TEAM ZOELLA MARCH 31, 2022

Murder on the Mountain! Amy McCulloch Chats to Us About her New Thriller Breathless

From the books waiting on her TBR pile to her writing process and mountainside epiphanies, we caught up with Amy to see how 2022 is treating her and what’s next on her bucket list of adrenalin-filled adventures and big bookish peaks, yet to climb...

Amy McCulloch is the co-author of the #1 YA bestselling novel The Magpie Society: One for Sorrow (alongside Zoella founder, Zoe Sugg), and has written seven solo novels for children and young adults. She’s also an outdoorsy force to be reckoned with. 

When she’s not writing, she can be found travelling, hiking and mountaineering and in September 2019, she became the youngest Canadian woman to climb Mt Manaslu in Nepal – the world’s eighth highest mountain at 8,163m (26,781ft). If you’ve already finished Breathless for this month’s book club, you’ll know all about the perils of that particular summit!

Best known for her YA books, Breathless marks her debut into the world of adult thrillers in what is arguably her most daring fictional outing to date. Here, Amy combines her own experience climbing Mount Manaslu with a chilly and addictive murder mystery that’s sure to leave you recording frantic voice notes to your pals in the middle of the night, willing them to read it at once. 

From the books waiting on her tbr pile to her writing process (she really can write anywhere) and mountainside epiphanies, we caught up with Amy to see how 2022 is treating her and what’s next on her bucket list of adrenalin-filled adventures and big bookish peaks, yet to climb…

Congratulations on the debut of your first adult fiction book! As your first venture into the genre, how different was the writing experience compared with that of writing children’s books and YA? 

Thank you! I didn’t find the writing experience that different, as young adult books are similar in length to adult novels and just as rich and complex! But it was nerve-wracking branching out into the very crowded Crime/Thriller market and I knew that avid readers of crime expect gripping books with twists that really deliver – I focused a lot on trying to get it right (I hope I did!)

How much of your personal mountain-climbing experience makes it into the book? Have you ever had a near death experience whilst mountaineering?!

I brought a lot of my personal experience to the mountain – I was taking a lot of notes while I was climbing and even sat down to write in the Death Zone! I was lucky though to have a much smoother expedition than Cecily, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t have its dangers. Like many mountaineers, I discovered that the most dangerous part of any climb is the way down. After making the summit, I was thrilled – but also exhausted, having climbed throughout the night. On the way down, I was on my own (my Sherpa had been called off to help with a rescue), tired, keen to get to base camp quickly and… I slipped. I wasn’t able to stop myself using any of the self-arrest techniques I had practiced. I was tumbling out of control. Thank god, I had remembered to clip into the safety line. Eventually the line caught and I was able to come to a stop. It was a huge lesson in respecting the mountain – just because I’d made the summit, didn’t mean I was safe yet. 

We have to ask, is Charles’ character based on Nirmal Purja? 

While Charles is attempting to break a world record like Nims, that’s where the character similarities stop! I based Charles more on the famous white male mountaineers – people like Reinhold Messner and Ueli Steck – who have climbed these massive peaks. Breathless isn’t semi-autobiographical as it is most definitely fiction, but of course, I drew from my own experience. Climbing with Nims on Project Possible for his #14Peaks challenge was great – it felt like I was at the forefront of mountaineering history. He’s highly motivating as a leader, and helped to pull me out of some real down moments at camp where I wasn’t sure if I could continue. At the time I signed up to climb with him on Aconcagua in 2018, I didn’t know what a global superstar he would turn out to be – but it was obvious from being on his team that he operates at an extremely high level, while also being a lot of fun, and that was inspiring.

We know from talking to you about The Magpie Society that you love writing the dark and gritty stuff. Have you always wanted to write a high-stakes adult thriller and when did the jumping-off point for Breathless first come to you?

To be honest, I thought I would always write for children and young adults. It wasn’t until I got to the base camp that I realised the setting was perfect for an adult thriller. The isolation of the camp, the danger of the mountain, plus a whole camp full of strangers – it seemed made for a scary, thrilling story. But it would be difficult for those characters to be teenagers, so I decided to have a go at writing my first book for adults!

The mountain feels like a main character in the book. You nailed the atmosphere! What came to you first, the murder mystery element or the remote snowbound setting? 

Oh, definitely the setting! I had no idea about the plot when I was on the mountain – that all came after. But I did a lot of journaling, recording my own personal experience on the mountain, so I could bring that to the novel. The murder mystery I came up with during lockdown.

How was the research side of things for the book? You already have heaps of experience and personal material to draw on but was there anything you had to do your homework on to make for an authentic and accurate story? 

A lot! Even though I have experience with mountaineering, I’m still only one point of view. I wanted to make the whole thing feel real, so I did a lot of research while building up the back story of each character. I also read up on my mountaineering history and literature, especially controversies in mountain records. So reading accounts by people like Reinhold Messner, Jon Krakauer and Bonita Norris was fascinating. 

How long did it take you to write it?

It took me about five months in total to write once I knuckled down to it! 

*Team Zoella fall off their chairs in admiration at this point*

It sounds like you’ve really got summit fever. Do you have any other challenges on your bucket list you want to tick off, mountaineering or otherwise? 

Because of lockdown, I’ve shifted my goals a bit closer to home – though I did manage to get out to the Alps to climb Mont Blanc. My next “summit” is actually to complete an ultra marathon – as I’m writing this, I’m preparing to set off for the Marathon des Sables, a 250km ultra marathon through the Sahara desert. By the time this has been posted, I may have completed it … or maybe not! 

What’s your writing process like? Are you a meticulous plotter or more of a pantser? 

I’m mostly a pantser. I do generally have an idea of where I want the plot to go, especially the ending, but otherwise I let the characters lead. I didn’t even know who the killer was until I got to that bit of the writing process!  

What was it about the Death Zone that you found particularly inspiring when you were writing? 

I think it’s because it’s one of the few places on Earth where life isn’t sustainable – every second you spend in the Death Zone, your body is breaking down. I wanted to try to translate that experience to the page, because it’s naturally thrilling and terrifying. Yet it’s also one of the most beautiful places I have ever been. Watching the sunset slowly illuminate the world, turning marshmallow clouds pink, orange and purple, as the tips of gigantic mountains lit up – beneath me – was incredible. I know it’s a rare privilege to get to see that, and it doesn’t get more inspirational than that.

In September 2019, you became the youngest Canadian woman to climb Mt Manaslu in Nepal. What an achievement! As the world’s eighth highest peak, that’s no mean feat – when did you decide you had to climb Manaslu and complete the challenge? 

Thank you so much! I actually was asked to climb Manaslu by Nims Dai (Nirmal Purja, mentioned above), as part of his Project Possible team. It felt like the chance to witness mountaineering history unfold in front of my eyes, and so it felt like an unmissable opportunity. I had no real expectation that I would reach the summit myself – I wanted to give it my best shot, but it seemed like something way out of my mountaineering league! But under the guidance of Nims and Mingma David (the other expedition leader), I made it – showing me that I was more capable than I ever could have imagined.

What’s been the most random thought, moment of clarity or epiphany you’ve had whilst up a mountain? 

There’s a phrase that I actually put in the book: “Be Bothered”. It was one of my mantras on the mountain. I had to be bothered to fix issues the moment they arose – if I felt thirsty, I took a drink; if I had a wrinkle in my sock, I stopped to smooth it out before it could become a blister; I was always bothered to clip into the safety line even when I couldn’t see any danger. Remembering to do all the little things kept me alive on the mountain, but when you’re so tired and drained, it can feel like a chore. I feel like it’s something I’ve applied to my non-mountaineering life too. It’s been good practice to always try and be bothered, to check in with myself and with the people I care about. You never know when it could save a life.

Cecily Wong, the main character in Breathless, struggles with imposter syndrome. How do you deal with moments of doubt and feelings of inadequacy in your career? Writing and getting published can be a real journey can’t it? 

It really can. That’s definitely something I’ve faced in my own career and on the mountain too. I think two things really help: one is remembering that it’s totally normal to feel like an imposter when you’re striving to reach new heights (literally or metaphorically!). It means you’re challenging yourself. And secondly, I really find it helps me to keep a list of things I’ve accomplished that I’m proud of. It doesn’t have to be big things – like reaching the summit or getting a publishing deal. It can be small too. Like a great comment on the manuscript from a beta reader, or reaching the next camp on the mountain. It’s so easy to let the negative thoughts dominate, that it can help me to have a physical reminder of the good things I’ve done too.

How do you combat writer’s block? The physical onward push of a climb makes for quite a nice metaphor for writing, actually. How much do your two greatest passions complement one another? 

If there’s one thing mountaineering and writing have in common, it’s resilience! If you watch my video The Story Behind Breathless, I talk a lot about how the two pursuits complement each other. There are no shortcuts in writing – to be honest, to combat writer’s block, I have to tell myself that the only way forward is to get my butt in that chair and try to write. The muse works for me, not the other way around! But if it’s really not happening, then I don’t worry too much about writing in chronological order. I try to write a scene that I’m excited about. Anything that gets me back in the writing mood and a few hundred words toward my goal!

What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever had? 

Read, read, read! And not just the classics of the genre. If you want to write YA, it’s no good to just read Twilight and the Hunger Games, you have to read what’s out there right now – the debut novelists, the best sellers, the under the radar hits – so you can see where your writing fits in the market. 

What’s on your TBR pile right now? 

Since I’ve been so busy training for the Marathon des Sables, I’ve barely had any time to read! But top of my teetering TBR pile are some brilliant crime/thrillers like Deep Water by Emma Bamford and A Stranger on Board by Cameron Ward. On the YA side, I’m really looking forward to reading Twin Crowns by Katherine Webber and Catherine Doyle!

A book you can’t wait to read in 2022…

I loved The Sanatorium by Sarah Pearse so I can’t wait to read her second novel, The Retreat! 

TEAM ZOELLA MARCH 30, 2022

8 Magical Libraries Around The World Every Book Lover Needs To Visit

From Switzerland to Prague, New York to Madrid, there’s certainly no shortage of impressive booky buildings dating back further than is oftentimes comprehensible.

If picturing a library conjures up an image of a damp and dusty extension of your former primary school, be prepared to have your mind changed for good after scrolling through these impressive, striking and downright beautiful spaces, so good you might want to consider travelling to all 8…

From Switzerland to Prague, New York to Madrid, there’s certainly no shortage of impressive booky buildings dating back further than is oftentimes comprehensible. Housing both original and modern works, these libraries are not only architecturally impressive, but are also no doubt inspiring a new generation of art, history and culture fanatics to fall in love both with their stunning interiors and act as a reminder of the universal, centuries-spanning joy that comes from seeing a collection of books together. Whether it be works of history, religion, art or pure fiction, keep scrolling to see 8 of the most impressive libraries in the world:

Abbey Library of Saint Gall, St. Gallen, Switzerland

Forget the seven wonders of the world, say hello instead to the Abbey Library of Saint Gall in Switzerland.  Be prepared to be swept off your feet by one of Europe’s oldest libraries (the earliest evidence of a library collection on the site dates back to around 820 CE!) , and a ceiling so dreamy you’d be forgiven (perhaps not by library security) for lying down to admire it. Even from early on in the Abbey and adjoining library’s history the site was known for its collection of illuminated manuscripts and writings, and became a leading centre for science and Western culture around the 10th century. 

