Perks of not being a teacher

This week I have worked in a corporate office environment for the first time since 2009. Back then I left a career in Marketing and ventured into the world of teaching. Now, 8 years later I am returning to the “real world” as I like to call it.

Last night I was discussing with a past colleague, who has also decided to leave teaching for the time being, what the benefits will be of working in an office environment. The first thing that came to my mind (which is really important whilst I’m focusing on drinking my 8 cups of water a day) is that I get to go to the toilet whenever I want. I don’t have to restrict my water intake because I don’t have time to visit the ladies for hours. So it got me to thinking – what are the benefits that teachers see to NOT working in a school? Having a social network full of teachers I thought I’d ask them and here are the top responses:

  1. Holiday whenever you want.

Some people take this for granted. You see a good deal, you check with the office calendar, book your annual leave and off you go. For teachers it is very different. You see a deal, you check the dates it’s available and then you frown because it’s not during a school holiday. Yes, teachers know annual leave dates a whole year in advance, and yes, we know, teachers get waay too much “time off”. But there is no flexibility, no freedom.

I remember one year looking at holidays abroad for the summer holidays and the holidaysevening flight (on the last day of term) was over £100 more expensive than the 7am one. No flexibility at all.

Which brings me nicely onto my next point…

2. Not paying extortionate holiday prices

It doesn’t matter how far in advance you book your holidays, the travel world seem to know when school holidays are and BOOM up go the prices. For example, an all-inclusive week to Cyprus for 2 adults in August will put you bacCalculate-How-Muchk approximately £1300pp. Change it to mid- September and you are looking at approximately £850pp for the same holiday!

Now I know families have a similar issue, and with schools adding fines for taking your child out of school it’s becoming a problem for lots of people but teachers can’t take a fine for booking a holiday in term time. We’d just lose our jobs! (Don’t get me started on making the government look at reducing the price hike on school holiday vacation prices).

3. Stop working when you walk out of the door at the end of the day

Many people quip about the “part time” nature of teaching as school finishes before 4pm. However, one benefit of working outside of teaching is that you can potentially walk out of the door at the end of your shift and not have any work to do until you walk back in at 9am the next day. Now don’t get me wrong, I know not every office job works like that. I know some people start their commute in the small hours if they have to travel to a different office; I know some people (my Dad included) who will respond to work emails on their laptop at night. But in reality will the world end if you don’t reply until you log-in the next morning? (It’s worth thinking about for all of us.)

As a teacher I could easily work right up until I go to bed at 11pm. Some nights I even sat in my bed with my planner on my lap. The to-do list is never ending. If it wasn’t planning some lessons for the next day, it was marking the mountain of essays or books I had to grade in time to input on the data system.

3.1 TGIF actually means something

Another linked benefit, which is one of my favourites, is having a weekend! I have spent too many weekends and watched my Mum spend whole Saturdays with the dining room table piled high with books to mark. The moment I realised that I needed to stop bringing the marking home was when I sat in the car at Brands Hatch watching motorbike races with a pile of essays to mark on my lap. What was I doing? Suffice to say, whatever job I take on next, my evenings and weekends are for my husband and I.

4. No marking

teachermarking

As a teacher this is probably the hardest, most tenuous but one of the most important jobs you have to do. This is fine in a posh fancy private school where you have small class numbers. But what happens when you have a top set Year 11 class with 32 students? Bye bye sanity.

 

So, yes at the moment I am spending some of my days proof-reading a lengthy corporate Annual Report – but that (at the moment) isn’t as tiring as reading 32 efforts at an essay about Macbeth, where you wonder what on earth they were doing during the 6 weeks you spent studying the play.

5. Finishing a whole cup of tea

Now, this came from my Aunty who worked in a Primary School for a number of years so her situation was slightly different to me. She was not allowed hot drinks out of the staff room. So for teaching staff who work in schools with strict rules on hot beverages it is a real luxury getting to drink a whole cup of tea mid-morning. What tends to happen is you queue up for ages to make the drink take a few sips then tip it down the sink because the bell has gone and you have to rush off to class.

In the secondary schools I had worked in you could make a drink whenever you were

thermalcup

able, as long as it was in a lidded thermos cup (Note to parents: don’t buy teachers mugs anymore, always opt for the lidded thermos cup!!) My issue with finishing a whole cup of tea was different. If I did get to the urn before the students piled in through the school door at 8:20am, by the time I remembered I’d made it (after listening to my form rant and rave about something they suffered through the previous day in school) it had gone stone cold in the thermos cup before I finished it. Now I’ve nearly done a whole week in an office and I’m working on my ability to even manage to finish a whole cup as I’m so used to just drinking half. It’s a hard life.

