel, which can also be used to help treat ulcerated haemangiomas.
While Corticosteroids were previously used as a method of treatment by being injected into the haemangioma to decrease the size and to reduce inflammation, they are now rarely used. Although, they are still considered an option if beta blockers cannot be used.
Surgery can also be an option if the haemangioma is small or for internal haemangiomas, such as hepatic ones (haemangiomas affecting the liver) – particularly if they are affecting the organ or if the patient would benefit from the blood supply to the haemangioma being tied.
Laser treatment is the method I was treated with (after several months of… well, medical torture from the sounds of it, but more info on that will follow shortly). The laser treatment can be used on surface haemangiomas to improve the appearance and decrease the redness.
As I was a baby when all of this occurred, I am fortunate enough not to remember any of the pain or trauma. Although left with a physical yet, painless scar, I am grateful not to share any of the memories of the pain, heartache, frustration and struggles that my brave parents live with. The details I know have been told to me over the years as I’ve grown up and become more and more inquisitive as to what my infantile experience was like.
My haemangioma appeared as a small, strawberry-like mark on my left shoulder a few days after I graced the world with my presence. It quickly covered the whole of my left shoulder and part of my chest. Once the tumour was massive, it ulcerated and haemorrhaged multiple times, and due to the pain, I couldn’t eat. My mum told me recently that my little hands and feet were always freezing, but also that my face around my nose, mouth and chin would go completely blue. We believe this was likely due to the large blood supply going to the haemangioma itself on my shoulder and thus reducing the blood supply around my body. She said the skin at the haemangioma site was always roasting hot because of how close to the skin the abnormal blood vessels were.
After being lied to for months that there was a specialist in the hospital in Glasgow – which had unfortunately become my home – my parents had thankfully been doing their own research and eventually made a revelation. There was in fact only one specialist in the UK at that time and he worked at Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH) in London. My mum’s inner lioness was forced to roar at the staff until they finally agreed to allow me to transfer down there for proper treatment. If it hadn’t been for their fierce love and innate need to protect me, I’d have spent many more months in that hospital, being virtually tortured as they butchered my poor baby feet, using them as pin cushions in feeble, long-lasting and unsuccessful attempts to take blood, which left me screaming, purple-footed with bruising and my mum beyond distraught. They also dressed my wound so poorly with adhesive materials which removed the fresh layer of skin from my shoulder each time they changed it. Sticking an adhesive dressing to the delicate, thin layer of skin of an ulcerated haemangioma is like sticking duct tape to a butterfly’s wing and then ripping it back off. Due to the ulceration, and how close the blood vessels are to the surface of the skin, my haemangioma haemorrhaged multiple times and also became infected, which meant I received a lot of antibiotics too. My dressing changes were also poorly timed and so the torment regularly missed the times I’d be most protected by pain medications. Once again, my mama bear had to fight them off and refused to let the torture ensue.
I can see the trauma imprinted in my mum’s protective eyes as she tearfully recalls the horrifying ordeal whenever I ask questions, guiltily eager to fuel my curiosity of such a substantial period in my life that I have no first-hand memory or knowledge of. Fury flashes across her face and her hazel eyes well up with rage and unmistakable heartache as she tells me again about how some of the nurses ignored my screams during these horrific dressing changes and, instead, discussed whether they’d order pizza or Chinese takeaway for dinner. The worst part was, my screams were not normal, infantile cries. My mum describes how they were my heart-wrenching response to pain so severe that my eyes would eventually roll back in my head and I’d literally pass out. How any parent is supposed to deal with that, I’ll never know, and I honestly pray that I’ll never have to find out.
Whilst I’m left with a physical scar, I was far too young to have any sort of recollection to the pain and suffering I endured. However, my poor parents have been left with the mental scars and devastating memories of the anguish. My mum and dad fought in my corner every single second of every single day until they could get me the best medical care that I needed. I truly believe I’m still here today because of their love, support and undefeatable strength.
