Everything that changed after I started ADHD medication.

When I found out that I had ADHD, a lot of things changed. Struggles I’d been so ashamed of my entire life suddenly had an explanation, a reason that wasn’t my fault, and one that – hopefully – I would be able to receive treatment for. I was anxious to start – in both meanings of the word – desperate for life to become manageable, but also terrified of taking something that seemed so… extreme. I made a vlog on TikTok of my first day on the medication, documenting how scared I was in the morning, and how, by the afternoon, my life had changed. But that was only the first day, and I knew I had a long road ahead of me. So now, two months later, I’m back to share an update of all the things that I’ve experienced since starting treatment for my ADHD.

Please note, that this is not intended as a promotion of any medication. This is simply my personal experience, and it will not be universal at all – medication may not be suitable for other people, or it may not work the same way. I just think it’s very important to share, because the whole idea of AFAB adults being diagnosed with ADHD is still a new concept, and the more we understand how much the treatment for it improves our quality of life, the better off so many of us will be.

So anyway, let’s get on with it!

BETTER SLEEP

I know, this doesn’t sound right. I’m taking a stimulant medication, and sleeping better?! I was dreading the effect it would have on my sleep, but instead it’s been fantastic – when it gets to bedtime I feel relaxed and happy, because I know I’m going to sleep instead of being about to spend 4 hours tossing and turning and worrying about stuff.

LESS ANXIOUS

This was another thing I was really concerned about before starting medication. I was an extremely anxious person, mainly because I have a phobia that affects my every waking moment. So I was terrified that it would be intensified by taking a stimulant medication, especially when a lot of people I’ve seen say that it makes them very anxious. However, I couldn’t have been more wrong. I have truly never been so calm in my life. I can fully relax, I can sit back and enjoy things completely without the anxiety still nagging at my below the surface. Yes I still have big issues, but they were insurmountable before. Now when I think about the future, I no longer feel dread about how much anxiety and fear I am going to have to live with.

EATING MORE

There are several reasons why I’ve been eating more. Firstly, you have to take ADHD medication with food, ideally a balanced breakfast with fat, fibre and protein in it. This helps the medication to kick in more gradually, allowing you to ease into the day and experience the longest-lasting effects. So the fact that I have to eat breakfast has meant that I start the day off with food, something I have struggled to do for long stretches of my life. Another reason is that I used to forget to eat constantly but I can actually remember mealtimes now. And lastly, the reduction in my anxiety levels has, I think, allowed my appetite to come back to what it should be.

A QUIET MIND

Before ADHD medication, I would be having 3, 4, 5 or more conversations in my head. Thoughts would leapfrog over each other, racing, fighting for dominance, everything was so damn loud in my brain ALL the time and I couldn’t stand it. I had no escape, I just had to hang on for dear life as my brain rocketed around at full pelt in every direction. Non-ADHDers might think this is hyperbole, but it isn’t. Being in my brain was pure torture. And I know how bad it was now, because ADHD medication stopped it from happening. I have a proper train of thought now, and if it diverges onto something else, I can save that thought and come back to it, or even remember to write a physical note to think about it later. It’s hard to describe how this worked, but in the cacophonous din of my pre-medication mind, that thought would have carried on being thought simultaneously. I wouldn’t have been able to stop it or put a pin in it. So everything I thought about just snowballed into more and more things.

CHOOSING WHAT TO FOCUS ON

This leads on from the previous one, because when there’s that much going on, it’s really hard to get control of anything. I was pretty much at the mercy of my own thoughts – will they let me concentrate on the things I need to do today? Or is it going to be yet another battle? Now, I don’t have to fight my brain anywhere near as hard to get it to do something it needs to do. This has made such a huge difference to me, because it was utterly exhausting going to war with my brain whenever I needed to get something done.

LISTENING TO MUSIC

For a long time, I had become completely unable to focus while listening to music, apart from an ADHD ‘focus beats’ track on youtube. But then even that became too distracting, and I had to listen to brown noise in order to have any chance of concentrating. Pure silence was preferable to all of these, but that’s a rare thing to find and so brown noise became my go to. But now, I can concentrate while listening to anything as long as it doesn’t have words! It might sound silly, but it’s so enriching. Brown noise has its benefits, but it’s hardly music.

LISTENING TO PEOPLE

Probably a little bit more important than music! But yeah, before meds I had to be doing something physical in order to be able to pay attention to what someone was saying. Conversations were like trying to pull a completely taught elastic band into another direction – my brain was desperate to get away and do something else, and I was desperate to pull it back to the person talking to me. This inability to listen was one of my biggest sources of shame, and I cannot tell you what a relief it was when I started to realise that it was getting easier.

PROCRASTINATING

Now, let’s be reasonable. Procrastination still happens. I have been wanting to write this for ADHD awareness month and at this rate I’ll be lucky if I get it out before November starts! But when it comes to things that NEED to be done, like laundry, self care, cleaning, working etc, it has become so much easier to just go get it done. If we boil it down into a statistic, I would say I’d overcome procrastination about 10% of the time before meds, and now it’s about 70%. Beforehand, I would have had to employ the ‘wait until it becomes urgent’ tactic to finally get myself to do it, and that really is not a good system if you don’t handle stress well.

DISTRACTIONS

There are two different types of distraction. Firstly, losing concentration and going off and doing something else, what I’d call internal distraction. Secondly, something happening in your surroundings that cuts into your concentration, what I’d call external distraction. For me, both of these have massively improved. Internal distraction still happens, but so SO much less. Like I can focus for 20 minutes on one thing now, which unless I was fully hyperfocused on something, would never happen before. External distractions also don’t affect me the way they used to – previously they’d completely derail me, I wouldn’t be able to get back to whatever I was doing, and the threat of that made be unwilling to start things, because the feeling of being pulled away when I had actually managed to concentrate was almost painful. But now, I can stop cleaning to answer the door, stop studying to put out laundry, stop talking to answer a text, and go straight back to what I was doing after I’ve finished with the distraction.

SELF ESTEEM

As you can imagine, the lifelong struggles I was experiencing before I was diagnosed had a pretty negative impact on the way I saw myself. I believed that everyone else’s brain worked the same way mine did, but that they were capable of so much more than I was. So what did that make me?! Even after I was diagnosed, part of me still didn’t trust it – I truly believed I was lazy, selfish, with no self-control or discipline. I couldn’t follow my dreams because I didn’t believe I could work hard enough to achieve them. I couldn’t pursue meaningful or important careers, because I didn’t trust myself to be able to perform well enough to actually be helpful. I felt guilty every time a new interest popped up, I felt ashamed by how hard it was to listen to people. It wasn’t really until I started medication and felt all these differences that I realised how much I had been struggling every second of every day, and I was genuinely able to start learning how to believe in myself again.

So those are a few of the ways that my life has improved since starting ADHD medication. I hope this sheds some light on why it’s so important for adults who need it to be assessed for ADHD. No one should have to fight their way through life with an undiagnosed, untreated disability.

Testing every scent in the Replica by Maison Margiela Discovery Set*

So I am absolutely obsessed with perfumes. I could hang around the fragrance counters in a department store all day sniffing away at everything. I am fascinated by how they work, and the evocative power of scent. But of course, fragrance is best experienced on the skin, so I decided I would start buying fragrance discovery sets to try out as many new scents as I possibly can, without buying full sizes (my bank account is grateful!). And then, I thought I’d share my thoughts on each of the fragrances I try, because why not? I have a pretty sensitive nose so hopefully my insights will be helpful! The first discovery set I decided to try was the Replica by Maison Margiela Memory Box* – a collection of Eau de Toilettes inspired by beautiful memories. This set* contains 10 scents in 2ml bottles, and costs £33. So without any further chit chat, let me get into the reviews!

AD NOTE – Products contained in this post were entirely purchased by me, but affiliate links are used throughout and are marked with an asterisk.

Beach Walk*

Oh my. This scent. Not to sound dramatic but when I first sprayed this on I was stood there smelling it for at least five full minutes. It is utterly enchanting. I thought it would be a sort of standard fresh smelling fragrance, but it is nothing of the sort. A sparkling, bright warmth evokes the beauty of sand in the sunshine, light glittering and heat radiating from the grains, cut through by the fresh sea breeze. It is so delicate and elegant, with fresh notes of lemon and bergamot combined with dynamic pink pepper and rich, warm coconut. This is sunshine distilled into a perfume, and the beautiful balance between warm and fresh means it really does conjure the sense of a walk along a pristine beach.

Coffee Break*

This fragrance is one of the softest, creamiest and most comforting scents I have ever smelled. I was expecting it to have the somewhat unpleasantly acrid ‘fake coffee’ smell that coffee scented cosmetics and candles can sometimes have, but it’s absolutely nothing like that at all. It’s smooth, rich and warm, and has a spiciness that reminds me of the perfumes my granny used to wear – she was a woman of truly impeccable taste and style, so believe me when I say that’s honestly the highest compliment I can give to a perfume. The notes in this are so unusual compared to what I’m used to in fragrances – milk mousse, red apple, spearmint and lemon are combined with coffee, lavender, sandalwood and orange blossom to create a scent that is almost marshmallowy in it’s softness, yet somehow light and almost a little bit fresh.

