Friday, 31 March 2017

March Life



Spring has officially sprung and I have to say that, despite my love for Winter, the warmer and brighter days have been a welcomed change. It's been nice not to have to take a jacket out with me some days and there's even been a couple of days where I have worn my flip flops and sandals. It also looks so pretty at the moment everywhere with all the bulbs blooming and the blossom trees. Perhaps I am becoming a Spring / Summer convert!? We shall see... 
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Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Copenhagen



Copenhagen had been on my travel hit list for what felt like forever so I was really happy to finally get around to booking a mini break there this year. 

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Friday, 24 March 2017

The Vegan Kind #TVK41



The lovely people at The Vegan Kind have kindly asked me to collaborate with them on some regular reviews and unboxing videos of their vegan subscription box which I am so happy about! You may remember that a year or so ago that I used to write monthly reviews of this box when I was a subscriber and it has always been a favourite vegan box of mine. I'm really excited to be receiving this box again and I can't wait to share the contents with you all! 

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Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Overcoming Travel Anxiety



I think it would be fair to say that I travel a lot. Going away to different countries and experiencing different cultures plays a huge part in my overall enjoyment of life. Sometimes I even feel that travelling and booking that all important next trip is an addictive compulsion. I often feel as though I am not truly living if I am not exploring what the world has to offer and enjoying new experiences. I would even go as far as to say that I am at my happiest when I am somewhere else. I do however find it difficult to say the words 'I love to travel' and here's why...

When my world got turned upside down with anxiety problems in 2013 one of the first things that it stopped me from doing was travelling. At it's worst I couldn't even leave the house let alone travel to anywhere new. I couldn't drive my car and I struggled just as much as a passenger. I had a once in a lifetime trip booked to Asia which was going to involve being away from home for five weeks and a total of nine separate flights. At the time I couldn't even comprehend how I was going to manage this but I also wasn't prepared to give up a trip that I had been planning and saving for for over a year.



My anxiety issues couldn't have really come at a worse time for me and looking back now I don't know how I survived that trip. Every flight started with me in a flood of tears and resulted in a panic attack.  I was convinced that I was going to get sick in every place I stayed and consequently refused to eat very much. Most nights I struggled to sleep and I couldn't even relax during the day time around the pool or at the beach. What should have been one of the most happiest experiences of my life was ruined by what was going on in my head.


One of the first things I did when I returned home from Asia was discuss with my husband about booking a Summer holiday. I think he was quite surprised considering what we had just been through but I knew that if we didn't then I wouldn't get on a plane ever again. One of my only real passions in life was at risk of being stolen away from me and I wasn't prepared to let that happen. 

Fast forward the calendar another three years and I can honestly say that I almost feel back to my former fearless self when it comes to travelling. I've reflected on my most recent trip to Copenhagen and how at ease I felt the whole time I was away and how well I managed the flight. I felt calm, I looked out of the window during take off and most importantly I looked forward to the  days ahead of us without imagining any worst case scenarios which would usually cause me to spiral into a pit of fear.


So how have I got myself here? 

Well, I would primarily say through persistence and perseverance. I learnt pretty early on with anxiety that the more you avoid the things that are making you fearful, the bigger those fears will become. In my opinion, as an experiencer of anxiety and panic attacks, it takes time and baby steps to get yourself out of that vicious cycle of impending doom. There's no point in throwing yourself in at the deep end and trying to do everything all at once because that just won't work and you may end up doing more harm than good.


Over the past couple of years I have always made sure that I have little holidays booked up and things to keep me in the habit of travelling, being away from home and outside of my comfort zone. I would say that going on numerous short haul flights over the past year has really been the best thing I could have ever done for my anxiety. Stockholm, Majorca, Ibiza, Edinburgh, Finland & Copenhagen were all really successful flights for me and were all under three hours. Doing the same thing over and over again, and surviving, has slowly but surely convinced myself that there's nothing to worry about.


It also hasn't just been about going abroad to other countries. Recently I have holidayed more in the UK than I have ever done before. I've really enjoyed visiting new places closer to home and losing my Air BnB virginity. Sometimes my anxiety was just as difficult to deal with being away anywhere different to home and I often found myself paranoid about how clean facilities were, not wanting to eat out anywhere I didn't trust and long car journeys would often be very triggering for me.