At GOSH, my mum, understandably, freaked out at the mention of them doing blood tests. Eventually, a lovely nurse called Evette managed to sit my mum down and calmly ask her specifically what it was about taking my blood that she had problems with. Upon my mum’s disclosure of what they’d put me through back in Glasgow, a horrified and bewildered Evette reassured my mum that they were only going to use a tiny butterfly needle in my arm or hand instead. GOSH also used special dressings that do not stick to the wound. This is also where I received the laser treatment which at long last, finally alleviated my pain and suffering. Gradually, the staff encouraged me to play with food in the hopes that I’d put it in my mouth and begin to eat on my own. Due to the unbearable pain I’d been in for so long, I’d been tube-fed extra calories. A tube was administered through my nose, down the back of my throat and down to my stomach to ensure I still got all of the necessary nutrients and calories a growing baby needs. My mum was allowed to take me home from hospital at times on the condition that she was able to insert the tube and feed me by herself. The true heroine that she is, she wouldn’t do anything to me that she hadn’t experienced herself. This brave woman actually administered a feeding tube to herself so she knew exactly what I’d be experiencing when the time came for her to do it to me. If that doesn’t make her one of a kind, I don’t know what does.
After the laser surgery, I was pain free after six long months. I could smile. I could laugh. I could play. I was able to start reaching the normal milestones and develop and grow like other healthy babies do. My mum and dad could breathe again.
As aforementioned, I have been left with a large scar across my shoulder. However, as you can see from the photos I have included, the raised skin levelled out the redness vastly reduced, although there is a small, tight fissure which is where the haemangioma had ulcerated. We believe the extent of this scarring was potentially worsened by months of the incorrect dressings being applied at the first hospital. The dressings initially being used shouldn’t even have been allowed in the same room as an ulcerated haemangioma never mind plastered on top of one.
There were times growing up, where I was embarrassed of my scar – probably just because it made me “different”. I was lucky enough to not be bullied because of it – kids made comments now and again but my parents taught me from a young age to respond by saying: “It’s my birth mark. It’s not sore, I was born with it and it’s just part of me.” This simple explanation sufficed on most occasions and the kids went back to playing. My scar actually looks very similar to that of a burn, which is often what everyone assumes it is.
One occasion in which I was very self-conscious was the lead-up to my high school prom. I had a beautiful deep purple dress (as above – a similar shade to a Cadbury’s Dairy milk wrapper ), but it was completely strapless. My shoulder was going to be fully on display to everyone and in all of my photos… I spoke to my mum who was very understanding of my self-consciousness and so, after a trip to the doctors and a dermatology referral, I had an appointment for a trial of specialist cosmetic makeup with the dermatologist. After a successful appointment, the correct shades were ordered and eventually delivered. However, once prom day itself arrived, I didn’t use them. Coincidentally, in the interim, I had been writing a personal reflective piece for my Advanced Higher English coursework regarding me being self-conscious regarding my scar, and it had somehow proven quite therapeutic. By prom, I no longer needed the makeup. Something within me seemed to have shifted. I was proud of my scar. I now view it as my tiger stripes and like to think it reflects my inner strength even from when I was a tiny baby.
I quite recently joined a Haemangioma support group on Facebook in the hopes that I could reach out and perhaps provide a sliver of reassurance to some parents who are facing similar situations with their own children to show that things can be ok. Their child has a good chance of growing up leading a normal life, like I have. Sadly, from many of the posts I’ve seen, it appears that many doctors and hospitals are still relatively clueless in treating problematic haemangiomas. From what I’ve read in this group; if you need advice or proper medical advice, a paediatric dermatologist seems to be the best person for the job.
I hope this piece of writing is a testament to a few crucial things: firstly, to how incredibly amazing my parents are – my mum for being a lioness at my side every single day, fighting my corner with my dad who was splitting his time between the hospital and still having to work so we still had a house to eventually go home to; my grandparents who provided support in any way they could and particularly my dear Nanna who drove six hours up from England to spend a couple of nights in hospital with me to give my parents some well-deserved reprieve. Secondly, how unbelievably lucky I am to have been born to such strong, loving parents, and how grateful I am to have been able to receive effective treatment. Although this wasn’t the case for the first few months, I fully respect everyone who works really hard in the medical profession – irrespective of their role; nurse, doctor, carer, porter or cleaner. They are not easy roles and I do respect that. However, I do also believe that perhaps not everyone is cut out for that kind of job and perhaps we drew the short straw with some of the nurses dealing with me at that time. And finally, that even if your child is currently suffering with a problematic haemangioma, they can still develop and grow like an unaffected child; and scar or no scar, they will be ok. In fact, with your support and encouragement, they will be brilliant. They will be strong and resilient. Teach them that their scars are their warrior wounds. They were strong even as infants and they will just continue to blossom as they grow.