In the mid-18th century the world-renowned collection was moved to a new library space and decorated in a Baroque rococo style that can still be admired to this day, and its elaborate ceiling artworks give the space an ethereal and magical energy making it a must visit for history, book and art lovers alike. Above the entrance to the library you’ll find a Greek inscription which translates as “pharmacy of the soul”- the monks who founded the library considered books as medicine for the spirit, and that we won’t certainly disagree with that!

FYI: Sadly photography isn’t permitted inside the library, but you can visit on guided tours and use this digital detox as an opportunity to step back in time and lap up its two floors of majestic beauty. 

George Peabody Library, Baltimore, USA

Accidentally Wes Anderson in library form, the George Peabody Library is a feast for the eyes, with its beautifully pleasing symmetry, five stories of cast iron balconies housing its book collection, and 61-foot-high atrium flooding the space with natural light. The library contains 300,000 books in total, mainly from the 19th century and focusing on religion, architecture, topography, American history, and literature, exploration, and travel. 

The Library was first established in 1857 when successful Baltimore merchant George Peabody pledged $300,000 as an investment for a cultural centre to be named the Peabody Institute. The Institute was set to open in 1860, but the onset of the American Civil War pushed construction back six years- and boy was it worth the wait. Designed by architect Edmund G. Lind, the library is renowned for its striking interior and takes inspiration from Roman and Greek architecture- a style known as Neoclassicism. 

The details of the library’s design really set it apart as a work of art, with Lind incorporating flowerlike embellishments into the railings and painting them grey to replicate stone as means of safely creating a structure that could house 300,000 flammable objects lit by gas lamps. Take a 360° tour of the library here and imagine walking its vast shelves in search of a magical work of fiction. 

The Royal Portuguese Reading Room, Rio De Janeiro, Brazil

Library porn, aka The Royal Portuguese Reading Room- be prepared to be wowed! The cathedral-like reading room has a stained-glass dome and wooden shelves as far as the eye can see, housing nearly 400,000 volumes in total, including rare editions dating back nearly 500 years.

The idea of creating the library came from a group of 43 Portuguese immigrants who wanted to spread culture and literature among the Portuguese communities living in Brazil and to this day remains of immense cultural value to the Portuguese colony. Built in neo-manueline style (considered by some as Portuguese architecture in its purest and most unique form), its limestone exterior- constructed of Lisbon stone brought by ship from Portugal to Rio- displays statues of past Portuguese explorers including Pedro Álvares Cabral, Infante D. Henrique, Vasco da Gama, and Luís de Camões.

Inside, it strikes the perfect balance of moody and inviting thanks to the dark stained wood and jewel toned-books on its shelves, contrasting its light and bright feel thanks to the natural light that pours through its stained-glass dome. Designed by architect Rafael da Silva e Castro, the building was voted the 4th most beautiful library in the world by Time Magazine!

Library of El Escorial Monastery, Madrid, Spain

Said to have inspired the design and decoration of the Vatican library in Rome, there’s surely no better accolade when it comes to architectural magic than this. Erected in the 16th century by Phillip II of Spain, his aim was to build a library that would hold not only books and manuscripts but also instruments of scientific learning such as ornate globes and maps of the known world. This emphasis on unifying the humanities and sciences was a new and exciting idea in the Renaissance period, and so the Royal Library of San Lorenzo de El Escorial was born. It was the first library to display its books and manuscripts in shelving cases along the walls rather than in bays so that the titles would be visible to visitors and avoid the damage caused to the books when they were continually taken out to view. Ingenius for its time!

The library consists of several rooms (most of them no longer used), however, only the Main Hall is open to the public. Measuring 177 feet long, 30 feet wide and 33 feet high, the vast room’s ceiling is curved in vaults and painted with frescos- a mural painting technique that involves painting with water-based paint directly onto wet plaster so that the paint becomes an integral part of the plaster. The iconic painting is divided into seven parts and in each section one of the seven arts is represented: Grammar, Rhetoric, Dialectics, Arithmetic, Music, Geometry and Astronomy. 

Majestic, magical and rich in history, the library was, and remains to be,  a Renaissance statement of power, majesty and prowess.

Admont Abbey Library, Austria

Framed by a magical mountainous scene- the Gesäuse National Park- the Admont Abbey receives around 80,000 visitors every year who travel to see its unique 70 metre long library and museums. Originally designed in 1764, it was constructed in the following years by Austrian master builder Josef Hueber, a firm believer in the ideals of the Enlightenment: “Like our understanding, spaces too should be filled with light.” 

The Abbey’s sculptor Josef Stammel created the numerous, elaborate limewood carvings in this magnificent space, most famous are the ‘Four Last Things‘; oversized figures of Death, Judgement, Heaven and Hell. These were actually carved before the library was built and only subsequently incorporated, hence the stark contrast with the Enlightenment concept that fills the rest of the space. 

Bookworms unite- the library holds some 70,000 volumes while the Abbey in total owns an impressive nearly 200,000 books. This Baroque-Gothic masterpiece wins the heart of all those who pass its doors. 

Maughan Library, London

Formerly the headquarters of the Public Record Office, the Maughan Library was acquired by King’s College University in 2001 and has been an iconic study location for its students ever since. Following a £35m renovation designed by Gaunt Francis Architects, the Maughan is the largest new university library in the United Kingdom since World War II.

The library is periodically open for public visitation, however it is currently only accessible for students of the university during peak exam period. The Grade II listed, neo-Gothic building is located in Chancery Lane, and inside you’ll find a dodecagonal reading room (inspired by the British Museum), and a former medieval chapel which is now an exhibition space showcasing the special collections of the library.

The round reading room is one of its most impressive spaces, so much so that it made an appearance in the 2006 mystery film, The Da Vinci Code. Take a visit and lap up the old and new charms that this central London gem has to offer,  even from the outside.

Wiblingen Monastery Library in Ulm, Germany

Whimsical: say hello to your dictionary definition. Wiblingen Monastery Library’s colour palette consists of rich golds, pinks and blues, with a new intricacy and detail catching your eye at every turn.

Built in the style typical of late-Baroque architecture, the colourful ceiling frescoes (the technique of mural painting on freshly laid (“wet”) plaster, remember) are considered some of the most important representations of this art form in the Württemberg region. The columns and statues are made out of wood, but they are cleverly painted to look like marble, with the library holding a total of over 15,000 books.

The numerous statues and sweeping ceiling design represent the architect’s vision that the library be a place for preserving “treasures of wisdom and science”. Visit for yourself to experience the truly impressive 72 metres long by 27 metres wide space, as well as the adjoining monastery museum for the full historic lowdown. 

The Morgan Library & Museum, New York, United States

If you had a few spare million sitting in the bank, would an impressive personal library next door to your home be on your list of ways to spend it? That was the case for financier J. Pierpont Morgan, who chose architect Charles Follen McKim to design a library to house his growing collection of rare books and manuscripts, and what a building he ended up with as  a result! Constructed of Tennessee pink marble, the exterior of the library is almost as impressive as the interior which features 20 different spaces, including galleries, the iconic library, a performance hall, and more. Majestic, striking and impressive in every way, the library is as much a work of art as the books and collectables it houses.

In 2010 the interior of the library was restored to its original grandeur, including a new lighting system to illuminate the beautiful murals and decor of the four historic rooms. Period furniture was reupholstered, and original fixtures—including three chandeliers removed decades ago—were restored and reinstalled. The museum and library also hosts temporary and seasonal exhibitions including works from different artists and authors (Charles Dickens and Emily Dickinson have been covered in the past), meaning adding a visit to your New York itinerary is one you won’t regret, even if for the gift shop and cafe.

TEAM ZOELLA MARCH 29, 2022

We Went on An ‘Artist Date’ With Ourselves: Introducing Your Self-Care MVP!

For the uninitiated, the artist date is a once-a-week solo expedition to do something that enchants you or interests you, for an hour or two. It’s a tool of attention and a practice that, like many other versions of self-care, fuels creative exploration.

Despite what the name may suggest, an artist date doesn’t require you to paint pensively with a rose between your teeth (unless that’s your MO, ofc), so for those of us who struggle to draw a stickman, you’re off the hook. Simply put, the artist date demands that you spend time with yourself, play, have fun or do something that nourishes your soul – a concept we can all get on board with, whether art is in our wheelhouse or not.

For context, the concept came from author Julia Cameron. In her bestselling book The Artist’s Way – a spiritual manual for creative recovery – she created an invaluable step-by-step guide to living the artist’s life, centred around three pillars: morning pages, artist dates and walking. Working with the principle that creative expression is the natural direction of life, she provides the toolkit we all need to nurture our creativity. 

So, what does an artist date look like IRL? Julia describes the practice as, “a once-weekly, festive, solo expedition to explore something that interests you. The Artist Date need not be overtly “artistic” — think mischief more than mastery. Artist Dates fire up the imagination. They spark whimsy. They encourage play. Since art is about the play of ideas, they feed our creative work by replenishing our inner well of images and inspiration. When choosing an Artist Date, it is good to ask yourself, “what sounds fun?” — and then allow yourself to try it.”

Whether you take yourself off for a day with your camera to take photos just for you, visit a new coffee shop, head to a gallery or a National Trust property, or simply indulge in a bougie lunch for one with a book in a hand, there are endless ways to top up your creativity and relish in a hearty dose of giddy delights for giddy delight’s sake. They can be as elaborate or as everyday as you want to make them, just as long as it brings you unadulterated joy.  

Carving time for yourself is something a lot of people feel huge resistance towards. In today’s fast-paced overconnected world, spending time with yourself feels like an alien concept to most – a novelty usually dreamt up between the pages of a journal but never really actualised because a better or more pressing offer always comes up. It feels indulgent to focus our undivided attention on ourselves, even for just an hour or two. We’re willing to work on creativity (sometimes) but simple pleasures? Not so much. There’s always something more deserving of our time than sitting with ourselves. 

Team Zoella were keen to put Julia Cameron’s game-changing practice to the test and see what wisdom we could gain from wooing our inner artists and nurturing our consciousness, one artist date at a time. Keep reading to find out how the team got on! 

Charlotte’s Artist Date…

I bloody love my alone time, and despite being quite sociable I definitely lap up any opportunities to sit with myself and my feelings, so the concept of an artist date is right up my alley! I regularly enjoy a walk on my own or taking my book to a coffee shop so for this challenge (if you will) I wanted to do something a little more out of my comfort zone and decided on an evening meal by myself. I absolutely love Purezza- a vegan pizza spot in Brighton- and decided I didn’t want to wait for a friend to be free to come with me and instead made a booking for one!

