I Can and I Will!

It’s been too long since I last posted and I wanted to get another in before the year finishes. Since my last post I’ve been getting settled in my new job and I’ve gone a bit mad with my crochet but I’m not complaining. I had planned to post about not expecting too much from people but I got stuck halfway through so that’s on the backburner until the new year.

This is going to be a post about the things I want to achieve next year and the things I’m proud of from this year. I don’t do resolutions or any of that “New Year New Me” bollocks, I just think about the things I can do to continue improving. If I think of something in the middle of the year I want to achieve I’ll think of how to best succeed at it and start working on it, there’s no reason to wait for a new year/week/day. 

I know 2016 hasn’t been the best year for a lot of people and during the first half, I thought things were going to be bad for me too but the second half has been great. So, I’ll get onto the good things from this year first…

  • I graduated from university with a first class degree with honours – this was a surprise because I expected a 2:1; I put as much effort in as humanly possible and it paid off. Getting a first really boosted my confidence and now I feel good enough to do the job I do.
  • I moved into my own flat – three years ago, when I started university, I thought I was going to get ridiculously homesick and not be able to manage on my own but now I couldn’t imagine not living in my own place. Living on my own has also shown me that I’m capable of providing for myself and not injuring/poisoning myself.
  • I proved to myself that I’m a strong, independent woman – initially, when I became single in July I felt worthless and stupid because I’d forgotten how good I am on my own and I blamed myself even though there was nothing for me to feel bad about. Since two days after my two year “relationship” ended my mental health has improved so much that I genuinely can’t remember being as happy and well as I am now.
  • I got the job I wanted and deserved – I spent a month doing a job I hated and ended up being signed off for 3 weeks because I was getting too stressed. In those 3 weeks I got my current job which I love. It’s with the youth work organisation I’ve been with since May and I’m responsible for recruiting young people who are interested in voluntary work then supporting them once I’ve found them a placement. At the moment it’s a 12 month contract which might mean I have to find something new again next October but at least I’m getting experience in things like coordinating volunteers, management, and meeting targets. 

As well as all of the above I’ve learned how to crochet (and I’ve made Christmas presents from my new skills), I’ve been employed by the university as a casual life model (I haven’t had any jobs from them yet), and I’ve met some cool new people. 

Over the next 12 months there are lots of things I want to do so I’ll share the main three. Before I tell you what they are, please bear in mind that we can’t all be the same or agree on anything so if you’re going to tell me I’m making bad decisions, don’t bother. I’ve done my research and I am totally capable of succeeding.

  • I’m shaving my head for charity – if you don’t know me in real life then you won’t know that I’m going to get my head shaved on my birthday (25th February in case you want to get me a present) and I’m doing it to raise money for Target Ovarian Cancer. The hair that’s being cut off first is going to The Little Princess Trust again then I’ll be getting the rest shaved/tidied. I chose Target Ovarian Cancer in memory of my gran and if you’d like to donate even a little bit of money then you can do it here: 

https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/Gemma-Tunstall
I’m fully aware that shaving my hair off will mean my head will get cold, yes I am really getting it all shaved, and no I don’t care if it makes me look less “girly”. 

  • I’m going cruelty free – I’ve wanted to do this for a while and the last few times I’ve bought makeup I’ve made sure it’s from cruelty free brands. I think we’re in a time now where we don’t need to test makeup, shampoo, soap, etc on animals and so many companies already manage to make their products without harming animals. I’ll be using up anything I already have that isn’t cruelty free and replacing it with the cf alternative. If you’re not sure about what’s cruelty free and what isn’t then PETA have lists and guidelines and there are apps and other websites that will tell you.
  • I’m going to be vegan – this is the change that has attracted the most negative responses from the people I’ve told which really boggles my brain. I’m making this decision because I don’t feel like I can honestly say I’m going cruelty free if I’m still eating meat and I shouldn’t have much dairy anyway because I’m a bit lactose intolerant so why shouldn’t I go vegan? My decision isn’t going to negatively impact on anyone. I honestly think I would get more positive responses if I said I’d stolen a child’s tricycle and rode over all the puppies in sight. I definitely wouldn’t get as much ridicule for doing that. Also, I can’t get my head around what people don’t understand about being vegan; in essence you just don’t eat anything that comes from animals. And don’t worry your little heads about my protein and vitamins because I’ve got those sorted, I don’t need meat for them.

If you still have horrible things to say about any of these choices, I suggest you write them on a piece of paper and eat them because I don’t care. I don’t want to be told that I’ll fail at being a vegan. I don’t want to be told what I should eat. I don’t want to be told that my life decisions are stupid or pointless. I can do whatever I put my mind to, we all can. 

What are you all aiming for? Whatever it is, go for it. Just don’t leave anyone worse off if you can help it.

I hope you all have the year you deserve.

Gemma

Imagination Doesn’t Sleep

I knew I wanted to do a post today but I couldn’t decide what to write about until I remembered the dream I had last night and I realised I still haven’t written about my crazy dreams. If you already know me then you’ll have heard some of my night-time imaginings being retold and you’ll know I’m just as surprised as everyone else when it comes to what goes on in my head when I’m asleep. I’ve always had detailed, often bizarre dreams but I got put on some new medication in April 2015 which lists “vivid dreams” as a side effect and things stepped up a notch. As far as side effects to medication go, there are worse ones to have I guess. I sometimes go through phases of waking up and feeling like I’ve hardly slept but not because I haven’t slept, it’s because my mind has been showing me this bright and detailed programme of its own making which often makes no sense whatsoever.

