Elena Scialtiel

Elena Scialtiel has 13 articles published.

Hello May

in Health & Beauty

May is mental health awareness and skin cancer awareness month, which are widely marked on the Rock, but there are other conditions whose prevention or treatment is given special coverage this month.

Here are discussed the most common ones, with different grades of rarity and severity.

Celiac disease is a long-term but usually not life-threatening condition affecting intestinal digestion. It is caused by allergy or intolerance to gluten, a protein found in cereals like wheat, barley and rye. In genetically predisposed individuals, exposure to gluten sparks anomalous autoimmune responses.

Diagnosis is not always straight-forward to achieve unequivocally, but early screening can help with mild symptoms easily mistaken with other digestive issues. Early symptoms in babies and children are steatorrhea and failure to grow.

Celiac disease must be told apart from wheat allergy, a rare but more serious condition which cannot be neutralised with gluten-free products consumption alone.

Treatment so far consists in a gluten-free diet, to avoid and prevent bloating, lethargy, anaemia, hyposplenism, vitamin and minerals deficiency, and complications like intestinal cancer or lymphoma, which are nevertheless rare.

In regions alien to traditional wheat farming, like south-eastern Asia where rice is the staple cereal, or Mesoamerica, where corn is, celiac disease still exists but it doesn’t manifest until the ingestion of wheat, barley and rye, European staples.

Celiacs can source their carbs from non-cereals like quinoa, amaranth and of course potatoes, pumpkins and bananas. Always seek medical advice before starting a carb-free diet.

www.nationalceliac.org, www.celiac.org, www.coeliac.org.uk, www.beyondceliac.org.

Ehlers-Danlos syndromes are a group of separate but related connective-tissue disorders, occurring because of variation of a number of genes that affect the structure or production of collagen, and it can be potentially severe or life-threatening.

Early symptoms that may prompt you to seek medical attention for your baby or toddler are delayed walking beyond 18 months, and a preference for bottom-shuffling instead of crawling. Another alarm bell can be your toddlers’ habit to stick their tongue out and, so doing, reach comfortably their nose with its tip (Gorlin’s sign). 

Later, it can show through joint hyper-flexibility and skin hyper-extension, arthralgia, myalgia, scoliosis, kyphosis, translucent skin, heels’ piezogenic papules, hyper-mobile fingers and toes, bendable thumbs. 

There is no cure for this, but once a diagnosis is achieved through genetic testing, treatment is available for each of the symptoms and co-morbidities, like cardio-valvular disease, brittle cornea, keratoconus, macular degeneration, hiatus hernia, fragile skin, muscle hypotonia, periodontitis, and pregnancy complications.

There are different degrees of EDS and most patients can lead a normal life with it. Some have made of their skin hyper-elasticity a career in showbiz. Italian virtuoso Niccolò Paganini is believed to have suffered from a mild form of EDS making his fingers extra-long and agile on the strings.

Visit: www.ehlers-danlos.org

Cystic Fibrosis is a genetic disorder caused by gene mutation or deletion that affects mostly the lungs, but also pancreas, liver, kidneys and bowels, for which there is no cure, and which halves life expectancy in the developed world. 

It is mostly common in individuals of north European ancestry, where about a quarter of the population are estimated to be carriers. 

Africans and Asians seem to be almost immune to this mutation, and some studies suggest that it may be related to evolutionary exposure to dim lights and cold temperatures, although other populations from subarctic climates like Siberia, Alaska or Greenland, seem to be immune. Others suggested it may be linked to the mutations of eye colour, in other words if you have blue or green eyes you may have higher chances to be a carrier, but no theory has so far satisfactorily returned unequivocal proof.

Symptoms manifest in early childhood with poor growth and flimsy weight despite healthy appetites, frequent chest infections with sticky mucus and the characteristic salty-tasting and smelling skin.

