Thursday, 15 February 2018

The Highly Sensitive Person

Good evening, saplings. 

   The last time I contributed to this blog was exactly two months ago and it strangely feels both a long and short time ago. Whenever I think about time I imagine a timeline in my head which is a year long, with the name of each month stamped on each of the twelve sections of the timeline. When I think of previous or future years I just move backwards and forwards along the series of boxes and mentally acknowledge it's a new year. The ends do not join in a loop. If I mentally zoom in, weeks appear, four in each month. If I zoom in further I situate myself on a particular day of the week, which has its own rectangular box. I also mentally dissect my days into time slots which begin at the bottom of the box and ascend, depending on the events of that day. If you want an interesting conversation, ask others how they visualise time in their minds. I remember feeling strangely humbled when I realised that, of course, there is no objective way to imagine time and that your slice of the world is really just a sliver. 

   In my particular slice, I was roaming the internet (read: obsessively Googling what the fuck is wrong with me) and I stumbled upon The Highly Sensitive Person. Before you make a snap judgement about this, or after I'm not gonna tell you what to do, this is different to "personality tests". I used to put quite a lot of weight into personality tests. Myers-Briggs, the Big Five, the Enneagram etc. you name it, I had categorised myself, and those close to me, in it. I think the reason why I did this is because I have always yearned not only to understand the psychology behind my motivations, my needs and my emotions, but to also understand those things in others. I want to know why there are things that bother me and not other people, and things that fill me with pure joy that others could not care less about. 

A Thing
before I promote the benefits of exploring the HSP scale

   I don't think I will ever come close to fully understanding these things in myself, and I will be even less successful in understanding them in other people. This is a healthy conclusion, because there are far too many complexities in our lives for there to be a complete set of personalities that everyone fits into. Actually, if we could, for a minute, please ignore the fact that I identify as a Hufflepuff, that would be great. 

   It's important that we do not attempt to squish people into boxes, even if they place themselves in that box. Someone might say they're sensitive, or insensitive, or convince you that they care or that they don't (care and sensitivity do not always necessarily coexist). It is not up to us to try and decipher the thoughts of other people, because if we put them in a box we stunt their growth or become unable to see them clearly. If, for example, we categorise someone as unreliable, we might then not give them the credit for all the times they are reliable. Adversely, we might refuse to see harmful behaviour because we have already categorised them as a someone who would never do anything like that. There are so many biological, psychological, cultural and other -als that combine to create the people that we are, and it is unhelpful to ignore the behaviours that do not fit our ideas of people and ourselves. A quote that I will always share is, "when someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time" - Maya Angelou. 

   If someone hurts you, it's easy to become embroiled in your beliefs about who they are in comparison to what they're telling you. A helpful way to navigate this is to say; "Okay, it doesn't matter if you're this type of person, you're just doing this type of thing". What matters is the pattern of behaviour, which in essence is who they are but without you having to smush them into a personality box. I read somewhere that if you tell a child they're "naughty" from a young age, they will believe that being "naughty" is who they are, and they may continue behaviours you have tried to discourage. Attributing the "naughtiness" to their actions makes it easier for them to grow from it without identifying too much with the label. This, of course, is a technique discussed in the context of talking to children, and it is important that if an adult is behaving badly towards you, it's not your job to educate them, you are allowed to move on. 

Disclaimer because I worry; this topic is so complicated and complex I always feel it's important for me to say;
- I am not a professional, anything on this blog that isn't attributed to someone else is my opinion. 

- Blogs can be really self-indulgent for the author because we're in control of the content, so keep this in mind. I'm going to tell you I'm sensitive, but this is for the benefit of understanding myself, and not me telling you how to see me. 

Now the Thing is said

   Highly Sensitive Person Self-Test; click

   For most of my life, others have described me as "sensitive", "overly/too sensitive", "delicate", and occasionally "weak", "childish" and "silly", because of my behaviour. These behaviours include;

- very easily startled (no really, I jump if someone starts talking and I wasn't expecting it).
- get very emotional if I'm hungry, cold, or physically uncomfortable in any way.
- emotionally-driven in everything.
- always stressed.
- scared of conflict
- perfectionist (this does not mean I'm perfect, it means I am never satisfied with anything I create).
- being terrified of violent images in tv programmes and films.
- cry very easily at almost anything.

   These are just a few things where I have been pulled up about being "too/overly" sensitive. When I was a very young person, I thought I was strong, unstoppable and I had so many ambitions for my life. So when people started to describe me as "too" something, and that something was associated with being weak, my whole sense of self was transformed, because everyone seemed to agree. Yes, Lauren is a sensitive child. Lauren is quiet, Lauren needs to toughen up a bit. Thankfully, my parents didn't say any of these things and they nurtured me as I was which meant that home was a safe place for my sensitivity, and still is. I just had to figure out how I was supposed to toughen up for the outside world. 

Long story short, I never "toughened" up, and the sensitive child grew up to be an even more sensitive adult. When I Googled "sensitive", this is what came up;

   Yes, the only purple link is "kid-glove" because I had to understand what that was. It literally means gloves made from baby goats and I would just like to say that is the complete opposite of what I want. 

   Dr. Elaine Aron, who lead this research into HSPs stated in a lecture that HSPs can be thought of more as "highly-responsive-people", which does not carry the negative connotations of sensitivity. HSPs can be easily offended, defensive, paranoid and neurotic, but so can everyone else. HSPs are, according to Aron's research, roughly 15-20% of the population, and we are capable of using our sensitivities to the environment for empathy or for manipulation. It is not a statement about who we definitely are, but the emotions that we experience in reaction to stimuli around us. 

   I wanted to share this because I spent a long time believing that there was something wrong with me, or that my emotions were somehow wrong. However, learning about HSPs helped me feel less alone, and less like I needed to change how I felt. I don't think it would be useful for me to repeat everything that Aron eloquently explains herself, so please do explore her website and blog. A three-part talk she gives on HSPs can be found here. Part 1 is the research, part 2 is more about living as a HSP and part 3 is like an FAQ. 

