Cruelty-free and Vegan

A few years ago, when I decided to no longer purchase cosmetics produced by brands that consent to animal testing where it’s required by law, I felt proud of my decision. Don’t get me wrong, I have every day since, too. But something I’ve grown to realise over the past couple years is that that alone isn’t enough for my ‘ethical purchasing consciousness’. I want every purchase I make to feel good. I want it to feel right. And despite the advantage of purchasing cruelty-free and vegan, I’ve realised that it isn’t enough. There are numerous other aspects to consider, such as quality of ingredients, packaging, ethics of production etc. These things have been niggling. I’m at the point now, where I simply can’t deny them.

The global cosmetics market is estimated to be worth around €181 billion. And I can’t see this figure decreasing any time soon. With influence thrown left, right and centre from Youtube, Bloggers, and Instagram as well as the more traditional television and magazine advertisements, we are bombarded. Those promoting cruelty-free and/or vegan brands totally get my praise. Many people still don’t realise that while we don’t test on animals here in the UK, many of the brands sold here are also sold in China where it’s required by law. (If you aren’t familiar already, Logical Harmony is where it’s at for determining the ethics of products before you purchase them.)

There are obviously some great things that come out of purchasing CF & V options. Firstly, you aren’t supporting the trade in China. Secondly, you’re choosing to support more compassionate consumption. Thirdly, you’re getting the ball rolling and increasing awareness. But I’ve realised that these aren’t the only ethics to be aware of in the consumption of beauty products. What about the formulation? Are you willing to use potentially harmful ingredients that can bioaccumulate in your body so long as it means that you aren’t supporting animal testing? Do you sacrifice yourself for the greater good? And what about landfill? Do the brands you support have an environmental policy? Is the packaging recyclable? Do they encourage you to bring it back to counter/store? Some brands who do support animal testing actually offer these. There are mixed priorities, clearly.

But the thing that I question is the ethical supply chain, or perhaps lack of, in many CF & V drugstore brands. It really can be summarised like this: 99% of the time the more you pay, the better quality you’re going to get. By ‘better quality’, I mean better ingredients with smarter formulas, more innovative packaging and probably happier staff who are producing those products for you.

It goes in the same category as ‘fast fashion’ for me. Granted, cosmetics won’t last you nearly as long as a piece of clothing if you look after it, but is it better to purchase every shade of a cheap drugstore blush for the same price as one high quality option from a niche brand? Depends on what your priorities are, I suppose.

The cruelty-free and vegan cosmetics market is still in the minority sector. That’s going to be the case for at least a few more years. But in the meantime, I encourage you to do your research on the brands you’re purchasing from. Go further than CF & V as your check boxes and ask questions like:

  • How am I going to recycle this packaging when the product is empty?
  • What ingredients are used in this formula?
  • Where is this product made and by whom?

There’s no one out there doing things perfectly. We’re either producing trash or driving around in pertroleum-fuelled cars or whatever else that’s harming the planet. It’s a constant quest for improvement. But I feel that as long as you’re on the path, that’s really what matters. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and to encourage your favourite brands to go one step further in becoming more ethical in their production.

If money is the issue, before you feel the pressure to buy luxury brands in recyclable glass bottles that cost you your whole month’s salary for one product, consider DIY instead. Keep it simple. Invest in a jar of high quality organic coconut oil that is multi-purpose and can allow you to make some of your own products.

Be mindful and ask questions about everything you’re purchasing. Remember: what you spend your money on is what you’re investing energy in. Make sure those purchases align with your values.

Photo via Unsplash

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Chris Cornell

Depression does not discriminate based on gender or race or occupation or how much money is in the bank. Depression is not restricted to the homeless, the poor, the gay, the divorced, or any other label that is frequently bestowed upon us by society in a derogatory fashion. It can strike any of us at any time. And when it does, it knocks us for six. It’s just as paralysing as any broken limb or virus, only its worse. Why is it worse? Because no one sees it but you. No one feels the pain you’re going through, but you. And society won’t cut you slack even for a minute. Doesn’t that tell you that we’re doing things wrong? Doesn’t that tell you that we need to fight for change?

