Posted in If Music Be the Food of Love...

a journey of self-acceptance, identity and trauma: album review ‘Build a Problem’ by Dodie.

Dodie’s debut album ‘Build a Problem’ is a soundtrack of lost love, relationships, and sexuality. The Essex born, YouTube raised, singer-songwriter has bared her soul across 22 songs of folk-pop, comprising of fan favourites posted on her YouTube in 2016, to new unheard tracks.

Fans of Dodie will probably associate her with sweet, layered harmonies and a mahogany brown ukulele. However, this record moves on from the shy, adolescent singer/songwriter from YouTube, and establishes Dodie as a prolific and self-aware lyricist and musician.

The opening track ‘Air So Sweet’ establishes the album as one unafraid to use stillness. We are introduced to soft 3-part harmonies and subtle percussion, yet the song holds power. It is the type of record that could yield silence in a crowded hall.

Dodie’s signature harmonies are present throughout the entire album. Her English accent is accentuated by layered melodic lines, somewhat contributing to her sweet, vulnerable image. Her warm tone and alto range are highlighted in the song ‘I Kissed Someone (it wasn’t you)’, where she masters the balance between spoken word and song. Using a narrow range of notes in the main melody lines allow us to hear the lyrics as though they were almost spoken, before we are hit with a cacophony of dissonant vocal harmonies over beautiful reverberated orchestral strings.

The record hosts a variety of instrumentation. Records are at their most emotive when Dodie’s signature ukulele is accompanied by sultry strings, such as in the 8th track on the album ‘Four Tequilas Down’.

the entire album’s transitions are to be celebrated as much as the tracks themselves, with many songs leading into each other as if Dodie were playing live

Known for her witty and honest lyrics, Dodie bravely includes two track on the record which are purely instrumental. Titled merely ‘.’ And ‘?’, the pieces wouldn’t be out of place in a grand music hall. The song’s use of suspension and resolution are blissful. ‘.’ cleverly transitions into the next track ‘sorry’. In fact, the entire album’s transitions are to be celebrated as much as the tracks themselves, with many songs leading into each other as if Dodie were playing live.

She is unafraid to stray from the typical structure of a pop ballad, letting the music lead listeners through tracks rather like Alice through the looking glass. We are unsure where we will end up, but too entranced to care.

Mental health is a key trope throughout the record, epitomised in the track ‘Before the Line’, a beautifully fragile ode to depression and depersonalisation. With lines such as “Now every morning since the line between my lives, I greet the sun, and ask, “have I already died?,” it is hard not to sympathise yet envy Dodie at the same time. We are sorry for the pain she has experienced, but jealous of her ease in opening up her soul.

Build a Problem is a mature, sophisticated, and delicate take on navigating life’s heartbreaks and downfalls

Dodie is Generation Z’s answer to Regina Spektor, with an air of Phoebe Bridges. She is wonderfully quirky, yet utterly relatable. She addresses the difficult parts of life with delicacy, sensitivity, and unapologetic honesty. As a debut album, from someone who has been flitting around the edge of a music industry for some time, ‘Build a Problem’ is a mature, sophisticated, and delicate take on navigating life’s heartbreaks and downfalls. It is triumphant in its poetic elegance, beautifully construed harmonies, and hair-raising orchestral arrangements.

rating- 9/10

Posted in Mental Health, Quick reads

what you need to know about mental health awareness week

Mental Health Awareness week is running from 10th-18th May. It is an initiative organised by the Mental Health Foundation, encouraging people to talk about all aspects of mental health, with a focus on providing help and advice to those struggling. Other mental health charities, such as Mind, are also getting on board with the campaign.

The focus this year is nature. On their website, Mental Health Foundation define this as “any environment in which we can use our senses to experience the natural world”. This could be as simple as buying a new house plant and opening up the windows to get some fresh air, to taking longer walks in your local area. Not everyone has the privilege of living near to wide expanses of lush greenery or panoramic coastal views, but the focus of the week is on engaging with nature however you can, and in whichever way you feel comfortable.

There is lots of research proving that nature can have positive affects on mental health. For example, getting natural light can be incredibly important for people suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder. Ecotherapy (treatment which involves doing outdoor activities) can help with depression. Exercising produces endorphins which can help if you’re feeling anxious or stressed. Nature has the power to heal, we just have to know how to let it.

