Posted in Books, relationships, Reviews, Self-Discovery

Book Review: Three Things About Elsie

Three things you need to know about this book:

  1. Its about growing old
  2. Its not the most exciting book in the world but hey, growing old rarely is
  3. Elsie really isn’t the point of the book, despite the title.

This book tells the story of Florence, and her day-to-day life in a care home. Now you might not think of a care home as the most scintillating of settings and you would be absolutely right. ITS NOT. This is not the kind of book you pick up if you want a fast-paced plot. Its more like a Sunday afternoon, relaxing-by-the-beach kind of read.

More things you need to know about this book:

The plot twist is incredibly obvious.

I mean, if you work in the medical profession I think you’ll be able to see it straight away. Or it could just be because I’ve read a similar plot line in other books that right from the start it was glaringly obvious to me who Elsie was and what she meant to the main character. I don’t know whether the twist was intended to be a surprise, in which case the author could have done a better job of keeping us guessing, or whether the truth about Elsie was almost secondary to everything else.

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Personally though, figuring out the twist didn’t take away from my enjoyment of the novel especially since there was still a mystery to be solved. I liked how nothing is really as it seems in this book. Florence is an unreliable narrator because she’s biased and because I think age and hindsight tends to colour our memory of an event. I think time changes our interpretation of things that have happened in our lives, either for better or for worse. 

You also have to pay close attention to every character in this book because trust me, they’re all significant. I was really amazed at how connected everyone was, I mean, how small a town are we talking about here? I’m almost tempted to think that the entire plot was too convenient and too contrived but I am a sucker for things like these. I like knowing that all our actions create ripples that unknowingly changes the course of someone else’s life. 

 

This book is relatable to anyone who’s afraid of growing old. Don’t lie. That’s everyone.

The only thing we really know for certain is that we’ll all get older. Some of us will get there before others, but make no mistake about it: we are on a one-way track to old age and despite whatever magic serum or fad of the month says, there is no stopping the inevitable. 

It seems almost eerily appropriate that I’m reading this book a couple of weeks before my 31st birthday. Thinking about the fact that I have probably reached the midpoint of my lifespan has been giving me a couple of sleepless nights, I’m not going to lie. I can’t put into words exactly why growing old terrifies me. I just know that it does.

When we were younger we couldn’t wait to become adults, probably so that we won’t have anyone constantly telling us what to do. But now that we’re here, all we want is to go back to that place where our greatest worry was whether our parents will allow us to go to a party at our friend’s house over the weekend.

I think what I miss most about being in my teens or even in my twenties is that feeling of having my life before me, of having something to look forward to. I know I’m not exactly doddering, but its different in your 30s because you’re kind of committed to the consequences of your life decisions. For example, unless I make a drastic move in the next five years, I’ll always be sort of working in a field related to medicine or surgery.

What I learned from this book though is that its not so much the ageing process that matters (because there’s really nothing we can do about that) as much as our attitude towards ageing. I think we all need to be reminded once in a while that you can still experience new things AT ANY AGE, its up to you to find and maximise those opportunities. I think you should hold on to the kid in you who will always see the wonder in the world around you.

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Be kinder to those who have already travelled the path of life.

I’ve had to explain how an iPhone works to my mum once, and I think my tone bordered on condescending half the time I was doing it. We always think we know better than those who are older than us because we have technology and all the modern-day comforts on our side. But what I realised whilst reading this book is that there is no discounting the wisdom borne of age and experience. There are just some things you cannot google. 

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There was a point in this book where Florence felt like speaking up was pointless because people tend to stop listening to you when you’re older. They also tend to stop seeing you as a person. I thought that was really sad, and not something that I want my own parents and grandparents to feel.

Can I just say though, at the risk of sounding ignorant, that I really don’t understand the concept of putting people in care homes? I recognise that this might be a cultural thing, but this is the one thing that my Filipino upbringing just cannot acclimatise to. I grew up with the understanding that when my parents grow old, it would then be my turn to take care of them.