Springtime in a Park*

This lovely fragrance conveys the joy of spring in such a beautifully balanced way. Spring flowers are powdery, sweet and sometimes musky, and this can be overpowering in my opinion, if the fragrance is formulated without subtlety. There’s no trace of that here though, this perfume is handled magnificently. Powdery sweet blooms of lily of the valley and Damask rose are tempered with crisp, slightly aromatic notes of sweet pear, bergamot and tart blackcurrant, creating an incredibly vivid sense of leaning over to inhale the fragrance of a spring flower, while the brisk spring air breezes all around. Musk and vanilla base notes ensure this fragrance stays with you long after the first spritz, like the memory of those delicate spring blossoms resting on your mind.

Bubble Bath*

Eeek I really don’t want to say what I have to say here. I hated it. To me it just smelled of toilet cleaner. I am SO curious to know what it smells like on other people, because there is simply no way that it smells like that on the people who tested it! I need to find someone else to spray it on. It is supposed to smell soapy and powdery, which it definitely does, but clearly something wasn’t working with my skin chemistry!

Autumn Vibes*

A beautiful, evocative scent, with crisply woody and subtly spicy notes. I adore autumn, and this perfume is the perfect encapsulation of a romantic autumn afternoon outdoors. Notes like aromatic carrot seed, nutmeg, cardamon and moss conjure the feeling of walking through an auburn toned woodland, red leaves rustling as they tumble down from the moss-covered trees on a fresh, crisp breeze. I wish I could say more about this one, but its rather straightforward in its autumnal loveliness.

Under the Lemon Trees*

This is a stunningly fresh, aromatic scent, beautifully capturing the sensorial delight of walking in a citrus grove. Kalamansi lime provides the intensely layered citrus scent, while cardamom, cedarwood, coriander and cistus emulate the heady fragrance of sun-warmed tree bark, and green tea evokes breeze-ruffled leaves. Unfortunately, this fragrance faded almost immediately on my skin, which was a real shame because I adored it! (Update; I recently bought Fresh Beauty’s absolutely gorgeous Sugar Lemon Body Wash and the combination of that with the fragrance seemed to help the fragrance to last longer! Results may vary, but if you end up loving the scent as much as I did but suffer with the same problem, it might help!)

By the Fireplace*

This is another fragrance that really surprised me. I’m not sure what I was expecting but this wasn’t it! You know when you’ve been sitting next to an open wood fire all evening, and when you leave, your clothes and hair are coated in that unmistakable smell of burning wood? This fragrance has taken that scent, removed the acrid, cloying, burnt part of it, and distilled it into this incredibly elegant, woody fragrance that instantly conjures images of a roaring wood fire. Gaiic wood oil is the hero here, its smouldering, tobaccoesque notes are responsible for that incredible fireside dimension, while spices like pink pepper, vanilla and clove round it out it by giving it a warm, rich heart. Orange flower petals provide an ethereally elegant top note, elevating and opening up the perfume, while chestnut provides a nutty sweetness. Honestly I think this is a masterpiece.

Sailing Day*

This fragrance has a strong sense of traditional aftershave to me, which is something I don’t like for myself, but I think I would really enjoy it on someone who suits aftershave. Aquatic notes, juniper and seaweed conjure the scent of the sea, while coriander, iris and ambergris provide balance with a warm richness. Even though I don’t think I’ll wear it, I think it’s brilliant, and the story of this one is really well formulated – sitting back a boat surrounded by the sparkling ocean, the warmth of the sun beating down on the deck, it’s a really pleasing, well executed concept.

Jazz Club*

Smooth, sweet and completely enchanting, I absolutely loved the rich spicy depth of this fragrance. It really does evoke the intimate atmosphere of a darkly lit jazz club, where time has no meaning and the air is electric yet relaxed at the same time. Capturing the senses with an opening of neroli and pink pepper, the fragrance warms into rum, sage, tobacco and vanilla. It is deeply aromatic and irresistibly alluring, definitely something to wear when you want to imbue yourself with a quiet sensuality, powerful, confident yet understated.

Lazy Sunday Morning*

It’s quite an esoteric concept to distil into a perfume, but Replica have succeeded amazingly in creating a scent that really does conjure the sense of a slow, relaxing start to a day. Gentle, delicate, airy notes like pear, ambrette and lily of the valley create a tranquil, calm feeling, while fresh sweet florals provide a warm, bright aspect – like soft sunlight and a gentle breeze wafting through an open window. It is such a perfectly peaceful scent, I absolutely adore this one and cannot get enough, it leaves me feeling optimistic, inspired and so wonderfully uplifted.

I hope I’ve piqued your curiosity about Replica’s fragrances, I am certainly beyond impressed with them, even the ones I didn’t like I can really appreciate the artistry behind them. I just need to decide which one I’m finally going to purchase! Each fragrance is linked above, but here* is a link to the Discovery Set, so you can experience them for yourself.

Being diagnosed with ADHD in my 30s | Part One – Why?

The first time I properly read about ADHD, I was trawling the internet, trying to work out why I couldn’t concentrate on my copywriting job in a bustling open plan office. I’d casually mentioned to my fellow copywriters how hard I found it to focus, and they looked at me with kind, sympathetic, but confused expressions. They definitely didn’t seem to struggle the way I did – they’d tune in and out of conversations with the rest of the creative team seamlessly, and often when working on a big chunk of work, they didn’t even wear headphones. I, on the other hand, was at my wit’s end after three months.

I felt like the only time I could actually concentrate was after people had started to filter out of the office after half 4, and I would get all my work done in that last hour of the day. So I started forcing myself out of bed at 6, to get to work for before 8, so I could have an hour or so before the office filled up. I was getting about 4 hours of sleep a night because no matter how exhausted I was, I would always get distracted on my way to bed. And my home life was a shambles. My partner James was working full time and studying for a master’s degree, so he had absolutely no free time, and I just could not handle managing the house – which was embarrassing, given we lived in a 400sqft flat and I was a fully grown adult.

I was on the verge of breaking down completely – I was wrecked physically, mentally and emotionally, but the thing is, this wasn’t the first time. In fact, I’d spent the year before I got that job working from home as a sporadic freelancer, specifically because a similar (though less intense) thing had happened to me in the job before. And before that? The same again, and before that was university, where my struggles were experienced a little differently. I was in a cycle of trying something new, liking it for a while, then becoming overwhelmed and bored at the same time, breaking down, having a rest, and going again, each time getting steadily more and more burnt out at the end of it.

At school, the term system, with long and frequent holidays was probably the only reason I made it to adulthood, because I NEEDED those breaks. It wasn’t that I hated school – in fact learning is something that sustains me like nothing else. It was because I was constantly trying to corral my brain into listening to my teachers, being stressed from getting to the end of lesson after lesson and realising I hadn’t paid attention to any of it, the time constraints, doing what I was told when most of the time I felt compelled to be doing something else. My greatest fear was getting into trouble – so I never let anyone know that I was fed up, or that I hadn’t listened, and I would never express my frustration or boredom outwardly. Because I was a teacher’s pet, I was often privy to conversations that the adults at school deemed me ‘mature’ enough to hear – things like their opinions on children who were disruptive, I even remember one being particularly derisive about a fellow pupil’s recent ADHD diagnosis! That exposure reinforced the shame, fear and embarrassment I felt about my secret inability to concentrate on my lessons.

I was determined that no one would ever know I wasn’t paying attention, because I’d heard what adults said to children who weren’t performing well – “you must try harder”, “you have to listen better”. But I dreaded that, because I knew I was already trying my hardest to pay attention, and it wasn’t happening. I felt like if someone said those words to me it would be all over – I would be a confirmed failure. I couldn’t hide it to begin with though – I took ages to learn to read and write, and for the first years of school I was in a remedial class for maths. When I eventually learned these skills, I soon caught up, became a total praise-hog, and ended up with such accolades as getting the ‘most merits’ in a school year, and being in the local paper for my GCSE and A Level results.

What I know now is that throughout my life I’ve been relying on quick wittedness to ‘fill in the gaps’ and ‘work stuff out’ when I haven’t been paying attention – which is why back when I was a tiny child, a knower of nothing, I didn’t fare very well. It still happens. In conversations at work, when socialising, and at home, I’ve learned to fake listening so well that people have no idea my mind is elsewhere. I can glean a few words here and there, and pretty much work out what someone is talking about. By the time it’s my turn to contribute, I’d be able to offer insight or feedback and people are none the wiser that I’m doing it based off of about three sentences. Would you believe I’ve often been complimented on what a good listener I am? It’s true. This, I’m aware, makes me sound like the worst person ever. I know how bad it sounds, but the shame I felt is one of the reasons I kept all these struggles to myself. I didn’t have the vocabulary or ability to express that I couldn’t listen to people, because it was such a humiliating secret for me. Now that I know, I have felt empowered to ask people to repeat stuff, or to request that we get into a setting where I can concentrate better (such as being free to move and fidget).