For some reason, the idea of sitting in a restaurant alone feels far more intimidating than hanging out alone in the day, and during the couple of hours before my booking, I was definitely feeling a little anxious at the prospect of walking in and what other diners and the staff would be thinking (spoiler: nothing). I definitely overanalysed my outfit choice- I’d normally wear something a bit more dressy to go out for dinner but on this occasion, I wanted to blend into the background a little more so opted for a knitted brown midi dress and chunky boots. The restaurant is only a couple of minutes from my house which definitely made the whole experience feel more manageable, and when I arrived I was seated in the window which I was assured was great for people watching.

Of course, it’s lovely being able to catch up with a friend or loved one over dinner, but I realised how much you miss from the experience when chatting away and not just allowing yourself to ‘be’ for a moment. Charlotte

The staff were super kind which I’m sure is normal for them anyway but I couldn’t help but wonder if they were being extra nice because I was alone- over-analytical/anxious brain here! I ordered a glass of wine and read my book whilst I waited for my carbonara pizza (yes you did read that correctly) to be prepared and found myself settling into the experience and enjoying having the space to take in what was happening around me and feel completely present. Of course, it’s lovely being able to catch up with a friend or loved one over dinner, but I realised how much you miss from the experience when chatting away and not just allowing yourself to ‘be’ for a moment. The wine definitely helped me feel more at ease, but I also just realised the whole thing wasn’t as big of a deal as I first thought- yes I was the only one dining alone, but none of the other tables or parties gave me a second look!

Being seated in the window, in a little nook away from the bigger groups celebrating birthdays or occasions was perfect for one as could feel the energy of being around others without then feeling out of place on my own. I finished my pizza, read some more of my book and settled the bill before taking the short walk home and plonking myself in front of Netflix to enjoy Taylor’s Reputation Stadium tour- a fabulous night all around!

I think ticking off one solo date has given me the confidence to explore more activities on my own, and I definitely won’t let it hold me back from the things I want to do in the future if I don’t have company to enjoy something with. Next on my list is a solo gig!

Lareese’s Artist Date…

Unbeknownst to me, I’ve been doing accidental artist dates for… well, years. From mediative walks with a podcast between my ears (Fearne Cotton’s dulcet tones usually) to heading off to the park with a book and a picnic blanket, spending time with myself is how I recharge.

I’ve always preferred shopping on my own, I’d think nothing of ordering a table for one at lunchtime with nothing but a carafe of wine and Sally Rooney for company and I did all my marathon training on my tod but until this ‘We Tried’ feature, I hadn’t really given it much thought. I just knew I liked my own company in a major way. I love love love spending time with people but I often end up feeling quite frazzled afterwards and have to unplug from all forms of communication to feel balanced and creatively raring to go again. The idea of a once-weekly solo expedition whether it be to the cinema, a coffee shop or simply to sit on a bench and stare into the abyss fills me with stupid amounts of joy (can you tell I’m the one who pushed this We Tried on everyone, can ya?) and the chance to prioritise simple pleasures over grand plans will never be wasted on me.

Walking is often my number one means of creative recovery, and I wanted to stick to that because an artist date – from what I can gather anyway – is not really about what you’re doing but how it makes you feel.Lareese

The beauty of an artist date is the creative license is all yours. There are no strict rules other than doing it solo of course, and having fun with it. Walking is often my number one means of creative recovery (I know, apparently we didn’t do enough of that in 2020 for my liking), ideally in the morning before work, and I wanted to stick to that because an artist date – from what I can gather anyway – is not really about what you’re doing but how it makes you feel. Do I feel like I’ve cheated a little bit by opting to… ‘try’ walking? Yes I do, but maybe there’s authenticity in doing something so ordinary it can barely pass for an artist date. And an amble down to the sea or into the woods always leaves me feeling lighter and well-rested so, I’m a cheap date, what can I say!

Of course I loved the opportunity to replenish my inner well. I’m a simp for sea air and putting one foot in front of the other for the sheer hell of it, after all. I watched the waves, I savoured my coffee, I focused on my breathing, I felt the sun on my big arse cheeks. I listened to some Norah fucking Jones. And it was glorious. I took the scenic route home (read: went via Waterstones. PEAK romance. And I’m not even afraid to say I was there for opening like the desperate bibliophile that I am). Jules, babes – your work here is done.

Julia Cameron’s artist date is something that’s readily available to all of us as a free tool of self-nourishment. It’s ‘me time’ stripped back with an artistic twist and a way of committing to some realistic, free and practical self-care and just-for-fun activities. Benefits include: ample serotonin and cancel any time membership, though, you probably won’t even want to (for once).

You heard what the honourable TikTok lady said: you have to start romanticising your life – may as well start with an artist date.

Darcey’s Artist Date…

I’ve always really enjoyed my alone time but I must admit that I am definitely less likely to go sit in a coffee shop or restaurant on my own, I usually have alone time in my bedroom watching a Netflix series, which is a pretty standard thing to do!

I’ve been travelling before and so I’ve sat in many restaurants and cafes on my own to have dinner etc and always enjoyed the time on my own, it wasn’t scary being sat alone but I do think being in a foreign country usually makes you care less about these things. I think because maybe I couldn’t speak the language it feels as if you are in a bubble anyway? But for some reason in my hometown, the idea of going to a restaurant on my own or just out for lunch seems a lot more intimidating!

For my artist date, I thought I’d ease myself into some alone time which wasn’t within the comfort of my own home and took myself out for a wholesome coffee date. There are so many lovely coffee shops around where I live so I took myself to one of those and grabbed my go-to order of an oat milk latte and a croissant. The vibes are always good in these coffee shops, but I decided to sit outside and enjoy the warmer weather. To be honest, I didn’t feel like anyone was even remotely bothered that I was sat alone once I was sat down, I think that’s the biggest hurdle when considering taking yourself on a date is feeling like people will be wondering why you are on your own! I enjoyed my coffee very much so, I didn’t even read a book or scroll too much on my phone and tried to just enjoy the moment, easier said than done I must admit when I’m so used to scrolling when I’m on my own in public.

I wandered down to the flower shop around the corner and bought myself some tulips, because why not buy yourself flowers! I enjoyed my me-time a lot and I proved to myself that actually taking this time for myself is the ultimate self-care and something I should do more often. I think next time I’d like to go on a solo cinema date!

Danielle’s Artist Date…

I don’t really have any qualms with being alone as I think I’m a bit of an introverted extrovert which is to say I need time alone to re-charge my batteries. I wouldn’t say doing things on my own in public scares me but I rarely organise like that because I always assume I’ll be bored. When I’m alone at home I’m usually watching a tv show or doing errands or if I’m out with the dog I have a podcast on, so I’m not left alone with thoughts very often.

I generally don’t arrange to eat at a restaurant or go on a traditional date with myself as I just think I’d be bored which is quite sad, but I think it’s because I spend enough time alone with my thoughts (mostly when I swim, obviously very little distractions there) that anything extra isn’t necessary. I love the idea of doing something nice for yourself, especially if quality time is your love language, and I wanted to challenge myself by doing something that makes me feel a little more uncomfortable which would be a full-on sit-down restaurant on my own! I also have always wanted to go to the cinema on my own but never got around to doing it so I decided to throw this in the mix as well.

I had a day off after my birthday weekend and my boyfriend was working so I thought this would be the perfect time to commit to the artist date! First up I decided on breakfast as this is the meal I have out the least and also the most relaxed. I definitely wasn’t embarrassed to be going to a restaurant alone, I would never judge someone for being there alone so I don’t expect to be judged by anyone else. But the reason I’d be uncomfortable is that I like to be present during a restaurant visit, which would be hard to do whilst steaming a show out of boredom. The waitress did pour both glasses of water when I sat down, probably out of instinct more than anything, but that was the only point I that any assumptions were made about me being on my own as I didn’t pre-book the table. So I just sucked it up and sat with myself, looked out the window at the marina and enjoyed my coffee. I went on my phone a few times but when the food came I was focused on that, which was a delicious pea fritter/poached egg situation for enquiring minds!

Before I knew it I was paying the bill and heading over to Cineworld for a bit of the ol’ batman! I treated myself to sweets and an Ice blast knowing I’d have both the armrests to myself which was a delight. When I got into the cinema I sat on my phone until the trailers started running and after that, it was exactly like any other cinema experience I’ve ever had! I missed having someone to break down the movie with after leaving, but for me, that was the only downside.

On my way home I felt so productive as I used my time to do something fulfilling instead of binging Bridgerton in a 3-hour bath (I’ll probably get round to that this week anyway!). It was such a good feeling that I usually get when I do a bit of self-care, it felt like self-care outside of the home and I’ll definitely be engaging in it again. My BF is off on a stag do in a couple of weeks and instead of planning to go away myself or worrying about being bored the whole time I’m going to take myself on another date!

TEAM ZOELLA MARCH 28, 2022

EasterTok Has Spoken! Here’s 10 Trending Sweet Treats You Need to Make Stat!

How many eggs is too many eggs? The limit does not exist and TikTok’s here to prove it.

Whether you’re looking for a new way to eat your Mini Eggs this year, a hot cross bun recipe worth the hype or a pudding with *viral* appeal to serve to the family this Easter, we’ve curated a selection of Tik Tok’s trending sweet treats to see you through the impending bank holiday feast. 

1. Easter Rocky Road

The secret to this recipe? Simply use every form of chocolate egg you can find. 

SERVES 8
PREP: 20 MINS COOK:
EASY

Melt the golden syrup, butter and chocolate in the microwave, add in the Oreos, chocolate eggs of your choice (Creme Eggs, Mini Eggs, the lot) and mini marshmallows. Press it all into a tin, add some more melted choc on top, followed by some more eggs. Put it in the fridge overnight and cut into generous chunks. Enjoy!

2. Mini Egg Krispie Treats

A nostalgic sweet treat will not be wasted on us. 

SERVES 8
PREP: 30 MINS COOK:
EASY

Melt your butter, milk chocolate and mini marshmallows in a pan over a medium heat until smooth. Then, in a large mixing bowl add your Rice Krispies, Mini Eggs (some chopped, some whole) and your chocolate and marshmallow mix. Keep mixing really well until it’s fully combined with your Rice Krispies. Pat it down into a 20cm lined baking tin. Set aside. Melt 220g milk chocolate over a bain-marie. Once fully melted, drizzle over the rice krispie mix evenly and sprinkle with more mini eggs. Pop it in the fridge until it’s completely set, cut into portions and you’re good to serve. And dribble.

3. Three Ingredient Creme Egg Fudge

Three ingredients. Microwaveable? We’re sold. 

