Photographer of Families, Small People and Delightful Places. Travel and Lifestyle Writer and Blogger. Lives in Newcastle, Loves the North, Often Accompanied By A Beagle Named Holly Bobbins

Sunday, December 23, 2018

I'm not sure I like Christmas anymore

That might be a weird and slightly shocking blog title but stay with me, I promise it's not just clickbait.

Here's the thing, I've always loved Christmas, I do love Christmas, I just don't think I like actual Christmas anymore.  You see, there's been a dawning realisation lately, Christmas day was magical when the small ones were small, we'd have Christmas Dinner on Christmas Eve and then we'd stay in pyjamas on Christmas Day and the kids would open presents until late on Christmas morning because we did Christmas big, I did Christmas big.  When Paul left 4 years ago, I sort of lost my enthusiasm, with grown up children, one of whom is autistic and doesn't do Christmas at all (he's had all of his presents already this year because he can't handle surprises).  And now, I go out on Christmas Day, a new tradition I'm thankful for, I've been adopted by Harriet's family and in writing this please don't think I appreciate it with every bone in my body but as a family we're never all together now, last year Abigail was with dad and this year, it's Looby's turn.  Both of them will be away doing things for the rest of the Christmas break and I'll spend a lot of it alone and lonely.

I suddenly got sad yesterday because I realised, the Christmas build up is nearly over and that's the thing I love most of all, once Looby's birthday is over on the 25th of September I know I have 3 months, they're the best months, business is busy and I don't have a lot of time to think and assess, I love the twinkling lights appearing in the shops and the traditions of the switch on, the putting together of our Christmas house, the trip to see Santa, the talking about how magical it's going to be but all of a sudden I can also see it ending and I've come to realise, it's not Christmas I love now, it's November and the preparation.  Christmas Day is the crescendo after all and then we just slide into a dark and deeply depressing January.

I'm thankful for my small friendship group who I'll hopefully spend some of the days with and I've told the world that my house is open to whoever would like to join me, it's certainly no lie that I love entertaining and my fridge is bursting with enough food to feed the whole of Heaton, it's seems strange that I still stockpile enough to feed an army and I'm not even home for Christmas Dinner.

Next year I need to make some life changes, I need to fix the loneliness, I need to make plans for my business and the future, however scary that may be and most of all I need to work more at fixing myself, that cavernously empty feeling inside my stomach, my head and my heart, they tell me to be happy and positive to keep helping others as much as I can but they also tell me that something is wrong.

I guess it's true to say that I yearn for the past though I wouldn't go back, I would love a huge family and always thought I would have one by now, for now I guess I'll be happy to know that someone's family loves me and I love them, that I'm open to adopting even more family members and oh, if you're out there Mr six foot elf who loves Christmas more than me, go on, jump on that magical sleigh and find me.

Friday, December 14, 2018

How to be less anxious

In all of the years I've had anxiety, it's only the last few that it's become chronic anxiety, it swings between mild worry through to utterly disabling panic attacks  and some times it's the most ridiculous things which tip it off. Anxiety is the distorted reality that lives in side of you it's like it's real, it feels real but in the back of your mind you know it's not (hence the photograph above).

The only time I don't have anxiety is when I'm out working and have my camera, weirdly it's like some kind of super power, I'm literally super calm and relaxed, I just wish I could channel this feeling into all of the other parts of my life.

Take this week, I've been determined to get as up to date as possible so I've edited two weddings and 7 photo shoots, this makes me anxious because I always assume that no matter how hard I work everyone will hate everything that I produce, it's completely irrational, I use thousands of pounds worth of photographic and editing equipment, I've been in business for 12 years, shot hundreds of weddings, thousands of photo shoots and 99.9% come back time and time again, people send me kind words, thank you's, some I never hear from again but that's just business, people have busy lives but I think I give so much of myself in photography, maybe I care too much so I have that abject fear of rejection, fuelled by a past of being told I'm not good enough.  Yeah, realistically, psychologically and objectively I can explain everything rationally but that doesn't stop that fluttery anxious feeling which lives deep inside of me and knocks me so sick that I can't leave the house some days.

