Memories

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.

Memories

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.

So beautiful.

The darkness, the uncertainty, the confusion; drifting further and further away.
Becoming a distant memory.

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.

In fact, she never had been.

She is so loved. So lucky. So happy.

Travelling Back Towards “Normality”

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.

All the best,

Aimee x

Haemangioma Awareness Day – My Story

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:

  • Female babies
  • 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.
  • Caucasian babies

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.

My Story

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 (think a Cadbury’s Dairymilk wrapper colour), 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 that it reflects my inner strength from even as 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!

Aimee x

Please see the below links for the sources of the information I have used:

https://www.gosh.nhs.uk/conditions-and-treatments/conditions-we-treat/haemangiomas/

https://orthoinfo.aaos.org/en/diseases–conditions/hemangioma

https://www.healthline.com/health/hemangioma-of-skin#diagnosis

10 Lessons I’ve Learned in Lockdown

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.

  1. 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?

Prague: Peeping Through the Gates (March 2020)

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!

The Hills are Alive Again!

Alas! Back out to the mountains! After 4 looong months of being confined to our local towns, the travel ban was lifted in Scotland on Friday! In great delight, my dad, my brother (albeit more hesitantly) and I set off to climb our first Munro of the year – Ben Vorlich next to Loch Earn (not to be mistaken for the other Munro Ben Vorlich in Loch Lomond). For those who don’t know, a ‘Munro’ is a Scottish mountain which is at least 3000ft high. Last year, my dad and I conquered 6 Munros as well as some other grand Scottish peaks but had to take a break due to them being so far out-with our hometown. Due to physio appointments, we couldn’t set off at our usual early time and had to wait until late morning. Luckily, we did manage to find a parking space amongst the inumerable abandoned cars along the road-side near the foot of the trail.

This being his first Munro in adulthood (he climbed Ben Lomond with my dad and his football team for charity as a kid), my 22-year-old brother, ever the unprepared party, didn’t pack any food and forgot to buy sandwiches at the shop before we left the city centre. I advised the daft bugger that he’d definitely need sustenance but the petrol station shop had no sandwiches. What did he emerge from the shop with? A Pepperami and a packet of Wagon Wheels… I wish I was joking! Luckily, my dad and I had packed some spare food for sharing so the muppet didn’t starve after all.

After the multiple weather apps (they all tell you a different story, you can’t just use one!) predicting highest temperatures of around 3 degrees Celsius with wind chill factors making it feel like sub-zero, and despite the sun shining, we set off layered up like a trio of onions. Within 20 minutes, I was peeling off my hoodie, zipper and long-sleeve under-armour top, extremely grateful for wearing a sports vest top underneath and embracing the rare warmth from the equally rare Scottish sun. It could only be deemed as true “taps aff” weather. (FYI, for any non-Scottish people; “taps aff” translates to “tops off”. And yes, in Glasgow, this is usually declared when the temperature reaches double figures since it’s such an unusual occurrence)!

The views were beautiful the whole way up the mountain; I couldn’t refrain from turning in awe to the sight of uncountable other stunning peaks and a breath-taking view of the Loch Earn glinting in the sun. As always, my inner child was delighted to encounter the large splodges of snow-drift, and yet, I remained sleeve-less. (This is highly unusual for me – I do not cope at all well with the cold! I’m usually layered up resembling a “Wildling” from Game of Thrones). Later that night, I realised that the sun had even graced my cheeks with a little red glow. However, the next morning, my nose was resembling a certain famous reindeer…

Ok, so I didn’t remain entirely layer-free. I reached what I thought was the “summit”, only to realise, I’d in fact been duped. Lulled into a false sense of accomplishment – and after over-hearing several others’ blatant disappointment at the realisation of the remaining almost vertical climb looming ahead, I was certainly not the only one. Approaching the real summit, the frosty wind kicked up and I was quickly fumbling in my rucksack for my zipper and gloves to prevent my fingers’ usual battle to fight off the eagerly lurking frostbite.

Even with the icy winds, this weather was practically paradisiacal compared to the conditions my dad and I had suffered on our last 3 Munros. These had entailed gale force arctic winds, heavy rain, fog thicker than Dwayne Johnson’s thighs, impenetrable cloud cover and unwanted exfoliating hailstone facials. Drenched, so frozen that even our skeletons were trembling, and we could barely see in front of us… “What views???” Did I mention that we got temporarily lost in the aforementioned dense fog on the way back down? Yes, we braced all of that weather for this view at the top of Ben Chonzie in mid-December… I guess our timing wasn’t exactly great. All the same, the sense of achievement upon reaching the summit (ok, more-so upon reaching the car on that occasion) is invigorating.