I’m going to share some of my more weird dreams with you all in the hopes someone somewhere will identify. Whenever people tell me they had a “boring” dream (in my opinion) I find it hard to believe that they’d dream about something so normal. For instance, my mam often has dreams about going on holiday and my brother has told me about having dreams about going to car shows. I guess they’re normal things to dream about but because I’ve always had dreams with talking animals, or mythical creatures I’m more likely to disbelieve the boring ones.

Anyway, I’ll go through some of the crazy ones I can remember and some of you might know what I’m going on about, if not at least you’ll be entertained (hopefully). I’ll start with the one from last night…

  • A date with the president: I was talking to Steve McDonald (from Coronation Street) and he had Barack Obama with him except he was called Johnny Obama (no, I don’t know why either). He had to keep Johnny Obama hidden from Michelle (Steve’s wife from Coronation Street, not the First Lady of America) so Steve asked me to take him to a café while he went and got his wife. We went to the café where I argued with the woman serving us about the type of cake I wanted and the selection visibly available until she told me she had loads of secret cheesecake. I got some chocolate cheesecake and a cookie to crumble over the top of it for free. While Johnny Obama and I were waiting for Steve and Michelle, we ended up going on a date in the café and he had to paint on some stubble and change his clothes so no one would realise who he was. When Steve and Michelle got to the café we all got more cheesecake and had a wonderful time. (I’m going to start referring to him as Johnny Obama from now on because it’s amusing me so much).
  • Don’t be scared of the polar bear: before I went to university I had a dream that I met my Auntie Julie from Hebburn and we went to a pet shop where there were loads of tiny wild animals in the cages. I looked at giraffes and elephants the size of my forearm and lions half the size of that. Out of all of those animals I chose a normal sized, baby black rabbit! The pet shop was owned by a talking (normal sized) polar bear who everyone was telling me to be scared of and there was a little girl outside the pet shop warning me but when I went in the polar bear was really nice.
  • Rampaging Baboon: I think this one was partially because of the medication although I’m not entirely sure. I dreamt that Ashley and I were taking some official type people to the farm we lived on to show them around. This farm had dogs in the fields rather than sheep or cows and under a wooden fence there was a passed-out baby/teenage baboon. We realised this wasn’t good so we ushered the official people into the house where our mam and dad were and tried to get as many of the dogs into the house as we could. The house has a few steps just inside the front door and a little window above the door so we were getting more dogs in through the window and Ashley squirted water at the baboon to wake it up so it would hopefully go away instead of killing the dogs like we knew it would. When the baboon woke up it started attacking the dogs we hadn’t got in yet and then it tried to get in the tiny window too. My dad stopped it and grabbed it by the tail before folding it up like a leaflet and putting it into a lilac plastic bag so we could take it back to the zoo. For some reason it never touched any of the Pomeranians.
  • Don’t burn the baby: I don’t know how or why but in one dream I was on holiday, possibly in Lanzarote, and I was carrying around the most beautiful, albino baby. To make sure she didn’t get burned I was wearing an umbrella hat and carrying her around underneath it. That’s about it for that one but I thought I’d include it because I still remember it and it makes little sense.
  • Terrifying beach party: A few weeks ago I had a dream which started on an army type ship with some old men who used to be in the army and I think they were doing a remembrance tour or something like that. A party boat went past and it was full of young, partying people. There were penguins flying past (yes, I know that’s not possible but it was a dream) and there were killer whales and sea lions in the water. I met the party people when they docked (I think that’s the right term) and there were bloggers, people I went to school with, and random people getting off to go swimming in the water but because there were whales etc in the water I was terrified. Georgina from Fuller Figure Fuller Bust finally persuaded me to just paddle in the shallow bit where the living things couldn’t touch me.
  • Will I ever get out of this place? I think I mentioned this in another post not so long ago but every now and then I have dreams where I’m stuck in aquariums or I’m there and it feels really enclosed and oppressive. I used to really like going to aquariums but now they make me anxious and I think I have a mild phobia of live fish, they make me slightly grossed out. I don’t even know what first made me have these nightmarish dreams but a lot of the time my fear stems around the darkness and unknown element of the aquariums, especially in the tanks that are bigger and deeper than they first appear. There’s probably some deep meaning to this but I don’t know what it is.
  • An informed lion: I seem to have a high frequency of zoo dreams too but they’re not based on terror like the aquarium ones. Possibly one of the more odd ones was a few months ago and it involved me and Georgia going behind the scenes at a zoo where there was a lion who was trained to react to the word “information”. He got out of his cage and had me and Georgia backed against a wall to investigate us but the zoo keeper said “information” to him and he walked off so then we knew that was how to keep him under control when we were walking around with him. Apparently someone would say it to him as part of a talk so he would know when it was his turn to walk around the enclosure.
  • The Clanny Cat and the Giant Snake: in my first year of university I lived in halls (Clanny House) and there was a cat that wandered around and was fed by the students. I had a dream that Georgia and I were by a river on a sunny day and we saw the Clanny Cat swimming but there was a giant snake that lived in the river and we saw it chasing the cat. We shouted down the bank to the cat and when it got out we had to throw lizards at the snake to eat so it wouldn’t try and chase us. After we’d saved the cat we spoke to my mam about how it was typical that the cat had decided to go for a swim on that day when it usually didn’t bother.

