Thought of the day – Tattoos.

This is a little off topic but today’s post is about tattoos.
I like tattoos, and don’t see any harm in them because our skin is just skin. it still performs it’s function with a tattoo on it.

Saying that, it does depend on the tattoo. I’m not a fan of face tattoos but some smaller ones can look nice on the right person. I’m not a fan of blatantly obvious swear words in tattoos, but can’t really justify this – I swear all the time. I guess it just comes off as a big aggressive. I’m fine with swear words in small text tattoos, especially in a soft font.

I’m not a fan of crap tattoos, but can’t criticize people who’ve had their mates do it, because I am one such person.

I have 4 tattoos in total – one is 3 hearts on my ankle. This is the one my friend did, I was 17, they were practicing to become a tattoo artist (I don’t think they ever did in the end), nothing went wrong, they sterilised everything properly, but it was a bit crap. A proper tattoo artist has since neatened it up, but it’s still my least favourite tattoo. I’m happy I got it done though, it was an interesting experience and it’s by far not the worst tattoo I’ve seen.
The second tattoo I got was a much bigger tattoo of vines and flowers, that incorporates the hearts. I got this done mostly to distract from the hearts. It’s colourful too, although fading a bit now.
The third tattoo is a huge hip tattoo. It’s black, and it’s silhouettes of butterflies stemming from my actual hip bone to near the center of my back. That was my most painful tattoo to date – I’m bony as hell, so I could really feel it on the hip and as it approached my spine. I really like this tattoo.
The fourth tattoo I had done was hand-poked. It’s an owl on my upper back, and took about 4 hours due to being hand-poked. This was a great experience! When the tattoo artist started, I genuinely didn’t even realise, it’s that soft. For a small tattoo, especially for a first timer, I’d strongly recommend finding an artist who can hand-poke. This one is also relatively big though (hence the time), and it does start to burn after a while…like really burn!

I’d never planned on getting small tattoos. I like them, but would never know what to get. I like big ones. I’m an all or nothing type of person!

So here’s where I’m at now. Over a year ago, when I broke up with my ex, I decided to get a big lion face on one thigh, and a big bear on the other. At the time, the idea was that they’d represent strength and bravery. He was the first person I’d lived with other than my family, and it was a very messy break up. Saying that, the relationship was over long before we actually broke up. My tattoo artist is always booked up for months in advance, and then I had to re-book thanks to work, so I don’t have the tattoos yet – they’re booked for late August this year. I was supposed to go in at some point and just remind the artist of what I wanted, but I’ve been putting it off.

I think the reason I’ve been putting it off is I don’t really want these tattoos anymore. For a start, they’re going to cost me well over £200. I’m about to move to somewhere that’ll cost more to live at, need money for furniture, have car insurance in the next two weeks and haven’t had a job since April. I have student loan coming in September, but all these other costs are this month. I can’t afford it, even with my savings.

Secondly, I have the opportunity to go to Wales for 4 days, which is directly in between the two dates I have set for these tattoos. If I got the tattoos, I wouldn’t be able to go swimming, showering will be difficult and I’ll be in some pain. This isn’t a massive issue, they’re more my partners friends than mine – in fact, some of them I’ve never met – but I’ve never been on a holiday with friends, and it’s not costing anything, and I love Wales and swimming.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, I’ve moved on from the section of my life where I felt like I needed to prove how strong and brave I was. I did well at the time, sure, but I feel I’ve done more in the last week for myself than I did back then. I’ve already put a deposit down, so if I cancel, I do lose that, but I was thinking instead that I could keep the appointment after the Wales trip, cancel the first one and get a much smaller, more meaningful tattoo for myself. This will probably be something that represents South Africa because it was life changing and maybe that can be the reminder of my strength and bravery. I did not ever see myself going to South Africa, but not only did I do it, I thrived while I was out there. I was so happy there, so touched by the people I met and the things I saw, I experienced things I’m unlikely to ever experience again.

So yeah, just fancied sharing my thoughts on tattoos for a minute. I think regardless, I won’t be getting the bear and the lion, purely for the sake of cost. It’s a shame but at the same time, no big deal. I hadn’t realised how much this was playing on my mind until…well, today.

Apologies for the boring post! I realise this isn’t in the same style as my other posts, but this is a post for me! 🙂

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Confidence boosting

This is a quick little post on confidence in general. I’m feeling pretty good this morning, I had a nice night last night with a couple of friends. I was upset by one of my friends not turning up and not even letting me know she wasn’t coming. If you’ve been reading my other posts, you’ll know it’s been a tough week, I felt like I really needed people there for me, and she wasn’t. I’m okay despite that though. I had a little rant about it, and now I’m going to let it go because it’s not healthy to hang onto it.

There’s a few things that have helped me regain a little confidence. One is the confidence diary, for sure – it really helps to concentrate on the positives not just about yourself, but in any situation. Another is being assertive. I’m not an overly assertive person because I can struggle with decisions and doing what is best for me. Often, I put other people first but not always in a good way. When you are constantly trying not to hurt someone else, you can end up hurting yourself, and then you do what you think is best for the other person but you’re in such a funk that you can’t actually see the situation clearly, and it becomes damaging to your relationship – whether it’s a friend, partner or family member. You need to identify what you need for yourself. This doesn’t mean you can’t put others first sometimes, but you need to put yourself first too sometimes.
It can be hard to figure out what it is that we want for ourselves, so allow yourself thinking time, but don’t shut off from the people around you to do so. It’s a tricky balance but it is achievable.

