Posted in fitness, relationships, Self-Discovery

The Bikini

Last night I went out for a little celebratory dinner with my team at work. It normally takes me at least an hour to prepare for going out because I believe in always looking your best on any occasion, and probably because I’m really really vain (self-awareness, people, this is what it looks like).

I went to my closet, which I’ve downscaled by about half last year. I threw away anything I haven’t worn in the past 6 months, which includes all those size 8 dresses that I’ve stupidly been hanging on to out of some delusional hope that I’ll ever be able to wear them again.

I picked out and put on one of my favourite jumpsuits, placed my hair in a ponytail and accessorised it with a gold clip on the side for added flair, wore comfortable flats, bit of eyeliner, my signature red lipstick and I was done. 10 minutes flat and I was ready to go.

Now let’s talk about what I would have normally done before I started out on this new positive body image mindset that I’m trying really hard to cultivate within myself.

First I would have agonised for ages over what to wear, and even when I’ve made a decision I would have changed my mind at least three times, because when I look at the mirror all I would see were the bulges, the gut, the protruding tummy, and the thighs that looked like they would be substantial enough to feed an entire third world country.

I would have then gone through my arsenal of tricks, and I do hope I’m not violating some sacred female code of here. But let’s be real. Who among us could deny owning a nice pair (or two) of spanx? Think about all those tummy-control knickers you own, the ones that promise to be so effective you’d feel as if you’ve had liposuction (LIES). Think about the bras that promise to give you so much lift and support that you’d feel like you have porn star boobs (WHY WOULD YOU WANT TO?), those corsets that enable you to fit into that overpriced but really sexy LBD (little black dress, hello).

The reality is that you would probably feel confident and sexy for all of 5 seconds. You’d make your grand entrance and people will ooh and aah and tell you how good you look…before they turn their attention back to their gin and tonics (where it rightfully belongs) and move on with their lives.

5 seconds of admiration and applause, in return for a whole evening feeling like a trussed up chicken, squeezed, tied and stuffed, ready to go into the oven. Is it REALLY worth it?

I am not denying the power of a good outfit. But the power lies in how it makes you feel. It should make you feel confident enough to take on the world. I don’t think it will make you feel confident to force yourself (squeeze yourself, I should say) into a size 10 dress when you’re really a size 14. I don’t care how good you think you look. If oxygen can’t get into your lungs and you’re unable to breathe properly because of your vanity, well, cyanosis is not a good look on anyone.

I’d like to end this with a little anecdote of me and the bikini. The Bikini used to be my mortal enemy. It represented every insecurity I’ve ever had about myself. In the Philippines, where being a size 4 is the norm, if you’re plus-sized and you had the audacity to wear a bikini, people would look at you from head to foot, and titter behind your back because, come on, who do you think you are? How dare you show your lack of abs and your legs full of cellulite?

When I moved to the UK I realised that over here people don’t give a shit about what you wore. Live and let live. If you want to wear a bikini then for godsake wear one. Between global warming and modern slavery and all the other important issues the world faces, IT REALLY DOESN’T MATTER in the grand scheme of things.

The Bikini is a metaphor for all the unfair expectations we women impose on ourselves. Like, honestly, 80% of the female population will not have Victoria’s Secret Angels bodies. Men will just have to deal with it. Its not like each and every one of them are Henry Cavills or Chris Hemsworths themselves. We are all wonderfully, imperfectly ordinary. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

Getting to the point where you’re comfortable with your body is a long and tedious process. One day you feel like you’ve made a giant leap forward, the next day you’re back to castigating yourself in front of the mirror. Its a constant uphill battle to focus and celebrate on the good parts of yourself. For some reason as human beings we seem to be programmed to see the negative first. We really are our own worst enemies, aren’t we?

The only thing I can say based on my experience is to bear in mind that there are things more important than weight and physical appearances. Like enjoying what you do. Like learning. Like finding fulfilment in doing your life’s passion, whatever that may be.

Every day, I try to find at least three things I like about myself, physically and non-physically. I like my skin. I like my teeth. Today I’m having a good hair day. My blood pressure has been normal all week. I make people laugh (even when I don’t intend to). I can write a blog that is as long as an academic essay in 10 minutes, that’s a talent isn’t it?

Be brave. Wear a bikini. Go parading down Oxford Circus naked (or maybe not). Set yourself free from caring about what other people think. They don’t matter. Besides, the only people worth keeping will think you’re awesome regardless of how you look and what you wear, even a bikini.