Reflecting on a week in the “real world”

I was absolutely inundated by friends and family who were or are in teaching when I asked them for the perks they saw of the “real world” of work. I’m still getting odd updates four days later when they think of something else. But I think it’s time for me to do some honest reflection after my short time back in an office job.

Firstly, I have energy left at the end of the working day. I get to 5pm and I’m mentally tired, but physically I still have energy. So much so I have hit my step target every day because I’ve been to the gym (two days) and went for a walk and played at the park with my best friend and her twins (2 yrs old and non-stop running/playing). This for me is a novelty. I rarely had the desire, inclination or energy to hit the gym straight after school. I would not only be mentally exhausted but also physically having spent 7 hours constantly walking around a classroom keeping 30 students focused on something they’d probably rather not be doing.

Also, I’m finding I am more relaxed in the evenings. Last night my husband and I were sat on the sofa and watching something completely pointless on the TV when he turned to me and said “How does it feel not having to prepare for work tomorrow?” My stomach flipped and I realised he was right. Even though I had done a full day at work it still felt like I was on my holidays, relaxed, zoned out and enjoying my evening. That in itself is more valuable than a swag bag full of gold bullion.

Now I just have to find a permanent job…

 

 

 

 

 

Betty Crocker Diet Coke Chocolate Cupcakes Baking Hack

Brilliantly Simple Baking Hack: Cake Mix + Fizzy Pop = Delicious

Who doesn’t love a quick and easy, fool-proof method for baking cakes? If one thing is my downfall when dieting, it is my love of all things cakey and bakey.  (I went there I’m sorry.) I also love Pinterest and have many a “Pinterest looked like this, mine looked…nothing like it” photos. I can promise you today is not one of those days though!

Whilst on Slimming World there were dozens, if not hundreds, of cake hack recipes. Some involved replacing normal ingredients like flour with oats or Weetabix. Some used yogurt and sweetener. The one thing they had in common was that the alternative ingredients made the food lower in “points” or “syns” as they are in Slimming World.

I will be honest, I don’t remember where I came across the idea of using Diet Coke in a cake first. The amount of social media forums I use daily it could have been any of them. This morning I turned to Pinterest (who doesn’t) to search for others who had made these soda cakes and found lots of different ideas. My decision was easy as I already had a chocolate cake mix and a fridge box full of diet coke in the house. DSC_2484

So, how do you make these cakes? It really is as simple as 1, 2, 3.

1) Empty your chosen cake mix into a bowl. I used Betty Crocker’s Chocolate Temptation Cake mix because I had it left over from my birthday (I ran out of time to bake my own so my husband bought one.)

DSC_2485At this stage, as you can see to the left, there is a lot of froth and fizz. You just need to whisk/ stir it together and the fizzy froth will subside. I used a small whisk and it created a really thick, mousse like mixture once I had made sure all of the cake mix was combined with the coke. There is nothing worse when baking than finding dry ingredients not fully combined with the wet.DSC_2486

You should have a nice smooth consistency within the mixture once it is all combined. If you don’t divide the mixture up straight away it swells with all of the fizz and becomes really airy like a mousse. I’m not sure this is an issue, but I gave mine another stir before dividing up into the cupcakes.

2) Divide equally into 24 cupcakes and place them in the oven. The cake mix recommends cooking for 18-20 minutes at 180degrees Celsius. I recommend 15 minutes at 180degress as they come up really light and fluffy. (My first batch were in for 18 minutes and after rising nicely at first had sunk a bit by the time I took them out of the oven.)

3) Serve. (Yes it really is that simple.) I’m sure if you weren’t being so diet conscious (but if that is the case you are probably making these cakes with an egg, oil and water like the instructions say) you could add some frosting or a drizzle of Choc shot. They really are nice on their own though, honestly.

IMG_20170727_133212_065

 

These work out to be 3 weightwatchers smart points each, which is great for a small chocolatey, cakey treat. Considering a muffin from Costa can set you back double digits you could have 3 of these for less points. I’m pretty sure the SW syn value is probably quite low but you’d have to work that out (based on the dry weight per 100g nutritional values, not the “made up” values as that includes eggs and oil).

The combinations of cakes and fizzy drinks are endless. You could do chocolate cake mixes with any flavoured fizz, such as Dr Pepper or even orangeade. If I found a vanilla cake mix I think trying it with some kind of fruity flavoured fizz would be really nice, like lemon and lime, or a Rubicon (although you can’t get Zero sugar Rubicon so the points value would increase.