I am very fortunate in that i've been able to go away with someone who understands and is considerate to my needs. I have a really understanding husband who has been an absolute rock during some of my darkest hours. He has seen the behaviour patterns in the past and the warning signs, he can read me like a book. He knows that choosing our seats beforehand makes me more at ease on a flight and he doesn't mind paying the extra. If I do feel wobbly he holds my hand and tells me that everything is going to be ok. He reminds me of past events where everything has been ok and he does a marvellous job at talking common sense to me.


They could be referred to as 'safety behaviours', or mere comforters, but there are a few routines that I have got into the habit of which I have found to be really helpful in reducing my anxiety levels when travelling. 

Whenever we fly I always have my little 'flight bag' with me and on me at all times. It contains all of the small things that help to make me feel more comfortable on the flight. Tissues, wipes, hand cream, lip balm, headphones, my phone, pain killers etc. Because it's so small I never get asked to put it in the over head compartments too which is something that used to cause me some anxiety. To be honest i've never been a fan of that whole feeling of being locked in on a flight and not being able to get to my stuff just makes that even worse.


Distraction is also a very useful tool when working on blocking out any unhelpful patterns of thought so I generally always make sure I have some things to do on the journey. Usually this would take the form of a book or a podcast. Sometimes I like to download a film or tv episode to my laptop to watch and I always make sure it's something I am excited about watching. I also like to download travel guides into my iBooks library for wherever it is we may be travelling to so that I can read up and work on my itinerary on the way. I've learnt the hard way that being left alone with my thoughts can be risky so I always go prepared.   

Whenever I travel now I make a conscious effort to make it as stress free as possible. I have found in the past that having to rush around to get somewhere and putting myself under pressure is setting myself up for a disaster. I never book early morning flights anymore. Sometimes we even book an airport hotel the night before we fly just to alleviate those worries about getting from point A to point B. More often than not we might hire our own car in the country that we're travelling to as it takes away the stress of public transport and we feel more comfortable taking things at our own pace surrounded by less people. It also gives you a little more control which is a big thing for me and is probably what got me into the mess in the first place.    


As well as challenging myself on a regular basis I also take the anti-depressant Venlafaxine which I have been on now for just over a year and a half. This drug got me out of a serious relapse I had towards the end of 2015. I did not envision myself back on medication again having already successfully come off Citalopram at the end of 2014. I was very reluctant to take what seemed to me at the time like a huge step backwards. But I was also on the verge of agoraphobia again and my choices suddenly found themselves very limited. On reflection Venlafaxine has been a real life saver for me and I am grateful that my GP encouraged me to accept this help. 

I also always carry Diazepam in my handbag although I really can't remember the last time I had to take it (which is a great feeling by the way!). Diazepam, or Valium as it's also known, is in my experience very effective when it comes to alleviating travel anxiety. I also find great comfort in knowing that it's there if I need it. My GP only ever prescribes me 10 tablets at a time and knowing in the past that I had to make them last made me save them for only the really bad times.


As well as medication I have over the past four years been through three separate courses of CBT. I have never felt that CBT has been hugely beneficial to me but with the limited options available via the NHS mental health services at present I would advise to take up whatever is offered like I did. And who knows, maybe it did help me more than I have ever given it credit for.

I haven't been on a long haul flight since a disastrous one I took to Mauritius in 2015. Deciding to take a twelve hour flight at a time when I already felt anxiety making a reemergence in my life was probably not the best decision I ever made and it ended up being a catalyst for a pretty severe relapse. I am however now at a stage where I feel some confidence in perhaps trying long haul again.


I dream about spending a few weeks on the West coast of the USA and road tripping from LA to San Francisco. Swimming with the wild pigs in the Bahamas is still on my bucket list, as is staying in a water bungalow in the Maldives. I do feel that I have already been to some pretty amazing places but there are still so many more adventures I often find myself mentally planning for the future. 

For now though I am looking ahead to our Summer holiday in June which we shall be spending in Santorini. At 3 hours 55 minutes it will be the longest flight I have taken since that dreaded Mauritius experience and, for the first time in a long time, I can actually say that I am really looking forward to it.        


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Friday, 17 March 2017

Mothers Day Gift Guide



Mothers Day is just around the corner (Sunday 26th March for anyone who didn't already know!) and I thought I would put together my pick of some of the best gifts around to spoil your Mum with. As always everything featured on my blog is cruelty free and all of the gifts within this post are also suitable for vegans. Happy shopping! 