I also tried on a dress today that I haven’t worn in a while. You can’t feel real body confidence until you feel some mental confidence, but feeling good about yourself physically can boost your mental confidence too. You need to find both to be happy in both, kind of thing. That sounds complex, but again, it’s achievable. I liked the dress when I wore it before, I felt good about myself in that time so putting it on today brought back some of that feeling. I’ve been a bit of a slob recently – pjs, baggy clothes, lots of black.

Wear something nice today and achieve something you’ve been putting off, whether it’s something like washing up, cooking a nice meal, going shopping or something like doing a big of writing, going for a walk, reading about something you’re interested in. It all helps!

Confidence Diary day 2.

Hey followers!

I won’t be using the template this time because I figured I can just keep that bit personal instead of going overload on the detail here. It’s been a rough old week but there’s also been lots of positives mixed in there.

One of the negative states of mind I’ve experienced this week is the feeling of emotional numbness. This isn’t a new feeling to me but it’s not something I have felt in a while. This feeling is actually a coping mechanism that’s sparked by your brain. Different things can cause it for different people, e.g. it could be a certain traumatic event such as losing a loved one, or it could be as simply as going through a period of prolonged stress.

Switching off and feeling numb for a little while is a way for our brain to process a situation(s) without flooding our body with hormones, which is what it usually does under stress, kinda like how sleeping helps our physical body (but obviously, different too!)
It becomes a problem, however, if we choose to wallow in it. There are a few things you can do to break this mind set when you’re ready to do so. One is talking to writing about everything that you feel has caused the dissociation. Another is to touch physical objects around you. This can help to re-connect us to reality again – it can help for things like panic attacks too, although it doesn’t always work and it takes some mental effort as well as the physical activity. Sometimes, it just takes time.

Anyway, back to the positives!
1. I have made strong decisions this week to change myself, and now I’ve made that choice, I’m recognising more situations where I could modify my behaviour to induce a positive outcome instead of a negative outcome.
This took such a massive effort on my part, and doing this can also help long term depression, although it’s even harder to do when you’re depressed. Very easily, we fall into thinking patterns, and we get very comfortable in them. To be able to change your way of perceiving normal, every day situations is very difficult, but to do it in whole areas of your life is tough. I don’t feel I’ve made much of a change yet because this will be a very much ongoing goal. It will take weeks at the least, more likely months or a couple of years.
2. I reached out to friends. I guess this is part of the thing above. I’m not great with friendships because I’m not very open about how I feel – I’ve spent my entire life dealing with things on my own and I often feel that when I open up, people don’t fully understand. This is a situation that will seem familiar to anyone who doesn’t feel they’ve had a ‘normal’ life. It’s like the second you open up, you feel vulnerable and you immediately push people away by telling yourself they’ve misunderstood the situation. This makes most friendships feel very shallow and I don’t feel them on so much a personal level as other people do. I have about two people in my life at any one time that I trust fully, and even that’s on good days. Reaching out and re-connecting with a friend who I’ve rarely seen recently, and opening up to my ‘closer’ (the people I see more often – the relationship is by no means stronger) friends, I’ve made a step towards being real with them and being myself with them.
3. I’m being treated by my other half. This ties in with the situation I’ve been in in the last week. I don’t want to go into detail too much because I know he wouldn’t appreciate it but as my identity isn’t stated here and nor is his, I shall continue. In short, we hit a rough patch which resulted in him asking something of me which I found incredibly difficult – in my eyes, I had to give something up to achieve it, and it was a struggle to let that happen. At the same time, I had no choice if I want to be as happy as I was a few months ago. I didn’t consider this at the time and believed that giving up this thing ultimately meant giving up on happiness to an extent. There was no guarantee that giving up this thing would result in my happiness – in fact, of course, there’s tonnes of factors to happiness and this only concerned a minor one. One of the most predominant thoughts in my head was the fact that I was doing all the giving, and he wasn’t sacrificing or promising anything. Now that these have calmed down and we’ve worked out a few things, he’s taking me on a relatively spontaneous trip (something I’ve wanted for ages, we had many when we first started dating but of course, life changes and we haven’t had the money or the time), and I believe this is his way of giving something back to me for what I had to give up. I realise this probably sounds a little manipulative but keep in mind there’s many, many details I’ve left out here. It was a hard situation, but now it is on the mend.
4. Beer! Yup. I get beer tonight! I rarely drink and I often pass up the opportunity to go out with friends, even for a quiet night at the pub. It’s been a tough week so I’ve got a few beers ready, I’m having dinner at a friends and then we’re meeting others for a drink.
5. Bunnies. My bunnies are awesome. I know some of you will think they’re ‘just rabbits,’ but rabbits are closer to cats and dogs then you’d think – so are all small animals, really. I’ve had hamsters and rats too and they all have their own personalities. Rats are brilliant pets because you can strike up a very deep bond with them because they’re smart animals. I haven’t quite got to that level yet with my bunnies, but they’re so lovely. I have Whiskey and Rafiki, and Rafiki is an arsehole! Not like agressive or anything, just like ‘oh hey I’m in a grump so I’m going to poop all over your bed even though I’m litter trained and when you tell me off I’m going to flop right next to you because I’m ADORABLE!’
Whiskey is a lot calmer, she’s about a year older than he is. Funnily enough, at the minute, he’s neutered and she isn’t spayed yet. I would have thought the energy levels would be the other way round! She tends to just turn into a loaf when she gets nose rubs and her ‘thing’ is to have really dirty paws from digging where she shouldn’t be. They make me smile a lot 🙂
6. Everything is going to be okay.
I feel like I’m much more resilient than I used to be because everything crap about this week doesn’t even feel  too bad anymore. Writing this has definitely helped, but even before this, I wasn’t too down. I know that I can achieve anything I want to. It takes hard work but sometimes making the decision is the hardest thing. I’ve been through worse situations and come out the other side, so I fully believe in myself. I’m finding that I feel a bit mentally lighter than I have done in ages. Sometimes, drama is a really good kick up the arse. Again, we get super comfortable in our thought patterns. Sometimes we don’t even realise there’s anything ‘wrong’ with the way we’re doing things (by ‘wrong’, I mean we’re not doing the best thing for ourselves. We might be ignoring huge issues or creating situations that ultimately leave us unhappy, or hurt the people we love, which could contribute to the unhappiness).