Just over 3 weeks I started on a supplement called Hempceutix which a company called Natures Plus asked if they could send to me.  I told them that I wouldn't write about it before I got a feel if it was going to work.  The ones I'm taking contain 5mg of phytocannaboids and I can report that it does seem to be having an effect on my anxiety levels, yes I'm still anxious but it's just the start of a long road finding the right type of hemp product that is going to work for me, I know I can increase the dose as these ones also come in a 15mg strength and I think that's my next step but overall I'm feeling much more relaxed in general and I'm getting out for wanders with Holly Bobbins, I even went to a dog friendly post office yesterday with her.  The truth is, I'll try anything at this point as all of the prescribed medications just haven't worked and the medication I've been on long term for bipolar has, I believe made the anxiety worse.

I had a course of CBT last year and I really didn't find it helpful with the exception of one thing the therapist said which was that in every situation we have to ask ourselves when we get anxious "can I do anything to change this situation and if not, is it worth worrying about?"  It's slightly more complex than that but she definitely had a point so now I try to take action where I can and not worry too much about the things I have no control over.

Last week I had 2 evenings of being social and not only survived but had a great time.  I truly hope that this is just the start and that I can just be a little better at accepting myself, at not worrying about money, life, Christmas, my worthiness as a business person and a mother.  I really do want to love myself and I guess I do, a lot more than I did, anyway.

I'm not about to make any miracle claims about the supplements and like most things, what works for me might not be the thing which works for you but I'm certainly willing to explore the world of CBD products until I find the best one for me, at their very worst they just might not work but if they make even a small difference then it's totally worth the trial.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

The week of being social

Last week was probably the most social I've been in around a year, I had an absolute blast and for the first time in a long time, my anxiety levels were massively decreased, life has just been getting better and better.

I'm single, I'm content and for someone who's nearly 45 I don't think I scrub up too badly, well at least not after Abigail's best friend Hannah got involved and did my makeup for my Christmas party on Friday.

This years annual Christmas party was just the best, I absolutely loved it and I lasted until 2am despite not being able to drink a lot of alcohol although I was relieved on Saturday when I woke up without a hangover (unlike many of my guests).

One amazing thing was the Geordie grazing platter, if you are having a party I'd suggest this as the perfect thing to do and it's the sign of a good buffet when you get up to empty plates and platters the next morning.

I think I appreciate my girlfriends more than ever now, I haven't seen a great deal of people this year due to living like Newcastles next great hermit but, Friday night made me realise just how much I appreciate the people I have in my life, I might not have 2 full hands of close friends but the ones I have far outweigh the quantity of people I could have in my life who really wouldn't care about me like these ones do (and the others who were at the party but not in these photos, they know who they are).

Saturday night came around quicker than a beagle chasing a mouse and Harriet and I were invited to the press igloo at Dine By The Tyne, part of  Christmas Tyne, a new Christmas village which offers dining in igloos right on the banks of the Tyne, situated just next to the Baltic, you get the most wonderful views of the Millennium bridge as you feast on food lovingly prepared by the chefs from Colonel Porters.

The Igloo's are available for £200 for 10 friends and that includes a 3 course meal, I actually think for the quality of the delicious food and to spend a fun 90 minutes with some fabulous people you know, well it's a bargain as far as I'm concerned.  Harriet and I had an absolute blast and it was also lovely to be sitting with Lucy and Paul from For The Love Of The North who long time blog readers may know from their Doctor Who themed wedding.  It was so lovely to catch up with them, they're doing so well since they started their North East gift store which really does embody the spirit of all that is good in the North of England.

One of the things I loved about the igloos was the portable speakers they provide, isn't life just more fun when you can accompany an evening with a playlist, oh and for anyone wondering about how cold the pods are, they're super warm, they do have heaters in but by the time you get 10 bodies in, let's just say you shouldn't wear your Geordie big coat!


