University and mental health.

This time four years ago I was preparing myself for university and all it entailed; the big move, the exciting new friends, the student lifestyle, not forgetting the degree of my dreams, or at least so I thought.

I do not want to but a downer on such an exciting time in your life but I just want to talk about how important it is to keep healthy and I am not talking about getting in your five a day. Although yes it is all very positive and exciting but no matter how old or prepared you are, going to university is scary. There is so much change and adapting to it is hard, I remember it all too well. From my first couple of weeks at university I struggled, I already had ill mental health and well, being away from home, not knowing anybody, starting a new course and feeling well and truly out of my depth added to the illness.

At the time I wasn’t aware of mental health, nor the help I needed. I do not recall having lectures or conversations about health and wellbeing whilst at university and it wasn’t until I started my current course, at a different university, I was made aware of the helpful resources that are available to students.

To cut a very long story short my time at university was bad, I didn’t cope well and my mental health suffered. During this time, I knew that I could not continue, I was ill, miserable and felt completely lost but speaking about it? Getting help and guidance? Out of the question. I was embarrassed, ashamed and not to mention a failure- again, so I thought. I could not be a university drop out, I could not leave my future plans and go back home, no matter what happened I would stick it out.

Sadly, I became sicker and sicker and on returning home after my first year it was clear to my family going back was no longer an option. I guess I was lucky, my family saw the signs and they persuaded me to seek help and leave university.

The feelings of being a failure lingered until I realised that it was okay. It was okay that I tried something I didn’t like, that I got onto the wrong path and that my future plan was going to change. It was okay that moving away from home was not what I had expected, that the ‘university lifestyle’ was not for me and that a career in fashion was no longer what I wished for. Slowly I was able to accept all of these things that had been building up into a huge pressure. Overtime I was able to see that what I did was actually incredibly brave, I put my health and happiness first.

I never ever thought I would go back to university, in fact the thought of it alone made me feel sick to my stomach however, four years later I am looking forward to going into my second year. A different university, a completely different degree and aware of the things I need to keep healthy. I no longer feel the pressure I did the first time around because I have learnt that we can only do our best and that life is too short to plan our futures. Focusing on the now, our present moment and feelings makes life so much more enjoyable. Leaving my first university was one of the best decisions I could have made and one I will never regret.

No matter how small or large it may be seeking support and help is so important for your health. If you are feeling alone, ill, homesick or lost there are people that can help. If unlike my current university things like student health and wellbeing aren’t spoken about here are some useful organizations that might be able to help you if you are finding something difficult. Student Minds, Mind, NHS, Gofal.

Whatever it is you are doing; going to university, a new job, an apprenticeship or a gap year, please put your health and happiness first, look after yourself and of course let others help to.

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Thank you for reading, Nicole

 

A few favourites.

Here is a mixture of things I have been enjoying the last few months from cruelty free beauty products to board games and all things in between, enjoy!

First starting with the beauty products, I am still new at finding cruelty free and vegan products and tend to stick to the same brands but this month my parents bought me a bottle of L’occitane Verveine shower gel. To my surprise L’occitane are completely cruelty free- in the UK at least, please check to be sure. I am very fussy when it comes to shower gels and although I was very grateful they bought it for me I did doubt if I would like it. Again, to my surprise I love it and not just in the shower either, this makes the freshest, bubbliest, bubble bath and you only need a little to. The scent is lemony, fresh and leaves me feeling relaxed, calm and of course sparkling clean. This would make a perfect gift for somebody or a treat for yourself; I am looking forward to trying more of L’occitane’s products.

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I am far from a beauty blogger but I do love sharing cruelty free, vegan make up finds with you, especially the good ones! I recently bought the Barry M ‘Brow Kit‘ in the medium to dark colour. I have tried all kinds of eyebrow applicators, pencils, brushes, powders, creams, you name it I have tried it and none have been as good as this one. It includes a brown cream, a darker powder, a highlight powder, a double-sided brush and a small pair of tweezers. I love how it includes both shades so you can choose to go lighter or darker. It stays really well (even in my bald parts) and doesn’t feel too heavy, the only thing I find wrong with it is there isn’t a little bristled brush but for the price it is great. I also love the handy small, thin size of it and the added mirror on the inside of the palate, it’s just right for taking out with you.