Parents’ suspicions about salty skin may be confirmed by genetic testing. Preventive screening is available to warn prospective parents who are both carriers about the 1-in-4 possibility to produce an affected child, with a ratio akin to thalassaemia.

Most damage to the organs is caused by blockage from thickened secretions that can lead to lungs failure. Pulmonary physiotherapy is the key to support an improved quality of life. Lung transplant is an option for those worst affected with respiratory symptoms. 

Visit: www.cff.org and www.lung.org.

Huntington’s disease is a degenerative inherited disorder resulting in the accelerated demise of brain cells, manifesting itself in the early stages with subtle motor skill problems, lack of hand-eye coordination, and mild loss of balance, not always paired with decline in cognitive abilities. 

Onset can be as early as in one’s twenties, and it can be difficult to diagnose it, if one is unaware that the genetic condition is running in the family. Jerky out-of-control movements are an early symptom to pay attention to, together with rigidity, poor posture or balance, reduced facial expression, seizures and sleeping disturbance.

There is no cure, but treatment is available to relieve symptoms and improve quality of life, but in later stages, patients inevitably become dependant on around-the-clock care.

Predictive genetic testing and prenatal testing are advised to carriers. Physical examinations like MRI and PET can map the areas of the brain affected, while psychological tests can gauge the extent – if any – of cognitive decline and devise brain retraining. Affected subjects are at risk of anxiety, depression, compulsive behaviour, addictions, hyper-sexuality, egocentrism and suicidal thoughts, as well as muscle atrophy,

cardiac failure, osteoporosis, and, when elderly, at higher risk of dying as consequence of a fall.

Visit: www.hda.org.uk.

This article aims at being informative only, with no medical or diagnostic pretenses. Consult your GP if you suspect you or a relative may be suffering from any of the conditions here described.

The Fashion Bug: a look at Milano Moda fringe

in Features

Milano Fashion Week took place in mid-February, just days before the coronavirus alert broke out and affected the city’s public transport, shutting down performances at cinemas and theatres, religious services at most churches and public gatherings, including Carnival celebrations.

In fact, Fashion Week was affected too, since all Chinese designers but one, due to open the runway, fell victims of the Asian travel ban and had to forfeit their shows. Furthermore, the grand finale by fashion guru Giorgio Armani on Sunday 23rd February was cancelled as a precautionary measure (later largely criticised for its unnecessary alarmism) amidst concerns of people crowding confined spaces, following breaking news of a hospitalised suspected coronavirus case from a satellite town some kilometres south-east of Milan.

Young exhibitors attended from Hungary, Africa and the Middle East and showcased their creations at a market hub where potential customers could purchase prêt-à-porter or place their tailored order.

Trends for the fall/winter epitomised as flamboyant but wearable in the imagination of a bunch of flourishing designers, with attention to up-cycling, sustainable manufacturing, local identity within the global village, without forsaking classic streamlined darks, soft and matte for the office, velvety, satined and sequinned for the soirées, blessed with flirting transparencies, tapestries and embroideries. 

While the Chinese input banked on casual wear in pastel colours and deconstructed tailoring, the Budapest trend focused on fashion’s first commandment ‘black is the new black’, and reinvented absence of colour with textures galore, picking and mixing precious fabrics like velour, chiffon, devoré, lace, mesh, brocade and matching casual to formal, smashing the dress-code ceiling with stonewashed jeans gracing eveningwear as much as beads and frills.

Whether understated or in-your-face, the designer logo becomes an integral part of the pattern, embroidery or print for the Mittel-European fashionista with fast-rising brand Abodi, defining the ‘baroque futurism’ fad. Other Hungarian brands exhibiting were: Cukovy, specialised in puff jackets and sportswear; Elysian, reinventing bridal wear with Magyar flare; dynamic duo Dalma Devenyi and Tibor Kiss who co-founded Je Suis Belle, an artisan-based atelier marrying folklore and literature influences; Zsigmond Dora Menswear, re-introducing Danubean men’s elegance to the western end of the defunct Hapsburg Empire.   

