Posted in bloggers, Health and Well-Being, Nursing

The Battle Against Genetics

A couple of months ago, after having a few sleepless nights where I was convinced I was having a myocardial infarction (heart attack) I finally decided to just get it over with and have a full cardiac check-up to find out what’s really going on. I went to my GP and to nobody’s surprise, my blood pressure was elevated.

He had me monitor my home blood pressure for a week, and sent me to all these tests that would basically rule out other underlying conditions that might be causing the high blood pressure. I was simultaneously relieved to be actively taking steps to get to the bottom of this condition and terrified at the thought of what they might find.

I was breaking out in cold sweats while they took an ECG and blood tests and kidney scans and all the other investigations that needed to be done to come up with a diagnosis. At the end of the day it all turned out to be normal and essentially what I had was a case of stage one primary hypertension. No big deal, let’s get you on medications that you’ll have to take for the rest of your life, thank you, next patient please.

I tried to treat the diagnosis and subsequent treatment as a kind of joke, and God knows it must seem funny to other people for someone who’s relatively young to be on maintenance medications. But underneath the humour and the bluster, there was a real sense of shame. I feel like I’ve somehow failed, like I’ve lost a battle that I’ve been fighting my entire adult life.

You see, my family has a history of heart disease. Its one of the reasons why I’m so paranoid about it. Every single person in my family has taken or is currently on cardiac medication in one form or another. My father, aunts and uncles are all on different kinds of anti-hypertensives. This is the future that I’ve always known I had to look forward to.

I remember having a blood check at 21 and discovering my cholesterol levels were elevated. I mean, I love to eat and I know my sweet tooth will probably be the death of me, but I remember looking at my friends who consume food by the buckets and finding out when they had their cholesterol check that it was all normal…and I felt betrayed by own DNA.

Like how is it fair that a woman who weighs at least 20 pounds more than I do, and who doesn’t obsessively watch their weight or think about what they eat, would have normal triglyceride and LDL levels? LDL is the bad cholesterol by the way.

Anyway, long story short, it was a rude awakening to the fact that you can try to modify your lifestyle all you want but there’s always going to be a risk that your genes will get the better of you.

I suppose it doesn’t help that I eat when I’m stressed and I feel like I’ve been perpetually stressed (and therefore stress-eating) since I was 19.

Anyway, I found it hard to accept and talk about this change in the first few weeks after the diagnosis. Like I said, there was shame and there was also the fear of judgment from other people who might think, serves you right for not dieting and exercising enough. This wasn’t all unfounded by the way; the nurses and GPs I met at the clinic all made some kind of comment that implied this was somehow all my fault.

And in a way I suppose it is. I mean, you can’t blame genetics for everything. Your genes will predispose you to a certain condition but there are ways to actively prevent it from coming to fruition. I am now paying for years and years worth of neglect and lack of respect for my body.

I suppose that’s why I’m sharing my story. Its a cautionary tale against being blasé about your health as well as a message of encouragement to eat healthy and stay active.

Don’t let a future of anti-hypertensives become part of your narrative. It might be too late for me at this point but its not too late for you or for people you know. Stay healthy. Be strong. Live well.

Posted in Travel

The Moments That Take Your Breath Away

I don’t often stop to think about how fortunate I am to be able to travel the world, to see all the places that I only used to read about in books, and to experience things that are on most people’s bucket list. I take for granted that I live in a city that in its own right is also a sought-after travel destination, as well as a place that allows me easy access to Europe and the rest of the world.

I admit to sometimes getting carried away by the social media hype, and sometimes I have to consciously remind myself that it doesn’t matter if you don’t get the perfect instagram shot, that what matters is immersing yourself in the moment and appreciating the opportunities that come your way.

I woke up at the unholy hour of 2 in the morning for our Capadoccia Hot Air Balloon excursion. The Turkish heat must have driven me temporarily insane because I became obsessed with the idea of taking the perfect photo, so I changed my outfit three times and spent at least half an hour curling my hair.