The thing about ADHD that a lot of people don’t understand is that it’s not actually a ‘deficit’ of attention. That term is based solely on what it looks like on the outside – of course if someone isn’t paying attention to you, it’s understandable that you think they’re lacking attention. But people with ADHD actually have an overabundance of attention – the issue is that we don’t possess the same ability to direct where our attention goes. ADHD attention is a powerful, wild and untamed thing. It’s a bit like bodies of water. Someone without ADHD has attention that behaves like a river – it can be redirected, it flows evenly, it can get a little rambunctious at times, but for the most part, it’s a stable enough entity that you can safely build a whole town on its banks. ADHD attention is the north sea. You never know what it’s going to do next, it’s rough, powerful and destructive, but also awe-inspiring. Good luck building anything on it – your foundations could be swept away by a ten minute squall. Neither one of these attention types is worse than the other, we’d never say “why can’t the north sea be more like the river thames”. We accept them for what they are. Just as we should accept attention diversity.

There are several reasons why things came to a head when I was in that copywriter job, but in terms of realising I had ADHD, the primary one is that it was the busiest environment I’d ever worked in – and a job I thought I wanted to do for years. The overwhelm of the office and the unexpected boredom despite my initial excitement when I was hired meant that I couldn’t hide or ignore the issues I was having anymore. When I started researching, I was looking for tips on how to concentrate in a busy office, but pretty soon stuff started coming up about ADHD. I started reading, and as I learned more, every example I’ve written in this blog post (and much more) flooded my mind. The way that ADHD is diagnosed in adults is by checking off criteria from a list called the DIVA (Diagnostic InterView in Adults) – and evidence from both childhood and adulthood must be present. As I read through the criteria, I realised I had memories and specific examples for all of them, from every single stage of my life. And for the first time, I realised my secret shame might not be so shameful, and might not need to stay so secret.

This is the first part of my story about how I ended up with an ADHD diagnosis in my 30s – I hope it was interesting for you, and if you’re going through something similar right now feel free to reach out! And please check back for the next part – I’m intending to make this into three parts, the second one on how I ended up getting an assessment, and the third on the assessment itself.

How to make a cosy home for winter

Almost as soon as the leaves start turning brown, my mind turns to thoughts of hearty, warming dinners, festive decor and long walks in the crisp winter air, followed by cosying up on the sofa for an evening of comfort and joy. I love winter so much, but I didn’t always. I used to find the darkness depressing, the coldness irritating – winter slowed things down in ways I couldn’t stand and left me miserable.

But a few years ago I started to realise that hating an entire season is no way to live – if you’re in a temperate climate like I am, it makes up a quarter of your life. It’s easy to underestimate the power of making your home a warm, comforting space in the winter. But even animals do it – hibernation, digging warm burrows and sets, all to keep the raging cold outside, and their family warm inside. Making your home a seasonally-appropriate space helps encourage you to embrace the season you’re in. It’s been shown time and time again that embracing our local seasonal changes is so beneficial to our hearts and minds. That doesn’t mean to be cold all the time – you don’t embrace winter by literally letting winter into your home, don’t worry! Rather, it’s about doing wholesome, gentle things that keep the cold out in ways that feel natural to you – embracing the dark afternoons with candlelight, adorning your space with reminders that beauty exists all year round, coming home to a warm meal with loved ones. That’s what it means to embrace winter. So read on for some of the ideas I’ve collected over the years, on how to make your home a cosy space that will nourish your soul and eliminate the winter dread.

Bring nature inside

Whilst it might be a no-brainer to decorate your home with flowers and foliage in the spring and summer, how do you bring nature into your home when most of it has seemingly died back? Pinecones are one of my favourites – I love hunting for different varieties as there are SO many – from absolutely enormous ones that make audible ‘cracking’ sounds as they dry, to teeny tiny ones that remain attached to wizened fallen branches. Of course you can also buy pinecones from a shop, you don’t need to go skulking round an arboretum for them if you don’t have the time! I scatter them around, use them in garlands, and I also like to display them in bowls – I recently I bought an unglazed ceramic bowl shaped like a leaf which painted it in autumnal shades of brown and gold, and has become the perfect vessel for showing off my collection of pinecones. Other lovely pieces of nature that you can bring into your home in winter include stems of fir or pine trees (or you can just prune some off your Christmas tree if you have a real one) and branches of holly leaves – but handle with care! Another new discovery for me is branches of deciduous trees, such as the bright red of many dogwood species (Cornus sp.), the papery white of some birch species (Betula sp.), or beech branches (Fagus sylvatica) with the crunchy, rich brown leaves still attached. These branches all look absolutely stunning when woven into a wreath, or artfully arranged in a vase. I try to avoid anything with berries – although I have used them in my decorating before – as they do start to rot after a while, and if you have kids or pets obviously you don’t want to be bringing anything potentially poisonous but easily-eaten inside.

Start some cosy (but easy) crafting

Something that has brought me so much joy and satisfaction over the years is finding easy, cute crafts that I can do to keep my hands occupied while I watch festive films or listen to podcasts. Here are just a few that I’ve either already tried, or plan to try soon: Making no-knit decorative mini bobble hats, decorating pre-cut wooden baubles, adding touches of fake snow onto pinecones, painting holly leaves with gold, wrapping gifts in new and elaborate ways, making your own a seasonal wreath, dehydrating oranges for garlands, making your own candles or wax melts, learning new illustration techniques with a fineliner or on a tablet (for minimal cleanup). I have also been known to engage in somewhat larger-scale festive crafting, but that’ll have to wait for another blog post… my point here is that doing something creative, but not too taxing, is a perfect way to spend a cosy winter’s evening.

Move into the (half) light

The short days and long nights of winter sometimes leave me feeling like the sun barely came up at all, massively affecting my energy levels and mood. But something I realised is that trying to replace the daylight with bright overhead light doesn’t work nearly as well as embracing the gloom, and lighting my home with candles, Himalayan salt lamps, fairy lights, and other gentle lighting that bathes the room in a warm, natural glow, rather than harsh artificial light. It’s strange, but as soon as I embraced this gloom and glow style of lighting, my brain seemed more at ease and comfortable in my surroundings, making me more relaxed, less exhausted and moody. The one tall lamp I have has Wiz app-controlled lightbulbs in it so that I can easily control how much light we have in the room – I use the ‘candlelight’ option and turn the brightness down very low, which bathes the room in an unobtrusive, warm light that I can easily turn up if I need to see something. When we’re not watching the TV in the wintertime, we almost always have a fireplace video playing on the screen too – if you haven’t embraced that already, you simply must. It’s so lovely.

Make it fragrant

I’m a home fragrance nut. I simply cannot get enough of wax melts, reed diffusers and scented candles. Ever since I first developed this obsession, it’s added a new layer of excitement to the changing of the seasons, because it means I get to change over my wax melts! Two of my all time favourite wintery home fragrance products are the Pink Peppercorn & Jasmine scent from Sandwick Bay Candles*, and the Tinder Box scent from The Botanical Candle Co. Pink Peppercorn & Jasmine is sweet and warm, like a big fluffy blanket with a subtly spiced edge to it, while Tinder Box is equally as sweet and comforting, but with a woody earthiness, a romantic evocation of a crackling log fire. These extraordinarily well balanced, artisan fragrances last for such a long time in the wax melt form, and are the perfect level of intensity, easily filling an average sized living room with beautiful, wintery fragrance. They’re both available in candle and reed diffuser formats too!

Go exploring outdoors

I hinted at this in my introduction, but here’s where I want to talk more about how important it is to get outdoors in winter, and how a cosy home helps us to do that. Being out in nature reduces stress, gives us time to think, stretch the legs, and if the sun is shining, helps to top up vitamin D levels (though we should probably all be taking supplements for that anyway – here’s a link* to the one I use). I’m not one for ‘prescribing’ nature immersion as a treatment for mental illness or severe stress, because I know from experience that nature doesn’t cure depression, and if you’re overwhelmed you aren’t suddenly going to be able to cope after a walk in the outdoors. But it is true that being out in nature improves mood, reduces stress hormones, and I think, helps to give some clarity on life. We need that just as much in the wintertime as we do any other time of year. However, it’s also true that getting the motivation to go out when its bloody freezing is hard. Making home a cosy, comforting space during the winter might seem counter-intuitive because wouldn’t that mean you’d never want to leave the warmth? But actually the opposite is true, at least for me. When my home is lovely and welcoming, I feel more positive and optimistic, less distracted, and more enthusiastic. These are all the right ingredients for going out into the cold – because you know that when you get back from your adventure, your cold hands will be warmed up, your hunger will be satiated, and your tired body will be wrapped up cosily in blankets and soft clothes.