Of course the real revelation of the fashion fair, which attracted a fair share of adepts and general public – despite mixed messages about public transport emergency protocols and health & safety etiquette – were the designers out of Africa and the Middle East.

The brain and genius behind Maison ARTC, Artsi Ifrah, will strike a chord with Gibraltarians for his genuine South Mediterranean style. His embroidered kaftans were the stars of the show, borrowing their colours from fruity hues and summery skies, and their shapes from the organic encounter of nature and architecture of fishing villages and oasis-side hamlets. Artsi was born in Jerusalem, lived in Tel Aviv, Paris and Amsterdam, before settling in Marrakesh.

Gozel Green, by Chinelolum Olivia Okoji and Sylvia Ngozi Ojei, is one of the many upcoming made-in-Nigeria brands. The two women source materials and produce their couture locally, bridging past and future in the traditional choice of colours (earthy browns, deep blues from tropical skies, lush greens from the pluvial forest) interwoven with contemporary cuts that are just right for career women and ladies who lunch without giving up on comfort and agility.

The London influence is pretty palpable in Omer Asim’s work, which privileges stark western styles and colours, with a prevalence of monochrome and its infinite shades of grey, creating a severe display for the no-nonsense discerning customer who wants to spell out ‘dressed for success’ in their outfit. The designer claims he doesn’t rely on sketching but creates impromptu on the mannequin itself, and describes his work as ‘regressive future’.

The week-long jamboree included a busy calendar of runway shows by the monoliths in the business, such as Gucci, Moncler, Max Mara, Prada, Bottega Veneta, Fendi, Moschino, Iceberg, Versace, Ferragamo, Boss, Fila, Laura Biagiotti, Jil Sander, Genny, Atsushi Nakashima and much more.


Studio 189 is an artisan fashion brand based in Ghana and the US, founded by Rosario Dawson and Abrima Erwiah. 

I spoke to Abrima. She told me how the philosophy behind her business is turning fashion into a tool for social change, encouraging cottage industry from farm to loom and even further, with distribution and retail.

Their factory is based in Accra, but sourcing and manufacturing reaches out to Mali and Burkina Faso, and offers women and vulnerable members of society access to dignified and regular work in full harmony with the environment and traditional artisanship.

“We build communities, involving farmers, dyers, loom workers, seamstresses, and they create magic. Our fashion is magic because it carries with it the spirit of all the people who touched it in the making.”

Each garment carries the symbolism of tradition and innovation, and she describes her inspiration as ‘tropical’. Surely her artwork isn’t for the wallflower, with bold colours and even bolder pairings. 

Abrima is particularly proud of using only natural fibres and dyes, and of the versatility of recycled cotton, shredded and rewoven.

Her flagship craft is a black-and-white triangle-patterned full shirt, hand-woven in coarse yarn: “This is a classic piece that will be cherished for a lifetime.”

And should this skirt feel unpractical for your regular school run or rush hour on the tube, Studio 189, which has participated in countless New York Fashion Weeks, is well renowned for its vegetation-inspired handmade prints and for the azure palette obtained from the indigo plant, almost distilled directly from the crisp African skies.

When in Jerusalem. The holy side of sightseeing

in Health & Beauty

Some city breaks leave a mark on you, uplifting your spirit, enlightening you with their landmarks, culture and people; others will go beyond this and trigger a mystical experience – literally

Although it hasn’t been recognised and listed as a mental disorder, because of its usually fast remission and sporadic occurrence, the Jerusalem syndrome is a mental phenomenon affecting visitors, mostly first-timers, of the Holy City with religious-themed obsessions, delusions and even psychotic episodes, regardless of the absence of underlining or ongoing mental conditions, and no matter their religious background or devotional depths.

A similar behaviour, albeit less intense, may be observed in Rome, especially in Vatican City, while mental health issues manifested in Mecca are connected to the sheer volume of pilgrims, constricted space, and repetition of rituals, if not collective hysteria, according to some psychological studies.