Posted in Lifestyle, relationships

Personal Boundaries

I read something the other day that really made me think and reflect on my self and how I interact with others.

People with strong boundaries are not afraid of temper tantrums, an argument, or getting hurt. People with weak boundaries are terrified of those things and will constantly mould their own behaviour to fit the highs and lows of their relational emotional roller coaster

Mark Manson

What this means for me personally is learning how to be myself and how to stand my ground. It means being true to my values and principles no matter what situation I find myself in.

I don’t think anyone would call me spineless, not by any stretch. But I still find myself in situations where I’m either giving in and giving way in an argument, or I’m twisting myself into a pretzel just so I can minimise the threat to the general peace (and my peace of mind).

Awhile back I was involved in an issue that required me to make a stand. It was highly contentious to say the least, all parties on either side of the argument felt quite strongly that they were right and the other was wrong. I was on the fence because, to be honest, I really didn’t care one way or the other. I personally didn’t see why there was even a discussion about it when the outcome was inevitable, but some people felt the need to pick a subject apart before coming to a decision.

Instead of examining my own values and standing up for something, instead of speaking up for what I thought was right, I went out of my way to be everything for everyone, hearing out each side in an effort to be fair. I allowed the people involved to tell me all the ways in which the other side was screwing things up. I vacillated between agreeing and disagreeing, bending over backwards trying to placate everyone involved until I was so exhausted that I lost the will to live (figuratively speaking).

I’ve always been like that. Probably because a) I care far too much about what other people think and b) I don’t want to risk choosing a side and ending up being on the wrong side, because I hate being wrong. PERIOD.

In conclusion, I have very weak personal boundaries. I like to think of myself as quite a strong person but what I am, in fact, is very malleable. I have a tendency to bend to the will of stronger forces. I probably change some if not all the aspects of my personality depending on who I’m with and what their position is in relation to mine.

This needs to stop.

Getting into arguments, being wrong, failing…these are all inevitable aspects of life that help us to grow, and from that growth comes true happiness and contentment. Also, if you never take a side, if you never allow anyone to see the real you, then you can never really trust in their love or respect because you know deep inside its based on false pretenses.

You will never really feel secure, and you will spend the rest of your life compensating or maintaining that façade.

Which isn’t to say that you now need to spend the rest of your life getting into arguments with people. You don’t want to be up in arms with pitchforks up in the air all the time. I think there’s a balance that can be achieved, and if other people respect you enough (which should be the only kind of people worth keeping in your life, BTW) they will be capable of disagreeing with you without things turning into DEFCON1.

And if they’re the kind of people too stubborn to consider that they might be wrong, that there’s merit in looking at things from another person’s perspective, then leave it. It’s not worth the stress trying to convince them otherwise.

Its easier said than done. After all, who doesn’t prefer a peaceful life? But the next time you find yourself setting yourself on fire to keep other people warm just to avoid the inevitable drama and confrontation, think about what doing that does to you.

Does it make you happy? Is it exhausting all your personal stores of energy, leaving too little for you to do things you actually care about? Is keeping the peace better in the long run or is it a temporary Band-Aid hiding a festering wound?

I leave you all with that cheery mental picture. :p

Posted in sport

Remembering Kobe

I have been up all night trying to make sense of why I’m so upset. When a celebrity dies, we all post RIP messages on Facebook and send thoughts and prayers to their family via Twitter (as if any of them would ever read it, but its the thought that counts anyway), but we don’t really feel emotionally involved.

But when a friend sent me a message saying Kobe Bryant had died on a plane crash I was genuinely and inexplicably shook to my core.

I am not a sporty person. I have very little hand-eye coordination and my stamina is, uhm, dodgy at best. But I grew up in a country that loves basketball. In fact the only sport that gets more coverage than basketball in the Philippines is a Manny Pacqiao boxing match. And when it comes to basketball, it doesn’t get any better than the National Basketball Association (NBA).

From an early age, I have been immersed in the culture of this league that yielded so many greats. From the trio of Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman to their Western Conference Rivals that consisted of Malone, Stockton and Hornacek. Hill, Iverson, Ewing, Carter, Mutombo, Barkley, Payton, O’Neal, Hardaway (Penny and Tim) – I grew up watching these guys play. Rebounds, 24-second violations, three-point plays, triple doubles, fadeaways and layups were a regular part of my vocabulary just as much as cat, apple, and dog.