Embrace blanket life

I can’t believe there was ever a time when I sat on sofas without a cosy blanket covering at least part of me. Nowadays I can’t relax without one! My favourite blankets are the IKEA Ingabritta ones, which are perfect because the loose-ish weave means you can control how warm they make you by folding it over, or leaving just a single layer. However, I’ve recently taken a step further in my commitment to blankets and now I wear one. I am the proud owner of one of those gigantic blanket hoodies – I couldn’t find the exact one online but this one looks amazing – it has two layers of fabric, so I think it would be even warmer than mine which is saying a lot, because mine is only one layer and its so warm that when I’m wearing it with a pair of fluffy socks, I literally don’t need to put the heating on. It’s the ultimate in cosy and feels like I’m wrapped up in cotton wool – such a great investment for the winter months (unless you run hot, in which case this is literally the worst purchase you could ever make).

Learn some easy, warming recipes

I have a go-to stew recipe that holds a very precious place in my heart because my dad taught me to make it, and we’d eat it frequently throughout the winters of my childhood. It’s incredibly nourishing, easy to make (with loads of leftovers) and just about the best thing ever after a long day. And now as an adult it’s become my favourite thing to make when I need something comforting. If you don’t have a recipe like that – make this the winter that you find one! I have quite a few more than just dad’s stew of course – braised green lentils with mash, daal and rice, tuscan bean soup, cheesy cauliflower pasta, bean chilli with potato wedges… I could go on but wow I’m getting hungry. Anyway my point is, when it’s been cold and miserable and I want to eat something warming and delicious, I have a repertoire of easy, inexpensive meals which all make use of store-cupboard ingredients, that I can cook with my eyes closed and know will turn out just how I want. I wouldn’t classify myself as a talented cook at all – so if I can create a varied rotation of hearty winter dinners, I’m sure other people can too!

Make your own traditions

One of the wonderful things my parents taught me was that festive traditions don’t have to be done by other people first – you can make your own up, and pick and choose which pre-existing ones to follow, based purely on your personal preferences. One of my favourite examples is that we watch Muppets Treasure Island on Christmas Day, because we like it more than Christmas Carol, and another is that my Grandma and Grandad would spend Christmas Day eating turkey sandwiches on the beach with their dog. Homemade bread for the turkey sandwiches (or roast potato sandwiches if you’re me) is another – my dad started that and now James carries it on. A tradition that James and I started is that rather than decorating the tree together, I do it and then ‘reveal’ it to him – it’s a special treat for both of us and creates a festive atmosphere every year. Traditions are a form of social ritual that can feel comforting, but also sometimes restrictive – I think that making up your own creates the perfect balance. James is planning to learn to make pannetone this week – so I’m keeping my fingers crossed it becomes a tradition too!

I hope you enjoyed my tips and ideas, and that you’re feeling a seasonal, festive, and excited for winter! ❄️

My Favourite Home Fragrance Brands For Candles, Wax Mets, And Reed Diffusers

I am OBSESSED with home fragrance products. As far as I’m concerned, it isn’t evening if there aren’t candles going and a gorgeous scent wafting gently though the air, and I have reed diffusers placed strategically so there are different scents in different parts of my home. I’m very sensitive to smells – because of both physiological and mental sensitivities. I have an unusually sensitive sense of smell, but as a result of my neurodivergency, I also tend to notice and be affected by smells more than most people. For a lot of neurodivergent people, any strong smell at all can be overwhelming and unpleasant, but for me, I have really strong reactions both in positive and negative ways. If I don’t like a smell, I can’t think about anything else until it’s gone. If I like a smell? It consumes me in a different way. I NEED to smell it everywhere, all the time.

So when I first discovered that there were all kinds of brilliantly talented, creative independent businesses making glorious home fragrances for me to bathe my home in? I was besotted, and several years later, here we are with a list of my favourites. So, if you’re interested in discovering the results of my ADHD hyperfixation on home fragrance products, read on!

Sandwick Bay Candles*

This brand is particularly close to my heart because they’re from the Outer Hebrides, where my family are from. I’d followed them for years online and desperately wanted to try their products, but kept telling myself I’d wait until I was next on the island to visit their shop. Well, I wish I hadn’t waited. Sandwick Bay sell some of the best wax melts I’ve ever used. The depth and complexity of the scents, the way they bathe an entire room in gorgeous fragrance from just one little melt… it’s incredible. And they’re definitely the most long-lasting melts I’ve ever used – some have kept going for two, sometimes even three evenings before the scent wears out. The candles and reed diffusers are equally as fantastic – but I’ve chosen to focus on the wax melts in this post because otherwise I’d never stop talking. My favourite scents at the moment are Sandalwood & Vanilla, which is so dreamlike and smooth, perfect for cosy evenings, and Seagrass, which is both rejuvenating and relaxing at the same time – utterly enchanting. I’ll definitely do a full post on their products soon so I can go into more detail about them! But for the meantime, you can click here* to shop.

& Chai

The delightfully delicate, yet room-filling fragrances of these soy wax candles are an extraordinary testament to the imagination and creativity of the co-owners of & Chai, Michelle and Louise. With crackling wooden wicks, the hand-poured candles are sold in fully recyclable glass and aluminium jars, with stylishly understated labelling – a gorgeous addition to a coffee table or desk. I’ve tried almost all of their scents, either full-sized or in tealight form and love them all, but here are a few particular favourites. The Isabelle candle is pillow-soft and comforting, with notes of ylang-ylang and vanilla, it’s perfect accompaniment for an afternoon’s work. Duvet Daze is a delicate, creamy, dreamy blend of coconut milk, cinnamon and jasmine, evoking lazy days spent curled up with a book. And Leif is so, so fresh and clean, with a woody, subtle earthiness – the perfect candle for a room full of plants.

St Eval

It’s totally impossible to pick favourites with St Eval – elegant fragrances with a rustic, natural edge. To me their scents evoke a wilderness scene; coming off the windswept moors after gathering fresh botanicals, aromatic plants crushed by cold fingers, releasing the verdant fragrance of foliage, flowers, bark and fruits into the air. St Eval do the best scented tealights you’ll ever find. Tealights have an important role to play when it comes to creating an atmosphere – as they let you dot warm candlelight across a dinner table or all around a room, whilst scenting the space at the same time. I absolutely adore the wild, fresh and green Bergamot and Nettle fragrance, Bay and Rosemary is a poetic herbal fusion, Honeysuckle is pure summer distilled into wax, and I don’t think I’ll ever get over the gloriousness of the Joy scent – mimosa blended with fresh greenery, it’s a work of art that conjures a heady summer garden. And it’s not just tealights of course, they offer their abundant collection of fragrances in so many different mediums, including pillar candles, beautiful stoneware and ceramic candle vessels, and reed diffusers.

Plum & Ashby

This opulent brand holds the great honour of scenting my living room – and has done for over a year, with the SAME reed diffuser. I joked to James the other day that it’s a good job we’re both in love with Plum & Ashby’s gorgeous Wild Fig & Saffron Diffuser because it’s never going to run out! This scent is a work of art – sumptuously sweet saffron and dried fruits, heady, sensual fig and enveloping vanilla, amber and wood, with a touch of leafy greenery and tart blackcurrant. So far this is the only product we’ve tried from Plum & Ashby, but pretty much everything else they make is also on our list – it’s impossible not to crave more when I spend all day everyday inhaling this stunning fragrance and never tiring of it! When I went to find the link on their website I noticed they’d had a rebrand, so naturally I’m painfully tempted to treat myself…

The Botanical Candle Co.

Ohhh what a joy this brand is. I think the picture says a thousand words when it comes to The Botanical Candle Co.’s delightful wax melts – but as wonderful as they look, it’s the fragrance that matters the most. And these fragrances… oh my. So far I’ve tried eight – and every single one has been an utter treat. My favourite at the moment is Tinder Box, which is perfect for cuddling up on the sofa on winter evenings – a sweet woody scent of tobacco leaf, black pepper and vanilla swirled together in a comfortingly cosy, smoky-spicy fragrance. Their floral scents are probably some of the best I’ve ever smelled too, and I love floral scents. Unapologetically heady, sweet and mysterious, Darjeeling and Tea Rose is the most well-balanced rose scent you’ll ever find, whilst Orange Blossom is a flawless ode to the most beautifully scented flower the earth has ever created. Late Summer is another incredible one, although I decided to save the rest of that scent until the summer months so I can enjoy it in the manner in which it was intended. With a scent of cut grass and petrichor, combined with the verdant freshness of bergamot and vetiver, sweetened by geranium and deepened by sandalwood, it’s literally August distilled into wax.

I hope you enjoyed me waxing lyrical about home fragrances, and are feeling inspired to give some new ones a try! Hopefully you’ll find a few new favourites 🤍

The Best Wax Melt and Oil Burners For Every Home

I’m one of those annoying people who is super picky but wants EVERYTHING. Every time I go looking for something I want to buy I’ll get a very specific idea in my mind of what I want, search for hours for that one exact thing, and then wonder why I can’t find it. This habit was thrown into a particularly strong light when I was looking for a wax melt burner – I ordered some wax melts and they were sitting in the cupboard for weeks before I actually managed to find a suitable vessel to burn them in! I trawled every corner of the internet, and after I’d found my perfect one, I realised it had actually been really difficult to find a wax burner that matched my style.While there was nothing wrong with the ones that turned up on the Google shopping page, they just didn’t suit my home. I just knew that since my wax burner was going to be sitting on my coffee table, if I didn’t make the effort to get it right the first time, I’d just end up buying another one (and another one after that probably).