Thursday, December 06, 2018

How to survive Christmas with a mental health issue

Christmas is a joyful time of year, a time of togetherness, a time for love, for laughter and where family and friends gather around the fire to play festive games and drink eggnog...

Except, that's not what it's like at all is it?  The truth of the matter is that Christmas can be tough, for those who live with mental health issues on a daily basis, everything is amplified during the festive season.  If you're lonely, you feel lonelier, if you're depressed, Christmas can exacerbate that and heck, even the most joyous Christmas queens can be prone to meltdowns over the Christmas break.

Why?  Well the media doesn't help, Christmas movies show us a distorted perfection of the way we think our lives should be, those of us who are alone without families idealise what it would be like if we did have a big relative-filled get together but I think we're doing ourselves a massive disservice here because in all of my time on the internet, what I've witnessed on forums, in tweets and on Facebook is that for some of us, spending an extended break with family is actually like navigating the 7 levels of hell.

It's easy to believe we're not good enough just because we're not living that Insta-perfect life but just like Christmas movies, social media is a distorted view of the world.  Very few people are 100% honest on social media, feeds are curated to present the best of what we have, there's nothing wrong with that of course, I, myself love to post the best of my life in squares, pretty places, twinkly lights but at the same time, if you look deeper by following my stories or reading my blog I hope I'm much more real and down to earth.  I've certainly tried to give a first person account of a single mum who lives with bipolar and depression, who home educates, who tries her hardest to juggle multiple businesses.

Whilst I don't want this to become my own personal campaign for more realness on the internet and I'm not by any means a healthcare professional I wanted to give you my own top tips for coping with Christmas and all that it holds.

  1. Remember that Christmas isn't just 1 day - over the years I've come to notice that if I put all of my hopes, dreams and aspirations into just one day I end up having the biggest come down around Boxing Day, if you think of it more like a two week break with treats throughout you're more likely not to have that nosedive back to depression on Boxing Day and no day is so important that it should do that to you.
  2. Enjoy Twixtmas - Those days betwixt Christmas and New Year are some of the calmest quietest times of the whole year, time to read, to drink hot chocolates and mulled beverages, it's a time to look back at the highlights of the year past whilst planning for the new year, embrace this time and basque in it's specialness.
  3. Don't overdo things! - I can't stress this highly enough. A large proportion of the population will get the Boxing Day cold because they've drank for the whole of Christmas Day, suppressing their immune system and no wonder Boxing Day is a miserable existence. I've never been one for alcohol, I'm mostly allergic to it, sulphite free alcohol should stop the hangovers at least but also remember that alcohol is a depressant and if you have any kind of mental health issue and especially if you are taking anti-depressants or other medication, it's probably not a good idea to spend Christmas Day caning it!
  4. Overspending is the work of the devil! - I'd like to hold my hand up and say, guilty, guilty and more guilty. I do it mostly every year and being self employed I tend not to work for around three weeks over Christmas and it's really late February/early March by the time my income bounces back.  This year I have things in place to make sure this doesn't happen. Do you know I don't keep any money in my current account now?  I keep it all in my savings account and it helps me to spend less as I have to think about each transfer I make.   They won't miss my extraneous pile of crap I usually purchase at the last minute in guilt because I feel I'm not a good enough parent.
  5. Indulge in "Me Time" - It's easy to forget to look after yourself when you're so busy catering for guests, entertaining the family or friends that you forget to take time out, so here's what I suggest, run a bath, get a glass of wine and escape to the bath with all of your new products, even that 30 minutes out can make you feel like a whole new person, especially if you've got little ones, that is of course discounting them looking underneath the bathroom door shouting "Mammy, what you doing?"  (yes, lovelies, I have been there too).
  6. Don't be alone and lonely - There's a huge problem in our country with people feeling lonely and alone at Christmas. Maybe they don't have family or they feel isolated, you know what, no one should be alone at Christmas and whilst I can't invite you all for dinner this year I will be home for most of the festive season and even on Christmas evening so please, it's open house and I promise to do whatever I can to make you feel festive and fabulous.
  7. Don't worry about not feeling festive - Now I could never be accused of this but for some people, for very many reasons, they don't want to celebrate or they just don't feel festive at all and that's okay. You can spend the Christmas holidays however you want to and if that means watching a Harry Potter box set, then do it, no one is going to judge you.
  8. Make some time to get outdoors - spending two weeks cooped up inside your house isn't good for your soul so make some time to get outside, get some fresh air, I'm thankful I have Holly Bobbins to drag me out or I'd never go out, it's funny though because I always feel better afterwards, it's just the getting out there that's the hard part.
Whatever you do remember that it's your Christmas and you can do anything you want, I shall be doing what I did for a while during summer, turning my social media notifications off, and only going online to post occasional photos or you'll find me on Instagram which is my happy place on the internet, I need those two weeks off, I have much planning to do for next year and much reassessment of 2018.  It's been a pretty tough year over all and I need to make some decisions, tough decisions about where I go from here.

