teapigs matcha super power green tea drink review

Today I'm going to tell you about the latest products to come out from teapigs; these absolutely fantastic pre-made matcha green tea drinks!

ThatRedheadSaid : teapigs matcha super power green tea drink

As you may or may not know, I recently gave teapigs matcha a try for the entire month of May and am now utterly hooked. Matcha is an incredible product so to now have an "on the go" version available is just the best thing ever. Give matcha a try and you'll soon lose your expensive coffee habit, trust me!

These delightful matcha drinks come in three varieties: grapefruit, elderflower and apple, all from concentrate. I know some people are all weird about fruit concentrates but to be perfectly honest, I don't see the harm in it unless you're paying for actual juice and getting watered down concentrate, that's not cool.

Grapefruit: You get 330ml of rocket fuel for 69 calories! The sugar content comes from the fruit concentrate so there's nothing added at all. The ingredients speak for themselves on this one; spring water, grapefruit juice from concentrate and matcha. That's it. 

I think the grapefruit has to be my favourite. I love grapefruit and you can absolutely tell it's there, which is what we want from a drink telling us it's grapefruit, right?! The combination of the grapefruit and matcha works so well together; if you're trying to get your friends over to the matcha way of life, then this would be a brilliant introduction.

ThatRedheadSaid : teapigs grapefruit matcha super power green tea drink

Apple: This flavour has a little more caloric value at 75 calories for 330ml. Again, we only have three ingredients: spring water, apple juice from concentrate and matcha. I'm sad to say I was very disappointed with this one. The flavour was really weak and confused. In  my opinion, the apple juice needs to be increased by a factor of at least 5 to get it to the point where you can definitely identify apple juice. Sad. I love apple juice! Perhaps it's worth adding a little cordial to this if you have it, but to teapigs I'd definitely suggest increasing the amount of apple they use!

A comment from teapigs HQ: "The reason we went for a higher proportion of water to juice was to keep the water content high (there for more hydrating and a healthier balance) and to create a more refreshing drink so people could have it whilst exercising. We found especially the apple juice when at a higher juice content to be a little too sweet to refresh when running/at the gym."

Elderflower: Oh dear. I was hesitant about the combination of matcha and elderflower. They're both such delicate flavours. It doesn't work. I'm so sorry, teapigs! It's bitter, chalky and leaves an after-taste that the boyfriend described as "broken-up paracetamol". While I don't think it's quite that bad, it's not exactly great either. The matcha and elderflower flavours are at war with each other on your tastebuds and it's not pleasant. To add insult to injury, the chalky texture leaves a weird coating on your tongue that doesn't go away without something carbonated!

The ingredients are spring water, grape extract concentrate, elderflower extract, lemon juice concentrate, matcha and an acidity regulator. There are 105 calories in this 330ml carton. I couldn't bring myself to have more than a few sips of this one. After a few minutes of being in the glass it began to separate to really make sure you shake this one up before trying it, and maybe have your aerolatte to hand! 

If you want a matcha hit on the go; my advice is to stick with the grapefruit! 

Product supplied by teapigs for consideration to review. 
Opinions are my own and are not influenced by external sources.


I am officially two years sober! 

That's 104 weeks. 730 days. 17531 hours. 63114500 (and counting) sober heartbeats. 

When I look back on the past year, I can say with total confidence that I finally feel alive and have confidence in my ability to live life in abstinence and sobriety. It's not a total confidence, but I feel strong and have the skills to be able to actually do this. There aren't many facets of my life where I can say that!

I had a look back at my blog post from my first year of sobriety and I know I was proud of myself for making it, but still grieving for the loss of my friends and feeling so guilty that I had survived but they didn't. Every single day was a fight and there were more tears than I ever thought possible. My reward for all this was my first holiday abroad just two days later. Everyone needs a carrot on a stick sometimes, right?! 

I guess the question most people struggling with their addiction or maintaining sobriety want to know is how the hell do you actually do this? I know I did and genuinely didn't believe this sort of lifestyle was possible, now here I am living in and dare I say, rocking this. 

You know what? I'm going there. I am rocking this sobriety thing! ;)

The three main tools I use when I know I am going to be in a difficult situation are:

Drinking is not an option. If you give yourself even a millimeter of space to even allow that 'maybe just one' thought into your mind, you'll lose control. I cannot stress this one enough. To me, consuming alcohol is like having arsenic poured down my throat. If I drink again, I will die. It's that simple. There are plenty of nice sober-people options at the bar if you know where to go and what to look for. A favourite of mine is slimline tonic with lime. It's sharp enough to kid yourself into thinking it's a gin and tonic or something and you don't look awkward, if you're worried about that. 

Surround yourself with people you trust. Don't go out with people who either don't know you're in recovery or don't support it. If everyone you're with knows your situation, they'll be supportive and give you a little boost of encouragement if you need it. They'll also be able to pull you away from the bar if needs be. I trust everyone I go out with to pull a drink out from under me if they either suspect there to be, or know there to be, alcohol in that drink. On a related note; if you're out at a pub or a bar and you start feeling vastly too uncomfortable with the situation, it's perfectly alright to get yourself home. Again, your friends will understand and just want you to be safe and sober! 