Jerusalem syndrome arises in subjects who have no known psychiatric history, displaying a balanced lifestyle and clean bill of mental health, enjoying a rational relationship with their religion, or lack of thereof, and visiting Jerusalem for purposes that aren’t strictly of worshipping.

Usually the person experiences a sudden, sometimes unpleasant urge, rather than a mystical calling, to step up their devotion, extending their itinerary to all or most churches, donating to charities, fasting or performing genuflection and flagellation, overspending on souvenirs and attending confession and mass obsessive-compulsively, forsaking the secular aspects of their trip, like dinners, theatre, shopping or spending time with their families. 

Delusions are different from revelation of true vocation, and one must consider lucidly whether to pursue one’s newfound devotion, perhaps seeking expert advice once back home, before hastily signing up for the cloister. Jerusalem syndrome is a powerful suggestion that works on one’s mind only in the proximity of holy sites, so the persistence and consistence of beliefs weeks after the removal of the affected person should be an indicator of his or her true purposes.

In fact, acute symptoms drop once the visit to Jerusalem is over, with a very few cases persisting in their delusion beyond one week after their homecoming.

However, severe cases can produce psychosis and manifest in personality imbalances, schizophrenia or paranoia episodes, the impulse of joining a monastery, a yeshiva or a madrasa – not necessarily according to one’s familial background, though – or even go round preaching, convinced to be on a mission to pave the road for the second coming. 

Jerusalem syndrome has been described in medical and travel literature since the Middle Ages, but then it was kind of expected and welcomed, while in the late Nineteenth Century it was considered a form of hysteria, and collective hysteria.

Nowadays it is regarded with academic curiosity as well as concern, when its consequences may put someone’s life in danger with zealot-fuelled irresponsible conduct.

Cases have been recorded in which the affected person, usually a male subject, would claim to be Jesus and demand to carry the cross, or St. Peter going around preaching loudly and causing disturbance of the peace, and even an improvised St. John the Baptist with a bottle of soda. These acute psychoses went into immediate remission when the subject was removed from the streets, administered mild medication or sedated.

Muslims may be struck by the urge of impersonating the Prophet or more simply just attending daily prayers with clockwork precision and dedicating extra time to scriptures reading. As well, the Jewish response prompts adherence to alimentary prohibitions, prayer times and religious studies, and the impulse of manically stuffing handwritten prayers in the Western Wall’s cracks.

Non-monotheistic religions adepts may be affected too, curiously, and more curiously, there aren’t so far scientific recordings or studies of equivalent psychological phenomena developing at Hindu or Buddhist sanctuaries, where nevertheless a large volume of pilgrims is attested, daily or on high holidays.

There are indeed patients who land in Jerusalem already predisposed to the onset, temporary or long term, of this condition, because of deep rooted idiosyncratic ideas and a cultural obsession on the symbolism of the Holy City.

When Jerusalem syndrome is spontaneous and uncompounded with underlining mental health issues, the psychosis is acute and brief. It resolves in full recovery, and relapse is unlikely, even in the case of a future return to the Holy City.

Symptoms start with uneasiness, anxiety, agitation and absentmindedness and extend to the desire of declaiming psalms or verses louder than appropriate and singing hymns all the time. This is the best telltale sign to alert hotels and holy sites personnel, as well as tour guides, about the potential triggering of a psychotic episode, which may end in hospital admission in 40% of the cases.

Relatives and friends must be alerted by someone’s insistent demands of visiting Jerusalem alone, or unannounced splits from the group, as well as the sudden obsession with cleanliness and purity, especially with toenail clipping, or the odd request of taking on tour with them white bed linen borrowed from the hotel.

As harmless as it might appear, this psychosis, no matter how temporary, can escalate in reckless actions, and put the sufferer’s life in danger, or endanger life around him or her, with unpredictability and diminished responsibility. 

