Scribbling #3: Down the road…

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Down the road I wandered. I didn’t know what I was searching for, where I was going, what was ahead, but I knew that I had to keep going forward. Behind me lay only a desolate wasteland, littered with broken down memories and rusty, jagged feelings; the junkyard of my past.

The road was stony, nothing more than a worn-down track. Either side, I was fenced in by ominous trees, towering over me. I was walled in; the road a channel, directing me onwards.

Ahead I saw a gap in the trees. Only a sliver of light peeked through, as overhead dark storm clouds pressed down on me. The heavy atmosphere reflected the suffocation I felt inside.

Down the road I wandered, putting one foot in front of the other, carrying on because there was nothing else to do.

Soon, the rain fell. Pitter patter, pitter patter. I realised the road beneath my feet was now dark, shiny tarmac, flowing ahead of me like a black river. It eased the pain in my feet and my head. The rainwater glistened on its surface and, for a moment, I thought I might sink into it. Were the droplets on my face rain or tears?

It didn’t matter, really. I could only go forward, so I continued to wander down the road.

I felt lighter as the clouds dispersed and a ray of sunshine peeked through. My heart leapt at the sight of that golden beam, and my step quickened. I finally broke through the trees and saw my road winding up through hills in the near distance. I wondered what was over that hill, and if it would bring me joy or more misery.

Down the road I wandered, and I started to feel hope for the first time. Here and there, animals peeked their curious faces out of the brush to see who was passing by. The sounds of wildlife reminded me that I wasn’t alone.

My hope soon faded with the day’s light. The shadows lengthened, the sky shifted from pale grey to deep purple, and the ghosts of my past appeared. I could hear their voices inside my head, taunting me, reminding me.

It was dark now; I could wander no more. I laid down on the road, feeling the cold, hard ground beneath me. I could still hear those ghosts, like echoes of misery all around me. I was an empty vessel yet so full of everything. I scrunched my eyes tight shut in fear of what I would see.

Then, when the pain became too great, a miracle happened. I opened my eyes tentatively, looked up from the flat of my back, and instead of seeing a black void of despair, I saw a galaxy of light and wonder and hope. Stars scattered the muddy sky, the detritus of the universe in its rawest, most angelic form. Nebulous mists of startling colour dyed the heavens. My sobs turned to laughter and I laid there, paralysed with joy at its sight.

I slept, the deepest sleep of blackest night. No dreams or terrors disturbed me. When I awoke, my mercurial companion had finally returned. The sunlight blinded me as I opened my dry, tired eyes, still stinging from my historical tears.

I was at the top of the hill, looking down on the world below. Everything was alive and in motion. Ahead, lay green, lush fields, promising trust and love. The road twisted and turned, climbed up, and over and down but it always kept going, as far as the horizon and beyond.

I forced myself to turn back, to face what I’d left behind. Instead of chaos and pain, I saw an unending plain of white sand, dazzling in its brightness and stark beauty. All those memories had turned to ash. I scooped up a handful and let it filter between my fingers, blowing away in the breeze. I felt a sting of sadness, a faint echo of grief, before it too blew away on the breeze.

I turned my back on the past, leaving it all behind. Down the road I wandered no more – now, I had purpose. Now, I could enjoy the journey. With the sun on my face and the earth at my heels, I followed my road into the new day.

A true friend

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I’m one of those people who has very few true friends. I know a lot of people; I have friends who I know will make me laugh, I know there are certain people I can count out on for a good night out, I have work colleagues whom I trust and I enjoy the company of, I have certain people to turn to for a deep discussion or philosophical debate, and I do count them all as friends, but ‘true’ friends? Friends I know I can count on for absolutely anything at any time? I can count them on one hand.

When I was a teenager, and continuing into my early twenties, quantity was hugely important to me. I was always out and surrounded by a lot of people who I thought were close friends. I thought myself lucky to know so many people and to always have someone to join me in my quest for ‘a good night’. But, I got married, grew up, moved to Edinburgh and never saw most of those people again.

At first, this saddened me. I was always nostalgically reminiscing about all the ‘friends I used to have.’ But the truth is, people grow apart. What once united us was no longer important. It was a flimsy bond, broken easily. I realised that nothing we ever did or had could ever be taken away – they are fond memories and will always be a part of my journey – but fond memories don’t build strong foundations. Time, experience, shared emotions, and hard times forge life-long bonds.