Chris Cornell’s recent and heart-breaking suicide was one of many that sweep our globe every year. It was a death of desperation. In his final moments, we will never know if he was sick of the pressing numbness or the crushing pain, but my guess is that he was in limbo between the two. He was a voice of reason and understanding to millions, but entirely alone all at the same time, when it mattered most.

I may not be famous, but I know a thing or two about living my days seeing no way out other than through death’s door. I suffered with depression for almost 3 years and it was crippling. But like anyone that made it out the other side, I feel a responsibility at my core to fight for an ecosystem – a society – that helps those who can’t yet help themselves.

If you’ve never been depressed, you are incredibly lucky and I hope from the bottom of my heart that you never have to experience it. But it will also make my job more difficult as I try to explain to you what it feels like. The best way I can describe it is that depression is a bit like lying in the fetal position under the surface of a murky swamp. You are paralysed and can see through the turbid water that there’s some sort of party happening over at the end of the jetty on the water’s edge. It looks like people are having fun, although you can’t see very clearly with the layer of scum above your head. You can’t move. You can’t feel what the party-people are feeling. You’re simply stuck beneath the surface trying every moment to find a way to breathe so you don’t drown. You’re simultaneously hoping that you do drown. You toy with the idea that you do. If the dark depths of the swamp can envelope you, they can put you out of your misery once and for all.

You see, depression is this combination of so desperately wanting happiness, whilst having not the faintest idea of how to get it. But it’s worse; there’s not an ounce of drive or determination within your bones to try to figure out how to get it. You are essentially trapped and stagnant and suffering in the hopelessness of it all. And the worst thing about it? Living in a society that gives no time or help to anyone in the pond. God forbid we even utter the D word for the fear of causing any kind of uncomfortable reaction in others. God forbid.

Depression

Cornell hanged himself hours after playing a show to fans and this is what shocked us most. How could we not have seen it coming? Only, this is the problem. Depression causes dissociation. Deep pain hurts us. And our need to survive means that we do what we can to cope with that pain. Talking about it is the difficult thing to do. So instead, we compartmentalise it. We let the pain become buried somewhere so deep within us that the outside world doesn’t even know it’s there. We keep doing life; we go to work, we run errands, we pay bills, but flashes – or ‘triggers’ – take us back to that pain. And they become more and more frequent and jolting until we can’t cope with them anymore. When desperation strikes and we feel that powerless, it’s too overwhelming and impossible to see any way of things working out for the better. It’s much easier to put an end to it all.

So the truth is that no one could see this coming, except him. And maybe not even him. Perhaps that last show caused tipping point. We’ll never know. And the fact that there are whisperings of his decision as being selfish infuriates me. Being in a state of depression is one of ultimate self-loathing. We don’t see any worth in ourselves, any point of us continuing to do life. We feel desperately isolated and alone and suicide is a way of putting the pain to bed for good.

I am thankful that my body, the universe, or whatever else pushed me to seek therapy as a form of coping with depression. My belief is that being listened to  – even if the therapist doesn’t offer practical solutions – is the best cure for depression. We are in this current society where everyone is the CEO of their own lives. Everyone wants to feel important and put themselves first and in truth it’s a lonely collective. Loneliness is a plague that has infiltrated every corner of the planet. Our lives revolve around relationships and we seem to have forgotten this somewhere along the way. Without connection and genuine, loving, relationships, there is no point in life. That’s the absolute truth. You can have all the riches of the world, but without someone to share it with, they’re worthless. So why aren’t we listening to and supporting each other?

Obviously I can’t speak for the world, but I can speak for England. We have created this disgusting, unconscious society that has its priorities totally out of whack. And the United States was the same when I lived there and it’s only getting worse. What the fuck are we doing? We are intelligent, incredibly creative, wonderful creatures that have enormous, complicated brains. If their health isn’t up to scratch, everything else suffers negative consequences in a direct chain reaction. We’re telling our children that their priority is to get good grades, rather than to be kind to one other. We’re telling our graduates that their priority is to get a well-paid job, not to use their skills to improve society. And we keep letting the wrong kinds of people run our country, feed us lies and make decisions that mean our certain failure.