Can you think of any other cake and fizz combinations that you think might work? Why not given them a go yourself and let me know how you get on!

I’m going to enjoy a nice cup of tea with a low point chocolate cola fairy cake now.

 

Willpower – Making and breaking a diet

In my opinion and experience the diet industry is fuelled and funded by a lack of willpower in us “dieters”. The fad diets, that involve shakes, cutting out carbs, fasting two days a week, are great for the diet industry, but not so great for your body. The likelihood is you spend a lot of money and either a) lose a lot of weight but pile it all back on (and some more) when you stop or b) find it so restrictive and limiting that you don’t have the willpower to keep with the programme, give up and gain weight again. The other alternative is the array of weight-loss plans that involve a balanced nutritional diet and these work if you stick to them. The key point here is sticking to whatever plan you choose. Willpower makes or breaks a “diet”.

So, after one evening or day where you caved in and ate that donut, or drank too much and came home via the kebab shop, how do you stop that from spiralling out of control and becoming a week off plan instead of just one meal/day? Every day I see the same stories, people pleading with other “dieters” for advice on how to get back on plan, how to recover and refocus. (Writing it down suddenly makes me realise how much it sounds like a drug addict or alcoholic struggling with giving up.)

You can lose weight if you set your mind to it!

The biggest barrier you face is actually your self-discipline and willpower. You may have fallen into a cruel cycle, which starts with eating a poor diet full of sugars, carbs and processed foods. These foods make us feel tired and lethargic all the time. They have a high Glycaemic Index and whilst the initial burst of energy makes us feel good, the energy doesn’t last and it leaves us feeling more tired and lethargic all the time. Then, because your body lacks proper energy, you don’t feel much like exercising. The result? A loss of willpower, feeling useless and you don’t lose any weight.

Only you can make the change! If you truly want to lose weight, you first have to build the willpower to make it happen. So how do you do that?

1) Find your motivation: What is it that is driving your desire to change and lose weight? Write down all the reasons you have for wanting to shift the pounds. No matter how big or small, write them down. If you want to take it further, why not rank them in order of importance to you. Then on days when you feel like giving up, when your willpower is fading, read the list. Remind yourself of why you started your weight loss journey and re-build your resolve.
2) Take a photograph: Most of us have a photograph of ourselves that set off that light-bulb moment, the moment of realisation, that we have ballooned. We look at the photo and a large, chubby stranger is looking back at us. We gawk in horror. Is that really me? When did that chin appear? Use that photograph. Make copies of it. Put it in your purse so that when you are in the shops about to buy that packet of chocolate chip cookies (and meanwhile convincing yourself you are only going to have one and share the rest with the family at home, or the colleagues at work) you have a reminder of why you are trying to lose weight.

Put one on the fridge/cupboard doors so that you question yourself every time you go to get something to eat. Do you really need it? Do you want to look like that photo again? The power of image can be very compelling.

Once you are on your weight loss journey take another photograph every 4 weeks and print that too. Put it alongside your original photo. Once you start building up a collection you will see the physical differences. Because we look in the mirror multiple times a day we sometimes miss the gradual changes. If you update your printed photos and you can see the weight losses working you are more likely to hold on to your willpower and keep on the journey.

3) Work out what works for you: Too many people give up on their weight-loss because they try to go “cold-turkey”. Giving up everything they enjoy leads to resentment and if results aren’t quick then it is really easy to just give up completely. “It’s not worth the torment!” or “I turned down everything I love and I didn’t lose a pound.” For some that’s when the willpower waivers. The donuts start calling out to you across the office on someone’s birthday, the delicious scent of Fish and Chips wafts into your nose as you drive past making it impossible to think of anything else. For some people this leads to binging; not stopping at one donut once they start. Instead of ordering a small cod and chips they order a large, with a battered sausage too (and don’t forget the curry sauce, mushy peas and pineapple fritter for dessert). Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying going cold turkey doesn’t work; it just doesn’t work for everyone.

For those of us who can’t cut everything out my advice is “a little bit of what you fancy does you good.” Measure out a smaller portion of chocolate M&Ms if you really want some. Just remind yourself of how good you will feel when you stop after that small portion. Remind yourself of how bad you will feel if you eat the whole share bag on your own (like you used to).

Take the batter off the cod and weigh out a small portion of chips. As your diet becomes healthier and your lifestyle changes the chances are that eventually you won’t even enjoy the small portion of fish and chips, you will feel awful afterwards and wonder “Was it worth it?”