So there we go. Those are some of the things I feel positive about from the last few days. Things aren’t always as bad as they seem.

‘Stop looking for happiness in the same place you lost it’

There I was, wanting to write a post all about zoos, the pros and cons and get people thinking about a huge and controversial part of our lives – who doesn’t have an opinion on zoos? – yet here I am, writing another post on me.
I have had three of the most challenging days of my life. Not the hardest days, not the toughest days, but the most challenging.

I wrote a post about trying to change and break out of negative behaviour patterns (I think…I’ll check and if not, maybe include one at some point!) and last night, I had to force myself to do just that.

There is a particular situation I’m in that I don’t want to publicize, but at the same time, need to get off my chest. I don’t know if anyone will find this post relatable because it’s likely to be a bit jumbled.

Yesterday, I was confronted by something huge, something I did not like one bit. There was two real options from the confrontation, and neither are what I wanted. Either I give up something that made me happy long term or I give up something that I thought would help keep that happiness while it’s struggling. I mean really, what kind of choice is that?

My usual reaction in that situation is to force it to go my way. to make a third option that says ‘do what I want.’ That didn’t happen this time. There was no compromise, no middle ground. It was lose one thing or the other.

I, somehow, held onto my anger. It was crushing but I forced myself to stay as calm as I could and to just sit through my feelings. This is something I have never ever done before on this scale. I’ve never kept control and ridden it out. I’ve always reacted immediately, and usually defensively. This reaction, although good for standing up for yourself, when you’re fully aware that someone is trying to take advantage, is not healthy when you’re not sure what is right, or when you know you’re in the wrong, but this was my reaction to everything the second I felt threatened by any kind of situation. It’s like my brain was a tiger, happy to live alongside side someone until they move too close, or too far away, and then I hit out. This time, it’s like my food source was ripped away from me, but instead of hitting out, I waited.

I waited for all the usual thoughts and feelings to wash over me. The feelings of hurt, anger, devastation, more anger, upset, resolution, more anger, resolution again, etc. to wash over while I sat there quietly, hardly saying a thing. Anyone who looked at me could have physically seen the struggle across my face, from a silent tear to a frown, to probably going red, and then another tear and sadness.

This is such a huge, huge step for me. I’m still dealing with the situation that sparked it, and I did get to a point where I had to spill a little to get through the darker feelings that flooded me later on, but I still did it in the calmest way, no accusations or anger, just being open about how it all felt and why.

I don’t know if I have the strength to stick to my current decision or whether emotions will take over at some point and It’ll be too much, but the fact I was able to make that decision without reacting in my normal way gives me so much hope, and makes me so proud of myself. I’ve proven myself to myself in the last couple of days. I feel vulnerable as hell, but stronger than ever at the same time.

Confidence Diary: Day 1.

So things have spiraled in my personal life and I’m not going to talk about it all on here because I don’t feel like I need to, but my friend sent me a ‘confidence diary’ template to help me feel better about myself. I was wondering if I’d actually bother doing it every day as I can lose interest quickly, but I thought, you know what? I want to keep on with this blog, and I want to do it every day, so why don’t I combine it?

The concept is that you just write about the positive things in your day, what you want to achieve in the day and whether or not you achieved or started it. It’s so simple, but with life’s distractions, it’s incredibly difficult sometimes just to take the time to reflect, and we get stuck in negative ways of thinking. ‘Ergh, just another day at work!’ or ‘Great, more bills to pay!’ or ‘That other driver was so rude!’ or ‘Why is it so difficult for other people to just wash up?’

Having the odd negative thought in itself isn’t an issue, but it’s when the negative components of the day begin to rule the day that it’s an issue. For example, maybe you saw or achieved something cool today, but then a driver cuts in front of you on your way home and you had to hit the brakes unexpectedly. For me personally, the driver is then likely to be the first thing I mention when I get through the door, rather than how good the rest of the day was. So here goes. I’m leaving stuff out as I mentioned at the top because it’s not something I want on here, but have done a separate one regarding those things on Word.

____________________________________________________________________________________________

Day 1:

Today I’m excited about: Spending time with my sister and rabbits, lunch with my sister, Writing a blog post, Talking to friends.

Exercises: Some walking with my sister.

Meals: Gammon Steak with egg and chips (I’ve decided to go veggie slowly, but I am a picky eater and don’t like many restaurant veggie choices!), one meal replacement shake, The rest are unplanned.

Main focus: Improving my own mental health and finding a way to get confidence, + eating healthily to gain weight.

Schedule: *I’m leaving this in as an example, but I will write out my own schedule separately. Nobody needs to read what I plan on doing every hour of the day!

8:00 – 9:00 Breakfast and shower
9:00 – 12:00 Chores
12:00 – 13:00 Lunch
13:00 – 14:00 Long walk
14:00 – 16:00 Hobby time
16:00 – 22:00 Dinner and tomorrow’s food prep, hobby time

Goals for the day:

Have 3 meals + 1 shake/ 2 meals, 2 shakes.  **This bit would be to mark off if the goal was achieved
Give my rabbits lots of time to run.  
Tell yourself something positive about yourself.  
Cut hair  
Recognise a negative thought and squash it  
Smile  

Notes: Went to doctors, went to the harvester with Jenny, Gave the buns a better run than last few days – better weather! Replaced one cup of normal tea with a green tea.