We are the people of this planet and we’re unhappy and suffering in silence. If we don’t prioritise our wellbeing, there is absolutely no point in spending time or resources on any other embellishment. If our people can’t function, can’t communicate or trust in one another or be free to flourish and express themselves, what good are we? When I was depressed, I ate, work and slept. I was a robot, though one much less efficient than an artificial alternative would have been. The magnificent thing about being human is that we can feel and we appreciate beauty and we create. Those of us who are struggling with our mental health cannot do those things. The pain is just too much. So it’s really quite simple: fight for a society where putting our health first is prioritised. Privatising our health care system is going to do the exact opposite of that. And that is what a Conservative government believes in. If you vote Conservative, you are voting to give aid to those that don’t need help and disregarding the millions that do. Think about it.

Vote

I know you feel small and unimportant, but the truth is that you are a human being and citizen of this country just like anyone else who has a fancier title or bigger house or more notes in their wallet. You count just as much as they do. And your talents should be harnessed, because you are full of them in ways that no one else will ever have. I can’t tell you who to vote for, but I can encourage you to fight for our mental health. We need empathy and compassion now, more than ever. I’ll be voting for Jeremy Corbyn because his belief is to give a voice and distribute resources to those who need it most. If we support all our people, we can create a healthier society. With a healthier society comes a happier society. And with a happier society comes more beauty and creativity and love.

If you haven’t registered to vote already, it takes less than 5 minutes and can be done here. You’ve only got until May 22nd, so do it now. Don’t wait.

If you’re feeling like shit and want someone to talk to, reach out to someone you trust right now and tell them how you feel. If you feel like you don’t have anyone and feel desperate, call the Samaritans now. There are kind, loving souls who want to help you get better. Long term, I highly recommend psychotherapy. It changed my life and it can change yours too. Facing your demons is the hardest thing you can ever do, but it makes space for healing and happiness.

I also have a piece going up on Peaceful Dumpling on Monday 22nd all about perspective on depression and some different ways of thinking about things that helped me immensely in my journey. Take a look over on there on Monday, or have a look on my Facebook or Twitter where I’ll post it when it’s live.

Chris Cornell, you beauty, I am one of millions that is heart-broken to see you go. I’m sorry you felt like you had no way out. We all wish we could have been there to love you and give you kind words of strength when you needed them most. But I hope that out of your death comes a rise in support to those also suffering in silence. May we start looking after our people and help them when they need it, rather than turn them away. May we stop treating depression like it’s ‘just a bad day’ and start taking it seriously. And may you spend the rest of your days full of peace and joy with all the other greats that we’ve lost that were symptoms of a sick society.

Photo via Telegraph , Unsplash and Sphynx

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Say no to stress

There are two common questions that comes up in the interview rooms of the corporate world:

  1. “Can you please tell us how you deal with high pressure situations?”
  2. “How do you deal with stress?”

The employer is essentially wanting to know that you won’t freak out at the busiest of times. They’ll often want your answer supported by an example so you can prove to them that you’ve got this down. They want to know that you’re reliable. They want to know that you’ll put them first. Job comes before wellbeing in this establishment.

Now, it depends entirely on the job you’re going for and how much wiggle room there is between selling your soul and being able to be honest with them. But essentially, being able to handle lots of stress is not only a lie – no human is capable of it for extended periods of time – but it’s about time that we start changing the opinion that being able to work in stressful conditions is a good thing. The creative community understands this. The corporate world does not. In the corporate world, workers are akin to robots. They are expected to dress in a stiff, uncomfortable manner, behave themselves, suppress too heightened an emotion of any persuasion and scrap the work/life balance thing.

But because the world is run by corporations, this ideology seeps through society. Look around and you’ll find that we’re all just so damn busy, aren’t we? Can you honestly tell me you haven’t had at least one encounter with somebody in the past week where they haven’t spewed, “I’ve been so busy!” at least once? I sure can’t. It comes up on the daily. Busy is good, if you’re working passionately and with enthusiasm. But that’s never how it comes across, is it? It’s more of a cover-up for, “I’m exhauted!” The two aren’t synonymous. Productive is good. Overworked is bad. For the latter, stress results.