My point is only YOU know what is going to work for you. If you know that once you have one chocolate from the box of celebrations in the office you won’t be able to stop, then make a cuppa and don’t even have one. But if you know that if you hold back for too long you will end up eating ten when no-one else is looking and then beat yourself up over it, then have one. (And then read your “Reasons Why” list from tip #1 and don’t eat any more!)

4) Portion size: Some people find that they give up on diets because they aren’t seeing the weight drop fast enough. They say they don’t understand why they aren’t losing anything because their dinners are so much healthier now. They describe a dinner of vegetables, low fat mayonnaise and grilled chicken breast, but then you see a picture. Two grilled chicken breasts, a dollop of light mayonnaise and a mountain of vegetables (which includes peas and sweetcorn). It might seem like a healthy dinner but they are still eating WAAAAY too much food.

So my advice is to shrink your plate size and you will probably surprise yourself. It can be depressing seeing a standard dinner plate which looks sparse and empty. You feel deprived and instantly want to fill the space with delicious sauce or extra chips. So, to keep your willpower strong and to avoid the temptation off adding those extra chips, or the extra scoop of baked beans onto your plate then use a smaller plate. Then you look like you have a hearty meal, your brain is tricked and you don’t overeat.

5) Set small SMART targets: Eventually the teacher in me will stop using these educational terms, but for the time being it makes sense. SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Timed targets. Don’t start with “I will lose 56lb in 6 months.” For a start that is probably not achievable or realistic. What happens when we set targets like that is we realise at some point we aren’t going to achieve it and we stop even trying. Instead think smaller and award yourself with some (non-edible) treats along the journey. For example, “I want to lose 7lb in 4 weeks.” It is SMART and the time frame is not so long that you will lose focus. Also, if you plot out your mini targets and match them up to rewards before you start you have even more motivation than you originally wrote down in step 1. For example, 7lb loss = new trainers, 1stone = manicure, 1.5stone = hair-cut etc.

6) Exercise your way to feeling good: Everything so far has been about our psychological journey and the relationship between our head, heart and stomach. Exercise is a great way to help build up your willpower. Adding exercise to your daily/weekly routine can also be a daunting task if you try to jump in too fast. Some dieters are genuinely afraid of even walking into a gym, and the body-shaming that I hear about weekly makes me mad. No-one has the right to make you feel uncomfortable about bettering your body, your health, your mind. I give myself a pep-talk before I walk in. I look myself in square in the eyes in the mirror and remind myself of why I am there. You can’t get smaller, healthier and fitter without exercise and working out. I have as much right to be here as every other person in that building. If the gym isn’t possible then you’d be surprised at how invigorating just going for a 30 minute walk at least three times a week is. It releases endorphins and adrenaline, burns calories and stops us sitting sedentary and bored thinking about what snack we can have next. So get out there!!

I hope that at least one person finds this helpful in sticking with their journey, or with getting back on track after getting a little side-tracked. That person was me. I have been refocused for nearly 5 weeks and I’m nearing my first stone award. This list is here to remind me how good being focused feels, how positive my eating and exercise habits are right now, while the plan is working. It is a reminder that if I stop going to my weekly meetings, or I stop weighing my portions properly that the plan won’t work and I won’t lose weight. The plan I am on clearly works, I just have to stick to it!

Good luck everyone – please comment on what advice here has helped the most or if you have anything else that you can suggest to everyone.
Please note I am not a nutrition expert or a diet guru. This is all based on my own personal experience of living through lots of weight-loss plans that work until I stop them and I gain the weight again. This is all information I have gleaned from books and journals all about weight-loss and dieting over the years.

Time for new adventures in a healthier body: My Top Ten Tips for Weight-loss

 

4 weeks ago I put batteries back in my bathroom scales. I’m so glad I did. I’m also gutted I didn’t replace them sooner. Being without scales in the house for 2 months meant I wasn’t keeping tabs on my weight, at the same time as battling with depression and anxiety. I had gained 1stone since my wedding in February!

My clothes feeling snug, my energy levels being low and generally feeling rubbish about myself were the triggers that made me buy a new battery and I wish I’d paid attention to myself sooner.

That week I signed up with WeightWatchers (again). In 2012 I joined and lost 2 stone in a few months. I had already lost weight following calorie controlled diet, then Rosemary Conley classes and diet plan. By September 2012 I had lost a total of 4 stone in 2 years and I was at my lowest weight since I was 18 and was a size 12-14 (See right). (At my biggest I was in size 20 trousers: see left).

20092010 plus size 2012 Weight loss

When I weighed myself 4 weeks ago I was only 6lb away from my heaviest ever weight, even though I was only a size 16-18. Anger was one thing I felt toward myself, disappointment was another. Lethargy had taken over my life and I decided to take my life back.

