THE INFECTION

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I like to think I’m pretty knowledgable when it comes to matters of the vagina. I read lots of magazines, I google NHS symptoms more often than I probably should and I actually sat up and listened during my Sex Ed lessons at school. I know the difference between a diaphragm and an IUD, I know that Herpes is for life, that Chlamydia is curable and – after entering into a somewhat unfortunate conversation during this year’s Halloween celebrations – I now know what a ‘dental dam’ is. (You should absolutely google it by the way, you won’t know contraception until you know this.)

But it seems this weekend was a weekend full of adult sex education, because – after 26 years – I was introduced to Cystitis for the first time.

Yes, Cystitis. Something that many of you have probably suffered from several times over, but I am new to and am therefore going to want to talk about.

It happened after an action packed weekend of cycling and hanging out with my man friend. I woke up on Monday morning to an overwhelming urge to pee. So I peed. Then I felt like I needed to pee some more. But I couldn’t pee. And it hurt when I did. A lot. And there it was. The very moment this god-awful infection walked – or rather slithered – into my life. Brilliant, I thought. Another triumphant loss for womankind. But I then discovered that men can suffer from it too and I put my pity party hat away.

And that’s basically all I have to say. That it really hurts and it’s really annoying. And I hate it.

You’re probably wondering what the purpose of this post is. Truth is, I just needed to voice how difficult this little infection has made my life over the last couple of days and to let you know that no matter how much it seems as if there’s no light at the end of the urinary tract infection tunnel when you’re inside it, there is a way out. Just stick to the home remedies and hot water bottle and you’ll get there. Trust me.

After sixteen cartons of cranberry juice, fourteen gallons of H20 and 48hrs worth of Sodium Citrate sachets later, it’s sort of gone. And MY GOD, I’m loving being able to pee again. Just like when you get over a week-long cold and you swear that you’ll never take your healthy nostrils for granted ever again, well, the same goes for my urethra. I love her and her ability to let me wee with success and I will worship her and take care of her until the day I die.

So here’s to cystitis, one of the very few things to put me off ever having sex again.

Welcome to my life you awful, awful thing you.

THE JOB CENTRE – JESS MARK

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Age: 26

Occupation: Nutritionist

Which means: I’m currently working on a study at King’s College University, helping patients to reduce their risk of developing Cardiovascular Disease within the next 10 years. We are testing whether a psychological technique known as ‘Motivational Interviewing’ can help patients with lifestyle changes such as eating healthily and increasing exercise to reduce heart disease risk. I also write health and nutrition articles for TotallyTween – an online magazine for 8-12 year olds.

Did you go to uni? I studied Nutrition at the University of Nottingham and graduated in 2010.

What was your first job after graduating? I decided to go travelling, so my first job was working at Wimbledon. I had a few different jobs to save money to fund my 8 month long trip. When I got back from travelling, I decided to really pursue the nutrition route but it was so difficult to find a paid job! I did lots of volunteering at various charities, an internship at a Nutrition PR company and then decided to go freelance. My first proper nutritionist role was for Hillingdon council, working as a Nutrition Coach for teens, helping them to manage their weight and become more active. I was also running nutrition workshops for parents and children in primary schools across south London.

Do you have to have a degree to do your job, or is work experience more important? Having a nutrition degree and work experience were both really important in landing the job. For this project in particular, other health-related and psychology qualifications were also accepted as the role incorporates nutrition, exercise and psychology. However, other nutrition roles I have had ask for a degree as a requirement.

What’s the difference between a Nutritionist and a Dietician? Currently, anyone can call themselves a nutritionist as the title isn’t protected in the same way as a Dietitian. There is however, The Association for Nutrition (AfN), a charity that holds a register of Nutritionists who work at senior levels across the NHS, academia, industry and food service. This is to enable public safety and ensure those who release information are adequately trained and knowledgeable enough to provide evidence-based information and follow strict code of conduct. In order to join the register, you have to demonstrate core competencies in nutrition and science. The AfN currently accredits a number of undergraduate and postgraduate courses – my course at Nottingham was one of them. Students completing an accredited degree programme have the right to apply to join the register. Joining the register post-graduation gives you the title Associate Nutritionist (ANutr) and after 3 year’s worth of experience you can become a Registered Nutritionist (RNutr). This is useful because employers are increasingly looking for registered status in posts they advertise.