Our pick-up time was at 03:45 am and by 4:30 we arrived at a building where we were then sorted into groups. I was very excited to see that there were only four of us in our group and I thought, great, less photo-bombers. We then drove another half hour to Red Valley where the tour company was already setting up our balloon.

At this point it was nearing sunrise and I was getting quite frustrated. I’ve seen many photos of hot air balloons in Capadoccia and I knew the timing had to be right. It wouldn’t do to see it when the sun has risen completely. The whole experience is at its most dramatic during that glorious magical moment when the sun is just about to come up and the colours of the balloons are set against some of the most stunning backdrops you will ever see in your lifetime.

Needless to say I was nearly cursing as full daylight started to set in and everyone else’s balloon was up in the air except for ours. I didn’t want to hassle anyone because I certainly didn’t want them to take shortcuts and compromise our safety. I was not planning on falling off any hot-air balloons that day, that’s for sure. But I was becoming increasingly impatient and irritated from the wait, and I was even more annoyed when I saw a van full of people and was then told they were actually joining us in our basket.

I was also disappointed that, as I was going to actually be IN the balloon, I wouldn’t be able to have any photos with me in it. I was actually very briefly pissed that I wouldn’t have the chance to pose on some balcony somewhere while the balloons were floating up around me.

Thankfully I managed to get over myself and finally decided to stop being so damn pretentious and stupid and to just enjoy the moment.

And dear readers, what a moment it was.

Before I knew it I was climbing the basket and the pilots were blowing up the hot air balloon. We started ascending minutes later and if I had the time to think about what I was actually doing I probably would have been more scared. But as it was, all I could do was marvel at the view. I was too busy soaking in the wondrous feeling of being up in the sky, with the wind against my face, while I take in something that no camera would ever be able to capture.

The lesson here, guys, is that in this day and age where our self-esteem is directly proportional to the number of likes we receive on Facebook, its important to remind ourselves of the reasons why we travel.

We travel to learn about different cultures, to experience the way other people live, and appreciate the fact that despite our differences we are all the same. We travel to fall in love with the people we meet and the places we see, and we travel to have fun.

But most of all, we travel for the moments that take our breath away.

Posted in Travel

Twilight Over Istanbul

Life doesn’t get any more surreal than when you’re cruising down the river that straddles and bridges the gap between two continents, and between two very different cultures.

I love travelling. I’ve left pieces of my heart in all the places I’ve been to and am looking forward to falling in love with the places I’ve yet to see. But I know for a fact that Istanbul, and Turkey as a whole, will always hold a special place in my heart.

For one thing, the people we met were so warm and hospitable. We booked our tour through Chora Travels who were kind enough to arrange all the pick-ups, transfers and domestic flights for us on top of booking all our hotels.

The Turkish people also had a unique sense of humour and an innate playfulness that I didn’t really expect. For example, our driver was chatty and kind enough to tell me that apparently there were a lot of Filipino women working for the hammam places. Thank you. That’s good to know if I ever want or need a career change.

Our hotel could not be closer to the Hagia Sophia if it tried, any closer and we’d actually be in Sultahnamet Square. Although we arrived really late due to stupid European air restrictions they welcomed us with warm smiles and hospitable greetings. They even booked our sunset Bosphorus cruise for us before bringing our bags to our room.

Restaurants open until late in Istanbul on a Friday night. As the owner told us when we asked about closing times, he’ll close when people stop coming to his doors for a meal or when he feels like it. What a marvellously relaxed way of running a business. He gave us free baklava, cocktails with sparklers on it and a cup of Turkish tea that just hit the spot in all the best ways.

When I was in high school my social studies project involved making a replica of the Hagia Sophia. At the time all I knew of it was that it represented wisdom, and that it was the bane of my life as I was born without the artistic gene. So I was really looking forward to visiting this church to see how my art project measured up. Newsflash: it doesn’t even come close to capturing the opulence and beauty of the original.