Three weeks in and I have lost 8lb. I’m off to a great start. All of the tips and tricks I have picked up over the years are coming into play. Weightwatchers Connect is really helping. It’s an online community of WW members, a bit like FB where we can post statuses, pictures and ask for or offer advice.

Here are my Top Ten Tips for Staying on Track:

1: A little of what you fancy – Don’t go cold turkey on things you enjoy. If you aren’t enjoying what you are eating you are going to lose will power, “fall off the wagon” so to speak. I have weighed out some sandwich bags of M&Ms and milky buttons in the fridge, already pointed so if I want some chocolate I can have some, but I’m not tempted by the whole share bag.

2: Colourful Food – A colourful plate of food is always more enjoyable than a boring beige one. Ever noticed how Mediterranean food is always so bright and colourful, healthy and delicious? So when making a salad, add beetroot, different coloured tomatoes and raw peppers. When having cereal or yogurt add bright coloured fruit and make the meal look exotic and appetising. The more colourful the plate the more likely you are to enjoy eating it.

3: Think before you eat – say to yourself “Am I actually hungry?” You have probably heard the saying “If you aren’t hungry enough to eat an apple then you aren’t hungry, you’re bored.” And they are right, sometimes it is just that. If you then realise you aren’t actually hungry, make a drink instead. Find something to distract yourself like read a book (rather than just watch TV, because your hands are occupied when you read a book). But if you aren’t hungry, then you don’t really need to eat anything.

4: Drink for weight loss – All I have ever heard from every single leader of all the diet groups I have joined is to make sure I drink enough water every day. I’m not a huge fan of water on it’s own, unless it is ice cold. Additionally, I now have to have caffeine free tea because of palpitations. So in order to make sure I drink enough fluid in the day I try to make the drinks interesting too. I’m drinking decaffeinated Green Tea, Liquorice herbal tea, Chai tea. (I’m allergic to coffee, hence the tea obsession.) If it doesn’t involve sugar, sweetener or milk then it’s a bonus because it’s completely free to drink on Weightwatchers Smart Points system and it drives the thoughts of food away with the different flavours.

5: Walk, walk, walk – You really don’t have to suddenly become a gym addict or marathon runner to help lose weight. I am just making sure I get to 10k steps every day by going out for one or two walks after work. I go for one walk straight after work, rather than collapsing on the sofa. Then after dinner if I am still not up to 10k steps I go out for another walk and sometimes my husband comes with me. I have found I’m watching less TV, and my energy levels are so much higher. When I started in the middle of June going out for half an hour felt like a chore. Today I went out for a walk and realised I’d be out for just over an hour! I added some interval jogging last week, but this week it has been too hot and I have just walked. It’s still exercise and nearly everyone can do it!

6: Eat breakfast – This is one I have to keep reminding myself of. I can’t eat early in the morning and currently, as a teacher, I am at work by 8am. I can’t physically eat anything before that. The first week on weightwatchers I had a tub of greek yogurt and honey and a banana every morning. I lost 5.5lb. The third week I was having 2 Weightwatchers cinnamon and raisin biscuits with a cup of tea and a banana. I was hungry before lunch time every day and I only lost 1lb. A healthy, filling breakfast is a great way to get the metabolism moving and working. This week I am having the yogurt, honey and fruit with a cup of green tea. Fingers crossed for weigh in on Saturday.

7: Use a smaller plate – Plates on sale today are huge compared to in the past.

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As you can see on the left, plate sizes are bigger, so our portions have got bigger. If you put a decreased portion on your normal plate you are likely to feel hard done by. “Where is the rest of my meal?” So if you are consciously trying to reduce your portion sizes go out and buy yourself a smaller plate. For lunch today I used a side plate, instead of a normal dinner plate. I made a quesadilla with one tortilla wrap folded in half (instead of two) and then my portion of salad and dressing was then also smaller because I didn’t have much room on the plate. I didn’t feel like I was having a small meal because the plate was full! Simple. The other item of crockery to think about is your breakfast bowl. They are so deep and big now that a 35-40g bowl of cereal looks barely enough to keep “hunger locked up ’til lunch”. Try a smaller dish or tupperware box to contain your breakfast.