It's ok to say no. You can't please everyone. Putting yourself into stressful situations when you're not ready for it or don't want to be there anyway is a recipe for disaster. Your sobriety is your main priority right now and that is not a bad thing. It's not selfish or any other negative association you can think up. You fought so hard through withdrawal and detox to get to this point, do you really want to do it again? True friends will understand and support you. They might even elect to stay sober with you for the night! I love my non-drinking friends. Without them I would not have made the progress I have over the past 365 days.

As the days turn into weeks, you'll notice a difference. You'll realise your own strength and start to gain things you don't want to lose. If I hadn't have gotten to this point, I wouldn't be with my boyfriend, I wouldn't have amazing new friends, I wouldn't be at university and I wouldn't have Lily. Why? I would be dead. I came too close too many times. I don't want to die as an addict. I would much rather have people remember me for being an amazingly cool neuroscientist... ;)

One thing I absolutely love about being 'the sober one' is that I get to witness just how dumb people act when they're drunk and have potential footage for YouTube and such... I gotta get my fun somewhere, right? Haha!

My gift to all of you is to resurrect The Drink Directory and get to work on building up a comprehensive list of options for you. There is more to life than water and diet coke. There are some absolute gems out there just waiting for you to discover them! :)

Please feel free to share your sober tips in the comments!


Foodie Friday : Jack Daniel's Extra Hot Habenero BBQ Pork

It's Foodie Friday and I have another long over-due recipe for you using Jack Daniel's BBQ Sauces!

Today we're going to be using Jack Daniel's Extra Hot Habanero Sauce; it's limited edition and absolutely amazing!! I originally thought about using the Original BBQ Glaze but to be honest I wanted to use the boyfriend as a test subject for his very spicy sauce! He loves spice, but has a 'tell' when something is just that little bit too much. He breaks out into a sweat which can be slightly awkward and also hilarious when we're in Nando's and he's being a typical bloke and ordering extra hot because I got hot.... Haha!! 

Anyway. Let's cook. 

I used pork belly for this and I honestly think it is the best cut to be using for this sort of cooking. It won't go dry! You can marinate your pork belly overnight in the Jack Daniel's BBQ Sauce or for an hour or so before cooking. Up to you. Just don't get it on the skin!! We want crackling for this; and the process by which you need to get crackling is sheer heat. Sauces like this don't respond well to it and the crackling will taste like absolute crap. 

Keep your cut of pork in the polystyrene tray, turn it skin side down and slather your sauce all over it. Use the back of a spoon to rub it in and leave to marinade for however long you like! 

Step one: Turn your oven onto the highest setting possible to pre-heat. 

Step two: Turn your pork belly out onto a roasting tray, skin side up now. Get a super sharp knife and score the skin, trying not to go down into the meat. Then get some olive oil and give it a good coating, then add some coarse salt. The oil will heat the skin and serve as the 'fuel' to make the crackling and the salt will draw out the moisture to give it the texture we're after. If you want, you can add some more sauce to the base of the roasting tray with a little olive oil for the pork to sit in but it's up to you. 

Step three: Roast the pork belly according to the recommended time for the size you have. Be sure to cook your pork belly in the maximum heat of your oven for 15 minutes to give your crackling the best start, then turn it down to 170 degrees centigrade for the remainder of your cooking time. 

Step four: Once your pork belly has been cooking for it's allotted time, place it on a high-sided plate to rest. For some more bonus flavour, add a tablespoon or two of Jack Daniels Extra Hot Habanero Sauce to the plate before you sit the pork belly on it. This will give you the most incredible resting juice you've ever had in your life, trust me! 

As you can see, the crackling looks the part but sadly it's still squishy. To save the rest of the pork from over-cooking and drying out, I removed the skin and put it back on the roasting tray with some more olive oil to really get things moving. I turned the oven back up to maximum heat and basically sat in-front of the oven watching the skin fizz and bubble as it cooked. I wanted to make sure I didn't cremate it! 

Step five: After 10 to 15 minutes your pork will have been rested for long enough and given some absolutely crazy levels of juice. If you've had to put your skin back into the oven like I had to, now is a good time to take advantage of this and give your pork a really good basting in the juice! I turned the meat over every few minutes while the crackling was cooking to give it a really good chance to soak up some more flavour. 

Step six: You're done! Serve with whatever takes your fancy. I prepared some simple mashed potato, broccoli and raw spinach. 

I don't eat crackling so this is the boyfriends plate. He was a very happy boy! The flavour of the habanero was definitely there; it gave you that 'woahhh' sensation but it was absolutely not over-powering and frankly, just plain awesome. The flavour had managed to creep into the skin apparently so it had a very gentle hint of spice but all that BBQ flavour. The mashed potato was a good idea as it helped calm things down just a little. 

I really hope you enjoy this recipe! If you have any questions, leave them in the comments and I'll do my best to help. If you've given this a try, leave a link to your blog and I'll be sure to come along and have a look. I'll also RT any you send to me via twitter. 