Stress does revolting things to us. From physical symptoms like hair loss and acne to mental effects like insomnia and depression, stress is the result of having too much to do in too little time, or from the emotional strain of having to endure things that you simply don’t want to do. Stress comes from feeling like you have to parent your two children yourself because your partner cannot be bothered to help. Stress comes from working a job with a boss who is incapable of understanding your needs.  Stress comes when you place yourself in situations that you do not want to be in.

But there’s something else to add into the mix here. We’re all too busy and we’re all too stressed, but there’s still this element of pride that comes up in those describing their lives in this way. I know! Harvard released findings from a study that showed ‘Humblebragging’ is the new thing. Yes, humblebragging. Go figure. So what that means is that when you talk about how busy you are, you are secretly wanting others to know how sought-after you are. Something in demand is considered desirable. Just like diamonds. So, apparently the trend now shows us that humblebragging is considered the thing that ‘successful’ people are doing! I just don’t even know what to do with this one.

stress

If you’ve felt stressed yourself (which I feel like 99% of people reading this will admit to), or if you’ve witnessed a loved one or colleague enduring stress, you know that simply no good can come from it. Zilch. The goal must not be to simply get on with it when we’re feeling stressed. No, the goal must be to tailor our lives in a way that is stress-reducing. SAY NO! Say no to being given too much work. Say no to social events that drain you. Say no to cleaning up after your housemates because they just can’t be bothered to do it themselves.

There are two ways to reduce stress:

  1. Plan ahead. It’s no secret that upping your organisation will help immensely in more ways than one. It comes up all the time in my personal journey of trying to live a low-waste lifestyle. If I plan ahead and take things with me, I don’t put myself in situations where I get stressed by being left with no options. Schedule, pack, plan. Explore those areas of your life where you can make things easier for the future you.
  2. Say no. Don’t feel obligated to do things that you don’t want to do. Life is way too short for that. Do what makes you happy and you’ll have no reason to feel stressed.

So, the next time you have an interview and are asked one of the aforementioned questions, tell them that you don’t believe stress is good for you and you choose not to get yourself in those situations in the first place. See their surprise. And then actually go and do that.

Got any stress-busters you’d like to share? Do please let me know!

Photo via Sphynx and Unsplash

 

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I was lucky enough to spend this past weekend at the London Wellbeing Festival. My thoughts on last year’s event can be found here. This was an important weekend for me, because while yes, I was looking forward to the actual workshops and pottering around the stalls, this marked a year since I had a total breakdown. I was curious how I would feel being in the Olympia Centre once more, but with an entirely different head on my shoulders this time. Would it trigger me, or offer relief?

2016 was one of the most difficult years of my life thus far (apart from 2006 which was also terrible…what is it about the ‘6’?!) and whilst I took a lot away from last year’s event, I truly did just float around totally disengaged. Eventually I made it back to Bristol and things just got worse. And worse. And worse.

But eventually, after months of therapy – and honestly I think a miracle – I woke up just fine one sunny morning earlier this year. Fine. Without a fluctuating numbness or anxiety, I woke up feeling normal. For over a year I’d woken up every single day with this kind of thick fog. This dullness. Nothing was inspiring, warm, or light. Everything was hard work and I could not see a point to any of it. But I told myself that eventually, somehow, it would get better. And it did.

I can’t tell you if it was the therapy, cutting caffeine out, or the result of a prayer that someone made for me in a time of desperation. But life works in mysterious ways and for whatever reason, I managed to get out of my funk.

London Wellbeing

Returning to the Wellbeing Festival in 2017 was an important milestone for me. Last year, I was acutely aware of what felt like crowds of mentally-unstable, self-help junkies. I felt overwhelmed by all these desperate people wanting help from whatever workshop they were attending. I felt claustrophobic and small. But interestingly, this year I didn’t see any of that. Instead, I saw like-minded, warm, kind, self-aware individuals there for connection, self-growth and improvement. The word projection comes to mind as I realise that what I was seeing both years was a direct reflection of my mental state at the time. When you feel cold, all you can see is frost. When you feel warm and complete, you see the good.