What’s does a typical day at the office look like for you? No day is ever the same, which I love! I spend most of my time at GP surgeries or community venues working with my patients. If I’m in the office, I attend meetings, catch up on emails, book my patients in for the week and organise rooms at GP surgeries and venues. I also have to plan my sessions and write up patient outcomes from sessions. Working on a study means that there is quite a lot of data to be collected and recorded. When I’m out of the office, I’m either working one to one with patients or delivering group sessions.

What’s the dress code? Smart/casual. As I spend a lot of time travelling to different locations, my main priority is comfort but I try to look as professional as possible. I do have to carry lots of resources to sessions, so it’s not unusual to see me running around in my trainers with a change of shoes in my backpack!

Where do you see yourself in two to three years time? What are your achievable goals? I would like to get back doing freelance work. I really enjoyed creating my own projects, especially for children. I think it’s so important for children and parents to be properly educated about food, so I want to continue health promotion in this area. I would also quite like to do some more studying and work abroad.

If you could do anything other than what you do now, what would it be? I really can’t see myself not working in this field. I love food, so it would probably be something food related – maybe own a restaurant or set up a food delivery service?

The world has gone mad for ‘Super Foods’ and ‘Clean Eating’ – is it all  just another moneymaking scheme? I definitely see it as a massive marketing ploy. There’s always a particular food that we ‘must be eating’ that will ‘solve all our health problems’. The term ‘Superfood’, however, has no official definition and the EU have banned health claims on packaging unless it can be supported by scientific evidence because it gives us a false expectation of the benefits. ‘Clean eating’ also has no definition or scientific support. The reality is, if you eat a ‘Superfood’ thinking that it will undo the damage of consuming other unhealthy, processed foods, it won’t! Superfoods cannot compensate for unhealthy eating; no food on its own can work miracles. The Superfood trend exploits the fact that healthy lifestyle choices can reduce our risk of chronic diseases like heart disease, strokes and cancer. There’s a massive wellness trend at the moment with a lot of influence from social media- Instagram in particular. You see lots of incorrect advice being handed out which can be very dangerous as it promotes confusion and misinformation. I know it’s boring and everyone has heard it before, but a healthy and balanced diet really is key. Limiting yourself to consuming only a certain superfood or ‘eating clean’ and restricting other important nutrients can be detrimental too. Balance and moderation are what’s important. We need to eat what’s right according to our individual needs.

And finally, what one piece of practical career advice would you give to your younger self?

STOP WORRYING!  I would tell myself that there’s no point worrying if the problem can be solved, and if it can’t be solved there is still no point in worrying! It’s not going to help the situation, so just let it be. If you’ve tried hard enough and really given something your best shot, you’ve got to trust that things will take care of themselves and work out in the end.

*

My beautiful best friend, confidante and foodie. We like to eat. And party.

Questions for Jess? Just ask.

THE SHOCK OF THE FALL

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I first heard of The Shock of the Fall at university. I only got round to reading it last week. And by Jove, it’s good.

A decent way into the book, I was convinced that it wasn’t for me. However, when a handsome chap on the tube asked what I thought of it, I felt like I had to smile and say, “Amazing, yeah”, mainly because of his eyes. But also because everyone had raved about it so much. But yeah, mainly because of his eyes.

So as I continued to wade through conversation after conversation about how great it was, inside I felt confused about why I hadn’t clicked with Matt – the ultimate untrustworthy narrator – and why I was decidedly unbothered about where his journey would take him.

Until about three chapters from the end, where everything clicked for me. I can’t say why it did, but I urge you to read it and find out.

It might not sit comfortably with you at first (because, why should it? it’s a story about mental illness and we’re still not over that taboo just yet) but hold out until it does and it will be worth it. Even for this quote alone:

“‘Really Matt. You’re your own worst enemy.’

That’s a strange thing to say to someone with a serious mental disease. Of course I’m my own worst enemy. That’s the whole problem.”

It’s very difficult for someone who has never suffered from mental illness to really get it. But think of it like this: as humans, we are used to fending off attackers and fighting to survive; it’s in our nature. But what happens when you are fighting with yourself? Not like cancer, where we can zap the bad stuff out and people can see what’s up. But when what you are fighting is inside your head where nobody except you can see it or hear it? I won’t insult those who do suffer by saying that I get it. Because I don’t. But what I will say is that it scares me and I would like to do all I can to at least try to understand it.