I love Istanbul’s history. I love the blend of Christian and Muslim influences and how in an almost strange way the city has made that dichotomy something to be celebrated. You can see elements of both in Hagia Sophia’s interior.

We also briefly visited the Blue Mosque, which was an actual working mosque and thus was closed to the public during prayer times. Having briefly experienced what it felt like to be all covered up in that blistering heat I can now empathise and sympathise with those who are obliged to wear it out of respect for their culture and religious belief. More power to you, I don’t know how you do it.

My second favourite part of our blitzed tour through the city was the Basilica Cistern. Its always fascinated me, especially since I read and then saw Dan Brown’s Inferno. Spoiler alert: they’ve taken out all the water so the term “sunken palace” doesn’t necessarily apply anymore but damn it didn’t take away from the atmospheric feel of the place.

Something you must experience at least once in your life and then NEVER EVER AGAIN is to ride the Istanbul tram at rush hour. It gives new meaning to the term “being one with humanity”. Believe me, there’s nothing like being pressed up against a stranger’s armpit to create the illusion that unity can be achieved in this world.

There’s always that one moment when visiting another country where the inevitable disappointment sets in because reality doesn’t quite live up to the pictures. The Galata Tower is one such experience. Sometimes I think Instagram has both enhanced and ruined travelling for everyone.

On one hand its great to be able to see other people’s travel photos and draw inspiration from it, but sometimes when a place becomes so instagrammable that its filled to the brim with tourists that you can hardly see the structure or take a decent photo yourself I curse all our addiction to social media.

By far the best moment of the tour was taking a cruise down the Bosphorus. Istanbul is the city where East meets West, where Europe ends and Asia begins, and that’s reflected in everything from the food to the architecture. On one hand you get beautiful minarets and lighted mosques, on the other hand its also really easy to find and order spaghetti bolognese.

Watching the sunset over such a beautiful city, and seeing it with the lights shining bright, is something truly spectacular to behold. I couldn’t stop taking photos of the distinct skyline, and of the Galata Bridge when the cover of night takes away the dirt and grime that would normally be visible in the light of day.

To add icing to the cake you are then able to get a delicious meal of mixed grills and kebabs for the hefty price of 70 Turkish liras, which is like 5 GBP.

Yum!!!

There’s so much more to see in Istanbul. In hindsight I should have stayed at least two full days not only so that we can see everything but also because the heat takes a lot out of you so you feel exhausted a lot of the time.

A city is only as good as the people who live in it, and going back to what I said at the beginning, I have never met a group of people who were so eager and willing to please. People who work in the tourism industry in Istanbul give everything they’ve got to making sure visitors have an awesome experience, and that, among other reasons is why I’m definitely going back to Istanbul someday.

Posted in Careers, relationships, Self-Discovery

Growing A Thicker Skin

On the heels of the latest Taylor Swift news, I thought I’d take the time to reflect on my own penchant for perhaps playing the victim and not taking responsibility for my own actions

(Disclaimer: I fully support Taylor in her quest to buy the rights to her music but even a huge fan such as myself can’t help but look askance at the number of feuds she’s had in a relatively short period of time. Love her though!).

I’ve never been a quitter and I can actually tolerate more bullshit than the average person. But I’ve had moments these past few months where I felt like throwing in the towel altogether and saying, that’s it, I’m done. I can’t take this anymore.

You know how they say you can never really run away from your problems? I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve heard a version of that advice from people I respect, and it took a while for it to sink in but thankfully, sink in it did.

One of my mentors told me something that I found both profound and sad. He told me that wherever you go in life you will always encounter bullies; the kind that will do anything to hold on to power, who will want to bring you down in order to lift themselves up, who are self-serving, deceitful and just downright malicious.