8: Plan your meals – My husband and I have a good system now. We decide what meals we want in the week, write a food list and stick to the food list. Then during the week we have 7 meals to pick and choose from in the cupboards. Sometimes we deviate as we are getting rather good at store cupboard cooking (sometimes tuna pasta bake hits the spot and is so easy to cook). Either way, I know that I have low pointed lunches and breakfast so that I can have a good meal in the evening. Sometimes I have points leftover after dinner and it’s up to me how I use them (add more cheese to the meal, have a hot chocolate). If your cupboard/fridge is stocked with everything you need for the meals you have chosen you are less likely to go off plan and grab a takeaway.

9: Cut down on alcohol – Yes I know it sucks, that’s why I left it until now. But alcohol really doesn’t aid weight loss. Note that I said “cut down”. I very rarely go “out out” but my husband and I did get in the habit of popping to the co-op (10m from our front door) and buying bottles of Fruity Cider. Cider is by far the lowest calorie alcoholic beverage I could have been choosing, and it was becoming a normality on week nights, not just the weekend. Even though it was only 1, it was more than I actually needed. So instead I am drinking at the weekend maximum and then I’ve swapped to low calorie wine or spirits which are low point (JD and diet coke, Vodka soda and lime -mmmmm) I opted on Friday night not to have a drink even though I’d had a tough week because I decided that feeling good with a weight loss on Saturday morning was more rewarding than the glass or two of wine I could have had. It’s sugary, delicious and sometimes just what we need/want, but it doesn’t aid weight loss.

10: (Finally, last but not least) Journal your weight loss – This is my top tip. As a writer I’m biased, but writing therapy is powerful. First, write down how you feel when you start your weight-loss journey. All the negative feelings you have about your body, size, weight – just write it all down. Then write down at least 10 positive things about yourself. You may find this list harder, most of us do, but it’s important you do it. The most  important thing for you to write down is ten reasons why you want to lose weight. Keep that list somewhere visible. Remember why you are doing this. Then each week that you weigh in write down how you feel about the week. Was it hard? What kept you motivated? Why did you go off plan? How do you feel about your gain/loss? How/why did you stay on plan? Are there any barriers in the way for the coming week? How can you plan to overcome them?

It’s invigorating writing everything down. With a guide like this you would think I was a size ten model, with toned abs and svelte thighs. I am not. I am human. I know what to do, how to do it, but I make mistakes. This time I am determined to make it the last time I have this much to lose. Only I can keep myself on track. I can follow my own advice for a start and make them habits for a healthier lifestyle.

May 2017 WW BeforeThis was me in May. In September I pledge to show you a smaller me.

I’m looking forward to being a happier, healthier me. Especially on my honeymoon in September, where I will be having new adventures on my favourite Island of Corfu.

 

Have you got any top tips of beating the desire to binge?

 

Power of Words – part 1

Supernatural Horror Short Story – 1st rough draft Part 1

Power of Words

Pen scratching on paper; ink staining the page. The physical act of writing always made her feel better. Typing just didn’t feel as… satisfying. She felt freedom when she sat at her desk. The darkened room like a solace, a haven for her, enabling her to create the life she wanted. That’s all she ever did when she wrote. It was nothing overly exciting or thrilling, it was just how she wished her day had gone. When she sat to write, all the things she wished she’d had the courage to say to Vanessa came pouring out; all the things she wished she’d had the bravery to do cover the pages of her notebooks.

They were just words on a page though. It made her chuckle to think of the rhyme she had been taught as a child – “sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.”

Words did hurt though, when they were whispered in the corners of the school buildings, or typed on social media and shared by so called “friends”. Saskia knew the power of words. She bore the scars as evidence. It was her therapist who had suggested she turned to writing instead of cutting. Her delicate, porcelain fingers gently stroked the reddish scars that speckled her thighs.

It was a day like every other when everything changed. Vanessa had snapped a picture of Saskia in the changing rooms at school after PE. Saskia had thought she was alone, after helping the teacher put all of the equipment away, when she had slipped out of her gym trousers. Her scars looked angry after the exercise in class, blood pumping round her body. Just as she stepped into her grey skinny jeans Saskia heard a giggle and looked up. Vanessa was stood there, bold as anything and chuckled “Say cheese” as she held up her smartphone to catch Saskia in her state of undress and ran away.

Now Saskia knew what viral really meant.

‘I wish I could write her out of my life.’ That was the last thing she scrawled across the page before crying herself to sleep.

A few hours later Saskia woke up suddenly, a damp sweat covering her face and limbs. Her heart was pounding and she couldn’t remember why. She sat up gasping, surrounded by darkness. A chill rushed over her, like an icy breeze from an open window. Looking over to the window Saskia’s breath caught in her throat like a vice and she froze.