As I mentioned in my last favourites post, I am currently, kind of, a little obsessed with the M&S Rosie for Autograph lipstick range and although I love the Silk Rose shade I felt I needed a more of a casual, day time colour. This time I chose Nude Blush and of course I completely love it, at first I thought it might be far too pale for my skin tone but with a little bronzer it looks great and was just what I wanted. I cannot recommend these lipsticks enough and if I haven’t tempted you yet, they smell just like mini eggs!

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This has been a favourite of mine for a while now but I just needed to share, coconut oil, of course you have probably all heard of it before, it seems to be the in thing for just about everything and anything. I use The Groovy Food Companies and one thing in particular that I have been using it as is a make up remover, you must try it, I can not rave about it enough. I simply scoop a little on to my fingers and rub all over my face, eyes and brows included, you can even keep your eyes open whilst doing it! I then get a piece of cotton wool and remove the make up before washing the coconut oil off with soap and warm water. I use Lush’s Coal Face soap to do this to make sure I don’t leave any extra oil on my face. Both work very well together and although coconut oil can seem a little expensive in some stores it is extremely long lasting, you only need the tiniest amount for a full face of make up, it works out a lot cheaper than most make up removers to.

As well as the make up remover I have also been using coconut oil as a hair mask. I don’t like using too much of it and leaving it overnight as some suggest but I do like plaiting my hair and popping on a scoop for those ‘it doesn’t really matter if my hair looks greasy’ kind of days and when me hair is plaited you can’t really tell anyway. I have been doing this for around three weeks now and it already feels much healthier, thicker and shinier to. I highly recommend this especially for those of you with split ends like me.

This month Disney’s ‘Finding Dory’ was finally released and it did not disappoint my high expectations. I have read mixed reviews and I just don’t know why, people keep saying ‘it isn’t as good as ‘Finding Nemo’’ but I actually preferred it! I loved the new characters, hidden messages and of course the comical and heart warming side to it to. If you haven’t already been to see it please do, don’t let anything you read about it, or your age (..mum) put you off.

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As September approaches the shops quickly fill with back to school supplies and no matter how old I get I still get rather excited to buy new stationary, unfortunately all I really need is a notebook and a pen (how boring, right?). Here are a couple of items I simply could not resist, I am sure there will be much more to follow, adding to my already overflowing box of folders, pens and notebooks. The watercolour floral ring binder is from Sainsbury’s and the two small notebooks are from Tesco. I shall have to stop myself from visiting Paperchase this month!

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A new favourite scent this month is the Yankee Candle Salted Caramel wax melts, as recommended by my friend who shares my love and slight addiction to scented candles. This is the first time I have seen this shape and size wax melt, although I don’t think the actual wax has changed much the packaging is a lot easier to open than the usual cupcake plastic wrapped ones. I am not a huge fan of salted caramel but this smell is beautiful, it’s sweet and light yet cosy to! The perfect combination, I highly recommend. This set of six was £3 at Tesco and although slightly smaller it works out cheaper and I find they have the same strength as the cupcake style melts.

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Last but not least, this month I bought a chess board with the hope I would learn how to play chess. I still haven’t got around to learning but I have mastered the art of playing draughts. Draughts always reminds me of childhood evenings at my grandmother’s house and boring rainy days, with the weather so up and down here in Wales I have found my family and I playing outside in the sunshine and in the conservatory listening to the rain. I don’t know if it’s another form of technology escape or if it’s because I keep winning but I have found it so very enjoyable.

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That’s all for now, what cruelty free products have you been enjoying this month? What do you use coconut oil for? And what is your favourite board game? Please do share with me.