Men are more affected with the urge to deliver disjointed speeches in public places, while women tend to keep their worshipping private, and enjoy a serious church crawl and prayer marathon, from the crack of dawn to nightfall.

If the sub ject claims to be the Messiah, this shouldn’t be confused with the Messiah complex, which is a topographically unrelated, and often long-term, state of mind triggered by delusions of grandeur and the belief they’re destined to save the world in their lifetime, and perhaps act upon it by offering unsolicited and unqualified help, one ‘sinner’ at the time.

This article aims at being informative only, with no medical or diagnostic pretenses. Seek medical attention if you suspect you or a relative may be experiencing a psychotic episode while on holiday.

The smell you cannot tell

in Health & Beauty

Anosmia: When your nose goes off-duty

Anosmia (inability to smell) and hyposmia (reduced ability to smell) are relatively rare conditions, especially when it is about a complete loss of sense of smell, while hyposmia can be a consequence of ageing, akin to hearing or sight loss. It can be genetic or acquired, and usually it isn’t serious, but it affects the sense of taste and it can, in extreme cases, fail to alert the sufferer of an immediate danger, like gas leaks, fires or poison.

It can be temporary, and in most cases it is. Surely you have experienced how all foods have little taste when you are nursing a bad cold, but just imagine dealing with this sensation for a long time, or all life long, if you are born with it and you can never know what spring in the air smells like, or you tell apart coffee from hot chocolate only by the size of the mug.

Anosmia sufferers usually show little interest in pleasure eating and cannot fully grasp the idea of gluttony, which can indeed be a plus when it comes to dieting, but often makes their mealtimes boring and may lead to malnutrition.

In fact, when we taste food, we actually smell it first, and in our lifetime we learn to recognise hundreds of flavours, while our tongue is designed to feel only a handful of different tastes.

Lack of smell is usually due to irritation of the nasal mucosa, because of viral infection or allergies, but it can also have neurological causes and alas be the symptom of undiagnosed illness, perhaps serious, such as head trauma, nasal polyps, nasal septum deformities, tumours, or stroke.

Anosmia happens when the airborne molecules of any aromatic substance fail to carry to the top of our nose and fire up the olfactory nerves, whether because of a nose blockage or because said nerves are malfunctioning.

Certain medications can list partial anosmia in their side effects, particularly antibiotics – which are taken for a short period after which your sense of smell should be restored – and hypertension medication. In the latter case, treatment is prescribed for longer periods or permanently, so patients have to seek alternative ways around their secondary anosmia, unless their doctor can explore alternative medication that keeps blood pressure controlled without affecting the olfactory receptors.

Smoking, alcoholism, lengthy exposure to chemicals also damage the receptors, so anosmia can be an occupational hazard for cleaners, lab technicians, factory workers, and even police officers who spend long time in the midst of traffic jams.

It is important to investigate the causes of anosmia, especially when it manifests relatively suddenly and is not connected to rhinitis. 

In fact, it can be an early symptom for vitamin deficiency, hypothyroidism, diabetes, epilepsy, schizophrenia, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and Huntington’s diseases, and one of the subtle red flags for transient ischemic accidents.

Conversely, anosmia is difficult to diagnose and measure, since different people are naturally born with different receptivity and different ability to notice and tell odours apart, when they are dim or similar. For example, have you ever noticed how frying onions smell like stale sweat? Well, you aren’t completely wrong there, since they contain the same sulfur-based molecules!

Anosmia is diagnosed with CT and MRI scans or nasal endoscopy and currently there is no treatment for it. It is particularly difficult to recognise when congenital, but alarm bells do ring when babies and toddlers don’t fuss over vegetables like broccoli or peppers, and when they don’t show any emotional reaction to being introduced to strong pleasant smells, like roses, or are invited to follow the scent towards the oven where a cake is baking.

Usually, there are no life-threatening complications for this condition, but it is recommended that sufferers install smoke alarms and are cautious with food storage, since they cannot detect any pong from deteriorated produce, or when opening jars and tins, as well as when using insecticide, bleach or ammonia.