   Discovering myself in this way has helped me to take down-time when I need it, nurture my work requirements, approach conflict in my own ways and ultimately accept my feelings as real instead of wondering if there really is something wrong with me. I am happy to identify as sensitive (or a weeny, as my boyfriend affectionately calls me).

This is a call to arms (like a hug or something not like weapons and shit) to my sensitive friends. We are not abnormal, we are just not as common, and there is nothing wrong with being a highly sensitive person. Aron discusses in depth the pros and cons of feeling this way and I think that we must find ways to appreciate the good, because the world already has the bad covered.

Sleep tight lily pads. 

Friday, 15 December 2017

Worrying Means You Suffer Twice

"Worrying means you suffer twice" - Newt Scamander.

   Whatever you think of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, this quote is pretty spectacular. I love it because it humours the anxiety sufferer. It plucks "what if...?" from your brain and weaves it into an inevitable reality. The thing with anxiety, at least for me, is that it works very closely with the fear of the unknown. I'd prefer to feel pain instantly than to dwell on it, like the cliche of pulling off a plaster. The idea that "worrying means you suffer twice" implies that the thing you fear will happen. It will happen and it will hurt and you will suffer - so why suffer up until then?

   It might not sound like a good idea to imagine that the thing you are afraid of will happen. I understand that for a lot of people this kind of thinking will be impossible without panic attacks. I once convinced myself that a loved one had died because they didn't reply for a few hours, and I was checking news outlets in my area and was contemplating calling the hospital when I finally heard from them - they were having a nap. I wouldn't blame you for laughing, I laugh at it now. I think this is a good example of how most things we worry about will never become a reality.

   However, my point, which is in relation to the quote, is so what if they do become a reality? I told a counsellor recently that I was worried that x would happen. I went to continue rambling about how the thought that x would happen made me panic but she stopped me and said, "so what if it does happen? What would you do?". Even though my mind had run through approximately 101 scenarios that could occur thereafter, everything was focused on the out of control events of the situation, and not on my own agency. It was Class A Catastrophic Thinking. She didn't try to reassure me that it wouldn't happen, because anxious brains say but what if it DOES, she taught me to assume it would, figure out what would be my plan of action and then to compartmentalise this and put it away for when I need it. Just knowing that my plan is there is comforting because instead of adding to the 101 scenarios when my worry arises, I just open the compartment with my plan inside it and rehearse it until I feel comfortable that I could carry it out, and put it away again. Instead of cowering away from a perceived threat, I can say "you know what, you're not happening right now so I'm okay, but when you do I'm ready for you, gimme your best shot".

   What I wish I could do is offer specific advice, but we're complicated beings with our own set of circumstances, and I'm sorry if this does nothing to help you. If it does, that's wonderful, if it doesn't, hopefully my tips below will at least be of some comfort.

It's fair to say I've had a difficult few months, and my lack of activity here is definitely a result of that. However, I wanted to take some time here to share things with you and to sign off again for a short while whilst I spend Christmas with my loved ones (and writing all my essays).

I know that for a lot of you, what I have written above will feel frustrating. Frustrating because anxiety is an involuntary condition which is very, very difficult to control and I appreciate that fully - I know. Though I have long given up the idea of curing my anxiety, I am a strong believer that you can put up a good fight by making good choices and looking after yourself. Our mindset often makes us do terrible things for our health, maybe we deliberately hurt ourselves, or maybe we neglect our well-being because we're too frazzled to pay it any attention. The "don't worry until it happens!" advice is all too familiar and it usually feels completely unattainable.

   But I never said it wouldn't be hard work. Never write yourself off as a lost cause, because you're not. We can all achieve moments of happiness, because it isn't linear, it isn't a goal that we attain and keep. There are moments of it scattered everywhere and accepting that the bad will come will remind you to appreciate them.

To wrap up this post, like a completely not fun but practical Christmas present, I'm going to leave you with a smattering of comforting things which have helped me recently. We can't do all these things all the time, because it's hard, but I've found that looking after myself is sometimes hard work and does not come naturally.

⚘ Ambient Music
   Ambient music has long been suggested for sufferers of anxiety (and also migraines for any fellow migraineurs our there), and I personally love ambient music mixes because they don't contain any lyrics, so I can listen to them when I'm working too. My personal favourite is this Harry Potter themed one, but this channel does other film-related ones too like Lord of the Rings and stuff. I recently heard of a song called Weightless by Marconi Union which, according to a completely unreliable google img, reduces anxiety and causes drowsiness. Happy listening.

⚘ Art therapy
   If you don't draw or crochet or have a craft like I like to do, get some of those colouring books. I refuse to call them "adult" colouring books because colouring is not age-specific. Creativity and fun are not exclusive to children, and anyone who tries to tell you they are need their own colouring book.

   Additionally, you could doodle, buy a Wreck Journal, make slime, cut the pictures out of old greetings cards and magazines and cover something with them, or find out how to make crafts from old newspapers or household clutter. Having the motivation to craft something isn't easy when stressed, so having a timetable, like I mention below, may help. If you have books to read for your course, see if you can get them as an audiobook (as well as your physical copy for when you need to study) and listen to it whilst you craft.

⚘ Bed Time Routine (and morning routine) ANY ROUTINE
   Sleep deprivation or too much sleep are exacerbating factors and symptoms of mental illness. Putting technology away at least an hour before bed and reading is a great way to get your body ready for sleep. Throw in a bath and brushed teeth, taking your makeup off and getting into a made bed will also help.
Additionally, a morning routine of making the bed and brushing your teeth will also help set the tone for the day, even if you don't really feel like it.

