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19 June 2018

My sister Sarah and I recently jetted off for a little city break to Madrid, Spain. It was a city that neither of us had been to and wanted to explore. We also rented an AirBnB for the first time and it didn't turn out to be a pile of rubble, it was actually really lovely.

I know it's the typical 'plane window picture', but I thought it looked really good.

|| Friday ||
After getting to the city about 5pm we boarded the Metro and went to the suburb of Oporto. One thing I would definitely recommend in Madrid is a tourist pass - it's less than €30 and gives you unlimited access to the metro, buses and trains for as long as you're staying in the city. We checked into the AirBnB apartment, stopping by the local shop to get some necessities. Sarah & I were both exhausted, so we cooked a pizza (difficult as there was no kitchen oven) and headed off to bed. Days spent travelling are days wasted, but useful if you want to get anywhere.

|| Saturday ||
The first proper day of our trip started quite late, as we watched the Royal Wedding which was from 10:30-3pm local time. It was then time for the bus tours, of both historic and modern Madrid. Having time to explore two sides of the city took up most of our afternoon, and helped set our bearings for where we wanted to go in the next few days. Sarah then made the most amazing mac & cheese for dinner πŸ˜it was definitely needed after all the walking!

This street is so pretty πŸ˜πŸ˜ 
Fun tour bus times!

|| Sunday ||
Starting the day at a market, we were bombarded by lots of nice products to buy, include Ptada sunglasses and Vurberry bags, as well as some of the fakest Beats headphones I've ever seen, they hadn't even tried to conceal that they were off-brand! 

As you can see in the picture above, there was also surgical equipment and syringes on sale. Not sterilised or anything, just sat there. I wonder if anyone bought them πŸ€”

After this strange discovery we went to an unsuspecting little shop on the corner of a street, which turned out to be a food and drink market so naturally, we tried a lot that was on offer. The strawberry margaritas were so good 😍😍

We moved on from the market to a little cafe for another drink. Spain has huge measures! I had a vodka+coke and it felt like half the bottle was in my drink. Heading back to the apartment we had some dinner and went straight to bed, exhausted. 

|| Monday ||
Monday was supposed to be our last day in the city, but for reasons that will be made clear later that didn’t happen. We spent our day exploring the city’s Royal palace, which was lovely and really fascinating finding out about where they host their receptions and dinners. 

We also took the opportunity to take some nice iPhone X portrait photos. 

Outfit of The Day:
Shirt, Shorts and bag - Primark
Watch - FitBit
Bracelet - M&S

Upon returning to the apartment, I received an email saying that our flight was cancelled. We booked a hotel and got alternative flights for the next day so all was not lost. 

|| Tuesday ||
After travelling over to the hotel near the airport, we just spent our day chilling, exhausted from all the exploring in the days prior. We then headed down to a local bar for dinner and had a great burger, with a ‘sex on the beach’ cocktail πŸ‘πŸ»

We had a great time in the city and it’s definitely one I would go back to. Have you ever been to Madrid and saw something I missed? Let me know. 

A K Jones

9 June 2018

It's now halfway through the year - how?! Soon it'll be Christmas. There, I said it - the C word. Think about how quickly we got to June.


Anyway, today I have my June goals that I want to achieve during the month. I did one for May and April, so be sure to check those out too. Without further ado, here's what I want to achieve in June.

Read the rest of my book.
I set that as a goal in May and although I read a few pages, I didn't get to finish it. I've now set a reminder to read before bed and get off my phone, so I'm not kept awake at night from the blue light my phone emits.

Save more money.
I've got a set amount that I want to save this month, but with credit card bills, possibly getting a car and all that involves, I know it's going to be hard. But I hope to reach my savings target.

Work towards passing my driving test.
I currently have my test booked, but it's all about being good enough to pass. I'm making progress which is great, so I hope to have more 5s (my progress is marked from 1-5) on my record before the end of the month.

Have more time off social media.
I think I spend too much time absorbed in other peoples' lives than living my own. So this month I'm going to schedule tweets and have more time with my family.

Hope you're all having an amazing month so far and I'll be back towards the end for a round-up of how I've done.

A K Jones

3 June 2018

May has passed by so fast. How are we halfway through the year already?! Anyway, I've got a round-up of my May Goals and how I got on with them.

Finish a book. I had a good read of my book, but didn't finish it. It's not James Joyce's Ulysses or anything, but I don't have that much time to read (or maybe I should get off my phone a bit earlier...). I'll set it as a goal for next month and eventually finish it!

Upload more to Instagram. I definitely achieved this, by uploading a couple of photos from Madrid and even an outfit of the day. Throughout June I want to try more outfit photos and hauls.

Have more self-care. I can give that a massive tick, as I treated myself to a nice bath and face mask, as well as taking more time to breathe and do a bit of meditation, to relax from the stressful day I've had.

Create one episode of my podcast a week, even if it's just a short one. I don't think I achieved this and I kind of lost motivation to create it, particularly due to most of my work week being taken up with meetings etc, but over the bank holiday I made an episode and I've now got lots of interviewees for episodes to be published soon.