Ingredients:

400g milk chocolate chips

397g condensed milk

300g Cadbury Creme Egg Minis (some chopped, some whole)

In a bowl, combine the milk chocolate with a can of condensed milk. Bung it in the mee-cro-wah-vay for 30 second bursts to melt the choc, add in half your Creme Eggs. Line a loaf tin with baking paper, pour in your mixture and top with more Cadbury Mini Creme Eggs. Pop it in the fridge overnight, slice it up and congratulate yourself on your 2 minute wonder. 

Credit: @tamingtwins

4. Easter Egg Croissants

Chocolate eggs, folded into a bed of pastry and baked for your pleasure. That’s it. That’s the tweet. 

SERVES 6
PREP: 15 MINS COOK: 20 MINS
EASY

Using Jus-Rol, cut your pastry into 6 triangles. Place your chocolate mini egg of choice in the top corner of the pastry. Roll into a ball / croissant shape if you can get there. Bake for 20 mins at 180°C until golden. For best results, freeze your chocolate eggs first. You’re welcome.

5. Easter Pavlova

@florence.simpsonn

This was soooo good😍😍 easily served 8-10 people! #fyp #fpypage #learnontiktok #pavlova #easter #baking

♬ original sound – Flo

The perfect pudd for any hypothetical leftover Easter choc… (sorry mam, we’re expected to have leftovers? Not in this house). Embrace the imperfections with this crispy meringue masterpiece cracks ‘n’ all, drizzled in melted Easter eggs and topped with the GOAT Mini Eggs. Come through, Florence. 

SERVES 8-10
PREP: 45 MINS COOK: 1 HR
MEDIUM

Separate your eggs and add the whites into a mixing bowl. Whisk until they start to form peaks. Measure out your caster sugar and icing sugar into separate bowls. Continue mixing and add your caster sugar into your egg whites one spoon at a time. Fold in your icing sugar and then transfer onto a lined baking tray. Bake at 110°C for 1hr 40 mins. Add a generous layer of whipped cream, drizzle over melted easter egg, and top with Mini Eggs and sliced strawbs.

6. Mini Egg Loaf Cake

Give it up for the banana bread of 2022, folks. This Mini Egg loaf recipe is the ideal bake for anyone looking to offer their family an on-brand slice of something holy this Easter Sunday. 

SERVES 6-8
PREP: 30 MINS COOK: 55 MINS
MEDIUM

Cream the soft butter and golden caster sugar together. Add in 4 eggs and beat well. Pour in 2 tsp vanilla extract followed by 60ml milk and mix. Tip in the self-raising flour and mix well until it forms a cake batter. Pour it into a lined loaf tin and bake at 160°C for 55 mins. Once baked, remove from the oven and place on a cooling rack.

Meanwhile, get the buttercream ready by beating the butter. Add in the icing sugar and milk and mix it well until it has a whipped and fluffy consistency. Divide between three bowls, add in your different food colouring and mix. Spoon your buttercream over the cooled cake alternating between the 3 colours. When you’re done, run the back of a spoon over the top to blend it in then sprinkle over your Mini Eggs. Slice into portions et voilà! Happy Easter, indeed.

7. Hasselback Hot Cross Bun Bake

@caughtsnackin

More like hot YUM buns… 😅 I’ll see myself out. #tasty #easter #yum #foodie

♬ BORN FOR THIS – Foxxi

No ordinary hot cross bun will do. This year, it’s Hasselback HCBs or nothing. 

SERVES 6-8
PREP: 30 MINS COOK: 10 MINS
EASY

Hasselback your hot cross buns with thin even layers across the top (careful not to slice all the way through). Spread Nutella on each layer, fill the slots with sliced banana and place in a rectangular traybake tin. In a bowl, crack your eggs with milk and whisk together. Pour over your hot cross buns and bake at 180°C for 10 mins. Top with syrup and Mini Eggs and bosh it in one fell swoop.

8. Creme Egg Cheesecake 

Your no-bake cheesecake has entered the chat. 

SERVES 6-8
PREP: 45 MINS COOK:
MEDIUM

Crush your pack of digestives. Melt your butter into a bowl and mix with the digestive mix. Pour into your cake tin pressing down firmly. Refrigerate.

Pour double cream into a bowl and whisk to form stiff peaks. In another bowl, add your cream cheese and icing sugar. Scoop the whipped cream into the mix and fold until combined. Take out ⅓ of the mix, pop in a bowl and mix with the orange food colouring. Scoop up the white and orange cheesecake mix onto your base and swirl together with a knife. Smooth over with the back of a spoon. Refrigerate for 5 hours.

For the topping: 

Add your dairy milk and double cream to a bowl and microwave for 1 minute 10 seconds. Stir until combined. Let it cool then pour over your cheesecake. Smooth with a palette knife and sprinkle some grated chocolate around the edges. Top with a Creme Egg and set in the fridge.

9. Lindt Brownie Bombs 

We see your Lindt truffle and we raise you with these Lindt Brownie Bombs, ideal for dunking in a glass of milk.

SERVES 8
PREP: 20 MINS COOK: 10 MINS
EASY

Combine your melted butter and sugar into a bowl. Add the egg, vanilla extract, cocoa powder, flour and baking powder and whisk until it forms a crumb. Using your hands, make 10 balls, popping one Lindt Salted Caramel Truffle in the middle of each. Bake in the oven for 10 mins at 180°C. Sprinkle on some baking icing sugar and dig in!

10.  Hot Cross Bun Nutella Roll Ups 

Enter: the mini roll edit you didn’t know you needed. 

SERVES
PREP: COOK:
EASY

Slice your hot cross buns in half and roll out. Spread with Nutella and roll up into a tight log. In a bowl, mix together your egg, sugar and milk. Dip your roll ups in the egg wash. Once soaked, fry them on a medium heat until golden brown. Once cool enough to handle but still warm, roll them in cinnamon sugar, plate up and drizzle in chocolate syrup to finish.

TEAM ZOELLA MARCH 27, 2022

Howdy Cowgirl: 24 Western Inspired Pieces to Add to Your Wardrobe This Spring/Summer

Yee-haw, Western style influences are rolling in thick and fast to the fashion world and are set to be one of spring/summer's hottest trends.

Yee-haw, Western style influences are rolling in thick and fast to the fashion world and are set to be one of spring/summer’s hottest trends, as we say goodbye to rainy days and hello to desert inspired ‘fits that would look perfectly at home at Coachella or y’know, brunch with the girls.

Although cowboy hats and tasselled everything might seem somewhat unwearable day to day, taking small pockets of inspiration from Western style fashion in the form of boho dresses, subtle flared jeans and heeled ankle boots is all you need to nod to trend without feeling like an extra from Brokeback Mountain. Think cow print, mid-calf boots and double denim and you’ll be well on your way to nailing a look Kacey Musgraves herself would be jealous of- forever an accurate measure of a great outfit.

Urban Outfitters, Free People and Warehouse- who currently have an entire rodeo inspired collection- are the key names to remember here, all offering pieces that offer a slice of carefree, playfulness that perfectly fits our moods as the warm weather approache. Catch ya at the ranch!

*This post contains ad-affiliate links

TEAM ZOELLA MARCH 26, 2022

Introducing ‘Other’s Day’: How to Manage Estrangement, Grief and Loss This March and Beyond

Mother’s Day and other family-oriented calendar dates can be some of the most challenging in the year for those who are missing a relationship with a mother figure.

The feelings of grief are messy, not fitting inside the box we want to shove them down into and instead rearing their head at the times we thought we were finally okay. Be it through illness, a strained relationship, consciously estranging or simply never quite fitting the mould, Mother’s Day and other family-oriented calendar dates can be some of the most challenging in the year for those who are missing a relationship with a mother figure. Be it for mothers in waiting, the daughters who never knew maternal love or those that find it easier to gloss over the word ‘mum’ altogether, we see you.

Best friends and total opposites in many ways Emma Hopkinson (minimalist) and Robyn Donaldson (maximalist) know these feelings all too well. The pair first bonded when Robyn’s nan (who raised her) was going through cancer at the same time as Emma’s mum, creating a common thread of ongoing grief and a friendship and understanding that to this day is unrivalled.

We were saying how it made us feel really sad inside, because it reminded us, in full floral lettering, that our Mums weren’t around. But there was also a weirdness about that, because we very much agreed that celebrating great Mums was a good thing for lots of people, so we ended up feeling kind of secretly sad and guilty about it. Robyn & Emma

“One day in February 2019, the two of us were sitting in a café, talking about how our inboxes, social feeds and local shops were already filling up with Mother’s Day emails and gift guides and TREAT YOUR MUM messages,” says Robyn. “We were saying how it made us feel really sad inside, because it reminded us, in full floral lettering, that our Mums weren’t around. But there was also a weirdness about that, because we very much agreed that celebrating great Mums was a good thing for lots of people, so we ended up feeling kind of secretly sad and guilty about it. And if you’ve ever felt that way, it’s not very comfortable and can make you want to hide in your wardrobe until Mother’s Day has passed by. But we thought that if we – two people with wildly opposite approaches to emotions – were both feeling like that, it was likely that other people would be too, so we mentioned it on our respective Instagram stories and the response we had was overwhelming. People got in touch to share their stories and show solidarity, to send love and – most of all – to say thank you for talking about it at all.”

Enter: ‘Other’s Day’– a way for people dealing with loss, grief or pain to acknowledge their feelings and find connection in knowing they’re not alone in this struggle. 

We created Other’s Day as a safe space for anybody who couldn’t enjoy Mother’s and Father’s Day to come and just be not ok. Whatever their reasons – grief, estrangement, miscarriage and infertility issues, looked-after children – you name it. Robyn and Emma

“We created Other’s Day as a safe space for anybody who couldn’t enjoy Mother’s and Father’s Day to come and just be not ok. Whatever their reasons – grief, estrangement, miscarriage and infertility issues, looked-after children – you name it. We wanted to give everybody a place to share their experiences with people who got it. To celebrate the people they were missing, or shout out the people who’d mothered them in the absence of an actual parent. It was genuinely amazing and heartwarming to see what a show of support the world gave, and that’s how Other’s Day was born.” Both Robyn and Emma have experienced loss in differing ways but, despite this, estrangement is a common thread within both of their experiences, making occasions like Mother’s and Father’s Day even more complex…

Estrangement: the fact of no longer being on friendly terms or part of a social group.

noun

  1. the fact of no longer being on friendly terms or part of a social group.
    “the artist’s paintings from this period reflect his growing estrangement from his family”

There are a whole host of reasons as to why family relationships break down, why someone is pushed to their breaking point or decides to choose their peace over maintaining a relationship that doesn’t serve them for the sake of appearances. But estrangement, or any kind of strained family relationship, can be especially hard when calendar dates such as Mother’s Day roll around and offer a harsh reminder that you’re living a different experience to your friends or what’s considered the norm. In reality, however, estrangement isn’t uncommon within the U.K. with a study conducted by charity Stand Alone finding that 19% of people surveyed stated that either they themselves or another family member were no longer in contact, indicating that around 1 in 5 UK families will be touched by family estrangement and its consequences- around 12 million family members in total. 