But I wasn’t really invested until Kobe Bryant came along. I mean, I liked MJ but he was on his way out by the time I really understood what the game meant. Kobe was different. He was young and exciting. He played with a single-minded determination that really was something to see. He laughed in the face of critics who claimed he was too arrogant because hey, if he’s winning games (and he usually did) then I believe the word for it is CONFIDENCE. He was very clearly a winner, and I loved winners. I never believed in rooting for the underdog.

Saturdays used to mean battling with my brother for control of the telly. I wanted to watch the Backstreet Boys and the Spice Girls on MTV’s Asia Hitlist, he wanted to watch the back-to-back NBA games that played on ESPN every weekend. But when Kobe came along and I became a Lakers fan I was there watching alongside with him, and our arguments now consisted of heated debates about the individual merits of our respective teams. I was convinced that the Shaq-Kobe duo and the flashy style of the Lakers made them the best team that ever walked the planet, he preferred the old-school defensive style of the dependable (but boring LOL) San Antonio Spurs.

I laugh now remembering how he would chant “KOBE SUCKS” during all the Lakers games because he knew it would upset me, and how upset he was when Derek Fisher made that miraculous 0.04 second game winning shot against the Spurs. I was ecstatic when the Lakers acquired veterans Karl Malone and Gary Payton to support Shaq and Kobe, and devastated when the Detroit Pistons pulled an upset and, against all odds, beat the Lakers in the 2004 NBA finals. (My brother was beside himself with glee).

When there were doubts about whether he would ever win a championship when Shaq moved to Miami, I never wavered. I knew Kobe could do it. He had that steely determination to win at all cost, even if he had to carry his entire team on his shoulders – and he had to do that for a while, while the Lakers attempted to rebuild.

2 championship rings later and all the naysayers were finally silenced.

I was lucky enough to be in London for the 2012 Olympics. The only ticket I bought was for one of the preliminary matches between Team USA and I can’t even remember which country now. I wanted to watch Kobe Bryant play, I didn’t care who he was playing against and how much I had to pay to do it.

Watching him on the court was every bit as exciting as I hoped it would be, and it remains one of the fondest memories of my life.

Kobe Bryant was the embodiment of my childhood. At the back of my mind, I have always been invested in his life and his career, even when I got too busy to follow the NBA games. When he announced his retirement I mourned with the rest of the world. I pored over the highlights of his final season and marvelled with the rest of the basketball fans around the world at how he, after 20 years, was still able to show us how. it. was. done.

His teammates spoke well of him and his rivals loved to hate him. He was a fierce competitor and he loved the game of basketball, genuinely loved it. He gave it all he had. I wish I had that kind of fire, that kind of passion, for my life’s work.

I’m not going to mention that infamous rape accusation. It seems silly and inappropriate to drag up something that was settled out of court in light of recent events. I will, however, comment on the impact he’s made to the league, to basketball fans, and the millions of young impressionable boys who shouted his name every time they attempted to shoot a fadeaway (or shoot a crumpled piece of paper into a wastebasket).

To be honest, I’m really not sure where I’m going with this post. I just know that I needed to get it off my chest, how devastating it was to learn about his death and that of his daughter Gigi. I think I’m upset – as I always am- by the absolute waste of a life cut short. They could have done so much more, the future was ahead of them and it was shining bright, and in the blink of an eye it was gone.

I guess there’s nothing left to do but end this post with words from the man himself:

Have a good time. Life is too short to get bogged down and discouraged. You have to keep moving. You have to keep going. Put one foot in front of the other, smile and just keep rolling.

Kobe Bryant, 1978-2020

Rest easy, Kobe. Mamba forever.

Posted in Feminism, friendship, women

We Are All Guilty Feminists, Too!

I’ve always believed in the great power of the written word. Its why from the moment I opened my first Sweet Valley Twins book I’ve dreamed of becoming a writer. The written word, when shared, can have the power to change perspectives and from there, change lives.

I read a wonderful book recently called The Guilty Feminist by Deborah Frances-White, and I’ve been wracking my head all week trying to figure out how I can write a review that will possible do this book justice, because I feel like nothing I write could ever adequately express how much this book meant to me, and how much I want to share it with the world.

And then I thought, you know what, why not pay tribute to the book, its author and the women who contributed to it by living its values and reaching out to the strong independent women in my own life and asking them about their own ‘Guilty Feminist’ statements? Maybe in my own little way, I could start a ripple effect that turns into a tidal wave of positive change. Or you know, at least start having the kind of conversations that could lead to a real change in how women perceive themselves.