On another note – I absolutely do not recommend training your lower body the day before hiking up a Munro – especially when said hike is your first in at least four months… I have to admit, I have definitely had smarter ideas! My glutes were on FIRE for the majority of the climb (fine, and the descent), and even when simply climbing over styles – much to my dad and brothers’ utter amusement. In saying that, I got to laugh at their attempts to step over styles due to their flexibility levels being the equivalent to that of a concrete slab.

The trek was the shortest we’ve done in terms of Munros – but I also think this mountain has had the most consistent steep incline for almost the whole duration. Many others have at least plateaued in places. It was a great mountain to kickstart our Munro-bagging this year and I thoroughly enjoyed getting out amongst nature, the change of scenery and another new challenge. I can’t wait for the next one!

I hope you’re all enjoying the new freedoms too!

Stay safe!

Aimee x

Lockdown Life (Part II)

Personally, I think Lockdown 1 was the toughest for me. I was on holiday from work and en-route to meet a colleague for a drink in the city centre that evening when I received a text from my boss advising we were working from home as of the following day. Within a handful of days, our whole nation was stripped of its’ freedom and cattle-prodded into the first ever full lockdown. Too afraid to leave our homes. Adjusting to the loss of routine and the heart-breaking separation from those we love. Some, like myself, were drowning in an uproar of work while figuring out the ‘working from home’ fiasco. Meanwhile, others were frantically scrambling for every penny they could find to ensure they could feed their children, unsure of when they’d be able to work again or if they’d receive financial aid, as well as the rapid decline of our country’s economy. Most devastatingly of all, some were losing their lives; some were losing loved ones, both to Coronavirus and to other conditions whilst being unable to hold their hand at the end. Our key workers risked their own health and safety to attempt to treat the seriously ill and continue with our essential services. Also, hats off to those dealing with the lockdown loons who hoarded enough ‘essential items’ to open their own mini-mart! I thought working in a gadget shop on ‘Black Friday” was brutal enough… I’d choose folk fighting over RC drones over denying Sharon the three 24-packs of loo rolls any day! (I think I’d have found it hard to resist asking if she planned on eating nothing but laxatives for the next three months…).

On top of feeling immediately overwhelmed at the prospect of having no access to a gym (which, for me, has been my outlet to relieve stress and always gives me a mental boost), being unable to see my close family, my best friends or my (now ex) boyfriend, and being completely confined to my shared flat where I had grown accustomed to spending quite little time, my anxiety enjoyed a ‘blast off’ whilst my motivation and desire to do anything ‘productive’ simultaneously dive-bombed. Did anyone else react this way? Was anyone else over-ridden with fear of the unknown, fear of everything changing so instantly and the prospect of our loved ones or ourselves getting ill with the new mystery virus?

Some days I sat in front of my laptop staring absently at the screen, the walls, the rug or my phone, my mind completely in overdrive. Sometimes I sat vacantly, numb, unable to process our new reality. Just not knowing what to do or how to feel. At times, tears tarnished my cheeks and sprinkled my notebook for apparently no reason. My eyes were just spontaneously leaking, my mental distress escaping down my face of it’s own free will (something we no longer had). I tried to conceal it from my flatmate, because, let’s face it, I was embarrassed and trying to deny that I was an emotional disaster. No one likes to admit they are struggling, let alone attempting to explain why they’re crying at random – especially there’s no specific trigger and they don’t understand it themselves. To admit you’re having problems clearing your plate takes a lot of courage and often feels like you’re admitting defeat. You’re not. You’re actually taking the first step to regaining control and the first leap towards winning the battle.

Throw in the sudden realisation that I was miserable in the relationship I was in at the time, it’s unsurprising that I was quickly overwhelmed. I felt powerless. I felt obliged to ‘cope’. In fact, I felt guilty for not being ‘strong’. Upon reflection now, I suppose I had considered myself to be ‘strong’ and ‘independent’, yet I felt like more of my stitches were being yanked out as each new day arrived. That realisation alone was a tough pill to swallow. In all honesty, I was terrified at how rapidly and deeply my mental health seemed to have swan-dived. I was lost in the woods, unsure of which direction would lead me back to the path to “normality”.

