The loss of Anthony Bourdain this week hit my family hard. He was one of the few celebrity chefs we knew of back in the day, before this culture of celebrity chefs was really a thing. The charismatic and adventurous New Yorker put a solid two middle fingers up to any kind of health food fad or pretentious, showy, Hollywood sensationalism and instead let himself be immersed in what truly mattered: culture and cuisine.

Having grown up abroad, this resonated with me. The foods I was exposed to growing up – particularly in my early childhood in Morocco – have shaped the person I am today in many ways. I am bold, adventurous and forever on a quest to try new things. Anthony Bourdain spoke to that part of me. The explorer. And the part of me that is captivated by the Human Condition, as was he.

I remember watching episode after episode of A Cook’s Tour and No Reservations, fascinated as Bourdain would take himself around the world, trying the most diverse array of foods. He would laugh and ask questions and learn from his hosts and had this way of making those places commonly left off the map newly desirable locations for foodie enthusiasts watching from around the globe.

Although these days I eat in such a way that I try to minimise my environmental footprint, I still can’t help but have a place in my heart for what Bourdain stood for, underneath the surface; food as a vessel for the coming together of people. And food as an art form. Food as the medium through which a culture can express itself and tell its story. Even if those foods include a bunch of things that we know in this day and age we would be better leaving off the table to preserve a healthy planet. Much of the world eats what’s local and what has helped them survive for millenia. Those foods mean something, regardless of whether or not they fit into the current desirable paradigm of ‘sexy vegan cuisine’.

In much of the world, people have a far more intimate relationship with their food than those of us surviving on microwave dinners and single-serving fruit cups purchased and consumed on the go. In these places, food is an experience. Every moment, from the sowing of seeds or birth of new livestock through to the nuturing, harvest and preparation of meals, culture is comprised of the life cycle of food as a whole. We are who we are based on how we deeply we interact with that life cycle.

The headline came through this week that Bourdain had died by suicide and I couldn’t quite believe it. He was so full of life, so fascinating and had so much going for him. How could this be? What drove such a successful person to think this was the only way out? We’ll never know and I sure as hell have no place speculating.

Many people around the world commit suicide every day. That sentence makes it sound like I wrote that without emotion and – believe me – that couldn’t be further from the truth. But I must state the fact; they do. And the majority of those people won’t raise global alarm because they are everyday people with small social circles and their cases considered ‘ordinary’. But whenever a celebrity does it, it always makes the headlines and it’s easy to see why.

Celebrities appear to have it all, don’t they? The status, the money, the power. They’re at the top of the foodchain. They’re the people we should all look up to, right? They had a big dream, worked hard to achieve that thing and have the luxury lifestyle that most of us will only ever aspire to. Get rich or die trying, right?

So how can it be then, that these people with their perfect lives can fall down a cavern of darkness so deep that the only way they know how to escape is through suicide? Ding! You got it: their lives aren’t perfect. I know. It’s a revelation. In fact, the enormous pressure of feeling so bad when you’re supposed to feel the polar opposite can near drive a person to insanity. I’m no celebrity (chef or otherwise) but I certainly know at least a thing or two about feeling the unbearable guilt of asking the universe why you don’t feel better; why you don’t feel the sum of all the wonderful things that you can list about your life. Those things that, of course, you are grateful for. But somehow, those things aren’t enough.

I spent most of 2016 wanting to die. It was the only viable option that I saw for myself. The only way that things would get easier would be if I didn’t have to keep going at all. I felt a million miles from the kind of life that I wanted for myself and a ten-tonne weight bore down on my chest everytime I’d look at all the boxes I ticked which said, ‘hey girl, you’re doing better than most’ and felt an emptiness outweighing them all.

I sought therapy and reduced my work hours and those decisions were the catalyst that turned things around for me and eventually made me come off hormonal birth control which made me realise that that had been about 80% of the problem all along (read more about that here). And after all of it, when I finally felt my ‘Day 1’ of starting afresh, do you know what the most common response was, from the majority of people who knew me best?

“Wow, I never knew you’d been feeling that bad. You always seemed so happy.”

Some of us can hide ourselves under layer upon layer of responsible adulting that can create such an opaque mask over what’s really going on inside that even those closest to us wouldn’t be able to guess in a million years. We still go to work. We do the grocery shopping. We run our errands. We fulfill all of our familial obligations. We make jokes and we laugh sometimes. And meanwhile on the inside we are empty and lifeless.