Good things about today: Feeling more determined and positive, bunny’s are happier, learnt what a frugivore is. Started confidence journal.

What I’m grateful for: My sister, for taking me to lunch. Cal, for sending me this template. Sherman, for being my best friend.

What I hope for tomorrow: To continue to feel more positive, to stick to this journal, to generally have a positive day.

____________________________________________________________________________________________

So there we go. It’s not going to fix all of my problems, but making if I can begin to make myself happy again, the other problems won’t seem unmanageable. I made some huge decisions last night and this is day 1 of making those choices, and the goals I set for myself in those moments, achievable. I have no idea if this will work long term, but it’s worth a shot and I can see why just taking a minute or two to look for the positive throughout each and every day can make a difference!

Misunderstanding Mental Health

Okay, so here’s the deal. I didn’t expect to be writing a post about depression at nearly 1am, but I’ve just spent some time looking through comments made on an interview with Chester before he died. For anyone who doesn’t know, Chester was the lead singer in the band Linkin park, and he recently committed suicide at the age of 41. He suffered through some childhood trauma which I suspect was the root of the problems which ultimately lead to his suicide. This post is not specifically about him, so please do read on.

There’s an awful lot of comments on said interview accusing Chester of being selfish for committing suicide. ‘He’s got so much money and a house and family…etc’
‘There’s people worse off, he’s a coward.’
‘Suicide is a western white privilege.’
‘Depression is for crybabies.’

First off, I want to say that none of us know the specific mental health disorder he was suffering from. This is the same for any suicide we read about in the papers and feel the right to comment on – the same for Robin Williams and many others. ‘Depression’ in the media is pretty much an umbrella term for mental health illnesses. There is more than one type of depression. Many of the people making the above comments claimed to have been through depression or loved someone with depression. If that depression was a product of circumstance, e.g. losing a job or loved one, then they may well have gotten over it within a matter of years. I can’t be sure, of course, but this is a common type of depression, and this is why the statistics say 3 out of 4 people suffer from depression at some point in their lives.
Secondly, if you go through trauma in your childhood, you usually miss out on learning basic coping mechanisms that other people have. This affects your entire life. This is a key stage for brain development and social learning. Adults generally suck at dealing with trauma in children and don’t know how to react. More often than not, the child goes through the trauma as a result of the adults around them not having the coping mechanisms in place, which is how things like physical or sexual abuse become a cycle.

Now, to explain why people in western society seem to suffer from mental health issues more than people living in poorer countries, who are facing things like starvation and disease, struggle with housing and jobs, etc.
Humans have ‘progressed’ further than our evolutionary state. We still have all our survival instincts, like the fight or flight response, and a hunter gatherer response. In western society, we no longer face the kinds of situations that should naturally provoke these responses. Up until a few hundred years ago, we still needed them, and evolution is a slow process controlled by natural selection. Our medicine and control of natural dangers is so far advanced that natural selection doesn’t take place anymore – babies that would have died young, people who would have died from diseases in their 30’s, and elderly who would have died below 60 – none of this happens. This means that even unfavorable genes that would do nothing to help us survive in a natural state, and would die off in a natural state, are staying with us.
Our ‘natural state’ is now modern society, but all our basic instincts have stayed with us because there’s no natural selection.

So, instead of reacting to actual life threatening situations, our brains have started reacting to mental situations we deem detrimental to us, e.g. a break up, or fear of a car crash, etc. Stress was originally important in allowing us to recognize potentially dangerous situations. Stress releases certain chemicals that triggers the fight or flight response, which ultimately causes adrenaline to be distributed around our bodies to prepare to the fight or flight. Since these days, we do not fight or flight, but still experience the physical preparation – beating heart, quicker breathing, sometimes sweaty palms, a slight tunnel vision affect – the adrenaline basically goes nowhere. This can accelerate our heart further, and basically it can all result in a panic attack.
It’s strongly suggested by scientists that the hunter gatherer instinct is responsible for excessive spending and greed, since we no longer need to hunt or gather.

Our brains then react to this situation. It is not natural to be overcome by a wave of despair for no physical reason, or to have a panic attack about a social gathering. We register that and begin to question if there is something wrong with us. That adds more pressure onto the situation. In the wild, if there’s something wrong with new born babies or older animals, they often die naturally, get eaten by the pack/mother or get left behind for predators. If our brain perceives us as having something wrong with us, it then perceives us as in danger, and the cycle repeats. We then start to feel excluded from society and cut off, but from the time we’re born, we’re taught that we need society. More danger. We look for coping mechanisms to deal with this constant cycle, to try and break it, and often end up with things like alcohol and drugs. Obviously, this then causes more problems by altering our reality further, by allowing us to damage people around us and push ourselves further and further from help until we really are cut off.

People in poorer countries still utilise these instincts, as ultimately, the instincts are there to ensure we have the best possibility of surviving. They have competition for resources, sometimes from animals, sometimes for other humans. They’re poorly paid, if at all, so still rely on hunting and gathering. Disease is still an issue for them. In the western countries, we don’t need these instincts.

That is why people in western civilisation suffer from depression and mental health issues more (that we know of) than people suffering in third world countries. They go through greater challenges day to day, they often suffer more and see more death than we do, and yet, our brains are the ones that appear to be shutting down.

