Chronic Fatigue Syndrome/ME

A year (and a bit) since diagnosis

And what a year it has been.

Since being diagnosed last July, I’ve left two jobs to start new ones, I’ve moved out of my parents’ house, been to a six week self-management course, become a vegan, and come off my antidepressants after over three years.

And yes, I’m still incredibly tired; despite making lots of positive changes that have helped in different ways.

Having a label isn’t always a good thing, but when you have so many different symptoms that don’t seem to add up to anything in particular, ME is a really useful label. I can use it to tell employers why I might need an extra break during the day, or can’t do a particular task one day that I was fine doing last week.

I still find it hard to tell people I have this condition, and I’m still working on exactly why that might be. There are many different reasons I can come up with; such as I don’t think they’ll believe me and they’ll just think I’m being lazy or attention-seeking, or I don’t want them to feel sorry for me or treat me any differently, or I just don’t really like talking about myself to people that aren’t my closest friends or family.

For all of those reasons I have only told a select few people, and even then it’s mostly been because I’ve felt like I’ve had to. And so far the reaction has been mostly positive, and the negative ones I think have been down to me not expressing myself clearly enough, which is something I have been working on. It’s important I make it known I’m being serious, which is difficult when I am almost always joking around or being sarcastic.

One way of describing the way ME makes me feel that I’ve used recently is that ‘it’s like being really hungover, but all the time’, which is something most people can relate to and immediately get it, if only the tip the iceberg. It also helps keep the conversation light-hearted, because I don’t want to go into all my symptoms (which is a bloody long list) when someone’s just asked what it’s like to have the condition, because they’ve never heard of it before.

I think what I’m trying to say is; nothing has changed, but everything has changed. I know what I’m dealing with, and I know (thanks to the self-management course and lots of internet research) what I can do to help myself and make my life easier. Going forward, I need to learn how to tell people when I don’t feel well and how to ask for help, and I need to commit to practicing mindfulness regularly to make sure I’m getting enough relaxation time.

This has been a post. Sort of.

 

 

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‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ TV series – A Review

I know I’m running a tiny bit behind; but I finally just watched the final episode of series one (I still can’t believe they’re spinning it out to a series two – though I must admit I am excited for it).

Spoiler warning – if you’re even further behind than me

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I have a lot of feelings about the series as a whole. For the most part: wow. Visually impressive with wonderful actors conveying to the viewer and making them feel all of those emotions shared by readers of Atwood’s novel.

Just occasionally though, I felt like the way it looked was put ahead of the actual content. One example is the scene after the stoning-that-wasn’t. The defiant march is one thing, I was semi-on board with that, but using ‘Feelin’ Good’ in that context was just odd. It sounded and looked good, but just didn’t fit in with the tone of the previous scene. I’m pretty sure none of the handmaids were feelin’ very good at all. Defiant and powerful maybe; but not good. It was a simplistic and easy choice, when for the most part the rest of the series felt so technical and is if thought had been put into every little detail.

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Speaking of detail, what was that amputation scene all about? Unnecessary in every single way. Unnecessary to show it in such graphic detail, and unnecessary to have it, and the previous scene, in there at all. What was it even trying to say? To me, it was throwing a little ‘men suffer in this too’ line, and I’m just not buying it. If anyone else can shed a little light on the purpose of the scene and the one previous to it,  I would be grateful.

Another grumble I have is some of the content that wasn’t from Offred/June’s point of view was boring. Some of the flashbacks were well-placed and enhanced the storyline; but others, particularly Luke’s episode, were just holding up the action. That episode, for me, could have been cut all together, or made into a short section and squeezed into another episode as an extra side. I actually skipped through a lot of it and don’t feel my experience of the series as a whole has been affected having missed it.

The relationship between June/Offred and Nick the driver was probably my favourite of all the relationships in the series. Their interactions and the frequency of them were just right. Also Janine was incredible. All of the handmaids were incredible, but Janine’s character could have so easily been taken too far, but the actor did an amazing job.

On the whole, the acting made this series a masterpiece more than any other aspect. I can’t wait for the next series, despite myself, considering we’ve run out of novel. My hopes are high, if slightly wary.