Find a penny.

This morning my mother and I took Syd and Archie- our two dogs, on their usual short walk, not this one here, sadly Syd can only walk for twenty minutes now. Whilst walking my mother found a penny on the floor which of course was followed by ‘find a penny pick it up and all day long you’ll have good luck‘, I put the penny into my pocket and carried on with the walk.

After our walk I decided to go for a little swim, I was the only one in the pool, it was so very peaceful and truly enjoyable. It sounds silly but I felt extremely grateful for what I could do, what my body and mind could do now that a few years ago seemed impossible.

Moving on with my day, my cousin and I took her three year old and six week old sons to the park, we played on the swings, the slide and the seesaw before calling for ice lollies on the way home. It is always so lovely to see them and I love nothing more than seeing them both (okay so maybe not the little one, although he did seem very happy) enjoying the outdoors.

I came home from the park and took Archie on his second walk (the above pictures). Whilst walking I thought to myself, I better make the most of walking in the sunshine but this walk is beautiful in rain or shine, no matter what month or season, I am so lucky to have such a beautiful place five minutes away from my home. It was clear to see that Archie enjoyed every moment, he didn’t stop running, in and out of trees, picking up sticks and walking in the river. Just like my cousins sons I love seeing him enjoy the outdoors, seeing how happy it all makes him.

Heading home and feeling a little tired after the last walk of the day I decided to check my emails, unwind and have a relaxing evening. Whilst checking my emails I found out something very exciting, I apologise I don’t want to say anything just yet but I am so very very excited.

I am ashamed and embarrassed to say that when my mother said ‘all day long you’ll have good luck’, I thought maybe I would win the lottery or a prize holiday somewhere. Looking back at my day I feel blessed and very lucky indeed, after all it’s the little things that count.

I hope you have also had a lovely day, Nicole 

Being vegan at a non-vegan BBQ.

This weekend my parents hosted a BBQ for our friends and family, being the only vegan I felt challenged to create some dishes even non-vegans wouldn’t resist. I didn’t follow any recipes, nor do I remember the measurements (ooops). Often the best creations are the unplanned and unprepared ones, that being said, I apologise if you would like to make them to, I shall try and remember what I put in them but just wing it and see what you can create!

First I decided to make a huge quinoa salad, I cooked one whole 300grams packet of quinoa, mixed in some mixed beans, chopped peppers, fine chilli, fresh mint, black pepper, chilli powder, ginger, glugged in some tamari sauce, a little tomato puree and let cool before adding in some spinach, I then let it cool over night and added a little lime juice before serving.

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I also created a ribbon salad by spiralizing three courgettes and two carrots before adding slices of beetroot and radish, a small amount of finely chopped chilli, fresh mint, black pepper, a little tomato sauce, a sprinkling of sesame seeds and served with a little lime juice. I made both of these salads the night before the barbeque, wrapped them in foil and popped them into the fridge, both kept really well to.

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As well as these two salads I also made a standard British bbq salad using ice burg lettuce, radish, celery, tomatoes and cucumber. It killed me not putting any seasoning or dressing on it but it’s always good to have a not so adventures option. (no photograph because boring..)

All credit for this one goes to my mother who made this fruit barbeque complete with fruit skewers and served with a sprinkle of cinnamon or non-vegan cream. A fun and creative way to serve fruit although it looked rather stressful and messy to make, she was over the moon with it aha. My mother also made a vegan salad dressing using, spring onions, ginger, tamari, sesame seeds and fresh chilli, I think that was all.. Of course she baked some baked potatoes to, which always go down well at the end of the evening.

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On the morning of the barbeque I made this guacamole using one whole avocado, chilli flakes, black pepper, finely chopped mint and lime juice. I mashed it and mixed it all up making sure I left a few chunky pieces of avocado, as that is always the best bit! To my surprise this was very popular at the bbq! People topped bread buns and baked potatoes with it, used it as a dip and as a side to the salads.

