Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Are You Following Me?

It is fairly obvious to most people that I am slightly obsessed with social media. Not a day goes by where I don't post on Instagram at least once. However, you read so often in the press how it is inherently damaging to our self-esteem. I don't think it's as cut and dry as that. In this post I'm going to detail how social media helps me with my mental health as well as maybe how it doesn't help so much. 
Let's start off with the negatives. You see these people showing off their perfect lives full of exotic holidays, fancy meals and tans I can only dream off. You start to feel inadequate because you feel like all of your peers or off traveling around Europe and you are sat on your arse with a second tub of Ben and Jerrys binge-watching Judge Judy. I've been there, trust me. Some of my lowest moments have been triggered by seeing what everyone else is doing and feeling like I'm missing out. That's why I decided to change all of that.
I deleted apps that made me feel the worst about myself. The biggest offender her was Snapchat. Constantly full of people out having a good time, it took up too much space on my phone and it made the social anxious part of me hate myself for passing up opportunities to go out partying even though staying in was the best thing for my health. Next came Instagram. I had a massive cull of all of the accounts that tried to make their lives look rose tinted, followed a whole load of self-care accounts and started to converse with people by posting only positive comments on pictures I liked. Do you know what this did to my mood? It made me feel so warm inside. I think I understand now why everyone bangs on about hygge so much. I don't like to post pictures that make my life seem like it is just one massive holiday. I take photos of what I think looks beautiful and things I'd like to share with other people. Twitter on the other hand is my excuse to moan and write funny things that Mike says or that I see on the metro. I try my best to network with other bloggers and so far it's worked! Facebook helps me keep up to date with friends and family. I blocked everyone that just posts negative statuses or that I don't really know. 
So far my social media cleanse has worked in improving my general mood level from one that fluctuated lots to a level that is a bit more constant and manageable. You hear people telling you all the time to just delete all of your accounts but realistically that just isn't going to happen. I've tried to just use social media in a better way. Harnessing the benefits and minimizing the negativity. 

Friday, 24 February 2017

A Night At The Ballet

When I was 18 my friends and I had a group chat that we called the Culture Vultures. It was created to organise a trip to see the Chagall exhibition at the Tate Liverpool but slowly descended into the usually nonsense where we would send each other pictures of goats due to their prevalence in the artist's work. Not much has changed since then. I mean fewer goat pictures. Nevertheless, I'm still trying to be as cultured as I possibly can. Considering where I live I have the ability to see as much as I possibly can. This brings me onto the main topic of this Friday blogpost. In an effort to step out of my comfort zone a  little bit more I went to see a modern ballet at Palais Garnier. The trip was organised by the wonderful ULIP Art Soc (again thanks for letting this old bird back into the fold). 
I don't know much about ballet. So I wasn't sure what to expect. More than anything I wanted to go inside the building that I had walked past so many times wondering if I would ever get the chance to go in and explore. Fortunately, it didn't disappoint. I thought that going to such a prestigious venue would mean that I would look out of place in my jeans and my trainers that are so suited to hipster office life but less so for an upscale evening. I couldn't have been more wrong. There was no one in fancy gowns or dinner jackets. No sneering looks or tutting as I walking through the throng of people trying to find their seats. It felt very libertarian. Everyone sat down for an evening of good-value entertainment that gave you something to think about on your metro ride home. As I watched no only the dancers but my fellow spectators as the light bounced around the historical venue I watched the faces of the people sitting enthralled in the dancing. Their faces completely relaxed showing every emotion going through their minds. I think it's in the cult film that is often quoted by French students, Amélie, that she pontificates on how she likes to see peoples faces agawp as they watch a film in the cinema. I couldn't help but feel the same delight. 
How was my experience at the ballet? Good. Would I go again? Most definitely. I liked how I felt on the same level as my fellow human beings. At school, I remember being taught about high and low culture. That ballet and opera were somehow viewed as better forms of entertainment than sensationalist paperbacks or blockbuster films. I feel like last night it was the exact opposite. I was sat there in the clothes I had worked in amongst people who had done exactly the same as me who just wanted a bit of escapism on their Thursday night. 
I'm not entirely sure whether this post has a clear narrative or not. It probably doesn't. But then again neither did the ballet! Bon weekend à tous! 

