Being happy anywhere 

Being happy anywhere 

You know when you find yourself rambling and waffling on and on… That is the epitome of this post, which I normally don’t embrace, but hey, it feels good to let your mind wander sometimes.

So, I remember being sat by the pool in Bali just last summer, noticing the bright white of my skin under my bikini contrasting with the dark caramel tan I had acquired elsewhere. I was sipping on my daily Coca Cola, convincing myself I was sweating out all of the sugar, eating bruschetta and listening to my Southeast Asia playlist on Spotify; an amalgamation of songs I incessantly played on repeat for those two months abroad.

And in that moment, I felt somewhat content. I was on a beautiful island, somewhere which many even dream of as their honeymoon destination, and I had already travelled through three incredible, unique countries. Bali was my last stop before home.

Yet, there was still that nagging feeling in the back of my mind, reminding me of all the anxieties I would face back in England. Despite bathing under the sun in one of the most beautiful places in the world, I realised that my happiness and mental health do not miraculously change because of the location I was in.

To escape your everyday life because you’re ‘unhappy’ is a façade. I think overcoming this misconception allowed me to feel even happier that I was broadening my knowledge and cultural awareness being abroad, knowing that if my state of mind will still feel anxious about matters like rent and university, I can wait until I get home to deal with it.

After all, mental health is within you, therefore it’s always going to be with you regardless of being in your bedroom or abroad. So why should I let things affect me on holiday when they’d affect me just as much at home?

This acknowledgment enabled me to feel content and happy, borderline ignorantly, and not let the trivialities of life get in the way of my travelling. I’m not a passive person. There are some problems that you just have no control over in life, and for these things you just have to let go and ensure they don’t get in the way of your own enjoyment and happiness.

Feeling empowered that I can make myself happy wherever I am has made such a difference. Occasionally I find myself feeling down and lonely at university when really I have to remember the gratitude I emanate for having a roof over my head, being able to afford food, and having a great support network. That instantly lifts me up. I get strangled by my own pessimism and overthinking that I create problems for myself. When I feel lonely, it’s because I’ve made myself lonely by pushing people away.

Evidently, I do get caught up in my own emotions that I therefore forget how I do have friends who care about me and wouldn’t think less of me for bringing up my feelings. While both women and men may have down days, there’s nothing wrong in confiding in a friend about how you feel. I think what makes things worse, for me anyway, is the acceptance that I’m unhappy. Acquiescing to negativity can set off a whole downward spiral of defeat for me. Though of course, if you identify that you’re not yourself, sometimes it is then easier to gradually work your way back up.

As soothing as it is to wallow in your own sadness, we can all find the influence within ourselves to embrace happiness and a positive mind-set. Of course, when you really are at your lowest, finding inner happiness seems like the impossible. It took me years to be content in myself and exert this inner peace and serenity.

I even went to New York in January with my university, and upon realisation that I didn’t have enough money on me to revel in the best delicacies and excursions as stated by my travel apps, I did feel as though I was wasting my time being there. Though, what helped me persevere was just the acknowledgment that I’m stood in this crazy city with the snow crashing down on me in -14 degree weather. In other words, I made the most of the little things, my senses, what I’m aware of. There’s no greater, more powerful feeling, than the acknowledgment of being alive.

Too many people believe they are worthless and that nothing would change if they were to drop out of existence. This is a complete irrationality which I wish less people would think about. In New York where the roads are rarely quiet, simply perceiving your aliveness in that other pedestrians move around you as you walk past each other is something in itself.

Being inherently happy within also means you should feel complete as a person without needing another to fuel your everyday existence. The concept of having an ‘other half’ quite literally means you aren’t complete without needing to be in a relationship, which is an awfully outdated notion. As RuPaul quite rightfully says, if you can’t love yourself, how in the hell are you gonna love somebody else (can I get an amen up in here).

While I accept that whoever I am with, wherever I am, whatever I’m doing, I can still find happiness within myself, does not at all mean that I still see things negatively. There’s a definite distinction between the perception of bleakness and the generator within your brain that can convert these negative thoughts into happier feelings, in simple terms.

To be honest though, I cannot wait to be back abroad. Travelling makes me happy and that’s not something I can just conjure up like a ready meal. Sometimes the best means to be happy is, simply put, by faking happiness.

Then again, in life do you want to be blissfully ignorant or painfully aware? This is something I ask myself daily, and my answer will always be the latter, despite my best efforts to be inwardly happy when the rest of the world is a drab at times.

 

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Why I will never become vegan

Why I will never become vegan

I call myself a bona fide meat eater. I am not vegetarian, but I care for animals and their welfare. While I have tried vegetarianism and even pescatarianism, one diet I could never embark on is veganism. But there is a great case to go vegan. I respect vegans but something I do not respect is them almost bullying somebody for eating meat. What you put in your own body is your choice, but I think everyone should know where their food is coming from, and whether it’s of cruel means or not.

Got milk?