In an ideal World, every day we would all take a minute to check in on our own mental health and that of our loved ones.

You may have heard about mental health awareness week and thought, well, what’s the point? Surely, we should always be talking about mental health. Surely every week should be Mental Health Awareness Week. And yes, you would be right. In an ideal World, every day we would all take a minute to check in on our own mental health and that of our loved ones. But life is busy. Sometimes too busy, and we become lost in work emails, or essay writing; chores and tasks which seem the most important thing in the World (for approximately 5 minutes before something else takes its place). It is so easy to forget about our mental health, neglecting it like the sad house plant on the windowsill we promised to take better care of. That is why weeks such as Mental Health Awareness Week are SO important. They force us to confront it. To check in with ourselves and others, which is especially important given the past 12 months and all the trauma, anxiety, and loneliness the COVID-19 pandemic has brought to people’s lives.

These weeks are designed to bring mental health conversations to the forefront of society. But they should not then be abandoned. Therefore, you should view this week as the start of a healthier approach to discussing mental health. Talk regularly. Adopt warmth, kindness, and patience to how you talk about it (to your loved ones AND to yourself.) Mental health is for life, not just for a week.

Here are some ways you can get involved with Mental Health Awareness week.

  • Social Media- follow and support accounts which are promoting the week. Whether it is liking a charity’s tweet, sharing a Facebook post of helpful resources, or reposting an Instagram story.
  • Support charities and organisations- see if there are any fundraisers you can get involved with. Familiarise yourself with what resources they offer in case they may be helpful to you or others.
  • Check in with friends- Send a message to friends and family, asking them how they’re doing. Sometimes the people who seem to have it together the most are the ones most in need of support.

Get involved with the campaign by using #ConnectWithNature and #MentalHealthAwarenessWeek on social media. Let people know you are open to discussing mental health. It could make all the difference.

Posted in 5 things..., Quick reads

5 of the best Instagram accounts for keeping it real

Ah, Instagram. A place where we are made to feel that our own lives are somewhat insignificant compared to complete strangers. We aimlessly scroll, comparing our bodies, careers, and family life to the picture-perfect portrayal which other people choose to share with us. The constant barrage of what to wear, what to eat, and how to generally live our lives is utterly overwhelming. And that is why following positive and ‘real’ accounts is SO important. They are a breath of fresh air, reminding us that behind each airbrushed and filtered photo, there is a human being, just like you and I. Someone imperfect, struggling with life in some capacity, and brave enough to show it so that you can realise that, hey, humans are meant to be a bit messy sometimes. And that is totally okay. So, here are 5 Instagram accounts who are brilliant at keeping it real.

Kate Snooks @katesnooks

Beauty blogger, cat owner, and true crime lover Kate has a beautiful and warm online presence. She speaks about an array of topics, covering past failed relationships, sex positivity, depression, and her struggles with acne, all with sensitivity and mature reflection. A credit to the job title ‘influencer’, Kate’s account is an Instagram safe haven of self-acceptance and a wonderful guide on how to navigate life’s unexpected turns.

Rosie Ramsey @rosemarinoramsey

Rosie is a podcaster, author, mum-of- two, and expert at proving that your social media doesn’t have to be filled with staged and glamorous photos. She radiates warmth and kindness and is unapologetic in showing the ‘realness’ of motherhood. She talks about weight gain, productivity, and self-love, and is an all-round positive presence on Instagram.

Rianne Meijer @rianne.meijer

If you don’t follow Rianne, then go follow her. Trust me. She will grace your Instagram feed with hilariously accurate ‘expectation vs reality’ photos that many influencers would be too embarrassed to post. She oozes body positivity and encourages her followers to do the same. She highlights the importance of poses and lighting in contorting our bodies into something ‘Instagram worthy’ and reminds us to not believe everything we see on Instagram at face value.

Maddie Bruce @maddie_bruce

In her bio, Maddie says “you’re in the right place if you like really honest captions.” And she’s not wrong. As a mental health advocate, Maddie’s feed is full of stories from her ongoing recovery with mental health issues. She is unafraid to talk about the hard stuff, and her honesty is unbelievably refreshing.