Therapy Tuesday : Sober Crisis Management

*** trigger warning ***

Welcome back to Therapy Tuesday. Today I'd like to talk about what to do when you find yourself approaching a mental health crisis. Even after 8 years in and out of support services of varying intensity, I'm still learning. Prior to my sobriety, any hint of a crisis would have let to an increase in my use and a LOT of self-destruction, such as self-harming.

With 4 days to go until I am able to call myself 2 years sober; I must share some devastating news. My 11 year old Scottish Terrier, OxO Cubes, has thyroid cancer. I know there are some people out there who have a complete disconnect with their pets and are in the "just a dog/cat" camp. I am not. My pets are like my children so I will react along those lines. 

The method by which I found out this news is a recipe for disaster in itself. My mother called me and basically dropped the news on me. She must have known for a couple of weeks that something was wrong as she had discovered a lump on his neck and obviously taken him to the vets. At that point I would have thought a phone call would be the normal thing to do. Nope. Did I get a call when he was being taken back to have the lump biopsied? Nope. Did she tell me they suspected cancer? Hell no. The tone of her voice wasn't even appropriate. I would have been barely able to find the strength to say the words, but she was so upbeat, normal sounding and had absolutely no sign of sadness or fear in her voice. 

As soon as I heard "It's thyroid cancer" I had to hang up. I instantly felt my stomach drop and a feeling of pure fear hit me like a train. A second later I was watching myself. I had dissociated. Alex found me in the garden staring into space. The rest of the evening is a bit of a blur but he never left my side and even bought me some nytol so I'd definitely sleep. 

TIP ONE: Over the counter medication like Nytol (diphenhydramine) is a very useful tool when used correctly. 

I woke up at about 11.30am and spoke to my CPN at 1pm. She was able to straighten out some of the crazy I was spewing and make me feel a lot more 'normal' in my feelings and urges. I'm very lucky to have a nurse that is also a trained therapist. I was so scared of myself. I still am. The entire day I have had relentless cravings for alcohol and have to talk myself through making a cup of tea so I don't pour boiling water over my arm. I haven't gone near anything sharp and am trying to ignore the stairs in my house. There is a warped part of my brain that thinks I need to be punished for OxO having cancer and that I am so far away that I cannot do anything. I can't do anything anyway.... 

Feeling powerless is an enormous trigger.

TIP TWO: If you're in services, use the help that is available to you. Please. For so many years I sat in silence when I could have picked up the phone and saved myself from so much additional suffering. 

TIP THREE: Know your triggers. 

TIP FOUR: Safety-proof your house. Remove all sharps, medications and alcohol. 

I have been on my own since 4.30pm and have been stuck to distraction methods. I have to say, blogging is an absolute lifeline at times. The internet in general can be amazing, you just have to go to the right places at the right time. Some of my favourites: 
One thing my nurse had to remind me of was that these very intense feelings will come, but they also do not remain at that level and will go away. All we need to do is get through those incredibly difficult periods by not making the situation worse; i.e by drinking or self-harming. 

I feel numb 95% of the time. The other 5% is filled with flashbacks to Millie's final day which bring up a lot of old pain and anger. Then I feel powerless and round and round we go. I don't want to drink. I don't want to self-harm. It's a compulsion I have to fight every single second of every day when I find myself in crisis situations. 

TIP FIVE: Learn how to ground yourself when you find yourself in the realms of a flashback. 

The boyfriend is on the other end of the phone whenever I need him and we've been texting lots so I'm not isolating and alone. I also have Lily. She is very aware that something is going on and I am making sure to not cause her any distress. I have to keep things as normal as I can for her sake. She's seen more that enough of the emergency services in her short life! 

I'm trying to be strong. I'm trying to keep my shit together.... I'm trying to silence the demon in my head that will kill me if I let it back out of it's cage. 

My CPN is seeing me tomorrow at midday at the hospital. We are going to talk more about how I'm feeling and devise a safety plan. The boyfriend is returning home at about 4am once he has taken his parents to Gatwick airport. So, as of right now, I have 5 hours to go. My plan is to have some liquorice tea, take a dose of nytol and watch Family Guy and American Dad as I do every single night. 

TIP SIX: Have a solid sleep hygiene routine in place. Make it your source of comfort. 

This is so hard. I'm so scared.... of myself. 


ThatRedheadSaid is now a contributer to MentalParent.com

 I am absolutely delighted to announce that I will be writing mental health content for mentalparent.com! :)

Heather, our 'Mental Momma', started Mental Parent to talk about parenting, mental health and the combination of the two! I love that Heather is writing to challenge the stigma of mental illness and highlight that just because you have a condition in the DSM-V doesn't mean you're a bad parent/unable to care for your children properly. Mental Parent also has a lifestyle section!

As I am not a parent to a human, my posts will be focusing more on the 'medical side' of mental health. Here on ThatRedheadSaid I try to keep things quite general as this is not a specific mental health blog anymore. It started that way, but things evolve and I'm totally ok with that. 

If you'd like to learn more in-depth about mental illness, specific conditions and symptoms, medication and so on then make sure you check out my posts on mentalparent.com which will be going up once a week, after I get back from Nerja.