At the most difficult times in my life, I’ve had a handful of people to turn to; my parents, my husband, my best friend, and a couple of close friends, and they’ve always been enough. My closest friend is my husband, but that’s a completely different type of friendship.

My best friend and I had a rocky start. She thought I was trying to muscle in on her then-boyfriend, and I thought she was aloof and rude. Then, one night, both fairly drunk, we were left alone dancing and accidentally head-butted each other. That head-butt turned into a life-long love. Maybe it knocked some sense into us? Since then, we’ve lived together, lived far apart, and supported each other through poor health, break-ups and difficult life events.

When I got married and moved to Edinburgh, we didn’t see each other for up to a year at a time. We were both so busy with our separate lives, we sometimes went months without even talking to each other. But, every now and then, I’d get a random text asking for advice, or I’d check in on her, or she’d come visit for my birthday, and each time was like we’d never spent a moment apart. Day or night, no matter the length of time that had passed since our last contact, we knew the other was there when needed.

That, to me, is what friendship is all about. It doesn’t matter how often you speak or see each other, it’s just the intrinsic knowledge that they’re there, and if you needed it, they would drop everything to help you. They know you better than you know yourself, and they offer honest, sometimes even blunt, but always non-judgemental, sound advice. They make you laugh when you want to cry. They stay quiet when you need space. They share with you their joy, wisdom and strength, and you love them so much, you’ll do it all for them too.

I’m only 29, but I know already that the quantity of friendships is irrelevant – it’s the quality of the bonds. I’d take my few friends and my close family over a huge group of tenuous links any day. No matter what my problem, where my life takes me, I know I have someone there to offer me unconditional support and open, honest advice. We also, without fail, know whether the other needs to talk, stay quiet or be distracted. We know how to make each other laugh, how to tell each other to get over it, when to be serious and when to make light of a situation. And that comes from a lot of years of being able to focus on that one relationship. If I’d had a hundred other people to maintain relationships with at the same time, that friendship wouldn’t have been nurtured and grown in the way it did.

And you know what? In the ten years we’ve known each other (apart from our initial impressions of each other) we’ve never once fallen out. We’ve disagreed, sure, but we don’t fall out. We communicate openly, support one another, and know each other inside out. I hope everyone has at least one friend like that. It’s what life is all about; shared experience, shared pain and shared joy. The most important friendships are those that enrich your life and make you the best version of yourself. As my old, wise friend Winnie-the-Pooh once said, “a day without a friend is like a pot without a single drop of honey left inside.”

Life after trauma

Following on from my previous post, I want to talk about the effect of trauma on your mind. I don’t want to rake over old ground; I covered a lot of it in my last post. I was in two minds about whether to write this but after people reached out to me to tell me how much my post had meant to them, I knew I had to. And not just to help others, but to help myself. Really, this post has been a long time coming. This is for the TSW sufferers and all those who have experienced trauma in their lives. Let’s get straight to it then…

For a bit of background, I will start with what happened directly after leaving hospital. My condition came back full-force and I was sick to the stomach knowing what was coming, and knowing full well there was nothing I could do stop it (bar continuing on Topical Steroids – hereafter known as TS). After days and nights and days of reading material on the subject, I knew my only option was to come off them, and so I did.

You know the physical effects this condition had, but I want to press that the mental effects were just as bad, at times worse, than the physical. While I was in the thick of it, I had only two emotions – numbness and hysteria. There was no in-between, ever. There were no happy moments, moments of relief, not one. My mum came to visit a couple of times, and my heart did lift at the sight of her. It also lifted when my husband would bring me cake, or help me in some small way, or give me a tentative hug; I would force a small smile for them and say thank you (I was eternally grateful), but it didn’t sink in, not completely. That pain, man. The physical pain in my skin and muscles, the mental pain, and that ITCH; they were all-consuming. They would not let you forget, not for a second. I would smile and genuinely feel grateful for their efforts and their presence, but I was emotionally numb. I couldn’t feel anything. Except when I was hysterical. Then, I would feel it all. I made noises I didn’t even know I was capable of; animalistic even. I was begging, pleading for it to end, and it would last hours. I was in a pit of absolute despair. Then, eventually it would pass, and I would feel numb again. And so, it continued, day in, day out for months and months and months.

The sleep deprivation didn’t help. I’m sure a lot of people can relate to that. The ONLY thing I wanted to do was sleep so that I could escape that living hell. I literally dreamed of going to sleep and not waking up until it was all over, but it eluded me, constantly. I dreaded the nights; they were worse than the days. Alone in the dark quiet, the pain and the itch intensified and drove me to the brink of insanity. Now, this is dark, but I often laid awake scratching, dreaming of skinning myself alive. In some weird, twisted corner of my mind, I thought how amazing it would be to start from scratch and just get rid of it all.