Please feel free to share your own stories in the comments, I’m always eager to hear of others’ experiences – even if their haemangioma didn’t cause any health problems. A few of the stories I’ve read in the aforementioned Facebook group mention children being very self-conscious of their haemangiomas or the scars or excess skin left behind and even in some cases, kids have been bullied. This really tugs at my heart as although I know how it feels, I was quite lucky to escape school relatively unscathed with comments. If anyone has a child in this position and they would like to reach out, if there is anything I can do to help, I’d be more than happy to try.
If you’ve never experienced or even heard of haemangiomas, I hope you’ve at least found this interesting and learned something new.
Thank you for reading, all the best!
Please see the below links for the sources of the information I have used:
As I’ve stated in my previous posts, each lockdown has brought with it turbulence in many different forms. However, I have to admit, at least for some of us, we have also had showers of positives to break up the negative droughts. I’d like to outline a few very important lessons I’ve learned that were brought with the restrictions, lockdowns and fears the pandemic forced upon us.
We need to appreciate our “normal” privileges and freedoms. Under pre-pandemic circumstances, here in the UK, most of us were able to travel freely, meet whomever we wanted, wherever we wanted and whenever we wanted. Most of us were able to go shopping, out for meals, out drinking until we were getting a little too up-close-and-personal with the pavements in the ‘wee’ hours of the morning after 1 or 2 shots too many. We were able to take spontaneous trips to foreign countries, random city breaks to ‘tide us over’ until our next “proper” holiday. We were able to travel to visit family members and friends across our own country with ease, without face masks or restricted seating and timetables. We didn’t have to worry about our health or that of our loved ones. However, in many other countries around the world, people have lived with severe oppression, much like we feel we’ve faced throughout the strictest lockdowns – only, most likely, much, much worse. There are people trapped in or attempting to flee from war-ridden countries; people desperate but too afraid to escape from controlling and abusive relationships and even just restricted by their own health, either mentally or physically. Now that I’ve had the tiniest insight – I am in no way ignorantly making a comparison; merely an observation that living life without any form of your freedom removed is by far from healthy, and at least for me, had detriment to my mental health at times, too. As things slowly advance closer to “normality”, I am making a promise to myself not to take this freedom for granted ever again, and to cherish it greatly; to take whatever opportunities life offers me if I feel it would be beneficial or enjoyable.
2. We need to appreciate our loved ones, hold them close and always make sure they know you love them. If the past 14 months have taught us anything, it should definitely be that life is too fecking short. So many people lost loved ones throughout this period and were unable to even say goodbye, let alone hold their hand. I lost my gran almost 2 years ago, and although it was the most horrific week of my life to date, I was able to be with her in her hospital room for endless hours, holding her hand, grieving her and ensuring she didn’t spend a single one of her last minutes alone without one of her loved ones on hand. The thought that so many people were unable to do this for their precious loved ones or that so many passed on without someone they treasured by their side breaks my heart beyond words. My granddad had a mild heart attack in lockdown 1, and being unable to travel to England to be with him and the family or support them in person was incredibly difficult. Imagine being ill, even such as my mum quite recently was with Covid-19, and being unable to go near anyone or have anyone come to comfort or care for you because you risk making them sick, or they risk making you more seriously ill? My mum said despite how ill she felt whilst bed-ridden with coronavirus, the worst part was the loneliness for the whole duration. I live 10 minutes away and was unable to do anything other than talk to her via telephone and text and drop food off at her front door (once my isolation period was over – I was lucky and didn’t catch it).