I will be writing alongside another contributor, Rebecca Moore, who writes a blog: The Bipolar Parenting Project; runs a website; Rebecca Moore Storms AND is a published author of MooreStorms book series. Oh, and she has a huuuuuge family of SEVEN children and is married to her high-school sweetheart. I already think she's super-human.

This is so exciting! :) 

In the mean time, go check out Mental Parent and have a read. Heather is pretty hilarious, I do have to say!

If you have any suggestions for topics you'd like me to write about, leave them in the comments. Any help is greatly appreciated! The last thing we need is bloggers-block up in here.


Weekend Wishlist #2 : The Holiday Edition

I am starting to feel that holiday excitement!!! We fly to Nerja on 5th July and I cannot wait to get back to the beautiful beaches, perfect weather and amazing food. I'm already craving gazpacho and calamari! Mmmmm.... 

A lot has changed in a year.... and sadly my bikinis and general 'summer wear' from my last visit to Nerja don't fit anymore. In my 'darker days' I would have stopped eating and exercised like a crazy person until I fitted into them again, but I'm relieved to say those days are behind me. The thoughts are there but I absolutely refuse to go back down that road. It terrifies me. 

So. I'm going to force myself to embrace this body I have, fight the lurking eating disordered thoughts, and work with what I've got as much as it makes me want to cry and hide away. I'm still so ashamed of my body and absolutely petrified of baring it on the beaches like I did last year, but that experience was so liberating and such a huge step forward for my recovery that I need to do it again. This led me to wonder where I could turn to for beachwear that is designed for those with 'curves' shall we say. I don't think they're curves if you hadn't figured that out. To me they're cancerous lumps of fat which are socially unacceptable and insulting to anyone who sees it. 

Classic example of being "weight-restored" but still tortured by body image issues and other anorexia related demons. 

Enter Simply Be and Kelly Brook's collection for New Look! 

1. Magisculpt Bikini from Simply Be; Bikini Top: £25; Bikini Brief: £15. Complete set: £40

I love this bikini because it looks like it will be able to handle my 36DD boobs! The sea on the beaches in Nerja is notoriously choppy at times and the last thing anyone needs is a wardrobe malfunction. The brief is high-waisted so that alleviates some stress about my bloated belly, plus the detail creates a real definition in the waist which I love. You can't go wrong with monochrome either. LOVE!

2. Tuscany Spot Fold Bikini from Simply Be; Bikini Top: £26; Bikini Brief: £20. Complete Set: £46

Ok. Can I just make a point that advertising a bikini for size 12 and up ladies does not lend itself to a tiny size 6/8 model. Not cool.

This bikini caught my attention because of the colour, of course! The top looks like it would be supportive enough and I really love the orange band underneath to make it a more long-line top. I'm not too sure how the briefs will look on someone with lumps and bumps but it's still something I'd feel confident in. Colours are a good distraction I think!

3. Red Floral Bikini by Kelly Brook for New Look; Long line Bikini Top; £19.99; Cut Out Brief; £12.99. Complete Set: £32.98

Kelly Brook is my source of inspiration for body confidence and I absolutely love this bikini! It's got that vintage cut about it but the cut outs in the brief are just too awesome for words! My only concern about this bikini is whether the straps are going to be supportive enough to stop the rest of the bikini sliding down your body. Either way, this Kelly Brook bikini is gorgeous and I'm definitely taking it to Nerja! 

4. Purple Plaited Maxi Dress from New Look; was £19.99, now £14.99. 

I love my maxi dresses. I also love purple. Purple maxi dress? YES. I absolutely love the cut at the back and the neckline and waist detail seems like it would be flattering for ladies with a bit more up-top! Maxi dresses are perfect for either wandering around the town and still keeping relatively cool or as a cover-up when you're on the beach. 

I am a notorious hater of play-suits. I don't see the point in them as a general rule, but today I figured out an exception! I can see this playsuit being used to go from the apartment we stay in to either the local beach - which is a minute away, if that! - or the shared pool which again is a matter of moments away. It's lightweight, keeps your modesty and also looks pretty awesome.

Where is your go-to for holiday wardrobe? How do you find the confidence within yourself to rock your bikinis on the beach?

Returning to Work : my first shift and symptom management

As you may or may not know, Friday 13th was my first day back in the working world since April 2006, which was when I experienced my first panic attack and rapidly declined into a serious collapse in my mental health. I used to work in retail and I now work in hospitality on a 'zero hour contract'. 

Everyone gets nervous when they start a new job. I felt more or less the same sensations as when I started university last year, wait what? That was last year?! Ugh god.... Anyway! It was a horrible feeling to be experiencing, but it wasn't foreign and I knew I could control it and get through it. 

As little as two years ago these feelings of anxiety would lead to automatic avoidance because I couldn't bare the physical and emotional reactions my body was producing. Never has the phrase "feel the fear and do it anyway" been more apparent!

