Wednesday, 7 September 2016

Alternative Fashion Fest: My Modelling Journey

You might not think I was a model by taking a first glance at me. I'm relatively small, I have scars (including a rather prominent one on my eyebrow), and I've never been a particularly thin person. And a few years ago, I would have looked at myself in the mirror and thought the exact same thing. So I was just as surprised at myself as everyone else when I did this in June last year:

Yep, that's me on the far right, walking down a catwalk in Liverpool for the first time in my life. And this wasn't any catwalk; it was one of the largest in history, and actually broke the Guinness World Record for most models on a catwalk!

In some respects, it was a spur-of-the-moment thing; in others, it was a natural progression. But if I hadn't made the choice to get up there in front of a crowd of thousands, I would be a very different person today.

Practically since its inception in 2007, I've been a supporter of The Sophie Lancaster Foundation: a charity that aims to stop bullying and social intolerance towards alternative subcultures by education and encouraging pride. When I noticed they were joining a new project called Alternative Fashion Fest for the Very Big Catwalk in Liverpool, I decided to join in to support them, even though modelling wasn't my thing and I never thought it would be. While there, I made some fantastic new friends, including this amazing lady: Jane Bellis.

Jane founded Alternative Fashion Fest to showcase a range of clothes and models that didn't fit the cookie-cutter image of what should be on a catwalk. Her vision included models of all shapes, sizes, and walks of life to create a fashion show with a social conscience.

Taking part in the Very Big Catwalk was one of the highlights of 2015 for me, and really showed me how much my confidence had grown from the bullied girl I once was. It re-enforced my own convictions that everyone has a right to be who they are and showcase it with pride. So, still buzzing from the experience, I got back in touch with AFF, and the rest is history.

The crew of AFF welcomed me with open arms, and we have such a tight-knit bond that it is like a family. With them, I don't have to worry about being shunned or ridiculed for being myself, and everyone is treated with such utmost respect that it truly lifts my heart when we are performing together.

Hopefully what we do can help others realise that there is no such thing as the perfect body - everybody is beautiful, no matter their gender, size, nationality, sexual orientation, mental health, ability or disability. It's not just about the amazing clothes, but also the people who wear them - who have feelings just like everyone else.

One of the most powerful parts of the AFF shows is also my favourite: we all walk out wearing white t-shirts bearing the Sophie Lancaster Foundation logo, then we turn around. Emblazoned across our backs are the derogatory labels which have been thrown at us in the past: FATTY, SLAG, PSYCHO, FREAK, UGLY, QUEER, and so on. We wear them with pride, because we are not our labels. Despite everything we have been through, we are still standing.

I never thought I would be a model. I also never thought I would be a published author, 2nd Dan black belt, or would see the Northern Lights. But I have, and I am only 25 years old.

If you want to do something, you go do it!

If you'd like to find out more about Alternative Fashion Fest and what we do, then check out this short video! And be sure to visit the website for tour dates!

Monday, 5 September 2016

5 Tips to Get Through a Mood Crash

We all have bad days, when we feel a bit blue and like we have lost our mojo. That's perfectly normal, and it's healthy to acknowledge sadness the same way we acknowledge happiness. But sometimes, for people who suffer from mental illnesses, this emotional slump isn't so easy to accept. Instead of feeling like an off day, it's like the entire world has come crashing down on your shoulders.

As I write this post, I'm in one of these not-so-lovely mood crashes. I get them every so often, usually in response to things which wouldn't bother most people - or bother them only a bit. However, my mind cannot simply let things go, and even though I want to just carry on with my day, the brakes are thrown on against my will. It's horrible, but I want to talk about it, so that if you also suffer from these crashes you can try to help yourself.

First of all, I want to stress two things, both for you and the people who see you going through a slump:

You are not doing this because you want to.

For as healthy as acknowledging sadness it, who honestly wants to be upset? And following on from that, who wants to be so upset that they can't even move from a chair or be bothered to eat anything? An emotional or mood crash is not attention seeking, so please don't feel guilty, because if you have them so severely, it is not something you can "just stop."

There are some days when you cannot fight.
On those days, you are not defeated.
You are enduring.

It might feel like the end of the world when one of these crashes hits head on, but it's not - and deep down, you know it's not. You will get through it; you just need to take your time, do things (or not do them) in your own way, and wait until the cloud starts to break up.

When I crash, I crash hard, and when I feel one of these periods coming on I try to give myself a little routine so I don't go stir crazy. These tips work for me - they may or may not work for you too. But give them a go, and adapt them as you need to.

1. Know your triggers

Just like a panic attack, mood crashes can have triggers. I tend to think of them as having the opposite effect of a panic attack: instead of going into intense fight-or-flight, your mind shuts down into a kind of low-power mode. But both have the same fundamental intention of protecting you - even if the context of the protection itself is askew. If you don't know what triggers a crash, try to find out what they are in a safe way that won't harm you - and once you do know, make sure you can get power over them when you need to. If you can get yourself away from a trigger, or choose not to listen to a trigger, then do so. Remember, you have the right to say no to something that you know will compromise your mental state.

2. Tone everything down for the day

If you can feel yourself starting to fall into an emotional hole, don't turn it into a vicious circle by forcing yourself to keep smiling. That won't make things any better because you aren't allowing yourself to acknowledge that you are upset. There's usually a point in the slumping where you know it's in for the day, and when you feel yourself reach it, the best thing to do is make things as easy for yourself as you can. If you have a to-do list, either put it off until tomorrow or only concentrate on the most pressing things. Don't expect too much of yourself. Let yourself be tired. It's your mind's way of processing and getting through the day.

3. Keep comfortable and hydrated

Change into some loose-fitting clothes or pyjamas so you don't feel constricted, settle into a comfy chair or bed, and try to relax. Even if you don't feel like eating, make sure you drink through the day so you don't become dehydrated. Nothing makes a slump worse than a headache! If you need some extra comfort, wrap yourself in a blanket or keep a cuddly toy close, or make yourself a hot water bottle and lay it on your stomach.

4. Distract yourself

Even though you might not feel like doing anything, complete inactivity can make things worse by allowing you to mull over your sadness. Keep your brain focused on something else which doesn't demand too much attention. Personally, I can't stand to sit in silence when I've crashed, so I tend to put on Disney animated films and half-watch them. You could also play some relaxing music, or work in a colouring book.

5. Remind yourself that the crash will end

For me, this means giving myself an early night. It's amazing how much better you can feel after a good sleep. Going to bed can help draw a line under the day and refresh your mind. Reminding yourself that the crash will not last forever is both a big help and a sure sign that, even though you might feel it, things will get better. This is a temporary thing that will pass, and sometimes all you can do is trust in that. Let the day do what it wants and allow yourself to go with it. You haven't wasted a day in allowing yourself to rest, you have taken some time to keep moving forward. Carrying on when you don't want to is one of the most powerful strengths you have.

Thanks for reading this post, and I hope some of these tips can work for you! Stay strong!