⚘ Comfortable Clothes
   Do not wear a bra if you don't want to/don't feel it's necessary. I stopped wearing bras daily years ago and my lungs feel they can expand properly. (I appreciate that this won't be possible for everyone)
Wear what makes you comfortable both emotionally and physically. Dress up or dress down depending on what you want. There is no need to be uncomfortable at home - invest in warm, fluffy socks.

⚘ Forgive Yourself
   There is a common belief that you should forgive people in order to move on from things. Although I am not inclined to suggest that we always forgive people who hurt us, because we are allowed to protest the way we have been treated, I do think we should forgive ourselves. If you start blaming yourself, spell "S.T.O.P" in your head, and forgive your younger self, even if it's just your minute-younger self. Always try to learn, and make every mistake a new lesson.

I was watching Saving Mr. Banks with my family today and a quote which stuck with me from this film is "life is a harsh sentence to lay down for yourself".

⚘ Kindness
   Always be kind. Being anxious makes it incredibly easy to be irritable with others and want to avoid social interaction and to just hide away and be grumpy under a blanket. And you know, there's nothing wrong with this. If that's how you feel, feel it and take that time for yourself. But don't forget to reach out. There are good people in the world, no matter how many past experiences might make you worry that the opposite is true. There are people worth knowing, and people you will want to make smile. Whether it's finding the spare change for someone on the street, smiling at someone, writing someone a card or sending someone a message to catch up and ask how they are - it is all worth it.

⚘ Self - Care (personal hygiene)
    Because if we're being real, mental illness doesn't always care about brushing our teeth, washing our faces or taking showers. Push yourself to wash yourself and brush your teeth daily. Go all in and treat yourself to some body spray or perfume. Smelling good makes you feel less self-conscious if you haven't felt like washing.

⚘ Timetables
   I don't really know how to explain how I do it, but if you have a lot of shit to get done, write it all down so you can get it out of your head. I have a whiteboard in my room for long-term goals, a notebook to remember important dates, a calendar on my laptop for an electronic copy of these dates, and an app called Carrot for short term goals. Carrot gets annoyed with you if you don't be productive for a certain amount of time, and it rewards for you getting things done. You level up, and it has lead me to believe that I will get a virtual pet cat. I have essentially tricked myself into being productive for the prospect of a pet cat. Yes.

   On that note, treating yourself for being productive is a really good tactic. My genuine advice is to get up early, have a good breakfast with your preferred morning beverage, begin work at 9am, have a 20 minute break half-way through the morning, an hour for lunch and continue working until 5pm. After 5pm enjoy a meal and do what you want to do for the evening, and you hopefully can do so guilt-free because you worked during the day when you were supposed to. This routine can be difficult to get used to, but I promise it is immensely helpful if you get like me where you feel guilty for sleeping and eating instead of working. If none of this works for you, tweak it until it does - you know how you work best.

Stay safe saplings x

Sunday, 27 August 2017

Death Note 2017

Warning: spoilers | language | sexual and violent themes.
Second Warning: Rushed | Full of Sadness and Dissappointment

   Death Note, an incredibly popular manga and anime which is cherished by so many people, has been brutally and unjustly murdered at the hands of Netflix. A murder most foul. In fact, I'm completely convinced that Netflix themselves must have their own Death Note, paradoxically scribbled Death Note inside it and then watched as fans laughed and cried at the monster that is the so-awful-but-impossible-to-look-away shitshow. Literally, if you don't laugh you'll cry. Hence my painful laughter throughout the duration.

Me: 25/08/2017

   As someone who has only very recently got into watching anime, I completed watching Death Note for the first time this year. I'm still finding my feet with anime and I'm still exploring which genres I actually enjoy, but happening across Death Note was one of the best things I ever did in this area. 

   Light Yagami (a.k.a Kira), a high-achieving student who finds the Death Note reveals himself as the megalomaniac that he is, yearning to be the 'God of the New World'. The Death Note, a book which allows you to kill anyone who you write inside it, assuming you know their name and can picture their face, becomes Light's vehicle to gaining the power he desires and begins killing people that he feels deserve it, for example, serial killers etc. At first, the power of the book appears to initially startle him and the emergence of the death god Ryuk is even more unsettling. However, it doesn't take long for Light to settle fully into his role as judge, jury and executioner before Ryuk has a chance to say a thing. In fact, Ryuk is very much surprised by how many names that Light has already entered into the notebook by the time they meet. Furthermore, though the appearance of Ryuk is concerning for Light, he already works out that a god of death will emerge and prepares for imminent death by noting down as many names as he can.

   In the new and significantly worse version, Light Turner (yes) finds the Death Note and almost immediately comes into contact with both Misa Misa, oh sorry, Mia and Ryuk. Ryuk has to convince Light to use the book after scaring him to death (ha) and instead of the impactful scene where Light Yagami saves a young woman from a gang of men attempting to commit sexual violence against her, Light Turner murders a high school bully. I mean, Light Yagami killed people for murder, and, eventually, for getting in his way. This is morally wrong enough, but Light Turner killing another kid for bullying completely ruins the washed up mentality that Light Yagami thought he was doing something good. I think that the extreme example makes it impossible for us to believe that he thinks he's treading the fine line of morality for the greater good instead of just murdering someone you don't like very much. Light Turner is not the mad genius that Light Yagami is portrayed to be, Light Turner shows no intellectual strength aside from doing other students' homework, which is nothing special if you're comparing the two Lights. Ryuk turns up to Light Turner's complete surprise and essentially tells him to murder the bully after Turner says "nah". This is not the power-hungry, psychopath that we all know and love to hate. 

   The complete and utter stupidity of Light Turner only intensifies when he sits in the school gym reading the rules of the Death Note. In public. At school. When Mia sits beside him and asks what he's reading, 
  Mia: "Death Note? What is it?"

  Light Turner: "What is what?" 