An extra note about depression itself: Depression can last a few months, a few years, or a lifetime. Depression that is either caused by genetics, severe childhood trauma or both tends to be chronic and therefore inescapable, in the same way that people can’t heal from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. You can manage it, but you’ll never live without it. It becomes part of your personality, it affects every bit of mental thinking you do and the way you express yourself to other people. The same goes for personality disorders such as Borderline Personality Disorder. There are so, so many different mental health disorders that often people aren’t correctly diagnosed. This is why the media uses the umbrella term of ‘depression.’ Some people experience some kind of sexual abuse, go through depression and, with the right help and support, come out the other side. It doesn’t mean they’re not affected by what happened, but they can get over the depression. Some people can’t. Just like physical pain thresholds, people have different mental pain thresholds.

It is so important that people who have never suffered, or who have but still can’t understand the way others suffer more when it looks like they’ve had an easier life, understand all of this.

And for those of you who think suicide is for cowards, think on this. A friend or family member is in constant physical pain – really bad pain. They go through whole periods where they can’t get themselves out of bed because it hurts too much to move. They’re sobbing and groaning their day away. They can’t even get up for food. They took painkillers, but eventually the painkillers cause pain in another area (weird side affect, but imagine it). Sometimes the pain is less, and they’re able to function as a ‘normal’ human being, but a lot of the time it’s at a constant level. It’s like a 24/7 migraine which is sometimes just a headache. It is so, so tiring to be in pain all the time.
If they were going through that, daily, for 30+ years, would you think they were a coward to end their life? If everything they tried didn’t stop the pain, are they selfish for wanting to rest? Would you want to live like that?
I wouldn’t, and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone else, and certainly not a loved one.

That is what many people go through. The only difference is it’s mental pain. It’s just as real. I’m not advocating suicide here, I know full well there are many coping mechanisms and lots of new information coming out about mental health all the time. There’s still a lot of misjudgment and wrong diagnoses, but it’s getting there. The more we learn, the more we can help.

I’m just saying that someone who can deal with being in that much pain for that amount of time  before they decide to put themselves first and find peace is no coward.

Behind the Lens

Photography is a little hobby of mine that I’ve taken much pleasure in for the last few years. There was a time when I was convinced I was going to set up a proper photography business, but it turns out I find science easier than getting my head around how to run a business.

DSC_7014 copysmall
I first got into photography when I was about 21. I was studying an art and design diploma. If it wasn’t for it sparking my love for photography, I would have deemed it a complete waste of two years. It was all about modern art and trying to be quirky rather than properly learning to draw or paint. I’ve got nothing against those of you who can pull off this style and make cute little illustrations and things – I met someone who did it very well – but it’s not for me. I like realistic drawings and paintings.

Back on point, the photography lessons were great. I loved my tutor and learning about classic SLR’s was invaluable to me. I now use a DSLR and it’s the only thing available to me. I wouldn’t want an SLR without a dark room, and I do not have space for a dark room…or permanent residence anyway.

I nearly always use manual settings when I shoot. I find it more satisfying if I catch a photo I like, knowing I was in complete control of the lighting and aperture, even if I tweak them a little after on Photoshop. My Photoshop knowledge isn’t extensive but what I do know, I know reasonably well.

Boo WM.jpg

I’ve done portraits and pet portraits before some of which I feel were very successful, but my all time favourite subject is, of course, wildlife. I love photography because it pushes you to look a little closer at nature to find something new to photograph, it forces a new perspective on what’s around you, it pushes you to physically look at it from new angles and, as is the nature of photographs, it captures that animal forever. If rhino end up dying out, we still have beautiful photographic memories and evidence that they existed (not that I want this to happen, of course. Photos will never replace the real thing).
Many of my photos are, unfortunately, of animals in captivity. I support zoos, but I shall do a separate post on this soon explaining why as I know there’s a lot of opposition against them.

 

 

There isn’t too much going on where I am in terms of wildlife, and I never seem to have my camera on me when I see things like kestrels. Here’s an example of what I have managed to catch in the wild though!

DSC_4631 copybright wmDSC_3362 WM

I take my camera whenever I visit another country, so I’ve got a couple of shots from South Africa too. I can’t disclose the name of the reserve I stayed on do to poaching, but I can show you these images, all taken by me.

 

I know they’re very small, I will add full size ones in a separate post purely about my experience in South Africa. It was the most life changing event in my life to date, so you’ll definitely be hearing about it, and not just about rhino poaching, but the good bits. I’ve already spoken extensively about poaching in a separate post.

I will create a ‘photography’ category so that if you’re interested in my photos, you can follow it. Whether or not you are though, I enjoy it. It’s a very useful tool for a budding conservationist. It allows me to identify animals after I’ve seen them – my memory isn’t fantastic, so this really helps.

Thank you for reading/looking!

‘Eating well is a form of self respect.’

Hello, readers.

This is just a little update on the trying to put on weight thing. In my previous post, I mentioned that I was using a meal replacement type shake alongside trying to eat a normal amount of meals to gain weight. For those of you who may be thinking of using a similar method, be wary.

The idea of the shakes is to make you feel full enough that you don’t need to eat as much – they’re packed with protein, carbs and sugars. The issue for me is that it’s working a little too well. I’m only a few days through,  but I’m simply not hungry. Yesterday, I had two shortbread, some nuts, a packet of crisps, two of the shakes and some chicken (annoying, I’m trying to go veggie but after a long day, didn’t fancy cooking for myself. This is what was offered by my mum, who’d cooked it for everyone. Nothing to go with it, just a chicken. Ultimately it’s my own laziness that is preventing me going full veggie right now).
So far today, it’s coming up to 1pm. I’ve had no breakfast, I haven’t even had a shake, because I’m simply not hungry.

