What Harry Potter meant to me 20 years ago

 

Just a quick one from me as Harry Potter was first published 20 years ago today. I was seven, had just started junior school and was (still am) loud and boisterous – not very “lady like” and always putting my hand up in class (NEEEEEERD!!)

I loved the Harry Potter books for many reasons РI was a real book worm at seven and reading was my favorite thing to do. I remember the Harry Potter series being the first thing I read compulsively. I had the first three books  in hard back, a gift from my grandparents. I was that cliche, hiding under my covers at night after I was supposed to be asleep. Trying to cram in as much of the story as possible, fighting my drooping eyelids. I link these books with my love of studying English as well; which until I was about sixteen was my favorite subject in School.

I remember in junior school, there was a core set of boys in my class whom the teachers doted upon as they were “the clever ones” . They were all reading the Harry Potter books and we’d have regular updates both from them and the teachers about which page they were on and very quickly which book they were up to.

I started reading the books to try and keep up with them and be able to contribute to class discussions. The teachers seemed so impressed by the boys reading the books and I wanted to be in that ‘cool’ group. I now know that the teachers reacted more obviously to the boys as usually, they are the hardest to engage in the classroom.

What I found however, was comfort and strength in the character Hermione. I saw she had the same struggles I did in the reactions she got from Professor Snape and the unkind remarks she got from classmates for wanting to contribute. Overall though, she turned out to be a bad ass witch and although I can’t claim to have punched any Slytherins in the face it was so freeing reading about it!

It’s only writing about this now that I wonder, were the Harry Potter books the reason I was mainly friends with boys in Primary School? I remember my mum saying how worried she was because I preferred spending time with them in the playground (“can’t you play with the girls, Emma?”) perhaps I actually thought I was Hermione? I had tried writing to Newsround at the time, hoping to audition for the part – turns out they picked another Emma.

Anyway, I find it funny that my mind still allows me to recall this so vividly. Thanks J.K. 

 

Getting Active Again

So I am now “one of those people”I have started Couch to 5K ( a 9 week running programme)¬†This won’t sound that remarkable to most people. A lot of people have exercise integrated into their lives, but it has taken me a long time to get back into it.

Spoiler: this post does not contain any before and after pictures, neither does it contain any inspirational quotes.

Why have I bothered?

I used to run when I was at School – always long distance. People thought I was mad for liking cross country but it was something I could do¬†relatively well; running for my district and my county sometimes.¬†But I didn’t keep the exercise up while I was at uni which was an error. I forgot the positive feeling of running and when I discovered my body wasn’t as healthy as I thought it was¬†¬†in my early twenties I had kind of resigned myself, rather sadly, to never putting my trainers on again. I did yoga and the like but I didn’t really see myself as¬†the¬†regular gym going type.

I envied my friends who seemed to always be out on their bikes, or doing marathons and other amazing things, tracking their exercise and living by their fitbits but was never compelled to try and follow suit – seeing this level of activity as unattainable now my body decided it wanted to act as though I was an old lady. To this day, whenever I find my body struggling to do basic things I refer to it as being my old lady body or OLB for short.

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Healthy body, healthy mind?

In addition to my physical health, the prospect of going to the gym, running in public and the associated little/no make up look that often goes with it was also daunting¬†for my mental health¬†as well! I did try the gym for a while pre-instagram boom and anxiety had me in a state where I was convinced as soon as I left the gym people were laughing at me for even trying. I told myself that if I couldn’t do a ‘reasonable’ stint at the gym (what does that even mean?) It wasn’t worth going at all.

But here I am, almost on week 3 of ‘couch to 5K’. Going to the gym every other day, I have¬†even having managed going running in public more than once. Week 1 I felt constantly shattered, ¬†asking myself when I would feel like¬†#thisgirlcan ¬†and¬†“I don’t sweat, I glow”. I wondered where the boundless energy associated with being healthy, could be located. But I have pushed through and¬†I now think that¬†doing something is¬†better than doing nothing.

We live amidst an instagram frenzy with almost everyone on there and tons of lifestyle and fitness posts. I already notice a difference in gym goers. The guys are more muscly and the girls are leaner-more power to them but that is kind of intimidating as I kill myself on a treadmill.

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I get the impression that there is increasing pressure on young people to look good or to be living life in a certain way. I used to think the pressure was mainly on women but now I can see guys are expected to look a certain way as well. I can’t imagine what it must be like for someone who aspires to look like the instagram posts we see and is battling inner demons like the ones I have described above.¬†I’m surprised at myself and am apprehensive that I will hit a wall sometime soon, but I’m no longer making excuses.

This post isn’t meant as a brag, I’m just happy my body is currently letting me get out of bed and more.¬†I’m feeling a tad more positive and as though I¬†now earn any time I choose to sit on the couch and do very little.