Another difficult thing to deal with was people making suggestions, trying to help. I appreciated that they cared, I really did, but a lot of people didn’t understand my condition. They asked if I could bathe in certain things or apply different moisturisers, as if that would magically cure me. I was one of the sufferers who could not put ANYTHING on my skin. Nothing could help me, except time. Luckily, my husband was on hand to explain this to people, as I didn’t have the stomach for it. Even worse, however, were those who didn’t believe it was real. Imagine having an horrific, life-changing condition and people not believing you, telling you you’re causing it yourself by not using the very thing that caused it (TS). One basically told me that I deserved what I got, and it was all my own fault for stopping using TS.

It made me angry, unbelievably angry, but it was also a driving force. I knew when I was eventually healed, I could tell them, “I told you so.”

My relationship with my body was utterly ruined. I couldn’t look at it, I couldn’t touch it, I couldn’t even be reminded of it without retching, sometimes actually vomiting. My body was alien to me. It wasn’t mine. It was a disgusting, ugly cage that I was trapped inside. After it was all over, it took a lot to rebuild that relationship. I would involuntarily cringe and flinch constantly for years after, at the thought of what it once was. Anything that looked remotely like flakes of skin, such as dust, made me anxious and sick.

I watched a lot of TV in an effort to occupy my mind, but instead found myself fixating on other people’s beautiful skin. It made me feel sick and angry. I knew that one day I’d look like them, but for now, I was seething with jealousy. I hated them all. For this reason, I stayed away from social media completely. Seeing other people living their lives happily while mine was at a complete standstill was too much.

This condition is up and down and up and down. One day, an area would look like it was healing, and a little glimmer of hope would appear, then the next day you’re back to square one. It was crushing. Then, eventually, very slowly, I realised that it was getting better! I began wearing make-up again, wearing clothes that weren’t pyjamas, going out for short walks. But it was nowhere near over.

I always thought when I was going through all that, that as soon as I was better, I would never complain or be unhappy about anything ever again. Unfortunately, it isn’t as simple as that when it comes to trauma. It has a profound, long-lasting effect on your life. You can’t just switch it off and forget about it. It lurks.

At first, I was happy to be out and about, seeing the world outside my four walls, doing every-day things, but I was now a nervous, anxious, shy shell of my former self. I hated people looking at me – though I probably looked normal to them by this point – and would shrink back, wanting to hide. I got tired easily, as my body was incapable of doing seemingly easy things after being forced into one position for such a long time. I felt like a blob of nothing, physically and mentally. That was when I realised that I’d changed, completely and utterly. I’d shed my skin in more ways than one.

I was quick-tempered, anxious, bitter. I no longer felt like me. I had moments of joy, of relief that I was better, but they were only fleeting. I wondered what was wrong with me – I knew I should have been ecstatic to be getting better, but I felt like an alien on another planet. I felt lost and scared, terrified even, that I’d never get my old self back. Somehow, I also felt more alone than I had throughout the entire journey. How could anybody understand how I felt? I felt like a horrible person for not being okay. People expected me to be happy, so I put on a mask and pretended I was, while inwardly crumbling. I felt like I didn’t belong anywhere with anyone.

Outwardly, I appeared to be healed. The main uncovered areas of my body were, but there were areas that weren’t even close. It was still excruciating to walk, for example. My ankles didn’t heal until two years after my face had. It was an evil lasting effect, just there to remind me, refusing to let me forget and move on.

I didn’t want to talk about it with anyone because I didn’t want it to be perceived as attention-seeking, or ‘bring the mood down’, but it was always on my mind so I felt isolated, wanting to share but unable to bring myself to. I was hiding and bottling up all this emotional pain. Luckily, my husband, my best friend and my parents knew. I didn’t have to tell them. They were the only people I could truly be myself around. Once again, I don’t know what I’d have done without them.

I felt very bitter. I wrote in my diary:

People ask me if I’m okay, and I tell them I am because I know they don’t want to hear the truth. I’m not okay, and I feel like I’ll never be okay again. They don’t want to hear that; they want me to tell them I’m fine, so I do. They’re only asking out of courtesy.

I know now that that’s not true. It was self-pity, pure and simple. It was anger, and bitterness – anger because I’d had years of my life stolen from me, bitterness that I’d been in that situation in the first place – and it was toxic.