 Again, analysing my situation now from a much clearer and more knowledgeable standpoint, I believe one of the main roots of my flourishing anxiety was due to being unhappy in my relationship. I had been on the bus to denial-ville for a while, and due to being unable to see him in person, I was intent to stick out the journey; determined I would eventually feel better about things once I had adjusted to the “new” way of life. ‘It would all be “fine” once I had a clearer head.’ As ridiculous as this now seems, I still agree with my rationale at the time – it would’ve been unwise to make any big decisions while there were so many other variables at play, tugging on my other strings. Waiting to see how things were between us in person seemed like the fairest thing to do – especially for him. I’d like to explore this subject on another level in a specific post, so I’ll leave it there for now. However, it did deeply affect my ability to adjust and deal with the obstacles in lockdown 1 – and I anticipate that many others across the country were thrown into unforeseen and perhaps awkward situations in their relationships once the lockdown was announced. The relationships which have survived or even blossomed throughout the past year are definitely special and should be celebrated!

One of the ways I tried to cope was by meeting my parents for socially distanced walks in our local countryside and golf course. As nice as this was in the grand scheme of the seemingly apocalyptic situation, the walks weren’t enough. The desperate loneliness tightened it’s grip on me day by day. I soon stopped working out at home due to the lack of structure and enjoyment – bodyweight exercises weren’t fulfilling as I’d thrived on increasing my strength with weights – and my diet started to resemble that of a 13-year-old at a sleepover – takeaways, crisps, cakes and chocolates by the dozen. Funnily enough, the binge-eating and lack of exercise made me feel worse, and I was just plunging deeper into my pool of self-pity.

Other prominent happenings from Lockdown 1 include the jigsaw puzzles phase (my favourite was a 500-piece Harry Potter one, because duh, it’s Harry Potter). Many redecorated their entire houses, re-vamped their gardens and some even built their own home ‘bar’ or ‘pub’. This was also the period of the infamous ‘Tiger King’ docu-series on Netflix, which I’m sure many of us watched out of sheer shock-horror, unable to peel our eyes away from the guy losing his arm from being mauled by a tiger, Joe Exotic’s eye-watering outfits, Carole Baskin (that bitch!) practically suggesting she fed her ex-husband to her tigers and parading around walking her current hubby on a lead, and one of Joe Exotic’s two husbands fatally shooting himself in the head. (Note: for those who somehow evaded it – yes, you read that sentence correctly – I wish my imagination could run to such wild planes). It was also the phase of no toilet roll or fresh meat; 90% of the population became skilled at baking banana bread and virtual quizzes which were basically the new weekends at the pub and the ‘social’ excuse people needed to binge-drink.

After several weeks of only seeing my parents for walks in the local countryside, I decided to move in with them for a few weeks. I actually had more space and time to myself than at my flat as my family were all still going out to work and I had the added bonus of the garden to enjoy the early summer we’d been graced with. I had initially been imprisoned in my garden-less flat working from my laptop, whilst the furloughed population were enjoying daily barbeques, day-drinking and paddling pools in Costa-Del-Glasgow. As grateful as I was to be working and earning my full wage, a part of me was a little green that I was missing out on such glorious weather and unprecedented yet precious quality time with loved ones. I was lucky enough to experience more of the ‘good’ aspects of lockdown once staying with my parents, but the anxiety gnawing at my gut still wouldn’t fully shift.

Lockdowns 2 and 3 have almost blended into one for me. I’m attributing this to the fact that the winter months are rather bleak and felt like several months of never-ending darkness and relentless cold, wet and windy weather! Although, I do feel like I’ve kept myself in check and coped significantly better during these times. During the period of relative ‘normality’, I ended my relationship once I was sure and so that stressor was no longer at play. However, I think the other main thing keeping me going has been focusing on my health and fitness. I enlisted my personal trainer to help keep me accountable, and having goals to work towards as well as a proper structure to my life again has drastically improved my response to the ongoing restrictions. I’m not suggesting that focusing on health and fitness is a solution for everyone, BUT, I am proposing that staying active in some way and getting some fresh air can go a long way. Eating a balanced diet will also help with tiredness, feeling sluggish and demotivated. It doesn’t sound like much, but trust me, I feel like a different person than I was a year ago. Perhaps, in many ways, I am. At the end of the day, these things are all to do with self-care and staying healthy, which I believe should be a priority for everyone – because we’re worth it!

The winter months are harder and tend to be even more of a struggle because of the longer, darker days irrespective of lockdown. The poor weather conditions also confine more people to their homes under normal circumstances, so being unable to have visitors will have had a detrimental effect on many, particularly the vulnerable populations. I struggled at times too – often missing out on daylight altogether during the week due to a hectic work schedule and such few hours of sunlight. I generally tried to go out for very long walks on the weekends in an attempt to counteract this but it wasn’t always possible, and the permanent darkness definitely took its toll. My heart breaks for those trapped at home alone, especially when most aspects of life currently feel equally as shadowy, and for some, rather frightening.

As I’ve discussed rather a lot of the doom and gloom we’ve experienced throughout the past year, I figured it would be nice to end this post on a more positive note (the good kind – not the covid-test kind, of course).