So I sent a few texts, messaged people on Instagram, slid into people’s DMs and badgered a few others to share their own “I’m a Feminist, but…” statements, and the result was overwhelming. I have never before had so many frank and honest conversations about issues that I also relate to. I had a long talk with a friend about fat-shaming within the Filipino culture and how much it affects us, to the point of damaging our mental health. On a happier note, I had a really good catch-up with a friend who is finally able to be her truest, happiest self, with all the support and acceptance of her family and friends. What a wonderful thing it is to know that a lot of people now acknowledge that love is love is love.

So rather than doing a long-winded review, I’d like to share these women’s statements, some of them funny, some of them crazy (but accurate), some poignant, some painful, all of them immensely relatable. None of these statements are mine, but I could easily picture myself saying them (and I probably have).

It just goes to show that as much as the patriarchy likes to make us think we are in competition with each other, despite our differences there are so many ways in which we are the same, and that is why we need to support each other. There is a special place in hell, after all, for women who don’t help other women. Someone famous once said that.

I want the wonderful women in my life to realise, if they don’t already do, that these things do not make you any less of a feminist, any less strong or independent. These incredible group of women are mothers, nurses, fitness instructors, writers, specialists in a male-dominated field, managers, leaders – when I stop to think about how much they achieve every day despite the millions of things on their plate, it humbles me. Thank you guys for taking the time to support my crazy ideas!

For me personally the point of feminism is inclusion; it’s empowering other women if we are in a position or if we have the platform to do so. Its reminding everyone, especially those who need it, that each woman is unique, and therefore special.

Its also reminding ourselves of the beauty of female friendships, and how much fun it is to bond with someone who knows exactly what you’re going through. One of my friends remarked about how much fun she was having participating in this little project of mine, and another friend was already asking to share it with another friend (that she thinks I should meet! lol).

And that made this blog worth doing.

I am not delusional enough to think that a single blog post will change the world, or even change my small corner of it. But for an hour of two, I felt connected to every woman in my life (or the ones on my social media feeds). Maybe its naive and maybe I’m having a castle in the clouds moment here, but I’m just feeling so hopeful that if could just continue to help each other out until every single woman is heard, we can do it. We can prove Beyonce right and run the world, girls.

I’ll take that hope with me when I go to sleep tonight.

P.S. The Guilty Feminist is a podcast too. It’s really good. See link below!

Posted in bloggers, Careers, Lifestyle

Learning to be more comfortable with criticism

Everyone’s a critic.

One of my greatest fears has always been that of being tried and convicted in the court of public opinion without being given an opportunity to defend myself. I have had unpleasant experiences of this nature before and it was so traumatic that its instilled a deep-seated fear in me of people talking about me behind my back, twisting my words and misinterpreting my actions to use them against me.

I don’t think you’ll ever find anyone who could honestly say they were comfortable with being criticised, especially when the basis for it is founded on false or incomplete information, in which case it becomes a judgment. There are people who are better able to cope with judgment than others, but anyone who claims that they don’t get just the teensy bit upset when they hear other people saying untrue and unfair things about themselves or their work is a liar.

I feel like this is a blog entry that I’ve done before. I feel like I’m singing a remixed version of the same chorus and I seem to be singing it over and over again. For someone so afraid of criticism and judgement you’d think I’d learn by now to keep more of a low profile. After all, the less you do something, or the less you’re seen to do something, the less material people have to talk about you.

Well, sorry, I’m just not a low profile kind of girl.

I’m the kind of girl who wears my heart on my sleeve. I am an open book. I am so transparent I make Casper look corporeal in comparison. I am passionate about the things that I love and I won’t hesitate to talk about them in front of anyone who will listen. This makes me a target for the cynics and the naysayers who have nothing better to do than to bring people down because they think they can do so much better. Spoiler alert: they probably can’t.

I am not going to rehash things that I’ve probably already written about in a previous blog about how hurtful it is to be the object of petty gossip. I will instead focus on affirming my beliefs and setting my intentions for how I am going to cope with criticism, unfair or otherwise, because the nature of what I do guarantees that I will experience this from time to time. So here’s what I know.