It took me a long time to get over that, and I did, but my condition has always been an elephant in the room. There have been conversations I’ve been part of where I’ve wanted to share at least part of my story, where it’s even been relevant to share it, but I held back, again for fear that I would be seen as attention-seeking. Now, I realise how unhealthy that is! I didn’t know how much control it had over me.

When I wrote my post earlier in the week, I finally realised. When I was writing it and when I posted it, I had extreme palpitations to the point where I could hear my heartbeat hammering in my chest. I was short of breath and sweating profusely, having to go sit and cool down for a while afterwards. Reliving it was hell, but when that passed, I felt free, like a huge weight had been lifted from my shoulders.

I knew then that I had to write this too. I needed to get it all out and now I can move on. I can use my experience to help people, rather than letting it continue to haunt me.

My condition did change me, and my life, but for the better. I am different – I have little time for bullshit, I’m not afraid to speak my mind and I have a profound respect for my body, to name a few changes. Now I’m nearly 30, I’m ready to leave that part of my life behind me, and enjoy the rest of my life, free from the shackles of that awful condition.

Thank you for reading, and for those of you still suffering, keep fighting, stay strong and don’t bottle it up. We all deserve to have our voices heard.

My struggle – and the struggle of thousands

This is a very hard post to write, but I’m trying to raise awareness for a condition I had which could potentially affect anyone in the world, so I feel it’s important that I share my story. If this post helps prevent even one person from suffering the torture I went through, it will be worth it.

I suffered with eczema from the age of fifteen. It was annoying and got me down at times, but it didn’t cause me many major problems. Then, six years ago, things started to feel different. The doctors continued to tell me that it was eczema, but I knew that it wasn’t.

After a few months of hell, I ended up in hospital with a condition called Eczema Herpiticum – a condition in which the cold sore virus infects your eczema and shows itself anywhere on your body that is affected by eczema. This is a terrible condition in itself, but is not the condition I am actually writing this post about. This is just an ‘enjoyable’ side-note that makes up part of my story.

Thousands of cold sores appeared all over my body, from my scalp to my toes and everywhere in between. Some were the size of pin pricks and some the size of 50 pence pieces. I was in hospital for two weeks, barely able to walk or even move.

On leaving hospital once the cold sores had cleared up, my original symptoms re-appeared, so I began doing my own research, as the doctors maintained that it was ‘just eczema’. It dawned on me that I had a condition that is not actually yet recognised by the medical community. They were even dismissive of my suggestion, making me feel stupid. This was not all doctors, I must stress. I had a lot of contact with a GP in Australia, where the condition is more widely accepted. Having received no support from the UK medical community, I took my health into my own hands. I would not recommend this, but at the time, I had no other option.

My condition came back with a vengeance and this time I didn’t go to hospital – I locked myself away from the world for 9 months and got through it with only the help of my husband and close family.

For nine whole months I didn’t leave the house. What I went through in those nine months make the current lockdown situation feel like a walk in the park (ironically!). Having to stay indoors was the least of my worries.

The symptoms of my condition were as follows:

Severe conjunctivitis every day which medication wouldn’t touch; cracked, bleeding, weeping skin from head to toe; skin so tight I was unable to open my eyes or mouth fully; oozing yellow liquid from my face, neck, armpits, inside elbows, ankles, wrists and backs of legs; the inability to bend my body – lift my arms, look up, sit down – I had to keep perfectly straight at all times like I was made out of cement, and if I didn’t, my skin would tear open; deep tissue itching like nothing you’ve ever felt in your life; insomnia; constantly sloughing, flaking skin; loss of eyebrows and hair; severe swelling of ankles and wrists; the inability to stand anything on my skin, not even water (I therefore didn’t shower or wash at all for at least 7 months) as it would cause the skin to slough off, and when it dried, it would shrivel and crack worse than before; searing, agonising pain all over my body 24/7, like my skin was being held to a flame; and last but not least, unstable body temperature that resulted in sweats and chills.