Nadiya Hussain @nadiyajhussain

While at first glance Nadiya’s feed is just full of delicious food and baked treats, The Great British Bake Off winner uses her Instagram to provide an honest insight into her struggles with anxiety. She uploads regular videos, talking in a candid nature about her experiences of the COVID-19 lockdown and the troubles it has brought to her personal life.

Images courtesy of

Posted in 5 things..., Mental Health, Quick reads

5 things not to say to someone having a panic attack

Talking about mental health is so important. But knowing how to talk about it is just as important. Knowing what to say, and what not to say, can be really daunting. So, here are 5 things not to say to someone having a panic attack.

  • “just try breathing normally.”

Trust me, we are. Controlling your breathing is one of the most important things you can do when having a panic attack, but also one of the hardest. The erratic breathing makes you panic, and the panicking makes your breathing worse. You see where this is going. It’s a dangerous and scary cycle. Instead of suggesting someone breathes ‘normally’, try being a bit more specific in helping them to slow down their breathing. Try saying, “let’s slow down our breathing together, breathe in for 5, hold for 5, and breathe out for 5.” 

  • “there’s nothing to worry about.”

Sometimes, anxiety has no logic. None at all. Someone could be in a safe space, with familiar company, and experience a horrendous panic attack. The body is a weird, and at times, wonderful thing, but also bloody annoying. Telling someone that there is nothing to worry about is a little patronising. Try saying, “you are safe and in control.

  • “you’re doing this for attention.”

I’ve had this one before, and at the time I was too anxious to really take it in. But retrospectively I’ve realised how awful it was. I promise you that someone having a panic attack would love nothing more than to, well, not be having one. They are not for attention. If there are lots of people around, then that might be making it worse. Try saying, “would you like to go to a quieter space?

  • “can you snap out of it?”

Another lovely line I’ve been told before. This makes panic attacks seem a choice. Which they’re not. As inconvenient as it might be for you to watch someone have one, I promise it’s worse for the person having it. It’s hard sometimes to know what the right thing is, but it’s easy to not be rude. So just don’t be. At all. 

  • “you seemed fine a second ago” 

Panic attacks can come on really quickly. While some days you can feel anxiety building, other times it can catch you completely off guard. Also, people with mental health issues are often very good at hiding them. So, while to you it may look completely out of the blue, someone might have been feeling pretty rubbish for a while. Try saying “what can I do for you?

Rather than just take my word for what warrants good advice, check out these very helpful resources.

Image provided by writer.

Posted in 5 things..., Mental Health, Quick reads

5 things not to say to someone with depression

Talking about mental health is so important. But knowing how to talk about it is just as important. Knowing what to say, and what not to say, can be really daunting. Reading advice from medical professionals is valuable, but sometimes the best people to give advice are those who have been on the receiving end.

So, here are 5 things NOT to say to someone with depression, from people who have had depression.

  • “Have you tried not being depressed.”

Where to begin with this one. I’m not a mental health expert, but I’m pretty sure no one chooses to be depressed. Saying this makes it sound like depression is a choice, something you can opt in or out of. And that just isn’t the case. So, just don’t say this to anyone. Ever.

  • “You have so much to be grateful for. So many people have it worse.”

Again, this is assuming that the person suffering from depression has chosen to feel this way. They are probably feeling guilty for being depressed and will be aware of the impact it may have on their loved ones. Comparing your own issues to others is so tempting but can be really harmful. Yes, other people may have it worse, but that does not make what you’re feeling any less valid. Try saying, “whatever you’re feeling is important” instead.

  • “Just do some exercise.”

Wow thank you SO much. What an insightful piece of advice. People suffering from depression will know all the things that supposedly help. They probably know that eating healthily, exercising regularly, and practicing mindfulness are all proven to aid mental health recovery. But don’t just assume that they haven’t tried these things already. Different things work for different people. Try saying, “is there anything I can do for you?” instead.

  • “You seem fine.”

People struggling with mental health are sometimes the best liars. You build a façade of someone who is fine. So yes, even though someone might seem fine, it absolutely does not mean that they are. Try saying, “how are you feeling?” instead.