Positives from lockdown:

  1. Immersing myself in the local countryside and nature, sometimes for hours at a time on weekends in the nicer weather really helped to clear my head. It quickly became a renewed hobby for myself and also for my dad. We fell in love with the local wildlife and took pleasure in looking out for deer and birds to photograph with his camera. Once the travel restrictions were lifted, this escalated into a love of hiking and we bagged our first 7 Munros as well as a few other big hills before we were imprisoned again. We’re (impatiently) waiting for the travel ban to be lifted to venture out to the hills again. I have also noticed significantly more people out walking in the local areas and seeing others tackling bigger hills on my social media over the last several months, which is a great benefit to the health of many. It’s also refreshing to see as I think technology has really masked the pleasure outdoor activities can bring over the last several years!
  2. When staying with my family for a couple of months, I got to spend quality time with them that I never would have otherwise, and I’m very grateful for it. If this pandemic has taught us anything, it should be that our loved ones, time and time with our loved ones are truly precious and shouldn’t be taken for granted. I literally cried the first times I got to hug my parents again as it felt so special. We got to laugh together, have barbeques, cook together, watch trashy movies and support one another (whilst winding each other up and frustrating the life out of my poor mum – just as we did before I moved out 5 years go).
  3. Flexibility – the whole world has had to adapt due to this virus to make our day-to-day errands, outings and work safer, which for many, has been a huge advantage. Many people are able to have a much better work-life balance with the flexibility to work from home, are saving not only their precious time but also money on commuting to the office and some may be saving money on childcare too.
  4. Technology has advanced and made communication easier for families and friends who perhaps live far away from one another – like my family; some of us are in Scotland but largely, we have members dispersed throughout England and even in Wales. This will be useful for us going forward, even once it’s safe for us to visit them again. We unfortunately can’t drive 5 hours each way on a regular basis, so my grandparents (who are 84 and 88 years young!) now being able to use Zoom to video call is a great development.
  5. Largely, people have been incredibly kind and caring towards one another – whether it’s rushing to the aid of others who are in need, dropping off shopping for neighbours who are isolating or shielding or simply sending a text to check in on someone. Many, like my lovely mum, provided some home-cooked meals and groceries for families in need while the children were being home-schooled. I very quickly realised that being home alone when you have nothing to do and perhaps only a few people to keep in contact with must be extremely lonely and so I signed up to become a ‘call companion’ through a charity called ‘Re-engage’. I call my elderly ‘companion’, who lives alone, each week for a chat. It’s been both rewarding and humbling to realise that a gesture as small as a simple phone call can make a difference to someone’s day. Also, it’s lovely to hear someone else’s story and find out about their life.
  6.  Some people have also learned to slow down and embrace life instead of being ‘go-go-go’ twenty-four-seven. I imagine there are a lot of working parents who will also have had significantly more quality time with their children than they ever would have due to being home instead of in the office (although, I also imagine some parents would understandably find this perhaps a little too much quality time…as I said in my previous post, you people are heroes).
  7. A lot of people have had spare time to learn new or rediscover old hobbies and passions – such as myself. Thanks to lockdown, having extra time on my hands and also from resorting to writing as a coping mechanism more than usual over the last year, I decided to create this blog for myself to start documenting my adventures and clearing my head of “junk”. I’ve also discovered a love for photographing nature and for hiking up mountains.

As England have more lockdown restrictions lifted today, hopefully Scotland stay on track to cross that line as planned in a couple of weeks’ time.

Stay safe and take care everyone.

Aimee x

Lockdown Life (Part I)

Where were you when everything changed? What were you doing when the announcement that life as we knew it was over? Who were you with when you found out you could no longer spend time with colleagues or even your loved ones? Due to it surpassing a whole year since the first lockdown was implemented, I feel it is apt to discuss the lockdowns and how they have affected myself and those around me.

To me, each lockdown has felt different. Each lockdown has strangled us with new struggles and challenges. But, each lockdown has also presented us with new lessons. This is NOT a post preaching about how we should “use this time to better ourselves”. This is an honest account of how I have personally “coped” (or at times, conceded…) with our current series of unfortunate events. This is a mere window into the aspects I have specifically struggled with the most, the people and methods that have helped support me through the obstacles and the ways in which I feel the lockdowns have hit us differently. I will never patronisingly or ignorantly claim that “we’re all in the same boat”. More accurately, some are on a luxurious cruise whilst others are in a damaged rowing boat, frantically tipping water back into the ocean with buckets designed to build sandcastles.