I'll be publishing my June goals soon, so be sure to look out for them!

A K Jones

1 June 2018

May's been a good month for me music-wise, as I've discovered a lot of new songs that I love and want to shout about. This month's playlist includes a bit of retro Kylie, Keane and The Killers (which all begin with K for some reason, not deliberate at all!) a couple of new additions from Banx & Ranx, CHVRHCES and Raelynn. See the tracklist below for the full scope.

1. Love At First Sight - Kylie Minogue
2. I Can Be Somebody - Deorro, Erin McCarley
3. 10,000 - Elliot Root
4. The Real World - Owl City
5. Heaven - Kane Brown
6. All These Things That I've Done - The Killers
7. All Around The World - Collagen Girl, ATC
8. Run - Scott Quinn
9. Drink About - Seeb, Dagny
10. Miracle - CHVRCHES
11. Queen's Don't - RaeLynn
12. Troubled Times - Green Day
13. Answerphone - Banx & Ranx, Ella Eyre, Yxng Bane
14. Wilder - Ryan Follese
15. Solo - Clean Bandit, Demi Lovato
16. Life On Earth (Alternate Version) - Snow Patrol
17. Gorgeous - Taylor Swift
18. Somewhere Only We Know - Keane

Listen to the playlist below and be sure to follow me on Spotify to keep up with what's on next month's playlist before anyone else.

Happy Listening!

A K Jones

Kylie Minogue album cover courtesy of Parlophone Records (source), Owl City album cover courtesy of Republic Records (source), Deorro album cover courtesy of Dim Mak Records (source), Elliot Root album cover courtesy of Universal Music New Zealand (source).

20 May 2018

Being confident and loving yourself is hard. You always point out your flaws and don’t look at an amazing person when looking in the mirror. 

As I’ve grown up, I’ve had these thoughts too, but have now mostly made peace with the fact that I’m going to have spotty skin and a lazy eye, but am a great colleague and friend to have. It’s not easy at all, but hopefully I can help a little bit. 

For my last Mental Health Awareness Week post, I thought I’d give some tips to improving your self-confidence. 

1) Accept that it’s going to take time. 
A journey to self-confidence is quite gradual and even I’m not there yet, but it’s a great and rewarding journey to go on. Also celebrate your accomplishments - I’ll give you an example: I interviewed a lot of people for my podcast, and I couldn’t have done that without the confidence that I could clearly ask them questions or hold a conversation. 

2) Find friends that accept you, warts and all. 
Having people in your life that are constantly putting you down aren’t worth your time at all. A lot of people nowadays are cutting all the toxic people out of their lives and that’s great, it leads to healthier friendships and not anxiety about why that certain friend hasn’t texted you back. 

3) The great things about you are there, you just need to discover them. 
I’m not the skinniest person known to man, but that’s OK. I know I’m great at writing and work to my strengths, so there will be something great that you can harbour and put all of your energy into. However, I do still have some insecurities about my looks, but I don’t care about them as much as I did - instead I pour my thoughts into my creative endeavours and job.

4) The only person who cares what you look like or about that spot on your chin is you. 
I don’t wear much makeup to work, if any. I know - shocker! But there’s a reason for this. I realised that the only person who cares about my spot on my chin or blackheads is myself, my colleagues are too concentrated on their own work or lives to care about what foundation you’re working. 

I admit that makeup does give confidence to some, but not wearing it can also be empowering too. I like to wear makeup for special occasions and not everyday, as I want to look different when I go out so people say “oh you look nice”, rather than looking as I usually do.

5) When on social media, find people that inspire you and follow them instead of those who you’re jealous of. 
Everyone is spending so much time on social media these days, and I am no exception to that. I know a cracking feed is a must, but it shouldn’t make you jealous or anxious to open Instagram in case you get FOMO. 

Your feed (much like mine) should be full of inspiring people that post about their IBS and other issues they have, instead of photoshopped, perfectly-preened people that are only going to make you jealous. That can actually be dangerous for your mental health and make you doubt yourself even more, so fill your Instagram with the queens who inspire you.

That rounds up my tips for self-confidence, I know I certainly have a way to go but the above are all things I keep in mind when my confidence is at a low. I hope you’ve enjoyed my #MentalHealthAwareness blog post series, and I’ll certainly be talking more about mental health in future. 

A K Jones

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17 May 2018

Everybody gets a bit anxious about something coming up that they be worried about, say an exam or driving test, but I could never imagine being anxiety-free. How lovely it would be to walk up to someone and say ‘hi’ without any worries at all. Or go to a shop assistant and ask them where something is, which is probably one of the most challenging things for me. All of these are example of things I can't do because of my anxiety.

More people are talking about their mental health than ever. A lot of people are talking about having anxiety and some say it's become somewhat of a trend. It's actually a debilitating condition that can make everyday life difficult, with complex diagnosis and treatment. Everyone's anxiety is different, and below is my experience with it.

I've never been the most extroverted person, and probably never will be. But the examples I gave at the top of this post are just some of how my anxiety affects me. I don't have "traditional" panic attacks by crying and hyperventilating, but this picture below demonstrates other ways of anxiety manifesting someone.

