9 Sep 2018

My Graduation

One month ago I finally adorned myself in cap and cloak and took a stroll up the aisle of my university’s University Hall building in order to pick up my degree certificate. I say 'finally' because - as a result of both the physical and mental health concerns that have followed me around through the breadth of my education - this occasion had been a long time coming. And despite feeling admittedly self-conscious as a 26-year old graduate, I couldn't be happier that I finally made it.

The day before my graduation, my mum, my grandmother and I travelled up to Nottingham from London. Late in the afternoon we checked into our hotel - which we would be spending two nights in - and went into town for a light dinner. Our restaurant of choice for my pre-grad meal was George’s British Kitchen. I had never been there before and was glad I finally had the chance, as the food was great. I had the Chicken Goujons plus The Green as my drink.

The next morning I woke up an hour and a half before our 7.40 am cab was to arrive, in an attempt to make myself look my best for all the inevitable graduation photos. This ended up proving difficult, as the lighting in the hotel clearly wasn’t made for putting on makeup. But despite the slight getting ready fail, I still felt good in my dusty pink dress with cut out sides that I had purchased from ASOS a few weeks prior.

When we arrived at the university there was a lot of to-ing and fro-ing as I collected all the relevant documents and clothing in order to be all set for the ceremony. My favourite part of the prep was going through what felt like a conveyor belt system, which involved me walking through two corridors and a large room by myself (my mum attempted to come with me for this step of prep, but family weren't allowed in), and then emerging out the other side fully dressed in my graduation gown and cap. (I may have lied slightly at the start of the blog when I said I adorned myself -  graduands were actually swiftly dressed by an array of helpers, who made sure our gowns, hoods and caps were on correctly).

Then - after a bit of relaxing and time-killing in the courtyard - came time for the ceremony. Graduands and family members made their way through the courtyard and across the road to the building where the ceremony was to be held. At the door, I was made to separate from my family once again as I was directed to walk upstairs to the gallery where all the anxious graduates-to-be were waiting, whilst my mum and grandmother made their way to the seating area below us.

Once everyone had settled, I was mildly horrified to learn that I would be amongst the first people to go up to graduate. I had already figured I would be on pretty early, if the ceremony was to be conducted alphabetically. But only when me and a group of others were ushered downstairs and then coordinated by various people who were allocated in different parts of the venue -  hushedly pointing us in the right direction until we were finally in front of the stage - did I realise just how ‘early’ I actually would be.

There were only two people in front of me.

And as the two others were making their way across stage I was already being propelled forward, giving me no chance to compose myself or take note of what the other two were actually doing when onstage, but giving me just enough time to realise how underprepared I actually was. This lack of preparation ended up showed itself when a. As I went up I looked confused as to why my qualifications weren’t read out loud, as they were for the two before me (I realized shortly afterwards that this was only done before groups rather than individuals). And b. I had no idea where the camera was. In fact, I’m not sure I knew there was one. That is, until I noted that after the chancellor shook my hand he paused in frame, turned and smiled into seeming oblivion. This resulted in an official graduation photo where I’m smiling into the vague distance whilst the chancellor smiles directly into the camera.

What came afterwards was a bit of a blur. I can’t even remember who handed me my certificate, but I do remember many congratulations as I went up to my seat again. The last part of the ceremony involved all the new graduates exiting the venue by walking through the crowd downstairs as they applauded. Outside the building there was also a recessional to walk through, as well as a band playing whilst we made our way back to the main building. These elements were a nice surprise. And I say surprise, as I had thought the ceremony was over once I had received my certificate. Ans so I had discarded my hat right away, only to find myself holding it on my head awkwardly whilst walking out and through the recessional, as I couldn’t figure out how to put it back on at such short notice.

After the recessional I reunited with my family. And then came the celebrations. This included prosecco, canapes and live music (and of course lots of picture taking).

And with one last goodbye to the campus (and most notably to the library, which I took my mum on a quick tour of) it was back to the hotel to get ready for our celebratory meal of the day; an early dinner at The Calcutta Club, where I indulged in the Classic Tandoori Chicken.

Then to close the night - despite being full of great Indian food - we made our final return to the hotel to feast on the red velvet graduation cake my mum had thoughtfully surprised me with (which she had bought from West Bridgeford’s Strawberry Cupcakes). And then finally the next morning, after a relaxed brunch at the hotel, we said our goodbyes to Nottingham, before heading back to London by train.

Despite some preconceived anxieties regarding the event, I really enjoyed my graduation. It was great to spend some time basking in the reminder that -  in spite of many pitfalls -  my hard work and perseverance had paid off.