I’ve always been described as a ‘milk baby’ by my parents, explained by my tenacious cravings for milk as a chubby baby. Now, at 21, not a lot has changed. I will buy the largest carton of milk at the supermarket just so I can revel in a glass of cold milk every so often. When living at home, my dad would end up buying UHT cartons of milk for me, so the fresh milk could still be used by my parents wanting endless coffees and morning cereal.

Milk is rich in calcium, necessary for your bones. Probably why the only broken bones I’ve encountered have mainly been fingers. However, apparently there is a link with drinking milk and developing acne. Perhaps I’m an anomaly, I rarely even got a spot during puberty. Lactose makes us rather flatulent too. But then so do lentils and pulses, but we aren’t condemning these?

The big problem with milk isn’t necessarily what’s in it, therefore, but where it has come from.

Being painfully aware

If you follow PETA on any social media, or you’ve just done your research, you’ll know the horrors of the dairy industry. In short, female cows will be artificially inseminated in order to later give birth. If we took a human woman and restrained her in a small cage with barely enough room to turn around and inserted semen inside of her, it would be a human rights scandal and very close to rape. I understand that artificial insemination is a controlled measure, but this isn’t the worst part of the industry. Exploiting the reproduction of an animal is the first of a plethora of issues.

After about nine months, the calf will be born, before baby and mother will then be separated. About 97% of calves will be taken away in the first 24 hours following birth.  There are ‘humane’ dairy farms which take the calf away in the first hour, since it means the mother and calf are therefore unable to establish a bond, so the experience is less stressful, more ‘humane’. Either way, it is a cruel practice, but necessary for the industry and human consumption. Every drop of cow milk wasted on the calf is a loss of profits. The calves will then be fed on milk-replacer for the first few months of their life. In humans, we are thought to think that ‘Breast is Best’ until the baby can be weaned off on to powder milk anyway. Cannot animals receive the same respect?

The mother cow is now able to lactate out of her udders of course, which has been the primary reason for allowing this cow to be pregnant. This female cow is both a vessel for another cow to be forced into such animal slavery, and a source of consumer goods: milk. Milk achieved from painful vacuum machines which can cause cow teat flesh to scar as well as becoming dead.

What keeps the cow producing milk is the constant cycle of insemination, birth, lactation. Due to the high supply, calves are nearly worthless to sell off, whether that be for veal, another dairy victim, or to be ground down into your next McDonalds.

I am not blissfully ignorant to the dairy industry, and neither should anybody else. Especially if you do drink milk. I buy milk being painfully aware of what cruel industry I’m buying into. Maybe I am a hypocrite. But it is sure better than not knowing about the industry.

The alternatives?

I have tried coconut milk, almond milk, soy milk. Almond milk is possibly the only substitute that tastes decent in a cup of tea. The only reason I cannot go purely dairy free is because of cheese. Until every kind of cheese can be replicated with non-dairy products, I will be happy. The other problem is how expensive it is to be vegan. I guess if all you ate were lentils and vegetables, it would be bearable. But whatever diet or lifestyle you lead, you should always vary your pallet. The more people that demand vegan products, the more that supply will increase, as a basic principle of economics. Therefore, to want to go vegan but say that price is an obstacle may be so in the short term only.

Of course, going vegan or cutting any meat or dairy out of your diet doesn’t mean you don’t miss eating a steak or mozzarella sticks. Seriously committed individuals will simply treat the ethical implications as overriding the taste of cruelly acquired foods.

Meat: a real treat

It’s sometimes a strange thought to remember that while we are human beings, we are also part of the animal kingdom too. We are omnivores, meaning we obtain our nutrients from both plants and animals. To solely rely on eating plant based foods means we need to substitute the nutrients we are wired to receive from animals. Whether that be Quorn or protein-rich foods such as pulses, there are still certain benefits to eating meat and fish.

I have tried the pescatarian diet and I loved trying different kinds of fish. Fish is a great source of omega-3 fats and vitamin D. If you want to try the renowned Mediterranean diet, oily fish is abundant, and a superb food to incorporate into your diet. While meat can be replicated to a degree with Quorn and strange synthetic things that can create a meatless burger and even make it ooze with ‘blood’, fish could never be substituted.

Of course, if you are conscious of the environment, as anyone should be, be sure that you are supporting sustainable fishing and farming only. This is the same with eggs. It is a shame that due to the recent bird flu risks, free range chickens have had to be kept inside. Although fortunately, the relabelling of free range eggs should be over now.

Local produce

It’s all well eating fruit and vegetables, but your first point of purchased should be from your nearest market, not supermarket. It is not practical to purchase natural foods from a supermarket where the produce has either been imported from other countries or elsewhere in the UK. The fruit and vegetables I buy at markets not only are of better quality, but I know where they’ve come from. Sometimes you are dealing directly with the farmer too. I’ve also been able to buy twenty of the juiciest oranges for just one quid. While the food might not last as long as supermarket produce, this is merely a good indicator that the local produce hasn’t been tainted with various chemicals for life longevity.

My verdict

I probably will never become fully vegan. There are probably always going to be significant ethical issues with eggs, meat, dairy. If we want the most ethical farming, either certain foods wouldn’t exist or we would have to shell out too much money, which would probably turn us all into seed and kale eaters anyway.