Now, consider where we are today. In a similar position? Perhaps. But look at how we’ve adapted. Working from home, virtual quiz nights, video parties and catch-ups with loved ones, socially distanced walks in the park… It bloody sucks, doesn’t it? BUT, in saying that, it’s amazing how quickly businesses evolved and people adapted – we’ve even got my grandparents using Zoom and they’re in their late 80s!

Over the past year, I’ve begun to realise that it’s not always possible to be a pillar. It’s not always possible to be the spare chair in the corner that everyone dumps their coats on after a long, hard day. I’ve begun to realise that this isn’t selfish. It’s self-preservation. Self-preservation is crucial for our own mental well-being, and overall health – how do you plan to be a support network for anyone if you yourself are in a bad headspace or are teetering at the cliff-edge of sheer exhaustion?

Living through a global pandemic with our ‘normal’ freedoms being so severely restricted and controlled for such an extensive period of time is new to just about everyone. I will not deny that there are tragically some people who do live with terrible oppression for a variety of reasons, and these times are likely to have been even more isolating and traumatic for those individuals. However, the vast majority of us will have had an unimaginable amount of adapting to do – literally overnight. For any person, change can be unsettling – it’s human nature, a lot of us are suckers for routine. However, when you stir in more ingredients such as home-schooling, loneliness, lack of social interaction, financial worries and the fear of a new virus – which has such a wide range of effects from literally no symptoms to severe suffering and even death – it’s hardly a mystery as to why so many of us have hit saturation at some point. There is simply no capacity left for more ingredients in this stress stew.

Personally, I think social media has often focused on showing us all of the “positives” (sorry(ish) for the poor-tasted pun!) to come out of lockdown or pushing all of the ways in which you can “transform” your life. I have no issue with this in that, if people have the time and means to do so, then that’s excellent. It really is great if this period can be used to pursue our passions or work to improve ourselves. Personally, I’ve found focusing on my own health and fitness over lockdowns two and three has drastically improved my mental health too. However, I don’t believe there is enough focus on supporting those who may also have goals they wish they could fulfil right now but can’t due to the dangers of the pandemic or the lockdown restrictions.

Whilst some have had an overwhelming abundance of free time, others were extremely overworked or are struggling financially and do not have the means to support a new hobby. Some are isolated at home with their children with no reprieve (shoutout to all the parents and guardians – especially the heroes who are raising their little monsters alone – I am genuinely in awe!). Vast numbers have suddenly become unemployed or are furloughed and struggling to afford their basic living costs. Meanwhile, innumerable businesses – old and new – that have been built from the ground up are barely keeping their hairlines above water, never mind their heads. Some are grieving the loss of loved ones – many of whom won’t have been able to hold their hand as their final sparks burned out. And some are being choked by their own minds as they struggle in a battle with their mental health.

As appropriately depicted above by my handsome cat, Oscar (yes, he’s absolutely living his best life), lockdown has looked very different for everyone. Or, some may have experienced a cocktail of both. At the end of the day, no two experiences can be accurately compared side-by-side. It’s just unrealistic and unfair to do so – especially to those of the celebrities and influencers you admire. However, I know how difficult this is in practice. I, myself, and others close to me, have all coped differently, thrived at different times, fallen apart at others, scooped each other up (virtually or from 2 metres away, of course) and supported one another as best as we could’ve. One common theme I have noticed amongst myself and some of my nearest and dearest is that we feel guilty. We feel guilty whenever we are having a tough time or struggling to hit whatever curveball life has bowled in our direction. The guilt stems from the knowledge that we are in very “fortunate” positions in comparison to many others across the country. The lesson I am learning is that although things could be a lot worse, we are ALL entitled to our emotions, feelings and “bad” days. Your feelings are valid. My feelings are valid. It feels selfish to acknowdledge this to begin with, but accepting that you’re not always going to be on top of your game is a big step to actually conquering the mission.

Those who aren’t “thriving” in our newfound way of life may be using all of their might just to get out of bed and complete some ‘everyday’ tasks. I bet most of us have had days where even getting out of bed feels like partaking in an episode of ‘Ninja Warrior’. I’ve certainly had my fair share of days where I chucked together some scrambled egg and toast for dinner because I didn’t have enough mental fuel in my tank to trek the five minutes to the local supermarket and face people. I want to emphasise that feeling this way sometimes is completely normal. As much as many influencers like to portray on Instagram that life is full of flowers, cute outfits, free hand-crafted cupcakes with their name on and over-priced pink fluffy slippers, it’s simply not true for anyone. Every being is allowed to have their ‘dark’ days. In fact, it’s necessary so we can identify and treasure the brighter ones.