ANYWAY, all that to say I came across a TONNE of gorgeous wax melt and oil burners while I was on my hunt for the perfect one for me – and I thought I’d share them all here, to hopefully make the search easier for other people – so I hope you find one you love! I’ve split them into four sections – handmade, luxe-look, niche designs and electric – because those made the most sense to me, but (obviously) I encourage you to look through them all. Happy burning – and remember to protect your surfaces and never leave a burner unattended!

(Please note – affiliate links are marked with an asterisk*)

Handmade Perfection

These beautiful pieces of art are made by skilled artisans – they’re a little more expensive but that’s to be expected, and I think they’re worth every penny to own a unique piece that someone has poured their love, skill and passion into.

Cottagecore Dreaminess – Fairy House Handmade Ceramic Burner* (£27)

I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw this stunning burner. It makes me want to move into a crooked witchy cottage, with dried herbs hanging from the rafters and a black cat sleeping on a sunny windowsill. You’d definitely have to make wax melts using flowers you grew yourself to show this wonderful creation the respect it deserves! Or not – anyway, I am completely in love with this Fairy House Ceramic Wax Melt Burner* by the incredibly talented potter Sallyamoss* and think it’s an utter bargain at £27. Click here* to buy!

Industrial Chic – Handmade Copper Pipe Wax Melt And Oil Burner* (£29)

If you’ve ever been to my house you will have had to sit through me enthusiastically telling you about my coffee table. I made it by hand with my dad before he died, and it’s a beautiful maple plank tabletop finished with clear matt varnish, and copper pipe frame and legs, which I cut and soldered myself. It is such a proud achievement, and it also reminds me of my dad whenever I look at it. So when I saw this burner I squeaked a little – can you imagine how perfectly this copper pipe burner would look on a coffee table with copper pipe legs?! I actually came across this one after I had already ordered the one I have now so I had to resist, but I won’t lie, part of me is hoping my own wax burner meets with an *ahem* terrible accident so I can buy this Handmade Copper Pipe Burner* made by rcoppercreations* as a replacement. It costs £29, and you can click here* to buy!

Cosy Scandi Perfection – Handmade Mountain Wax Melt and Oil Burner* (£34)

I think this is such a cute yet sleek burner. It’s the perfect way to add a touch of wintertime cosiness and comfort without interrupting the flow of a stylish, modern home. I adore the design – when a candle is lit inside it looks like snow-capped mountains glowing in the sunset light, isn’t that lovely? It’s quite tall and slim, so it’ll fit in really nicely with a pre-existing display on a coffee table (or wherever you plan to keep yours). And you can choose from two colours for your mountains, plus you have an option to add some of The Candle Bothy‘s amazing selection of vegan wax melts (click here* to check out the scents) which makes this a great choice for a gift too! The price starts at £34 and increases if you buy the wax melts, and you can click here* to buy!

Pottery Perfection – Hand Thrown Wax Melt And Oil Burner* (£17.99)

I’m super impressed by this one because I was in a potter’s shop a couple of months ago, and she was struggling so much to make her own burners from hand-thrown pottery. She was finding it impossible to stop the hole from warping in the kiln. Because of that, when I came across this gorgeous piece by mother and daughter team Emandmceramics* I was amazed! It’s absolutely beautiful isn’t it? And takes such skill! This beautiful burner is ideal for anyone who love to incorporate organic shapes and natural finishes in their home. Click here* to buy it for £17.99! They also have a fully glazed version with a beautiful speckled finish that you can check out here*.

Elegantly Luxurious

This section features beautiful, refined options for stylish home dwellers. Not to confuse you, but these enchanting burners aren’t super expensive, so don’t lose hope – the aesthetic concept of ‘luxe’ doesn’t always come with a premium price point.

Practical and perfect – M&S Oil And Wax Melt Burner* (£12.50)

I’m really impressed with the clean lines and understated elegance of this burner by marks and sparks. The brass holder adds such a lovely, subtle gleam to your home setup, while the ceramic dish will be easy to clean and take care of. This burner also comes with a small vial of calmingly scented oil so you can get going right away (assuming you didn’t do what I did and buy a million melts before you even started shopping for a burner). Click here* to buy for £12.50!

Scandinavian Chic – Nordic Wax Melt Burner* (£24.99)

This is another simple, subtle yet impactful design that I absolutely love. I can think of so many different home styles where this would fit in perfectly! It has a kind of satisfying look to it I think – a sweet little cube with a strong, elegant identity. Another one where I’m not-so-secretly wishing I had a need for a second burner, sigh. Click here* to buy for £24.99!

Marine-ly Interesting – Coral Oil Burner (£20)

This is such a beautiful piece of homeware-meets-art from John Lewis. I love the subtle intricate design and understated stylishness. Do note however, that this is only for oils, not wax. I honestly don’t know what the difference is – my guess is it’s either to do with cleaning it, or something to do with the heat required for the waxes and oils being different. If you prefer oils, this is an absolutely gorgeous choice for something a little unusual, but undeniably elegant. Click here to buy for £20.

Simply Stylish – Concrete Oil Burner (£18)

If elegant is what you like, I don’t think you can do better than this stunning oil burner from John Lewis. Polished brass and white concrete create such a clean, refined aesthetic. Again this one is only for oils but I think I know why this time – cleaning wax off brass is quite difficult, I have a brass dish myself and it needs a lot of attention to get the wax deposits off! It’s best to stick to the manufacturer’s instructions, especially when it involves heating stuff up. Anyway, that aside, this burner would look incredibly sleek in so many different room styles – it’ll perfectly match a minimal aesthetic, but will easily hold its own in a busier room. Click here to buy for £18.

Palmately Playful – Paradise Pink Ceramic Oil Burner (£15.50)

My own oil burner is from Oliver Bonas, so I really rate them. Sadly mine is no longer available otherwise it would be taking centre stage in this blog post, but this is a wonderful alternative! I love the fun palm leaf design and the millennial pink – this would look amazing in any super-cool, personality-filled space. Again this is oils only, again I’m not sure why, but still, I encourage you to follow the instructions. Click here to buy for £15.50 – it’s on sale!

A Little Niche

This probably sounds like a weird section to have, but one thing I found while I was trawling the internet was that there were loads of amazing, but very specific, burner designs out there – ones that would absolutely make the right person’s day if they happened upon them at the right time. I absolutely love the creativity and variety of the burner world. So here are some of the best!

She Shells Sea Sells – Nautical Wax And Oil Burner* (£12.99)

Whoever started the trend for nautical themed bathrooms is a very clever person indeed. Those spaces always feel so clean, serene and comfortable. And if you know someone who has a bathroom like that – you know this is the perfect gift, right? Or if you’re lucky enough to live by the sea and thus perhaps have other rooms with a nautical theme, this is definitely the one for you. Click here* to buy for £12.99!

Sweet As Honey – Bumble Bee Wax Melt Burner* (£12)

Isn’t this the cutest thing ever?! Anyone who loves bees, lives in the countryside or has curated a country-chic look in their home will adore this. I can just picture how lovely it would look with the glow from the candle shimmering through the little holes, making it look like a busy, buzzing beehive. Simply adorable. Click here* to buy for £12!

Grey Home Perfection – Geometric Ceramic Wax Melt Burner* (£7.99)

I admire people who know how to make a grey colour scheme work in a room. I think if I tried that it would end up looking like the life had been sucked out of everything, but I’ve seen some amazingly dynamic looking grey spaces, and I think this is the perfect option for those rooms. The pattern provides interest while the bold contrast between the greys carries the theme wonderfully. Click here* to buy for £7.99!

A Little Prickly – Cactus Wax Melt Burner* (£9+)

Anyone with houseplants, frankly, NEEDS this in their life. If I had even a single iota of space left then I would have had to buy this one, to sit alongside my real cacti – but unfortunately several of my plants have recently produced babies and I have literally nowhere to put anything else. This burner is so cute I can’t even come up with anything to say about it, I’m just obsessed. If you’re a plant lover yourself I’d wager you feel the same way, and if you’re looking for a gift for a plant parent? This is your sign – you’ve found the perfect present. The lovely shop that sells this set is called Lost+Fond and they have a gorgeous selection of wax melts to go along with the burner – I’m particularly tempted by neroli + rosewood. Click here* to buy – the price starts at £9!

Rustic Country Chic – Vintage Style Oil Burner* (£7.50)

The ultimate burner for any rustic country abode (or anyone who wants to foster that eclectic, cosy feeling in a more modern home). I love how sweet these are, and being fully glazed means they’re easy to keep clean too! Click here* to buy for £7.50

Home Is Where The Candles Are – House Wax Melt Burner* (£16)

Another beautiful item sold by Lost+Fond, this burner would be the perfect present for someone who’s just bought their first home, especially if the house looks similar to the design of the burner. It’s got such a cosy aesthetic, and I think the red one would be absolutely perfect for a festive display on a coffee table. Click here* to buy for £16, and you get to choose a gorgeous wax melt too.