Whether I’m getting more out of the shakes than I would from a normal meal instead, I’m not sure. I’ve always hated looking up all the ingredients and nutritional values of food – I give up when it comes to figuring out how much of the food I’ve had.

So yes, be wary of this. For now, I think I’m going to cut down to one shake in the morning, as this is usually when I get hungriest, so I can try and eat more food again. If you’re trying to put on weight, I’d suggest you do your own trial and error and find out how it works best for you!

Rhino Poaching – Save the Rhino

This post is going to be heavy and in some places, blunt and hard to read. I apologise in advance for that, but there’s an awful lot about the way rhino poaching works that we’re just completely unaware of here in the UK (and other similar countries). This is a piece of writing I did for Wildlife Earth a little while ago, but as there are countless petitions to block the local trade in South Africa that the government has now given the go ahead on, it’s still very valid. This was written in March 2017.

“If I said that South African reserves support legalising trade in rhino horn, most of you would immediately shoot that down as a terrible idea. In the UK, our charities are constantly campaigning against such measures and we might even go so far as to assume these reserves are corrupt and just want to make money. I would have thought the same three weeks ago.

If I then told you the only people who want to keep trade in rhino horn illegal are poachers and large charities, and not the people who are in the field protecting the rhino they have; de-horning them, deploying anti-poaching teams, patrolling to keep the rhino away from the fence where they’re vulnerable, then what would you think?

The reserve I stayed on have 13 rhino (*Edit – I believe it’s now 14 after a successful and natural mating and birth has taken place!). There is no question that the people working on that reserve are 100% dedicated to protecting those rhino – you can see it in everything they do and hear it in every word they say. They have sacrificed an easy life in order to keep the rhino, because they do not know what will happen to them if they were to give up on them. Yet, they want to legalise rhino horn.

Let me explain. The most obvious reason is that if trade in rhino horn is legalised, the price of the horn will drop. At the moment, you have poachers risking their lives to mutilate these giant, sweet animals because the money they get is worth the risk. With that money, they can feed their families for a year, they can potentially pay off the police force and other authorities meaning they can get away with it (very corrupt system) and in general, the benefits outweigh the risk. Legalise it, and that is no longer the case.
Trade can be regulated. It’s very difficult to monitor any illegal trade due to its nature – the point is to be discreet about it. Without regulation, nothing changes. Rhino numbers continue to plummet at the hands of money hungry monsters. The only way to regulate is to legalise.

The money goes back into the reserve. At the moment, reserves across South Africa are nearly bankrupting themselves to keep their rhino alive with anti poaching units and other measures to prevent their rhino being killed. If rhino horn is going to continue to be traded, why not allow the reserve to benefit rather than the black-market? Put the money straight back into the conservation of the rhino. Over 70 reserves sold off their rhino last year as they were facing, or went into, bankruptcy.

Most importantly, it may be the only way to stop the extinction of the rhino. There is absolutely no time to change traditional Asian ideas on the powers rhino horn has in time to stop their extinction. By legalising rhino horn, you’re putting the value on the rhino instead of just their horn. Many reserves have had to make the decision to de-horn their rhino anyway, just to stop the poaching. The reserve I stayed at managed to hold off until two of their rhino were butchered. That’s when they made the heartbreaking decision to start de-horning. De-horning is not cheap and it’s not easy, but the rhino doesn’t have to die for it to happen. Legalising rhino horn trade means keeping the rhino alive so people can profit from the horn more than once. Legalising rhino horn trade means rhino might have a fighting chance.

So here I’m going to add a few key points.
1. Rhino horn and elephant tusk are two completely different materials. Elephant tusk is ivory, and there is no way to remove the tusk without killing the elephant. I do NOT support any kind of trade in ivory. Rhino horn is keratin (the same stuff as our hair and fingernails). If done properly, with vets and experts involved, removing the horn does not harm the rhino in any way, beyond the risk of being put under – the same risk any animal faces when we get them spayed or neutered or choose to have them operated on to help them live. Many groups are campaigning against de-horning by claiming that a rhino needs it’s horn for various reasons. Although we may ultimately find that to be true, current research shows there is absolutely no ill after-effects when a rhino is de-horned.

2. The reason rhino owners are going bankrupt is that they’re having to pour so much resource into protecting the rhino. There is the cost of de-horning the rhino, the cost of maintaining the reserve, the cost of controlling other animal populations to allow the rhino to thrive (too many other grazers = no grass quality, or grass, left for rhino), the cost of anti-poaching units (clothing, food, accommodation, training, dogs and defensive weapons) and on top of all of that, if they choose to de-horn, the cost of storing the horn. The cost of legally storing horn is insane. They have to know where the horn is at all times to prove they haven’t sold it on the black market, but having the horn in their own home is incredibly dangerous and opens them up to raids from poachers. They must store it in an approved vault, ultimately that puts the vault security and workers in danger, so the price is very high.

3. CITES protection is not working. This, perhaps, should have been mentioned earlier. Since the complete ban in rhino horn trade was put into place, poaching, and ultimately rhino deaths, have gone up. In the last couple of years, there appears to have been a small drop in poached numbers, but you must remember that this doesn’t mean rhino will recover. The population has dropped too. Here, I’m going to make some figures up to show my point.
If there are 100 rhino one year, and 10 are poached, that is 10% of the population of rhino. The next year, the rhino population is 89 (10 poached, some lost to natural circumstances but a few babies were born too). If 9 of the remaining 89 rhino are poached – a smaller number than was killed last year – that is 10.11% of the population – a larger proportion, despite less rhino being killed.