You absolute master of deception, Light. She will never suspect that what you're holding is sinister when it's called freaking 'Death Note' and you're pretending you don't know what she's talking about, 

Light Turner: "Uhhh I can't tell you"
Mia: "Okay :)"
Light Turner: *LEANS IN CLOSE* "You really wanna know?"

   Light Turner, you idiot.
   Light Yagami despises Misa Misa. He constantly tries to avoid her and is annoyed that she attempts to be a second killer with her copy of the Death Note. He emotionally manipulates her because she's in love with him and ensures she does everything he wants in exchange for making her believe he loves her too. Light Yagami is a calculated, cold murderer who uses everyone around him to his advantage - this is what makes him such an interesting and incredibly scary character. 

   Light Turner spends the film running around in pure terror and playing Kill, Bang, Popcorn with Mia. who is far more frightening than Light considering she appears incredibly interested in the death of others from the beginning. She blackmails him by writing his name in the note (claiming she will burn it, thus undoing the death, if he gives her the book) and even remarks "you're not crazy enough". I don't know about anyone else, but I think I'm pretty done with the romanticised fucked-up-girl cliche.  Whilst the anime still seemed to perpetuate this, Light Yagami didn't skip around with Misa Misa, going to her prom and pissing about with top hats. He actually put extensive thought into concealing the notebook, ensuring their connection be kept secret and remaining undetectable by insisting they are not seen together. The story was about the large-scale plans that Light had for the world and the pedestal on which he was trying to place himself by killing all of those he felt were unworthy of life. Light Turner's plans begin by taking revenge on the man who killed his mother (come on, are we really going to try and make him relatable instead of having a god-complex?) and extend merely to trying to keep what he's doing a secret and appeasing Mia, who really seems to be the one trying to cover their tracks by killing people who can be traced to them. Light Turner is sloppy and we are completely shut out from any internal thought processes he might be having, unlike with Light Yagami whose intellect is portrayed as Sherlock-esque. He even ends up confessing everything to his Dad in a completely anti-climactic ending, who in the anime he goes to great lengths to keep in the dark about his true nature. Luckily for Turner, his nemesis has also been dumbed down, or else he would have been caught immediately. 

   For those of you who haven't seen the original Death Note, or read the manga, you will be wondering who tries to stop Light. This is L.

   L is an incredibly intelligent, though unusual, character who has been known to crack the hardest criminal cases on record. He likes cake, sweets and ice cream and almost always sits in a crouched position with his knees brought up to his chest - he claims he can think better this way. He also has an adorable way of holding things by the corners with his thumb and index finger. In any case, this all seems to remain true in the remake and when he was first introduced I actually liked his character. I felt a tiny short-lived feeling of relief that they hadn't entirely messed everyone up. Then, sadly, the film continued on. Originally, L was calm, thoughtful, mysterious and you always felt that he would always know exactly what to do in each situation. He skillfully traps Light Yagami into revealing he is from Japan and taunts him endlessly in order to find out his identity. Their mind games with each other are thrilling and suspenseful to watch and you find yourself completely immersed in their metaphorical game of chess. The same effect is attempted in the film and falls completely flat because L is frantically calling his colleagues to check they are still alive and is almost always trembling, shaking, sweating and darting his eyes around nervously. I'm not saying that this isn't normal for someone in his position, but he does not comfort the watcher in the same way the anime L does. Even though we find that L does have emotional depth, his live-action counterpart is significantly less strange and does not seem to struggle half as much socially that the original L does. I would also like to note my disappointment that live-action L betrays his nature by threatening to use a gun in anger after engaging in a panicked chase after Light. This is can be put down to personal opinion, but I prefer put-together L who always has another trick up his sleeve. 

   Overall, Death Note (2017) was painful to watch and there are so many infinite reasons that it would be truly impossible to explain each issue without creating a post so much larger than this one. However there are some things I would like to point out. By now, most of you will understand that the majority of the original characters were Japanese. At first, I was accepting of the fact that this version would not take place in Japan and that everything would be very, very American. You'd be right in assuming the start of the film features cheerleaders and American football. However, truthfully, I can't really happily accept it. Again, perhaps a personal preference but I would have preferred that Light remain as Yagami and that he was a Japanese student. I'm upset that L was not shown to outfox Light by only broadcasting his trap in Japan in order to bait him into acting. I'm upset that elements of Japanese culture such as Shinigami did not receive the representation they deserved. 

Seeing as an emotive and wonderful series was squeezed into a film, I'd like to take this time to say RIP to all the characters who didn't make it to the live-action. You were missed. 

   My good friend Nathan managed to sum up our collective pain in one brilliant sentence;

"They turned it from a smart, complex drama into a needlessly violent and mediocre thriller and turned Light and L's intricate battle of wits into a cliche revenge story"
- Nathan W. 2017 

   The film was a disaster and the only consolation was the shrieking laughter every time Light ran into a locker or slid over a car bonnet. However, they did get one thing right; Willem Dafoe was a really good choice for the voice of Ryuk. 

Look after yourselves lilypads, 

Lauren Newman a.k.a shrInking violet

Tuesday, 1 August 2017

Self Worth

Img (c) Lauren Newman
Do not use pls and thank you
Hey tulips,

I haven't blogged "properly" in a while. The reason I use "properly" is because I haven't really zeroed in on a subject for a long time. I miss it. I had initially thought that the summer holiday would mean that I'd be blogging daily, however, I hadn't factored in how busy I would be and that the reason why I'm constantly on my computer during the academic year is because of assignments, reading and research. I will admit that blogging was a very satisfying form of procrastination because it is somewhat productive.

The topic I want to tackle today is mainly about self worth, but also about insecurity, jealousy, body image and relationships we have with others. It's not a secret that many of us struggle with our worth as a human being, and that these worries about ourselves tend to show themselves regarding our appearances and character.