Wednesday, December 05, 2018

Last Minute Gifts and Stocking Fillers

Who can believe we're already hurtling our way to Christmas day?  Whilst it's true that I've been celebrating Christmas since at least September there's no doubt that soon, very soon, it will actually be the big day!  With that in mind, here's my last gift guide of the year featuring stocking fillers and last minute gifts you can buy right now and they'll definitely be with you in time for Santa coming down the chimney.

1. (featured above) it's Christmas for pets too and Holly Bobbins got extremely excited when a small package from her favourite food company, Forthglade, arrived, Holly eats Forthglade anyway so I was happy for her to dive in and she definitely gave 10 barks out of 10 to the whole selection, it's got to be good if Holly Bobbins likes it!

2.  Fancy gifting someone some posh beer this Christmas?  King Cobra have that sorted, one of the only beers to come in a champagne bottle it's double fermented and with an alcoholic content of 7.5 vol, it's probable that you'll only need the one bottle this Christmas.

3. Whilst we're on the alcoholic section of the gift guide, here's some delicious Campo Viejo Cava sent all the way from Spain, the Spanish love this stuff favouring it over Prosecco and you know what, I've had it accompanying Jamón and Manchego, it's not as soft a taste a Prosecco, it's sharper and drier and it will certainly go down well at any party you're having this festive season.

4.  If Cava and Prosecco aren't your think then you need to get yourself some well rounded Barefoot Bubbly, made from Pinot Grigio this is one of my favourite aperitifs in summer and if it's good enough for summer then it's good enough for Santa.

5.  Reusable cups are the big thing at the moment as we all turn our attention to saving the planet.  rCup is the UK's first reusable cup made out of paper cups, it's also completely leak free and I have one on my desk right now!

6.  Now if you've been around on this earth for any great length of time you will know that Christmas just isn't Christmas without a selection box in your Christmas stocking and so this year why not grab a Haribo selection box and remember the classic days of Christmas past.

7. Sparkly, super protective and when I say super protective I mean that, whilst I wasn't going to test the dropping capability I managed to drop my iPhone S Max down the stairs and it was saved by this wonderful Speck case.  I've been using Speck cases now for over a year since they first introduced themselves to me and I really rate them as one of the best protective phone case companies out there.

8. Can't remember where you left your keys, phone, sunglasses?  A Tile which is Alexa enabled will help you to find it,  now I wonder if it's Holly Bobbins proof?  Not that we lose her but she does like to go on wanders for sniffs.  As the website says, "ring your things" just don't expect a full on conversation with your water bottle!

9.  Derwent have lots of ideas for Christmas including this stocking filling hand lettering set, oh how you'll swoosh and sweep when you write out cards and presents for the next 365 days, Calligraphy is the new black you know!