I also loved being able to spend the occasion with my closest family members, whom it also felt great to indulge in somewhat of a mini trip out of London with (this was especially momentous as my grandmother hadn’t left the city for decades).

The ceremony itself also had been very lovely and well organized, and it was great to share the experience with my former course mates as well as university lecturers and staff. Thank you Nottingham Trent University.

Thanks so much to Rhys The Photographer for the amazing photos!

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13 Aug 2018

bakerdays Letterbox Cake

Earlier this month, I received one of the best things a girl like me could hope to receive through the post. Cake. More specifically, a 'letterbox cake', which, as you may have already guessed, is a cake that is delivered through your letterbox.

A couple weeks prior, bakerdays had gotten in touch with me, kindly offering me one of these letterbox cakes in exchange for a review. And as my graduation was coming up, I opted for a graduation themed one. I was given the choice of either choosing a design from their huge online range - which covered every occasion imaginable - or leaving the decision process in their hands and getting it custom made. I thought to add an element of surprise to the cake and opted for the latter, giving them only vague instructions regarding theme and colour scheme. They also let me choose between either a chocolate, vanilla or red velvet cake. I went for vanilla, as for a while I had been nursing a craving for a traditional birthday cake, and figured an iced vanilla cake would satiate that craving nicely!

And here the cake was.

The cake arrived in a small cardboard package, just the right size to fit through the average letterbox. Inside the package I found a cutely designed tin, complete with air holes in the lid. And within the tin lay the cake; fully intact and covered, and easy to retrieve by use of a little paper lever, attached to the paper the cake lay on.

The cake itself looked adorable. The design they had gone for was both pretty and demure. Though petite, the cake was actually bigger than I had expected. I hadn't been sure that a substantially sized cake could find its way through a letterbox. But once in front of me, the cake looked more significant in size than the measurement of 5 inches had conjured up in my mind. And it went on to be able to serve me - more than once - as well as a couple of my family members.

The first thing I noticed upon excitedly trying the cake was that it tasted very fresh. And this was even after having left it for a few days, to later enjoy on my cheat day (or cheat weekend, even). The cake is said to be good for two weeks after arrival, and I can believe it.

As the letterbox cake is small in height - consisting of only one tier - the cake-to-icing ratio rendered the cake quite icing heavy. But as someone who is a big fan of icing - and anything sweet in general - this did me just fine. And this was helped by the fact that both the icing and the sponge of the cake (as well as the jam laying underneath the later of sponge) tasted great. Consider my cake craving officially satisfied.

bakerdays don't just offer letterbox cakes. Their range includes cupcakes, very large cakes, and everything in between. They also offer an array of cake flavours, and have both dairy-free and gluten-free options.

I'll definitely use bakerdays in the future. And I'd recommend them to anyone who's in search of a unique yet thoughtful gift idea. Or simply to anyone who is after some good cake.

Click here to follow bakerdays on Instagram. And you can check out their online store here.

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9 Jul 2018

What an Existential Crisis REALLY Feels Like (And the Importance of Psychiatry)

In the last couple of years, there has been an abundance of ‘existential crisis’ memes across the internet. And whilst I like the fact that this mental health condition is being talked about more openly, I can’t help but feel that the true horror of existential anxiety/depression is being diminished in the casual representations of it. And that many brands are disingenuously using the trope to appear hashtag relatable. To counteract this, I thought I would provide an in-depth description of a dreadful existential crisis that I experienced, which lasted the best part of six months. So if you would like a window into what an existential crisis is really like, then keep reading. Warning; it gets dark. 

At the age of 20, I was going through a lot of changes. My first (toxic) 'relationship' had ended, I had just travelled through another country by myself for a month, and I was about to relocate to a new city and start university. Only in hindsight was I able to link the subsequent downfall of my mental health to the extreme changes that were happening alongside it. 

It started with the odd panic here and there regarding my mortality, where sudden realisations that one day I would no longer be here would incite palpitations and mental panic. Soon these thoughts diluted themselves and seeped their way into my day-to-day life. The best way I find to describe my daily experience during this period is this; it was as if I was watching my life play out on videotape. Rather than feeling connected to my surroundings, I felt like I was viewing the reality around me from behind an unclear screen - this conception informed by a solemn awareness that the videotape (my life) was continuously coming closer towards an inevitable end.

"I may as well have been on my death bed for how final and out of reach present experience felt." 

Even though I experienced this 'videotape' version of reality in every moment, my days began to act as a welcome reprieve from the horrors that came each night. During the day, existential depression blanketed around me, morphing how I felt about the world and reality. But at night existential anxiety screamed at me, pulling me into its swirling oblivion kicking and screaming.