Electric Burners

This is a type of burner I didn’t really pay much mind to initially, because I live for candlelight. But I still came across a few really lovely ones on my searches, so decided to share!

Forest Fantasies – Woodland Wall Plug-In Wax Melt And Oil Burner (£12)

I am obsessed with Honey Bee Home‘s amazing range of homeware – if you follow me on instagram you’ll have seen me raving about my stunning velvet pumpkins, which I got from them last month. I love this design of plug-in burner, and the soft, low light it emits is perfect for anyone who – like me – prefers to live a candlelight-bathed life. Click here to buy for £12.50!

Compactly Cute – Pewter & Walnut Electric Burner* (£26.95)

I love how unassuming yet beautiful this burner is! It would look so, so cute on a side table, and its small size means it’s ideal for cramped or cosy spaces. I love the sophisticated, refined look of the dark wood and metal together. Click here* to buy for £26.99.

Rose Gold Loveliness – Ceramic Brushed Grey Electric Warmer* (£26.99)

The same compact shape as the walnut one above, but a totally different aesthetic, this little burner has a sweeter, prettier appearance – I think it would look lovely on a dressing table. Click here* to buy for £26.99!

I hope you’ve found some inspiration in this post! Thanks so much for reading.

The best product for very dry, irritated skin: Aveeno Skin Relief Lotion

I suppose two years into a pandemic isn’t really the ideal time to share my holy grail moisturiser for very dry skin – but better late than never, right? The thing is, this product was first recommended to me by my dad, who had the driest hands of anyone I’ve ever known, and every time I thought about writing about writing this blog post, I would think of him, feel sad and then not want to write anything anymore. Not sure what it is about today, but I finally feel like I can get it done – so if you’re currently suffering from unbearably dry hands, whether pandemic related or not, today is your lucky day.

Aveeno Skin Relief Lotion has completely saved my skin on more occasions than I can count. In harsh winters my hands would previously get to the point of splitting from being so dry, and ever since I was young I’ve been plagued by rough red patches on my skin all year long. I genuinely think at this point that I’ve tried every product in existence – from steroid creams to natural oils and prescription emollients, but the only thing that consistently gives me relief is this miracle product. An unassuming, medium-thickness, fragrance-free cream, it sinks in after just a few seconds of massaging – which is really impressive for a product as nourishing and moisturising as this one. When used on dry skin, it sinks in wonderfully well, and when used on irritated skin, the soothing power is simply incredible. While on the surface it might just look like any other body lotion, this one really is different, and that’s for a few reasons…

OAT-BASED PROTECTION

Firstly, let’s talk about the oat ingredients in the formulation – oat flour, oat extract and oat oil combine to help protect, soothe and calm the skin. Irritation is an immune response – it’s your body noticing that the skin has been compromised in some way, and increasing blood-flow to the area to supply white blood cells to fight off potential threats. Protective skincare products are applied at this stage because once the skin realises it is protected, it will send a message to the body that the immune system can stand down because things are under control – and then the skin’s incredible healing processes can get to work repairing the area, beneath the protective umbrella of the skincare product. The reason that oats are so effective at soothing dry skin is surprisingly simple – oat binds to the skin, creating a natural protective barrier. No product actually ‘heals’ the skin – all they do is create that protective barrier on the skin so that it can heal itself, and oat is one of the most effective ingredients for doing that. There are many different compounds in oat that help the skin, such as beta-glucan, fatty acids and avenanthramides, which are anti-inflammatory agents, and Aveeno’s combination of three different types of oat ingredients ensures that those compounds are delivered as effectively and in as high concentrations as possible.

MICROBIOME SUPPORT

The formulation also has a pre-biotic effect, meaning it supports a healthy bacterial ecosystem on the skin’s surface. Pre-biotics have been shown to help soothe and calm the skin by increasing the population of ‘good’ bacteria. Many of the cosmetic products we use daily – shower gels, serums, lotions and so on, can destroy the microbiome because they contain powerful preservatives to keep them stable once opened – but those preservatives also kill bacteria when applied to your skin, thus affecting your microbiome, and inhibiting your skin’s ability to protect itself, leading to dryness and irritation. It’s a bit like how when you take antibiotics you’re supposed to introduce a probiotic into your diet, because the bacterial imbalance created by the medicine can wreak havoc on your body’s ability to digest food. Aveeno Skin Relief uses potassium sorbate to keep the product safe and useable, which is a totally different kettle of fish to the cheaper, more mainstream preservatives – it’s actually food safe, and is used in all kinds of food and drink as well as high-quality, skin friendly cosmetic products. Several years ago I started using facial skincare products with potassium sorbate, and the difference it made was extraordinary, so it made sense that a hand and body product preserved in the same way would be just as good.

TAKE MY WORD FOR IT

It’s all well and good me explaining the science behind the product, but let me give you some examples of a few specific times when Aveeno Skin Relief has saved my skin.

My dad was admitted to a palliative care ward for two months in the middle of the pandemic, and while I was in and out of the hospital visiting him, my hand washing habit (which was already a bit over the top before the pandemic) reached a new level of extreme. But my hands didn’t just get dry – it got a bit scary to be honest. They’d do this thing where they turned bright red, the skin was stretched, my fingers would swell up, and my palms would get hot and itch. Aveeno Skin Relief Lotion was the only thing I tried that actually helped. I was getting so scared because I started to think my hands were beyond repair – they were so uncomfortable that it hurt to use them, an added stress that I could have really done without at the time. No other product worked – I tried so many different ones. And then I picked up the bottle of this miracle lotion – the instant soothing effect was incredible, and so I kept using it. Before long, the reaction totally stopped happening.

When I first started taking my antidepressant, I broke out in a rash. This is apparently normal as long as it doesn’t become too severe, but it was uncomfortable. Teeny tiny red bumps from my neck down to my belly button – hot, itchy and very annoying. I slathered myself in Aveeno Skin Relief Lotion, and while it’s impossible to say whether it was my body adjusting to the medicine, or the product getting to work, the rash was immediately soothed and gone the next day.

Sometimes, I get dermatitis around my eyes. This can be from using unsuitable skincare products, but it also happens when I’ve been crying. Yes, my ridiculously sensitive skin is allergic to my own tears – causing bumpy redness and irritation. A thin layer of Aveeno Skin Relief Lotion takes care of this very nicely – which I’ll be forever grateful for because, to be blunt, the last thing you need when someone you love dies is an allergic reaction to your own grief.

My last example is about a different product from the same range – Aveeno Skin Relief Cica Balm. I hadn’t found much use for the Balm before this happened because every other problem I’d had was solved with the Lotion, but my god did it save me from a situation here. A few weeks ago, I woke up with an absolutely horrible irritation under one of my breasts – bright red, unbearably itchy and really distressing because it felt like the skin was ripping – and when I looked closer, I was horrified to see tiny little tear wounds along the area of irritation. It must have been some kind of contact dermatitis from the bra I had been wearing, because it was in a crescent shape on my chest, directly underneath the breast. Anyway, after I was done staring at it in horror in the mirror, I realised the Aveeno Skin Relief Cica Balm was on my bathroom shelf so I grabbed it and applied a thin layer. The effect was so wonderfully soothing – the painful itch started to abate immediately, and within a couple of days it was totally back to normal. I wish I could remember which bra I had been wearing so I can set it on fire, but at least I know if it happens again I’ll have a solution!

Aveeno Skin Relief Lotion comes in two different sizes – a 300ml pump bottle which costs £7.99, and a 200ml tube for £5.99 on Boots.com – they seem to be more expensive on other websites which is strange, but I suppose it’s each website’s choice. The Cica Balm is £6.99 for 50ml (remember that it’s a more concentrated formula), and when I was on Boots getting the links to share I realised they also have a Shampoo and a Body Wash in the Skin Relief line too! I’ll definitely be trying both of those soon. The Body Wash is £9.99 for 500ml, and the Shampoo is £9.99 for 300ml. You can also shop the full range of Skin Relief products here. This range is in my opinion extremely well priced – for the quality of the products and how little you need to use, I’m consistently impressed by the incredible value. I hope you have as much luck with it as I have!

Prisons shouldn’t exist – here’s why

One thing most people may not know about me is that I have a LOT of opinions about the prison system. This is because I grew up around adults who worked in offender rehabilitation, and I considered it as a career for quite a while – pretty much until it became clear that the government had destroyed any chance of developing a restorative justice system in the UK. I ultimately decided that it wasn’t for me because I knew I wouldn’t be able to make a difference that way, and I didn’t have enough emotional energy to expend on a system that at best would be futile, and at worst could be actively harmful to the ex-offenders who are in it, and the communities they live in.

