How It Began… Part III

August 2012: There I was, feet firmly placed on the ground, anxiously glancing from one side to the other… which road should I dare to choose at this unpredictable crossroad that lies ahead? A crystal ball would have shown me the consequences of this dire dilemma I had come to face, if only they existed; if only seems to be a phrase I often use when it comes to ME. I thought I knew what I was doing, I thought I was making the right decision. Some say it is the worst decision I ever made, the consequences are worse than you would want to imagine. Others say I lived the dream… until now that is. Those are the ones who believe the consequences are worth it. I ask myself, what does it really matter what others think when I am the one who has to live with the consequences of my decision every single day and potentially for the rest of my life? The frightful consequences are a constant reminder of the crossroads I once faced and how different my life could be if I had taken one step in the opposite direction.

How It Began… Part I and How It Began… Part II will lead you up to this moment in time.

September 2012: Less than one week after my ME diagnosis by Professor Powell, I began the gruelling, treacherous journey (you think I’m about to climb Mount Everest or something of a similar difficulty don’t you) leaving my tiny countryside hamlet, Whiston in Staffordshire to venture into the unknown… the big bad Kent. I’d never been to the South East before, no further than London anyway, unless we passed through Dover/Folkestone on our way to Calais to our beloved holiday destinations on the other side of the Channel. If you’re from the Midlands or from the North as people down South say we are… BTW we are not from the North! We are from the Midlands! When you think of Kent, you picture an abundance of vineyards, sun-filled seaside holidays and refined country estates (expectations definitely too high). The Medway towns, where my university campus was based couldn’t be further from what I imagined. OH DEAR! what had I got myself into?! Don’t ever go to the Medway towns, you will regret it. (Feel like people will think I’m a snob if I explain why so not going to explain why I’ll leave well alone there). There were a few perks of the town though, it wasn’t allllll bad. The Dickensian Christmas Festival was nothing like I’d seen before, this overwhelmingly extravagant Victorian style parade shut down the town, literally. The people there seriously loved/worshipped Dickens, he was born there after all. Upon the big move to Uni, I must have had great expectations to live life-like Charles Dickens did. I definitely need help – expectations of life continue to become far too unrealistic to handle.

Dickensian Christmas Festival

Dickensian Christmas Festival

Upon arriving in my new town and my new home, I was faced with my first ME obstacle. ME Specialist Powell had advised me to “avoid climbing stairs” as they had recently started to worsen my symptoms. Four flights of stairs to the top floor, aka my new home and no lift in sight, uh-oh… thank the lord for wonder women aka my mother who unpacked the car and all my worldly goods with a workout she could be proud of. I guess I didn’t have a choice but to ignore those wise words of Powells… not like I would have listened to him anyway! I was on a path to live an ME life MY way, actually it was more like I was on a path to live a life without ME.

When the immunologist, Powell diagnosed me with ME, I made the decision to ignore his words, ”don’t go to university or you will get severely sick” and soldier on, not letting ME affect my life like he said it would. I thought I had a choice in the matter and I could control IT, I later discovered that IT controls me. ME takes over like a parasite, sucking the life out of its host, slowly but surely, ensuring it’s causing pain, suffering & cognitive malfunction along the way until the host merely resembles a poor relation of the creature it once was. Later on in my story, you will see the results of how ME has manipulated my existence. It isn’t entirely bad though, countless positive experiences have happened a long the way!

I was due to begin the coveted Fashion Design course at University for the Creative Arts, also known as UCA. I have absolutely no idea how I was accepted onto this course, it must have been a miracle. Why was it a miracle??? During my interview, the interviewer (Fashion Design Course Leader) merely glanced over my portfolio and howled, “This is not fashion!!! What are you doing here? Why did you even apply for this course?!!! That’s enough… I don’t need to see any more (checks buzzing phone with urgency) Do you have any questions for me?” Err no… and I ran for it. Well, I calmly strolled out of the interview room in a nonchalant manner then when I was out of sight of crazed interviewer, I legged it with tears rolling down my face as far away from UCA as possible with plans never to return. I had spent almost a year preparing for this highly anticipated interview during my Foundation Degree in Art & Design, an interview which lasted a total of two minutes after a nine-hour journey disaster of a journey to get there. This was the art school where Tracy Emin shined, Karen Millen and Zandra Rhodes’ designs were born. What the hell was I thinking when I applied here. This is why I assumed a mistake had been made when UCAS notified me of my offer. I later learned that interviewers at art schools are known to ‘rip prospective students apart’ in order to test their resilience. The words “You won’t make it in the fashion industry if you can’t handle high levels of criticism” were later regularly drilled into my head by the fashion tutors.