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As well as these dishes my mother also bought some ‘accidentally vegan’ food for everyone to enjoy, things like tortilla chips, crisps, bread rolls, buns, salsa, sauces, hummus, mixed nuts and crackers. I also created a little dish of my own so that I could enjoy that barbeque taste, I pre roasted some smoked paprika seasoned, chopped bell peppers and mushrooms in foil, before adding a few falafels and popping the foil package onto the BBQ. This worked really well and could be adapted with vegan sausages, burgers and ‘chicken’ pieces.

I really enjoyed making these vegan friendly dishes and of course seeing non-vegans enjoy them to! I am already looking forward to moving out and hosting my own all vegan barbeque. Have you been to any barbeques this summer? If so what has been your favourite vegan dish?

Embrace your imperfections.

I am often asked, ‘if you could go back and tell your thirteen year old self one thing, what would it be?’, of course I have an awful lot of answers to this but one answer that stands out in particular is ‘embrace your imperfections’, or at least what others see as imperfect.

Growing up was hard, as I am sure it is for most, I very rarely find myself looking back at my teen years with happy memories, instead I get kind of filled with sadness; a big grey cloud of mental illness, worry and an awful lot of self-hate. Years of trying to be someone and something I wasn’t, always beating myself up for not being what I saw as perfect. I would be truly terrified of what others thought of me; what I looked like, how I acted, spoke and even how I walked.

Back in 2006, when I was just thirteen years old having bushy eyebrows was a no no, in fact if they weren’t pencil thin you were seen as ugly, or at least so I thought. I remember cursing my father for giving me his big eyebrows, (sorry dad!) now, ten years later I couldn’t be happier about them, not because they are ‘in trend’ but because they suit me and so I feel that I have managed to embrace a little part of me.

I was never bullied, please don’t get me wrong but I guess certain things, no matter how harmless they were meant, stick with you. I remember very specifically walking to class when one girl started pointing and laughing with her friends, shouting over ‘Nicole your hairs gone wavy and it’s going ginger.’ What’s wrong with wavy or ginger hair? -Nothing but at the time, everything. How dare I be a little different or not have perfectly straight, brown hair. This stuck with me and I remember feeling so self-conscious about it, until I actually decided to dye my hair ginger and wear it wavy, cowslick and all. Again, I started embracing a small part of me.

I would try and force myself to be into music, listening to songs and artists I didn’t really understand or enjoy because I felt it made me fit in more. I would say it has only been the last few years that I have accepted I don’t really like music. I enjoy the odd song and it’s kind of nice to listen to sometimes but I don’t have favourites, I don’t know the latest charts or what’s in and that’s just me. I don’t have a need to fit in anymore and that is so freeing I just wish I could have known sooner. Known there is no need to fit in, that being yourself and embracing you makes life not only more peaceful but more enjoyable to.

If I could go back and tell myself what I know now; how our imperfections make us who we are, how we are all wonderfully different and how important self-acceptance is I have no doubt I would be able to look back with more happy memories. I can’t go back but I can create memories now, continuing to accept myself and all that makes me, me.

Thank you for reading, Nicole

 

One year vegan and my eight top tips for going vegan.

In August 2015 I decided to go vegan, six months later still vegan and feeling wonderful, now one year later and of course still feeling great, besides a few non-vegan related health issues, I dread to think how bad they would be if I still ate animal products. For my one year vegan post I thought it would be a good idea to share some tips for those interested in making the change and becoming vegan, I promise you won’t regret it.