I don’t think I would ever dream of putting them in a care home and having someone else see to their needs. Again, this is not meant to offend anyone. I do realise its very difficult to do this in London and that there are very valid reasons for putting relatives in care homes. I know sometimes its better for them in terms of the quality of care and amount of attention they receive. All I’m saying is that I personally object to the concept.

All in all, whilst this is not going into my personal favourites (and I’m kinda regretting buying a hardback edition of it), that’s a testament to my taste rather than the quality of the work because this book was actually quite good. Maybe buy it on Kindle or something because its cheaper. Lol

Overall rating: 3.5 stars

Posted in bloggers, fitness, Health and Well-Being, Lifestyle, Self-Discovery

Confessions of a Body Shaming Victim

Last week, in the middle of a stressful theatre list where I was worried about having sets and instruments for the surgical procedures we were about to do, one of my male colleagues told me that he thought I was looking “a little chubby“.

Now normally, I would be able to brush off a comment like that. But last week I was especially vulnerable because I had spent the entire week before that binge-eating as a result of the combined effects of hormones and the natural stress of having made some big career changes.

I won’t deny that my self-esteem has always been inversely proportional to my body weight. I come from a country where a UK size 4 is considered the norm and a UK size 12 is almost bordering on fat (if not outright obese). Growing up, I’ve always accepted that this is the standard of beauty against which I will be measured and I am painfully aware that in that regard I have always fallen hopelessly short.

Anyway, this one thoughtless but probably  innocent comment sent me on a downward spiral throughout the day, to the point where I couldn’t even look at food without feeling sick. That day, I saw food as the enemy rather than something that will fuel and nourish me.

My sister and I finished late that day and she asked me whether I wanted to order takeaway rather than go through the hassle of having to cook dinner. I had to tell her that I can’t even think about what to eat for dinner until I’ve stepped on a weighing scale and confirmed whether I have indeed gained weight or not.

I know, I know. Berate me all you want about how stupid and illogical this was, you’re not telling me anything I haven’t already told myself. Rationally, I know that beauty is skin deep, and there’s more to me than just my physical attributes, everyone is lovely in their own way yada yada yada

Rationally, I know that it is INCREDIBLY UNREALISTIC AND DELUSIONAL to think that I will ever be, say, a Victoria’s Secret model. To start with, I just don’t think I have the genes for it. But how do you deal with that irrational part of you that just wants to fit in? How do you deal with that part of you who just wants, FOR ONCE, to not worry every time you want to eat a brownie?

I always say to myself that I exercise and workout for my health and because its fun, not because I’m chasing this picture in my head of what a “sexy” body should like. Someone once told me that confidence is the new sexy anyway and most of the time I have confidence in spades.

I’m not one to deprive myself of food, nor do I usually stop myself from wearing certain clothes because I think I’m too “fat” to pull it off. My favourite outfit is a cropped top for goodness sake. I think there’s nothing you can’t wear as long as you choose the right size for you. Don’t stuff yourself into a size 8 when you’ll look and feel so much better in a size 12.

I guess what I’m saying is that even though I’m a well-adjusted person most of the time and I’ve developed a healthy relationship with (and a healthy acceptance of) my body over the years, my weight will continue to be the one aspect of my life that I will always be incredibly sensitive about. There’s nothing I can do to change that.

Blame it on a childhood full of teasing and being called a member of the “Spice Pigs“, a nickname my friend’s brother called my circle of girl friends because we were all “healthy“. Blame it on a culture that glorifies being skinny. Blame it on the media. But it is what it is, I will always be sensitive about it.

Not even 24 hours after the incident with my colleague, I was at a Bruno Mars concert and, as is expected in these things, people turned up in their summer outfits. Which means to say there was a bare minimum of clothing present. We saw a girl wearing a really tight stringy top that looked three sizes too small for her. Honest-to-god, she looked like a burst sausage.