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Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Why I Don't Support Zoos



The last time that I went to the zoo must have been about 6 years ago when my husband and I were feeling bored one weekend and decided to make a trip to Paradise Wildlife Park in Hertfordshire. I don't really remember much else from that day apart from how sad I felt watching a wild cat pacing backwards and forwards in the same spot within its small enclosure. As I looked at the cat in its eyes I could clearly see the despair and lifelessness within it. I could see that it was depressed and it made me feel really uncomfortable that we were there to play the role of spectator to its sad existence. After that day I never felt the need to visit the zoo again. 

That incident was long before I decided to become vegan but I think it came at a time in my life where I was starting to become more awakened to certain issues with regards to animal welfare and animals used for entertainment.


It was around this time that I took a trip to Cuba and one of the top attractions on my itinerary was to swim with dolphins. At the time I felt like it was a once in a lifetime opportunity and something to tick off my bucket list. At the forefront of my mind was getting that photo of myself with a dolphin. But in reality what I had expected to be an enjoyable experience ended up leaving me feeling desperately sad and guilty.

From the moment we arrived on site I questioned the living standards of the animals and as I sat and watched boat loads of tourists arriving one after another I knew inside that this wasn't right. We were led to watch a show where dolphins were performing but they didn't want to do the tricks requested of them and it was clear to see the anger on the faces of the trainers.


Swimming with the dolphins wasn't even enjoyable and I couldn't wait to get out of the water. Being so up close to them I could see certain wounds and marks on their skin which again had me questioning the treatment of the animals. We were encouraged to hold onto the dolphins fins and stand on them to be carried around the water which I immediately declined. I would never stand on any animal and wasn't going to change that now just for a photo opportunity.


For the remainder of that week on holiday all I could think about was what a sad excuse of a life those animals led completely trapped and at the mercy of humans who purely saw them as a commodity. I was only there for a brief time but that was their reality, day in day out.


Ever since that day I have refrained from funding and taking part in any activity where animals are used for entertainment. Since becoming vegan this is something that I am even more adamant about and I try where possible to encourage others away from these kind of activities.

Watching the documentaries Blackfish & Earthlings were life changing experiences for me which motivated me even further to lead a lifestyle which in no way contributes towards animal cruelty. Thankfully Blackfish succeeded in raising awareness about the controversy of captive orca's and as a result SeaWorld saw drops in their income and attendance, as well as announcing that they would end their breeding programme and begin to phase out the use of orcas in live shows.

It does seem that within the last few years views and opinions on animals in captivity are slowly changing and for many what was once an acceptable day out is now much more likely to be frowned upon. Although it's also probably fair to say that the majority of people don't see anything wrong with animals used for entertainment.

Being vegan isn't just about what I eat, it's about doing my utmost to ensure that I am in no way contributing towards the exploitation of animals whether it be through diet, fashion, cosmetics and any other lifestyle choices.


There's no denying that animal exploitation within the tourism industry is a real problem and something that is much harder to control as laws relating to animal welfare vary across the world. But what you can do is make a stand not to fund this industry. Hopefully the less money these people receive from tourists the more this form of entertainment will soon become extinct.


I remember when we were on our honeymoon travelling in South East Asia and I really wanted to pay a visit to an elephant sanctuary. After some research online I found one in Bali but once we had arrived and paid our entrance fee it soon become apparent that it wasn't so much of a sanctuary and instead more of a tourist attraction where the elephants were chained, made to perform tricks and offer rides to tourists. I felt so annoyed whilst we were there and it was like we had been tricked. I questioned the keepers about many different aspects of the elephants lives but no one could really give me any answers. Yes it was amazing to be up so close to elephants but it really wasn't the experience I was hoping for and it wasn't the kind of place I wanted to spend my money. You certainly live and learn and in may ways I like looking back on old photos like this as it's a reminder of how far I have come in my own understanding. 


This was also a lesson learned and ensures that in future I really do my research properly to make sure where I am visiting is somewhere for the good of the animals. Nowadays when abroad I tend to avoid any excursions or 'sanctuaries', but that's not to say that there aren't some legitimate ones out there.  

Closer to home and on UK soil you may have read in the news recently about South Lakes Safari Park in Cumbria where 486 animals died over the period of three years. It has been reported that these deaths were the result and combination of poor management, emaciation, hypothermia, trauma and infighting due to overcrowded enclosures. The photos from this news story are truly heartbreaking and this is a prime example of an attraction where the animals wellbeing and welfare was not prioritised over the revenue being made. Thankfully these cases do seem few and far between in the UK but sadly they are much more heard of in other countries.