  1. Take anything you hear from other people with a pinch of salt. Being somewhat of a gossip myself, I know that the teller will always put his or her own spin on the tale. The version that reaches your ears is vastly different from the original message and some things get lost and added in the retelling.
  2. Amidst the negativity, find something helpful that you can work on. Consider it an extreme form of feedback. After all, everyone’s feelings and opinions are valid and worth listening to. Who knows, office gossip and catty comments might even be a catalyst for positive change. Although, at present, I am not in the mood to be quite as magnanimous as to thank the haters for their hurtful comments. Can I please be allowed to be petty for five more minutes? Thank you.
  3. Resist the temptation to do damage control. Its so so tempting to explain yourself, to justify your actions, to clear your name. I’ve had enough life experiences to know that this will not make the situation any better. All you’ll be doing is adding fuel to the fire. Besides, if they don’t already appreciate your hard work and effort, chances are they never will, so efforts to change their mind is an exercise in futility.
  4. Filter what you let in to your life, choose whose opinions you opt to listen to. Honestly, the thing to ask yourself is whether you should even give credence to the opinions you hear in the first place. Is it coming from people you respect? Is there any truth to the criticisms (if so, see number 2)? Do you really care? Will it matter six months down the line when we’re all running from our lives because there’s been an outbreak of war? Which leads me to point number five.
  5. Life is too short to be pissed off all the time. Honestly, the amount of energy needed to sustain a bad mood is infinitely higher than the energy it takes to just smile, and, in the words of one Taylor Swift, shake it off. And if you can’t shake it off just yet, do what I’m doing now, which is –
  6. Channel all that negative energy into something good. I happen to write better when I’m upset about something. Some of my best work is borne out of my darkest moods. Maybe because when I’m writing about them I open up and make myself vulnerable, and in doing so I’m at my most authentic. Upset? Post a blog, write a song, or better yet, sing your heart out and keep your neighbours up by screaming the bridge of Welcome to The Black Parade at the top of your lungs. I can almost guarantee you’ll feel better.

Let’s be honest here. I will probably spend the next twenty four hours dwelling on the situation and nursing my hurts, but I can promise you that I will have mostly gotten over it by tomorrow. And if you’re in a similar situation or if any of the tips above have resonated with you or if you have other strategies to share that might help others, please comment. I’d love to hear and learn from you.

Cheers.

Posted in Careers, Health and Well-Being, Lifestyle, Writing

How You Get Your Groove Back

Over the weekend my sister and I finally had the chance to watch the London production of Hamilton. I have to say that although its general knowledge by now that this show is a cultural phenomenon, its a different thing altogether to actually experience it yourself.

This isn’t a blog about how great the show it was though because I wouldn’t be telling you all anything you didn’t already know. It would be redundant for me to say that Lin Manuel Miranda is a genius, and as strange a concept as hip-hop musical theatre may be, he somehow made it work, and as a result he gave the Broadway and West End industry a badly-needed face lift and brought a new generation of theatre goers to the fold. We already know all that.

I suppose I wanted to talk about what watching Hamilton and listening to its music meant to me personally. For the past 6 months now I’ve slowly been resigning myself to the fact that this was it. This was all that’s going to become of my life. I would spend the rest of my days working for the NHS, doing a job that at best barely satisfies me, counting down the days until I collect my salary at the end of the month, breaking up the mind-numbing pattern by having sporadic dinners and catch-up sessions with friends every once in a while. Eat, Sleep, Rinse, Repeat.

It got to the point where I couldn’t even muster enough interest to pick up a book, I was sleeping longer, eating more – which is always indicative of my state of mind as I am a self-confessed stress eater. I could barely be bothered to put on make-up. I lost the will to even open a dating app. I spent most nights hunched over a 500-piece Disney Jigsaw Puzzle in a feeble attempt to find something that stimulates my brain. I start watching random shows on Netflix only to lose interest halfway through because I just could not be bothered.

Looking back I think I probably had the beginnings of – if not depression, something close to it. It’s like I lost some vital part of myself, the part that always enabled me to look forward to tomorrow, the part of me that believed that something exciting was always waiting to happen around the corner. I sometimes found myself in the middle of doing something and I would suddenly stop to think, what’s the point?

Anyway. That totally went to a darker place than I thought this blog would go. Funny what introspection can dig up, huh? I haven’t given myself the chance to reflect on the past year because I didn’t know if I would like what I saw when I did. But happily I’m the kind of person that doesn’t have it in within herself to be down in the dumps for so long. I’m genetically engineered to be bubbly and happy and for the most part that is my default setting. It was very eye-opening for me to realise that even the most seemingly well-adjusted and happiest of individuals could also go through mental health issues, mild as they may be.

You’ll all be happy to know that I reached a turning point last week leading to a series of activities culminating in the Hamilton show this weekend. First of all, I started reading again. I have always had an avaricious appetite for knowledge and stories. I went on a shopping spree on both Amazon Kindle and Waterstones, diversifying my bookshelves with an equal mix of fiction and non-fiction. Among my most recent purchases include two feminist books, Julie Andrews’ memoir, a book on the Lost Princes of the Tower and two of Yuval Harris’ books Sapiens and 21 lessons for the 21st Century. Plus the usual romance novels of course.