How bad was the anxiety? It was pretty nasty, I have to be honest. From the moment I woke up until the moment I left the house I was a wreck. I felt sick to the pit of my stomach, I was shaking and sweating, dizzy and palpitations were sending me crazy. My mind was playing a constant loop of all the things that could potentially go wrong and what situations could arise and how I could deal with them - or escape in some cases! Everything about me was saying "Don't Do It!!" but I need the money so, this was only ever going to end after my shift was done.

Giving myself no choice in the matter has been pretty useful in pushing myself beyond my 'usual' boundaries. If someone else were to impose this, all hell would break loose so this is very much in my control and my decision. I have to plan things to the smallest detail or I get very nervous, spontaneity isn't in my repertoire anymore! As much as I could talk myself through the likely situations of what was going to happen over the next 8 hours, I honestly had no idea what to expect.

Before I took my first flight last June, I was able to watch YouTube videos of take-off, flights and landing so I had something of an introduction to it, but nothing can prepare you for how your body will respond! I had none of that for what I was about to go into and how I wish someone had told me....

I started at 4pm and honestly did not stop until 12.40am. I was home by 1am and in some of the worst pain I have ever experienced. Hospitality is not for those with physical conditions like M.E./CFS, seriously. I'm still recovering now. By 8pm my legs were turning to swollen lumps of lead and every step was painful. By 10pm I was having back spasms. Come midnight I could barely keep upright, was losing the ability to understand what people were saying to me and fighting back tears. It was sensory overload in the extreme.

As for the psychological stuff... To be honest I didn't really have time to allow anxiety to take hold of me. I was that busy and felt almost like I was on auto-pilot and watching myself do everything. Meeting my guests and the initial hour or so with them was scary, but it soon became easier. Two of my guests were a bit triggering, however. They were drinking so heavily they didn't even make it to the main part of the night - when Rod Stewart came on stage at 9pm. I was legitimately preparing myself to call for medics, but again that's the anxiety and worst-case-scenario planning side of me.

The boxes are supplied with drinks, but if there isn't anything there that they like then it's our job to go to the bar. I was running backwards and forwards from the bar, which by the way was absolutely slammed and absolutely chaotic thanks to being staffed with underage and absolute new comers to bar work, so on top of having to manage my own orders behind the bar and deal with a lot of spirits - nightmare situation for me, I haven't been that close to alcohol since my sobriety began - but I was being shouted at by people waiting to be served. Of course, I calmly and politely told them my job was with the executive boxes and someone would be with them very soon but it obviously fell of deaf ears and they continued to be rude.

Please people, we have one pair of hands and can only do a set amount of things at a time. As much as I'd love to help you right now, the people who are paying an extortionate amount of money to be here tonight and have their own hospitality service take priority. Sorry!

All I could do was take deep breaths and think about the next task I had to do. Breathe, what's next, do it, breathe, check on my guests, next job.... For 8 hours. Even after the guests had gone and the floor was clear, we had to take apart the rooms and clean them. More heavy lifting and over-exertion! Yes, meters of heavy linen and mounds of plates are pretty heavy after such a hardcore shift.

The sheer volume of adrenaline in my system didn't really hit me until I got home. The boyfriend had to help me take my shoes off as my feet were so swollen and my arms were so dead I couldn't do it. I could barely get changed into my PJs. Sitting on the sofa with some tea was very uncomfortable and I could easily have slipped into panic. I was shaking and very tearful. It took until about 3am for it to settle down enough that I could go to bed and sleep.

Talking myself through panic attack control was the last thing I wanted to be doing, but having a panic attack would have been far worse! I can't stress enough how important breathing techniques are, especially alongside distractions. I watched Family Guy and American Dad. It's part of my 'night time routine' anyway so a sense of normality is always good. I could happily have sunk into a cool bath with Epsom Salts but at that time of night it's a bit frowned upon when you're living above someone else!

I haven't fully recovered, nearly a week on. My anxiety levels are way up and I'm in constant pain. I did agree to a shift on 15th June but I woke up feeling like I was being spun in a washing machine and still unable to stand for more than 30 seconds so it was pretty clear a 10am to 7pm shift wasn't going to happen. I cancelled and cried so much for so many different reasons. I'm due to work tomorrow, 20th, for 6 hours and I am praying that it will not be as manic.

I'm just as scared but I learned a lot about the job, and my tolerance levels, so that can only be a good thing. At the end of the day, I need to pay my bills and this is what I have been forced into... so..... Feel the fear and do it anyway? 

These skills don't happen overnight. It's taken from April 2006 until June 2014 for me to recover from that initial event to get to this point... I'm going to do a separate post on specific symptoms and how I manage them so look out for that! :)

I will say that my CPN is very worried about this situation and is really hoping I can either get the ESA situation resolved or find a more suitable job - in a library for example! 

ESA, ATOS and Full Time Education : I'm not keeping quiet anymore.

I need to vent. It's been a long time coming. I know I am not the only one in this situation but the problem is people don't talk about money. It's embarrassing as hell. But I am just the right amount of furious now that I need to speak up and show what the new benefit system is doing to people.