But you see, what does that say about me that I have those kind of thoughts? What does it say about me that I joke and laugh at someone else’s expense when I know how much it hurts to have the same thing done to me? It doesn’t matter that I didn’t say it to her face, the mere act of mocking her behind her back makes me the worst kind of hypocrite there is

And that is the true confession. We are all of us simultaneously victims and perpetrators of body-shaming.

One of my friends once tweeted that you should change the world by example and not with your opinions. Writing this blog is my way of admitting that I also have my faults, and a way of promising that I’m going to try to be better.

I just think we should all be kinder to ourselves and to others. Believe me, whatever criticisms you make of someone does not match the amount of self-criticism that that person has already given herself. No one judges us more harshly than we ourselves do. Having other people say what we’re already thinking just adds insult to a self-inflicted injury.

I hope that this story makes other people think twice the next time they feel the need to tell other people something potentially hurtful about themselves. Try a compliment the next time. No matter how a person looks I believe you will always find something good to say about them, and it will make them feel better as well as making you feel better about yourself.

You know what I want? For once, I want someone to come up to me and say “You look chubby and its awesome”. Full-figured doesn’t have to be a bad thing. People need to know that as long as they’re happy and healthy, its okay to look the way they do. 

SAY NO TO BODY SHAMING. Focus on the positive rather than the negative and do the world a bit of good.

Posted in bloggers, Careers, Self-Discovery

Learning how to ride a bike and other metaphors for life

I remember the very first time I ever got on a bicycle.

I was probably about seven years old and we lived in a village where all the kids used to come out and play in the afternoon and we’d all ride our bikes together, training wheels and all.

I have always been cautious by nature. I think I came out of the womb with a heightened sense of self-preservation. Even as a child, I was never one to take any risks. I was also quite conscious from an early stage of the things that were within my capabilities and those that weren’t.

Needless to say, basketball and other contact sports were not a big part of my formative years. Or anything that involved hand-eye coordination and stamina (I was a fat kid. Lol)

But I was quite happy with riding a bike. The training wheels were like my very own safety net. They ensured that I’d always find my balance, that I would never fall over and hurt myself. I was as happy and as carefree as it was possible to be, pushing pedal to the metal and going around the village without a care in the world.

Of course, the training wheels had to come off at some point. 

I was petrified the first time I ever got on a “real” bike. My uncle had one hand on my seat as he instructed me to take my time and to take it slow. He promised he wouldn’t let go unless he was sure I could do it on my own, and that he’d never let go before I was ready.

I didn’t think I’d ever get to a point where I could convince myself I was ready. I went around the block a couple of times with my uncle supporting me the whole time. He must have been exhausted, but bless him, he believed me when I said I wasn’t ready for him to let go just yet.

Inevitably though, we reached that moment where I had to be pushed, where I had to break through the barriers of fear and just do it. It was a real sink or swim moment. My uncle let go, and I either had to find my balance and pedal or I fall and hurt myself.

Those first few solo rides were shaky, and I fell and scraped my knees too many times to count. But I got back on that bike and tried again until I was cycling around the village without a training wheel in sight.

I needed that final push. 

Would I have been content to carry on riding a kid bike? Maybe. But it would only have taken me so far, and I would have missed out on the experience of being able to do something that I was initially fearful of.

Any new experience comes with fears and doubts, but that shouldn’t be a reason for missing out on them. I think continuously pushing and challenging yourself to do something you never thought you were capable of, especially if its something that scares the shit out of you, will only help you to grow as a person.

I have always been afraid of change. And these past couple of years I’ve attempted to make a big career change twice, and both times I backed out at the point of actually dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s.

I suppose part of that was because I always knew that it wasn’t the right time or the right move. But now the right opportunity has come, and it would be remiss of me not to take the chance just because I’m afraid or because I insist on clinging to the comfort of what’s familiar.

I never expected to have to feel this twice in one lifetime; they say once you learn how to ride a bike you’ll never forget how to do it. But at this moment, that is exactly how I feel. I feel like I’m about to learn how to ride a bike for the first time all over again.