  • “Cheer up.”

Just no. Depression is a medical illness. It is caused by chemical imbalance and lots of complex science which I won’t try and pretend like I understand. But I know that if people with depression could just ‘cheer up’ then they would. But they can’t. It is more complicated than that. So, don’t say things which belittle the severity of what they’re going through.

Useful resources-

Image provided by writer.

Posted in Covid Conversations, Longer reads

COVID CONVERSATIONS…with a mental health nurse

COVID-19 has changed all of our lives. In this short series, I will be sharing people’s stories and experiences of the pandemic. This, is Covid Conversations.

In the past year, health care workers have found themselves facing situations which they probably never imagined. We have all seen the footage of hospital emergency rooms inundated with COVID-19 patients. We have seen the ambulances lined up outside hospital doors, soldiers preparing for battle. But it is not just those working directly with COVID-19 patients who have been affected by the pandemic.

I spoke to an individual whose hospital ward suffered an outbreak of Covid-19 cases. For privacy reasons, her identity will not be revealed. Let us call her Tara. Tara is a mental health nurse, on a ward dedicated to caring for adults with dementia. She is one of many who have worked throughout the pandemic to protect and care for some of the most vulnerable in our society, putting herself at risk, and tragically catching COVID-19 in the process.

I asked Tara her earliest memory of COVID-19 being spoken about at work. “We started wearing a mask before anyone was really calling it a pandemic,” recalls Tara. “Where we work predominantly with elderly people, we knew how vulnerable they were, and so started taking precautions very early on.”

Tara and co-workers were already struggling to deal with the practicalities of the pandemic, before the COVID outbreak on their ward. “Staffing became a nightmare,” said Tara. “We rely a lot on agency staff but when the first wave of COVID hit no one was picking up shifts as everyone was panicking and afraid. Our own staff were also worrying about whether they had symptoms, so lots of people were taking days off, even if they just had a cold or a headache. We had to take every possible symptom seriously.”

“We look after patients who can be extremely aggressive and regularly scratch, bite, and spit on us”

Despite their best efforts, COVID-19 swept through the ward, spreading rapidly from patient to patient. “It was terrifying,” recalled Tara. “On the news they would always point out it is the older population with other health conditions that were dying from COVID, and all of our patients are in that category. We were so lucky that no one got significantly ill, but it didn’t stop it being an incredibly stressful time.”

It is no surprise when working with so many positive COVID patients, that Tara herself was one of many who became unwell with COVID-19. “We look after patients who can be extremely aggressive and regularly scratch, bite, and spit on us. It is surprising really that more of us didn’t catch the virus.”

“My main worry was that people would think I wasn’t doing my job correctly,” said Tara. “I was embarrassed and thought my colleagues would be disappointed or think I wasn’t wearing the correct PPE.”

“I would always leave shifts with red marks all over my face.”

Concerns were raised on Tara’s ward as to the effectiveness of the PPE they were provided with. In a job which involves high levels of personal care with vulnerable people, you would assume that the protective clothing and masks given to them would be of the highest quality. Unfortunately, this was not the case. “I remember watching the news and seeing doctors in full length gowns and big face masks, while I was using a mask you could have bought in any supermarket and a small plastic apron. It made you feel quite vulnerable.” The nurses and staff had to deal with the PPE they were given. “I tied the mask so tight that I would always leave shifts with red marks all over my face. We really did the best we could”.

You start to wonder how people in health care have continued to work, every day, despite all the challenges and devastations of the COVID-19 pandemic. “We are emotionally drained,” said Tara. “Dealing with the pandemic is really hard, but we pulled together as a team. It was actually nice to go to work during the national lockdowns so that I could see my colleagues.”

“We knew we were doing an important job, and that helps keep you going”

“It is also incredibly rewarding,” said Tara. “I knew I was caring for those who really needed it, in a time when they couldn’t see any of their family or loved ones. We knew we were doing an important job, and that helps keep you going.”

We will all know someone in our lives who has had experiences similar to Tara. Someone who has worked tirelessly, selflessly, to continue to provide care and support for people who need it the most.  They are heroes, every single one, and all deserve a medal  (and more importantly, a pay rise). Every day they are putting other people’s health before their own, and that is nothing short of remarkable.