I hope you’ve been amused by all this. There are other dreams that I either can’t remember right now or aren’t quite as interesting but if anyone has any they’d like to share then feel free.

May you always sleep well and dream crazy dreams,

Gemma

My Experience with Dermatillomania

Content Warning for mental health; this is a post I was unsure about sharing for a long time but I thought it might be able to help people who don’t know about dermatillomania or people who think they might have it and are unsure of what to do.

First things first, “what is dermatillomania?” I hear you cry. Well it’s a skin picking disorder which can also be known as Compulsive Skin Picking, or Excoriation Disorder wherein the sufferer feels compelled to pick the skin, usually on their face, until it becomes sore and sometimes until there are wounds. It’s an impulse-control disorder so people are usually not able to stop picking. A lot of sufferers feel a sense of relief when they pick. You can find more information on the NHS website.

It wasn’t until I watched Kiera Rose’s videos on dermatillomania that I knew it was a thing and while everyone’s symptoms are different, I identified with a lot of the points Kiera made. At first I thought I might be overreacting and being a hypochondriac but the more research I did I realised that I ticked a lot of the boxes. My dermatillomania is mainly focused on my face and shoulders/back but it is quite common for people’s hands and fingers to be badly affected. I want to write about it as a way to explain why I sometimes look the way I do (although, I’m aware I don’t have to explain myself to anyone) and to raise awareness of dermatillomania.

My experience:

On reflection, I’ve been a picker since I was quite young. I can remember quite vividly two occasions that probably triggered my picking; one was when I was around 9 or 10 and had a small spot on my chin which would have healed normally if I’d left it alone but I picked at it so much that people started asking if I’d fallen and scraped my chin, and the other was when I was 10 or 11 and had a small spot in my hairline and I scratched the skin off it and felt good about it. Since then my picking has gone up and down in frequency but there are very few days where I haven’t picked in some way. I know some of you might be thinking it’s normal to pick when you’re a teenager and you’ve got acne which is true but it’s not normal to spend excessive blocks of time picking until the skin is sore and raw, or to search out any little imperfections to pick at. Until this year I didn’t think there was anything wrong with how much I picked even though my family would ask me not to pick because they could see I was making my skin hurt for no good reason.

The main areas under fire on my body are my face, scalp, chest, shoulders, and back because they’re easily accessible and easy to see with the help of mirrors. If I have something on my legs that I feel should be picked off then I’ll sort that out too. Most of the time I choose to pick because I’ve spotted something little in the mirror while I’m cleaning my teeth or washing my hands but there are times when I don’t realise I’m doing it such as when I’m sitting watching the TV or browsing the web and I scratch little bits of skin off my scalp, face and shoulders. I’ve even woken myself up during the night scratching. In the past my picking has been linked to my mental health and I’d pick more if I was particularly stressed or anxious about something but lately I’ve been doing it a lot even though I’ve been mostly fine and I think it’s because in the beginning of this year I started doing it again and it’s carried on as a compulsion.

Due to the state my skin has been in before I’ve tried to find excuses and ways to distract people from noticing it. When I was in sixth form and would go home every day for my dinner (or lunch if you’re not northern), I’d often end up rushing back up the road to be on time for the afternoon classes because I’d spent too much time picking in front of the mirror and had ended up red, blotchy, and flustered. I’d hope it was cold outside and warmer in the classroom so I could claim my redness was due to the change in temperature then no one would know I’d been picking. I  never used to care that much about makeup either but I’d try to accentuate my eyes (in my opinion, my best feature) so as to draw attention away from the scabs and sores I’d caused on my face. Now I can use makeup as a way to prevent picking because if I’ve got foundation on I won’t touch my face, however I try not to wear too much makeup because it can cause breakouts which trigger more picking.

You might all still think it’s not such a big deal and anyone with dermatillomania should just stop. It’s really not that easy. As it’s considered a form of OCD it’s not something that can automatically be stopped and there are a number of reasons for picking, mainly relief. With me, there’s a vicious cycle which starts with seeing or feeling something pick-able then I pick it which leads on to seeing other pick-able things and before I know it I’ve been in the bathroom for upwards of 20 minutes. In the act, I feel better and there’s a sense of being in control and my thought process is consistent with some thoughts someone with OCD would have in that I know I shouldn’t pick but I do anyway because I’m always convinced that by picking I’ll make it better and clear up the problem. Of course, this isn’t the case.

Some days I’ll pick while I’m getting ready and make my skin red and blotchy so I’ll feel I have to put some makeup on to cover it up. Other days I’ll spend so much time picking while I’m getting ready that I don’t have time to put any makeup on so have to get the redness to lessen and hope no one asks why I’m patchy. Living in the student house for the last 2 years of uni meant I didn’t pick so much because I didn’t want Georgia and Nick to know I was a picker. I’d wait until before I went to bed so I didn’t have to face anyone.