In 2007, only 13 white rhino in South Africa were recorded as being poached. From 2013 onward, over 1,000 white rhino in South Africa have been recorded as poached every year. With a population that is just over 10,000 in total, they will die out within a few years if nothing changes, despite all the anti-poaching efforts going on. 

What you can do is ignore the petitions calling for the local ban to be put back in place and sign any that push for the ban to remain lifted, or to lift the international ban, which is still in place (the current lift means that people can trade locally, in South Africa only). You can write to your local MP and urge them to put pressure on our representative within CITES to lift the ban. You can spread awareness – share this post, or the condensed post that you can find on Facebook via Wildlife Earth, or any other material you find. If you’re travelling to a South African reserve at any point, ask the managers and keepers what they thing about the ban. Help us to help the rhino.

3. I want to reiterate that the people I met on the reserve I stayed at live dangerously but have so much passion for the rhino, that they will put themselves in danger over and over again. One time, they had fire after fire on the reserve, all started by poachers – as soon as they put one out, another was started elsewhere. I don’t remember the exact figure, but it was something like over 20 fires in one weekend.
The purpose of the fires was to attract the rhino. When certain grasses have been grazed, burning the area allows new grass to spring up within a matter of weeks. This ultimately attracts the rhino – the purpose was to draw the rhino out to the fences where they would be more easily poached. The reserve managers worked tirelessly and eventually, all the fires were put out.

One heartbreaking story that one of the guys told me was about the dogs. He had a beautiful dog, and someone told me he got him from one of the farmers whose land borders the reserve. I asked him about it. The farmer bred dogs, and the reserve guy wanted one of the litter. The whole litter was taken by poachers. The farmer then had another litter, and the reserve guy got one of the pups. The rest of the litter was also stolen by poachers. If I remember correctly, the litter after that was also stolen. In the end, the reserve guy had to shoot the brothers and sisters of his own dog. They’d been taken onto the reserve, illegally, as poaching dogs. The reserve guy told me that once a dog is trained as a poacher dog, you can’t get it out of them. This is another cold and harsh reality of the poaching crisis. It isn’t just the rhino who suffers. It’s the dogs they steal and train, the breeder of the dogs who lose money, and the people who have to be strong enough to shoot those dogs to protect the rhino, despite clearly being a dog lover themselves. The reserve guy helps to train the reserves anti-poaching dogs and the bond with his own dog is wonderful – he would not have shot the dogs if it wasn’t a necessity.

And there ends my post. I hope that, if nothing else, you have found this post educational. I never would have seen the situation like this if I had not physically met, spoken to and listened to people who actually own rhino. Most of the remaining rhino populations are kept in places such as reserves or zoos, so I, personally, 100% back those that risk their lives daily to keep them safe over the charities who have little involvement of the day-to-day care of these beautiful creatures.

*The image was taken by me on the reserve I am talking about in this post.

 

Chaos behind the calm

This post is to explain a bit more about me generally, and as I mentioned in my first post, this blog is also to help me to clear my head every now and again. Sometimes, I think it helps for others to read things like this, to know they’re not the only ones struggling and to find new outlooks on what they’re struggling with, which can ultimately help you (or me) combat the struggles.

Background
I’m 26 years old and my life hasn’t been easy. I grew up with alcoholic parents and I have no proper relationship with them beyond having a weird respect for my dad for putting up with my mum and not leaving his kids, but this is tainted by the fact that if he’d left my mum and taken us with him, things might have been easier. My relationship with mental health issues is far stronger. As a teenager, I was angry, I loved attention but equally gained satisfaction is pushing people away. I made some crappy choices, but somehow I found the strength to stay away from drugs and not fall into alcoholism. I didn’t know where I was going though, I couldn’t see a future beyond whatever dramatic situation I’d gotten myself into. There was no career path, no thoughts of marriage or settling down, no travelling.
As I got older, I began to realise that I was the only one who could change the situation I found myself in, and if I stopped blaming my parents and took some responsibility for my own life, I could change it. This worked. I’m missing out a lot of details, but eventually, at the age of 24, I found myself re-connecting with the things I enjoyed in my early childhood (depression strips away your self identity and enjoyment, I had to go all the way back to when I was a 5 year old wishing I was a dolphin to realise what would make me happy) and decided to study Animal Science and Welfare. I’d done more than one level 3 course, so I was able to get onto a foundation degree – level 4 and 5.

The course has taught me a lot, not just about animals but about myself. I’m smarter than I think, for example. I’ve never really struggled with academics, but I never had passion supporting me either. This year, I finished the second year of my foundation degree with the equivalent of a first. I’m moving on to do a top-up year in Wildlife Management and Conservation, which will give me a full Bsc Hons.

In the last year, I’ve moved house 3 times, and I’m about to move again. I broke up with an ex and moved back in with my parents. I then moved in with friends a couple of months later, as I remembered all the reasons I wanted out of my parents house to begin with. After 6 months, however, I moved back to my parents again. I love my housemates but I don’t love their way of life. I became a Mum for 6 months. I worked weekends, and they didn’t. The noise levels, the amount of times my things were used and not washed up, their friends parking like idiots on the driveway/path, bins not being taken out – all silly little things but together, it created a toxic atmosphere of everyone blaming everyone else and nobody taking full responsibility. It also cost me way more than living alone would have, if rent wasn’t so ridiculous on one bedroom flats.

I quit my job from stress and decided to move back to my parents, where I could at least save money (well, I would have been able to if I didn’t quit my job..) That’s not the only reason I quit my job though. I have become incredibly passionate about the environment, but I’d like to think it’s in a factual way rather than a ‘cram-my-thoughts-down-your-throat-because-I’m-right’ way. Working for a chain coffee store and watching the amount of plastic that gets wasted, bad recycling methods, food waste etc just began to get too depressing.