On the lead up to my 21st birthday I remember finding myself paralyzed in front of a friend in a restaurant, as they asked me if they should call my mum to pick me up. I remember those words being spoken as if behind a veil, whilst I was falling through the oblivion of my brain, against a backdrop of terror relating to the constant over-awareness of death. But the terror was coloured even more by the knowledge that the only way out of the horrifying reality I found myself in was the thing itself; that of which I was most afraid of. I remember later that same night collapsing in a doorway on the street, feeling defeated and plagued with the burden of inhabiting a hostile, inescapable reality. I remember observing the atmosphere of the night around me, feeling as if I may as well have been on another planet for how alien the world was to me. And that I may as well have been on my death bed for how final and out of reach present experience felt. 

"I remember looking at select people around me . . . and then automatically picturing their graves"

Then I went to uni. And even though I managed to have a great time during Freshers Week, it was as if I was watching myself having a great time, rather than really engaging with the experience. Watching from the standpoint of someone who was too aware of mortality and the futility of life to truly enjoy what I perceived as inevitably fleeting moments of happiness. On one particular night out I remember looking at select people around me who were having a lot of fun, and then automatically picturing their graves. This was an intense manifestation of my brain's belief of the pointlessness of happiness, and in turn, life.

Luckily, as I eased into my new life changes - and with some external help - I started to become progressively better. If you feel similarly to how I felt at this time, it is important to speak to a professional about it. When you experience existential depression or anxiety you often believe that you've uncovered the truth to life, and that there's no going back to the 'brainwashed' feelings of carefreeness that came before. But that's not the case. There's so much joy to be found in life and it can be experienced once again, whilst your previous existential crisis becomes a mere memory you can no longer relate to. 

To find out about the importance of psychiatry click here

If you enjoyed this post you may also like:   7 Surprising Anxiety Symptoms   -   This Is My Body On Anxiety   -   Having Mental Illness Means You're Strong   -   Tips For Severe Anxiety That Work For Me

Disclaimer: The above post contains a paid link insertion, but all content is my own.

21 Jun 2018

Spring '18, In Pictures

The shortest night is upon us, marking the start of summer and the close of the pastel-egg and pink-and-white blossom laden months. So as a final goodbye to spring, here are a few snapshots of what the last three months looked like for me.

At the start of spring I started a promotional job for Race For Life. Here's me wearing some war paint at one of our events. 

I got both my mum's birthday and Mother's Day presents in the form of biscuits from Honeywell Bakes.

Anyone in England will know that the beginning of spring was very hot. At this time I often took excursions from the library to enjoy the newly warm weather. 

At the start of the year I vowed that I would see a lot more live music in 2018, and spring saw me continue to keep this promise. At the beginning of spring I attended a very atmospheric Sofar Sounds gig in a studio space at Nottingham High School. And shortly after I saw Gengahr + Low Island at the Rescue Rooms. 

In April I went to a really fun Bumble event, where I got to make my own pizza! Read my about my experience here

This season I grew accustomed to very early mornings due to work, often waking up at or before 5am and getting to see the sun rise.

Spring showed itself fully on campus.

I travelled to many cities for work this season, including Birmingham, Leicester, Loughborough and Bedford. 

In spring I finally finished university! Most notably, I finished my ominous dissertation, after a 30+ hour session in the library on no sleep. 

As a result of finishing uni I finally found to time to be creative again, as well as to catch up on leisurely reading. 

As of May I unofficially moved back to London. (I say unofficially as there will be much to-ing and fro-ing until August, due to work and my accommodation). 

I went to All Points East Festival and had some amazing pink mayonnaise chips. 

Spring also showed itself in Hampstead.

I had way too many Krispie Kremes in spring. I blame it on stress eating due to my uni finals, and the convenient placing of Krispie Kremes stores near work, the library, and my grandma's house. 

In May, Arctic Monkeys new album Tranquillity Base Hotel+ Casino was released. This album meant (and still means) so much to me, and served as a poignant soundtrack to the woes of my dissertation writing. I was also lucky enough to win a ballot to see Arctic Monkeys perform at the Royal Albert Hall. It was a night I'll never forget. On the night I dressed with the theme of the new album in mind, with a black and gold spangled mesh dress to represent space. I got to sit in one of Royal Albert Hall's Loggia Boxes. 

I attended Bedford Kite Festival for work.

A walk through Highgate Woods marked the close of spring and the start of summer. 

How was your spring?

Amani x 
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