Wednesday, 22 February 2017

We Are Family

What do you think of when someone mentions Great Britain? Probably after the Queen, cups of tea and The Great British Bake Off, your mind will drift to the pub. Maybe your feet will drift there too. I hear you asking, Kate why are you driveling on about this? Well there is a very good reason, dear reader. Homesickness is a disease that is rife among expats such as myself and sometimes the only way to combat it is to give yourself a taste of home. That's where the pub comes in. I maybe have mentioned it before but my darling significant other, Mike, plays for a football team who are sponsored by the finest Scottish pub in Paris. Why is this relevant? When I'm feeling down or just want a taste of home then I know that I can rely on the Auld Alliance to pep me up with good old banter with the lads, a portion of chips and a pint or three. 
Don't get me wrong, I love the café culture here in France. Only last night was I sat in a wicker chair watching the world go by sat underneath a patio heater sipping on a beer that had a slice of lemon in it, but those establishments don't quite have the same atmosphere a pub does. I love the sense of community I feel when I walk through the door. The fake shields on the wall, the pool table in the back and most of all a good group of people who have gone there for exactly the same reason as you. Usually, it's to watch some kind of sport. At the moment, it is the Six Nations which I have to admit I enjoy thoroughly. The FA Cup, less so. Sorry, Mike. 
I like these evenings with my parisian family. I know exactly what the score is so my anxiety is much lower. Usually, I don't cope very well in crowded bars because I get too nervous about what could happen to me and panic attacks can ensue. However, it isn't like that in the pub. I know the prices and the drinks on offer. I know all of the people around me. I know my exits so I tend to be a lot more relaxed. This has probably been the biggest help in getting me back out and socializing after my initial struggle with my mental health problems and for that I'm incredibly thankful to all of the friends who have been there to make it that little bit easier. 
I'll leave this post here, but before I sign off I have to add in a hilarious photo that has made the rounds in my circle of friends. After an afternoon watching the match we all traipse down the road to fill our stomaches with greasy pizzas and house red wine! We do this so often, not only are we recognised instantly we have had a special mention on their signage! 

Thursday, 16 February 2017

Coping Mechanisms

I've tried to be as open as possible about my struggles with my mental health. Not just for my benefit, but for the benefit of other people who might be in a similar situation. Just over a year ago I started taking my medication that helps with my panic attacks which has helped me an incredible amount. This isn't the solution for everyone and there are times when circumstances dictate that I can't take it. Once for instance when I was greeting a rather unruly guest it would have been inappropriate for me to reach into my handbag for my pills, he definitely would have been even more angry! This calls for a strategy of controlling your thoughts that the therapist I saw right after the attacks called coping mechanisms. Essentially these are techniques you can use in order to help relax yourself in times of increased stress and anxiety. 
There are different methods you can use depending on the situation. Personally, I find taking public transport alone quite a stressful scenario. In order to combat my paranoid thoughts when I'm sat in a stuffy, claustrophobic carriage I always have a book with me. I tend to read novels that are completely immersive. This stops me from thinking about what is going on around me while giving me something to occupy my mind. It also helps that reading lots has many benefits, from making me sound cleverer to helping me with my writing! 
When I first discussed coping mechanisms with my therapist, she asked me what I like to do to relax. One thing that made me really happy. Can you guess what that is? No, it isn't eating but close. It's baking. I remember the night before my German A-Level exam I stress-baked over 40 madeleines (if you've ever made them you will know this is a time-consuming process) to give my pent up nervous energy something to do. There is a reason why the Great British Bake Off has done so well. Baking is good for the soul. Unfortunately, in Paris decent ovens are hard to come by but I try and make do with what I have. If I can't manage baking then chopping up lots of veg and making a big soup with all sorts of yummy things in it does the trick. The smell permeating through the flat and relaxing me just like one of those plug-ins you get for the dog before Bonfire Night. 
In those moments when I don't have time to do anything like this I have to think on my feet. Maybe it's a stressful hour at work or a panic attack as I'm on my way to a party. I simply close my eyes and focus on my breathing. I can't tell you how helpful this is. It is a bit of a cliché but trust me it helps. Trying to get back into yoga has taught me how useful it is to control your inhales and exhales. You don't have the be a master yogi to be able to practice this either. Your technique doesn't even have to be very good. Just close you eyes and picture the air flowing in and out of your lungs. Little visual aids help me so much because it takes all of my concentration to conjure up the images. 
I completely recognise that these might not help everyone. However, my aim with this post was to highlight little ways in which you can improve your overall well-being. you don't have to be suffering from depression to indulge in a spot of self-care. Keeping yourself on an even keel by applying coping mechanisms to stressful times can only be a positive thing.