The problem falls when the number of days being suffocated by the gloom start to outnumber the sunny ones, or worse, when the negative fog starts to block out the light in your life completely. If you feel this is the case, please, I urge you to reach out and ask for help. Contact a family member, a friend or even one of the many free services available.

I think it’s important to recognise that showing up, doing your best on any given day is an achievement. Our energy levels, time availability and even just our mental capacity to process or cope with tasks and stress fluctuate from day to day and moreover, everyone’s circumstances are different. Therefore, making comparisons is basically redundant and rarely makes you feel good. Trust me, as a chronic over-analyser who has been her own life-long harshest critic, comparing my own progress or achievements (or often in my eyes, the lack thereof) to stars’ shiny Instagram posts generally leaves me feeling rather defeated and miserable about myself. I think it’s even harder to avoid nowadays since I have more free time with less options to fill it, and with that, my mindless scrolling and self-trolling increases. 

For a lot of people, wading through the quicksand of lockdown-whatever and clambering out the other side IS the achievement. You may not have gained a ‘6-pack’, run 10km in 45 minutes, learned to crochet or bake a 5-tier cake complete with Disney characters and a gravity-defying packet of Minstrels on top to broadcast on your social media for a tonne of ‘likes’; but these ‘likes’ do not validate your strength, bravery or success. They do not prove all of the hardships and challenges you have overcome behind the curtains. You deserve to be proud of surviving the viral war-zone that was 2020 and the epilogue of 2021 (yes, I’m being naively optimistic that 2021 won’t be a full-blown sequel!).

As lockdown has taken over such a significant period of our lives, I feel one post is not quite long enough to fully discuss my views of life in lockdown. Therefore, I intend to post a second part soon where I will discuss my own personal struggles and a few ‘wins’ in case anyone can relate. For me, I always feel somewhat reassured knowing someone else out there has shared my feelings or experienced something similar. It helps me to pry myself out of the “why me” pity-party and also to accept that sometimes, life doesn’t go according to plan for others too, not just me. I’d also like to elaborate on a few things that have helped me through the dark days in the hope that maybe they could help someone else.

For now, take care and stay safe everyone.

Sending positive vibes and hope that we’ll have more freedom again soon.

Aimee x

The Memory Thief

Almost two years ago, one of the brightest lights in my life burnt out forever. Only, my gran’s special glow had been fading for a while. Years and years, in fact. No matter how much fuel and kindling we provided, nothing was enough to re-ignite the real her. Watching her vibrant flames gradually diminish to embers through my teenage years and early twenties was the most heart-breaking experience of my life. It felt almost twisted watching her slowly regress back to a child-like state when she herself had helped care for me as a young toddler while my parents worked.

One of the worst aspects was involuntarily being a useless bystander. A silenced, woeful witness. I desperately climbed the ladder as she floated further and further away from us, but the rungs kept snapping in front of me as I grappled for her, and Dementia snatched her away. Piece by piece, month by month, year by year.

My gran has now gone. Nothing will ever fill the void she left in my heart and soul, but in a way, that just means I’m lucky. Lucky to have had such a special bond with such a special, loving lady. We loved each other so fiercely, right until the end. She may no longer have known my name, but the eyes don’t lie. They glistened with nothing but love as they bore into mine on each and every visit. She still showered me with hugs and kisses and held my hand so tightly. In a way, we were lucky enough that her candle burned out before the disease could steal one of the most important pieces of her – her vehement love for her family.

I’m now tired of being utterly powerless.  I have been itching to help in some way, any way. I did all I could for my gran. I danced with her, sang to her, laughed with her, held her as tightly as I could and made sure she knew how loved she was. Eager to ensure she was happy from one minute to the next, as that’s the timeframe she lived in towards the end. But nothing felt like it was enough. I couldn’t make it better. I couldn’t bring back the ‘real’ her. I couldn’t take away the pain my mum and other family members were experiencing. I couldn’t take away my own hurt. We were all broken and no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t fix it. Rationally, I know no one could have.

Dementia is a devastating end for so many people, and it crushes so many families across the UK. I am desperate to make a difference. To anyone who has been or is currently affected by this terrible disease, I am truly sorry. I wish I could help you and tell you it’s going to get better. I believe it’s an illness and experience no one can fully understand until they have witnessed it first-hand. You can’t yet grieve the loss of your loved one because they are still physically here, but, in a way, they’re also already gone. That in itself, is a confusing and devastating concept to process.

To contribute to alleviating the suffering of even one person affected by Dementia would be very humbling. In order to hopefully help as many people as possible, I will be joining the Alzheimer’s Society on 9th July to climb the UK’s highest mountain, Ben Nevis, to help raise funds for this amazing charity.  

