Thursday, 2 February 2017

Time to Talk Day, 2017

Today is #TimetoTalk day.

Talking about mental health is so, so important to me and has been one of the most important parts, I believe, in my journey.

I wanted to take today as an opportunity to share a potted history of what's been going on, where I'm at and why talking means everything.

In my final year of university, I knew I wasn't ok. Realistically, it had been going on longer than that, but at that point, I started to struggle to a point it was affecting my life.

Everything scared me.

Everything was too much.

That was a few years ago.

The last few years have been a rollercoaster, to say the least. I've been through really rocky patches, and really positive patches, but throughout that the shadow of anxiety has remained.

For most of this time, I've been able to function, to work, to see friends.

When people would hear I had anxiety they'd say 'You? But you've always been so confident!'

I was just really, really good at pretending I was ok.

I put on a mask every day and got through it. Some days I felt great, then there were periods where even getting into a car, stepping onto a train, or eating a meal weren't feasible options.

In June of last year, I crashed.

My body couldn't take any more pretending.

I had been working on the little surface issues but not on the deep fears at the root of them all. I had been putting little plasters over huge wounds.

I wasn't eating properly, sleeping properly, thinking properly or functioning properly, and realistically I hadn't been for a long time.

That wake up call in the summer has led to some big changes.

I finally found the right counsellor, and he helped me connect the dots I myself couldn't see.

He helped to equip me with new words to explain how I was feeling, and encouraged me to make progress.

In October, an incident happened to me outside work which sent everything backwards all over again.

Even walking down the street was suddenly terrifying.

And I began the slow climb back up again, continuing to work hard in my counselling sessions and beginning to do the real work. The work on the deep, dark fears that have been holding me back for so long.

And now?

I'm doing ok. Not great, yet, but I'm working on it.

I'm facing up to huge fears and huge challenges.

I'm going through a bit of a 'lifestyle overhaul'. New surroundings, new home, new hobbies. I'm surrounding myself with the people who fill me with hope and happiness and who support me relentlessly.

Why talk?

Talking is everything.

I'm incredibly open about what I've been going through because it's absolutely vital that these conversations happen.

A few years ago, I really knew nothing about anxiety. I didn't know that's what I was feeling, or how to get help.

I let it get to the point where I was struggling with generalised anxiety, health anxiety, social anxiety, depression, phobias... you could throw all sorts of labels at it. I wasn't eating properly. I wasn't sleeping.

It went way too far, and if me being open about it can help one single person look for help sooner, or realise what they're feeling isn't normal, that's all I could ever ask for.

I don't want to see anyone feel the way I felt during that 'crash' in June.

I don't want anyone to go through years or fighting with their own brain, being scared of everything, and thinking they're not good enough.

If you're struggling with your mental health, you have an illness and there is support out there.

You can learn to cope, and you can learn to thrive.

You can remember who you were before these unhealthy thoughts started taking over.

People are here for you.

THAT is why we need to talk.

These conversations shouldn't be taboo, and nobody should feel ashamed if they are finding things hard.

Start those conversations, and if someone you know is struggling, listen to them.

Just listen.

Wednesday, 1 February 2017

Hello, February 2017

What a start to the year it's been. 

My January has been intense. It was full of challenges, and accomplishments, and deep conversations, and appointments, and trying new things.

2017 is my year to work on healing properly, not just pushing on through the things I've been struggling with.

It's time to face these issues head on, and really get to the bottom of my anxiety and work on making lasting improvements.

January was a good start.

February will be better.

I'm now regularly going to pilates and doing yoga and mediation.

I'm cooking more, eating three meals a day and trying to work up to reintroducing some of the foods I had ruthlessly been cutting out.

I'm facing up to some things that have really been troubling me for a long, long time and coming up with ways to tackle them.

In the past month, I've tested myself and been reminding myself I can do more than I think.

I've had so much support from the people around me, and I know I can keep going to achieve more.

I'm excited about this year and everything that lies ahead.

I feel like I'm beginning to remember who Sophie is again, and rediscover the things I love doing, and discover things I hadn't yet tried.

A new month always brings a little renewed sense of motivation, so all I'm really trying to say here is that I'm carrying on.

I'm going to do more, try more and be myself more.

February, I'm ready for you.

Monday, 30 January 2017

Rent, St James Theatre

Rent has officially taken the top spot: best performance of a musical I have ever seen.

To put that into context, I averaged more than one a month in 2016 alone - I have seen an awful lot of shows in my 24 years!

The current touring production of Rent, which I saw during its London run at the St James Theatre, is truly outstanding.

I was slightly apprehensive before the show simply because I love the musical so, so much and have waited so many years to see it live. I was worried my expectations might be a little TOO high.

There was nothing at all to worry about.