I’ve started a workout regimen that challenges me but also allows for, shall we say, my physical shortcomings. I think I’ve finally accepted the fact that I will never be an athlete, and that I will never be skinny, but I can still be active and healthy in my own way. My sister bought me a new pair of Nike’s over Christmas, which to be honest was probably the main catalyst for my renewed interest in training. Personally I think the right pair of shoes has enough power to change a person’s life. Quote me.

2019 was a struggle for me financially. I was still reaping the repercussions of having made questionable decisions in 2018. I probably should have limited my purchases to those that were strictly necessary, or perhaps travelled less, but I can’t really bring myself to regret the experiences I’ve had. So I worked a lot of extra shifts between September and December to make up for it. That probably contributed greatly to the feeling that my life was all about, and only about, work. I was spending too much time doing it, getting caught up in office politics and the drama of working in a slowly-dying NHS, plus working extra shifts that were both physically and mentally taxing.

I’m not sure how to express my feelings about this matter without sounding ungrateful. I’m lucky to have a job that on occasion still brings me something that might resemble joy, and my career trajectory is something that I’m really proud of. But. Part of me wishes I had the courage to give all that up to finally focus on something I’ve been wanting to do all my life: write a book.

I made several attempts to last year to write a story. Any story. I told myself that it doesn’t have to be good, the point is simply to finish. I bought books on everything from creative writing to grammar (and wished like hell that I paid more attention to subject-verb agreement in high school). I made a list of things that inspired me, tried to find a genre that suited me and filled notebook after notebook with ideas. I was determined to at least have a draft by the end of the year.

Yeah, that didn’t happen.

Every time I wrote something and reread it a week later it just felt shallow and superficial, and I didn’t think it measured up to a real writer’s work. I couldn’t find my voice, and I wasn’t sure what message I wanted to send to the world with my book. Basically, just finishing a story doesn’t and will never work for me. It didn’t inspire me. If I was going to tell a story, it needed to be a story worth telling, even if I’m the only person that thought so. I needed to be able to believe in my own creation.

In addition, “real life” got in the way. I work 37.5 hours a week, sometimes more. Each time I move up the career ladder I take on more responsibilities, which meant it was difficult to switch off from work even when I wasn’t at work. It was difficult to change gears, to put myself in the mindset of being a writer when part of my brain is still dwelling on whether we had enough bed capacity to operate on all our patients tomorrow.

So I lost the will to write. I gave up on that dream and told myself it’s never going to happen. I need to be content with what I have, be grateful to have stability and to be alive. But I was wrong.

This is the first time I’ve used my laptop for writing in a long while, and the first time I’ve had any interest in sharing my thoughts and feelings in a blog. It’s very therapeutic and it’s made me feel more like myself. I love being a nurse educator, I really do, but I think I realise I need both it and writing in my life. I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t use my words to communicate, just like Alexander Hamilton.

Just two days ago I bought a notebook and a pen, sat down in a cafe and wrote a story that really meant something to me because it was my story, with a little bit of embellishment. I don’t know if I’m ever going to finish it, I really hope I do. I think I’ve found a way to tell the story I want to tell from a unique perspective, everything I need to complete it is within me, I just have to find the strength and the perseverance to keep at it even when it starts to feel like a pipe dream.

I think that’s why Hamilton resonated so much with me, and it will probably continue to do so in the months to come. Its a story about a revolution that founded a nation, sure, but at the core of it, it’s a story about having a dream AND having the drive to make that dream a reality. Its not enough to make castles in the clouds, if you want to achieve something you have to work for it, be willing to fight for it even if the odds are stacked against you.

I can only hope that if I ever put something out there, it can be as inspiring and life-changing for one person as Hamilton has been for so many others. Kudos, Lin Manuel Miranda.

Posted in bloggers, family, Feminism, Lifestyle, relationships, women

Mind Your Own Business

We live in a society that is ever more conscious about being politically correct. We use gender neutral pronouns, we try and respect other religions as much as our own, we recognise that men and women were created equally and that the latter deserves as much respect as the former. Its an enlightened world where people have rights, they said.

Why then can’t the rest of us who live in this so-called enlightened world not enjoy the right for people (under the guise of concern) to butt out of our business?