Dermatillomania affects more than appearance, it can make you feel self-conscious, affect self-esteem and body image, and while it might alleviate your stress and anxiety in the short-term, in the long-term it can make you feel even worse.

How to tackle the picking:

 The NHS site says there has been little medical research into treating dermatillomania but there are ways to help. It’s important to seek help for such conditions even if it’s just speaking to friends and family. Everyone will have different ways to deal with picking and the NHS recommends some of the following:

  • Occupy your hands until you don’t feel the need to pick or squeeze a stress ball or something similar.
  • If necessary, put on gloves
  • Keep your skin clean, especially after picking so it doesn’t become infected
  • If you feel you really need to pick try doing some skin care instead

Personally, I need to work on resisting the urge to pick because if I feel something or see something I’ll more than likely pick it straight away. I used to think that having longer nails was better for picking but a few months ago I realised it was actually shorter nails that made it easier which would be alright if I could deal with having long nails but I don’t like it so my nails are always short. Painting my nails is something that lessens my picking so this week I’ve had them painted and the picking has definitely been less.

At the moment, I’m very aware of how much I pick and I know there are bigger problems to have but it does feel like a big thing to me. It’s something I want to stop doing or to reduce a great deal because contrary to what pre-picking me thinks, it doesn’t make me feel better.

If you think you or someone you know is going through something similar to the things mentioned in this blog post, please do get some help. It’s not something people should be ashamed of, just like any form of mental health issue shouldn’t be shamed or stigmatised.

Take care,

Gemma

Acting My Age

I’ve been really busy being a “proper adult” lately which is tiring and occasionally painful (because apparently under a lot of stress my body hurts) which is why there haven’t been any posts for a while. Don’t worry though, I’m going to try to get back into it and supply you with top-notch content…

Anyway, some things have happened to me over the last few months that have made me realise that I wasn’t being totally “me” before and I wasn’t letting myself be properly happy because I was too caught up with the idea of being the person other people expected me to be. I know I’ve written about being “me” before but that was then and this is now. “Then” I thought I was going to have to make some important life decisions and that I needed to be an “adult” and plan my life accordingly but I had some sort of epiphany and realised I’m only 21. There’s no way to timeline a typical life and everyone is at different stages in their lives no matter how old they are; I don’t want to compare my life to someone else’s when they’ve been in full time work since leaving school and they’re getting married in the spring. Similarly, I don’t want someone else to compare their life to mine if they’ve had a less privileged start and couldn’t afford to or didn’t want to go to university.

Right now I feel like I’ve never been more “me” in that I’m confident in my abilities, appearance, and who I am as a whole. Despite some stressful work situations, I’ve never been so happy and content with my life since I was small as I have been these last couple of months and I intend to keep doing the things that make me happy. Even though I thought I was doing things for me, I wasn’t; I was still edging around some people but as soon as I was relieved of that I felt so light and free. I’ve always been internally old and I can remember thinking that all of the other children in my nursery class were so childish. I don’t think I was ever childish to the extent that I should have let myself be which is a shame because even as a child I let my anxiety control me but seen as though I’m not taking any nonsense from anxiety anymore I’m being the young person I’ve never been. Now that people are living longer being 21 isn’t such a big deal anymore and in some youth projects, I’d still be considered a young person so why shouldn’t I do things that young people do? Why shouldn’t I act my age?

I’m not saying I’m going to start being immature and silly, I’m just going to take things a bit less seriously where appropriate and I’m not going to do things that will make me miserable but everyone else will be happy. It might sound selfish but where’s the good in making others happy when you can’t share it with them? I want everyone to realise that they’re allowed to make themselves happy, they’re allowed to put a stop to something that doesn’t please them, they’re allowed to change their mind about what they want to do even if that means leaving a job or a relationship or a town.

I’m going to do a list of things about me that I’m not going to be sorry for anymore or that I’ve kept quiet because I knew people would be judgemental about them so you might learn something if you pay attention:

  • I still have a soft spot for the Twilight books/films – in fact I’m watching Eclipse as I type this and I don’t care what you think! Yes, I know they have their flaws and as a feminist they do ruffle my feminist feathers somewhat but it was the first Fandom I ever got into properly after Harry Potter.
  • I really love McFly – I’ve been a fan since they first appeared and I’m hoping I’ll be able to see them live at some point in the not too distant future. You might think they’re bad but that’s your opinion and I just so happen to think you’re wrong but I’m not going to be negative about your choices of music so I’d appreciate the same courtesy.
  • I don’t like The Titanic – since I was little I’ve never understood the hype around it, it’s really sad and I don’t like underwater things. This leads onto…
  • Aquariums make me anxious and I can’t enjoy the amazing fish – for some unknown reason I started having nightmares about being trapped in an aquarium or being in a situation where there was deep water and live fish. This may have stemmed from the irrational fear of there being sharks/killer whales in the deep end of swimming pools and now I can’t even look at pictures of sea creatures in the sea without getting a twisty feeling in my stomach. Those fish feet spa things that were all the rage a few years ago were my idea of hell!
  • Oreos are at best average – I can hear a lot of you gasping at this one but I’m not sorry. I’d rather have a custard cream or a bourbon (the biscuit not the drink).
  • People always say never work with children/young people or animals but those are the only two groups I have any interest in working with – are there any more innocent and honest beings?
  • I’m not a massive fan of other people’s kids – I’m fully aware that this counteracts the last point but I find it hard to like the offspring of other people when they haven’t been raised the way I would raise children if I had them. Saying “other people’s kids” makes it sound like I have my own but I don’t and I’m not sure when or if I will.
  • Unless they’re in soil I don’t see the point of giving flowers as a gift – at least if you give someone a potted plant it has the chance of lasting for longer than a couple of weeks, flowers in a vase look nice at the beginning but then they get all sad and mopey. To be fair, a plant of any sort is an odd gift in that it’s giving someone a commitment they might not want or be ready for because although it’s not as serious as an animal or baby, you still have to keep it alive. Don’t get me wrong, I like plants and flowers when they’re in gardens but I think vases are a bit like a place flowers go to die.
  • I find it hard to trust other people’s pets because they don’t smell right – I love animals but I’ll like them even more if they smell similar to mine. This is why I’d rather get a fresh puppy or rat then I can get used to their smell and make them mine. This isn’t great in terms of supporting adoption of animals but I like being able to mould an animal into a fabulous little being. It’s similar to the issue with other people’s kids, I don’t like it when people don’t use my ways of raising small things.
  • I like odd combinations of food and I find it insulting when other people turn their noses up at them – my favourites include cheese and jam sandwiches and cake in toast but if you’re not willing to try them please don’t act all disgusted because that’s like saying I’m disgusting and that’s not nice.

There are probably a lot of other things I could say about myself but I don’t want to get into a massive rant. The point I’m making is that I’m me and if you don’t like it then tough. I’m going to do 21 year-old things (but not go out and get drunk or high because that’s not my thing) and act my age for once. I encourage you to do the same,

Gemma

Hair to Spare

“Donate my hair to charity” has been on my bucket list for a while so last week I did some research and realised that I had long enough hair to spare. Once I get an idea for my hair in my head I have to get it done ASAP which meant I booked an appointment at SB Barbering Academy in Sunderland (near the bowling alley) for Tuesday and had no regrets. SB Academy train barbers and you can get your hair done for free by one of the trainees who will be assigned based on which elements of their training they need to work on and what you want done. They don’t tend to do women’s hair but because I wanted and undercut done they agreed to do it for me and they have a trainee who is already a hairdresser so she was better suited to what I wanted. Everyone was friendly and welcoming and even though I was in a mostly male environment I felt at ease.

I did consider shaving all of my hair off but I had a bit of a moral dilemma. I wasn’t sure if choosing to shave my hair in aid of a charity supporting people who have little choice about shaving theirs would be flaunting a privilege because I would then be able to grow my hair back whereas some people don’t have that option. I’ve thought about it some more though and I think I’d be morally OK with doing it sometime in the future. While I might still feel like I was taking advantage of a privileged position, I’d be comfortable knowing that I’d be contributing to a good cause and raising awareness.

The charity I’m going to send my hair to is The Little Princess Trust. They make wigs for children who have lost their hair due to cancer treatment. Both sides of my family have had encounters with cancer in its many forms so I wanted to do something for people who’ve had to put up with the terrible nonsense that is cancer. If I wasn’t so impatient I would have collected sponsor money to send off with my hair but I only gave myself five days and again, I wasn’t sure if I should ask people to sponsor me to do something I wanted to do anyway. I’d rather people send off donations of their own discretion instead of having me pressuring them into feeling like they have to give more than they can afford. I’m not against sponsoring people to do things but there’s a certain element of demand characteristics (at least I think that’s what I mean) when you hand people a sheet of columned paper to fill in their details and the amount they want to give. When I do shave all of my hair off I’ll ask people to sponsor me or donate but I’ll make it known that I don’t expect donations of £5, £10, or more as has become the norm. If you can only afford £1 then go for it, it’s better than nothing and every little helps (I know, it’s a bit cheesy).

Anyway onto the pictures and a commentary; The Little Princess Trust ask that you are able to donate at least 7 inches of hair as this is the minimum they require to make a wig. A lot of other places ask for at least 10 – 12 inches but that would have taken me a long time to grow and I wanted to do it straight away. Here’s a picture of me after washing (but not conditioning) my hair on Tuesday morning:

IMG_20160809_111920

Jane came with me to take pictures of the process and for general moral support so I’d like to publicly thank her here for her fabulous photography skills and for contributing to the hairdressing conversation that I often struggle with, although I didn’t feel awkward at any point on Tuesday which is a good sign for SB Academy. Firstly, my hair was tied into 4 sections to make it easier to cut once the right length had been taken. It felt odd when the hair was cut above the bobble because I could feel the hairs pinging back out around my neck.

I look surprised and impressed at how long the sections of hair actually were when they were cut off and the woman (sorry, I can’t remember your name) said that she thought I’d had an ombre dye put on my hair which was nice but it’s now back to the natural colour.

The current length is about an inch shorter than I’d ideally like but that doesn’t bother me, I can grow it a bit then maintain a length I’m happy with. I was also surprised to find that my hair is a lot thicker than I thought it was even with the undercut. I like the feeling of it being shorter and it’s a lot quicker and easier to wash and dry. After straightening out the edges of the bob and trimming my fringe, the hairdresser started on the undercut. I didn’t want it to be too pointed at the top but it’s still got a bit of a curve.