Despite being accepted onto a Fashion Design course, I have never wanted to be a fashion designer. I quite simply suck at it and I don’t believe it’s something you can be taught, you are either born with it or you are not, and I am most definitely not. I only applied for that course because I knew that being close enough to London gave me the chance to make the contacts I knew I needed to, in order to ‘make it’. Another bizarre twist of fate happened when within minutes of meeting my new flat mate Rachael and learning about her course Fashion Promotion, I knew it was course meant for me. Fashion Promotion is about styling and photography, fashion film, fashion forecasting, visual merchandising (VM), fashion writing, public relations and marketing, social media, event management and creative direction. I was already working at Topshop, excelling at styling and VM so after another round of interviews and new portfolio submissions, I was accepted onto my new course! Lots of YAYS! followed this thrilling news.

During my first year of university, I managed to keep my mild ME symptoms (exhaustion after mild exertion, virus upon virus and flu-like symptoms) under control by solely focusing on university work. I was there to acquire the skills I needed to break into the fashion industry. I wasn’t there to make friends; I didn’t have enough energy to keep up with the ones I already had and I definitely wasn’t there to party. I’d been doing that since I was fifteen, and five years on, the Medway clubs were the last place I wanted to be. Even if I wanted to carry on with wild nights out, I was no longer able to. I tried it once during freshers week; I lasted two hours before severe exhaustion kicked in and my intolerance to alcohol became more apparent than ever before. Another night out a few months later at KOKO in Camden Town saw me falling asleep in the smoking area before realising I had to leave if I wanted relief from the unbearable exhaustion. After leaving early, I unfortunately saw texts from a ‘friend’ to the kind friend who had left the club with me saying, “Emma is such a wimp, she needs to man up. Come back to the club if you can.” This was the same so-called friend who had been saying to me all night, “don’t leave, just sit down for five minutes and then you won’t be tired anymore.” That is not how ME works. This was the first time I experienced how hurtful it is to encounter the wrath of those who are so ignorant when it comes to ME.

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That’s me on the left and Chloe on the right, attempting to beat ME and last through the night!

My limited capabilities for a social life charged my dedication to work even more and my time at university became a rollercoaster of work versus rest and sleep. My career was my number one. I was the ‘geek’ of the course, fashion was my speciality and this is where I thrived. Ironically I had won the award ‘most likely to drop out of university’ at our 6th Form Leavers Ball. That was probably due to my track record of skipping weeks of school at a time (academia wasn’t for me) but at university when at the end of the year, the course leader arranged us in order of attendance, I was front and centre, 99% attendance, star pupil and very annoying to the rest of the class.

Attending a creative university was nothing like attending your usual British universities. This was different, it was fashion and ‘mean girls’ was real life. I didn’t know bullying existed in adulthood until I unfortunately became the target on three separate occasions, in three separate terms with three different bullies.

Bully: It’s not fair, you haven’t been at university for two months (due to ill-health) and you got an A and I’ve been here every day and I’ve got a B. This is so typical. The tutors always give you As.

Me: (hear whispering and my name being mentioned) What are you guys talking about? Bully: What grade did you get Emma? Me: An A. Bully: I’m happy for you that you got an A but you don’t deserve it. I can’t believe they gave you an A. Me: Why, what grade did you get? Bully: I got an A too, it’s just unfair that you got one.