Photo by Xiaoyi on Pexels.com

Put simply, my belief about the prison system is as follows: Almost everyone who is in prison, shouldn’t be there. Sure, there are some people who are so dangerous that they need to be separated from society for everyone’s safety, but that is a very small fraction of the prison population, and a totally different kettle of fish in terms of management (and not a topic I’m going to discuss here). The thing is, punishment on its own simply does not work – there’s so much evidence for this I almost feel like it should be a complete sentence. But let me explain. If punishment worked, then why do a quarter of all convicted offenders go on to be convicted of further crimes? (Source) The vast majority of crimes are committed by people who’s lives have frankly sucked, including from mental health problems, drug problems, trauma, poverty and disabilities. If your life is already pretty punishing, why on earth would more punishment do anything to change things? It’s true that most of the people with these issues do not commit crimes against other people – but we’re all different, and we ALL make mistakes. Non-offenders like to think that the difference between them and an offender is much bigger than it really is. It’s shocking the things we are capable of justifying to ourselves – and that goes for behaviour that isn’t against the law too.

Fairness first

I mentioned above that many, if not most, prisoners have experienced societal disadvantages, so let me back that up with some facts:

  • Half of all UK prisoners are functionally illiterate. (Source)
  • It’s estimated that 30% of UK prisoners are Dyslexic. (Source)
  • 20-30% of UK prisoners have ADHD. (Source)
  • Rates of PTSD in prisoners are higher than the general population. (Source)
  • Almost 50% of prisoners were excluded from school as a child. (Source)
  • 24% of prisoners were in the care system as children. (Source)
  • 29% of prisoners were abused as children, and 41% witnessed violence in the home. (Source)
  • There is a lot of anecdotal evidence that heavily implies a link between childhood poverty and offending. (Source)

It is absolutely true that most people are able to overcome disadvantages like the ones above, living reasonably stable lives that don’t involve breaking the law. But that doesn’t change the fact that these disadvantages present in MUCH higher percentages in prison populations than in the general population. This strongly implies some causal relationship, although it’s important to acknowledge the complexity that goes into making the kinds of mistakes that offenders make.

Still human

It can be really difficult to absorb anti-prison ideas (better known as abolitionism), especially if you or a loved one have been a victim of a crime. But the important thing to remember is that this way of thinking isn’t about being ‘soft’ on people who hurt others, or ignoring the trauma that happens when you’re a victim of a crime. And to be clear, victims are not obliged to be involved in their offender’s rehabilitation either. Some may choose to be, but no one should ever feel morally obligated to have anything to do with them. Abolitionism is about doing what we need to do to protect us ALL (victims, offenders, and society as a whole) in the most effective way. It just so happens that the best way to prevent crime is to reduce the reasons people have to offend, and to treat those who do offend with empathy. I’m not saying that beneath the surface of every offender is a lovely person who just needs a hug and a square meal to reveal themselves as a wonderful example of humanity. Just like the rest of the population, some offenders are simply unpleasant. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t people. We all have flaws – greed, selfishness, bitterness, anger, intolerance are all very VERY common human personality traits and absolutely aren’t unique to people who break the law. One of the most unpleasant people I’ve ever met has, as far as I know, never broken the law in his life. And many offenders really ARE thoughtful, kind, empathetic people who have gone the wrong way at some point.

An anecdote: I used to volunteer at a foodbank in a town that was also home to a men’s prison. At Christmas, the residents of the prison FLOODED the foodbank with donations that they’d bought with the minuscule amounts of money they had, which is incredible but it doesn’t stop there – they’d gone one step further and created meal kits – for example one had wrapped lasagne sheets up with a jar of white and red sauce to create a lasagne meal kit.

What gives your life meaning? What gives you hope in the morning, what motivates you to get your laundry done or get on the bus to work every day? Maybe it’s your dog, a hobby or your kids, or maybe even your career. For a lot of people who wind up committing crimes, they have yet to find that motivation. I can sympathise, because I’m the same. I love my loved ones, I find enjoyment in some things, but I wouldn’t say I have much of a raison d’être. I can absolutely imagine that if I didn’t have the privileges I have in life, I could fall into making some less than ideal decisions. I mean, after all, I’ve totally broken the law before! I’ve watched TV without checking that there’s a TV license. I’ve watched pirated content online. I’ve brought my shopping home and realised that something in my bag isn’t on the receipt, and I didn’t take it back.

People who break the law are as diverse as everyone else – every single person has different needs and reacts differently to life. So why do we act like prison, an environment where everyone is treated exactly the same, is a suitable consequence? It might feel good to say that people should be banged up as punishment for their actions – but is it effective? Does it actually help the victim of a crime, or help to reduce the numbers of future victims? Or are we indulging base desires just because retribution feels good – desires that do nothing to help create a safer society?

You can’t reform a human by being inhumane

I honestly believe that a lot of people who think offenders ‘deserve to be locked up’ have never spent any time thinking about what it’s like to actually be in prison. To say that prison is a dangerous, dirty, lonely place is an understatement.

CW: self harm

Between 2019 and 2020 there were on average 777 incidents of self harm per 1000 prisoners. (Source) This average includes open prisons and category D prisons, both of which are very different environments to what you’d usually imagine when you think of a prison, and as such, have lower rates of self harm, such as 2.7 incidents per 1000 at HMP Hatfield, a cat D. At HMP Foston Hall, a women’s and young offenders prison, self harm rates during this period were sat outrageously high at 6887.1 incidents per 1000 prisoners, and at HMP Bristol, a cat B men’s prison, the rate was 2297.2 incidents per 1000 prisoners. While these statistics are a useful insight into understanding which prisons are the worst, it’s the total number of self harm incidents that chills me. In a UK prison population of 83,618, there were 63,328 incidents of self harm in that one year period. What. The. Hell.

Prisoners are also scared of each other, with good reason. The rate of violence between prisoners was 267 incidents per 1000 prisoners between 2019 and 2020. (Source) But that number, while unacceptable, simply pales in comparison to those self harm statistics, implying strongly that incarcerated individuals are more likely to be people suffering with mental health problems than they are to be mindlessly violent.

Out of the entire prison population, only 12,500 were in work between 2019 and 2020, meaning that just a small minority of prisoners are being given the opportunity to do anything meaningful with their time. And remember that a majority of prisoners struggle with literacy, so spending time alone with books is off the table for a LOT of people too. The government’s ‘purposeful activity’ inspection rated 35.6% of prisons as ‘not good enough’ and a further 15.3% as ‘poor’ when it comes to providing prisoners with beneficial stuff to do. (Source)

Sometimes ex-offenders do feel like prison benefitted them – and that’s understandable to a degree – if your life was spiralling out of control, you were illiterate, had no skills, and you were taken to a place where all of that changed, you would probably come out feeling like it helped. But why does that person need to go through the horror of our prison system to get what they needed? And why didn’t social care programmes intervene long before they point in the first place?

Why do we perpetuate a system created by our barbaric ancestors, the same ones that thought nothing of torturing, oppressing and enslaving anyone they could find? Prison is convenient, which is why it has somehow managed to slink by under the radar of progress. Capitalist societies are not cut out to deal with people who need massive, individualised investment in their wellbeing. It’s much easier to just lock them away and pretend they don’t exist.

People should be held responsible for their actions. But that’s only fair when we actively help each other to be the best we can be. We all talk about individual responsibility for doing our recycling, eating less meat, buying fairtrade bananas – but we have local, personal and social responsibility to each other too. If we focused more on lifting each other up rather than expecting everyone to just live up to our own standards, without recognising the privileges we’ve had to help us get there, I believe we could really help to empower people who may otherwise make some pretty significant mistakes.

Prison does not belong in a just and fair society, it doesn’t benefit the people who are in the system, and it doesn’t benefit the people who are victims of crime either.

If you’d like to read more about this topic, of which I have barely scratched the surface, here are some more resources.

What we’re getting wrong about nature and mental health

The May rain is warm, pattering gently on the roof of the nearby greenhouse. As I tip the seedling out of its pot and into my hand, small water droplets land on my skin, and the smell of wet ground fills my nose. Nothing else exists but me, this little marigold, and the freshly dug hole that is about to become its home. The usual cacophony of negative voices that live in my head – panicking, criticising, doubting, ruminating – they are silent, watching the plant as my hands tap it down and smooth out the soil around its stem.

There is so much discussion about the healing power of nature, how houseplants boost your mood, how gardening can help with depression, how nature walks can ease anxiety. I don’t disagree with any of it (obviously…) but I do think we’re missing some important issues in our conversations about nature, plants and mental health. Since it’s Mental Health Awareness Month, I thought now would be the time to share some of these thoughts.

(Dressing up as Mother Nature to add authority to my point)

So, what is it that we’re getting ‘wrong’ exactly?