3. Love and care for yourself – it’s essential (as in critical, not ‘essential’ in the way that driving 30 miles to test your eye sight during a global pandemic-induced lockdown is…). Think about; if you don’t look after yourself, how are you supposed to be of use to anyone who depends or relies on you? By keeping yourself healthy – both mentally AND physically – you enable yourself to be in a much better position to get your own shit done as well as anything you want or need to do for other people. Self-care looks different for everyone; it can be fitting in that workout you ‘never have time’ for; taking a relaxing bath, cooking a tasty nutritious meal, reading your book, manicuring your nails, going for a walk… anything that helps you clear your mind and feel good about yourself.
4. Immersing yourself in nature is a soul-cleanser. One of the things that helped me afloat in lockdown was taking myself off for hours on end in the lovely local countryside. Luckily, in lockdown 1, the golf course was closed and so I could roam freely without worrying about being knocked into a coma by a stray golf ball. I also developed a love for photographing nature so my (at the time) new phone, a Huawei P30 Pro was the perfect toy for photographing the sunsets and sunrises. My dad also began to really enjoy it, and as it was my only means of seeing my family at the time, we regularly took his camera out, stopping to photograph various birds (to those who refer to women as “birds” [“burds” if you’re from Glasgow – yes, I am face-palming as I type this] the winged type, obviously!). As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, this quickly escalated once we were allowed to travel further afield and we began tackling bigger hills and Munros. However, it was lovely to see so many others embracing nature, especially those who had never explored the beautiful countryside that is literally upon their doorsteps. Furthermore, I’ve even noticed much larger numbers of people “getting their steps in” wandering around the streets, clearly enjoying a good podcast or some lively tunes. People taking more of an interest in upping their fitness in any way delights me. It really is the little things!
5. Don’t compare yourself or your life to anyone else’s; it’s literally pointless and it will make you miserable. The going trend of “Instagram vs. Reality” has been growing for a while now, but I can’t help but feel it isn’t actually doing much to reduce the unrealistic expectations social media has created over the last several years. The quote “comparison is the thief of joy” really does ring true. I can personally be quite bad for this, particularly on days where my self-esteem is sauntering around at the bottom of the well – BUT, I am working on it. More and more, I am reminding myself that we really do not see what goes on in anyone else’s life for the other 1439 minutes of the day (yes, I Googled this, no shame!) surround when the posed picture was taken – and in all honesty, nor do we have any right to. People portray themselves on social media in the way they either wish to be perceived, or in the way they feel they ought to be viewed. Yes, this may be false, and I do believe we should all be able to show our true selves and be respected for it, I’m under no illusion that there are many reasons people are afraid to be their true, raw and potentially vulnerable selves. People can be incredibly cruel – especially from behind a keyboard where no one can call them out on their shit. Also, and this is coming from someone who likes to know things… we really do need to mind our own damn business more. We are not entitled to know what is going on in anyone’s personal life – celebrity or not; friend or acquaintance; no one owes anyone an explanation. Everyone may be entitled to their own opinions; but I am a firm believer in “if you have nothing nice to say, don’t say it”. We are all different people with different genetics, different environments, having lived through different experiences, facing different challenges. With so many variables, there is no validity in our comparisons. Anyone who has studied science will understand that when carrying out experiments, you only change one condition in each experiment in order to compare which factor has an effect (if any). Therefore, with so many differences, it is merely common sense that under almost any circumstances, no two people are viably comparable. I think we should embrace our differences, play them as a strengths and trump cards, and use them to help one another where possible.
6. Face your feelings. You don’t have to act on them, but bottling them up or ignoring or denying them altogether will ultimately suffocate you in the long run. They may even manifest in other ways – perhaps feeling anxious about your relationship presents itself as anger towards your parents instead. Either way, this can only affect you and those around you negatively. Sometimes, you need to sit with your feelings and just process them; talk them through with someone you trust, say them out loud to yourself or even write them down – no one has to see them. Heck, you can even shred or burn them (safely!) afterwards if it’ll make you feel better. But getting them out there and acknowledging and accepting your feelings can alleviate the burden, even just enough to allow you to move past them.