We were on the front row, which for a show of this intensity was really quite incredible. We were almost under the feet of the actors, and right up close in their emotional moments. It takes a particular kind of skill, I think, to act in such an intimate setting. When your audience is inches away from you, you can't let things slip for a second.

It was incredible especially in the bigger group numbers to be watching the cast's movements be full of such freedom, while being constantly aware of the fact the audience were up so close, and therefore being careful not to kick anyone!

We were lucky enough to be right next to the hospital chairs in the emotional scenes of Act Two, meaning it felt almost like the characters were singing directly into our eyes.

I was also really impressed by the set, packed with so much detail and covering multiple levels. The ladders and various heights were used to brilliant effect - Out Tonight was a fantastic example of this - and I love it when the musicians are visible and a part of the performance.

The lighting worked really well to enhance the mood, every detail pulling together to create a slick final result.

I'm impressed I have waited this long to discuss the cast, because they were quite honestly phenomenal. I can hands down say they were my favourite overall cast, as an ensemble, in anything I've seen. It's such an ensemble show that really every character has to be spot on, or the whole performance is let down.

If I was pushed to choose my top four, it would (in this order) be Angel, Mimi, Tom and Roger. If I talk about everyone in depth I could go on forever, so I will focus on those and then mention the others!

Angel was performed by Layton Williams, who made me believe nobody could ever embody the role better than him. Angel is such a pivotal character, because there has to be that sassy, fun-loving side, but the audience has to completely fall in love with Angel and believe everyone else has, too. Without that, none of the emotion of Act Two has a leg to stand on. Williams handled the role with incredible confidence and maturity, and just took my breath away time and time again. 

Philippa Stefani, for me, was the perfect Mimi. It's an incredibly emotionally complex role, and another very physical one. Not only does she have numbers like Out Tonight, where she's hanging from the railings and embodying her sexual side, but she also has songs like Without You, bringing the audience to tears. Another physically challenging aspect of the role is the fact she's playing a drug addict who over the course of the show is getting more and more unwell. Stefani was mesmerising in her starring moments, but where she really pushed it over the edge into brilliance was in those 'in between' moments - the shaking, the sniffing, the frantic, darting eyes of someone who is struggling.

Roger is a key role with some of the very best songs in the show, and Ross Hunter's voice more than met the requirements. He combines that more raw, rocky edge with an incredibly pure higher range, and Your Eyes was a standout moment of the show. His chemistry with Stefani was very well played, and he was an ideal Roger. Tom Collins hasn't historically been one of my favourite characters, but Ryan O'Gorman's voice completely changed that for me. His gravelly, deep tone was quite honestly one of my favourite voices I've heard in a long time. He broke my heart in the reprise of I'll Cover You, and his relationship with Angel was so touching and believable that it really escalated the emotional later scenes.

I've chosen four characters, there, but I'm going to give quick mentions to others as the simple fact is the whole cast blew me away. Billy Cullum skillfully took on Mark's role as narrator - one which  always think is quite difficult as he's more of a commentator than a participant in many scenes, Javar La'Trail Parker offered a side to Benjamin I hadn't really appreciated before, and made me understand his side of the story, too.

Maureen (Lucie Jones) and Joanne (Shanay Holmes) made sure Take Me Or Leave Me was the showstopper it deserves to be, and I found their rocky relationship utterly believable. Additionally, the cast playing multiple smaller roles never let the acting slip, and you really could single out any one of them at a single moment and get the sense their character has a fully developed story.

I'm sure you can now see I could go on and on, but I will leave you with this:

The show broke my heart in the most wonderful, powerful fashion, and reminded me why I love music.

I didn't think I would get quite so emotional, knowing the story so well, but I sobbed my heart out! My dad definitely had a cry, too.

I feel emotional even thinking back over it to write this review, and that goes to show just what an impact it had. They're touring now, so please try and get tickets. You won't regret it for a second.

Thursday, 26 January 2017

Book Challenge 2017: My Picks

In her thank you card after Christmas, my Auntie included a sheet of A4 describing the 2017 Book Challenge, which had been circulated by one of her colleagues.

I'm not sure who originally put the list together, but I'm taking up the challenge and reading a book per month, each based on one of the twelve categories. I do read a lot more than one book a month, but this will be a great way to get me picking some things I might not normally have come across.

The best way to kick this off seemed to be to choose my twelve books. I won't necessarily read them in the order shown below, but I thought I'd share them to hold myself accountable. I'll then share my thoughts each month on whichever book it is I've read.