It’s sad that my mum has made that relationship impossible to maintain but the fact I’ve stepped away and am without feelings of angst and guilt 24/7 is a very freeing thing.Robyn

“I think for me the most surprising part of my estrangement is that it gets easier, that you don’t ache for that person in the same way over time. I ache for a mother but not my mother. Which is weird,” says Robyn. ” In much the same way as my grief became manageable over time, my estrangement became more manageable too. And the distance made me weirdly more forgiving of my mum – being able to look at her at a distance – without all the drama that comes with being proximate. I let go of a lot of anger because I had the space to and now it’s just peaceful. It’s sad that my mum has made that relationship impossible to maintain but the fact I’ve stepped away and am without feelings of angst and guilt 24/7 is a very freeing thing. Also, other people’s reactions to estrangement can be wild. The absolute insistence that a relationship to a close relative or parent must be maintained at any cost – physical or mental – is always a shocking point of view to hear and one that often isn’t open to debate.

“My mum is a very volatile person who I think I can safely diagnose as a narcissist, even with absolutely zero medical training. You know those lists? She’s a 10/10. If there was a textbook, she might be on the cover. Don’t get me wrong – circumstances haven’t been kind to her and there are definitely environmental reasons that contribute to how she is. She had me at 19 and was instantly regretful that everything she’d hoped to achieve was taken away on my arrival. Add to that substance abuse issues and a series of disastrous relationships with men and what you’re left with is a woman who’s bitterly disappointed with how things turned out. But that frustration resulted in her being mentally and physically abusive towards me since I was very little. We lived with my dad since I was nine but my mum’s compulsion to hurt me just never stopped. Not when I was a teen and was big enough to fight back. Not in my 20s when I was creating a life of my own. And not in my 30s when I began to set boundaries and limitations on ways she could control me. So I stepped away – much like I quit cigarettes – one day at a time.”

Emma’s experience of estrangement, although different, brings up many of the same feelings, and is exactly why Other’s Day has forged such a strong community- the feelings of grief and loss, no matter how isolating, are often universal:

I think the most surprising thing for me has been that sometimes it isn’t a decision that you make, but a situation that you remove yourself from. Emma

“My own estrangement is from my step-Dad, and was directly related to my Mum dying, so is a full bag of complicated. I wouldn’t even have recognised myself as estranged until a year ago, and it’s been 10 years since she died and he was no longer in my life. For me, that estrangement felt like a hot mess of guilt and denial and confusion, because in order for me to admit that it was a thing, I had to work through all the layers of grief that I’d been trying not to deal with. See, I told you it was complicated. So I think the most surprising thing for me has been that sometimes it isn’t a decision that you make, but a situation that you remove yourself from. An emotional entanglement you understand isn’t healthy for you anymore. I actually wrote a whole blog piece about this last year, should anybody want to read more.”

Estrangement can feel messy and conflicting and evoke a guilt that’s hard to squash, and despite in many cases being necessary, making a decision to distance from a family member still has a stigma of being selfish, say Emma and Robyn. “When people step away from a relationship, it is often a last resort after years and years of trying to make that situation safe. They’ve probably actively explained to that person how they were damaging and asked them to stop. And they haven’t. Estrangement is an act of self-love but not at the expense of your love for that person, it’s just acknowledging that they cannot be a part of your life without being a danger to your welfare.  I say to anyone struggling to understand or support an estranged person, replace mother or father with a partner. If you said ‘my partner has been repeatedly hitting me’ or ‘my partner tells me I’m ugly/worthless/stupid etc’ would you tell that person to stay. I think more tolerant, supportive and understanding conversations are needed about estrangement to make it feel less taboo and help people understand they have options.”

Whilst Mother’s Day might traditionally be a time to celebrate those that stereotypically fit the role of ‘Mum’, it can also be used as a celebration of the friends and other family members who raised us, physically and emotionally, and who taught us unconditional love, albeit it untraditionally.

An upbeat celebration might not feel apt, and that’s okay, but consider this your permission slip to acknowledge and toast to the people in your life who no matter what have your back and feel joy in seeing you thrive. If glossing over the 27th March, in general, feels more appropriate, that’s okay too. There’s no rule book to follow in how to honour your feelings authentically, but know that you’re allowed to change your mind, want company and then decide on a quiet day or simply enjoy a takeaway for every meal of the day whilst binge-watching the new season of Bridgerton. If there was ever a time for ‘you do you’, it’s now.  

“For introverts like me, it’s going to be about finding time and space to feel the feelings.” Says Emma. “On days I know I will be sad, I tend to cancel my social plans and take the day for myself, doing gentle things that give me room to have any emotion that comes up. It could be taking your journal and running a long, hot bath. It could be heading out for a big walk in nature. It could even be just sitting at home and giving yourself space to have a big cry. The main thing is to just be gentle with yourself and let what happens, happen.”

In contrast, as an extrovert, Robyn advises seeking out friends who get it. “Distract yourself if that’s helpful with big jolly brunches or lounging with pals… anything that brings you comfort. Ask for help. Look at it directly or avoid it wantonly. Be led by what you need to make that day bearable.”

If you’re grieving the loss of a mother that has passed away

If social media feels heavy, take today as an opportunity for a digital detox and remove yourself from the Mother’s Day discourse and celebratory posts. You are not selfish for taking time completely for yourself and leaning into any distractions that feel necessary to get through the day. Need ideas? What’s Your Grief  has listed 64 acts of self-care perfect for days when grief feels all-consuming, with activities such as spring cleaning, making a new Spotify playlist, going to the cinema or digging into a new book all offering a welcome slice of distraction.

If it feels like you’d like to hold space to focus on your mum’s memory, why not visit a spot that was meaningful to her or where you spent time together, or visit her grave and have a chinwag. If speaking aloud feels difficult, you could write a letter and update her on what’s happening in your life at the moment and sit with any feelings that come up – happy, sad and everything in between. Watch a film she loved, cook a meal that was her favourite or belt out her favourite song in the shower. Celebrate all that made your mum herself, and know that she’s smiling along with you. 

If you’re estranged from your mother

Even in tumultuous relationships love can still be a common theme, making days like Mother’s Day even more complicated thanks to the host of conflicting emotions it can bring to the surface. As Robyn and Emma said, lean into what feels good and don’t be afraid to ask for help and company. It can feel isolating and scary to be ‘going it alone’, but there are no doubt countless other people in your life that care for and love you and want to make the day as easy as possible- don’t be afraid to make the most of their compassion!

Emma and Robyn’s book It’s Your Loss is a walk through the moments, feelings and barriers you might encounter in your grief journey. From understanding what kind of griever you are to forging your new path in life, it aims to start a conversation you’ll want to keep having.

“Can I say ‘more vagina jokes than you’d anticipate from a loss book?” Robyn Laughs. “No, it’s something we wrote that we’d want to be thrust into our hands when we were going through loss in those first few hellish months and years. Or at any point really. It’s like The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy for grief. It doesn’t lead you through step-by-step so much as yell supportive and reassuring things at you along your own unique path in order to make you feel less alone in one of the loneliest states you can be.”

“We just try to give you an idea of what to expect from our entirely opposite standpoints: Emma’s being to sit very quietly, probably in a bath and think about it for a long time and Robyn’s being to rent a one-man-band outfit and go on a walking tour from Land’s End to John O’Groats performing a three-hour concert of the nature of her pain on every stop on the journey. And because we’re both pretty standard women with pretty standard experiences of loss we’ve got incredible writers and thinkers contributions on their experiences -from Catherine Cho on loss of time with her new baby after postpartum psychosis, to Alicia Stubbersfield on loss of a breast following breast cancer to Kae Tempest of the loss of her relationship.”

If you’re experiencing the loss of a child/misscariage

It’s your call: now could be the time to engage in the most non-Mother’s-Day outing you can think of, or instead make an occasion of honouring your child’s life in a more obvious way. Lean on the people who love you, even if you feel like they don’t ‘get it’. After loss it can feel difficult to know your identity as a parent, but as a mother who has experienced loss at any stage, know that your experience is valid. 

Podcasts like Bereavement Room and Grief Cast are wonderful sources of support, or if you prefer reading you could try The Year of Magical Thinking, Ask Me His Name, and Robyn and Emma’s book It’s Your Loss. The Miscarriage Association also have a wealth of information about caring for your mental health following loss, including coping with loneliness, accessing counselling as well as advice for those supporting someone experiencing bereavement. 

If you’re a mother in waiting

For the mothers in waiting, the heartache can feel even more visceral on days like today. Remember that even if your arms are empty, this is your Mother’s Day too. Your mother’s heart is celebrated irregardless, and today is the perfect opportunity to let go of guilt, pamper yourself, have dessert for dinner and simply *be*. Live your day without expectation and let the feelings, whatever they may be, ride in and out. Sending hugs.

You can find all of Emma and Robyn’s incredible Other’s Day content on their blog All Up In My Space, on their dedicated Other’s Day Instagram, and purchase their book across all key book retailers. 

TEAM ZOELLA MARCH 25, 2022

In Defence of Sleeping Solo: The Couples Making a Case for Sleeping in Separate Beds

When society equates sleeping in the same bed with peak marital bliss and stability, it’s no wonder couples with a different bedtime routine opt to keep such matters strictly between the sheets.

Given that we spend a third of our lives sleeping (or trying to get to sleep), it’s slightly infuriating that society still makes out that sharing the same bed as your partner is the benchmark for a healthy relationship, with any deviation from the norm seen as the gateway to separation – the great symbol of ‘uh oh, trouble in paradise’. 

Despite the slew of reasons why someone might struggle to get to sleep – too much Netflix, noisy neighbours, new job nerves, a snoring S.O. or simply a clash of chronotypes – we’re expected to suffer for our sleep because of the stigma attached to sleeping solo. Right…

On her podcast Happy Place, Fearne Cotton has spoken openly about her struggle with panic attacks and insomnia, choosing to sleep apart from her husband Jesse Wood to give herself the best chance of catching those precious Zs. Naturally, the tabloids saw this as an opportunity to suggest her marriage was on the rocks. Eye. Roll. 

In 2019, she took to Instagram to set the record straight and defend her relationship. In a heartfelt post, she captioned a photo of her and her husband: “Dear newspapers, (once again) my marriage IS NOT on the rocks. Here is a photo of me being very in love with my husband. I have recently talked about some sleep problems I have as sometimes when my insomnia is really bad I find it hard to sleep in a bed with Jesse. Not because we’re on the rocks or struggling within our marriage but because when my mad head is slightly overstretched it likes to cling on to weird mental patterns or behaviour. Sometimes it’s panic attacks triggered by being on a motorway, sometimes it’s insomnia due to stress. I’ve actually broken out of this particular neurosis recently and have been sleeping so well. Out of respect to my children and teenage stepchildren I would love this sort of mindless headline to be thought about more carefully.”