Before ESA and ATOS came along, everything was ticking along just fine. I have absolutely no ****ing idea why this sorry excuse for a Prime Minister and his Deputy felt the need to change it. How do they know what it's like to live like this?! Cameron was educated at Eton and Oxford, and Clegg is a Cambridge graduate. It's pretty obvious they know nothing of debt or student poverty - thanks for the £9k a year tuition fees too guys, sterling work that. Education isn't a privilege, it's a god damn right and I do not enjoy being saddled with £45k of undergraduate debt once we calculate in all the other student loans. 

This brings me to my next point, why are students forced to struggle like this? Even 'normal' students have a really tough time, but when you're not capable of boosting the pittance you get from your loans and grants and do have illness to contend with, it's magnified to an unbearable level. 

The bottom line is: people are being forced into situations they're not meant to be in. It's as simple as that. Our degrees are the most important things in our lives right now. Not only are we basically starving or surviving on absolutely disgusting cheap food but we're exhausted from working job(s) to support ourselves.

Let's get the facts out there:

- I'm a full time student and my loan and grants have already been exhausted.
- I've been able to work since 2006 due to mental illness and am still claiming Disability Living Allowance. My National Insurance contributions were covered by Incapacity Benefit.
- I was diagnosed with M.E/CFS a few years ago.
- In February this year ATOS placed me in the "support group"
- The DWP will not award me anything except National Insurance credits because my 'contributions' are too low. This makes no sense to me as my credits have been covered and I'm not even eligible for work. Those who have NEVER worked get ESA so what the hell is this shit?!
- I am in debt (credit card) to the tune of £4700 and unable to escape the increasing interest rates and subsequent increase in debt due to my employment status. 
- I worked for the first time in 8 years on Friday 13th June. I was due to work today (Sunday 15th) but my M.E/CFS symptoms are so bad that I am now unable to leave my bed. 

It doesn't take a genius to work out that I am trapped in an impossible situation. I thought I could fight against the symptoms and power on through, but it's..... impossible. Everything right now is impossible. I have been backed into a corner and have absolutely no choice but to compromise my physical and mental health to cover my ever expanding bills, and I'm already losing. 

I have been deemed unfit to work but given absolutely no help. 

I really don't understand how we're supposed to survive? We try and go back into work but the fallout is catastrophic. Sure, the government get their figures that say that supposedly 'sick' claimants are back in the work force, when the truth of it is that we have been forced and will inevitably end up seriously unwell again or worse. We need the money or the bailiffs will come. We'll lose everything and be on the streets. This is the point where suicides happen.

We are constantly being told we're lazy and work-shy, and just need to get on with it and stop complaining because "there's always someone worse off" than you or your symptoms are "all in your head". While that may be true - someone being worse off I mean! - that doesn't take away the level of pain experienced sitting at a desk or being on your feet for 8+ hours a day with no rest breaks. Crowds, noise and interacting with people are very difficult to deal with and lead to sensory overload. Add extreme levels of stress into the mix....Who wins in this situation? I'll tell you right now, working minimum wage jobs is not enough to make it even slightly ok. 

ATOS and the government have a lot of blood on their hands.

My initial ESA claim form was submitted almost 12 MONTHS ago. I have had no outcome letter from them or ATOS from my medical in February. A phone call confirmed that I will not be getting any money from this and this makes my letter is "a low priority". Without a letter, I am unable to appeal. Clever, eh? I will be going to Citizens Advice for help in challenging their decision and also their policy on my decision letter. 

Do I have the time and energy for this? No. But I'm using that same frantic 'energy' I used to find a job and get through those painful hours on Friday to fight for what I believe to be right. I can't just sit/lay here and be bullied like this. It's putting the YEARS of recovery work I've done at risk and I'm not about to let that happen. My sobriety, my functionality, my degree mean absolutely everything to me. 

These past couple of months have been terrifying and it's only going to get worse if something doesn't change. 

Have you had problems with the ESA system and ATOS? What did you do? I'd be particularly interested in hearing from you if you're a student or if you're living with someone in full-time work. 


Bikram Yoga : My First Class (in two years)

I thought it'd be cool to document my experiences with Bikram Yoga! :)

I chose Bikram because of the serious health benefits it brings, plus I do love a challenge and pushing my body and mind beyond it's comfort zone gives me such a high. To be honest 90 minutes of yoga in 104 degrees Fahrenheit - 40 degrees Celsius - and 100% humidity is about as challenging as it gets for me.

My philosophy towards exercise has always been if you're not sweating, you're not doing it right. Bikram will make you sweat in places you didn't know had the potential to sweat - your shins for example! There are 26 postures, which doesn't seem like a lot but my god you will have to keep your focus to stop your mind from going to the "please make it stop" place.

What I found interesting during the class I took on Monday was that I was able to keep control of my breathing a lot better and push through moments of serious anxiety and borderline panic when my nervous system was being activated by the postures. I also had no option but to look at my body in the mirror to adjust into the correct form, and accept what I was seeing was the truth. That was very, very hard and a lot of scary thoughts began to surface.