I’ve never had my hair shaved in any way so the sensation of the clippers on my head was strange but not bad. When my mam gets her hair cut I always wind her up and say that it feels like Sybill because they’re both really soft and that’s what my undercut is like. I also used to like to torment Ashley when he got his hair shaved by running my hand over it and saying it was velvety. So now I’ve got my own shaved bit I don’t have to wind anyone else up.

Before I went to the appointment I looked on Pinterest for ideas of what pattern I’d like in the undercut. I didn’t want plain, random looking lines so the barber and I decided on this flowery sort of triangle pattern. The only thing with undercuts is that they start growing quite quickly and the patterns can disappear within a couple of weeks but that just means I can change the pattern more often. The back of my head and neck went a bid red after it had been shaved but I do have quite a sensitive scalp and there’s a few rat scratches back there already so I expected some redness. I got a cold towel put on the red bit which was lovely.

I’m really pleased I decided to chop my hair off and the fact it’s going to a good cause makes it even better. If you’re looking to get an undercut done, or if you’re a man who wants a haircut and/or a beard trim I’d highly recommend SB Barbering academy. The staff and trainees are easy to talk to while they do your hair and are open to your suggestions, they wouldn’t just steam ahead with their own ideas if it’s not what you want. Not to mention that the cuts are free. You can visit any of their social media or their website to see more about what they do and if you’re interested in becoming a barber then get in touch and see what they have to offer.

While I was in the process of changing my appearance on Tuesday, Jane encouraged me to woman-up and get my nose pierced because I’ve been wanting it done for ages. I considered a septum piercing but I was scared I’d accidentally pull it out while blowing my nose and end up with a mono-nostril so I got a general nose piercing instead. I went to Triple Six in Sunderland because they’re the only tattooers and piercers I’ll trust at the moment. Stacie, the piercer, was friendly and told me what I needed to know about the piercing. According to Jane, I looked more shocked at the clamp going into my nose than I did when the needle was put through. It wasn’t the worst pain ever and it only lasted for about a minute but it felt like when you pinch the side of your nostril with long nails but x10. I’m happy I got it done and it looks like I’ve always had it, there’s been no getting used to the look I just suit it (well Jane and I think so anyway).

If you’d like to donate money, or even hair, to The Little Princess Trust then go ahead and do it!

Gemma

The Pros and Cons of Living Alone

As you should already know, I now live alone and for the most part I like it but as with everything, there are pros and cons to it. I’ve compiled a list of the main ones I can think of to share with you. Some of them might not be that much of a big deal to anyone else but I can’t be the only one who gets worried about people judging me for my natural smell when they visit (I don’t mean like gasses, I just mean the smell everyone has but we tend to hide it with perfume etc. but if you live alone then your natural smell will be on everything; sort of how your skin would smell if you washed with scentless soap). Anyway, in no particular order, the things I consider to be pros and cons of living alone:

  • You can do what you want when you want – maybe you do this with other people living in the house but you’ll never be as truly free as when living alone and not caring about being seen when you’re wandering around in your underwear or any other state of undress. It also allows you to sing as loud as you want without someone telling you to shut up and you can pull all sorts of faces to Snapchat to your siblings without worrying that someone is going to enter you into a competition. This does have some limitations in that, if you want to do something such as carrying a really heavy box which requires two people then you can’t do it when you want without injuring yourself but, chances are, you’d rather dance and sing in your underwear all the time anyway.
  • No one will judge you if you don’t do the washing up straight away – I’m not endorsing leaving the washing up for days on end but if you don’t feel like doing it the very minute you put the dishes in the sink then no one is going to frown at you and make passive-aggressive comments until you wash them. Although this does take us on to the first con…
  • You eventually have to do all of the washing up as well as all the other cleaning, cooking, tidying, etc. – if there’s no one else making the mess then there’s no one else available to help with the cleaning up so a big portion of time is spent motivating yourself to tidy and then scolding yourself for not doing more tidying as you go along instead of leaving everything. I don’t mind doing most of the household tasks that are involved with living in your own place, I particularly like hoovering and once I’ve done the cleaning and tidying I feel happy and peaceful but there are some things that I’d rather employ someone else to do, these are:
  1. Changing the bed sheets
  2. Emptying the washing machine
  3. Washing the dishes
  4. Plucking my eyebrows (I’ve solved this one for the time being as I’m growing them out to combat years of over plucking)
  • You’re responsible for paying for everything – it’s nice being a strong, independent woman but it sucks having to pay for all the serious things with your own money when you’d much rather be buying fish and chips, cake, books, rats, and lipstick. Budgeting is so important and I’m much more responsible with my money but I’ll be relieved when I start my other job and have a bit more to play with after the bills have been paid.
  • There’s less chance there’ll be other people walking around in the middle of the night thus triggering your anxiety and stopping you from sleeping – this was one of the main things that bothered me when I was in student accommodation. I was going to put “no one will be walking around” but if you live in a flat you’ll probably be able to hear upstairs neighbours and my brain kindly suggested that if someone were to break in then that would count as walking around. It’s quite unlikely that the latter will happen but my brain is a pedant and made me include it.
  • You can eat what you want when you want and there’s no one to judge how much you exercise – this is a pro and a con because it can mean that you feel less self-conscious about eating in front of people and they won’t question odd food combinations but it can also mean that eating behaviour suffers. You might become more likely to binge or less likely to feed yourself properly and keep to meal times. While I’m not completely out of sync with my eating I know I’m not eating the way I should be to keep myself in tip-top condition.
  • There’s no one else to answer the door/phone – thankfully, so far I haven’t had to do either of these too much but unless there’s someone at the door that I know will be there I’m not too keen on answering it. In the old house we got a lot of cold callers but I haven’t had any in the flat yet. I always feel like a terrible person when I turn them away without giving them money or joining their religion but if I want to partake in such activities I’ll do the research and make an informed decision beforehand. If you live with other people you can take it in turns to answer the door or you can nominate the person you like least to do the job.
  • No one can hog the TV – while you can watch whatever you want there’s no one else to discuss it with and analyse little details. You might actually see that as a plus and I think for a lot of things it is but sometimes you need someone else to agree that a certain character is terrible or that a plot line is shoddy. I have to have my TV on quite loud because my hearing isn’t the best so being by myself means that a: I don’t have to have it quite so loud, and b: if I do want to have it a bit louder no one is going to complain as long as it’s not loud enough to disturb the neighbours.
  • Social opportunities are limited – obviously being on your own means there’s no one to talk to or do activities with which leads to trying to organise such activities. I struggle with this because I never know if people will get sick of me asking to do things or if they’ll think I’ve forgotten about them if I don’t ask them to do things. I don’t know where the balance is and obviously it’s different for everyone. While I go on about being unsociable and disliking other humans, I do actually like company for at least a few days a week but I know other people have their own things to do so organising social outings can be a hassle.
  • You are the maker and enforcer of rules – in a space where you pay for everything, clean everything, and look after everything you get to decide how you want other people to behave and you’re perfectly within your rights to get angry or put people in the naughty corner if they misbehave. I haven’t had loads of opportunities to tell people the rules for the flat but some I will put into place are:
  1. No sitting between the cushions on the sofa
  2. If you’re staying for more than an hour take off your shoes
  3. Put the seat down before flushing the chain
  4. Don’t spray things near the rats
  5. Shut the front door properly if you’re the last one through it
  • Not having to share space means you can take up more room with bookshelves – I’ve got an average sized bookshelf at the minute and I still need to bring some books over from home and buy some new ones but I like having it in the living room where I can see it all the time and any guests can see my books. I like going into other people’s houses and seeing their books displayed (that’s houses I get invited into, I don’t just go to other houses to look at their literature) and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t judge the book choices people make. One of my main goals in life is to have either a library in my house or to have lots and lots of bookshelves. Sometimes when I’m in town and feeling a bit stressed I’ll go to Waterstone’s just to look at the books because it calms me down and there’s a still quietness in bookshops that I can’t quite explain; you’re surrounded by all of these words but none of them are being said out loud and there’s so much potential on the shelves. I want to have that feeling in my own home someday.
  • It can be extremely lonely – about 60% of the time I enjoy living alone and I manage fine but the other 40% can often be cripplingly lonely. This is probably an effect of my mental health and it’s not anyone else’s fault but it’s something that can’t be ignored. When you’re feeling unwell in any way company is something you tend to crave but living alone, especially so far from family and friends, is difficult and can make you feel worse. As I mentioned a few points ago, I’m scared of asking people to do activities with me too much in case they get sick of me but I do want to do things. When I’m not well my brain convinces me that people don’t want anything to do with me and that I shouldn’t contact anyone which then makes me feel worse. Spending time with other people is good though and so far I haven’t made anyone sick of me (that I know of).
  • When people actually do visit you become very conscious of the appearance of where you live – this can be seen as a positive if you use it as motivation to tidy up but most of the time things aren’t as bad as you think they are and people either don’t notice mess or they’re too polite to mention it. I worry a lot that people will think the flat smells like rats (it does but I try to keep on top of it so it’s not overpowering) and that they’ll think I’m extremely untidy. There are things that could do with being put away but it’s not like I’ve got piles of stuff which will pose a health and safety hazard.

There will be many other positive and negative points to living alone that I haven’t thought of yet or that I haven’t experienced so I might have to do a follow-up post if I discover any more. I do like my little flat, I’m pleased I chose it and everyone who’s been here seems to like it too. Once I’ve gotten everything how I want it I might post some photos but for now you’ll have to use your imagination.