Thanks for reading 🙂

 

Coming Off My Meds – Part 2

It’s happened! I’m officially not on antidepressants anymore.

It feels like forever since I made part one of this “series” (over two months ago to be semi-exact), but I’ve finally reached the end of this long-ass journey. Well, this part of the journey anyway; I don’t think it’s ever really the end when it comes to depression and anxiety. For me anyway, just like my CFS/ME, it’s always something I’m going to have to work on to keep on top of.

Speaking of CFS, I’ve been going to a group for three out of the six week course now, and the management tips are definitely going to help me with my mood should it be affected. I think my mental health issues are what triggered my CFS in the first place, so depression and anxiety are some of my main symptoms that I need to manage.

So far, I haven’t seen a notable difference in my mood, but it is still early days. It makes me more confident knowing, after two courses of CBT over the years as well as the aspects of it in CFS management, that I can easily spot the warning signs and know what to do about it.

So despite being painstakingly long, coming off my meds has been relatively easy and simple. I’m relieved that it’s done, and I can start living my life anti-dep free; at least for now.

 

 

Coming Off My Meds – Part One?

I’m back!

Almost in time for Mental Health Awareness Week as well… not quite, but almost.

I believe May is Mental Health Month in the US though, so I’m still in time for that! Although, for me, as for many people, I am very aware of my mental health 365 days, 52 weeks and 12 months a year… so really, it’s always a relevant topic (that was awfully deep but I’m not sorry I’m proud of it).

ANYWAY get to the point, you idiot. I’m starting to come off my medication. I’ve been taking antidepressants for the past three years, and I think it’s time I experienced life without them.

That summary sounds like it was a really quick decision for me, but it was quite the opposite. It is too much of a scary concept for me to take lightly. So, in case anyone is interested, this is how I came to that decision.

When I first went to see my GP about my depression, I was just about to turn 18, and just beginning to come out of what was the darkest period of my life so far. A little switch had gone off in the back of my mind that said I needed to get help so I can get better and actually pass my A Levels, which were happening in a couple of months time. Medication actually wasn’t really discussed as a credible option for me, and I went along with the recommendation to try CBT.

I don’t remember having any particular feelings one way or the other about antidepressants, but I didn’t really have any particular feelings about anything at the time.

The CBT had some sort of positive effect, as I passed my A Levels and felt ready to go to University by that September. It wasn’t until midway through my second year that I decided if I was going to get the marks I knew I was capable of, I needed a bit of extra help. So, I went to my Nottingham GP, and he gave me some material to read about antidepressants to make a decision on whether or not I wanted to try them. I also chose to sign up for a course of over-the-phone CBT, which wasn’t useless but it wasn’t very useful either, but I don’t want to go off on that tangent now.

After lots of deliberation, discussions with good friends, and my mum, I decided to go for it. Like most people, I was first prescribed 50mg of Citalopram, which made me incredibly nauseous for the first few weeks, and then began to give me unbearable indigestion (seriously, it was like someone had put a hot poker all the way down my throat and into my stomach and was just twirling it around, constantly. I could barely eat).

So, I went back to my GP, and we gave Sertraline a try, and that is what I have been taking since. When I was struggling to get through the pressure of uni work, I doubled the dose to 100mg, and just a few months ago I went up to 150mg when I explained to my new/old GP back home that I was struggling more with the anxiety side.

I think, overall, the meds did their job. I made it through uni, and loved it, and I’ve managed to maintain a full time job since graduating; not loving it as much, but making the most of it and making £££. They’ve allowed me to live my life on my terms and not on my mental illness’.

However, I feel kind of flat. As much as I haven’t felt the devastating lows of my teenage years, during what should be highs, I often find myself thinking about how happy something makes me, rather than actually feeling it.

Basically, nothing is changing, for worse or for better, and I would rather be stable off the meds rather than on them; not knowing how they’re really affecting me, because I don’t remember what I was like before them; apart from being horrifically depressed, not wanting to leave my bed or do life whatsoever.

Who knows? I might be going back on them a few months or years down the line, but at least I’ll have some kind of measure of what effect they’re having on my mind and on my body.