My next step is to make sure I couple this exercise with some decent, healthy food before/after the gym. Any tips on that would be gratefully received; @eemaalou 

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Beginner’s Guide To Losing Your Mind: The Book I Wish I Had As A Teenager

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I was really excited for my copy of Emily Reynolds’ (first) book to arrive in the post! I’ve admired her writing for a long time and have been a¬†fan of her sense of humour since¬†I worked with her for a short time as a student (sadly, not linked with writing). I kind of knew that she had “something going on” in terms of mental health, but never the details. Feeling awkward sticking my nose in and knowing I could hardly help myself at the time, let alone someone else, I didn’t want to pry. This book is a glimpse into what she has been through and was going through the short time when I would see her on the regular.

I haven’t written a book review in a long time and this may just read as a list of compliments but I’m more going for “reasons you need this book”. I will try not to spoil it.

“Beginners Guide…”¬†struck a chord when¬†Emily¬†talks about diagnosis, giving whatever mental illness you have a name, so you can maybe take some step into overcoming it. Something that particularly hit home for me, was the idea that one can hide behind or use their label to excuse certain behaviors.

This wasn’t because I have found myself guilty of this, but because an estranged family member of mine has definitely done this, even pre-diagnosis. There’s a whole dramatic story, which I won’t share here, but safe to say Emily¬†put into words exactly what this relative of mine did to herself and our¬†family. Which in itself has given me deeper¬†insight into a truly difficult situation. (She does go on to talk about how diagnosis is a good thing,¬†by the way)

Her articulation of where a mental health condition starts and where a person begins also resonated as, during depressed times in life, I think a lot of the feelings of hopelessness often make you think this is the person you are stuck with being.

This book is real and raw and brave and clearly outlines how to navigate various health services and how to help yourself. Something that isn’t easy when someone is in a¬†depressed, anxious or manic state. This shows you where to start. I wish I had this book as a teenager and as a student. I also think Doctors should be recommending this to¬†their young patients, as a compass. It’s written in an accessible, honest way and in a voice that doesn’t patronise – it cuts through the bullshit.

If someone had handed me this book (especially when at 17 I was told I was difficult to refer for further help, as I was neither a child, nor an adult) I would have been able to make more sense of what was going on in my head at several dark and difficult times in my life. I think given my parents saw evidence of depression and anxiety when I was younger and (as supportive as they were) perhaps thought it was just teenage angst, putting this book in their hands would have helped them as well.

I sound as though I am gushing and OK maybe I am, but Emily has put into words a subject that can be so negative and can eat away at people and she has¬†turned it into something positive. This book is¬†extremely relevant and practical and¬†I suspect it will continue to be throughout my life.¬†I work with university students and although I’m not a counsellor, I now feel like I have more than just my own experiences to draw on to help those who are clearly struggling. I can imagine opening it whenever I next struggle and reading it again years down the line perhaps if¬†I have kids and it will help them too.

I know I’m not a newspaper, heck I’m not even a half good writer, but I just wanted to add to the praise Emily is getting because it is truly deserved! And I am so grateful to her.

Buy this book.

 

On being grateful

So the world is full of bad news at the moment. Every day we see new events unfolding that just make us feel down in the dumps. 2016 was cruel and 2017 isn’t shaping up to be much better.

Before Christmas I was really tempted to blog about how many times I had gone for and been knocked back from, promotion in 2016. After the Christmas break part of me still felt tempted to do this. To talk about the glass ceiling, about woe is me and when will I get a break?! ¬†After all, I’ve been doing this for years and I work damn hard. But instead, after a week off of work and now returning to my desk, I have found myself simply¬†feeling grateful for my job.

Although challenging on a daily basis and at times seriously making me wonder why I bother, I am lucky¬†to have a full time job that offers me freedom to do projects that I enjoy. If things don’t go to plan in my bubble at work, no one dies and I am earning money. Even today after I had a seriously awkward exchange with students, I’m still here, I’m still working.

I know this probably reads like a “nothing” post. But it is rare that I feel like this, especially seeing as we have had stress at home (further adventures of Emma vs. landlord) I find it remarkable that I have been able to keep a lid on things.

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Volunteering: When you have to step away from something good.

 

After nearly 2 and a half years of volunteering for Endometriosis UK, I have had to step away from my role as assistant group leader for our local support group. I ¬†thought I would write about this in a reflective way as, although the role didn’t take up tons of my time, it was really important to me and I am sad I have to give it up.

It hasn’t been an easy decision but wanting to progress in both my personal and professional life means I have had to make the hard decision to put those things first. As we look back on a 2016 of poo (for a multitude of reasons), I want to try and build something for myself in 2017. Some might see that as selfish but I have to see it as self care.

This post will most likely be peppered with plugs for Endo UK¬†as I think they do amazing things for women who suffer with this overlooked condition. But stick with me…

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I have done some volunteering in the past as a student but I had never done anything on this scale for a charity before. I had also not done volunteering for anything that had impacted me so personally and I wanted to channel something negative into a positive.