When society equates sleeping in the same bed with peak marital bliss and stability, it’s no wonder couples with a different bedtime routine opt to keep such matters strictly between the sheets, fearful of other people’s opinions about the state of their relationship, however wildly inaccurate they are. 

Happy couples share beds and if you don’t, there must be something fundamentally wrong with your relationship. Well to that we say: Bull. Crap. It never did the Victorians any harm and sleeping in separate chambers served The Queen and Prince Philip perfectly well throughout their marriage.

In the same way that sharing a bed isn’t a prerequisite for a happy and successful relationship, sleeping apart isn’t a sign of an impending break-up. It’s 2022 and being well-rested matters. Hell, sleeping solo actually has the power to strengthen and *make* a relationship what it is, while sleepless nights can cause resentment and relationship harm.  

When it comes to catching those precious Zs, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach, with everything from shift work to circadian rhythms affecting how easy it is for us to drift off into the land of nod. Sleeping in different beds, simply ain’t that deep.

To shed light on what is often seen as quite a taboo topic, we chatted to Alexandra, who has blissfully unsubscribed from the ‘communal bed’ model in favour of prioritising a good night’s sleep (here for it) and has since lapped up the benefits of having her very own sanctuary to starfish and chill to their heart’s content. 

Alexandra says….

Society not only normalises sharing a bed with your partner but glorifies it as some sort of benchmark for a healthy and happy relationship. How did you feel about sleeping in separate beds beforehand?​

I too had preconceived notions that it was a sign of a failed relationship or that it was weird. I soon got over that when I realised that nobody knows how and who you share a bed with and when I was sleeping so well alone!

It is gradually becoming more common now, perhaps because people are talking about it and realising it’s not such a big deal as society would have us believe. Do you know anyone else in your immediate circle who chooses to sleep solo?

No. I wish I did. 

How did the conversation come about between you and your partner, and why did you decide sleeping solo was the right thing for you as a couple?​

The conversation came from me as I am the one that struggles to sleep in a shared bed. I had tried and tried to share a bed but it was always me suffering and struggling to sleep and feeling dreadful the next day. He has been very supportive and says it doesn’t bother him at all. I think now he benefits as well as I can be a nightmare when I cant sleep both in the night and during the day when I am more tired than normal, thereby affecting him. He has said that he sleeps better without me. Win win!? 

Did you have any reservations about how it would affect your relationship before going into it?

I worried it would create a distance between us and romance/intimacy would go but that hasn’t been the case. 

What are the benefits of sleeping apart from your partner would you say? How has it changed your relationship for the better?

I sleep much better. As a result I have more energy to be a better partner to him. I don’t feel cross and resentful towards him when he has slept well and I haven’t (when we tried to share a bed). Everyone is happier with more sleep!

Due to the stigma associated with sleeping apart, people tend to assume it must mean something is wrong with your relationship or jump to the wrong conclusion. How do people react when you tell them you don’t share a bed with your partner?

To be honest, I don’t broadcast the fact, it is a private thing. I sometimes make a joke that I end up in the spare bed if I can’t sleep but I have never admitted that it’s every night. I am a bit embarrassed about the situation and it isn’t something I’d ever mention willingly. I am going to work on that and try and be more honest and open.

Why do you think there’s still such a stigma associated with it and has the weight of other people’s opinions and societal norms ever held you back from telling people about your sleeping arrangements?

I have seen comments from sleep doctors/psychologists about how they sleep apart from their partners and how it can really benefit some people. That reassures me that I’m not alone / it is a step that makes sense. They have said that a double bed for 2 people is tiny, you have less space per person than a child’s cot or a single bed. I think a larger bed may help us but we don’t have room for anything except a double at the moment. I think people equate sharing a bed with sex and intimacy. And if you aren’t sharing a bed then you are automatically not having either of those things. This doesn’t have to be the case. You can make an effort to do those things even if after you sleep separately. I am pretty certain that some women leave for the spare bed in the night anyway as they can’t sleep, so why not save yourself the hassle?! 
It’s strange how much value society has placed on sharing a bed!

How do you deal with unsolicited opinions?

I have mentioned things in a vague sense to some friends and my mum and they have responded supportively. I am lucky to never have encountered an upsetting, unsolicited opinion. If I did I would explain that I sleep better alone and that it has no effect on our relationship. 

How has it affected intimacy and your quality time as a couple?

Do you think the fact that you’re well-rested and less cranky has actually strengthened your relationship in the bedroom department, ha? We have definitely benefitted from being less tired. We spend the evenings winding down/reading/on iPads/dozing/intimate time together on our main bed and then we are ready for sleep we go our separate ways. We do all the usual stuff a couple might do before bed before separating for sleep. I don’t understand why it is seen to be weird to be asleep without your partner, you are literally unconscious! 

What would you say to anyone else/other couples who are thinking about sleeping in separate beds but they’re not sure how to approach the topic or are perhaps influenced by societal norms?

Do what works best for you. If you are particularly tired and struggling to sleep, try sleeping alone if you can and assess the benefits. If you feel amazing then you will soon lose the weight of other people’s perceptions and opinions.How you sleep is none of anyone’s business. Sleep is so important and affects so much of our lives. A step to improving that can be literally life changing. 

Is there anything they should know about how it could change their relationship?

You might have to adapt and learn to deal with the change of being separate at night when it comes to intimacy. But your partner is never far away, you can alway swing by for a visit! On the positive side you may have more energy for your relationship which can only be a good thing!  

What does your bedtime routine look like now?

We spend the evenings winding down/reading/on iPads/dozing/intimate time together on our main bed and then we are ready for sleep we go our separate ways. We do all the usual stuff a couple might do before bed before separating for sleep. I don’t understand why it is seen to be weird to be asleep without your partner, you are literally unconscious! Sometimes we doze together for a while before I end up sneaking off. It is entirely a pressure free time, we do what we want and what suits us. 

If your circumstances were different, would you go back to sharing a bed if you could? Is there anything you miss about it or is there no going back now you’ve experienced the unparalleled joy of getting a decent night’s sleep?

I really wish I could share a bed with anyone. It isn’t just my partner, I struggle to share a bed/room with anyone as I am very fussy about noise/light and I just can’t bear snoring. It makes holidays/weekends away/ visiting difficult as I always have to put up with a crap night’s sleep. That’s when I feel that I am the odd one out the most. There’s an expectation that you both have to sleep in a double bed. No questions or changes. It’s hard when you are on holiday and obviously paying for 2 rooms is impossible. We have a holiday coming up and we have booked twin beds next to each other. I expect to sleep less well than normal. But at least it’ll be a relaxing time anyway. I miss cuddling in the night and falling asleep together but what difference does that make once you are asleep? I can spread out like a starfish at night which is just the best feeling. We make an effort to have a cuddle and say hi in the morning so we still have that intimacy. 

Any parting words of wisdom?

Do what’s best for you! better sleep is so important. 

TEAM ZOELLA MARCH 24, 2022

Serving Spring Realness: 1 Linen Shirt 4 Ways

Today Team Zoella are styling an anticipated sellout H&M linen shirt, coming in at under £20 and available in 5 colourways!

Hello Spring, oh so good to see you! After a long and treacherous winter, the Spring Equinox of 2022 took place last week on the 20th March and thus new life, new beginnings and a new wardrobe are calling our name! If there’s one thing that can be relied on along with daffodils, Mini Eggs, lighter evenings and a classic Spring clean to add a pep into our step this season, it’s an easy-breezy new item of clothing that makes mornings of ‘what to wear’ a thing of the past. The simple but mighty, humble but quite honestly chef’s kiss addition in question? A linen-blend shirt.

It may seem basic, but let us not overlook the importance of your wardrobe fundamentals, the pieces you may not have realised you needed but now can’t imagine life without. Dopamine dressing and finding joy in a colourful ‘fit is this season’s MO, as we continue to seek joy in abundance after a draining 2 years, and shirts of every colour way and print are making their way into high street windows and the ASOS ‘new in’ page daily.

Today Team Zoella are styling an anticipated sellout H&M linen shirt, coming in at under £20 and available in 5 colourways, grab yourself a slice of this season’s easiest and comfiest trend, looking perfectly in place at brunch, as a casual beach coverup or layered for some extra warmth whilst we wait for the annual one week of heatwave weather- welcome to England!

Darcey’s Picks

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I love a simple shirt to complete an outfit, it’s effortless style and even better when you can own the same shirt in different colours! I’ve gone for your standard white shirt as I am off on my holidays soon and I think a white shirt is a staple for a holiday wardrobe. I’ve styled it with an orange mini skirt from Mango which is super cute, I’m obsessed with orange this year! I’ve paired it with some strappy black sandals, a simple shoulder bag and some big sunglasses for an easy holiday look for evening or daytime!

Lareese’s Picks

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In true Brit fashion, I’ve gone full-blown resort wear at the first sign of spring, teaming the beige linen shirt with tailored linen trousers and chunky sandals. I’d wear the shirt open with a plain tank top underneath for an easy-breezy spring outfit that feels relaxed but still considered. Finish off with a cap and boom: spring mode activated.

Danielle’s Picks

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As your resident pink lover, I couldn’t help but choose this pretty pastel umber with a white stripe! Cargo trousers are EVERYWHERE at the moment and I think this pair from River Island are the perfect option for nodding to the trend without re-living a full 00’s fantasy. For a real spring/summer vibe I’ve picked woven style shoes from Dune (this sandal comes back every year!) And a clutch bag from & Other Stories in a similar texture. Finish the look with a gold necklace, I love the mixed metal from this Mango option.

Charlotte’s Picks

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I am LOVING this trend of coloured shirts at the moment- I feel like they’re in every shop I walk into and I love that this H&M offering has a colour way to work with every wardrobe. As Spring is here I’ve gone for a light blue shade which feels super fresh and perfect for the sunny days we’ve been having. I’ve added a playful tee underneath for an extra dose of colour, some classic New Balance trainers and a pair of basic straight leg jeans for an easy-breezy spring look you could throw on in a rush and know will look great!

All products on this page have been selected by the team however we do make a commission on some links

TEAM ZOELLA MARCH 23, 2022

How to Manifest the Hell Out of Your Life & Make Your Dreams a Reality with Roxie Nafousi

From buying your dream house to travelling the world, financial abundance or starting your own business, manifesting your deepest desires and life goals using the law of attraction and putting your faith in the universe sounds like a beautiful way to live.

The hashtag manifestation has 14.8B views on TikTok whilst the self-help book The Secret by Rhonda Byrne published in 2006 sold more than 30 million copies. The root of manifestation goes back to the law of attraction – one of the pillars of the New Thought movement of the 19th century – and the idea that like attracts like and thus, positive thoughts cultivate positive results through the power of the mind and its ability to materialise thoughts into reality. 