Dark and shapeless, a figure materialised in the shadows. A sideways glance at the red glow from her bedside clock marked the time. 00:01. Gradually, the figure became less transparent and more dense. Saskia desperately tried to swallow, scream, breathe but couldn’t.

Thoughts rushed through her; she couldn’t control them. Everything that had happened to her in the past two years flashed through her mind- the looks, the stares, the names, the torture. The loneliness. The anger.

It was at that moment the figure became clear. In her moment of anger at the bitch that had caused her all that pain her paralysis was gone. And yet she didn’t scream.

“I can help you Saskia. You don’t have to say a word.” The figure, who was actually a man, spoke in a grave, weighty timbre. Yet it didn’t scare her. She swallowed and went to speak but almost immediately she couldn’t again. “Did you not hear me?” he warned.

It was then she realised, that the man’s lips were not moving, yet she could hear him so clearly.

Part 2 coming soon.

Please let me know what you think. I have never written this genre before (I have done supernatural but never with horror in the mix). It took me about 20-30 minutes to write this as I was feeling inspired. No editing done at all yet. More still to come, soon I hope.

Thoughts on the snap election 

I don’t claim to be any form of political expert. Despite being a reasonably (if I do say so myself) intelligent person there is a lot in the major parties manifestos I don’t understand. This worries me. This worries me because that means it probably doesn’t all make a lot of sense to a lot of people. So how are people choosing?  

Whatever happens tomorrow morning when I wake up I know I’m getting used to the bottom-of-the-pit, sinking-stomach feeling when I see election results. In 2010 I was Lib-dem and it wasn’t too bad (5days later) but then when nothing came from that coalition my outlook changed and Labour won my vote. Then Brexit happened and I was a staunch remainer. My Facebook feed after every one of those elections, since my first vote in the 2004 General Election, has been one of despair, anger and confusion. This tells me alot about my friends and their values and we mostly share the same. A lot of my family are Tory (older generation) and I have a few other friends who are Tory. That’s fine. We live in a democracy and I’m thankful for that. That’s why I always exercise my right to vote. That’s why no-one should be afraid to say who they vote for.

Anyone tomorrow who starts insulting any party followers will be unfollowed and potentially unfriended (I did a call after nasty comments from some after Brexit). Politics should encourage healthy debate not slagging off people who disagree with you. So if nothing else, I hope tomorrow morning I don’t wake up to insults and slurs against the opposition. 

Hi-ho, Hi-ho, it’s back to work I go..

Five weeks ago I was signed off work. I was diagnosed with severe depression and anxiety and had started having panic attacks. My blood pressure was high (158/95) at 7pm in the evening, 3 hours after my last class finished a few weeks before I got signed off. I was suffering from regular migraines and IBS flare ups for months. 

Tomorrow I go back to work for a phased return and I’m starting with working mornings only. Work are being amazing,  even though two weeks ago I handed in my notice.

I will admit, with a mortgage to pay with my husband I’m nervous about the leap but it had to be done. If I hadn’t already handed my notice in I would have done a week later as my husband’s 19yr old cousin had a motorbike crash at Snetterton Race track and nearly died, was put into an induced coma and only now (3 weeks later is he gradually getting taken off of ventilation etc. LIFE IS TOO SHORT TO TAKE FOR GRANTED. 

So I’m trying to get into new routines. Starting tonight with a Pukka Herbal Tea called Night Time. It is made up of organic oat flower, lavender and limeflower tea. It’s rather pleasing and I hope will help with a good sleep, as for the past week at least I have been suffering with insomnia and finding it very difficult to drop off to sleep. 
In the morning I need to try and have my breakfast, which will be some kind of yogurt and fruit. Followed by a low syn (slimming world) lunch, more fruit and I’m trying to drink lots of water. 

In the afternoon I plan on trying a new gym (I have a one week free pass to trial a gym which is at a very nice spa resort near me) If I like it then I may sign up for their 3 month contract (I can’t do 12 months if I don’t have a permanent job). i have decided that healthy food and exercise are equally important to my recovery and I intend on making sure I am 100% happy with myself and my life before adding a new career into the mix. 

Here’s to going back to work.

Comment if you can recommend anything else for insomnia, depression and anxiety. 

Teacher dealing with a diagnosis of severe depression and anxiety

One in ten teachers, according to a Union survey last year, are currently taking antidepressants to deal with the lifestyle and workload. I never thought that I would be making up part of those statistics. But now here I am, signed off work with mixed depression and anxiety, medicated for my depression and facing a 6 week wait for therapy.

I cracked.