Don’t be afraid to do more things by yourself,

Gemma

Odd things I’ve hear and/or seen working with young people

 

Contrary to popular belief, working with young people isn’t all stress, hormones, and sass. I’ve worked with some wonderful young people (shortened to “yp” out of laziness on my part) over the last four years who have come out with some weird stuff. I promised to write this a year ago but never got around to it so the notes I made back then make less sense but I can remember what I was on about for most of what I wrote down. I’m going to include instances that I found funny or those which I now find funny but maybe didn’t at the time (because what’s initially funny about being kicked in the throat with a football?). You might not find any of them odd or hilarious but please keep that to yourself. They’re not in any particular order of funniness but I’ll start with the football one seen as though I’ve already mentioned it and I’ll end with the one that influenced me to write this post:

  • Being kicked in the throat with a football – One Friday evening, when I volunteered as a support worker/youth worker with yp with learning difficulties and disabilities, we took the group to the beach so they could play on the park there without having to share it with too many other people. We took quite a heavy and sturdy football with us so it wouldn’t fly away in the wind which is always present on the Cumbrian shoreline and the three yp kicked it about inside the fenced park. As we all are likely to do from time to time, the yp got bored of kicking it nicely and started booting it at each other. Within no time it had gone over the shoulder-height fence. I retrieved it and passed it back so the yp could continue to play while I walked back around to the gate. This was too simple of a plan. As the ball hit the ground in front of him, the boy who was responsible for kicking it out in the first place whacked it and it zoomed straight into my throat. It hurt a lot and he laughed. I thought I was going to have a massive bruise and might lose my voice for a few days. This didn’t happen but I did tell everyone so they would show some sympathy. I think they secretly wanted to laugh though.
  • Square pie – really little yp are probably my favourite group to work with because they say whatever they want even though it might not make sense or it’s hilarious to everyone else but they don’t realise. If I’m talking to little ones I like to ask them about food because it’s usually a shared interest between us and from this I tend to ask about school dinners (it’s too long since I had one). Once, a girl had a sticker on her jumper which said she’d eaten all of her dinner so I asked what she’d had. Of course she got her priorities right and told me the pudding first but when she told me she’d had “pie and carrots” I wanted to know what sort of pie because, as we all know, you can put anything in a pie. She clearly couldn’t remember but instead of saying that she decided to go with “a square one” instead. I didn’t pry any further because she was busy with her drawing but there’s a nice sort of simplicity about only caring to remember that the pie was square.

The next few examples are from my time working on the NCS programme so are from yp aged 15 – 17:

  • What, no chicken? – this one won’t take too long to explain because all you really need to know is that one yp was puzzled as to why we had to buy chicken to make fajitas because he thought it came in the boxes you could get with the wraps and seasoning. To be fair, the boxes do have pictures of chicken on them sometimes but they aren’t kept in the fridge and the chicken would have to be pretty thin to fit in the box
  • A Hunger Games farewell – one yp had to leave early to go somewhere with their family and seen as though the group were quite close to each other we decided to wave them off when they got picked up. As we were waiting for the parents to arrive I suggested we should do the four note whistle from the Hunger Games with the three finger salute because they all knew what it meant and it was a topic we’d already discussed. I probably didn’t explain myself well enough though because one yp got all enthusiastic and started singing the song about the meadow that Katniss sings to Rue as she’s dying. He soon realised that wasn’t what I meant when we all stared at him and laughed. I was impressed that he knew so many of the words though.
  • Where’s all that smoke coming from? – I know everything can be set on fire, in theory, but you just don’t expect to see flaming nachos and cheese on the first night of an NCS wave. Last year one of my groups wanted to make nachos but as I’ve found to be true for all of the yp I’ve worked with thus far, they had no concept of how much food a group of 12 people will need. This led to them having to put a tray of nachos on a shelf quite close to the top of the oven which of course set them on fire. No one would have noticed if the Group Leader hadn’t stooped to look through the oven door and thought there was a suspicious amount of smoke in the oven. It wasn’t a massive fire but the nachos and cheese were blackened and inedible afterwards. You might not find this particularly amusing but it’s just one of those things that you don’t expect to happen and is really bizarre at the time.
  • Tea? Up there?! – another kitchen related one; I can’t remember exactly what meal we were having but we were sitting around the table and talking about the plan of action for the day when one of the yp leaned back in her seat and said “How do you get tea up there?!” We weren’t sure at first what she meant but when we looked at the ceiling we realised that she was looking at the damp stains on the tiles. Of course everyone laughed after explaining that it wasn’t tea. I’d like to know the thought process behind it all, how would a person get tea on the kitchen ceiling in a large splodge?

This last one is the reason I’m writing this post because it was such a bizarre surprise:

  • Not a prostitute – in my first year placement the yp were pretty curious about where I was from and because a lot of people don’t know where Workington is or maybe even where Cumbria is, I say I’m from The Lake District because that’s better known. So when the yp asked that’s what I told them but one of them looked a tad concerned. After a brief pause he said “The Lake District? Isn’t that where all the prostitutes are from?” No one knew quite what to say until another yp piped up with “No, that’s the Red Light District you idiot!” I suppose the confusion makes sense, they both have the word District in but I found the idea of Cumbria being akin to the Red Light District funny. I don’t even have the right sort of accent to be from the Red Light District.

You might not have found these funny or my telling of them maybe doesn’t convey them adequately but they amuse me. I might complain about people as a whole but working with young people is certainly an experience more people should have. We’re all too quick to grow up and forget the turmoil of being a young person which makes us quick to judge them for their mistakes. You might not realise it but young people can tell that they’re being judged negatively and it impacts on their aspirations and self-worth. There’s a vicious cycle of self-fulfilling prophecies that young people feel they have to live up to but they shouldn’t have to.

The next time you’re thinking negatively of a young person, stop and think about how hard it is to be that age and then re-evaluate what you were thinking.

Gemma