It really surprised me that my sharing this newfound joy with others elicited such an unexpected response. In my head I had been a shell of myself. How could my closest friends, family and boyfriend not know just how low I’d felt this whole time? How was that even possible?

And then something like Anthony Bourdain’s suicide happens and suddenly it all makes sense. No matter how well we think we know each other, the truth is that none of us are mind readers. And so it is paramount that you ask questions and cultivate your empathy to try your best to step into the shoes of those that you love if you want to truly support them. And not just when they’re turning to drugs or alcohol or sex to numb the pain. Much before that. In the everyday.

These celebrity deaths, as heartbreaking as they are for everyone who’s lives they have enriched, are so vital in triggering a reality check for us all. They show¬† usthat celebrities are, well, people. First and foremost, they are humans with complicated emotions and brain chemistry and inner demons. You can have all the money in the world and a team of staff and great career prospects and plenty of vacation time, but you are not exempt from those demons that prey on us all. You are not exempt from trauma and heartbreak and loss and yourself.

I didn’t know Bourdain and which demons got the better of him in the end. Or well-known fashion designer, Kate Spade, who too was found dead in her apartment from suicide this week. My heart bursts with sadness for those closest to them and their millions of fans around the world. But I hope we learn from this. I do. May they get conversations flowing and may humanity change in their wake.

Photos via Paper City Mag, GQ

 

Thank you to everyone who read my last post on nasty hormonal birth control. I had some wonderful feedback from several like-minded ladies who either quit some time ago or needed that extra push to make the decision to do so now. It seems I’ve had conversations in every avenue of my life about HBC and I’m genuinely convinced that the uterus revolution is happening.

I wanted to make this more of an informative post. If you’re feeling the need to throw your pills away, but likening the ‘afterlife’ to standing on the edge of a deep abyss, worry not, I’ve got you covered. I’d like to talk about 4 books today that have utterly changed my life and I’m hoping they can do the same for you. The first two are eye-opening, anger-inducing and damn right essentials that any woman (or girl!) must read if considering HBC. For anyone umming and ahhing, or for someone who’s quit but toying with the idea of crawling back – read these before you do. The other two reads are informative with constructive, concrete steps in maintaining healthy menstrual cycles and using the Fertility Awareness Method either for contraception, conception or simply living more in tune with your body. So, without further ado.

The Pill: Are You Sure It’s For You? By Jane Bennett & Alexandra Pope – I wolfed this down in a couple days and readily thrust it at every girlfriend I can, akin to a grandma trying to carb-load her offspring. Incredibly well-written and full of some pretty horrifying facts, this book discusses recognising the side-effects of HBC, both in the physical and emotional realms. It talks about libido, depression, migraines, cancer, heart disease and the importance of having and accepting your menstrual cycle. It’s a health indicator, after all, and one that can tell us a plethora of important information about how we’re doing from month to month.

Sweetening The Pill (Or How We Got Hooked On Hormonal Birth Control) By Holly Grigg-Spall – This is one that will make you angry, all right! Devoured within days again, this looks at how the pill was created and how it’s become ‘the norm’ for so many women in today’s world. It discusses the approach to contraception in different communities and cultures and highlights the worrying truth that girls as young as 13 are terrified into taking the pill (or other long-term contraception like the implant or IUD) because they’re told they’re walking baby machines. This simply isn’t the case and it puts forth the question of why a male version of the pill was quickly rejected due to ‘potentially harmful side effects’, yet many women live with these unquestioned. A fascinating insight into the world of the pharmaceutical industry and western medicine and how it’s more sinister that you might initially think.

Womancode: Perfect Your Cycle, Amplify Your Fertility, Supercharge Your Sex Drive and Become A Power Source By Alisa Vitti – OK, so the anger has subsided and you’re thirsty for knowledge. You know the pill has been terrible for you and you’ve learned about the importance of having your menstrual cycle month to month. What can you do from here? How can you get back normal cycles after years of having suppressed them? What can you do to have regular cycles so that you can use the Fertility Awareness Method as a form of contraception or conception if trying to have a baby? Womancode is an excellent source of information about how to have a regular cycle and heal conditions like PCOS, endometriosis, fibroids, painful periods, infertility etc. It discusses nutrition, exercise and lifestyle factors that you should consider. It’s a bit of a bible that you’ll want to keep handy and refer to often.