One of my friends tweeted a few rules of politeness once, and I have never agreed with a tweet more. It said that one should never ask questions of a sensitive nature unless the other person opens up about it first. These sensitive questions include, but are not limited to, the following:

a. how much they earn in their jobs
b. marital status
c. if married, whether or not they ever plan to have kids
and other questions that are just damn intrusive, nosy and rude.

I personally feel fine and content with my lot in life, but there are a lot of people that struggle with not being able to fit into the mould that hundreds of years worth of tradition has created for us: mother, homemaker, wife. I struggle with it sometimes myself. Its not a very pleasant feeling to sit around a dinner table and have your friends talk about their respective partners and all you’re able to contribute was your latest trip to Croatia.

I get so angry about it sometimes. When people get together its like there’s a list of questions that they have to tick off to assure themselves that they’ve had a proper catch-up. Real friends don’t do that. Real friends catch up to listen and offer support. The people you should keep in your lives will not make you feel any less of a person just because the trajectory of your life happens to be different from theirs. I am eternally grateful that I still have a handful of those friends who, regardless of the fact that at most parties I am the only one not carrying a baby carriage, make me feel proud of everything else I’ve accomplished anyway. You guys know who you are.

The point is that the world has no right to your heart, to paraphrase a line from the brilliant song ‘Burn‘ from the musical ‘Hamilton’. The world has no right to your struggles, it does not get to judge you. No one gets to define or limit who you are especially if they can’t get past their own narrow worldview to remember that you are a person first. Not a girlfriend, a wife, or a mother. You are you: and that has, is and should always be enough.

Posted in Books, Dystopia, murder mystery, Politics

Book Review: The Last – Hanna Jameson

A post-apocalyptic version of And Then There Were None.

This was how the bookseller at my favourite Waterstones branch sold this book to me while I was paying for the four other books I’d already bought at the till. Needless to say, I left the bookstore that night with five books instead.

I love stories where characters from all walks of life find themselves in a single room or house or hotel. I think it creates a really interesting dynamic when you force people who would normally ignore each other on the street to interact on a daily basis. Add the apocalypse, the threat of starvation, cannibalism and murder and you get a really interesting read.

A professor of history who happened to be on a business trip in Switzerland finds himself in a hotel with twenty other people after a nuclear bomb destroyed half the major capitals of the world. They’re all stuck there, cut off from the Internet, all their iPhones and laptops dead or dying, and without a clue as to the survival of the rest of the human race.

So he thought to record the events after Day One (the apocalypse) for the sake of posterity, and most of his scribblings were about the rationing of food and water…until the day they found the body and realised there was a murderer in their midst.

The Last is a book that is as interesting as it is disturbing, the latter mostly because – with the way politics is these days – it doesn’t take a stretch of the imagination to believe in the possibility of a nuclear war ending life as we know it. The subtext was so clear that even I, who barely follow the news these days, could see the rebuke of Trump’s administration and the not-so-subtle dig and protest against his policies and everything the horrid man stands for.

Although there were certain parallels to Agatha Christie’s seminal work, this book was far from being a retelling or just another version of And Then There Were None. I was surprised by how little it actually focused on the murder, although Jon – the professor – became fixated on solving the mystery for want of something better to do.

To me, the book was more a story of survival than it is a mystery. It touched on the many different ways we find to cope with loss and grief, and the lengths we’re willing to go to in order to change our situations for the better. I liked how it asks readers to think about how much of our humanity we’re able to keep when the outlook is so bleak that you almost see everyone as an enemy, or as a potential source of sustenance.

I liked the juxtaposition of the extraordinary and the mundane. The joy of listening to music for the first time in a long long while against the scene where the survivors raid the nearest pharmacy for supplies. The happiness of seeing children play versus the sorrow of burying a little girl’s body. Getting drunk and high with your fellow man versus doing CPR on someone who tried to take his own life.

So was I a bit disappointed that this was nothing like And Then There Were None? Maybe.

The bookseller sold this to me under false pretences but at the end of the day, I am not that upset about it because while I was expecting this book to be just another murder/mystery I ended up with something more profound and certainly far more interesting instead.

It was well-written, funny, smart, emotional, political and almost painfully poignant. This is the kind of book that makes you think, that scares you because it hits far too close to home – which also means this is the kind of book that everyone should be reading right now. These are troubled times, and anything that makes people conscious about it, anything that starts a conversation that could maybe lead to change – anything like that I consider to be an absolute win.