Monday, 13 February 2017

Sugar & Spice and Women Who Write!

What do I love more than anything in the world? Apart from my family and friends, of course! Well, it's a good book and something sugary to accompany it. That's part of the reason I came to Paris. I wanted to be inspired by some of the great writers that lived and worked here. In addition to that I also wanted to improve my literary skills whilst eating my way through the delicious treats at the bakery. So when the opportunity to sample a brand new tour from Women of Paris, I jumped at the chance to find out more about one of my favourite areas of the city while learning about some incredible women, having a cheeky taste of some classic French fare along the way! 
Heidi, who runs these fantastic tours, came to Paris around the same time that I did and has really honed her craft as an exemplary guide! Meeting on Sunday afternoon at Saint-Germain-des-Près she took me around an area I thought I knew well! It turns out there are lots of nooks and crannys and exquisite buildings that aren't on the usual tourist trail. Why is that I hear you say!? Well, these locations all had something to do with famous women whose stories are often overlooked by the regular spiel trotted out in guidebooks. Did you know where Colette lived? Or where the first all female publishing house was? Women of Paris are there to set the record straight. 
Recently on MNTTN, I've set out my opinions on feminism and how I think we can improve the current situation. Learning about these inspirational women who lived decades, even centuries, before me makes appreciate how far we have come in our struggle for equality. This tour was exactly the kind of experience I love being a part of. Inspiring, fascinating and delicious! I don't want to divulge many more details, because that would spoil it for you but I recommend the next time you visit this romantic city that you certainly book a wander through the past with one of the best guides around! 

Follow Women of Paris on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for more exciting information on the new Sugar & Spice and Women Who Write Tour ! 

Tuesday, 7 February 2017

An Ultimate Guide: The Only Markets You Need To Know

I need to confess something to you all. I really enjoy supermarkets. It's been a weird obsession of mine for a while now. There is something so fascinating to me about exploring a new supermarket, whether it's in a new country or just has some exciting produce. When I moved to Paris this turned into a love of outdoor markets. Recently, I was featured on the wonder Our Paris Stories blog where I talked about all things parisienne, expat and market-related! A photoshoot on the street I moved to when I first arrived here brought back lots of memories which made me think I should do more exploring of the epicurean delights Paris has to offer. This is the culmination of that research! 

Let's start at the beginning. The Marché Saxe-Breteuil is the best that France has to offer. I used to wander through it smelling the wonderful odours permeating through the street from the rotisserie chicken stand as I dragged myself to university. Open Thursday and Saturday mornings, it is a very traditional market. With the Eiffel Tower at one end and Tour Montparnasse at the other it's hard to think of somewhere more French! I recommend getting a whole roasted chicken, some potatoes dauphinoise and lots of lovely cheese and charcuterie for the best Saturday lunch you will ever have! 

Moving onto a market that is a little bit more rough and ready. Marché de Belleville isn't on many tourists' lists but if you want to see what real Parisians do then this is the place to come. I don't think I've ever walked through without being offered tasters of seasonal fruit while the seller calls me la petite blonde trying to convince me that I need 6 butternut squash. Every so often Boulevard de Belleville is transformed into a streetfood market on a Thursday night. If this tickles your fancy then make sure you get there early! I went once but arriving late meant that all of the delicious food they had on offer was sold out! 

My latest find came thanks to my dear friend, Katharine. Now usually if someone asks me to meet them early on a Sunday morning I will tell them where to go. However, my gal knows me too well. The potential of weird and wonderful vegetables on offer followed by a quirky coffee is a combination that I can't resist! The Marché d'Aligre is a mélange of the two other markets in this post. With the hustle and bustle of the fruit and veg sellers in the street, there is the charm of Belleville. While the covered section reveals all sorts of delights from kilos of tapenade to butchers carving up meaty delights. Last weekend, I bought 4kg of produce for less than 5€! From a massive bunch of carrots to delicious blood oranges, everything is seasonal and tasty. I went not really knowing what I wanted to buy but the market gave me all the inspiration that I needed.

Paris is a city that truly marches on its stomach and for me the best way to become a local is by seeking out how the inhabitants feed their grumbling stomachs on cold winter mornings. Writing this post has really made me want to leave my desk, grab by shopping trolley (I really am More Native Than The Natives!) and venture into the culinary delights that my favourite city has to offer.