Taking Charge Of Your Fertility by Toni Weschler – The mother of all books on the Fertility Awareness Method (FAM), Weschler’s book has been cited countless times and the principles within it adopted by everyone using FAM today. Use this to educate yourself in how to use FAM as a tool for either avoiding or planning baby-making and fling at your friend who says, “oh man, you’re not doing that stupid rhythm method, are you?” This is a book that should be given to every pubescent female as a “period textbook” of sorts so she can track her cycles, learn about her body and use as a form of contraception when she’s ready, avoiding all the nasty side effects of hormonal interference.

I would love to read your recommendations if you’re on a similar journey yourself. What’s been catching your attention? What are your thoughts on HBC?

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What does it take for radical changes to be made in our society? How much environmental damage? How many traumatised sexual assault victims? How many children fighting for survival in broken homes? How many young people burdened with crippling stress as a result of overwork and underpay? How much sickness?

It’s pretty mind-boggling to me because I consider myself to be a (relatively) normal person of a (somewhat) normal background, but I’ve experienced all of the above. All of them. And I struggle with my mental health a lot of the time. So how are those worse off than me coping? Thinking about this truly saddens and baffles me, to be honest.

This isn’t a cry for sympathy. I write about this kind of stuff to bring it to light, to encourage those suffering in silence to speak up and get help and also to turn up the volume on our desperation – as the young voices of society – for change.

I’m sick of spending 70% of my time wondering how to live well while avoiding plastic, avoiding consuming animal products and still maintaining a nutritious, balanced diet so that I can be healthy and happy. Society is not built to support this and so it’s incredibly difficult. The framework is not there. The framework exists in the form of corporations and advertising backing fast food and destructive consumption habits. The result is sick person after sick person, overweight and yet malnourished (in the developed world, that is), polluting the beautiful world around us.

I’m sick of having to fight off the seething anger I feel when some asshole catcalls at me when I pass by in the street. Do you know that I now rarely wear anything that reveals a body that I’m actually really proud of because it’s just too exhausting to deal with the attention? I’ve tried every tactic in the book when it comes to rude men invading my personal space and disrespecting me. I’ve ignored them, I’ve raised the middle finger, I’ve told them to fuck off and no matter the response I choose to embrace, I still leave the scene angry and deflated. To any men that have ever catcalled a woman or worse, please know that we think of you as akin to the dirt on our shoe. We do not find this attractive. It does not make us attracted to you. It does not make us feel good. We see you as dumb, chauvinistic predators who feel that the worth of a woman is limited to her appearance rather than her brain. We don’t feel you would produce good offspring. We don’t want to have your babies.

I’m sick of seeing bad parenting happening over and over again. We’ve got lazy parents who can’t be bothered to interact with their children, so instead shove a smartphone or tablet in front of them hoping it’ll keep them occupied. You grew this little human! Do yourself and society a favour and raise it well! We’ve got parents neglecting their children and withholding love because they don’t understand their needs. And it’s probably because they never took the time to heal themselves of their own traumatic childhoods before entering the world of parenting. They then find said children acting out and don’t understand why. They try to discipline them which only causes further upset and frustration until eventually the gap in understanding between parent and child becomes so large that bridging it is rendered impossible. That child enters adulthood struggling to do life, not really understanding why and feels a bitter resentment to their parent(s) which society still labels as unacceptable (“It’s family! You can’t turn your back on family!” *shakes head*). The vicious cycle then continues if they go on to reproduce.

I’m sick of overtime becoming the norm for so many people of working age. Overworked people are good for very little. All that results is both physical and mental sickness. Weak staff are unhappy staff and unhappy staff aren’t very productive. Every job – no matter how ‘technical’ – has an element of creativity to it. If workers are essentially shoved into survival mode because they are too stressed to function properly, the last priority is creativity. Simply doing basic life becomes a struggle and so you’re essentially paying staff to do what a robot could do far better. You’re not getting out of them what humans are so good for in the first place: creative self-expression.