  1. Try new things! As children we often develop favourite go to meals and these soon become a staple in our daily routine, hard to break free from, even as adults. It is completely normal to go weeks eating the same meals day in day out or at least very similar. I mean how often do you eat some form of meat and potato? One of the things I love most about being vegan is how open I have become to trying new things, of course my recovery also plays a huge part in this but either way I love how experimental I now am. I remember when I first turned vegetarian I used to hate mushrooms even though I had never really tried them, now I could eat them with every meal, the same goes for so many things. Experiment with new recipes, ingredients and flavours- you never know unless you try. Break your food habits and be open minded- very open minded, especially when it comes to nutritional yeast, lentils and putting sweet potato into a brownie.
  1. Don’t say goodbye to your favourites, make them vegan friendly. I maybe contradicting myself here but as well as trying new things it is important to include your favourites, even your childhood favourites, I guess it is all about balance; new favourites and old favourites. For me vegan ‘meats’ are great for this kind of thing, one of my childhood favourites was chicken nuggets and chips so now and again I like to have fry’s family nuggets. You can also have things like veggie sausage sandwiches, beans on toast- I believe there is now even beans with veggie sausages in them? There really is all sorts of things like this out there, quorn now do vegan options to, just be sure to check for gluten if your intolerant to as quite often they are made with wheat.
  1. Never restrict yourself, if you find yourself craving something, some milk chocolate, a hot chocolate, a buttery slice of toast, a milky bowl of coco-pops or maybe even a homemade cupcake; you can still have it! Just find a way and I promise you there is a way (pinterest is your friend) of creating a vegan friendly version. If you really don’t fancy getting creative in the kitchen then check out Accidentally Vegan UK or #accidentallyvegan there are so many things out there that you would never think are vegan.
  1. Don’t let eating out put you off, always have a handy snack and prepare to search for a vegan friendly restaurant or adapt a menu. There are so many options for eating out vegan, now more than ever, the Happy Cow app is great for this kind of thing, do your research, a quick Google search and you will probably find somewhere. This is often one of the reasons people doubt becoming vegan ‘the social side’; there is no need for it to be a reason, if I can eat out being vegan and gluten free I am pretty sure you can to.

    A few of my favourite UK vegan friendly chain restaurants: Las Iguanas, Wagamama, Pizza Express, Carluccios, YoSushi, Zizis and Pret A Manger.

  1. Remind yourself why. When your struggling to remember why you made the decision to change remind yourself by reconnecting with others, spend some time with your pets, your friends pets, go for a walk and meet some cows, sheep and horses, take a trip to your local animal shelter or petting farm, watch a documentary, research some facts or read a vegan book; do something to remind yourself and re-inspire yourself to make the decision over and over again.
  1. Research! If you are struggling to think of meal ideas, quick snacks, baking recipes, vegan friendly restaurants, shops, make up brands, maybe your bloods have dropped a little in something -they really shouldn’t, mine actually improved but if so do some research find solutions- don’t let what ever it is stop you, be pro-active and change it for the better, remember ‘knowledge is power’. Read books, blogs, websites, watch videos, social media and download apps! There is so much vegan help, support and information out there, fill yourself with it, let it help your journey and who knows you might even pick up some vegan friends on your way.
  1. Explore, from exploring your local area, to near by cities and even whilst traveling, find vegan stores, cafes, restaurants, meet ups, fairs and festivals. Exploring is not only a great way of finding new foods but also meeting new friends, sharing information and of course in the long run helping those who need help. It is also a wonderful way to get out and find places you might not have even known were there. Check out Vegfest’s events Calendar for events in the UK and Meetup for vegan meet ups that might be in your area.
  1. You can only do your best and do your best for YOU. Remember we are all different, even as vegans. There is so many fads around these days, don’t allow yourself to be bombarded with them, especially when researching, be prepared to be faced with all of the labels and ‘diets’; raw till four, fully raw, high carb and so on. You have to find what works for you, if like me you don’t like labels or diets then just be vegan, eat what you like, when you like, be cruelty free and just do your best. Never put pressure on yourself, this will just steer you away from being vegan, slip-ups will happen, that’s life but each day we make a difference.

Thank you so much for reading; I hope my eight top tips help you on your vegan journey. Please let me know if they do, your thoughts on the post or if you have any tips yourself please comment and add them to the list. Nicole