The opposite to anosmia is called hyperosmia, described as a heightened sense of smell. This has no cure either, and it triggers recurrent headache and nausea. 

Commonly, hyperosmia affects pregnant women, but it isn’t the direct cause for morning sickness. The condition may continue during breastfeeding.

Congenital hyperosmia does significantly affect the sufferers’ lives, limiting their comfort in crowded areas, whether indoors like public transport, elevators, restaurants, cinemas or nightclubs, or outdoors, like carnivals or busy thoroughfares. There, they will suffer from sensorial overload from other people’s perfumes and bodily odours, mixed with cooking food and spilt alcohol. Sadly, they’ll shun rose and lilies in their wedding bouquets…

But there is a silver lining: hyperosmia can even land you a prestigious job as essence mixer at a perfume factory, or sommelier in fancy wineries – it is known in the business as ‘nez absolu’, French for absolute nose.

Woman to Superwoman

in Health & Beauty

Full-time job, housework, grocery shopping, young family, elderly care, entertaining, arts and culture, charity drives, sports, weekend escapades… are you juggling all this in an 18-hour-plus day, followed by
a few hours of fitful sleep before it starts all over again tomorrow at the crack of dawn? 

Can’t remember last time you had some ‘me-time’? 

Actually, can’t even remember what ‘me-time’ means?

You may be suffering from Superwoman Syndrome, a behavioural condition that mostly affects western countries’ women, but it is spreading to the developing world too.

It is the compulsion and the pressure for women, usually aged 30 to 50, despite more and more adolescents already feeling they’re running a rat-race in high school, to having and being it all – career, family, health & fitness, social life – without wanting – or affording – to delegate to family members or to paid help. 

A superwoman is different from, and perhaps busier than, a career woman: the latter, in fact, is a woman who pursues any profession until not long ago regarded as the boys’ exclusive playground, a woman who commits to working long hours, perhaps travelling and commuting, but she either relinquishes family life for it, or hires a small army of professionals to run her household while she focuses on work.

Conversely, a superwoman is, or feels she is, a one-man, ehm, one-woman, band who reckons she can, and will, control it all, juggle it all. Her mantra “If others can, I can too. And better.” She might have been raised by empowering feminist role models or on the contrary escaped an abusive, dysfunctional or simply over-traditional family background, or she may want to emulate somewhat unrealistic images portrayed in the media.

The unhealthy strife to be perfect in every situation may build up to unsustainable levels when the superwoman fails to meet her own expectations. Beware I said ‘her own expectations’, because most superwomen are responsible for setting their bar too high, while their loved ones can see they’re overdoing it and warn them to slow down, and yet superwomen might interpret this as condescendence, criticism or veiled attempts to suggest they are failing at this modern ‘glass-ceiling-crashing nonsense’ and that a woman’s real place remains in the kitchen!

So ask yourself: do you constantly give without anything in return? 

  • Do you attend to needs of others before your own?
  • Are you a people pleaser even if it makes you unhappy?
  • Do you throw or attend parties you feel alone at?
  • Do you feel exhausted and anxious?
  • Do you find yourself to mentally dismiss, disparage or belittle stay-at-home mums and homemakers in general, even if they are family?
  • Do you often compare yourself to other working mothers or colleagues?
  • Do you critically compare your kids’ milestones to those of other children their age?
  • Do you help your kids in educational tasks like dressing up or homework, just to speed up their getting ready in the morning or for bed?
  • Are you driven by a competitive edge even in casual situations like holidays, sports’ days, family picnics, or corporate team-building events?
  • Are your meal plans bordering eating disorders, including orthorexia?
  • When was the last time you were satisfied with your accomplishments at work or at home?
  • Do you tend to sceptically shun compliments on a job well done but you are overly sensitive and receptive to those about your physical appearance?
  • Do you pay too much attention to gossip and judgement?
  • Are you judgemental?
  • Do you make a big fuss of a bad hair day?