Finally, I’m sick of the weight-watching-obsessed, calorie-counting, disease-ridden people taking up resources and placing a strain on our healthcare system because they simply weren’t taught about food while growing up. I don’t blame any person struggling with his/her weight and addicted to processed food. It is likely that he/she grew up with parents who put fast food on the table every night or who’s idea of vegatables was boiling everything until it turned the same shade of snot-green, subsequently putting him/her off for life. If you grow up thinking that broccoli is meant to be a pile of green mush, of course you’d rather opt for fries. We need to start teaching kids about food in a way that encourages a healthy relationship to flourish. We need to teach them how food grown, how it’s meant to be consumed, what nutrients we need to be healthy and the environmental impacts of the food we choose to eat.

So my question to you is, what does it take? WIth all these different flaws we have, what will it take to see real change?

Photo via Unsplash

 

It’s shocking, but it’s not. I found it refreshing to see that the BBC has posted that the primary reason for days off work is due to a mental health concern. One in three sick notes written by a doctor is for depression, anxiety, stress, or whatever other internal crisis many of us are dealing with. Yet it’s still taboo to talk about it, let alone even think of calling in with one of these ‘invisible’ ailments when you need time off work. Things have got to change.

I was sat at my desk yesterday chatting to two of my closest coworkers about said statistic. One of them asked, ‘OK, so do you think it’s because mental health issues are increasing or that we’re simply becoming more aware of our mental health?’ It was a great question, but I only pondered it for a mere moment before feeling an overwhelming sensation that my belief was with the former. We are designing our society in a way that hinders – not helps – us mentally.

We’re becoming more urbanised, This means cramming more people into concrete jungles and, ironically, not placing emphasis on the importance of community. We all work too much for too little satisfaction. We return to our homes too tired to do the things that we genuinely want to do. Then we wake up the next day and do it all over again. We complain we have no time for all the things we’d like to do. But we’re constantly distracted by our smartphones.

When we create the image that those doing overtime in their corporate jobs are ‘heroes’ and something to aspire to, we’ve got a problem. In my opinion, someone who isn’t able to be strong enough to draw a line, close the books and turn off the PC for the day isn’t an inspiration. They aren’t a role model to look up to.

If there’s a collective thinking that taking time off or learning to call it a day when it strikes 5pm (or whenever your work hours finish) means you’ll fall behind, there’s momentum created in a negative direction. It’s a sure-fire way to a downward spiral of much unhappiness. You feel unfulfilled from not making the time to do those things that truly satisfy you. There’s the stress of feeling like you simply can’t keep up. And no matter how much you try to suppress the anxiety that is seeping out of your pores, it will catch up with you in the end.

Over the years, I’ve seen co-workers give themselves all kinds of skin conditions, auto-immune diseases and panic attacks from working themselves to the bone. And for what? If you’re too sick to do the things you want to do, you’re living (albeit barely) to work. And if your job does not fulfill you, what then?

This is what we’ve got to start realising; we are only human. And we operate best when we are at equilibrium. Some hard work will always be required. If it’s in a field you’re passionate about, even better. But there is always some give and take. You can’t apply an excess of pressure in one part of your life and expect not to suffer in another. Balance.

The topic I always return to is that of social media. I find it so useful to connect with inspirational people. I find it useful as an extension of my voice in living a more ethical and conscious lifestyle. But it also serves as a great distraction and sometimes, demon. Through social media platforms, our lives are able to become much larger; reach much wider and the result is constant reminders of all the things that we don’t have and aren’t doing. It can be a really quick way to undo any gratitude practices, looking at a synthetic life created by someone else and believing it to be real and much better than your own.

I’ve decided to take a break for the month of September. This post will link to some of my platforms where you might be reading this from, but be sure to leave me a comment at the bottom of this post rather than on Facebook or Twitter if you want to discuss anything as I won’t be checking those.

For the entire year of 2017 I’ve been and am continuing to do a different ‘wellness’ challenge each month. As a blogger, social media is part of the deal. It’s an incredible way to connect to people with similar values and also influence others to make small changes for the better. But I couldn’t not do this. I’m genuinely really excited to see what I notice/learn by the end of the month.

My mental health is always on knife-edge. I have a depressive streak, suffer from SAD and have to combat suicidal thoughts from time to time. This is partly genetic, partly situational, partly from PTSD. For the entire year of 2016 I was at crisis-point and yet 95% of people in my life would never have guessed and didn’t know a thing. This is because it’s so much more difficult to talk about mental health and it makes people uncomfortable.