7. The importance of a good, trust-worthy support network. I don’t know about you, but my family and a select few special friends salvaged a rather fractured version of me through the first lockdown and I genuinely wouldn’t have survived the last year so unscathed if it hadn’t been for them. I try to be as much of a protective barrier and safety net for the people in my life too. Things as simple as a text message or a quick phone call, sending someone a card, some chocolates or their favourite sweets as a little pick-me-up can go miles further than you’d ever believe. I think over the last 14 months, these seemingly small and simple gestures have created big impacts and really boosted people’s moods and reminded them they’re not alone – even if they feel they are. I always thinks it’s nice to know someone is thinking about you. However, if people didn’t check in, they may have had a good reason not to and I don’t think we should hold it against them. Some may have been rushed off their feet playing teacher, parent, cook, cleaner, dog-walker all whilst juggling their full time job; others were perhaps fighting their own internal battles just to adjust to the “new normal” or using all of their strength to prevent themselves from shattering. Others may just have not thought to do so and were even perhaps oblivious to others’ struggles.
8. The importance of scientific research and medical experts etc. and also how crucial, underappreciated and utterly self-less so many key workers are – especially those in positions where they are caring for other people. We literally wouldn’t be on our way out of this nightmare if it wasn’t for the scientists and researchers who dedicated their time and energy to creating multiple vaccines against this dreadful virus. The key workers, particularly the nurses, doctors and carers who literally saved the lives of our loved ones, held the hands of those who couldn’t stay with us any longer and worked relentlessly to ensure people were cared for as best as they could through shortages of PPE and equipment whilst putting their own lives at risk. These people deserve our utmost respect and we should forever show our gratitude to them all for getting through this pandemic and for getting us through this nightmare.
9. Time is precious! We need to prioritise and balance our time better; manage the times when we need to stop procrastinating and get the job done; and also the times when we need to slow down and just appreciate where we are ‘now’. A lot of people were forced to slow down as the world slammed to a halt and practically stopped spinning. Many suddenly had no work to go to, no bars, restaurants, meetings, activities to partake in. In a click of the Prime Minister’s fingers, people who barely had time to tie their shoelaces and eat between meetings had to stay home and twiddle their thumbs for an unknown amount of time. They’ve gone from sprinting to catch the London underground at rush hour to a leisurely (1 hour only!) stroll in their local park with one swish of a wand. Others were the opposite, they’d been sailing along gently and their little rowing boat suddenly morphed into a jet-ski zooming full speed ahead. Others, myself included, were floating around somewhere in the middle – busy with work but also scratching our heads when it came to filling evenings and days off. I think many, like myself, picked up new hobbies or projects and probably don’t know how they fit in a job anymore! I think it’s taught us that it’s okay to say ‘no’ to things we don’t want to do. It’s okay to make time for things we enjoy, in fact, it’s important that we do!
10. No amount of toilet roll, pasta or self-raising flour will protect you from a global pandemic. You really do have to laugh! But in all seriousness, the hoarding is selfish and it only made things worse for other people; leaving them without essential items and crucial supplies. On the bright side, the pandemic really has churned out some incredible home-bakers!
As tumultuous as the last 14 months have been, I would like to think that each of us has developed a newfound gratitude for the “simple things” we’ve always taken for granted. I would like to think that we’ll hold onto this gratitude and remember how fundamental our “basic freedoms” are as the world starts to raise its’ shutters once more. I’d hate for a large majority to forget how awful life is without these fundamental freedoms and take them for granted again. Although, I do wonder, would it even possible to forget a ride on the global pandemic rollercoaster?
After an adventurous trip to Amsterdam in the winter of 2018 and several days exploring New York City in the winter of 2019, I have definitely been bitten, or more accurately, mauled by the travel bug. I was eager to add some more city breaks to my belt and experience more new countries and cultures. My ex-boyfriend and I booked a relatively last-minute trip to Prague in February, for the beginning of March, 2020. Just our luck that we arrived on the day Czech Republic closed their borders and went into a full lockdown…
En route to Edinburgh the afternoon prior to our flight, our phones began buzzing away with notifications – from my mum, his flatmate, my friend…
“Czech Republic are closing their borders to the UK! Are you still going to Prague?”
“Czech Republic are going into a full lockdown! Is your trip cancelled?!”