I have always prided myself on doing a good job but have always struggled to keep up with all the work. The marking pile was never empty. As soon as I finished one cycle of books I had to start all over again. Managing classroom behaviour was exhausting. I was at the point where behaviour wasn’t terrible or dangerous but it wasn’t meeting the expectations I had previously held. Fed up of having to lower my expectations to just “make it through” the lesson I made the decision to hand my notice in and get out of teaching. Then I had the added pressure of feeling like I was letting everyone down. When would I do it? How would my colleagues react? What would they say?

I’d always managed to put the brave face on; to keep smiling. My colleagues were always threatening to walk out. Teaching has not been a very positive environment in any school I have worked in for the past 8 years. Instead of joining in with the moaning and adding to the concern my Head of Department probably had that she was going to lose more of her department, I just withdrew and started keeping more and more to myself.

Then I had my first panic attack. I dreamt about school, about being left by all my colleagues to deal with 6 classes of children all by myself. My throat closed in; I couldn’t swallow; I couldn’t breathe. Except now I know I could. My body had gone into fight or flight mode. A reflex historically saved for fleeing from danger; except in my head the danger was hundreds of teenagers (and in reality they aren’t a real threat). I went to the doctors that day and I haven’t been back to work since. They signed me off after I spent twenty minutes crying through explanations of what was going on.

I will be going back in (I hope) to serve out my notice period as I have since handed my notice in. Spending evenings and weekends with my husband enjoying life and not feeling guilty is more important than my pride. I feel weak for leaving a profession I spent years trying to be successful in. I feel weak because my colleagues and thousands of other teachers all over the country are battling the same workload, the same behaviour issues, the same stresses, and yet I’m the one that cracked. But my health is too important to let my pride dictate my life.

The only thing keeping me going is that I know I’m not alone. People are leaving their professions more frequently now due to mental health issues. Particularly in teaching we are exiting in droves. I want to take the positives from it though. We are talking about mental health. We are dealing with depression, anxiety and panic disorders more openly. The taboo is being broken and that removes it’s power (some of it anyway).

I don’t know what my next job will be yet; there are lots of things I enjoy doing. Maybe it doesn’t even matter, as long as I don’t ignore the warning signs in future and make time to do things I enjoy. What does matter is that we keep talking about Mental Health even after the month of May is over and Mental Health Awareness Month memes stop filling up our social media threads.

The Attack 

Your hands are tight around my throat choking the life out of me. 

I can’t breathe,
Can’t stop you squeezing,
gripping tighter.
I’m gasping, crying, clutching.

It’s futile.

Until his arms reach round so gently
and pull me back to him. 

His gentle touch chases you away.
Seconds feel like minutes,
feel like hours. 

The firm delicate touch of his hands soothes and calms. My tears disappear. 
He has saved me.
My husband brought me back from the brink of despair. 

You lose. Better luck next time. 

NB: I’ve just had my first panic attack. I was asleep having a bad dream about one of my triggers and on waking I felt as I described in the poem. 

This is raw, unedited poetry straight from the heart. If I feel the need I will edit but for now, just writing it was the therapy I needed. 

Pampering on a Sunday

We probably all get that Sunday feeling, unfortunately I get it every day at the moment. In a bid to do something that makes me happy every day I chose to pamper myself a bit today.

I did my make-up, even though I was only going to the recycling centre, and I have done my nails because the sun is out and I wanted to feel more summery. 

Look at those grey undereyes- hooray for foundation

My nails usually look quite good when I do them at home now, and that is down to a brilliant Christmas present from my mother-in-law. Christmas 2015 she bought me the Boots Sensationail starter kit and I’ve added to the collection with a Polish to Gel Topcoat. That basically means I can turn ALL of my nail varnishes into Gels. Brilliant! (because I have a carrier bag of polishes and don’t want to waste them)

It doesn’t look quite as good as having them done at the salon, but I don’t spend 8+ hours a day, 5+ days a week doing manicures. If I’m honest, I do not look after my nails and I’m terribly self-conscious about them. Growing up as a violinist I was not allowed to grow the nails on my left hand and to top it off I inherited my Dad’s bad habit of nail biting. I cure this by wearing falsies. 

Today I used Nailene so natural short court nails with Nailene Ultra Quick glue. I question whether they really are short, as I still have to file them down quite a lot. Either way, they last quite well and are a lot cheaper and quicker to put on than a full set of Acrylics.

Rimmel London 031 Super Gel Kate Moss Perfect Posy, Sensationail Polish to Gel

So it’s only something small but they make me smile and it hasn’t eaten into my bank balance like a trip to the salon would. Win-win! 

Does anyone else have anything at home that makes them happy without having to spend lots of money?