Now, I have the opportunity to move in with one of my best friends. I am not overly social and throughout my entire teenage-adult life, I’ve had two best friends, two friends I could tolerate throughout everything. One was my high school best friend who remained my best friend for a few years, and the other I met at college (the first time I went, at 16) and kinda replaced him as I got older. The original best friend moved away for uni and then for work, and as often happens, we just slowly lost contact.

None of that sounds overly bad, and yet I’m in a very bad place right now. Let me explain this bit, because after another celebrity suicide, it’s more important than ever for us to be talking about mental health. I have always struggled but this time last year, I was in the best place mentally that I’ve ever been in. This slow but steady break down is due to so many reasons.

1. I strongly believe that I’d be best suited to living by myself. This time last year, I was still technically sharing a flat with my ex (we’d broken up but I was avoiding going back to my parents and he wasn’t sure what to do either), but he worked away during the week and we both went out on the weekends. Due to the non-existent relationships surrounding me when I was growing up, I really struggle socially. I just lack some of the basic skills that seem to come naturally to others. Sometimes, I’m really good at it, but most of the time I worry too much that I’m accidentally offending someone (it’s happened before). I worry that they don’t understand my dry, sarcastic humour and I’m rarely myself, so the relationships I forge don’t feel substantial, they feel weak. The best relationship I witnessed growing up was my Dad and our dog, which fully explains why I’m able to do the same with animals. Sharing with other people is crowded and noisy and so far, I haven’t shared a space with someone and enjoyed it. Not once. This leaves me feeling like a nomad, like I don’t have a home. I detest the way my parents live – it’s messy and dirty, it’s not really a house fit to live in. Everything is falling apart, including the window frames and doors. There’s velcro holding the fridge door shut.
To feel so unsettled is…well, unsettling. I feel agitated to get out, but it’s not possible to rent my own place until I work full time, i.e. after I finish my degree. I don’t have the money.
2. A loss of respect for UK wildlife. I’m reading a book right now called ‘Feral’ by George Monbiot. If you’re into wildlife or conservation or even just the environment, I highly recommend you read it, but make sure you’re in a good place first. After visiting South Africa earlier this year, the UK immediately felt boring and empty to me when I returned, and this book has, unfortunately, done nothing to contradict that. Some students on the trip missed things like consistently warm showers, internet, etc. I didn’t. I embraced it. We stayed on a private wildlife reserve and it was the single most life changing event I’ve ever experienced. Out there, I had to use my common sense. I had to stuff my socks into my shoes to stop frogs/scorpions/snakes setting up home in them. I had to be up every single day to go on drives and educational talks and then the people taking us would have to stay up to do night time patrols to ensure there was no poachers. I had to learn to fall asleep listening to a thousand insects making noise. But every morning, I woke up with day light without a single complaint, because I knew the day would be more interesting than sleep – seeing rhino and giraffe and wildebeest and buffalo. Here, I struggle. I really struggle. Without a job or any uni work to keep me focused, my days feel empty. Even then, I almost feel that uni is a waste of time when I could be out there, physically helping to save endangered animals instead of just learning about it. The UK has nothing left. We have gotten rid of all of the predators and there is nothing new or exciting to see. All of our wildlife is managed in some way or another – deer culling, badger culling, fox hunting. Having to teach people how to create a more wild friendly garden to encourage hedgehogs to help boost their numbers. There is nothing wild about Britain.
3. The job thing. Logically, I know I need to find another job, and I know I’m capable. Job hunting is always depressing, but when I look around and there’s absolutely no part time conservation jobs, and the nearest animal jobs are at a huge medical testing lab, it’s more depressing than ever. Knowing I’m going to have to go another year working at another consumerist company, throwing away perfectly good out of date food and excess plastic. It’s so de-motivating that I haven’t applied to anything in months. I need to, though, to be able to move. That is how a consumerist society works.
4. Relationship struggles. I am awful in relationships, as you may have figured out from the above. I have a boyfriend, and he is incredible. He is this high achieving good guy that is, on paper, the perfect ‘settling down with’ kind of person. Before we were even together, he took me for an overnight stay in London, just because I’d never done it before. Until last year, I’d never gone on an aeroplane, I’d only ever gone on holiday with either family or with college courses (bar Download Festival, but that’s not a standard holiday), I’d never been in a working environment with animals, and so much more. My boyfriend has helped me experience things I didn’t know I ever would. He is truly an amazing person. The problem is, the more I’m getting down about all these other things, the more confidence I lose. The more I lose, the more I feel he’s too good for me, and then I start subconsciously finding things to be annoyed at him for, so I can push him away before I feel like he gives up on me and walks. If I leave him, it’s because I’m strong and capable, but if he leaves me, it’s just validation that I’ll never be good enough for a guy like that. It’s really difficult not to let my current situation affect us. I’m trying harder than I ever have in my life (not surprisingly, this has been a recurrent situation in my life – the only difference is my ex’s were all in a messed up place too. This guy is mentally sound, he’s confident, he’s got insane charisma.) I want him to be happy, but right now I’m just oozing negativity at him. It’s hard.

There are many other little issues that nag me, but these are probably my main ones. I’m lacking passion and direction right now, and again, that is part of the reason for this blog. Whether or not it’ll help in the long run, I don’t know, but if it feels like it helps now, then it’s worth it. I don’t talk to many people about this stuff, and typical me, I thought if I can’t talk to anyone, why not talk to everyone? I’m a very ‘all or nothing’ kind of person.