When you read articles about the impact that spending time in a forest has on your stress levels, there’s always something else lurking in the same sentence – the concept of productivity. Everything circles back to the idea that we are only worth what we produce, and what our money can buy. It’s not just workplaces that push this idea – so much advice I read, articles extolling the virtues of nature, they all seem to come back to this idea that the primary benefit of nature is that it makes us more productive. This couldn’t be more wrong. We should be looking after our mental health to become happier, calmer, more at ease, more joyful – not because these things make us more useful, but simply because that’s how everyone deserves to feel. Even when it isn’t mentioned explicitly, it’s almost always implied – employers don’t set up gardens for their employees for the sake of being nice – the expectation is that productivity will increase as a result. And if it doesn’t? That groundskeeping budget won’t be coming back next year! Not only is this a sign that our attitude towards mental health and nature is flawed, it’s also a sign that our understanding of nature itself is completely disconnected from reality. We’re ignoring the message that the natural world spells out for us every single time we engage with it – living things have needs, and if they’re failing to thrive, their needs aren’t being met.

Every single living organism experiences life differently. Some plants will grow anywhere, even literal concrete – others need special soil before they’ll even consider growing a millimetre. Some plants need protection from the wind, others will forget how to grow if you don’t expose them to a good breeze. It doesn’t matter what we think about their growing requirements – if we want to enjoy that plant, we have to respect its needs.

Put a plant in the wrong soil and the leaves will turn yellow. Don’t give it enough light and branches will die off. Forget to water it enough and it won’t flower. Neglect to give it the right company and won’t produce fruit. You mess with a plant, and it makes its dissatisfaction clear. That’s not to say that plants can’t be grown in inhospitable conditions, but if we want a plant to do something that it wouldn’t usually be able to, we have to put a LOT of effort into making it happen. The work that goes into forcing early rhubarb, or producing chrysanthemums for bouquets, or keeping desert plants happy in a dark home is enormous, and its necessary – a plant is a product of its environment, you get out what you put in. And this can be extended to larger natural examples too – gardens, forests, meadows and so on. You get the picture.

So what does this have to do with us?

Hopefully the analogy I’m making is clear. When you’re given an unrealistic deadline at work, and stress yourself out to meet it, what is your employer doing to help you to make that happen? When we grow plants, if we want to benefit from whatever it is that they produce, we have to take away every possible stressor so that the plant can do its thing. Why do we think we’re any different? We constantly expect ourselves to be up and about at the same time every day, as productive in the morning as we are in the afternoon, as energetic on Thursday in December as we are on Saturday in July. We’ll skip a meal and then be shocked when we can’t concentrate. What part of our bodies are so different to a plant’s that we can somehow pour from an empty cup, when we have endless examples of plants resolutely not being able to do that?

Capitalism is the reason that we constantly expect ourselves to be consistently over-productive. Our society is obsessed with more, more, more. Massive, endless productivity. The concept of ‘doing less’ is almost heretic. Employers will tell you they care about your mental health, but pay you a wage that means you can never truly feel secure. For those of us who are doing ok, the threat of poverty hangs over our heads as a stick that capitalism beats us with – but imagine if you told a plant “I’m not watering you unless you produce another flower”? And for those who are struggling, under or near the poverty line, capitalism tells them it’s their fault for not working hard enough – “If you’d made nicer flowers I would have given you more water”.

We need to take this into account when we talk about nature and mental health, because nothing will ever truly change if we don’t address the way society is currently set up. Being burned out and stressed, constantly being bombarded with advertising for things that will ‘make us happy’, being told over and over again that it’s individual, not corporate or governmental responsibility that will make a difference in the world. This is what needs to change for us to finally have a chance at realising our potential for love, happiness and satisfaction. Humans are resilient little plants, doing our best to grow in the wasteland of an unsustainably consumerist system, which tells us that because we’re just about managing to grow in their hellscape, we’re responsible for perpetuating it, and we’re responsible for how well we do in it. If one of us says “Actually, this wasteland is making things really hard for my roots to grow” the capitalist farmer will tell us “Well the plant next to you is fine, stop being pathetic.” Of course, we all know that the plant next to you is probably struggling just as much.

Humans are not here to be farmed for their productivity. We cannot repackage nature into a neat little ‘apply to the affected area’ salve for employers to use to make us work better. That is not what our existence is about. Let’s embrace more than just our ability to nurture, protect and grow plants, and apply that phenomenal human skill to ourselves too.

AD// Handmade gifts to spread joy this year

Well, it’s been quite the year. Whether your 2020 has been stressful, monotonous, emotionally devastating, or all of the above, we’re all in desperate need a bit of joy to lift our spirits. This gift guide is all about unique items that will surprise and uplift your loved ones – it’s an eclectic mix, for sure! But the idea is that when they open one of these gifts, they won’t be expecting what they find, and they really will be delighted.

This post contains affiliate links.
Adventurous foodie gifts

Anyone who loves to try new foods and explore different cuisines is bound to be taking 2020 pretty hard, with cancelled travel plans and closed restaurants. So give their palette the treat it deserves, with this glorious 9 World Spice Blends from Spice Kitchen (£24.95). Chilli honey is probably one of the most delicious things I’ve ever tasted, so this Welsh Hot Honey (£8) has truly got my mouth watering. This Ultimate Cheese Board (£45) contains deliciously unusual British Cheeses, including ash-rolled goat’s cheese and truffle cheddar. Lastly, for the plant-based foodies in your life, how about this gorgeous Vegan Chocolate Discovery Box (£14.99)? With unusual flavours like coffee & cardamom and almond & rosemary, this is guaranteed to delight anyone who loves gourmet chocolate, vegan or not!

Hugs in mugs

Did did you know that studies have shown that drinking hot drinks actually reduces stress and releases endorphins? Amazing right? Whatever their drink of choice, these selections are sure to delight. For coffee lovers, this Deathly Strong blend (£10) will undoubtedly raise a smile (and a heart-rate), or for something equally as impactful but substantially more mellow, what about this 5 Bag Organic Coffee Gift Box with personalisation options (£39.95)? I also love the idea of these Flavoured Sugar Spoons (£8.50), which I imagine you could use in tea and hot chocolate as well as coffee! For tea lovers, I think this blossoming tea (£9.99) is a fantastic idea, it’s so unusual, and so, so pretty! However, this Wild-crafted Tea Taster Set is also bound to astonish any tea-enthusiast. Using ingredients native to the Scottish Highlands, these teas also help support a woodland regeneration project.

A nature lover’s dream

So many of us have spent 2020 finding solace outdoors, surrounded by nature. Help your loved ones bring nature inside in a sustainable, effortless and beautiful way with a dried flower bouquet. I got a couple for my birthday this year and I’m honestly obsessed. They bring colour into your home without looking artificial, and it’s so easy to find dried flowers to fit in with any decor style! From left to right, shop these gorgeous bouquets here: rustic maroon and orange (£26.70), beautiful browns (£16), festive colours (£15.95) and pretty in pink (£15.95).

Gorgeous gifts for gardeners

Whether your loved one has a whole open space to grow plants in, or just a sunny windowsill, a gardener is a gardener, and these gifts will delight anyone with a passion for plants, nature and growing things. A Bug Hotel (£34) is essential for any garden. This one is particularly gorgeous, and can be personalised if you act fast! These Slate Plant Tags (£5.29+) are a fantastic gift because most gardeners will go for something much cheaper, much uglier for marking up their plants – treat them and make their garden that much prettier! When it comes to houseplants, air plants are some of the hardest to get right, so when one thrives, it needs to be celebrated. This Cork Panel (£15+) is a fantastic way to display air plants, and is a truly unique gift for anyone who likes to grow unusual plants. And here’s another brilliant gift for an indoor gardener – a Cactus Wax Burner (£10)! How adorable! Pair it with some all-natural, botanically scented Wax Melts, and you have a thoughtful gift for a plant lover, that doesn’t require you to actually know anything about plants!

The ultimate relaxing gift

Bloomtown are one of my favourite skincare brands, with absolutely wonderful, unique scents and incredible product formulations. Their products are vegan, natural and palm-oil free, and I can’t think of a more perfect gift for anyone who enjoys a good self-care sesh. These gift sets have different scent options, all of which smell wonderful – natural, subtle but really impactful. My personal recommendation would be The Meadow but you honestly can’t go wrong. These pictures are obviously quite ‘feminine’ looking, but if you’re buying for someone who wouldn’t like that, go for The Grove which is citrusy, or The Woods which is fresh and woodsy. Get the set on the left here, for £33.50, or go all out and really treat them, with the pamper box on the right here, for £70.

A crafty gift without the faff

Starting a new hobby is undoubtedly exciting – researching, buying all the bits, waiting for it all to arrive. But sometimes that part can be overwhelming and off-putting. So do your loved one a favour and cut out the prep with a craft kit! Etsy is full of options, from a lovely beginner’s embroidery kit (£19.95) to a brilliant DIY lipbalm kit (£25), or an absolutely adorable pottery kit (£30). I also love this polymer clay earring kit (£19.50+) and this macrame plant hanger kit (£15).

What about the kids?

One thing you may have noticed while browsing this post is that I haven’t really included anything for kids – and there’s a reason for that… I have no idea what they like! I don’t have kids, don’t know anyone who does (I know a few babies, but no one older than a year) so I decided to defer to the experts at Etsy for that side of gift buying – if you’re looking for gifts that will delight the children in your life – click here!

Wishing you a safe, calm and joyful time this festive season.