Bully: Staffordshire! Staffordshire! (throws ball of paper at my head) Are you coming out tonight? Me: No, it’s not really my scene going out in the Medway towns. Bully: Maybe that’s because of the people you choose to hang out with or maybe it’s a reflection of your personality… Me: or maybe you’re just a bitch. Bully: OOOOOO no you didn’t! Your’e gonna wish you didn’t say that. (sidekick stands up swearing at me) Let’s take it outside. Now! Come on, get up! Me: I’m not going to fight you. Bully: (still trying to fight me, beginning to realise HE is making an embarrassment of HIMSELF). We could have been friends you know so you better watch out because I’m going to make your life a living hell from now on (later found out HE and HIS posse beat up their flat mate and she dropped out of uni after they threatened to do it again if she told anyone). Yes that was a guy who tried to fight me!

How could these people be so horrible to me? What had I ever done to them? I quickly learned that everyone was in it for themselves. Jealousy and competition fuelled the burning fires and developing a thick skin was the only way to survive the brutal environment I found myself in. “Ignore the bullies, they will not succeed. You will see them struggle and fail. I doubt they will even make it through to the next year. Stick with the group you have. You and a handful of others are the only ones who will make it, you will see.” These unexpected words from the most agreeable, calm and peaceful tutor ensured that I stuck to the few friends I had like glue.

Brain Fog has now set in and it could be days or weeks before I am able to write again so I’m going to finish this post with a hint to the next. There was one more piece of the puzzle left for me to conquer and it proved to be my downfall with ME. Let the battle of the internships begin

Brain Fog is a common symptom of ME and is described by Dr Sarah Myhill as, ‘What allows the brain to work quickly and efficiently is its energy supply. If this is impaired in any way, then the brain will go slow.’ 

What she means by brain fog:

  • Poor short-term memory
  • Difficulty learning new things
  • Poor mental stamina and concentration – there may be difficulty reading a book or following a film story or following a line of argument
  • Difficulty finding the right word
  • Thinking one word, but saying another

You can read more about it here http://drmyhill.co.uk/wiki/Brain_fog

I hope it doesn’t last too long and I can share the next part of my journey with you soon!

Are We There Yet ?

Stafford > London > Dubai > Perth > Sydney

A few days ago myself and my darling mother set out on a trip of a lifetime…

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First stop, Sandman Signature Hotel at London Gatwick Airport.

Whenever we stay away, the thing that I am most interested in, is the bed… size, shape, comfort, squishiness, hardness, pillows, the softness of the sheets. I don’t know why I just love beds. On Sunday afternoons I am drawn to Heal’s furniture store on Tottenham Court Road to marvel over their new bed designs . If only I had somewhere to put a bed but realistically I don’t think that I will be buying somewhere to live for a very long time because I don’t want to live in one place for more than a few months at a time sooo I think I will continue to be mobile for at least the immediate future so the bed will have to wait for now.

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Another interest of mine while travelling is discovering new beauty products. Luxury hotels always seem to have new brands I have never seen before or new lines and ranges. I then usually see these months or years later once unknown beauty brands popping up on shelves all over the country. These products (below) caught my eye due to the industrial feel to them, they were rather unglamorous with the use of the heavy grey and mechanical openings but user friendly at the same time with it’s easy going font. Unfortunately they didn’t have a brand logo or label on them so there was no new discoveries for me today.

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After only minutes of arriving in the room, (more likely to be seconds) my mum Patricia whipped out her secret mojito stash. I mean who carries mojitos around with them in their hand bag ?! I’m not the biggest fan of alcohol but there was no green tea, I don’t know why green tea isn’t classed as a regular like English breakfast tea because everyone drinks it these days so I decided to try the Earl Grey. Now whenever I have heard anyone talk about Earl Grey it’s usually with an air of disgust and a sign that it’s for elderly people only, well I am often described as a bit of a grandma so I thought I would give it a go. MMMM why have I never tried this before. Of course I was going to like something associated with OAP’S, it was in my nature so while mum enjoyed her mojitos I enjoyed my Earl Grey just as much and there was a new discovery for me today after all.