Stay tuned to find out what happens on the next stage of my journey! Well done if you’ve lasted this long and got this far through my babble. I’m a fortnight into cutting my dose down by 50mg on alternate days for three weeks at a time (luckily I understand what I mean), so may be updating on my progress in a few weeks time.

Wish me luck!

Carnage: Swallowing the Past- a review

Bloomin’ marvellous

Yes, I’m already a massive fan of Simon Amstell and all of his work.

Yes, I’m already a committed vegan.

But this comedy/drama/documentary/mockumentary, or whatever heading you put it under, is a masterpiece. And I want everyone to watch it.

Simon Amstell’s comedy has always been funny because it’s so honest. Even back to his Popworld and then Buzzcocks days, he made us laugh by taking the piss out of popstars with lines containing nothing but the truth.

When he annoyed Preston from Ordinary Boys (they had that one hit that no one remembers) so much he walked off the show, and left the audience in stitches, all he did was read from Preston’s then-wife’s book. The jokes literally wrote themselves.

His stand-up material is made up of self-deprecating stories of loneliness, and his sitcom Grandma’s House is pretty much autobiographical; so you get the point, Amstell doesn’t tend to beat around the bush.

And Carnage is no different; except it isn’t about his own disastrous dating stories or stupid things popstars have said – it’s on the slightly more serious topic of veganism. It is backed up by real-life events and scientific fact; but it’s still hilarious?! That is the genius of it.

Everything he says – in his documentary-narrator voice – from the raping of cows, to chicken periods, to food rationing during the Second World War – is true. Yes there’s some fictitious characters thrown in (obviously, it’s set 50 years in our future), but for the most part the people and the shocking facts are real.

 

It all sounds so ludicrous that it is funny – but it’s all true! Down to the woman dressed as a cow singing on stage about how her babies have been taken away – it’s funny and moving (mooving, if you will) all at the same time. I think we all thought that that was impossible but somehow the people behind Carnage have managed it.

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The star of an anti-dairy musical

I even got emotional towards the end thinking about a world, or at least a Britain, where eating meat and dairy was unthinkable. I teared up at a goat jumping for joy on an old mattress for crying out loud! The fact that we know the images from the past – i.e. 1944 up until 2017 – are real, make it seem like the fictional events that come after could actually happen, which leaves a kind of sense of hope as well as entertainment lingering after the film is over.

It’s so good that I don’t think I’m doing it any justice in this review; so all that’s left to say is please go and watch it on BBC iplayer now!

 

 

 

 

Veganuary Week Four – Not Just for January!

Veganuary is over! And it was… surprisingly easy! You can tell how excited I am because I’ve used three exclamation marks already.

Unfortunately for me, I am not one of those people who goes vegan and feels loads of health benefits or have more energy, but that was a long shot considering my CFS. Also a long shot because of course I’ve tried most of the vegan junk food on offer in the supermarket where I work :’).

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Exhibit A in the unhealthy food category – crumpets and melted vegan cheese

However, knowing I am finally causing as little harm as possible, to my knowledge, to animals makes me feel as if a weight has been lifted from my shoulders; I’m no longer carrying around this guilt caused by knowing how much suffering the dairy and egg industries inflict on cows and chickens.

I also had no idea how much of an impact animal agriculture had on climate change and the planet. The industry contributes more carbon dioxide than all of the world’s transport combined?!?! Blew my mind. It genuinely baffles me that people can call themselves environmentalists and still eat meat, knowing this fact. Burying our heads in the sand about carbon emissions etc. set us back years, think how long this is going to set us back, and how much this is going to impact the planet.

On top of the animals and the planet, there’s the humans. The fact that the grain we in the West use to feed livestock could be used to feed the entire hum

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I’ve actually started to like mushrooms?!

an population of the world, leaving not a single person starving, infuriates me. Why should developed countries have the ‘privilege’ of slaughtering animals for meat, not only at the expense of those animals, but also our fellow human beings.

Knowing all of this, I don’t think I can ever going back to eating animal products. Yes I might slip up sometimes, but as long as I’m doing what I can, I know I’ll feel much happier.