Set in Bristol, The Shock of the Fall is a story of guilt, loss and, most importantly, mental illness. Not only does Filer do what Haddon does in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time and create a voice for a voice in a head, but he sheds light on the reality of the struggles of someone suffering on a daily basis – from the very real effects of NHS cuts to mistaking a helping hand for something else entirely – a refreshing perspective and far cry from straight jackets and asylums.

Matt’s journey takes us from the point of trauma and ends somewhere between acceptance, freedom and succumbing.

By the final few pages I was sobbing and smiling. And I don’t cry.

Let me know what you think of it. I think it’s great.

THE COIL

large (5)Yep, you heard it right.

Today I’ll mostly be talking to you about your very own vagina whilst oversharing with details of my own.

Still reading?

Good.

The Coil is a birth control device that is implanted into the Uterus, making it an “inhospitable environment” for baby-making. Now, I do understand that this might not sound like a particularly appealing option for many of you, but I can assure you that it is far more desirable than the prospect of changing the nappies of something that looks a lot like that bloke you met in the Bussey Building nine months ago at 4am on a Tuesday.

The Coil is, to me, a dream come true.

Hear me out.

For years, I have tested pill after pill, I’ve grappled with condoms and have considered trying the implant, until I heard about The Mirena, that is. This name (thankfully) sounds a lot more genteel than The Coil, which is the only thing that caused me to investigate the method further- and thank God I did. Although, as it turns out, you really shouldn’t google anything medical, particularly when it comes to your lady bits; there are a great deal of scaremongers out there and tons of inaccurate information on offer. So, after much scrolling and filled with doubt but an unrelenting curiosity, I turned to the most trustworthy of voices: my friends.

I don’t know whether it’s a mid-twenties thing, but so many women around me are opting for the coil. It seems that more than ever – despite our financially stabler and ever more capable minds – we want to make doubly sure that we have children when we want them, as opposed to when mother nature tells us to. So yes, that is why many women these days are walking around with a piece of plastic in their womb. This, in theory, sounds bloody awful, but in reality it’s heaven. Not only do you free yourself from tiny tots, but – in many cases – from tampons too. Yep, you heard me: no periods. Ever. Well, for some of us anyway. As I say, it all depends on the person and which coil you opt for, but it’s a likely possibility. Of course, you may continue to have periods, but then again, you might not. You might get hungrier, but then again you might eat less. You might hate it, but then again you might love it. Birth control is, and always has been, a roulette unfortunately. Unless you just stop having sex, then it’s pretty foolproof. But that kind of defeats the point, doesn’t it?

I’m not going to lie, having it fitted is no picnic. But it’s no war zone either. There’s no blood, no guts and limited pain (well, nothing you can’t handle anyway) and it’s over in about fifteen minutes. And if you have the right doctor (which I really did; she was amazing and I would recommend her to anyone) then it will be a walk in the park, or a jog around one at the very least- with the aid of paracetamol of course.

At 17, “the clinic lady” planted Microgynon in my hand and shoved me out the door, banishing me to months of a bloated tummy, a spotty chin and low moods. At 26, I am more aware of my body than ever, I know what does and doesn’t work for me and I feel confident enough to tell the professionals so. And so should you, whatever age you are.

Please don’t think you’re restricted to condoms or the godforsaken pill when it comes to preventing pregnancy. Don’t settle for heavier periods and adult acne and PLEASE, whatever you do, do not give up on birth control altogether and risk it with “rhythm methods” or “pulling out” (sorry for being so explicit but it’s important that this is clear). There are tons of options out there for you ladies and you will find one that works for you. It’s just a matter of doing your research and testing them out.

If, like me, you react badly to hormones – think bad skin, fat hips and moods that swing farther than Tarzan on a proverbial vine – then this form of contraception might just be for you.

You’ve probably heard horror stories about complications which probably date back to the 70s. Or blokes saying that they can feel it when you’re doing it. They’re lying. No one’s willy is that big. And there are risks with anything you do.

Take it from me, the coil – or IUD, as it is known as today – truly is a revelation.

Free your womb and remain worry-free. Except for Herpes. Always worry about Herpes.

Have a great weekend.

*Disclaimer* I am not a doctor. The only authority I hold over this is that I have a Uterus. I told you, birth control is a roulette. This is just an option.

THE FALL OUT

large (1)I’ve got a lot of hair.