When I started my job, I was understandably anxious and nervous to meet everyone, build contacts and enter the world of work. I would get heart palpitations as I approached the building and sit in silence most of the day, choosing to not interact with anyone as I got myself introduced to working life. As it came up to Christmas though, three months in, I still felt like that.

I had something that's known as "imposter syndrome" and the definition is exactly what I thought in those first few months: that I would be found out as a "fraud" for not being good at my job and someone would report me, resulting in me being fired. Also phone calls with anyone literally terrified me. If the phone would ring, I would choose not to answer it (something I really wouldn't recommend), or if I did, I was shrouded in worry about how I would come across to anyone, even my colleagues who are always lovely.

These dreadful feelings continued, and I took a shit-tonne of Bach's Rescue Remedy every day just to get through the day. I thought I was going mad - no-one told me it was normal to feel like this for so long. I told my manager about how I was feeling (which is so important) and she was so lovely, offering me support and recommending me to call our mental health assistance service. Confronting my anxiety and phoning someone literally turned my stomach to mush but I did it.

The counsellor I spoke to said I had something called "conscious incompetence", where I constantly believe that I'm incompetent at my job (as I described) and I needed to change these thoughts to "unconscious competence", as shown in the graphic below. I also kept reminding myself that I'm not in danger, nor do I have anything to be scared of. The lady also said that it took 6 months for her to feel OK in her new job, so it's completely normal, it was just something I'd never experienced before.

I think the fact that the Winter months affect me so much didn't help (as I detailed HERE), and I was more anxious and on edge than normal. But the turning point came as I woke up one day at the end of March and the feelings of anxiety were gone. Just gone. I remember feeling a weight lift off my shoulders as I strode into work feeling great - that has since continued until this very day, where I know I'm as competent as I can be at my job, if I don't understand anything I can ask someone, and even secured some wins for myself and my confidence.

Phone calls have gotten less scary too, I just think of them as a new way to contact someone and build a professional relationship. I think that's down to having command of the Press Office phone for two weeks, where I was forced to speak to strangers who were looking for different things, and you can't not answer the phone in a press office, so was great exposure therapy for me.

Some things still need work, but I'm proud of how far I've come in the last year/18 months. I know I'll never be anxiety-free, but through trying new coping methods and techniques, I can be close. I'll settle for that.

What are your experiences with anxiety? Are they ways you could share to help someone going through a tough time? Let me know.

A K Jones

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14 May 2018

This week is Mental Health Awareness Week and I decided to write a series of blog posts about how mental illness affects me. Enjoy reading them, and I hope I can encourage you to speak out about what you're going through.

Winter is finally making way to Spring and Summer, and thank goodness for that. It will be more of a relief to people like me who suffer from really bad depression symptoms during the Winter months - a condition known as Seasonal Affective Disorder.

SAD is a condition rarely ever talked about, which is quite strange as it's actually quite common - 4 to 6 percent of people may have winter depression, with it starting at the age of 20. Whilst in my last year or two at university (I graduated last year), I never really knew why I got so down in the Winter and all I wanted to do was get into bed and stare at the ceiling, not bothering to do any work or washing up, or anything important.

I thought it was just down to hormones, the stress of uni or my anxiety. But when last year’s winter made its way into my mind, I decided to discover why I feel so rubbish between the months of September and April. Then I stumbled upon SAD. All the symptoms made complete sense: lack of interest in everything you would normally be raving about, no energy or motivation, no appetite/overeating and lots more. I found a website that gives free resources and strategies for coping. One said that I should get Vitamin D tablets, which I did and those helped a lot. 

Even still when I started work, I would be absolutely drained of all energy when going to bed and often didn't want to go in when I got up in the morning. "Oh but everyone doesn't want to go to work on a Monday morning" you may say, but this was different - it was literally a battle in my own head to get up and head out in the dark skies of the morning. I opened up to my boss about it when I started my job and she was amazing, letting me work from home whenever I needed to and giving me space if I wanted it. I also called our Employee Assistance Programme which was also great and provided me a couple of weeks' counselling to work through my feelings.

I’m a lot better at controlling it now, and know exactly why I feel the way I do. I feel sorry for myself for a day or two, but then finally get on with what I have to do - having such a supportive network really helps with this. But at uni, I used to nap all the time because I had no energy and no explanation as to why I felt like that and I'm not talking an hour, we're talking 4 or 5 hours every other day.

I got a so-called “SAD lamp” last Christmas that helps radiate the feeling of sunlight into your room to trick your mind that it’s light outside, and so you wake up feeling a lot better and can aleviate symptoms. I find the lamp to be of great help, as in January and February I was so much more motivated and just felt better in myself - I seriously recommend getting one of you match any of the symptoms. You can find them cheap on Amazon. 

I’m pretty sure I’ll have SAD for the rest of my days, it’ll just be about to trying to help myself feel better during the tricky Winter months. 

Hope you’ve enjoyed reading this and if you feel that you have any of the symptoms, please do reach out for help. 

A K Jones

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