My day to day routine for those nine months was as follows:

  • Woke up, peeled myself off the bed, leaving most of my skin behind.
  • Hoovered said bed and surrounding area.
  • Struggled to change my pyjamas as quickly as I physically could (sometimes with the help of my husband) so that I didn’t have to look at the amount of skin that fell out of them.
  • Hoovered the area where I’d just changed whilst retching at the sight of my skin on the floor (and I’m talking piles of the stuff).
  • Had a hot flush as a result of changing my pyjamas, so stood in front of a fan for an hour to cool down while wailing in pain. This was usually when my husband would return home from work for lunch. Many times, he later confided, he could hear me screaming from the down the street on his way home.
  • Lunchtime – I finally made it downstairs. I’d stand at the ironing board (I was unable to sit down as previously explained) and eat the lunch Glenn had prepared for me, trying not to open my mouth too wide as it would split the sides of my mouth open.
  • My husband changed my socks for me before he went back to work as I couldn’t bend over to do it myself.
  • I stood and watched daytime TV and did some colouring at the ironing board for 5 hours until he got home, breaking off every now and then to stand in front of the fan and cry some more.
  • If the pain in my legs and neck became too much from being stood up in one place for so long, I would give in and kneel down, sacrificing the skin on my legs and ripping it open, just to ease my muscle pain.
  • At least 2-3 hours of my day were spent scratching the itch and taking all the newly grown skin off.
  • My husband came home and made us tea – I stood at my ironing board for the rest of the night, again breaking off every now and then to stand in front of the fan, followed by wrapping myself in a blanket to fight off the resulting chills, or going to go cry on my own somewhere to give my husband a rest from my whimpering.
  • I went to bed at the same time as my husband, but he would tuck me in in the spare room as we couldn’t sleep in the same bed for obvious reasons. I had to flop into bed as I couldn’t bend.
  • Laid and cried for a while, in horrific pain, hoping that tonight would be the night I would finally get some sleep.
  • Became overheated from crying, so got up and stood in front of the fan again.
  • The midnight itch would begin, and I’d scratch incessantly, causing me to bleed and ooze so bad that I felt like I was nothing but mush slowly sinking into the bed.
  • Finally got to sleep every single day at 7am, when my husband was getting up for work, after tiring myself out with scratching and crying.
  • Slept on and off for 3-4 hours, constantly jolting awake as my flaky, scabby skin would catch on the covers, or if the itch started up again, or if the heat from my body became too much.
  • Got up and started all over again.

What caused this torture? Topical steroids (TS) – the very thing I had been prescribed for years for my eczema. There are thousands of people out there going through this right now, and what’s even scarier is there are many more using TS to treat their eczema with no clue about what could happen to them because of it. Very few in the UK believe it’s a legitimate condition, except us, because we lived it and unfortunately many are still living it. I am actually very lucky to have healed as fast as I did. I have read of some people living with this condition for years and years, which is something I can’t even bear to think about.

The gist of the condition is my skin became addicted to the medication, and the condition itself replaced my eczema. My skin was addicted to the TS to the point where I couldn’t go a day without using them, otherwise my skin would burn and slough off. Had I not come off them, it would have eventually got to the point where I would have had to use them several times a day to keep my skin anywhere near ‘normal’. This was not an option. That’s like continuing to use heroin just so you don’t have to go through withdrawal. As part of withdrawal, your skin loses it’s functionality – having been dependant on TS in order to function for so long – including the ability to regulate your body temperature, which explains the hot flushes and chills.

I made the decision to come off the TS completely, which resulted in everything I’ve described. Very, very slowly, my skin returned to normal. The healing made it’s way down my body; my ankles being the last to heal. They were still swollen and basically open wounds for two years after the rest of my body had healed. There was a lasting effect on my mental health as a result of my condition (that’s a story for another day), and I remained hunched and found it difficult to walk properly for months afterwards.

Now my entire body is eczema-free – it’s like my skin has reverted to how it was when I was a kid, before I even got eczema. I wouldn’t even describe my skin as sensitive anymore. I’m actually glad I went through it; it changed my life for the better, though at the time I wanted to die rather than live another day in that hell. But, I got through it, and now I know I can handle pretty much anything life throws at me. My body is also better for it. I’m more conscious of how I treat my body, and I’m in awe of the absolute miracle that my body healed from that completely, all by itself, with absolutely no help whatsoever, and with very little scarring to show for it.

These are the things I’m now grateful for, every single day.

  • Sleeping through the night
  • Waking up without pain
  • Being able to exercise and move freely
  • Being able to shower, especially with nice-smelling shower gels and shampoos
  • My eyebrows
  • Being able to wear make-up, perfume and nice clothes
  • Never itching
  • Being able to go outside
  • Not being afraid to touch my own skin
  • Feeling happy
  • Not looking into my husband’s eyes and seeing the pain I was putting him through
  • Not smelling the scent of ooze and decay every minute of the day

My husband looked after me while working a full-time, stressful job as a soldier in the Armed Forces. He was an absolute hero. He had to see me in some very, very bad ways during that period, and despite my skin falling off, he still kissed me on the forehead every day and told me how beautiful I was. If it wasn’t for him, I don’t know how I would have gotten through it. At that time, we lived 200 miles away from any family. We were completely alone, imprisoned in pain and misery.