The training wheels have come off. I’m as ready as I will ever be. I suppose the only thing left to do is hang tight and pedal.

Posted in relationships, Self-Discovery, Stress Relief

A Letter From Me to Me

Dear Self,

For as long as I’ve known you, you’ve always been a fast learner. However, there’s one lesson that you’ve wilfully and consistently failed to learn: the lesson that, no matter what you do, you will never be able to please everyone. 

It’s frustrating for me to see how you bend over backwards in an effort to be “universally loved”. IT’S NEVER GONNA HAPPEN. Not because your efforts are lacking, but because that’s just the way the world is made.

Whenever someone comes up with an idea, you can bet your bottom dollar that there will always be one naysayer for every fifty supportive comments. This shouldn’t bring you down or stop you from making similar efforts in the future.

No, what you have to do is to file experiences like these under the heading of Character-Building. Its not good for anyone to think so highly of themselves anyway. We need detractors to keep us humble and to keep us grounded.

We need negative people to inspire us to do even better next time. Success truly is the sweetest revenge; if you can’t change their minds and their opinions about you or about what you’re doing, you can at least prove them wrong when you throw proof of your success in their face. 

The point is, you just have to remember the reasons for why you do the things you do. You’re not doing it to gain praise or for people to like you; you’re not looking for appreciation or any sort of reward.

No, you do the things you do because you genuinely believe in them. And that kind of conviction is a strength to be cultivated; it is what will make you go far in life despite people trying to drag you down.

There are more people who appreciate you than you know. They may not always say it explicitly but they are there to support you, your ideas and the essence of who you are. Those are the people worth listening to.

Actually, if I could have one wish for you, it would be this: that you’d have a better ability of filtering people’s comments so that you only give credence to the opinions of people who are worthy of your respect.

Don’t ever let anyone dull your sparkle. I know its difficult to stay enthusiastic and engaged when you’ve been disappointed by people so many times before, but if you lose sight of who you are (and if you become negative as a response to the negativity being thrown at you), you’re letting them win.

DON’T LET THEM WIN.

So yeah, you can’t please everybody. And nor should you try to. You are not obligated to set yourself on fire just to keep somebody else warm. Do not take to heart comments that are so far beneath you that they’ll need a shovel to dig them out.

Have a little cry about it, its a natural response to people hurting your feelings. But pick yourself up and remember the eternally wise words of one Taylor Alison Swift:

Don’t you worry your pretty little mind, people throw rocks at things that shine

Chin up anj, everything always looks better after a good night’s sleep. If not, well, that’s what chocolate is for.

Love,

The More Rational Side of You

 

Posted in Careers, Lifestyle, Self-Discovery, Writing

That Little Voice in Your Head

You are your own worst critic.

That’s just a fact.

When you try on the most beautiful dress and everyone else tells you you look fantastic, but all you can see when you look at the mirror is that bulge in your stomach that makes you think you look fat. So you return the dress and promise yourself you’ll buy it later, maybe after you’ve gone on a diet.

When you want to try something physical like muay thai and imagine people you know laughing at you for attempting something so athletic when you’ve always been just the smart one, and you ask yourself what in the world makes you think you could ever do this, so you nearly miss your first class.

When a higher job post becomes open and you think to yourself that there’s no way you’re qualified to do this, your colleagues will only intimidate you and its not your field of expertise so what have you got to bring to the table anyway? So you nearly miss the deadline for the submission of applications.

When you meet someone you fancy, but you think he’s in such a different stratosphere from you that ‘out of your league’ is an understatement, so you don’t even attempt to strike up a conversation…and you miss out on the possible love of your life.

One more.

When you try to fulfil your childhood dream of becoming a writer, so you decide to enter a short story writing contest, but halfway through writing your first story you read your draft and you think its absolute rubbish, so you nearly give up on the whole idea.