The link to my Just Giving page is below. Any donations at all towards this great cause would be very much appreciated.

https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/aimee-gent

Thank you,

Aimee x

The Lonely Road to a Better You

Have you ever realised you were no longer content with the road your life was racing down? Your chariot was hurtling down the fast lane, but instead of steering, you were trapped in the passenger seat with your face pressed against the window, solemnly watching all of the exciting opportunities flashing by. Utterly powerless. This happened to me too. ‘Captain Routine’ and it’s sidekick, ‘Familiarity’, had hijacked my aspirations and desires for change. It was definitely time to re-evaluate and reclaim control of the wheel.

My personal journey began around three years ago when I had started to feel uncomfortable in my own skin. I also regretted that lethargy and listlessness had become perpetual since starting a full time job in an office (where of course I was sat on my arse all day for 35+hours per week) a year prior. On top of that, my weekends were spent out on the town binge drinking, followed by a day of death-by-hangover, and subsequently eating a mountain of junk food which culminated in a big greasy takeaway in a bid to “cure” said hangover. I felt I had nothing to show for my hard work during the week and my weekends were all blending into one fuzzy memory of the same night out on repeat. Did I really want to keep up this monotony? Work, drink, eat, sleep, work…? No. I didn’t. I couldn’t. I was so convinced there was more to life and that surely, at 22, I should have more energy and drive to venture out and experience the excitement.

The first jaunt of my self-development voyage began in the gym next to my office where I’d been paying the membership fee for around a year – yet, I’d have been lucky to have set foot in the place more than a handful of times. To my surprise, I enjoyed some of the classes and felt accomplished (and very broken!) upon completing them. I also met and befriended an amazing PT who completely changed my outlook on my health and fitness, and educated me on so many important things, which pushed me to snatch back the steering wheel and regain control of my future. I learned how to train with weights and fell in love with growing stronger and bettering myself regularly. The sense of achievement was unrivalled, and although I was really enjoying the physical changes to my body, I noticed that the positive effects it had on my mental health – especially on my self-confidence – were even more profound. These effects gradually trickled through to other aspects of my life and as a result, my internal compass was pointing me in a new direction. Although the shift in my priorities was gradual over the next couple of years, I spent a lot more time focusing on my nutrition, working out, progressing in my career, seeing more of the world and less on nights out.

Recently, I’ve fallen even more in love with nature and now enjoy hiking to the top of mountains to see the indescribable beauty Scotland has to offer. In turn, from spending less on alcohol, taxis and takeaways, I noticed the financial benefits too. Another bonus is that I now only resemble a cast member from the set of ‘The Walking Dead’ on the occasional Sunday instead of weekly. I’ve decided, it is now more important to me to use my hard-earned money to see the world and to invest in my future than it is to guzzle cheap yet over-priced vodka (that I swear could strip paint – I suppose they call it ‘gut rot’ for a reason!) in nightclubs every weekend. Could it be? Was I really growing up?

However, although you decide to change, or to work on yourself, it doesn’t mean that those around you will too, or at least, perhaps not in the same ways or at the same rate. Thus, self-development can quite quickly become a solo journey if you aren’t surrounded by like-minded people. There is nothing wrong with this, but from personal experience, it does make it harder to succeed. I personally find it a much steeper trek towards the summit when everyone else around me is heading in the opposite direction. For example: If you are trying to lose weight, but you work in an office where there appears to be an infinite supply of chocolates, doughnuts and crisps; the environment and your nutrition-oblivious colleagues are not complementary to your goals. This is where the isolation can set in. You may feel like you can’t participate, or maybe even as though you’re being judged or viewed as ‘weird’ because others can’t comprehend your newfound discipline and motivation. Some may even criticise or pass insensitive remarks (perhaps unintentionally), and I reckon this can be partially due to ignorance or jealousy. Some wish they had the drive and dedication to tackle the hurdles standing in the way of their goals, and so witnessing others running that track can make them feel insecure. In turn, they may lash out as a defence mechanism to protect their own ego.

The majority of my close friends are not even remotely health-conscious or interested in fitness or exercising, which means that our ideas of ‘fun’ or activities we enjoy rarely overlap these days. This is no one’s fault, our paths have just reached a crossroads and we’re travelling in opposite directions. They probably feel the same about me – after all, I’m the one who has changed. It’s me who doesn’t want to go out for food and drinks every weekend anymore, just as much as they don’t fancy a 5am rise on a Saturday to strut up a 3000ft + mountain with me.