10.  Oh it's a backpack, well not just any backpack, it's a Riutbag this is the perfect backpack for people like me who like to travel and explore new cultures but get a bit scared about pickpockets, especially in Italy and certain spots in Spain, actually even London can be bad for this and if you're carrying your phone/camera and purse, well they're not things you want lifted from your backpack unawares.  This backpack opens inwards, i.e. all of the zips are on the back so there's no chance of anything being pickpocketed and I for one shall be using this on my solo travels in the future.

11.  As 2019 beckons you'll find yourself needing a diary and why not have one with recipes throughout, I remember the Dairy Diary from many years ago and it's still going strong, I reckon mums and grannies everywhere would love this in their Christmas Stocking 

12.  Whilst you're shopping for your dairy diary why not pick up a copy of cook it slowly, essential reading for those of us who find slow cooking  a necessary element to get us through the winter, this recipe book will be well used in my house!

13.  Smith and Sinclair make the most genius gifts that I can promise you'll want them all, from edible fragrances to alcholic gummies and little round disks that will transform a simple glass of Prosecco into the most envied drink at the Christmas party you can be utterly sure that these unique gifts will delight the recipient.

14.  Face masks used to be big in the 80's but now we're in the new century and not only are they still there but there's a huge market for them, my favourites are sheet masks because they're just so easy and convenient to use, great for mother/daughter bonding, couples date or just if you want to feel a little more pampered Skin Republic sheet masks are perfect for this.

15.  Fancy some guilt free chocolate, Eat Your Hat chocolate is organic, free trade and 95% cocoa in this instance, the perfect stocking filler for the chocolate gourmand.

16.  More alcohol, there's kind of a theme but I have to give mention to Mini Vino because if you're like me and can only manage 1 glass on a Friday evening then these single serve cups are amazing, perfect for picnics, parties and dates for one.

17.  The end of the year is for me about reflection and planning for the next year, it's rare I get a lot of time off work being a self employed single mama so this book from Project Love couldn't have arrived at a better time, if you're looking to reassess all that's gone before you and all that's still to come, go pick up a copy of Goodbye 2018, Hello 2019 and start planning your future today.

18. In previous guides you may have noticed, Whisky and Vodka amongst other things, well move over guys because it's Gin's turn and not just any gin, Biggar Gin from the borders of Scotland, perfect with Lime, Lemon or even cucumber, the perfect drink for a night in watching a Christmas movie or too.

 19.  Having white teeth has certainly become a huge industry in the U.K. over the last couple of years and activated charcoal seems to help those of use who have not the most perfect teeth, Procoal activated charcoal teeth whitening powder is 100% British and 100% natural, now don't forget to admire my whiter teeth when you see me in January.
20.  Well Christmas just wouldn't be Christmas without sweets and sweets are what Swizzles do best, this year there are large tubs of sweets, large packets of your sweet shop favourites and you can even get your own favourite selection, if anyone wants to know, you can make mine a double lolly, I've been a fan since childhood.

 21. If you are practically perfect in every way then you'll have something in common with the most beloved Mary Poppins, I for one am the biggest Mary Poppins fan and so you can imagine my delight at being able to own her umbrella, I'm fairly sure that this is her actual umbrella but if you would like one which looks exactly the same (maybe with as much magic in it as mine) then you'll find it at blog favourites shop Paladone, home of many mystical and amazing products for the people you love!

22. Odlo make amazing base layers for women and Looby being a rider, needs this so badly to get through the winter, I can't imagine quite how cold she gets out riding horses all through the coldest weather but base layers like this definitely help and you'll find a full range at Tiso, the outdoor store
Thank you so much to all of the companies who've been involved with this years gift guides, it's a process which starts during the summer months and takes many hours to get to publication, all of the items featured were gifted to me and I'm so very grateful because a gift guide without gifts just isn't fun at all.  This article also features some affiliate links.
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