You may remember a big news story from last year which involved the shooting of a 17 year old gorilla, Harambe, at Cincinnati Zoo after a child fell into his enclosure. This story sparked outrage among many who asked the question why there couldn't have been an alternative method of ensuring the safety of the child. This gorilla, who lived his life in captivity, ultimately died at the hands of his captors and all because of human error. He lost his life because the parents of the child were not paying attention and because of inadequate standards at the zoo. To me, at the time, this just didn't seem fair at all.

In Paris last week poachers broke into Thoiry Zoo and shot a rhino in the head three times before chainsawing off its horn. This is believed to have been the first case of its kind in Europe but it raises the question of what measurements zoos have in place to actually protect their animals from attacks. Despite the zoo having surveillance cameras and keepers living on site this was still able to happen. The zoo is more often than not viewed as a safe place for animals to live away from threats but it seems that this is changing and this could be the beginning of a new trend where zoo animals are seen as a much easier target than those in the wild.

I often hear people trying to defend Zoos by saying that the animals are happy there because they're safe, fed and looked after. To me this always just sounds like a way of someone trying to justify something to themselves because it's easier to think of Zoos in that way, especially if you are an animal lover. And I guess that's the ironic part of all of this, the vast majority of people who visit Zoos do so because they love animals and want to see them up close and in person.     

A trip to the zoo is enjoyable for children and adults and it's so often the chosen day out for school trips or Summer holiday activities. But I personally wouldn't want to teach my children that animals are there to be locked away for humans enjoyment. I think there are far more alternative educational activities available that don't require looking at animals behind bars. I also question how educational Zoos actually are when what's being presented to the public is by no way a true reflection of these animals usual behaviour or habitat. I think watching a wildlife documentary for instance would be far more informative and ethical in terms of learning more about the animals you're interested in.


Another argument I often hear in favour of Zoos is about the conservation work they do but in reality, and when we really look at the animals kept at Zoos, the vast majority are not those facing extinction. It's also worth noting that these animals are very rarely, if ever, released back into the wild.

Whatever the argument, there can be no denying that wild animals are best off in their natural environment. It doesn't matter how big and well equipped their enclosures are, it will never compare to a life in the wild.  An artificial environment will never replace the real thing for any animal and being kept against their will will never replace freedom.

These days if I want to see animals up close I will only ever spend my money at an animal sanctuary, my most local one being Hopefield in Brentwood, Essex. A visit there is one of my favourite days out and it's great to see the work that they do in providing a home to unwanted or mistreated animals. They're a non profit organisation so all of the money they receive goes towards looking after the animals and the upkeep of the sanctuary. It's clear to see when you visit a sanctuary like this that it's the animals who are really at the forefront of priorities.


I carried out a small poll on Twitter last week and asked if people would rather spend their money visiting a zoo or a sanctuary and quite astoundingly 96% of you said a sanctuary. This was far higher than I was expecting but then when I consider the following I have on Twitter, and my blog, it's more than likely to be a majority of compassionate animal lovers. Still, all probabilities aside, it filled me with some happiness and hope that people are more wiser nowadays about animal exploitation and what they choose to fund.  

There are a number of non profit animal sanctuaries in the UK and worldwide who welcome visitors and donations. Some also run volunteer events and family fun days which make great educational days out for children. I will always now view this as a more worthwhile and meaningful experience opposed to a day at the zoo. I would also much rather spend money at a charitable organisation opposed to somewhere that makes a profit from the captivity of animals.


What's your opinion on Zoos? 

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Thursday, 9 March 2017

Helsinki



Last month my husband and I visited Finland for the very first time and we split our weeks stay between Lapland and Helsinki. From what I could gather there weren't any direct flights from London to Lapland, with the majority going via Helsinki, so this was a perfect excuse for us to spend some time in city after our adventures further north.
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Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Cruelty Free Cosmetics For Men



I've recently reflected on how female focused my blog is and, in a bid to branch out and attract more male readers to my blog, I plan to start to include more posts for the cruelty free men of the world starting right here with this round up of some of the best cruelty free and vegan cosmetics around for men. 

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Thursday, 2 March 2017

Vegan Easter Picks 2017



It only feels like last week I was putting together my Christmas gift guide and now i'm already researching vegan Easter eggs again! Is it just me or does Easter chocolate come out in the shops earlier and earlier every year? I'm pretty sure that Easter eggs started to appear on the shelves almost as soon as the Christmas things had been cleared in January! It also seems earlier this year because Easter is a little later falling on 16th April. 
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