As I say, I’m glad I went through it because it changed my life. I appreciate every tiny little thing. The happiness I felt at getting better has never faded. I still remember it all like it was yesterday, and I still feel relieved and grateful to be healthy and happy. I never take anything for granted – the feel of the sunshine and breeze on my skin, the smell of my freshly washed hair when I get out of the shower, the feel of my husband’s arms around me, and being able to sleep in the same bed.  It does kind of feel like it didn’t happen to me, like I was watching myself in a torture film, but it did and I’m so much stronger for it.

I didn’t write this article for sympathy; I wrote it to spread awareness of this condition. There’s a few things I’d like to say before I leave you. One; look after yourself and listen to what your body is telling you. If something doesn’t feel right, get it looked into. Trust your gut. Two; natural is always better than chemicals. Always try to find a natural remedy before putting chemicals on or in your body. If this article saves just one person from the torture I endured, I will be happy. Three; don’t ever take the little things in life for granted. There are people out there with all different kinds of conditions, illnesses and disabilities who would give anything to live a ‘normal’ life. Be grateful for and look after your health and your family’s health, both mentally and physically; it is the most important thing in world.

If you or someone you know has any of the symptoms described, or if you just want further information on Topical Steroid Withdrawal (also known as Red Skin Syndrome), you can visit ITSAN.org for further information.

Below, I’ve added some pictures as evidence of the condition. They’re not for the faint-hearted, but may help someone make the connection between their symptoms. Take care of yourselves, everyone, and thanks for reading.

Tolkien: Lessons in life

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As I write this, I’m listening to Andy Serkis reading the Hobbit live for charity. Andy is as much responsible as Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh and Phillipa Boyens for bringing Tolkien’s stories to life. He is one of my heroes and he did a fantastic job in the ‘Hobbitathon’ for a worthy cause. It got me thinking about Tolkien’s work and all the things it has taught me.

Those who know me well know that my life pretty much revolves around Tolkien’s writings on Middle Earth. I live and breathe it. Most people know who he is; they may have read the Hobbit or seen the Lord of the Rings films, they may even know that Tolkien created the whole of Middle Earth and all the characters, places and languages within it. What a lot of people don’t know is that Tolkien didn’t just write stories about the peoples of Middle Earth, he created an entire mythology for the English people. He was a scholar and spent his life learning about different languages and mythologies. He realised that, bar a few stand-alone tales, there was no real mythology for England. He made it his life’s work to create one for us, using his extensive knowledge of story-telling and linguistics. From the beginning of time, the creation of his world, to the birth and evolution of the creatures and peoples, and the languages they spoke, he created thousands of years of history, all in intricate detail. He is a genius, pure and simple. He probably wouldn’t appreciate that, being as humble as he was, but he was. I would go so far as to say that he has changed my life, and is partly responsible for who I am, how I think, and he is most definitely responsible for my love of stories and storytelling.

The Lord of the Rings is a hard read. The Silmarillion even more so. I have read them both, more than once, along with most of his other works relating to Middle Earth. They are not light reading, however, and I understand why those who aren’t as fanatical as me may just be content with having seen the films. Some, however, have no knowledge of his writing whatsoever! They are missing out on something special. But, it’s not everyone’s cup of tea and I appreciate that. For those who haven’t read most of his works, and those who don’t intend to try, I have compiled my favourite quotes below and a little description of what they mean to me and how I live my life by them. His writing deserves to be shared with everyone, and everyone can learn something from it. I think, now more than ever, his words are poignant and relatable and can teach us all – fan or not – something about the important things in life.

I found that it is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay. Small acts of kindness and love. – The Hobbit

It’s the little, thoughtful things we do for each other that mean the most. You can keep your material goods, your sweeping statements – having an ear to listen, a shoulder to cry on, a friendly smile, a meaningful hug, these are the things that make a big difference to our lives. The most beautiful moments of my life have been the most subtle.

So do all who live to see such times, but that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us. – The Fellowship of the Ring

Simple. How do you want to be remembered? What can you do to help others? What can you do to look after yourself? What can you do for the world to make it a better place? How can you make a bad situation better?  Wallowing in misery never got anyone anywhere. Sometimes, we have to stand up, brush ourselves off and just do what’s right.