Recommended for all you fans of the apocalypse, The Walking Dead and that movie where Sandra Bullock was blindfolded half the time.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Posted in bloggers, Celebrities, london, Medical, Movies

A Day in The Life of a Wannabe Film Star

Lights. Camera. Action.

Yesterday I had the opportunity to work with the crew at BBC to do some test shots on a documentary that they’re planning to pitch to Netflix. The idea is to go into operating theatres around the world and follow surgeons around to give viewers some insight of what they see and go through on a daily basis. Needless to say, they needed the perspective of a subject matter expert, which I just happen to be.

The production team emailed us to say that call time was at 8am, far too early to be out of bed on a Saturday morning when you’ve been drinking the night before, but what do you do when the promise of fame awaits? My friend (another subject matter expert) and I arrived at the mock operating theatre to find it mostly empty because the crew were still figuring out how to get all their fancy expensive equipment into the building.

So, just like Robert Downey Jr probably does when he’s on the set for a Marvel Film, we said we were going to get coffee and breakfast and asked them to please give us a ring when they were ready for us. Only, unlike RDJ, we actually had to pay for our coffee and breakfast.

Around 9am we got back to the “set” and met the producers, our director, and the very intimidating director of photography. We also met the. man who designed and made the body we were going to pretend to be operating on for the day, a body that was an eerily accurate and anatomically correct replica I might add.

We got into our costumes. I say that as if this was a special moment but what it actually entailed was putting on scrub suits and caps, the same thing we do day in and day out for work. The other extras (production managers who got roped into playing some of the roles because they didn’t have the budget as yet for real actors) got a huge kick out of it though, and they were really chuffed at the thought of being part of the surgical team for the day. It came as no surprise to me when they admitted to being huge fans of Grey’s Anatomy.

Thank you Shonda Rhimes for single-handedly making our profession more attractive than it probably is.

We didn’t get a script so my friend and I sort of had to make things up as we went along. He had the starring role because I volunteered to be the nurse, so he ended up playing the surgeon. They took lots of shots of him walking in corridors, gazing at the horizon and scrubbing up. I spent a lot of time tweeting and facebooking the entire experience while I waited for my five minutes of screen time.

I imagined that was how Jeremy ‘Hawkeye’ Renner probably felt on the set of the Avengers movies, constantly waiting for them to finish capturing yet another shot of Captain America and his shield. Lol.

I have to say, from watching behind-the-scenes footage and documentaries, I already had the vague impression of the amount of hard work that goes into making any kind of tv episode or feature length film. I mean, the Game of Thrones crew subjected themselves to doing 55 night shifts just to give us the Battle of Winterfell.

Talk about dedication. I’ve done night shifts and at the end of three nights you almost start to lose your sense of self. I really could not imagine doing 55 of them. I don’t care if I get to work with Jon Snow or dragons, night shifts are brutal.

The cameramen, the grips, the lighting director and all the rest of the people who are basically in charge of making the actors look good really are the unsung heroes of the film industry. I’ve seen a small sliver of the precision and attention to detail that goes into making these things and I was very impressed. A bit annoyed that they were nitpicking over each and every shot so much that we overran by about an hour, but impressed nonetheless.

Every shot had to be perfect and stylised. It took about ten takes just to shoot a sequence of Russel washing his hands, and another ten of me dropping a scalpel into a kidney dish. They were using lingo that I didn’t really understand, talking about how the shot needs to be sharp and the camera needs to be slanted and they needed more than a thousand frames – they might as well have been talking Latin for all I knew.

There was also a bit of tension and drama. Artistic people have an artistic temperament. Also, put a bunch of perfectionists in the room and you will inevitably end up with an argument or two, but its the kind of professional bickering that leads to something productive.

I didn’t realise how drained I was until the director finally said “Cut!” on that lost shot and I realised we were done for the day. I wasn’t even really acting, just miming something I did and have done for so long now that I can probably do it in my sleep. Can you imagine having to shoot an emotional scene, (or a love scene! lol) over and over again because the lighting was wrong or the director didn’t get the angle he wanted? I don’t know how actors do it.

We packed up, said our goodbyes to the crew, and made our way to Leicester Square and ended our short-lived stint in the entertainment industry over Chinese food. We looked back on the day and laughed over the experience. It was a glimpse into a world that is beyond our reach, a taste of what life would have been like if we’d been blessed with the self-confidence and talent of a movie star.

We came to the conclusion that there was a reason why we weren’t Hollywood stars, and we had better stick to our day jobs.

So, that’s a wrap on Angela the actress, folks. Thank you BBC for the experience and good luck on the documentary!

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.