Throughout my life, I have had issues accepting my body and my general appearance. I have completely loathed my body, thought of myself as ugly and repulsive and spent many long days wishing that I looked like someone else. Sadly, these feelings will be all too familiar for many of you. As someone who can proudly say that they have made a lot of progress in this area of my life, I want to offer some words of wisdom that I use on myself and hopefully they may help others as much as they help me.

1.) Try not to base your self worth on the opinions of others.

Now, I'm not saying that in order to do this you need to become completely emotionless and no longer care about what people think of you. I, like many others, am a sensitive person and a people-pleaser. I admit unashamedly to wanting people to like me and caring about what kind of person they think I am. In my unprofessional opinion, it is perfectly human behaviour to enjoy positive feedback from other humans. However, the difference for me now is how I respond to that feedback. I do not allow others to define my identity or worth, no matter if their opinion is good or bad.

Basing your self worth and confidence on what others think may work perfectly for you if you have a steady stream of praise and admiration showered on you each day, for whatever reason. I'm not telling you that you should not enjoy this and absorb it and allow it to boost your confidence and happiness. However, the danger of this is if it stops. If, for whatever reason, you begin to receive less and less attention until eventually you are left with nothing at all, what do you do? If you cannot emotionally support yourself and give yourself a sense of worth, you are surrendering your identity and sense of self to others. In my opinion, this isn't a healthy way to live. Furthermore, what if the feedback suddenly becomes incredibly negative? If you allow others to define your worth, you may also absorb the bad just as intensely as the good and begin to believe any horrible thing that is said about you. This will chip away at your self esteem and make you feel awful.

When I was young (warning: more highly subjective background info from Lauren), I always placed my worth in the hands, or words, of others. I internalised every single time I was called ugly and worthless and by the time I was in my early teens I truly believed that I was repulsive to look at. However, my achievement in school had been good and teachers had always commented on my good behaviour and conscientiousness. I took this and ran with it into high school, and into relationships as well. Again, still fully believing in the power of others' opinions, I began to absorb the bad grades I achieved due to illness and low attendance. I also accepted the negative and cruel criticisms about my nature from a boyfriend at the time. Despite grasping ferociously onto this person who contradicted others by describing me as "beautiful" I also became "lazy", "childish" and incapable of doing anything right without him, in his words. My issue became that instead of building my own self worth, I focused entirely on what others thought about me and very easily accepted their observations as truth. I would offer myself up to others as being passive, scatterbrained, incompetent and only worth something if I was helping others achieve their happiness.

Additionally, even if someone is being nice about you, that doesn't mean you have to adhere to their opinion of you still. For example, if someone describes you as "nice" and "quiet" and "agreeable", this doesn't mean that you are not allowed to describe yourself as other things that perhaps might contradict these meanings.

Learn to accept that others can form opinions of you without you using it to collage your identity.
This is not a linear process. It is long and difficult and not without many bad days. You are trying to rewire your way of thinking, which, I'm afraid, is a large task to undertake, though very much worth the results.

Disclaimer: Sometimes we, as people, make mistakes. Sometimes we treat others wrongly or hurt their feelings. Sometimes we need to do better in education or work. Listening to constructive criticism can be really good for us and it helps us to improve as human beings. We must remember to process criticism from others and try to assess how and why they are criticising us. If your lecturer asks you to try and apply more critical reading or restructure an essay, don't scream "I AM TOO WORTHY FOR YOUR PROJECTIONS ON MY CHARACTER". This is an extreme example, but I think you get what I'm trying to say. Generally, the difference between constructive criticism and unnecessary, hurtful criticism will be obvious but it isn't always, which is why I feel the need to point this out.

2.) Your boyfriend, girlfriend, sexual partner etc. are included in "other people's opinions".

I know that it is wonderful when we find an exciting human that we love and everything feels magical. You see that person entirely through rose-tinted spectacles and everything they say and do will be impossible to not freak out over. However, just because you love or like or admire someone does not mean that you should allow your identity to be swamped by theirs. You are an individual, not so-and-so's boyfriend/girlfriend/etc. and you should never need to shrink to make room for them. Whenever I have felt low about my appearance, my boyfriend's reassurance that he finds me beautiful is nice and always appreciated, but it isn't the antidote to low self worth. It doesn't change the way I see myself. I have had to do this for myself, though having someone who doesn't feed you negative things is always a huge help, it's important that we can still feel positive about ourselves, even when others are not expressing positivity about us.

It is great to feel weak at the knees when your significant other tells you how they feel about you - believe me I do - but we should still be our full selves if they were to suddenly leave. The whole idea of "I can't live without you" might be very romantic, but do we really want people we love to be so unhappy with themselves that they need others to feel worth something? I certainly don't want that. The idea that my boyfriend could have happily lived without me, and I him, makes our relationship all the more special. It is a choice, not a need. Obviously, I'm not saying that it's okay for your partner to say "I'd honestly be really happy if you weren't here" and it's normal that we feel like we've lost a limb when we lose someone we love. I just mean that you need not feel that you are half of a person or not worth being described as a whole person without someone else. A partner who loves and cares about you should want you to feel whole.

3.) Stop comparing yourself to others - no really. Stop. It.

The mere existence of other women seemed to be the sole cause of my insecurity for a long time. I hated seeing beautiful women and I came to resent them. I allowed my fear of being judged and my shattered self-worth to make me shrink away from supporting fellow women and enjoying their beauty and self-appreciation. Many friends I have spoken to have felt exactly the same way, and I realised it's not uncommon. This is one of the first things I worked on changing and I now feel a swell of happiness seeing others feel comfortable and beautiful in their own skin. Genuinely feeling this way feels good and healthy, but it's understandably incredibly difficult to get there if you don't have a certain level of self worth. Once you are able to begin lifting yourself up, this aspect of the problem does get easier. Especially when you talk to women you were jealous of and realise that they have felt exactly the same way - which by the way is sad and not something we should enjoy, but rather just take comfort in that we are all human and all affected by the same feelings.