How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? In the end it’s only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass.The Two Towers

No matter how hard life is sometimes, no matter what’s happened, even when there appears to be no end in sight to the horrible situation you’ve found yourself in, and all hope seems lost, there is one guarantee – everything ends, all states are only temporary. Nothing is permanent. Let that bring you some comfort in desperate times.

It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.

I love this one so much that I got it tattooed! This life can take us to many different places, but as long as you remember your roots and stay grounded, you won’t get led down the wrong path.

There are hundreds and hundreds of snippets of wisdom from Tolkien’s writing. For any trial in your life, you would be able to find a quote to suit your need. This is why I have such undying love for Tolkien and his words. As much as he was a master at writing epic fantasy stories and complicated battle scenes, and as much as I love reading about elves, hobbits, wizards and orcs, it’s the life lessons he’s taught me that have stuck with me every single day of my life since I first learned who he was aged 11.

He was a man, with a family. He served in the First World War and he knew the meaning of friendship and brotherhood. He understood that it’s our homes, our families and friendships that are the most important thing in our lives.

He taught me that no matter who you are, what your size (literally and figuratively), even if you’re shy and quiet, you can still achieve big things. He taught me that morals, kindness, knowledge and nature are more important than looks, possessions or power. He taught me that if you keep your mind open, the most unexpected things can happen.

Tolkien was not just an author; he was my hero, who spoke to me across the ages and made my life that much brighter. Like Bilbo, Frodo and Sam – the heroes of his stories – he was a simple, quiet, thoughtful person who achieved great things, and I will continue to remember and practice all these lessons until the day I die. Thank you, J R R.

Wave goodbye to self-deprecation for a happier life.

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I remember when I was younger, reading glossy magazine interviews with celebrities. The word ‘self-deprecating’ was used so often as a descriptive term for these people because, somehow, this so-called self-deprecation was supposed to persuade us to identify with them. These famous people were just like us, actually. They were human too, with anxieties and struggles, didn’t you know? I noticed as I grew up that it was the same in real life; self-deprecation was a means to get laughs and bond with other people. Now, I realise, it’s all a load of crap.

                Those famous people are about as far removed from us as you can get, and their ‘self-deprecation’ is nothing more than a self-righteous mask they wear as they try to persuade us that they’re just like us. They’re trying to build a fan-base, basically, because they know that by being modest, we’ll find it easier to relate to them. The fact is, they’re proud of themselves. They’ve sold millions of records and starred in huge blockbusters. They live in enormous mansions, and can go anywhere they want and do anything they want. Don’t tell me they’re not pleased with themselves!

                We’re programmed to believe that celebrating one’s successes too avidly or ‘bragging’ about your good qualities is arrogance, whereas self-deprecation shows that you’re humble and grounded. We’re all guilty of it; it’s so deeply embroidered into the fabric of our society, that we don’t tend to question it. But, is it really necessary, and is it good for us?

                I don’t know about you, but I feel that there is no room for self-deprecation in society anymore, or at the very least, we should be making less room for it. What is it, really, if you break it down? There are one of three reasons a person resorts to putting themselves down: one; they really, truly believe what they’re saying, two; they’re fishing for compliments, or three; they’ve observed other people behaving that way and that’s how they think they’re supposed to act. So really, there’s no good reason for it, is there?

                If this person really believes what they’re saying when they put themselves down, shouldn’t we be encouraging them to lift themselves up? The more people talk about and be proud of their successes, the more acceptable it is to others. We’re basically teaching each other that we’re all blundering about getting things right by accident rather than complimenting ourselves on a job well done.

                Attention seeking doesn’t need much addressing. You can spot them a mile away and nobody likes it.

                The third reason, I think, is the most common. Nobody likes a show-off. We’ve had that drilled into us since we were children. Humans learn behaviour by studying each other, so if that’s what we see others doing, then of course we’re going to mirror that behaviour. The only occasions I’ve seen people openly say how proud of themselves they are, they’ve been mocked, berated, even bullied for it. Not by everyone of course, and a lot of the time it’s said behind their back, but what did that teach me? Don’t be that guy.