Here’s to Vegan February, March, April, May, June… you get the idea 😉

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Vegan mac and cheese-less, so yum.

Veganuary Week Three – Documentaries

Here it is, finally, my review of five vegan documentaries I’ve watched over the past couple of weeks. They’ve definitely kept me on track, if not frazzled my brain slightly with all of the mind-boggling facts in the process.

Cowspiracy

I had a lot of “WTF????” moments whilst watching this first film. I knew there was some environmental benefits of vegetarianism and veganism, but I had no idea to what extent. And that extent is extreme, and made my overall takeaway from this; why are we not doing anything about this??? Although, the documentary did sort of answer that by explaining just how much influence the meat and dairy industries have in US government. For me this wasn’t so surprising – we all know that money rules the world – but it’s still shocking.

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I recommend all of these films, but if you’re particularly interested in the environment and the causes of climate change, I highly recommend this one, because I haven’t seen the discussion of the impact of animal agriculture on the planet in any other film or article.

Forks Over Knives

This was another “OMG????” documentary, but this time to do with health. The film goes into great detail about studies done by two different men – one a doctor the other a scientist- who have basically proven that animal products cause cancer and heart disease and other big killers in the Western world. Animal products literally cause cancer. How are we not talking about this???

One fact that blew my mind was that erectile dysfunction is one of the first signs of coronary heart disease. I’ve never heard this before but it makes so much sense! If arteries are blocked, blood can’t flow around the body properly, so can’t get to the penis! And it’s animal products that cause the arteries to block (you’ll have to watch it for the proper science), so if you wanna still be able to get it up, you’d better go vegan!

Vegucated

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In this one we follow three meat-eaters as they embark on the vegan journey, and learn all aspects of veganism and the benefits of it. Therefore it was well-rounded and looked at all aspects-from the environment, to health, to animal welfare. Going on the journey along with these people was also very interesting, and made it seem like something much more achievable, as we could see real people and the struggles they went through and how they dealt with them.

Earthlings

Earthlings is always talked about as one of those films that turns people off meat due to it’s shocking nature. It makes me feel sick, want to cry and get angry all at once. It is really heavy, and very graphic, so if that’s something you don’t think you can watch, I wouldn’t recommend. However, the shock-tactic certainly works for me, and lots of other people, especially as the main reason for me embarking on vegetarianism was compassion for animals. I can never unsee those images of the cruelty inflicted on innocent creatures, and couldn’t live with myself if I went back to contributing to that in any way.

As well as the shocking images – including slaughterhouse workers stomping on chickens and throwing pigs around by the tail – there are some myths defunked in this film, including the ‘no part is wasted’ myth in regards to the leather industry. Many people believe leather comes from cattle also raised for meat, but the film shows cattle bought from poor, desperate families in India, put through a terrible and drawn-out ordeal before being slaughtered purely for their skin.

Meat the Truth

With this being the fifth documentary on this topic I’ve watched within a couple of weeks, it isn’t surprising that the majority of the facts and figures were the same as I had already learnt.

However, all of the previous films have been American, so to have a European (specifically Dutch) perspective was really interesting. Marianne Thieme is a great speaker; very likeable and able to keep you intrigued through all of the numbers and percentages.

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Overall, I highly recommend watching all of these documentaries if you’re at all interested in any of these topics. Ignorance is often bliss, but having our eyes wide open is the only way we’re going to make positive changes in our own lives, to the lives of others, animals and the planet.

284268_210517712331331_2327292_nP.S. I always think it’s good to read around the topic to get other opinions, don’t take everything at face value, and always with a pinch of salt. Do your own research as well as watching these informative films, folks!

P.P.S. All of these are on Netflix apart from Earthlings and Meat the Truth which are on Youtube 🙂

Veganuary – Week Two – Travelling

Now, I said I was going to write about some documentaries for this week’s blog post, but having been away for a long weekend (hence the late post!) I thought I would write about travelling as a vegan/what I ate whilst it’s still fresh in my mind!