When I was last attempting Bikram, in 2012, I was skirting around 50-53kg, struggling in sobriety and anorexia was still very much present. My body and mind were very sick and I just could not complete the class. On Monday I was 77.6kgs, fast approaching 2 years of sobriety and off all medication for the first time in 18 months. I completed the 26 postures and stayed an additional 5ish minutes to gather my thoughts and meditate before attempting to stand up and shower.

In an ideal situation, I'd attend every other day but this week has been crazy busy again so I haven't gone back yet. I'm not afraid to, like I was in 2012, I just physically don't have the time which frustrates me to no end, but we have to just accept these things and work with what we have....

While I'm talking about acceptance; I truly think that the most challenging part of Bikram is going to be accepting my body and the condition it is in right now. This is something I am definitely going to have to work with my CPN on; I'm very much stuck in shame and frustration which isn't exactly helpful. But I am determined to use Bikram as a recovery tool rather than just a weight-loss aid as with my previous attempts!

It's now Friday, and I've lost 2kgs (4.4lbs). I'm monitoring my calories but not actively counting them, there's no point when it's pretty automatic and has been for a long time! I'm well hydrated, drinking at least 3 litres of water a day and absolutely not restricting or cutting out food groups.

As much as I'd like to but a number on when I think I'll be more comfortable in my body I don't think that's a good strategy to have when I honestly don't know. I used to think 55kgs was my 'set point' but that may well have changed given my current situation... My point is, it's not about the number on the scale. When I feel happy, fit and have strength in my body I'll know I'm on the right track. It's just interesting to me at the moment to see how my body is reacting to this.

Before I became seriously unwell, exercise was my medication. It was successfully controlling my depression and anxiety symptoms. That is what I'm working to find again, everything else is an added bonus. I know I won't be able to return to how things were, but if Bikram can at least lessen the impact of M.E/CFS then I'll be very happy. Asking for it to be 'cured' is probably too much, but a reduction in pain and other symptoms is a pretty reasonable request.

I'm hoping next week will be less busy and I'll be able to commit more time to Bikram - and the blog!

Side note: It's my first shift at my new job today. Let's hope I don't break anything or freak out and embarrass myself. Eeeeep.

Weekend Wish List #1 : The Yoga Edition

I thought I'd bring something new to the blog for the weekends and this seemed like a perfect way to indulge my shopping urges. Being a very broke student is hell!! 

As you may or may not know, I recently got a membership with LA Fitness - they have student rates at £33 per month, which is absolutely incredible for the amount you get with it. When I was looking for a gym to join, I needed a pool and I needed classes. LA Fitness was the only one I found in Brighton to offer these facilities. I'm very happy to be 'back' into fitness but I do have to take things slow. 

At the moment I am working on my muscle weakness - seriously, I was shocked and pretty horrified at how bad the damage is since M./CFS came along - so there is mostly swimming and yoga going on in my schedule.

Here are some things I have been lusting over to help me on my 'physical recovery' journey: 

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

1. It's pretty hard to get into your poses if you're feeling super awkward about whether or not your clothes fit you properly and just generally feeling like a bloated, beached whale amongst all the toned bodies around you. Having some gorgeous leggings to practice in gives you a little extra boost I think... At £80 this is a painful price tag but they are oh so gorgeous I think I'd pay it...

2. Therabands take me back to physiotherapy and my dancing days. They are a fantastic tool for strengthening your ankles and can also be used in yoga as a little assistant should you need it. 

3. You're probably looking at this wondering who on earth is Kino? Well! Check out her YouTube channel and you'll see why I am absolutely awestruck by this lady! It was watching Kino that made me realise that yoga might just be the tool I need to get my body back. So naturally, when I saw she had some products I just had to indulge. I think it's important to have your own mat, more for a hygiene reason than anything else! 

4. I love Bikram Yoga. Having a towel mat is pretty essential for the reasons mentioned above! LA Fitness does not offer Bikram, so I go to Bikram In The Lanes when I can afford it!

5. Student poverty led me to cheap noodles and I'm kinda hooked on them. While they're not horrific in terms of calories, and I don't use the 'flavouring' sachets provided to avoid the influx of sodium, I think Slim Noodles would be a real help in losing weight.

So that's this week's wish list. Now I'm free for the summer I will be able to get back to much more classes which I'm really excited about! :) 

Are you a yoga fan? Have you used yoga to help you recover from long-term illness and recondition your body?


The Lady Boys of Bangkok and Proud Cabaret! * (picture heavy)

Let me take you back to 16th May. I was lucky enough to be invited along to a performance by The Lady Boys of Bangkok followed by dancing times at Proud Cabaret! How did we get to Proud Cabaret? On an open top double-decker bus, as you do. Our hostess was Dolly Rocket and we were accompanied by Stephen Webb and Chris Steed from Gogglebox!

The outfit took a considerable amount of time to decide on. I found two gorgeous dresses in TK Maxx and couldn't decide for ages. In the end, the 20's style of this dress called to me. I was shedding sequins the entire night, and even this far after the event I am still finding stray pieces in my study! The shoes are New Look and stockings are La Senza. For make-up; Benefit Cosmetics, Sedona Lace and and Besame.