After several attempts of calling the travel company and hours spent ‘Googling’ our trip, the lockdown rules, the restrictions, and seeking out the lowdown on whether or not we’d be able to enter and leave the country or get our money back, I was stuck in a revolving door of speculation. EasyJet wouldn’t answer due to massive wait times for calls, and I was being repeatedly disconnected. Furthermore, globally, it seemed that no one had a fecking clue what was happening or what a ‘lockdown’ really entailed.
Eventually, tired, stressed and desperate for a good meal, we ventured out into Edinburgh City Centre for some dinner – only to find most of the city was closed. It was 8pm. On a Thursday night. In Edinburgh City Centre. But the lights were out. The shutters were down. The cobbled streets were deserted. Had we somehow stumbled upon the set of a horror movie? Bear in mind, this was before the UK had so much as uttered the word ‘lockdown’ never mind implemented restrictions or curfews. Though, the sense of foreboding was a little overwhelming to say the least. Eventually, we uncovered a little Mexican restaurant where we had just enough time to order and eat a lovely meal before they too closed their doors.
Still contemplating what to do, we wandered around the ghost town until we came across an ambiently-lit pub where we continued to discuss our options and scour Google for any further information on the Czech Republic lockdown. We finally found an article declaring people from the UK would still be allowed into the country the next day and would be permitted to leave; and our flights were still showing as “on schedule” for the morning. After a quick call to my dad – the ever-calm and collected, level-headed legend that he is – we decided to take our chance and show up to the airport with the hopes of a successful trip.
A very early start, some frantic yet unnecessary double-checking of under the bed in the hotel and quickly grabbing our bags, we set off for the airport, still a little bewildered. Would we be able to go? If not, would we get a refund? If we did make the trip, would we be allowed to return home? “This ‘Covid-19’ fiasco really does seem to be getting serious”, I pondered to myself.
After being reassured by multiple members of staff that our flight was going ahead and that as of yet, so was our return flight, (I literally asked every single one I could see and was met with reassurance and a pitiful look as if I was truly batshit crazy for being concerned – yes, I was unashamedly that person), we checked in, had a tasty, albeit overpriced, airport breakfast, and off we went!
Upon arrival in the beautiful city of Prague, we clumsily found our tram, and ventured to our accommodation, The Caesar Prague Hotel – an old-fashioned yet stunning hotel near the city centre. We dumped our bags, wrapped up and set out to explore.
After wandering around for a couple of hours, hunger got the better of us and we sought out a restaurant to eat in. So far, so good. The city was lively, shops, bars, restaurants were all open for business as usual. As we were seated, I received a call from an unknown number. I answered curiously, to be addressed by an Easyjet employee with an apology for the cancellation of our trip. Hold the phone. What?! “But we’re in Prague right now?!” I exclaimed. “So, did you get checked into your hotel without any issues?” replied the puzzled man on the other end of the line. “Yes.” The call was cut off and they phoned again. I then had a mini ‘Groundhog Day’ experience of replicating exactly the same phone call word for word another three times. Yes, THREE. After several disapproving looks from the waiters, I eventually gave up on the phone call attempts and sat back down to a plate of delicious pasta (and a much-needed vodka…hey, it was lunch time! Plus, acceptable drinking times don’t apply when you’re abroad, right?).
We continued our sight-seeing escapade; viewing the stunning Charles Bridge, visiting the Old Town Square, the Astronomical Clock, St Vitus Cathedral and the Dancing House, to name a few.
From 8pm that night, the city closed. Entirely. We were able to eat breakfast in the hotel dining room the following morning but only with a limited number of other guests in at a time. Stomachs satisfied, we gambled off out to see the city, unsure of what to expect. Luckily for us, the sun was shining despite the cold, and so being outdoors all day was a very pleasant experience. We were able to explore everywhere on foot and see the sights through the closed gates. All food places were closed unless they were able to serve food and drinks through the doorway – including a bar serving cocktails and playing music outside that night with a crowd of 20-somethings dancing as if mentally in their own internal nightclubs. All retail shops were closed, all except for Supermarkets and mini-marts, which sadly meant we couldn’t even purchase souvenirs!