 Never have I ever wanted to change the way I look merely because of my features themselves. I wanted to change the way I looked in favour of something else that someone else had.
Hated my bumpy nose? It's because I wanted a slim, ski-jump one.
Hated my eyes for their hooded lids? Only because I wanted bright and open eyes.
Hated my love handles? I wanted a slim figure.

Never once did I want to be rid of my bumpy nose, hooded lids or love handles because there was something wrong with them inherently. I just wanted something different. Once I stopped comparing myself and enjoyed myself for what I am, not wanting to change became much easier. I'm not saying I'm converted and never wish I could change something about myself, but it's a process that is helping me not to plunge into a pit of self loathing. I know that I am in a better place now because I genuinely really love my love handles and have embraced my nose and my eyes as part of me. There is nothing cocky or self-absorbed about allowing yourself to be happy with the way you look, by the way.

Conventional beauty standards are not the only way to be beautiful and I beg of you to ignore the vile rating system. You are not a 2/10, 5/10, 7/10 or a 10/10. You are a complex human being and your purpose is not for others to find you attractive.

4.) Your appearance is only as important as you make it. Be what you want to be. 

Okay, so as cliché as this might sound, you can be whoever you want.

Make up and selfies: If you want to dress up every day, do a full face of make up and post 3038947 selfies and it makes you happy, then by all means do it. However, if you're only doing this to "keep up" with others, which is something I have considered doing; don't. There is a lot to be said for the idea that people will judge you regardless of what you do, so just be yourself. At one time, I would not leave the house without makeup because I felt ugly without it. Now I've realised that the only reason I did that was because I thought other people thought that, and now I only wear it when I feel like wearing it. Adversely, don't let other people stop you from wearing it.

Fashion and identity: When I wear clothes that I like, I'm wearing them because I feel good in them. I don't care if other people don't like them, I don't care if it's on trend or if it isn't. Being "cool" is a completely subjective term. Dress to please yourself.

You are not just your skin: Again, this is cliché but you have an inside as well as an outside. The only time we see ourselves is when we look in the mirror, but we live inside our minds 24/7. Being beautiful is not more important than living your life, experiencing things, loving and being loved, getting an education, working, reading, having fun and ultimately your health and wellbeing. One thing commonly said by older people is "I can't believe I ever thought I was ugly when I was young". Being concerned about how you look will get in the way of enjoying life.
I will end this point on one of my favourite quotes of all time;

(c) Roald Dahl
Illustrations (c) Quentin Blake 

5.) Thin" and "beautiful" are not synonyms. "Fat" and "beautiful" are not mutually exclusive concepts.

I could now immediately launch into my thoughts on fat shaming, but that is definitely a topic for another time (or this section would be a huge wall of text). All I will say is that fat is not an insult, thin is not a compliment and they are just two of many body types. If someone uses these terms as such, remember that you don't need to agree, you are allowed to disregard it instead of internalising it. This is difficult when it's often ingrained in us after years of hearing it, but thinking about it in this way and discussing it helps to disentangle it from our self worth.

Tips on achieving some healthy mindsets:

- If someone compliments you, try your best not to reject it. Say thank you, and perhaps try and return a genuine compliment. I've got into the habit of when my boyfriend says "you're beautiful", I'll say "yeah I am, and so are you".

- If someone insults you or says something hurtful, remember that you do not need to gather their words and pin them on your chest. You can leave them behind, they are not you.

- If you berate yourself, stop and say out loud; "no, I am worth something. I am worth more than I think I am and I do not deserve to have horrible things said about me, especially not from myself". This might seem strange and weird but it genuinely helps to say it out loud.

- Stand in the mirror every day and pick out three things you like about your appearance. Then tell yourself you are great. Repeat with things about your character.

- If you can't stop comparing yourself to others, delete apps that may potentially mean that you're being exposed to the people you might possibly be comparing yourself t-- Delete Instagram. That's what I'm basically trying to say. Delete the app that studies have shown to be the worst for mental health until you are healthily able to view Instagram models without holding yourself to that standard. I'm being dead serious. Working on myself in this way means that now I can see Instagram models, think "oh nice" and sit there quite happily without a single wish to change anything about my body. Sometimes, usually once a month, I have blips and see someone pretty and completely degrade myself. The important thing is I can recognise that it was just a lapse and that I look the way I look and that I'm happy with that. Furthermore, I'm happy to see that person feeling confident and beautiful. You just have to keep reinforcing. If you don't want to delete Instagram, unfollow people that trigger your insecurities and avoid the search tab. This is not a long term solution, just temporary whilst you are healing.

- Try to avoid the "fake it until you make it" approach in trying to appear cocky and self assured. You don't need to prove anything to anyone because this is not about what other people think. This is about how you feel for your own happiness and health.

- Kindness costs nothing - liking yourself is a lot easier when you're kinder to others but also to yourself as well.

- Treat yourself and others like Aibileen Clark treats Mae Mobley from The Help (2009, Kathryn Stockett)

(c) DreamWorks Pictures, Reliance Entertainment, Participant Media, Image Nation, 1492 Pictures, Harbinger Pictures

Everything expressed in this post is my opinion. I do not have any qualifications pertaining to this subject and it is entirely just things that have helped me - the case may be very different for many of you. 
Take care tulips, 
Lauren Newman a.k.a shrInking violet

Sunday, 23 July 2017

The Highlands

Afternoon thistles,

Photography (c) John McFarland

A few weeks ago, my family, boyfriend and I went on an adventure to Scotland, more specifically, Fettercairn, Aberdeen and Edinburgh. Not only was it wonderful because I got to see a panda in real life, but I also met up with a couple of friends who I hadn't seen for two years. You made the entire holiday completely unforgettable and I loved seeing you guys again <3 We played mini golf, went on some rides which me and Bridie found horrifying and visited the cafe where J.K Rowling thought up Harry Potter. We also wandered around Edinburgh listening to bagpipes, buying shortbread and admiring the surprisingly varied collections of tartan.