It’s what people comment on the most about me. (Aside from my ability to eat more than most giants, of course).

It can never make its mind up whether it’s red or brown and is unsure if it wants to be curly or straight. But one thing it is sure of, is that it is falling out.

Yep, that’s right. I have alopecia. You wouldn’t think it though.

Luckily for me, I have an abundance of the stuff sprouting from my scalp so it’s really tricky to notice, but if you ask me nicely, I’ll show you that my hair is, in fact, evacuating my head piece. One bald patch at a time.

We had a falling out you see, me and my hair. It didn’t like how stressed out I was this time last year so, much like a stroppy teenager, it decided to kickback and run away from home. I think it was nature’s way of telling me to slow the f*** down and chill for five minutes, I just wish it had been a little more subtle about it.

Alopecia is one of those things, you see, that we don’t know much about. Great for specialists when I walk into their office, as they get to experiment with its hapless behaviour first hand; not so great for me as it’s far from easily treated and the life expectancy of my beloved follicles remains uncertain. The truth is, I may lose all of my hair, or best case scenario, I might not. That’s the thing with alopecia: it’s fairly untreatable and pretty goddam unpredictable.

Despite this, I remain defiant. My hair is my thing. We all have that one feature that we hide behind; be it a full face of make up, or a fantastic pair of knockers, and mine is my lid. I lose that and, much like old Samson, I lose everything. So topical steroids are my new best friend, head bands are my safety net and hairdressers are now my enemy. I’ve tried caffeine shampoos, Vitamins Q, R and S and have even considered implants. Thankfully, my hard work is paying off.

You probably think I sound surprisingly okay about the whole thing considering the fact that I might end up bald. For the record: I’m not. But at the moment it’s under control and I’m bald patch free, which is all I can ask for at this point in time- until life gets a little too stressful again and my body decides to tell me so.

The way I stay positive about having this condition is by remaining grateful that I’m losing my hair simply because I’m stressed out and not because I’m being treated for something more serious.

Look after yourself and listen to your body when it’s speaking to you. It actually has quite a lot to say.

The Visit

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It must seem to my regular readers that I spend most of my time getting medical practitioners to look at my lady bits. I can categorically tell you that this is not the case, however, if it makes you feel better about getting your own private parts checked out, then so be it.

I’ve heard that HIV is on the rise again in young, gay men and although I myself am clearly not a young, gay man, I’m well aware that we are all at risk and that I’m not immune just because I’m a heterosexual female. I also know that it isn’t just HIV that we should be protecting ourselves from either: there are 27 different types of STI that are waiting to latch onto our genitals, so it really is worth spending the time using protection and getting checked out, however old you are and however many sexual partners you’ve had.

If you’re under 18 and reading this, then I can understand that STIs might still be a little bit taboo for your age range. When I was at school, anyone who took a trip to the clinic was there primarily to collect a ton of condoms to throw around in class and if you were caught coming out of one, it was immediately assumed that your knob had fallen off. If, however, you’re old and ugly enough to take responsibility for your dental hygiene and general health, then there’s no excuse for neglecting yourself from the waist down; you should be leading the younger generation by example.

It dawned on me recently that I hadn’t had a test since 2009. Shameful. Four years, and a few sexual partners later, I could have caught something and have passed it onto a bedtime buddy already. A quick debrief of my sexual encounters would tell you that it was highly unlikely that I’d have contracted anything from a list of bright, well brought up, good looking and charming university graduates (not) but it’s not as clear cut as having chocolate on your chin: sometimes it’s too dark or I was too drunk and just because you’re called Harry doesn’t mean you don’t have Herpes. So I took the plunge and got myself booked in last week.

My clinic is the sexual health hub of West London and had been a haunt for most of my health conscious friends and boyfriends growing up, but I hadn’t visited the place in years. And you know what? Not much had changed. The same hushed waiting room was still there: rows of chairs filled with people avoiding eye contact at all costs, an old radio playing the same tracks from 2006 and as I was visiting so close to the festive season, a comforting array of washed out tinsel was strewn decadently about the room. Something that had changed however, was my attitude to getting this done. Instead of feeling ashamed or embarrassed, I felt proud of myself and of the people around me; I’d had a bikini wax and was ready to take on the swab. I did still want to be invisible however, so when I sneezed and a guy said “Bless you”. I thought, “Dude, we’re not waiting for a bus here. I’m trying my very best to be as discrete as possible so could you please just not”.