I spent my time at the festival realising that I’m really not introverted; I’ve just been spending my time with all the wrong people. And that’s a very powerful realisation to come to. My final workshop of the day with the incredible Sarah Rozenthuler proved just that. It was a workshop titled, ‘Living Your Heart’s Desire’ and used some key principles and partner work to help gain perspective on the difference between your inherited purpose, believed purpose and soul purpose. It was eye-opening and inspiring and the beautiful connections between strangers was something I’ll forever cherish deeply. We were a group of women of all ages and backgrounds who all understood the fire in each other’s bellies and the calling for a creative life. It didn’t matter that we’d only just met. We were all on the same wavelength and it’s in those situations that magic happens.

At times like these, I am reminded of my favourite quote by C.S. Lewis: “Isn’t it funny how day by day nothing changes, but looking back everything is different?” A milestone such as an annual festival or event can be that solid, external indicator of how well you’re doing and how far you’ve come. If you need that extra push to remind yourself of your progress, use it.

London, for all its madness, did not strike me as a hostile place this year. I instead chose to see the colours on the walls and the dynamic melting pot of people and realised that this time round it made me feel alive.

 

 

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avocado and mango

In January 2016 I decided to label myself as a vegan. Six months later (ish) in August of last year, I wrote this post detailing my decision to no longer label myself as one. It’s now February 2017 – six months on again – and here are my thoughts.

The key word that comes to mind is choice. Having choice is the most wonderful, encouraging, satisfying, empowering feeling. The truth is that I’ve eaten my way through several dozen eggs, a fish or two and the odd serving of cheese during these six months. But without even realising it, I have gravitated towards entirely plant-based cooking in my own home.

Now it’s six months on, I’m doing a little ‘check up’ on myself to see how I’m doing. The truth is that I feel great. I’m eating almost exactly what I did a year ago, only the difference is that I don’t feel restricted. It all has to do with the label, or rather. lack of.

Six months ago, I did myself a great kindness by lifting the pressure and giving myself the choice to eat what I wanted without feeling like I was breaking the law; my own personal law that is. By simply allowing myself to have the choice to consume animal products if I wanted to, I felt good in the decisions I made to opt for plant-based instead. It was a conscious decision, not a forced commitment. Nowadays, when I have the choice (i.e. when I’m eating at home), I cook plant-based. But if I’m in work and someone brings in treats, or I’m at a friend’s place and he or she cooks a beautiful meal containing some cheese or egg, I gladly accept. The only thing I really draw the line at is meat. I just can’t do that one.

Opening this door for myself allowed me to become flexible and adaptable. I guess one thing I pride myself on is my adaptability. Putting myself on a restricted diet felt like I was going against my values. Sure, I see the environmental benefits, of course. But life doesn’t revolve around me and while I have control over the purchases I make and cook within my own home, part of my life is socialising with other people and so I now feel warmer and more welcoming towards compromising in those situations.

Something funny happened next, after this decision to relax a little bit and give myself choice. I decided to start looking at other areas of my life where I might also benefit from having a choice. You might think of it as me becomming a detective of sorts, pulling out my trusty magnifying glass and seeing where I had choices that were hiding from me. These were areas that I felt bound to and trapped in; areas where I wanted more flexibility.

It started with work. I was working a 40-hour week, Monday to Friday and before that point had never even considered the possibility of reducing my hours. But then I thought: what have I got to lose by asking? I wasn’t asking for a reduction so I could bum around; I was happy to explain that to my boss. Balance was what I was after; more time to do things that mattered to me. I wanted more variety.

The proposal was met with respect and support. Before I knew it, I was down to four days a week. This allowed me a day to do some volunteer work outside in the fresh – albeit brisk at this time of year – air. And then something else happened. I got offered not one, but two other opportunities to do what I love: pursue creativity through my writing.

When the ball started rolling, I suddenly had the overwhelming feeling that this is how life is meant to be lived: with freedom. Freedom is the greatest blessing and also the most notoriously in disguise. Until we see the choices we can make in our everyday lives, we won’t create the space for fulfilling opportunities to walk through the door.

Giving myself a choice last year changed my life. It allowed me to see that my life is ever-changing and that my dreams are possible, if only I remember to pause for perspective every now and then.

Photo via Unsplash

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