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There is something about room service that is so inviting…

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Mexican is one of my favourites, even though I can’t handle spicy food at all (I even find chicken korma curry spicy ), I love Mexican flavours and whenever nachos is on the menu, I can’t resist. Mum on the other hand prefers her British food, which is why she went for the cheese; perhaps this is because when she grew up that is all her generation knew, she remembers when pizza first came over from Italy in the seventies whereas my generation was brought up on world foods; Indian, Chinese, Italian and Mexican are all common place in the UK now.

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We continued to enjoy the luxuries of the hotel before beginning one of the longest journey’s of our lives – 3 days in total. The journey was made more enjoyable by flying with Emirates who have built up a strong brand name due to their excellent service. There was an extensive choice of films, I recommend Gravity, I’m loving space films at the moment after watching Oblivion at Christmas. The food wasn’t half bad either, usually I won’t eat anything on a plane but this wasn’t your average plane food. We even got afternoon tea with preserves, clotted cream and scones (mum was happy) and before we knew it we were in Dubai…

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Another two days later, having stopped at Perth a long the way we made it to Sydney with two broken suitcases, a lot of jet lag and a hotel booked a day late because we couldn’t get to grips with the whole time difference thing. So there we were, at Sydney airport, 11pm at night with no where to stay, no form of moving our bags because the handles had been broken off all of them, a closed airport and a luggage man telling us we can go and stay in McDonalds all night until everything opens again in the morning ! Disaster ! We were out of there as fast as we could, I couldn’t think of anything worse so we jumped in a taxi and told the driver to take us to a hotel, we didn’t care which one as long as it wasn’t McDonalds. The Ibis served us well for the night and so we went, on with our journey, into the greatest city in the world for the first time… I already plan on going home.

Off to Oz

This is a bit of a random jumbled post about my last couple of weeks in the UK…

For those of you who already know and those that don’t. I study Fashion Promotion at University of The Creative Arts in London and as part of my second year I’m going to Australia to study Public Communication at The University of Technology in Sydney. While I was thinking about what to write about for this post, I quickly realised that I have spent the past two weeks seeing friends, which has almost always involved dinner and drinks so in turn I unfortunately noticed how much food and drink I have consumed since I returned home to Stafford, oh dear to say the least…

To start off, I’m a sucker for the fruit coolers and hot chocolates (accompanied with whipped cream and marshmallows) at Costa Coffee as well as a Starbuck’s vanilla Frappuccino; I am constantly ill with some form of tonsillitis so it is my excuse to myself that I simply need liquids at all times. But then came along Pizza Hut’s cookie dough desert, which due to my friend Beth’s petite appetite I was encouraged to devour through a shared platter.  After consuming far too much for my metabolism to handle in my first week at home I vowed to myself I would at least attempt to eat healthier so when we went for a family lunch to Pizza Express and I craved their delicious lasagna I refused myself and went for salad which turned out to be as large as an extra large pizza and lasted me for two days. Cost effective AND healthy, I could get used to this…

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This didn’t last for long though – Friday night is curry night in the UK and I went to Selly Oak (the student area of Birmingham) for dinner with my friend Jordan who told me about the most divine curry she has ever tasted just around the corner. Wellll I guess we should have an Indian, only because it was so close… and because I probably won’t be having one for the next seven months when I’m in Australia. And it was delicious! A creamy vegetarian korma and peshwari naan bread; Jordan is studying medicine therefore an expert on health so she broke it to me that the sensational taste which cover the food- it was Golden Syrup, yes golden syrup drizzled all over my what was supposed to be healthy evening meal. I might as well just go all out I thought so we took the deep fried onion bajis as well  (free for students, bonus!).

I continued my dining at a country pub not too far from me, just outside of Stafford in Sandon… The Hollybush. My friend George and I both had starters and mains, between us we chose the prawn cocktail and camembert and the chicken and gammon, pineapple and chips. Huge portions, I felt as if we were in America but somehow we managed to get through them, thoroughly enjoying the food and the company along the way. I think we were the only people in the place who weren’t aged 50+ but we both have always had a love for anything British; I love coming home to the countryside to the good country pub food, I can’t get anything as eccentric or traditional in London. Despite the location (extremely solitary so when George ended up breaking down it was urm, rather difficult to find help) it’s a lovely place, not too shabby but not too chic.