Whether you believe it or not, it’s a concept that’s going nowhere, with everyone from Oprah to Lady Gaga and Ariana Grande being big advocates for using the law of attraction to attract the life you want. 

It’s not up to the universe alone to make your dreams a reality. Manifesting doesn’t just require an unwavering belief in the process but proactivity and self-initiated action on your part, too.

From buying your dream house to travelling the world, financial abundance or starting your own business, manifesting your deepest desires and life goals using the law of attraction and putting your faith in the universe sounds like a beautiful way to live. That said, there’s a lot more to mastering the art of manifestation than chanting positive affirmations, wafting smudge sticks around your house and curating a perfectly aesthetic vision board. It’s not up to the universe alone to make your dreams a reality. Manifesting doesn’t just require an unwavering belief in the process but proactivity and self-initiated action on your part, too.  

We spoke to Roxie Nafousi, self-development coach, author and Queen of Manifesting (she’s literally just written a book about it), to find out all about the power of manifestation and how to attract all the posi vibes into our lives. 

From myths to mindset and the practical steps and tools you can use to go after your goals, here’s a how-to in manifesting the life you truly desire.

Manifesting has become something of a buzzword in the last two years (we have the ‘shut up, I’m manifesting’ meme to thank for that) but what exactly does manifestation mean and how does it work? 

Manifesting is the ability to use the power of your mind to change and create the reality you experience. It can feel like this magical and wonderful experience when you manifest things you want into your life, but it is actually something that is very real. It is backed by science, too; both quantum physics and neuroscience have really helped us to understand how and why it works. Ultimately, though, manifesting is a self-development practice. For me, manifesting is the umbrella, and all self-development sits under it.

What about what manifestation isn’t… 

If you want to manifest passing an exam, for example, you still need to revise! Roxie Nafousi

 A lot of people think manifesting is about sitting, waiting, wishing. Or they think that you can just think really positive thoughts and then the things you want will appear in your life. But manifesting is not a passive process. It is, in fact, quite the opposite. It requires action. It requires you to step outside your comfort zone, take risks, align your behaviour and act as your future self would. You are still required to work hard for the things that you want and apply yourself. If you want to manifest passing an exam, for example, you still need to revise! 

I also think that people think manifesting is *just* about manifesting things into your life; money, jobs, relationships. But actually, the greatest gift of manifesting is that it allows us to become the highest and most empowered version of ourselves that exists. 

What are the practical ways to practise manifestation and harness its power in your everyday life? How do you actually *manifest*?

We manifest from our subconscious beliefs about what we deserve, and the universe responds to everything we do and say, as it is all a reflection of our self-worth. The best way we can practice manifestation in a practical sense, every day, is to start cultivating self-love through the decisions we make moment to moment. Our decisions and choices should always be saying, “I believe I am worthy”. That means that what you eat, drink, what habits you commit to, what work you complete, what challenges you overcome, who you spend time with, that all impacts how powerfully you are manifesting.

What are the key pillars of manifestation, and do you have any tips for beginners?

Self-Love is the driving force behind manifesting because we cannot manifest what we don’t believe we are worthy of receiving. But manifesting is such a full practice with many layers to it, something that I think people don’t always understand when it comes to manifestation. That is why I split my book into 7 clear steps so people could really grasp the practice of it. I know this is probably really annoying of me to say, but I would say my best tip for a beginner is to read my book MANIFEST, it’s a super easy read but it really does explain everything you need to know. 

How often do you need to practice? Is there an ideal routine or formula for success, if so, what does that look like?

Well, to be honest, what I am always trying to teach people about manifesting is that it’s not a ritual. It’s not a practice you do 20 minutes a day. It’s a way of living and being. Once you really begin to understand how incredible manifestation really is, you realise it’s something you live and breathe, not something you do.

What are the biggest things holding us back from manifesting and achieving our goals?

Two things currently blocking all of us from our goals, are our fears and doubts. Roxie Nafousi

In Step 2: Remove Fear and Doubt, I explain that the two things currently blocking all of us from our goals, are our fears and doubts. That’s all our insecurities, low self-worth, doubt in the universe or ourselves, low self-esteem and worries. These have likely been brewing for years, if not decades, and they block us from stepping into our power and being able to manifest the things that we want most. This is where inner work comes in. The journey of inner healing and working to remove these blocks is the most profound of the whole manifestation practice.

Women often struggle to ask for what we want, whether it be in the workplace or in relationships. How do we get comfortable asking the Universe for what we want? What limiting beliefs do we need to let go of?

I think one of the best ways to start asking the universe for what we want is to make a vision board. It’s private, just for us, so that can make it feel easier to do. One thing I would say is that when doing a vision board, be really conscious of when you’re restricting yourself from asking for the things you want. Force yourself to dream bigger. The main limiting belief to let go of is that we aren’t worthy or deserving of abundance, love and happiness. But we ALL deserve to live our best lives. You do, I do and all the women around you do too. Start repeating this mantra every day, “I am worthy of all the success, love and happiness that the universe has to offer”. And when good things happen, allow yourself to indulge in a feeling of gratitude for it, and say to yourself, “yes, I deserve this”. Because you really do.

How can you attract abundance in your life?

By manifesting and adopting an abundance mindset – that is, a mindset that there is more than enough to go around for everyone. I actually made this little Instagram post that helps with some tips for an abundance mindset.

How important is mindset when it comes to manifesting? 

It’s everything! But the great thing about that is we all have something called neuroplasticity (our brain’s ability to form new neural pathways), meaning we can literally retrain our minds and adopt a new mindset through repeated action, which means we all have the power to change our mindset and change our lives. 

How do you go from manifesting (thought) to making it happen (action)?

This is Step 3: Align Your Behaviour. This is where you have to be proactive in going for the things you want, step outside your comfort zone, take risks, and literally embody the person you want to become. Only once you begin to do these things can you make it happen.

Can you really manifest anything? 

 Yes, you can literally manifest anything into your life!  

How important is gratitude, positivity, and patience when it comes to manifestation? It’s not an overnight fix is it? You have to be proactive and be prepared to do the work!

Gratitude is incredibly high vibe, and when we are high vibe, we attract high vibes things back to us. Roxie Nafousi

Embracing gratitude is another of my steps, (it’s Step 5) because it’s so integral to manifesting. Gratitude is incredibly high vibe, and when we are high vibe, we attract high vibes things back to us. I always say that the manifesting sweet spot is knowing what you want whilst being entirely grateful for all that you already have. In regard to patience, that’s Step 7 of my book, trust in the universe – we have to surrender, let go, and trust that it’s happening in its own and right time. If you get impatient, you could interfere with it!

What happens if the thing you’ve been manifesting doesn’t come to fruition? What’s your advice for handling that energy when things go wrong?

 If something isn’t coming to fruition, it’s likely that you’re still holding fear and doubt around it. I always tell people to go back to that inner healing to remove those blocks. But when things do go wrong, which they will from time to time, it’s about staying strong in those moments, and knowing that there is something greater on the other side. I talk about this a lot in Step 4, Overcome Tests from the Universe!

We’re not into negative vibes round these parts ha, but for any naysayers who might question the power of manifestation, what would you tell them?

 I think it’s not my job to force anything onto anyone. All we can do is lead by example. If people don’t believe in manifesting, it won’t work for them, so they have to come to it in their own time.

What does manifestation mean to YOU in your life?

 It IS my life.

What’s something you’ve successfully manifested into being?

Literally everything, my baook, my career, my house, my baby. There is nothing in my life I don’t thank manifesting for!

We love your book, Manifest! What’s your biggest inspiration for writing it?

Aw thank you! I had been teaching people my 7 steps to manifesting through webinars and it was working. The feedback was amazing, and people were manifesting the most incredible things. I knew the 7 steps really did work and so I wanted to teach it to as many people as possible, so I had to write a book! I put it on my vision board and manifesting the book deal and it’s been so amazing to see so many people reading it! 

Is the orange cover an intentional choice? It’s the colour often associated with energy, success and positivity after all!

Absolutely. In fact, my publishers originally said NO to the orange cover I presented to them, but I didn’t give up until they changed their mind. I was set on the orange! I wanted it to be a standout book that could also be a cool coffee table book after you’d finished reading it!

How much did you draw on your career as a self-development coach when writing Manifest?

A lot! I use a lot of my 1-1 client examples in the book because I really wanted people to see that this is a practice for everyone, and I wanted people to be able to relate to other people’s experiences.

We love listening to your podcast, The Moments That Made Me. What manifestation moments made you into the woman you are today?

Thank you so much! I think it would be May 2018, when I was at rock bottom, someone told me to listen to a podcast on manifesting. From that moment, in the most rapid and extraordinary way, every single thing in my life totally transformed. 

A quote or affirmation you live by…

‘your self-belief is your superpower’.. and also ‘it’s nice to be nice’

Any parting words of wisdom to throw out there in the Zoellaverse?

You can be and do anything you want, you have unlimited potential just waiting to be unlocked by your self-belief. The only limit is the limit of your mind.

Roxie Nafousi

Ready to start manifesting the hell out of your life? You can buy Roxie’s book Manifest here. Whether you want to attract your soulmate, land the perfect job, buy the home you have always wanted or simply find inner peace and confidence, this wholesome guide will teach you exactly how to get there in seven practical (and empowering) steps. 

ALEGRA KASTENS MARCH 22, 2022

Understanding Taboo OCD, How to Spot it and Get the Help You Need

An in-depth look at violent, sexual, suicidal, and postpartum obsessions that wreak havoc on the lives of those with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, written by Alegra Kastens, a licensed therapist.

Obtaining an accurate Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) diagnosis and treatment can take upwards of 11 years for many. One of the biggest barriers to accessing help sooner stems from a lack of education and awareness about the various ways that OCD can manifest. Trained mental health professionals frequently lack understanding about the disorder, leaving it undetected or misdiagnosing symptoms. When OCD is portrayed accurately, which it so often is not, we tend to see stereotypical representations: somebody with fears of contamination who washes their hands compulsively or somebody repeatedly checking the stove for fear that they left it on and will burn the house down. These are very real and painful realities of OCD, but they are not the only reality.

For many, OCD obsessions take the form of taboo subjects that are difficult to speak openly about…let alone even think about: paedophilia, incest, violence, bestiality, rape, suicide, and more. Their brains latch onto the last thing they would ever want to enter their minds and assault them with these thoughts on repeat. For example, someone with sexual obsessions might experience unwanted sexual thoughts about children that lead them to fear they are a paedophile–despite how disgusted they are by the thoughts.