Embarking on a new journey, working towards a new goal or simply changing your focus may be exactly the right move for you. It may be the building blocks for you to achieve your ideal lifestyle or even live your dreams. But, this can be a daunting process, and it can be extremely frustrating when no one around you understands either what you working towards, or why. If this is the case, which it has been for me in terms of my fitness journey for the past couple of years, having someone like-minded who has either experienced or is currently walking through a similar trail, is definitely beneficial to have in your corner. It is of course possible to travel these routes alone, but I believe that the journey will be much easier, and also more enjoyable if you’ve got a proper support system in place. One of my goals for this year (A.K.A. apparently the sequel to the horror movie that was 2020), is to befriend some more like-minded people who would enjoy going hiking with me some weekends, or even join me in the gym. These activities make me happy and it would be great to have some friendly faces I can share them with. This is not a bid to replace the special friendships I already have and that I am forever grateful for, but it will also help me create a bigger support system that aligns better with my personal goals. I also hope I could become part of that support system for others in return.

As you ‘grow up’ and surpass 20 (i.e. when the hangovers start to kick you in the balls instead of dusting you with a light headache), people’s needs, aspirations and priorities change. My main priorities tend to be my job in order to support myself financially, my health and fitness and seeing the world (yes, hurry up and feck off now Covid, my skin badly needs a strong dose of Vitamin D). Whereas, I have other friends who are settling down with their partners (yes, I happen to be that ‘ever-single’ friend), buying their own houses, getting engaged and some are even having babies. It’s difficult not to spot the differences in our lives now and hardly a mystery as to why we have less overlaps – we’re no longer running in the same races.

Sometimes, it feels like you’re the only boat on the ocean. When the tide gets rough, or a storm brews, a 1-person crew isn’t always enough to keep the vessel afloat. It’s normal to need someone on standby to throw you a life raft now and again. Once you see progress or evidence that you’re closer to grabbing that trophy, it becomes easier to reassure yourself, but sometimes, it’s still nice to have a crowd to cheer you on or someone to hold your hand along the way. I also believe if you get too used to depending on only yourself, it becomes more of an internal tug-of-war on the occasions when you really do need to ask for help. I sometimes struggle with this too. I can’t help but feel like a “failure” if I have to ask for support or admit I need a life-vest when I’m drowning. You can also run the risk of leaving it too late to get the necessary help which may lead to you feeling completely consumed or overwhelmed and exhausted from rowing against the tide with only one set of oars.

That’s why I feel the following is important: No matter whether your ambitions align or if they understand, if someone in your life has supported you in all of your other ventures, they’ll likely be happy to continue doing so (unless your new goals involve turning to illegal activities like kidnapping or armed robberies… in those instances, I fully support them being discouraging!). Be open and honest with your loved ones; explain clearly and concisely what your goals are, and most importantly, why you are working towards them. Describing it using an analogy for something the other individual is passionate about may increase their understanding of how you feel. If no one gets it, please seek out someone who does. You could join a social media group specifically dedicated to your area of interest, such as on Facebook; or, depending on your goals, hire a professional coach with expert knowledge, or join a course or classes to advance your own education and potentially make more connections. Find someone who will give you a nudge back to the right lane on the days that you’re ready to slam on the breaks and raise your white flag. Find someone who will remind you of your own power and abilities and all the obstacles you’ve already overcome whenever you doubt yourself. After all, having a safety net or someone to throw ideas to is always a positive.

Having someone like-minded to turn to can prevent you from feeling as if you’re “boring” others when discussing your passions too. I know for a fact that most of my family and friends immediately switch off as soon as I mention the gym or my latest fitness goal. I can’t really blame them, but it can be a little frustrating and disheartening when someone isn’t engaged in what you have to say. By having someone who’s interested to chat about your mission with – I currently have a weekly catch-up call with my PT – it generates room for creative discussion and sharing ideas, but it also allows for the time you do spend with your friends and family to be more valuable. It allows for that time to be spent focusing more on the topics you have in common and you won’t feel neglected or stifled thanks to having another outlet in which your thoughts will be more meaningful and appreciated.

Set your goals, make a realistic plan, build a support system and shoot for the stars. Support each other in every way you can, hold up your end of the bargain by putting in the hard graft and you will cross that finish line. You might even inspire others along the way. Perhaps some of your friends will even jump on the bandwagon and join your voyage to success and happiness. The main takeaway is: it’s ok to take a different path from your friends when life throws you a fork in the road. It doesn’t mean you’re no longer important in each others’ lives; some things may change, but it can often be for the better if you are working to improve yourself. You deserve to do what’s best for you and good friends will understand that, even if they don’t follow the same journey. It may feel lonely, but you’re not alone. Many will have taken similar paths before you, and many more will follow the footprints you leave in the future. Aim high, work hard, reach out and encourage others to do the same.  

Ps. It’s always more fun to have someone to celebrate with once you cross the finish line!