My friend and I had no idea where we were heading – only that it was somewhere in Europe and we had to be at the airport at half 8 in the morning. Sat in Starbucks (with a soy vanilla latte) we finally found out from Surprise Trips that we were going to Amsterdam, and that our hotel was called ‘Hotel Library’ – could it be anymore perfect for us??

I had done some research on tips for travelling as a vegan and downloaded a couple of apps that had been recommended, and the most useful turned out to be Happy Cow, which shows vegan restaurants, cafes and shops and those with vegan options closest to your location.

We were starving, so used this app to get ourselves to the nearest cafe with vegan options – Betty Blue – where I had a cappuccino with almond milk and the soup of the day – tomato and courgette and lots of other yummy veggies with ciabatta. 20170113_170305

I was too hungry/enjoying it too much to remember to take a picture until I was halfway through!

Later that evening we went into an Italian restaurant and I had a veggie pizza without the mozzarella and it was delicious. It had artichokes, mushrooms, aubergine and lots of other veggies which were very tasty.

To drink I had my first Heinekin of the trip – thank goodness it’s vegan!

On Saturday we trekked across the city for some Dutch pancakes in a lovely place called Mook; another Happy Cow find, as they do vegan versions of all their pancakes.

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Blueberries, banana, strawberries, maple syrup and coconut shavings

It was definitely worth the walk in the sleet and the cold to find this place; it was delicious.

For dinner we went to the Golden Temple, a veggie and vegan Indian restaurant we heard about from a leaflet in our hotel’s reception. It was lovely and cosy inside, with two little doggies running around too, which was obviously a bonus. This was my yummy coconut curry:

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Breakfast wasn’t the easiest, because you can’t just run into Starbucks and grab a pastry or
whatever when you’re on the go, so I ate cereal bars to keep me going through the morning most days.

20170115_113819Other than that, I ate pretty darn well I’d say.

On Sunday however I probably should’ve lined my stomach a bit more before heading to the Heineken experience, however, as there was a decent amount of free beer on offer.

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Afterwards I ate the most yummy vegan egg salad sandwich at a vegan cafe called Roots though, and ohhhh buddy I could’ve eaten twelve. And they had oat milk – my favourite!

20170115_172229One name that kept coming up on Happy Cow was Bagels and Beans, and I finally got to sample some vegan bagel goodness on our final day. Bananas, maple syrup and cinnamon. Difficult to eat on the go (we were rushing to make our booked slot at the Anne Frank museum), but very tasty.

20170116_121107Down the road from the museum was a lovely veggie and vegan place where I tried tofu pate for the first time, but not the last, because I loved it. This restaurant also had a cat that looked like Crookshanks who was adorable:

Obviously going to Holland there was going to be a lot of cheese around to tempt me, but I didn’t cave; even in one of the many cheese museums:

Yes, that is a diamond-encrusted cheese slicer. There was no kind of explanation given, so your guess is as good as mine.

Knowing I’m not contributing to the cruelty of cows feels much better than any cheese tastes. But more on that in a later post.

I’ve rambled on for far too long now, so thanks for reading if you made it this far!

I’ll be back with my documentary reviews at the weekend. Ttfn!

Veganuary – Week One

Finally, after over two years of being a vegetarian and banging on about how I want to eventually be vegan, I’ve gone and given it a go!

So far, it’s going really well, and I’m so pleased. I’ve had two tiny dairy slip-ups – one on New Year’s Day when extremely hungover and I was made a milky cup of tea, and the other stealing a small piece of bread with butter on it – but that’t it, and after a week I’m getting used to it and I don’t think it’ll happen again. After all, the first time I said I was going to do a veggie big shop, I came home with a ham and pineapple pizza, and I haven’t done that since!

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Linda McCartney sausages, mash, peas and onion gravy – vegan comfort food 

I definitely think it’s a good idea to go vegan gradually. I have a number of friends who have gone straight from being an omnivore to trying veganism and have failed within the first few weeks or months; many then giving up on the idea because they think it’s too hard.

Being veggie first means I’m used to cutting things out, finding alternatives and reading food labels. It also means I’m firm in my beliefs and my reasons behind giving up meat, and extending that to giving up eggs and dairy, so it’s less about willpower and more about remembering why I’m doing this, and that makes it much less difficult.