Throughout that day of glorious sunshine and the obscure atmosphere, we continued to explore the city through the key-hole. We discovered some of the curious art displayed in the streets – such as the Franz Kafka Rotating Head and the Statue of Franz Kafka, and posed for pictures at the Lennon Wall!
Those who know me will understand exactly how much I love food and will not be in the slightest surprised that one of my highlights was having an infamous “chimney” cake (known as “Trdelník’). I opted for mine to be crammed with Nutella and strawberries, and topped with whipped cream! Although extremely worth it, tackling this was an adventure in itself! Picture eating this dream food with the wind blowing very long, curly hair into your face (and the chimney cake); you’ve got nothing but a feeble plastic fork and a flimsy napkin to “contain” the mess (which was repeatedly being almost stolen by the breeze. It was quickly smothered in chocolate and cream, and so rapidly rendered redundant anyway). There were also no toilets anywhere to wash your hands (and face – no shame, it was well and truly worth the chocolate chops)!
The lack of toilets posed a more serious issue though – I had to hop around with my bladder on the verge of bursting the dam for three hours until we got back to the hotel! I then “smartly” ended up severely dehydrated by the end of the day by not daring to drink anything else in fear of ending up in the same predicament as the early afternoon. Due to everywhere being closed, we trekked around searching for food, and eventually settled for chicken kebabs. I say ‘settled’ but they were absolutely delicious, just a tad awkward to eat en route back to the hotel (but after “successfully(ish)” tackling the chimney cake, this was barely a challenge).
Another highlight for me – the nature-and-animal-loving-weirdo that I proudly am – we met the Coypus! (Admittedly, I excitedly exclaimed “Look! There’s a beaver!!!”… Upon googling them later, yes, they are in fact called “coypus”. I also saw a swan having a “square go” with a coypu, which was definitely a unique experience! We crossed over the Legion Bridge in the middle of the Vltava river to Střelecký Ostrov (Shooters Island) which was swarming with the cute ‘river rats’ (yes, that sounds less cute) called coypus or nutrias. They were swimming around in the river, roaming along the banks and enjoying the waste veg left dotted around the grass for them – as well as flamboyantly posing for photos.
The next morning, we were advised we could no longer eat in the dining room and had to take our breakfast up to our room to devour – again, another odd little experience but as far as the past year has been, it doesn’t quite make the top 20. Before we had time to plan our day, my concerned mum contacted me in a panic advising she’d heard flights were being cancelled. Anxiety rising, I checked our return flight online to find it was in fact cancelled. Shit. Thankfully, the mystery phone calls from EasyJet a couple of days prior had paid off – I had the mobile number of the caller and so could contact him directly. He confirmed the cancellation and advised they’d be in touch with us soon to rearrange our journey. However, little miss over-analyser here was already two steps ahead. I’d already checked the Internet to find there was a flight returning to Edinburgh that afternoon with available seats. Jackpot! He called back quickly after checking and confirmed we had to get to the airport asap to make the flight.
The airport on the way home was also a bizarre experience. Around a third of the travellers were now wearing face masks, and again, all retail and food outlets were as lively as a graveyard. Of course, it was very apparent when we reached our gate: in true rebellious Scottish style, none of the travellers had any semblance of a face covering in sight. (Please note that this was months before face masks were implemented in the UK – I fully advocate people wearing masks to protect others if their health permits! … And even moreso if it muffles some of the idiots from spouting shit).
I think this trip taught me that these experiences really are what you make them. I had a good time just taking in the exteriors of the architecture and seeing as much of the stunning city as I could. It was a shame we couldn’t go to romantic restaurants for dinner or experience the wild nightlife or soak up the culture properly, but there was still plenty to see from the outside. Don’t get me wrong, I fully admit that I’d have turned into Moaning Myrtle II if it had been wet and windy weather and we’d been confined to the room… Despite the cold and it being very breezy, we lucked out with dry, often sunny weather – which is just as well as when you’re banished to the outdoors!
The UK followed suit with the lockdowns within a week of us returning home. Little did we know, the madness was just beginning.
Did anyone else experience another country in lockdown? If so, please share below!