Their tour of "Red Hot Kisses" landed in Brighton at the beginning of May and stayed for the majority of the month! I honestly didn't know what to expect going into this, but honestly, it was one of the best nights out I've ever had! My date for the night was my best friend from university and I can attest to her loving every single second of it!

The performance itself was mostly lip-synching but combined with spectacular costumes, hilarious comedy and energetic choreography, no-one cared. The star of the show for me was Ole; absolutely hilarious and owned the stage! Sak was a close second, however. A born entertainer for sure!

It takes a lot to shock me these days, but I was genuinely almost blushing through some of the performance! Lap dances, restraints and over-use of the word "pussy" during one particular song had my mind blown. I'm no prude, I just didn't expect it! If you're a guy and you're near the stage, fair warning, you may get pulled up on said stage and have your top taken off! ;)

candyfloss_011's Lady Boys Of Bangkok album on Photobucket

I left the performance with a tinge of jealousy. It made me realise just how much I miss dancing and the stage! It was absolutely amazing and I seriously recommend you go and see them! It was so, so much fun!!!! They are currently in Cardiff then heading for High Wycombe. You can see their full schedule *here*.

I have always wondered what Proud Cabaret was like. Burlesque is something of a secret obsession of mine so to finally be able to a) see where on earth this illustrious place was a b) get a feel of what it's actually like there was equally as exciting as the first part of my night!


I will absolutely be returning to Proud Cabaret to sample their supper club menu and immerse myself in some burlesque delights. I can't fight it any more. Sequins, satin, leather and corsets press all the right buttons!

Thank you to The Lady Boys of Bangkok and Proud Cabaret for such an amazing night!! 

The University Diaries : No longer a First Year, and some unexpected news!

I honestly can't believe I'm writing this. My first year as an undergraduate is over. My final exam was yesterday morning (3rd June) and I've been in a daze ever since I got back home! 


The blog has had to take a back-seat. How people manage to revise and keep up with blogging and social media I don't know. My brain doesn't have that much space. Revision and preparation for exams is unbelievably draining. It might not 'count' this year - only your results from second (40%) and third year (60%) at university go towards your degree classification - but getting it right at this stage is so important. Plus I just have this innate need to succeed/not fail.... 

I had three exams; Neuroscience and Behaviour (28th May), Biological Chemistry (2nd June) and Cell Biology (3rd June). Until the results come back on 11th July, I can't let myself think I've done enough and passed. If this first year has taught me anything, it's that even if you pour your soul into something, you probably won't get the grade you're hoping for. Between my final two exams, I had exactly 2 hours sleep. I took a practice exam paper and achieved a weak 40%. Cue panic and frantic revision. I think it paid off though, the exam itself went well. I think?! AAAAAGHHHHH!!!

The Biological Chemistry exam was brutal. We had an hour to answer 40 questions and draw two graphs. I did the graphs but couldn't answer the questions associated with one of them because it required a lot of calculation I just didn't have the time for. Naturally, this was going around my head on a cruel loop: 

I tried writing this yesterday but had to give up and lay down. Ended up passing out on the sofa from 10pm to 4am, then slept from 4.30am to 10.30am..... That's the level of tired we're working with right now! ;)

So. I am officially on summer break. I have nothing to do until September. Well.... Not exactly nothing. 

BIG NEWS: On 27th May, the day before my first exam, I went to a recruitment fair at the AMEX stadium which was being held by Sodexo - a huuuuuuuuge catering company. I had no idea what to expect, but it turned out to be a two hour(ish) interview. I had to talk to a group of about 40 people, twice, then had a 1 on 1 with my prospective manager. I had two options once I knew what was going to happen, and the palpatations and shakes were kicking in hard, either run and probably lose out on some desperately needed income, or stick it out and see what happens. It took everything I had in me to stay until the end. I was so scared, but used what few coping strategies I have to get me through. The session ended at 4pm. By 5pm I had an email saying that I had been successful - I GOT A JOB. 

I'm on a 'Zero Hour Contract' but that works perfectly for me. I can work when I feel able to and I still have my Disability Living Allowance. So what am I going to be doing over at the football stadium - my boyfriend is slightly green with envy at this... haha! - I will be on the hospitality staff looking after clients who pay for the 'boxes' around the stadium and also waitressing/front-of-house during corporate events, as the AMEX has so much space a lot of companies hold conferences there. I am on a social media lock-down so I can't really give any more details than that... My first shift is on Friday 13th. Yup. 

I don't know how I fall into these things. I really don't!!! I have yet to be rejected for a job I have applied for. Even with the 8 YEAR GAP in my CV. 

Pro Tip: If you have a huge gap in your CV like I do, then opt for a 'Skills Based' CV rather than an academic/employment one. Monster have amazing templates.

So right now I'm just resting and trying to adjust to not revising. I'm the first to finish from my friends so it feels a bit weird at the moment! I'm trying to get back onto blogging and all that stuff but my brain is really not having it. Sometimes I need reminding that I do still have M.E/CFS and I have pretty much just climbed Everest...

On that note I'm going to lay down in the dark.
Samantha Nicholls. Powered by Blogger.


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