Here are some of my favourite vegan products that I’ve found so far:

 

First is obviously that vegan staple: tofu. These marinated tofu pieces are so easy to cook and so delicious I don’t know why I wasn’t using them before. The meal is a yummy stir fry – Sainsbury’s frozen stir fry veg, Cauldron tofu pieces, Yutaka wheat noodles and Sainsbury’s light soy sauce.

Next there’s my favourite, so far, plant-based milk: Oatly! oat milk. Perfect in porridge, my favourite breakfast (Quaker Oats Golden Syrup Flavour), and I’ve heard it’s great in tea so I’ll definitely be giving that a try.

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Hazelnut milk in coffee is pretty good, and rice milk is okay, but I’m hoping when I try more milk alternatives I’ll find one that I like more.

Next something that is very important to me: vegan cheese. I was so happy when Sainsbury’s brought out a range of free from cheese-style products, but very nervous to try them.

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Luckily, I like them! The cheddar-style is probably my least favourite, but on a sandwich with some salad it’s hard to tell the difference. The other two are perfect straight swaps for the dairy version, and I use them in the exact same way.

Finally some sweet things I found in the free from section where I work (Booths, northern Waitrose if you haven’t heard of it :)) Lazy Day Foods free from millionaire shortbread and Bell’s Gluten-free jam tarts – they’re delicious! Who needs dairy or eggs??wp-1483893785930.jpg

Next week I’ll make another update on how the month is going – possibly with some reviews of the documentaries I’m planning on watching this week, just to keep me motivated.

Thanks for reading!

 

Why I love Audiobooks

Audiobooks and I haven’t always had such a good relationship. When I first downloaded Audible (yes, with a discount code from a Youtuber; I can’t evenaudiobooks remember which one it was now there’s so many), I used the free book I downloaded to help me go to sleep, which was a great help, but it was pretty hard to keep up with the story because I couldn’t keep up with what was happening in the story from one night to the next.

But, I persevered with it, and eventually got to the end of my first audiobook – Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman. It might have taken me a while – what with having to
keep going back a chapter to find the last bit I remembered and everything – but it was totally worth it.

And now, I’m hooked.

Listening to audiobooks means I can actually have two books on the go at once; something I could never do before, because it was too confusing for my wee brain. The experience is so different that I can keep up with both stories more easily; and I have a better chance of reaching my goal of reading thirty books this year!

Another plus is that now I have a new job which is a forty-ish minute walk away, I can use that time wisely by listening to a book on my way. Sometimes I might look a bit crazy walking along laughing to myself or holding back tears, but that’s a very minor downside I can definitely live with.

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Audiobooks also allow for reading when travelling without causing travel sickness; particularly on Virgin trains between Manchester and London which always make me feel queasy whether I’m reading or not.

Those are some of the practical reasons why I’ve grown to love them, but there are also reasons to do with the listening experience itself. One of these is that with the likes of Neverwhere, narrated by Neil Gaiman himself, you get to hear how he intended the words to sound,and how they are meant to make you feel; and I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, also ready by the author, Maya Angelou, is especially interesting as it is a semi-autobiographical novel, and therefore hearing it in Angelou’s voice makes it all the more gripping.

I have also listened to books that have been on my to-read list for years: Everything is Illuminated and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer. artworks-000157543876-ntnu51-t500x500Firstly, the narrators in both of these audios were fantastic. They took Jonathan’s language and made the whole experience so immersive, it’s probably lucky I don’t have too many busy roads to cross on my way home! One particular part of Extremely Loud that struck me was when Oskar is telling ‘the renter’ about his dad’s phone messages; we hear ‘are you there?’  thirteen times (forgive me if that’s wrong, I think it’s thirteen) complete with the long pauses, and I thought about how if I had been reading those repeated questions, it wouldn’t have had nearly the same kind of powerful effect.

If you haven’t given audiobooks a go yet, I strongly recommend giving them a go, even if you don’t think it’ll be your thing.

P.S. I wish this was sponsored by audible, but sadly, it’s not 😉

P.P.S. Images not my own