I had been attending my local support group for a while having heard about it via Endo UK’s online support groups. After a while the group leader asked me if I would like to help her with the group.¬†I have written in the past about Endo¬†and coping with a chronic pain condition so I needed little convincing that helping others with the same condition would be a good idea. I was also excited to work with her because as well as being a volunteer she is ¬†a nurse who specialises in this area of healthcare.

I think there is plenty out there already about the benefits of volunteering so I won’t add to the already crowded internet space with trying to preach to anyone reading this about why you should give back and how it helps you as well as other people.

I will however say that my relatively short time as assistant group leader has unlocked opportunities for me. I have;

  • Marched for the charity to raise awareness in London
  • Run a support group on Facebook and generally tried to raise¬†awareness online (which I will continue to do as much as I can) which has enhanced by ability to manage social media pages.
  • I attended an EndoUK information day in London which opened my eyes and educated me about the condition further than just my own experience.
  • I have met some of the strongest and most selfless women I have ever come across and been inspired by them. This includes the group leader!
  • I have learned more about myself and reaffirmed the notion that even if you think you have strong skills in say, communication or dealing with difficult situations, you can always put those skills to the test and make them even stronger.

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One of the main challenges however of running a support group is making sure you’re reaching everyone who needs help. Much like my day job, sometimes you have to accept that you may not have a room packed full of people. Which is fine.

I think for a lot of women with Endometriosis, seeking support is cyclical (for some women, much like the condition itself). That is to say that people need help when first diagnosed and when going through flare-ups or surgeries but apart from that I think a lot of people spend their time just trying to cope or pushing on regardless of ill health.

If you are suffering with any kind of chronic condition, I’d advise you reach out on the internet and look for a support group. Even if you don’t want to speak to someone face to face or you’re not physically able to get out of the house there will be an online option for you. I have found Health Unlocked really useful.

To a lot of people me telling people to reach out might sound obvious but you would be amazed how few doctors know that Endo UK and organisations like it exist and so do not refer women to support groups as a result. This often means women are given a diagnosis and then left to try and work it out for themselves with only Dr Search Engine for guidance.

For those who are able to get around easily, a face to face support group can help you see you’re not alone, even if you don’t feel like opening up about your health, it puts you physically in a room with people who know a least a little bit about what you’re going through – and that alone can be a comfort. And if you have a condition and feel like you have it under control, you can share your wisdom and coping techniques with others as well.

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I am always happy to chat to people about endo, online and can be found on twitter using @eemaalou  for anyone who wants to tweet or DM me.

 

Going Back To School: First Assignment Submitted!

So this won’t be a big deal to most of you but I just submitted my first assignment in 5 years. It was only a 350 word TEL blog but it was definitely an exercise in concise writing! One of the things I was most worried about was referencing but I think it is much like riding a bike – I got back into it with relative ease.

While I was reading for the assignment I did two short stints in the library. This was weird for me because I was going back into a library I had used a lot during my BSc. It was also  entertaining bumping into students that I work with who, although friendly, were confused as to why the hell I was in there.

Being in the library also transported me back into the mindset of a student which was strange. Although I really enjoyed university I wasn’t the best student (as I mentioned in my last post) and studying for an assignment again actually filled me we feelings of anxiety all over again (I struggled with anxiety and depression as a student). This didn’t bode well and after one “library date” with my partner after work and a second attempt on a separate occasion to get some work done in one of the computer rooms there, I decided I should probably try and work elsewhere.

Working elsewhere of course brings with it more distractions, Facebook memories has recently been reminding me of how much I used to post while supposedly working. This time, some of the reading I found was done on Facebook and so I had to find links I had saved there. This made avoiding distraction tricky and again I couldn’t resist the urge to post just something about my work progress.

Top tip: don’t listen to the Stranger Things instrumental soundtrack while trying to work, it won’t help your sense of dread!

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From Giphy

I still have some assignments left to go and am still familiarising myself with a lot of the pedagogical theories and jargon. I am hoping to get a good mark¬†but won’t find out for a while now.

The next assignments are based around observing and being observed while delivering sessions to students. Any words of advice from those who have been observed before? Let me know in the comments. 

Going back to School (PGCAP)

So I have started a Masters module through work. It’s taught in three intensive days of workshops and I have assignments to complete. I am less nervous about the content or my understanding and more nervous about completing the work assigned to me having not written academically for 5 years now and being one of the only people in the room without a masters degree. 

Facebook memories has only added to my anxiety as it has very helpfully been reminding me of all the stupid things I used to write online while completing assignments for my BSc. From regularly giving people unwanted updates on my word count, to telling people I was in the library but lacking motivation. I really was an awful student. I spent more time trying to tell people what I was doing than actually doing it! 

At the moment I am not feeling confident about putting pen to paper for my work. But over time I am hoping that, regardless of the outcome of my assignments for this module, I will perhaps be able to see how far I have come and how my work ethic has changed from when I was an undergrad. 

Now to embark on the seemingly mammoth task of fitting reading in alongside working full time…if I post here again soon you might just see that as procrastination.