He told me I had to choose my battles. I found this to be a bit passive-aggressive, probably because I grew up with the notion that I always have to win, I always have to be right. But actually winning and being right are both a relative state and a matter of perception.

Needless to say, its a truth universally acknowledged by all that just because you think you’re right doesn’t mean the other person necessarily agrees with you.

He then told me, in a succinct way that brooked no argument, that I just have to grow a thicker skin, especially if I want to go far in life. You can’t go crying home every time someone was a bit mean to you, or if you don’t get your way. You either decide its worth it and do something about it or you shake it off.

I have a really hard time shaking things off. I’m a dweller, you just have to accept this about me.

But what I have learned this week is that I’m at that age where I just have to put on my big-girl underpants and stand my ground if what I’m fighting for really means that much to me. The ensuing conversation may be singularly unpleasant, but I’ll be able to sleep better at night knowing I’ve finally said my piece.

Basically what I’m trying to say is that you create your own narrative, and you paint the picture of how other people will see you. And I for one would rather be remembered as the one who stayed and fought and gave it a shot rather than someone who got going when the going got tough.

Posted in Celebrities, Fantasy

…And Now Our Watch Has Ended

Its Monday night and I’m sitting in front of the telly contemplating about how dreary the start of the week is going to be now that I no longer have a new episode of Game of Thrones to look forward to.

I wanted to write my own, very brief tribute to this amazing show that some say has lost its way in recent seasons. I myself did not know how to feel about some of the character developments and storyline outcomes; I too thought that the last two seasons were rushed to the point of madness.

But what I can’t deny is the power of a good story. And at the heart of it, A Song of Ice and Fire is an epic tale of dragon queens and bastards, of dwarves and cripples, of faceless men and cruel kings, of betrayals, death and redemption. It’s so big that I don’t think the tv adaptation could ever have done it justice, and the fans of the series are so diverse that no matter what the writers did they were never going to please everyone.

What they did in the end was the one thing that television was created for in the first place: they entertained.

Admit it, as much as you moaned and groaned about the terrible writing you were still riveted to the screen waiting with bated breath for what happens next. Is Daenerys going to descend to madness? Who will kill The Night King? Where in the name of all the seven kingdoms is my favourite character, Ghost?

I’ve watched all 6 episodes of the final season multiple times now, even those that I hated with a passion, and I’ve come to the conclusion that I will end this the way I began it: as a fan. No matter what direction it ultimately took its still better than any other show I have ever seen, and the journeys of each character will stay with me long after the end credits have rolled.

Now that the first phase of the Marvel Universe is over and Game of Thrones has wrapped up and The Big Bang Theory is ending, I feel like there’s about to be a giant void in the world of pop culture, and part of me feels sad that I no longer have an excuse to stay in and avoid going back into dating (and somehow we always come back to this).

But I tell myself every void is a space just waiting to be filled, and I’m hopeful that someday we will have another Game of Thrones, maybe even something better. Maybe someday I’ll get the Rhaegar and Lyanna prequel that I’ve always dreamed about (make this happen, HBO)

But for now, night gathers, but my watch has ended. Thank you, Game of Thrones, its been an absolute blast.

P.S. For those of you who have watched the series finale, wasn’t it great to see that in the end, Jon Snow did, in fact, know at least one thing? Just saying. And also, dracarys. 🙂

Posted in Books, Reviews, romance, Women's literature

Book Review: The Flatshare – Beth O’Leary

As any Londoner would tell you, one of the most difficult things about living in the capital is finding somewhere suitable to live.

And by suitable I mean somewhere clean, in a relatively safe area, easy to get to by normal means of transportation (preferably along the same tube line as your place of employment) and, most importantly, somewhere that will not cripple you financially such that you’re constantly living on beans and toast until the next pay day as you struggle to meet the exorbitant rent prices.

I have been known to tell my friends on occasion that I would seriously consider taking anyone as a partner if only for the purpose of having someone to share the rent with.