Furthermore, if you are irritable, incensed, indecisive, unable to concentrate, subject to mood swings and negative thoughts, and if you lack sense of humour, it may be time to slow down and admit that Rome wasn’t built in a single day – or by a single individual.

When your body cannot keep up with your schedule demands, it might ring alarm bells through cephalea, elevated blood pressure, shortness of breath, palpitations, insomnia, restless sleep, loss of appetite, sudden weight gain or loss, hair loss, brittle fingernails, dry and itchy skin, rashes, hyperhidrosis, blackheads, dull complexion, yellowing sclera, bloodshot eyes, dark circles, bleeding gums.

Sometimes it is difficult for clinicians to make the connection to stress, if patients are in denial about being under excess stress, and truly believe they’re breezing through life ‘just peachy’.

Many superwomen find their quick-fix in caffeine brewing or pill popping. Prescription drugs misuse is harmful when it neutralises the symptoms but not the causes of chronic fatigue or mental health acute disorders, and it leads to blurred circadian rhythms, irregular heartbeat and ultimately to self-bestowed cardiac disease.

Rather than indulging in overloading your bloodstream with chemicals, you must take stock of your life priorities and exercise an energetic spring cleaning, perhaps with the support of your family, friends and therapist.

When FOMO (fear of missing out) and perfectionism turn into addiction, you are the sole, or almost the sole, healer of your soul, through acceptance that you are only human, so you cannot do everything perfectly, but you must focus on what is really making you tick and life worth living in a serene, personalised-paced way.

Your decalogue to a balanced lifestyle:

  • Let go of perfectionism: you are not auditioning for Mary Poppins’ role in a panto.
  • Make your goals realistic. Tell the difference between wants and needs.
  • De-clutter, materially and emotionally.
  • Learn to say no: nobody is expendable, but nobody is indispensable either.
  • Learn to delegate: it is ok, indeed brave, to ask for help.
  • Train yourself to assert your own priorities, to express your thoughts and feelings, instead of complying or abiding to others’.
  • Build a support network with your relatives or other working mothers. Sisters do it for themselves. And for each other.
  • Take time off to do what you really want with whom you really want.
  • Make regular time to enjoy the company of a ‘slow-living’ friend.
  • Embrace JOMO, the joy of missing out. And toasting to me-time!

This article aims at being informative only, with no medical or diagnostic pretenses. Consult your GP if you suspect you or a relative may be suffering from the condition here described.


in Features


In 260 AD Roman Emperor Claudius II made it a crime for young couples in love to marry, apparently believing that unmarried soldiers fought better than married soldiers. A priest by the name of Valentine secretly carried out marriage ceremonies for those desperate to become husband and wife, but eventually he was betrayed and arrested by the Emperor’s forces. The priest was beheaded and then named a martyr by the Church because he gave up his life to perform the sacrament of marriage.

Legend has it that when St. Valentine was in prison, he prayed with the daughter of one of his judges and cured her blindness. Before his execution on the 14th February he wrote her a letter, signing it “From your Valentine” and the signature is still used to show affection.  


Over 50 million roses are given for Valentine’s Day each year. In Victorian England people expressed their emotions through floriography, or the language of flowers. Giving a certain kind of flower conveyed a specific message, with red roses being deemed to be the favourite flower of Venus – the Roman goddess of love – and they are still the most popular flower for people to give to one another to demonstrate their love and affection. 

Be careful how many roses you give as the quantity can have a special meaning.  A single red rose demonstrates love, two red roses tied together symbolise an engagement, a dozen shows gratitude, twenty-five shows congratulations and fifty show unconditional love.  


About 1 billion Valentine’s Day cards are exchanged each year. The earliest known surviving Valentine’s card was sent by Charles, Duke of Orleans to his wife whilst he was a prisoner in the Tower of London. The poem, composed in French in 1415, is held by the British Library in London. Nowadays, cards often display hearts – considered the source of all human emotions – and decorated with images of lace, from the Latin laques, meaning “to snare or net,” as in to catch a person’s heart.