But you power through. And think to yourself that you don’t write to win, or to be published, or even because you’re hoping someone else will think its worth their time to read whatever it is you put out.

You write for you, for the sheer pleasure of putting into words the many things you have swirling in your head. You write because you have something to say and you want to say it, and you write because it is the best way for you to express yourself.

So you write a short story. And another one. And just because you grow up thinking that the more entries you send, the more chances you have of winning, you write a THIRD entry and submit it ONE HOUR BEFORE THE SUBMISSION APPLICATION CLOSES.

AND YOU WIN. YOU ACTUALLY WIN.

That third and desperate attempt at an entry actually wins.

So what have we learned from this?

Do not let yourself be defeated before you even get on the ring. Give yourself a chance to try. 

Don’t be so afraid to fail that you talk yourself out of even making an attempt. You don’t fail when you lose; failure will only add to your experience. There is no failure so spectacular that you can’t bounce back from it to become BETTER.

And sometimes fate and the universe will collide with passion and hard work and you can actually get everything you’ve ever wanted. Or at least be one step closer to it.

So that little voice in your head telling you you can NEVER do something, that you’ll never achieve some of your more far-fetched goals and dreams?

IGNORE IT. 

 

Posted in bloggers, dating, relationships, Self-Discovery

Pavlovian Instincts and Toxic Relationships

Its been more than a decade since I took Psychology 101 in college but one of the first things I remember reading was about Ivan Pavlov’s experiments with a dog, a bell and a piece of meat.

As the story goes, Mr. Pavlov would simultaneously offer the dog a piece of meat every time he rings the bell, conditioning  the dog to associate the ringing of the bell with the appearance of food. He repeated this several times until it got to the point where the dog would salivate every time the bell was rung, with or without the meat.

I’d like to think that as human beings we’d have far more control over our impulses and actions than the dog in this story. But the Pavlovian technique is famous for a reason, because it is more or less an accurate reflection of human behaviour – or at least it IS in some cases.

I think of myself as a reasonably intelligent woman. I’m strong-willed, independent and capable of making it on my own, with or without a man. In fact, I’ve been told quite recently that I am the perfect example of an alpha female. Of course that person also said I have the tendency to be so bossy as to be completely intimidating, but hey, I’ll take that as a compliment.

However, the sad truth is that – just like everyone else – I have my own weaknesses. One in particular stands out as my kryptonite, my achilles heel, my very own Ivan Pavlov with that damned infernal bell.

You see, he rings that bell and I am conditioned to come running. He then tells me to jump and I’ll simply ask ‘how high?’. I’ve associated him with so many good memories and so many good feelings that even now, even after the struggles I’ve gone through to build back the broken pieces of my self-respect, all it takes is one message, one phone call and I’m right back where I started.

It’s as if the past 6 or 7 years never happened. As if I’m still that sad, lonely, overweight and broken-hearted girl whose self-esteem was so low that she had to turn to food to comfort, thus perpetuating a cycle that took the better part of the decade to break.

Why do we do this to ourselves? 

The stupid thing is, the feelings that initially brought on the impulse to please don’t even exist anymore. I’ve thought about this all day and all night and I’ve come to the conclusion that I don’t possess even a single hope that this story will end with the two of us together. That ship has sailed a long long time ago.

So why am I bending over backwards trying to do so many things for a person who doesn’t even acknowledge or appreciate it? Who thinks he’s entitled to my time and efforts? Who takes it for granted as his due?

I don’t know. 

All I know is that I am not a dog. In fact, that is an insult to dogs. In this scenario, dogs probably possess more intelligence than I do. Their EQ is probably higher than mine is at the moment. At least they know who deserves to have and keep their loyalty.

There are so many things that I still want to say but if I say it all at once this blog is going to turn into a book. I guess I just needed to get this off my chest. I have come so far to fall back on bad habits and toxic relationships now.

I’ve learned – or at least I thought I did – that I need to cull out those relationships that do nothing for me. Even if that leaves me single and with only a handful of friends, its still better than tolerating something that’s bad for me just because I’m afraid to be in my own company. I happen to love me, especially the me that I am now.