Gingers ft. Michael
(Please do not take/edit the photo unless you're gonna put little hearts all over it)

Another great thing about being in Scotland is that everywhere is beautiful and I felt very inspired to paint and draw whilst I was there. Sadly, I was so busy that I didn't get to paint any landscapes like I was hoping, but on a particularly quiet day I did some practice drawing. Personally, I very much prefer it to a landscape;
(c) Lauren Newman do not take it please.

As usual, this post is an amalgam of things, which is normally what I prefer, and I want this section to be dedicated to John. Quite frankly, so many people find themselves in relationships which do not help them grow, lie stagnant and, more seriously, cause damage. I was one of these people who found themselves in a very damaging relationship and feel that it has changed me irreversibly for the rest of my life. However, shortly after meeting John, my world suddenly became less painful and fearful and I felt I could truly grow. This person encourages me every single day and has shown me that I can be in love and keep my freedom and individuality. No matter what happens, I will always be so glad that he came into my life and supported me whilst I rebuilt my self-worth and confidence. 

There is lot more I want to talk about soon, but I think it would be better if I posted separately in the spirit of not uploading walls of text.

On that short note, take care seedlings, 

Lauren Newman a.k.a shrInking violet

Tuesday, 27 June 2017

Fifty Shades of Vampires.

Evening willows,

As someone who often becomes physically and emotionally overwhelmed by day-to-day life, taking some much needed time for myself is always welcome. I spent the day alone today, so not only did I get to relax, but I also finished Death Note, an anime I have been watching, and I finished a drawing as well. Quick note to any anime fans (not a death one, though), if you're interested in Death Note, I would advise not Googling anything and simply going and watching it. It's a really good anime, despite me having some qualms with it in places, and I highly recommend it. 

Before we head on to the main topic of this post, I will discuss a couple of other things I did today that weren't so relaxing. 

Trigger warnings for sexual themes, with f-bombs to match, and mentions of abuse/rape. 

Firstly, I wasted two hours watching Fifty Shades of Grey. Anyone who knows me will know that I have not read any more than a few pages of the books, and don't particularly hold them in very high regard, so what possessed me I will never know. SPOILER ALERT; I spent two hours watching a film about a millionaire introducing a startlingly innocent 21-year-old, who seems to have gone through life without being encountered by the existence of butt plugs, to his sex dungeon. Plausible, you say? Okay, fair enough. Not everyone gets more than their daily dose of the Internet so I can get behind it (haha). There are some pretty special gems in there though that I've extracted just for you;

- After Anastasia Steele repeatedly questions Christian Grey about why he doesn't want her to touch him, he dramatically crouches over the windowsill and whispers "Because I'm 50 shades of fucked up" which, I will admit, is where I lost it. The film had an average chance at being taken seriously to begin with, but I could not get past that line. I'd laugh all the way through if it wasn't so concerning. 
On that note, does anybody else find it uncomfortable that the story seems to equate experience of childhood abuse to being a BDSM practitioner? No? Not to mention that the relationship shared by Christian Grey and Anastasia Steele is not reflective of BDSM relationships, but of abuse and rape. 

-  Christian spends a decent amount of time trying to convince Anastasia that his playroom is worth compromising for, that she should sign a contract and become his sex slave. He insists that she considers it. 
Anastasia: "Will we still go out to dinner, and movies...?"
Christian: "That's not really my thing."
What the hell, Christian? 

- Christian: "If you were mine you wouldn't be able to sit down for a week"
This alone might be enough to make you cringe, but I expected this kind of thing. What I didn't expect was that he would randomly rip his shirt off, crawl across the bed and TAKE A BITE OF HER FRICKING TOAST. I don't know about anyone else, but that'd be me screaming the safe word. 

- Christian: "my playroom"
Anastasia: "like your Xbox and stuff?"

If you want more hilarious and also shocking examples of this painful series please do read a wonderfully cutting post here; Grey: 32 creepy extracts that prove Christian Grey is the worst

Not that anything can really top my disastrous film-watching experience but I randomly decided to make these Watermelon & strawberry slushies today. Tasted nice but, in short, I am never deseeding a watermelon ever again.

Finally, we are onto the subject of vampires. Whilst watching the dreaded Fifty Shades of Grey, I was thinking about how it started off as a Twilight fan-fiction. As the two ventured into a misty forest, oh-so-Twilight-esque, I was wondering why Stephenie Meyer made it so that vampires sparkled in the sunlight. I believe it's explained through the fact that their skin is marbly, hard and smooth, and I started to think more about how I would write about vampires. My first question was why are vampires always predominantly humanoid? despite their transformations into bats and such. I was wondering if our often romantisised and sexualised portrayal of them was to blame; wouldn't want to make it too weird right? Just a slight sense of necrophilia should do it. After doing some skin-deep research, it was immediately obvious that vampires were originally undead individuals, of course, so naturally they're sort of human-ish. I did find that little extra information I was after when noting legends of chupacabras, who were said to primarily feast on goats. I enjoyed this fact simply because of my representation of a vampire;

So I've managed to create a somewhat cute version of a chupacabra that unintentionally resembles the very thing it's meant to suck the blood from, though the head is significantly more canine. My idea was that, behind the cheek-pouches, there are long, black teeth which extract the blood and deposit it in the cheeks. The blood then transfers into the body through the throat and is stored in the tail. The image was created using my Pigma Micron liner set and, my absolute favourite medium, my Winsor & Newton bullet tip/chisel tip markers. It feels so nice to feel my way into art again. Next time I hope to share last year's Inktober! 