I have only touched on the serious animal rights issues at stake. The egg industry is a whole other story, what with male chicks being slaughtered without hesitation.

My best advice is to stay knowledgeable of what you consume, whatever diet you’re following, so long as you get the right nutrients and vitamins out of that diet. Humans were not born to live off quinoa and spinach smoothies. If you’re relying on multivitamin tablets, you need to change your diet. Though, as a student and generally being skint, I’ll always recommend taking daily multivitamins.

For more information, visit PETA or Animal Aid. Also if you feel differently to anything I’ve said, let me know; I like a bit of debate.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The stress of stress

The stress of stress

Being a university student isn’t just drinking to oblivion and recollecting none of the night’s events but a lanky scrap of doner meat between your fingers, hovering just not close enough to your mouth. University can be the best experience of your life where you make lifelong friends, understanding petty tasks like how to live off pasta for a month or encounter fundamental learning such as how to use your degree to progress into your dream career.

Yet, it can also be the worst. Not only can the assignments and exams be so stressful, but you aren’t necessarily going to make friends. Just because you’ve been randomly allocated into a flat of a few other people doesn’t mean you’ll keep in contact until death do you part. Although, many a time coincidence rebuts this. For me, my solid friend group are the ones back in my hometown. Not only this, but the maintenance loan offered by student finance doesn’t even cover rent costs a lot of the time. I could write a mini-dissertation about my dissatisfaction with the presumptive loan system and it not catering for all backgrounds. But maybe I’ll save that for another time. Even so, these stressors add up.

As a result, you might find yourself not sleeping at night, or oversleeping completely. Having no or little motivation to pick a pen up let alone walking to your seminar.

What I want to highlight is the vast number of students who experience mental health problems, which stands at around 25% along with the rest of the population. That might be fifty people in your lecture theatre. Two of your housemates. It might be you.

I forget how lucky I am sometimes that when I do feel at my lowest, I can just catch a two hour train home. Be immersed in the scent of my own house surrounded by family, comforting food that isn’t canned or frozen. See my friends, feel like the real me. I couldn’t even fathom being homesick for a home that is a twelve hour flight away.

I’m in my final year now, so I have undoubtedly calmed down my party habits to probably once or twice a month if that. Yet, as a fresher, it seemed that I would have FOMO every time I said no to a night out. That refusal soon enough turned into a ‘go on then’ at 11pm as I started applying my makeup while still in my pyjamas and swigging own-brand vodka and orange squash. It was more than the fear of missing out on a good time though. It was as though I was trying to prove myself and model myself into having a false persona that I was outgoing, fun, wild, likeable. A façade.

You could even say that I had an irrational fear that I no longer would be accepted and approved of by other students if I missed a night out. A night out where nothing new ever happens, where there’s vomit, another piece of clothing for the laundry pile, a bigger hole in the overdraft, and a fuzzy head disabling any motivation to do any intellectual or productive task the following day.

Right now, it’s a Friday night, and other than writing this post I’m listening to Alt-J with apple and cinnamon flavoured green tea in my dressing gown in my room. Would I have done this in first year? Absolutely no chance.

I was so, so, so naïve for thinking the way I did those few years ago. I had no concept of how to relax, wind down, or even enjoy my own company.

Whether you’re a student, whatever the year, or otherwise, never underestimate the importance of relaxing. If your career involves your persona to be constantly energetic, positive and on the ball, then relaxation is even more paramount. I may have reverted back to my usual introverted self, but I can still take the time to relax even after a day of being alone writing an essay or reading.

I am fully aware that when you land a new job, it seems obligatory to jump at every available task and be the first one in the office and the last one to leave. This is bullshit. If your employer is allowing you to do this, then you shouldn’t be working for them. A company who does not respect health and wellbeing is not the place for anybody. Of course, some people are workaholics, utilise work to distract themselves from other issues, or are just genuinely keen or want a promotion.

Even still, we should not be afraid to give a firm ‘no’ when our body and mind requires it.

At universities, student unions are particularly adept in offering mental health services, such as counselling. Though, feeling stressed or low is not necessarily an indicator of a wider problem most of the time. It is a mere part of being human. It doesn’t help that media and social networks may romanticise the ideal of being ‘broken’ and  mentally ‘vulnerable’, which I call bullsh*t on. While on one hand there’s nothing beautiful about depression, there is nothing ugly about it either. To stigmatise mental illness and make sufferers feel ashamed for feeling any fraction of it on a spectrum is what dehumanises them.

Time to Talk Day 2017 was just last week, but its object promotes conversations around mental health in order to establish better relationships with others and overcome what can be the worst part of suffering from a mental illness. University Mental Health Day also took place last week too. Yet, just like with my views on International Women Day, a designated day does not mean this is the only time of year to talk. If mental health can be a problem at any time of year, there can be a solution to it at any time of year too. Surely, we can create conversation 365 days a year.

For more information on mental health, visit the UK’s leading charity, Mind.