I’ve worked so hard to make peace with the kind of person that I am, to get to the point where I can look at the mirror and feel pretty, and where I can look at my life and feel proud for what I’ve accomplished. This week has felt like a step, no, a huge slide backward. And all because my Ivan Pavlov rang that bell.

It stops now. Enough is enough. I am taking that bell and crushing it with the force of my will, and then I’m throwing it into a metaphorical ocean so that I will never hear it in my head ever again.

I refuse to be an example of the conditioning theory. Go to hell, Ivan Pavlov. Go to hell and leave me alone.

Posted in Books, Politics, Reviews, Self-Discovery, Young Adult

Book Review: The Hate U Give – Angie Thomas

I once had a friend who called me out for posting a flippant comment on Facebook about a social issue that was being raised 2-3 years ago.

At the time I think I told her to mind her own damn business. I didn’t think it was wrong of me to try and focus on the good things, and to try to make light of the situation, because there’s nothing I can do to change the bad things anyway.

To this day I still remember her answer to that, which was to say that that was completely the wrong attitude to take. She said that as someone who’s met, been and stayed in contact with so many young people (I was a teacher in the Philippines) and who’s so active on social media, I have a responsibility.

I have a responsibility to raise awareness about important issues, and to encourage people to think about things like equality and justice. I have a voice, and the ability to influence opinions through my words. I should use it for more than just making witty comments.

I’d like to take this opportunity to tell my friend Jerah that after reading this book I finally understand why she was so upset with me, and I’m sorry that I didn’t get it at the time. I get it now.

To make light of something is to diminish its importance, and its important that people raise social awareness in any way they can. The people who have been victims of hate crimes are not laughing at my witticisms because they’re too busy fighting for their lives.

That’s why books like these are so important. They give a voice to the people who don’t often have the courage to speak up for themselves. Through Starr, an ordinary teenager who proves that she’s capable of extraordinary things, Angie Thomas sends out a powerful message: that every one and every life matters.

Starr is a very strong heroine. Having been a witness to not one but two of her friends’ brutal murders she’s understandably scared, but she finds a way to turn that fear into strength, making her a worthy role model for teenagers everywhere.

It helps that she’s also so damn relatable, and that her family – even in the midst of all the violence – is able to retain a sense of normalcy for Starr and her siblings. They stick together and they protect each other even when they disagree with each other’s opinion. Or even if they’re fighting over whether Lebron James is or is not a complete and utter fraud (I personally am not a fan. Laker girl all the way!).

This book offers a social commentary on equality, diversity, the justice system and police brutality. However, its the way it portrays racism in ALL FORMS that really got me.

Its not just the blatant and overt things like treating someone differently because they’re black or Asian or any other minority. Sometimes the small snide comments, (often meant to be humorous) comments that show a lack of understanding about other people’s culture or beliefs, that hurt even more than any form of outright racism.

This book made me think about the many ways I may have disrespected people who come from a different background just by throwing out a careless comment or two, and how I really have to be more careful about drawing the line between banter and just plain being rude.

I am not the most socially aware person in the world. I tend not to read the news anymore because it just depresses me. I do, however, read books. Like, a lot. So it helps when they publish books like these because it gets people to stand up and take notice of the things that are happening in front of our very noses.

Kudos to the author for not mincing words even though she knows her main demographic will be young impressionable teenagers. In fact I think the point IS to reach as many young people as she can. This, THIS is the kind of books that they should be reading, not books about sparkly vampires.

The Hate U Give is not a book that will give you a lot of closure. Even towards the end there is a sense that there is still so much more to be done, so many more battles to fight before the war against racism can be won. If you’re expecting a happy ending all tied up in a neat bow I suggest you move on to the romance section of your local bookstore.

But if you want a book that will inspire you and make you think, feel and HOPE, this is the book for you. Absolutely brilliant.

4 stars!