For now, sweet dreams saplings, 

Lauren Newman a.k.a shrInking violet

Read more:

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Love Yourself

Evening petals,

Where do I begin? 

Whilst the world was going mad for the 2298372934th time, because that's all it ever seems to be doing, I spent the week in Totnes in a pretty holiday cottage with very little wi-fi. Personally, I could deal with unreliable Internet because we were so busy but I felt it worth mentioning to account for the fact I have been missing a lot of news. Whilst I have been missing a lot of news, I was getting sunburnt, eating a lot of ice cream, paddling in the sea and also spending a lot of time with my two-year-old niece (is actually my boyfriend's niece but I've acquired the title of "Uncy Lauren"). I also celebrated my two-year anniversary with my boyfriend last week, which was lovely. We're not a very post-it-online kind of couple, but I'm mentioning it here because I want to. Thank you for everything.

Personal catch-ups aside, as I did say I would stop doing those for entire posts, I would like to talk about watercolour painting. I have recently made my first three attempts at watercolour paintings and, let me tell you right now, it is not as easy as YouTubers make it look. I was warned many times about the difficulties regarding technique and such, but I was very optimistic and tried my hand at it anyway. The word "can't" is definitely in my dictionary, but I try not to use it and feel disappointed if I do.

So, firstly I decided that the image was going to be a happy one. After all, I needed a suitable mood to match my enthusiasm for my new project. Next, I slathered my desk in an old copy of The Guardian (though I did wish I could have pilfered someone's Daily Mail in the hopes of giving Piers Morgan a little Pride flag and a 'snowflake' graphic t-shirt), then I clunked an old glass of tap water on a "Sweet 16" cork coaster I had for one of my birthdays (no prizes for guessing which one) and rummaged around for my paints. I've had these paints for several years and they are beautiful. The watercolours are in their own little white boxes with their wonderful colour names printed on the side such as 'viridian', 'burnt sienna' and 'ultramarine'. Each of these boxes sit in neat rows in a larger white case with the Winsor and Newton logo on the front. My grandma bought me these when I was young, as she is an artist herself, and I'm so glad that I'm finally getting to use them properly. Next, I set out my brushes; my Winsor and Newton Cotman set (which I did not pay that astronomical price for - go to Amazon) and some Frisk masking brushes. I also used the Royal & Langnickel Watercolour Artist Pad which I had seen used successfully in other artist's' work. Although any paper that claims to be for watercolours is fine, you get what you pay for so do expect some potential negative effects if you go down the cheap road like I did. Negative effects means, mainly, warping of the paper when loading it up with water and ultimately having little balls of paper accumulate on what should be a smooth coat of paint.

For sketching, I initially used a plain old HB pencil but I went over it with a brown Brunel and Franklin watercolour pencil, which I could only seem to find a link for at b&m for some reason. Then I lightly brushed over the sketch with an eraser which left the brown marks, which I went over again in the same brown. My hopes for using a watercolour pencil was that it would blend in when I started to apply the paint, which it kinda did. Next, I decided that I would tackle masking fluid for the first time. Although it looked pretty simple when done online, darn those YouTubers, it was an absolute shambles when I started slapping it down on my page. I don't know if it was the quality of the paper or if I had spread it in far-too-thick globs, but the end result was ripping off much of the top layer of paper with the brown pencil attached. I used, what I deem to be, a good quality masking fluid (Winsor and Newton again) so I can only conclude that practice must make perfect. I was a bit put off by the eggy white-yellow colour at first, but it did go tacky and pull away quite satisfyingly without any discolouration, so I think I will wait until I have a higher quality pad. If anyone has any tips, it'll be much appreciated. Anyway, after I had masked the outlines of the sketch, washed the background a 'cadmium yellow', and rubbed away most of my poor outline, I redrew the brown lines and used a small end-of-pencil eraser to get rid of the frilled, jagged paper that had been torn away. After this, I happily blocked in the base colours, waited for it to dry and added shading in darker colours. Part of my issue with watercolours is that it requires a lot of patience. You must wait for the previous layer to dry before adding another or you will basically ruin the painting. I find the concept of patience quite easy until it comes to art, and then my brain is rapidly rendering the image I want and urging my hand to make it happen instantaneously. However, I did manage to do some waiting this time and didn't waterlog the page too much.

Finally, after being satisfied with the colouring, I moved onto the outline. Originally I was going to have no outline and allow the blended brown pencil to remain as the only visible lines. However, this didn't prove to be a good idea considering the mess that was the masking fluid and the blurriness there was once I'd applied water: I have a soft spot for sharp, crisp lines. I had initially been lining with a very fine brush and a shade of black called 'hook' but I found I couldn't quite get the right consistency and it was fluctuating between being grainy and dry or translucent and difficult to keep control over. This is when I decided to use my beautiful Pigma Micron liners. I own a set which contains Sakura Pigma Microns with sizes that range from 0.05 to 0.8 and an extra brush pen, which I adore. I began by lining the entire image with the 0.05, the smallest of the pens with a minute nib. This looked okay, but I didn't want the lines to be a monotonous thickness so I added thicker areas with the 0.8, which admittedly makes up most of the lines. I then began to taper out the thicker lines with the 0.05 on parts such as folds in the clothing and facial features, which I like to keep quite thin and sharp. Finally, I added in some pupils, which were originally a more saturated version of "cadmium yellow" which didn't pop enough for my liking, and scribbled my name and the year.

If you're still here at this point, I am deeply sorry for the piece of artwork you're about to see. I usually prefer using markers and pens, so watercolour is really out of my comfort zone. Therefore, I did something incredibly simplistic, though still undeniably my style despite a new medium. There's some warping and bleeding of the colour, but overall it's not a bad attempt. I think I'll stick to my favourite markers and pens for the most part though!

Oh, also she's a pastel princess alien who doesn't give a damn, frankly.

Love yourselves,

Lauren Newman a.k.a shrInking violet