I don’t know why but while I’ve been at home I’ve been on nights out in my teeny weeny town Stafford. Not the greatest place to go out but for some reason we always end up there…

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I have spent Christmas away in Canada (2012) and Austria (2013), which resulted in me having little time to see my family and friends, hence why I am using all the time I have now for a quick catch up. A last minute decision for a family party is always welcome; the majority of my family live in Manchester so they travelled down to the Midlands one afternoon to surprise me and my sister who has just given birth to her second child, a beautiful baby girl named Coco. The family came with presents for my 21st birthday, good luck cards for Australia and a gigantic chocolate cake (not quite as big as the one in Matilda). They brought it out with a giant sparkling E on top and when that ended they replaced it with a giant sparkler and when that finished they replaced it with something I’ve never seen on a cake before, it resembled a roman candle fire work !

My final weekend in the UK took me to Sheffield to stay with two of my wildest friends who this weekend were not so wild, which was unusual in itself. Prior to the trip I had been warned about the severe weather conditions due to Sheffield’s location high in the hills but nothing could prepare me for the torrential rain and gale force winds. We traipsed around the shops unable to see where we were going (using our umbrellas as shields from the wind) and every two minutes we nipped in another shop to escape the freezing temperatures. This led to me buying quite a lot of new products in a rather short space of time… Aztec flip flops, nautical pajamas, all in one black cut-out swimsuit, a suede camel coloured hat (see below) and over-sized Jackie O style sunglasses. Rachel finished it off with treating me to one of Fancie of Sheffield’s famous cupcakes.

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My time in the UK is over for a while and my next post will be coming from Australia, where I vow to be healthy… I swear. All of my friends and family will be dearly missed, everyone has been so helpful with the move and thank you for all the good luck messages. I think mostly, I will miss my two beautiful nieces Lola (2) and Coco (2 weeks).

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Religion Clothing Intern Opportunity

      Only a week after moving my entire life from my flat in Camden back home to my countryside barn conversion in Staffordshire, I found myself back down South in London, the day after attending one of Cambridge’s notorious Summer balls. Whilst attempting to pull myself together for the evenings occasion, I received a phone call from the head of Marketing and Social Media at Religion Clothing asking me to intern for them.
     Funnily enough, I had worked with this girl at my local golf club back home in Staffordshire when I was fourteen years old and had met up with her when I moved to London the year before to ask for her advice on internship opportunities so when I received the phone call I didn’t know whether to be over the moon or break down in tears at the thought of interning again after the experience I had at J.W. Anderson. She wanted me to meet the Head of Sales within the hour but due to how I felt and looked from the night before I expressed that this wouldn’t be the best idea. I was on a time limit anyway as I was taking my friend to see Aluna George at Electric Brixton for her birthday that evening (aren’t I a good friend!) so the meeting was post-poned to the following morning.
      The Head of Sales told me I would be starting on Monday (it was a Friday), which gave me two days to find somewhere to live in London. I had JUST moved back home the weekend earlier so I was apprehensive to tell my parents they had to do the big move all over again! The only problem was that I had to be at home for the weekend as I was doing a photoshoot for singer Alexandra Jayne so how on earth was I supposed to find somewhere to live? Fortunately I knew someone who had a spare room available for rent just a ten minute walk from Religion HQ.
      I had somewhere to live and now I had to wait/dread to see what the working hours would be. Today was my first day and lets just say working in PR is a lot less stressful than working in a pattern cutting studio/for a designer. Since the brand, Firetrap dissolved, Religion Clothing has been the go to brand for many stockists; so my day consisted of phoning Firetraps old stockists to get them on board and buy Religion Clothing… that is all I can tell you for the moment but hopefully I will be able to tell you more about the brand and what goes on inside a show room soon!