In the corporate, politically-correct, ‘must have a brave face’ society of the UK at present, there is no time for negativity. It’s simply, ‘well, love, pick yourself up and get on with it.’ I stick two fingers up to that, quite frankly, and say actually, what if we all prioritised our happiness? Don’t you think things might be a bit better and we wouldn’t have quite an armpit of a nation and political system?

Employers don’t have productive workforces because their employees simply can’t cope. Their stress is not always work-related, but we’re a nation of people plagued with ill mental health. Too much urban living, not enough time outside and in communities was always bound to fail. What will it take for things to change I wonder?

Photo via Unsplash

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Define corporation: “a large company or group of companies authorised to act as a single entity”

We all know the corporate feel. Suits, white walls, stuffy meeting rooms, boards of the expressionless, and not much in the way of light-hearted humanity. It can be a soul-crushing worklife, but one that many of us must engage in for at least a short while until things work out for us. So let’s say that at the moment where you’re at in life means you can’t afford to be picky. You’ve got bills to pay and mouths to feed. I get it. This job isn’t inspiring or active in the way that you’d like it to be, but it’s what has to be done, for the moment at least. How can you make it through without feeling like your head is either going to explode or shut down at any moment? There are ways! I’m telling you, there are ways.

First we’ve got to look at how desk-based corporate work affects our health. It’s not rocket science: the answer is badly.

More and more of the jobs available to us in developed nations are sedentary. They are jobs involving sitting at a computer. If we add in using a car to get to and from these jobs, we’re talking about the majority of our waking hours spent on our asses without actually using our bodies. That’s a pretty morbid (literally) thought, isn’t it? How do you go about killing yourself slowly but surely? You engage in a lifetime pursuit of slouching in the same position every day, likely also consuming some heavily-processed food at your desk. You wonder why you’re putting on weight. You wonder why you’re so miserable. Your skin doesn’t have a glow to it anymore. You look dull, tired and damn right down.

Part of the human evolutionary process is to make things easier for ourselves. That’s just the way the cookie crumbles. But this backfires immensely when it comes to the corporate agenda. You see, no matter how hard we (I say “we” meaning the powers that be) try to monopolize this world with dull, pointless corporations, we have to realise that humans will never be able to act like robots and be consistently happy. No matter how much they want it, we’re meant for so much more. We need movement and creativity and freedom in our lives to maintain true happiness and success.

So, with that being said, here are 4 ways to engage in the corporate world short-term without losing all of your mind, body and soul:

  1. Commute in the most active way possible. You may well live a ridiculous distance away from your place of work and need a car. If so, unless you fancy moving closer then there’s not much you can do for this one. But to those driving when you could instead be walking or cycling, now is the time to make the switch. An active commute does so much for your health – both physically and mentally. A study found that those who cycled to work were 40% less stressed than drivers. The opportunity to commute in this way gives you time to relax and work any stress off prior to beginning your day. Likewise, at the end of a busy day. It can also be a great time to listen to podcasts and enrich that brain of yours. (Hello, Hello Internet)
  2. Make a conscious decision to take a lunch break. I know what it’s like. As soon as one of your colleagues takes a working lunch at his or her desk, suddenly the standards are upped. Everyone feels that in order to prove themselves, they too must work through their lunch. Newsflash, though: you aren’t being paid for that break! Therefore, do yourself a favour and take it. Change the scenery and get some fresh air. Take a short walk if you can manage it. This is a great way to hit refresh and be mentally prepared to kick ass during the second part of the day.
  3. Keep inspirational material visible. Whether this is a calendar with all the exciting things coming up or a photo of where you’ve saving to go on vacation, remind yourself of why you work to live – not live to work. This will save you during your mid-afternoon slump.
  4. Be nice to your co-workers, because you might need them one day. Depending on where you work, there might be a bit of a competitive streak that runs through the company. But there’s no ‘i’ in team, after all, and all that ‘my way or the highway‘ attitude gets you is loathing and isolation. Plus, in the distant future when you’re doing your own thing, you might just need to call on one of your colleagues from the past. Remember that karma isn’t afraid to come round and bite you in the ass. Therefore, be nice and it will go a long way in your success.

Have you managed to kick ass at corporate thing? What got you through?

Photo via Unsplash

 

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