I know, its so totally not the most romantic of reasons to look for a boyfriend.

Beth O’Leary has managed to make the sad reality of London living accommodations into one of the most heartwarming and romantic love stories I’ve ever read, and trust me, I’ve been reading them since I was twelve.

Tiff and Leon have a sort of ships in the night relationship going in this book. By some weird combination of desperation and opposite work schedules, they manage to share a flat…without actually physically sharing it.

She works 9 to 5. He works night shifts as a nurse and is away on weekends. She sleeps on the left side of the bed and bakes cakes when she’s stressed. He has a brother that’s been wrongly imprisoned and he makes a mean mushroom stroganoff.

By sharing a living space they develop a tentative friendship that soon blossoms into something more. I love the little notes that they leave each other, and their first face to face meeting is epic and will have you in stitches.

The chemistry between them just leaps off the pages, whether they’re interacting via post-its or having heavy make-out sessions in some medieval castle. The story and their relationship unfolded in a way that felt natural and uncontrived.

I’ve said this a lot recently but that’s because its true: the older I get the more I appreciate the value of simplicity. Apart from a crazy ex-boyfriend there was a distinct and pleasant lack of unnecessary drama in this book. There was a tiny bit of angst but it was an understandable reaction to the situation and didn’t feel like it was placed there as a plot device.

The writing was good, the character development was even better. I love that Leon is a hospice nurse, they don’t write enough books about what we do in my opinion. I love the supporting cast, they felt like people that I would hang out and be friends with in real life.

The book was touching, funny and a reminder that there is room in our lives for the unconventional, and that amazing things can happen when you take a chance.

After reading this book I’m somewhat tempted to look for another flatmate myself if it means kickstarting my dormant love life into gear. BUT alas my housing contract specifically prohibits such things. Sad.

I highly recommend this book for anyone looking for a light summer read to take your mind off the things that bring you worry. Escape into Tiff and Leon’s wonderful world of exotic Stockwell (haha), and you’ll turn the last page with a smile on your face.

4 out of 5 stars!

Posted in relationships, Self-Discovery

If Life is So Short

I woke up at 4:30 am on one of these rare and precious days when I actually get to have a lie-in because I can’t stop thinking about how life is too damned short and unpredictable.

A colleague of mine died suddenly this week and I’ve yet to process how much this has really shaken me. I wouldn’t presume to call him a friend, but spending a considerable amount of time with someone in intense and highly-pressurised moments creates some kind of weird and indelible bond.

When someone dies you think about the last conversation you had with them. At the time I was quite upset about something and he helped me to see the humour in the situation, and then we talked shop for a little while as we both finished our tea breaks.

This was two weeks ago. I’ve passed him in the hospital corridors in the days in between and I’m sure I took the time to say hello.

God, I hope I took the time to say hello.

Whenever something like this happens it always makes you think about living your life and doing things that really matter. It gives you perspective; it certainly made me think about the hundred little things I worry about and obsess over that probably won’t matter much to me five years down the line.

It makes you think about the connections you make and how easy it is to take for granted that you’ll always find the time to reconnect with old friends. You put off saying things that matter because you think you can always leave it for tomorrow but what if tomorrow never comes?

And finally, it makes you think about your life choices. We spend our whole lives studying and working in order to live the good life, and I think sometimes we lose sight of why we work so hard in the first place. In our quest for the so-called good life, we’ve stopped living altogether.

Life should never become about the daily grind.

Find the little pleasures in between life’s big moments. They matter more than you think.

Make each moment count.

Call your friends. Call your family. Make sure you tell them every day how much they mean to you.

As cliche as it sounds, and while I’m not telling anyone to go bungee jumping or skydiving (in fact I have an aversion to both those things), I guess what I AM saying is, live your life in your own terms and live it in a way that you will have as little regrets as possible.

I love you, awesome people. Thanks for being a part of my life even if only in such an infinitesimal way.