Posted in Longer reads, Mental Health

The Meghan and Harry interview- we need to stop questioning mental health issues

Trigger warning- depression, anxiety, suicide.

Well then. Have you seen it yet? THAT interview? The one that the World and its grandmother seems to be talking about? The one between the actress, war veteran and philanthropist? Otherwise known as talk show host Oprah Winfrey and the Duke and Duchess of Sussex.

I am not a royalist. I don’t feel that as a British citizen I should be indebted to an institution, which although embedded within our national history and identity, holds no relevance to my actual life. Saying this, I don’t overly dislike them either. Consider me Switzerland, happily neutral.

When the Duke and Duchess of Sussex chose to stand down from their royal duties, I didn’t really give it much thought. I admired them a little I suppose. Without knowing much about their personal troubles, I just saw a mother and father choosing to step away from something which clearly wasn’t bringing them happiness. I understand it’s a little deeper and more complicated than that. But on the surface, that is what it comes down to. And who would I be, a mere British citizen whose entire understanding of the royal family is based on The Crown, to judge them for it?

I watched the interview and like many people, was shocked by the revelations it held. However, this is not what I want to address. Many people have commented on the interview, and it has enough shocking content to be written about for years to come. What I am more hurt and frankly frightened by is the reaction by us, the British people, concerning the Duchess of Sussex’s mental health. Meghan bravely admitted to struggling severely with her mental health, including that she had suicidal thoughts.  She told Oprah that she “didn’t want to be alive anymore.” From reading articles, social media posts, and watching British morning breakfast television, I have seen and heard all of the following responses.

“Well, do we believe her?”

“I don’t believe a word of it”

“Another attempt for sympathy, how pathetic”

“Where is the evidence of any of this actually happening?”

Mental health issues are still seen as things which need justification. Validation. To be properly confirmed and proved before sympathy can be issued. This is unbelievably harmful and is a reason many people choose to not speak about their mental health. Imagine struggling with something so horrible, so personal, only to find yourself having to convince people to believe that those struggles are real. People who may be struggling right now are watching a woman being torn apart by the British public and press for admitting that she no longer wanted to live. We’re not talking that she was a bit upset, or lonely, or struggling to adapt to a new way of life. Meghan Markle wanted to die. She wanted to leave her loved ones behind because she couldn’t cope anymore. And the fact that this should be in any way questioned for its legitimacy is disgusting.

When Caroline Flack tragically took her own life in February 2020, my social media feeds were full of sympathy. “Be kind”, people would say, “you never know what someone is going through.” People are full of empathy and sorrow, which is often the case after a mental health tragedy. But what about now? What about when a woman is openly speaking of her suicidal thoughts. What I have seen and read will be a mere fraction of the comments made about the legitimacy of Meghan’s experiences. And it has to stop.

Writer Matt Haig is a prominent voice in the discussion of mental health online.

If someone had a broken bone, it would be treated immediately. Imagine the scenario of people surrounding you, lying on the floor in writhing pain and then being told, “right, before we help you in any way, we need to just check that your leg is actually broken, and that you need our help. This could just be for attention.” In this time, the pain is growing, becoming unbearable. You start to wish you had just tried to help yourself, instead of reaching out to others who seem to hold enough power to determine whether your pain is legitimate enough to be treated. This is true for thousands of mental health sufferers. And what’s worse, it has a domino effect. If someone hears or sees poor treatment of someone’s mental health, it will inevitably make them less likely to ask for help. If someone is called selfish, or attention-seeking, or a liar, then a silent sufferer will stay silent, out of fear of receiving the same treatment. The aftermath of the Meghan and Harry interview is doing this on a catastrophic scale.

We will find ourselves inundated in a mental-health pandemic within the next few years. COVID-19 has brought trauma, isolation, and grief in horrifying amounts, and it is more important than ever that mental-health is taken seriously.

So, whether you are a royalist or not, whether you believe Meghan and Harry or not, do not belittle mental health claims. If you find out someone is suffering, don’t let your first instinct be, “do I believe them”, but instead think about what you can do. The consequences otherwise can be devastating, and we all need to do better.

Matt Haig’s Instagram Account-