OCD is egodystonic, meaning that the obsessions are not in alignment with the person’s values, beliefs, and self-concept. This is part of what makes living with OCD so distressing.Alegra Kastens

I know what you might be thinking: what is the difference between someone with OCD and a paedophile, rapist, murderer, or [insert taboo fear]? There is a world of difference. OCD is egodystonic, meaning that the obsessions are not in alignment with the person’s values, beliefs, and self-concept. This is part of what makes living with OCD so distressing. The sufferer is ambushed by thoughts that disturb them—thoughts that they do not want to carry out. In fact, they perform compulsions (in response to obsessions) to attempt to get rid of the thoughts, prevent something bad from happening, and alleviate anxiety. Someone with unwanted sexually intrusive thoughts about kids might compulsively avoid being around their own children because of how petrified they are by the thoughts. Someone with unwanted violent intrusive thoughts might compulsively hide the kitchen knives in the trunk of their car because they’re so fearful of being around them. This vastly differs from a paedophile who is attracted to children and aligns with the sexual thoughts or a murderer who has a desire to kill. 

If this is new to you, you’re not alone. It is often new to the very people who experience these symptoms and live for years without a name for the torment happening in their brains. I was one of them. When I finally gathered the courage to take to the internet and search for the reason I was having such thoughts (the taboo kind), I didn’t believe what popped up multiple times on my screen—that they were symptoms of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. I could not reconcile the kinds of thoughts I was having with the only things I knew about OCD: that people compulsively wash their hands or tap and count things.

As a therapist who now specializes in the treatment of OCD, this dissonance shows up in my office almost daily as I treat clients who went undiagnosed or misdiagnosed for years because of the gross misrepresentation and stereotyping of OCD. 

What is an obsession?

In pop culture, “obsessed” is a word used to describe someone’s love and adoration for something. Think: “I’m so obsessed with this TV show! I binge it daily.” This connotation opposes the psychological definition of an obsession, which is a crucial distinction to make when understanding OCD. 

People with OCD do not love or adore their obsessions. They are terrorized by them. An obsession is a repetitive, unwanted thought/image/urge/sensation that causes a person distress and is often experienced as intrusive. It is not simply the cringy passing thought that we all have from time to time, but a recurring thought that pops into a person’s mind, sticks, and takes over. 

Can’t the person just stop thinking those thoughts or choose different thoughts? This is a maddening question often posed to those with OCD who would love nothing more than to stop having such thoughts. The truth is that we are not in control of what pops into our mind, and attempts to suppress such thoughts exacerbate the intensity and frequency of the thoughts.

Try to pose for yourself this task: not to think of a polar bear, and you will see that the cursed thing will come to mind every minute.

Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Studies have shown that the more we attempt to stop thinking about something, the more we actually think about it.

What is a compulsion?

A compulsion is a physical or mental act that a person feels compelled to carry out in response to an obsession. They do not want to perform the compulsion, but feel the urge to do so in order to seek certainty that the obsession is not true, alleviate discomfort, or prevent a dreaded outcome from occurring.

The most widely recognized compulsions are overt, physical compulsions like excessive sanitization and re-doing something until it feels “right.” Compulsions that are just as pervasive but commonly missed are covert, mental compulsions. Examples include mental rumination about the content of obsessions, mentally reviewing the past, attempting to neutralize an obsession by replacing a “bad” thought with a “good” thought, mentally checking one’s feelings and bodily sensations in response to obsessions, and more. Avoidance and reassurance-seeking behaviors are also compulsions that those with OCD carry out.

What makes OCD different?

Don’t we all have an odd intrusive thought from time to time? Don’t we all perform a ritual from time to time? Yes and yes, but that does not mean that we all have OCD. Obsessions and compulsions are time-consuming for the OCD sufferer and take up at least an hour of their day. Obsessions are repetitive and sticky because of the way a person’s brain is wired. Whereas someone without OCD might be able to let the thought go and move on, obsessions are all-consuming for those with OCD. A person’s symptoms also impair their functioning across various domains: work, education, relationships, sexual intimacy, etc. 

(Taboo) Obsessional Themes

Now that we’ve defined Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, we can take an in-depth look at the various taboo ways that it shows up for people.

A few important things to note:

  • The below lists of obsessions and compulsions are not exhaustive. I’ve provided common examples.
  • What is taboo can be both objective and subjective. The obsessions I’ve expanded on are objectively taboo subjects that society often deems unspeakable. They are subjects that make it difficult for a person to access treatment out of fear that a clinician who does not understand OCD will report them to authorities. There are other obsessional themes, such as blasphemous obsessions (ex. intrusive thoughts about worshiping Satan), that might feel taboo for those who are religious but may not be experienced as taboo for those who are not religious.

Sexual Obsessions

Taboo sexual obsessions include unwanted intrusive thoughts, images, or urges about pedophilia, incest, bestiality, rape, and necrophilia. People with such obsessions often avoid seeking treatment out of fear that a therapist will misunderstand their symptoms and report them to child protective services or law enforcement.

Common sexual obsessions include:

  • A relentless fear that one is a pedophile or attracted to a family member, animal, or dead person/animal
  • Unwanted sexual thoughts, images, or “mental movies” that play out in a person’s mind (ex. image of a sexual act with a family member)
  • Relentless “What if” thoughts → What if I am attracted to children or animals? What if I snap and have sex with my mom? What if I am aroused when my child sits on my lap? What if I sexually assaulted someone in the past and blocked it out of my memory? What if I secretly want to have sex with my sister?
  • The fear that a person will become a pedophile because there is a history of child sexual abuse in their family
  • The (unfounded) fear that someone close to them is a pedophile, rapist, incestuous, or is into bestiality and necrophilia

Common compulsions include:

  • Avoidance of the subjects of obsessions (children, family members, animals, etc.)
  • Replacing unwanted thoughts with more desirable thoughts (ex. replacing an unwanted sexual thought about a child with “I love children”)
  • Staring at the subject of the obsession to check and ensure that there is not arousal
  • Mentally saying the word “stop” when a thought pops in
  • Avoidance of activities related to the subject of the obsession (ex. avoiding hugging one’s mom, changing their baby’s diaper, petting one’s dog, etc.)
  • Mentally reviewing the past to ensure that one has not acted in a sexually inappropriate way
  • Sanitizing after touching a kid, family member, or animal to avoid being “contaminated”
  • Avoidance of sex for fear that the thoughts will arise during

Violent/Harm Obsessions

Another common manifestation of OCD involves unwanted violent intrusive thoughts, images, or urges. As for those with sexual obsessions, people with harm obsessions often avoid seeking treatment out of fear that a clinician will misconstrue obsessions as homicidality. 

Common harm obsessions include:

  • A relentless fear that one will harm (stab, shoot, push in front of a car, etc.) a person or animal
  • Unwanted violent thoughts, images, or “mental movies” that play out in a person’s mind (ex. intrusive image of a person stabbing someone)
  • Relentless “What if” thoughts → What if I am a murderer? What if I lose control and stab my partner while cooking? What if I am attracted to these violent thoughts? What if I push someone in front of the subway? What if I want to harm someone?
  • The fear of snapping and acting in a violent way

Common compulsions include:

  • Not using/hiding sharp objects (knives, scissors, etc.)
  • Avoidance of television shows, movies, news articles, etc. that involve violence
  • Mentally reassuring oneself (ex. repeating “I am not a killer” after having violent intrusive thoughts)
  • Researching serial killers and others who have carried out violent acts to compare and seek reassurance that they are not like them
  • Re-doing an activity after having an intrusive thought so that the activity is not “contaminated”

Postpartum Obsessions

Postpartum OCD, a nickname for obsessions that arise after child birth, is common but not as well-recognized as Postpartum Depression. The sufferer experiences unwanted intrusive thoughts, images, and urges about harming their baby or something bad happening to their baby. These parents are often fearful of accessing help because they do not want their baby to be taken away. While they know that they would never carry out such thoughts, they are unsure that a clinician will understand this.

Common postpartum obsessions include:

  • Intense fear of harm befalling a baby (ex. the baby stops breathing in its sleep, dies of SIDS, drowns, etc.)
  • Unwanted thoughts, images, and urges about a baby that are of a violent or sexual nature (ex. intrusive images of throwing the baby down the stairs, thoughts about performing a sexual act while changing its diaper, images of purposely drowning the baby, etc.)
  • Relentless “What if” thoughts → What if I sexually abuse my baby while giving them a bath? What if my baby stops breathing in their sleep? What if I throw my baby out the window? 
  • Fear that one will snap and harm their baby

Common compulsions include:

  • Repetitive checking of a baby at night to ensure they are breathing (by staring at the baby, staring at the baby monitor, etc.) to a degree that impairs the sufferer’s functioning
  • Avoidance of coming into contact with one’s baby (ex. not holding the baby, making their partner change the diaper or give the baby a bath, etc.)
  • Putting up an excessive amount of cameras in one’s home that a person checks repetitively (to an unhealthy degree)
  • Not being alone with their baby unless someone else is in the room
  • Excessive visits to the doctor to check the baby’s health

Suicidal Obsessions

People with OCD can experience unwanted intrusive thoughts, images, and urges about suicide. Whereas someone with active suicidal ideation aligns with the thoughts, the person with OCD does not want to be having them and does not want to die by suicide. Those with suicidal obsessions commonly fear accessing help. They worry that their therapist will treat suicidal obsessions as suicidal ideation and initiate involuntary hospitalization.

Common suicidal obsessions include:

  • Intrusive and unwanted thoughts, images, and urges related to suicide (ex. an unwanted urge to jump off of a roof when standing near the ledge)
  • The fear that one will “snap” and kill oneself
  • Relentless “What if” thoughts → What if I slit my wrists while chopping these onions? What if I jump in front of the subway? What if I drive my car into the median?
  • Intrusive thoughts in the form of commands: “Kill yourself!” “Do it!”

Common compulsions include:

  • Not using/hiding knives and other objects that could lead to death
  • Avoidance of activities that could lead to suicide (ex. driving, standing near high ledges, etc.)
  • Not being alone for fear that one will kill oneself
  • Mental rumination about the obsessions (ex. trying to analyze whether it is a suicidal obsession or suicidal ideation)

Implications

Regardless of the obsessional theme/the content of obsessions, it is all OCD and is treated the same. That being said, not all obsessions are experienced in the same way. People with taboo obsessions often carry an added layer of shame and stigma because of the content of their obsessions. It is objectively more difficult to disclose to someone that you are living with sexual obsessions about children as opposed to disclosing a fear of contracting an illness by touching a doorknob. Some go years, or even a lifetime, without telling another soul about their obsessions, which can exacerbate the shame and compound a person’s suffering.

It is imperative to find a mental health clinician who specializes in the treatment of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and understands how to treat it effectively. The gold standard treatment for OCD is Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP), during which a person actively faces triggers head-on and learns how to tolerate anxiety and discomfort without performing compulsive rituals. Cognitive therapy, mindfulness skills training, and Acceptance & Commitment Therapy (ACT) are helpful adjunctive treatments to utilize.

Find more from Alegra Kastens over on her Instagtram @obsessivelyeverafter

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