This was all quickly forgotten when I was told by the nurse that swabs were a DIY job these days. I could’ve jumped on her I was so relieved – and I’m really not that shy about my vagina – so hopefully this will encourage those of you who are a little anxious, to take the leap. If, by some chance, some clinics do ask you to drop your pants, please don’t panic; it really isn’t that bad and it will be over really, really quickly. And to those guys who think they have it worse when it comes to sexual health screenings: woman up. It’s a cotton bud, not a machine gun.

My brother and his mates used to visit the clinic together for moral support. Afterwards, they’d treat themselves to a Nando’s for being so brave. I don’t care what it takes to get yourself checked out; whether you want to have sex with your girlfriend without a condom or if you need to justify getting your Peri-Peri fix that week, make like Nike and just do it. Remember that those who are there to assist you have seen a lot worse (confirmed when my gyno made a cameo appearance treating genital warts on Embarrassing Bodies a while back) while those who are waiting to be seen are only there to look after themselves, just like you.

Yes, it’s embarrassing when you’re about to show your foof to a complete stranger or when you’re asked a long list of questions about your sex life but it really is so important to make sure you’re clean as more serious diseases are found in young people today. Oh, and a little FYI: never respond with “erm… I tried it once but stopped because it hurt” when asked if you’ve had anal sex during your health questionnaire; the nurse is trying to figure out if you’ve been exposed to potential risks, not whether you’re an experimental lover. Just a little heads up, this definitely didn’t happen to me…

I received my “all-clear” text just this morning and I can tell you that the relief of that message far outweighs the 60 seconds of embarrassment in that nurse’s office or the scratch of the needle from a blood test.

Drop your trousers and get it checked.

All of you.

The Habit

So there’s no smoke without fire.

But is there fire without smoke? The designated area that you’ll find in pubs, clubs and bars across the country is undoubtedly the source of friendships, bonds and sometimes life time love affairs with the flick of a lighter.

But does that give us enough reason to smoke?

In these health conscious times, knowing the effects of nicotine and us being more than a fag ash away from the glamorous chuffing of the 1920s, why does our generation still partake in this past time? To spark conversation of course. But do we need to suck on a small white stick behind a rope, on the street, in order to bond? Surely all that puffing just gets in the way of conversation?

There are some social circles where smoking is a given. Arts students will do it with a coffee in hand, gap year travellers do it while tying on their anklets and businessmen do it on their lunch breaks, huddled in doorways. There’s definitely something about doing this, huddling in doorways thing, which feels almost primitive. It’s like a bonding technique to discuss how stressed they are and how much money they earn. And much like Rachel in Friends, when the office smokers go out for a fag break, you’ll always wonder what exactly it is they speak of whilst pirouetting on a fire exit stairwell.

Far from these veteran smokers, are the seasonal smokers. Come their second or third pint of the night, they will steal one’s cigarettes thereafter. Some do it because their drunken minds tell them they look cool doing so, some are craving that first drag head rush and then there are those who are simply trying to chat someone up who puts away twenty a day. They will light the wrong end, hold it with their pinkie and normally drop it at some stage. Or worst of all, choke. You’d think that taking up smoking for one night only wouldn’t bag you a bird but, somehow, sometimes it does. There is however, definitely something in sharing a cigarette. Especially with someone you don’t know. It brings you closer than swapping numbers or sitting side by side. Unless it’s post-coital of course. In which case, I’m pretty sure you probably know each other well enough.

Despite how it may appear, I am not here trying to tempt you into smoking. Far from it. There are the obvious downsides. The first being inevitable illness, as well as ash going in the eye which will always equate to an awkward moment which cannot be styled out due to temporary blindness, and finally, spending masses of money with very little to show for it.

However, and I think most of you will agree, that the scene in Alfie, the one where Sienna Miller strips off, would not be complete without that cigarette perched on her lower lip. And the same can be said for real life love scenes. Or any sort of scene for that matter. Look at Danny Zucko for Christ’s sake.

But as cancer rarely exists in Hollywood movies, perhaps we should leave it to the professionals who are probably puffing on tea leaves rather than tobacco on set. So although it has, and will always, looking effing cool, try and kick that habit. Or at least cut it down to one-a-chat-up-line.

After all, smoking kills. Kissing doesn’t. You do the math.