My choices:

A book written by an author with the same initials as you
The Sorrows of an American, Siri Hustvedt

A book recommended by a friend (by my friend Jenny, in fact)
American Gods, Neil Gaiman

A non-fiction book based on a popular or topical subject
The Little Book of Hygge, Meik Wiking

A book that has previously been banned
Beloved, Toni Morrison

A collection of short stories
Nocturnes, Kazuo Ishiguro

A book with more than 400 pages
Don Quixote, Cervantes, translated by J M Cohen

A book with an unusual setting
The Book of Strange New Things, Michael Faber

A book by a writer from a minority group
Passing, Nella Larson

A book that's set in another country
City of Joy, Dominique Lapierre

A book by a female author
Mansfield Park, Jane Austen

A book with a plot set around books, a library or bookshop
Farenheit 451, Ray Bradbury

A book you chose based on its cover
Wicked, Gregory Maguire

Tuesday, 24 January 2017

La La Land

Like many, I was so excited about the release of La La Land, and finally went to see it last week.

Telling the story of Mia, an aspiring actress and Sebastian, a jazz pianist, it's a beautiful story about love, dreams and the hard work that goes into making something of yourself.

I have to admit that the first scene had me a bit worried. While I love the thought of people breaking into song and dance in a traffic jam, something about that opening number didn't sit quite right for me. I felt like the choreography was really at odds with the song, and the sound levels sounded not quite right, with the voices sort of getting lost in the instrumental. I didn't find it particularly easy to hear the words, and that made the scene feel quite long.

From that moment on, though, I was sold.

The overall look of the film is absolutely stunning. The colours are faded yet bright, and it really has that nostalgic feel of the old Hollywood movies. I'd also quite like to channel Emma Stone's outfits in everything I wear from now on.

This nostalgia for the golden age of jazz transfers beautifully into the music, which is rightfully the star of the show. The singing was spot on - especially from Emma Stone in her audition song - but it was the instrumental music which was the king. The music was absolutely breathtaking throughout, and I've played the soundtrack again and again since leaving the cinema.

And then to the casting of Mia and Sebastian - I thought Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling were the ideal match.

Emma Stone was that endearing mix of dreamy and determined that the role really begged for, and her moments of fun in scenes like the pool party were really well-judged. I also loved her scenes in auditions, where she simply reminded us again and again what a fantastic actress she is. I had tears in my eyes during her big audition song, and though he may no longer admit it, my dad did too!

Ryan Gosling completed the duo brilliantly, and it was so easy to follow the emotional journey of his character, torn between a love of traditional jazz and the need to actually make a living. The fact he learned to play jazz piano for the role really elevated the whole film, for me. While his acting would have been incredible anyway, I think the film would have lost an awful lot had he not actually been doing the playing. But watching his exquisite playing and knowing the effort he had put in to living and breathing that role just took it to another level, for me.

Without giving anything of the story away, I've heard some people were unsure about the last ten minutes of the film. I've got to completely disagree and say I loved it. For me it was the perfect ending to the dreamy, nostalgic movie musical we had just been watching. I felt like it captured that juxtaposition of dream and reality well, and I actually found the ending quite satisfying. Not necessarily my dream scenario for the characters, but very believable and in keeping with the rest of the story and its emotion.

I'd love to know what you thought if you've seen the film, and in the meantime I'm going to play the soundtrack again...

Monday, 9 January 2017

The Recipe Post #8: Meatballs with Feta

Recently, I've been getting into cooking again and have been trying to test out new recipes regularly. So it seems only right that some of these recipe posts return to the blog!

Last week I took inspiration from Joe Wicks' first 'Lean in 15' cookbook, planning to make the 'Turkey Meatballs with Feta'.

Joe's recipe, I suppose for speed, called for ready made turkey meatballs, of which there were none in the supermarkets near home, so I adapted the recipe with beef meatballs.

After (mostly) cooking the meatballs - beef of course needed more cooking time than the turkey meatballs would have done - I chopped red onion, yellow pepper, green pepper and courgette. 

Into the pan they went, and were joined by the beef brisket meatballs.

Once the veggies were beginning to get to tender, I added a tin of chopped tomatoes and let it all simmer.

We actually made some sweet potato fries to accompany the meal, as it was to stretch between three of us (I doubled the recipe, which serves one, and we still had plenty!)

Once served in bowls, I topped with the feta and fresh parsley and we were done.

It took longer than 15 minutes of course, because of the beef meatballs needing to be cooked for about 20 minutes first, but there's no denying this meal was incredibly easy to make, and the feta was a great addition I probably wouldn't have thought of when making this kind of meal.

I'll definitely be making it again, thanks Joe!

Sunday, 8 January 2017

Kitty and Max's 21st: Photo diary

Last night, my baby sister and her boyfriend had a joint 21st birthday party.

I thought I'd share a few photos of what came together to be an amazing night.

They had uni friends, friends from home and family, and it turns out multiple, simultaneous games of beer pong is the way to unite the age groups. Who knew?!

After drinks and speeches in the hall, there was a main meal of Thai Green Curry or Terriyaki Beef, and then the marquee was equipped with beer pong tables and a dancefloor.

Kitty, Max and both sets of parents pulled off a great night, and they all seemed pretty happy about it!

Happy birthday, you crazy pair, I hope you're not feeling too bad today ;)

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