                Of course, there is a fine line between ‘bigging yourself up’ for a good reason and just unashamed arrogance. I wouldn’t want to live in a world where we all go around bragging and one-upping each other, patting each other on the back for the tiniest achievement, and smugly smiling at our own brilliance. But really, if you’ve absolutely worked your butt off to achieve something, or faced your fears with positive consequences, or done something great for another person, why shouldn’t you admit that you’re proud of it? You worked hard to get where you are, don’t spoil it by belittling yourself or your accomplishments. You don’t have to go around telling all who’ll listen how brilliant you are, but wouldn’t it be better if we could spread a little positivity and possibly teach others that it’s okay to be proud of themselves?

                It would also filter down to the smaller wins. If someone compliments you on your hair or something you said that struck a chord with them, wouldn’t it be great if instead of giving the usual response, ‘you’re joking, it’s a mess today!’ or ‘oh, it’s nothing’, you just said thank you. Put it this way, most people don’t go out of their way to compliment others unless it’s for something that really caught their attention. They’re not lying to you or trying to catch you out, they’re just letting you know that what you did had a positive impact on them, even in a small way. That’s something to enjoy not negate.

                On another, not so different, note – I love compliments! I’m not talking about receiving them (although that is lovely!), but just compliments as an act of positivity. I like sharing the love. If I see or hear something I like, I tell that person, no matter how big or small it is. I’ve learnt, on many occasions, that someone giving you a little nod of appreciation can make all the difference to your day. Little acts of kindness make the world a sweeter, more beautiful place.

                Sharing the love goes both ways; give compliments, but also learn to receive them graciously. Then we can take it even further – raise each other up and in turn, raise ourselves up, thus spreading the message that it’s okay to do so. Spread the good vibes people and let’s make the world a brighter place.

Who says?

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Who says you can’t start randomly start singing or talking to yourself?

Who says you can’t wear whatever the hell you want, when you want (as long as you’re not flashing anyone)?

Who says you can only be interested in socially-approved topics or activities?

Who says you have to get married or be in a long-term relationship to be complete?

Who says you have to have children?

Who says you can only be friends with certain people?

Who says you have to go to university to get everything you want out of life?

Who says you have to raise your children in a certain way?

Who says you have to act/live/be/speak a certain way?

This piece is just a bit of fun and a little insight into my daily thoughts. Never in my life have I abided by something ‘just because it’s what you do.’ Apart from maybe when I was a kid and I did what my parents told me. Even then, I did my fair share of rebelling. I’ve never been dissuaded from wearing/saying/doing anything out of fear of what other people will think. I’ve always been completely, authentically, truly myself, and I can’t imagine being anything but.

I wear Doc Martens ALL THE TIME. I don’t care whether it’s a job interview, a wedding or the middle of Summer, they are on my feet. Actually, I lie. Sometimes I wear Converse. The point is, I don’t own a single pair of high heels or ‘normal shoes’ and I never will. Who says I can’t? Does it make me a bad person? No. So I’m going to carry on. They cost me enough – I’m going to get my money’s worth! They make me feel strong, safe and, I admit, a little bit bad-ass.

I talk to myself all the time and I have a collection of teddies despite being nearly 30. Does that make me a weirdo? Maybe! Guess what? I don’t care. I’m happy.

I don’t want children. There’s the slightest possibility that might change (nothing’s impossible), but I doubt it. Does that make me less of a woman? No. In the 21st century this doesn’t matter one bit. I am in charge of my own body and regardless of what society dictates, I’m not going to force myself to do something I don’t want to do. That wouldn’t benefit the poor child or me, nor would it help my relationship with my husband as he doesn’t want children either.

I enjoy reading and watching programmes and films about serial killers and psychopaths. That doesn’t make me one. What I enjoy reading and watching doesn’t say anything about me as a person. I also love glittery make-up, things with unicorns on and the colour pink. Hey, I’m just diverse.

I listen to heavy metal music, watch history and science documentaries, read fashion magazines, love animals, nature and all things cute and cuddly, or dark, macabre and strange.

In this modern age, we can all do and be anything we want to be. As long as you’re being true to yourself, kind to others and work hard, why can’t you live your life the way you want to? You can’t go around breaking the law, obviously – they’re in place for a reason – but the rest is up for grabs. Take a moment to reflect on that. You can live your life doing things that make you happy. Isn’t that exciting! Do you really want to get to the end of your life and think, ‘I wish I’d done more of this’, or do you want your life to be full of all the things you’re interested in?

Gone are the days of ‘keeping up appearances’ and ‘what will the neighbours think?’ You only get one life and it’s yours to do with what you will. Don’t waste it worrying what others think. Be bold, be brave, but most importantly, be yourself. Thanks for reading!