In Shakespeare’s play Romeo and Juliet it is said that they lived in Verona Italy. Every year thousands of Valentine’s Day cards are sent to Verona addressed to Juliet.  


With his white wings and golden bow and arrows, Cupid is the most famous Valentine’s symbol around. Traced back to 700 BC, the heavenly figure was depicted by the Greeks as a young man called Eros, the God of Love. He was considered both handsome and threatening as he would use his power to make people fall in love but also to hate each other.  The Romans added him to their mythology as Cupid, the son of Venus, but it was during the Renaissance when artists painted Cupid as a ‘putto’, a cherub that resembled a naked child.  



Valentine’s Day is a relatively new holiday in Denmark where it started being celebrated in the early 1990s. Rather than roses, snowdrops are exchanged between friends and lovers and there is a unique tradition of sending gaekkebrev (loosely translated as ‘joke letters’) which are original poems or rhymes, written on paper and then carefully decorated by cutting designs in them with scissors.


The Philippines celebrate Valentine’s Day in a big way – with large group weddings. In fact, in recent years, February 14th has become one of the most common wedding anniversaries.  Kissing contests where contestants compete to win the title for the World’s Longest Continuous Kiss are held throughout the country. 

South Korea

The tables are turned on the 14th February when women woo men with chocolates and flowers, but then on the 14th March, known as White Day, men up the ante by adding a gift to show their love. 

Italians love their food and La Festa Degli Innamorati  – the feast of lovers – is often celebrated by going out for a romantic dinner. The tradition of couples writing their initials on a padlock, locking it onto bridges, railings or lamp posts and throwing away the key, began in Italy and although it is now illegal, there is no doubt that many more will appear this
Valentine’s Day. 


Every year, around 9 million animal lovers buy their pets a Valentine’s Day treat, with more people buying for dogs than cats, up to a value of £5 – but remember not to buy chocolate for your canine friends as it can be extremely harmful for pets.  

Addicted to Love

in Features

Aw, Valentine’s Day! Being in a new relationship, with that fuzzy buzz of anticipation! The excitement of dolling up for your next date, or packing for a romantic weekend, or shopping for the ideal gift that just says ‘I <3 U’ better than words ever will… 

But what happens when the dizziness of falling in love fizzles down into routine – romantic routine that is, but less heartbeat-skipping than earlier days – and whirlwind courtship becomes commitment? Are you ready to move up to the next level, or are you in love with the initial intensity of falling in love?

Will you work with your partner to grow together in your relationship without relinquishing your personality traits, indulging in condescendence, or enabling toxic behaviour? Or will you run for the hills and try it all over again with someone else, because you’re serially hunting for ‘the one’, the elusive one whom you weren’t able to see standing right before you countless times, since you’re gazing at the big L through cracked rose-coloured lenses?

While healthy love-seekers experience the rush of falling in love as the portal to a more profound and steadier bond, in which the original light-headedness is welcome to be recreated occasionally but not indispensably, love addicts thrive on the inebriating feeling of blossoming romance and tend to lose interest as soon as this evolves, to the point they may break off a good relationship, just because it has reached a ‘plateau’, to pursue instead the adrenaline booster of a new one.

When the initial exhilarating state, a love rush not dissimilar to a sugar rush, develops into steady relationship, love addicts experience withdrawal, boredom, restlessness, and if they cannot rekindle the expectations of first dates, they are bound to chase the thrill all over again with another unsuspecting wooer. 

If they tell you they are in love, they aren’t lying: in fact they are in love with falling in love or being in love, but they aren’t truly in love with the person who’s got them head over heels in the current instance.

Love addicts are afraid to be alone; they believe they wouldn’t survive being singletons, and are always hunting for the Mr or Miss Right who will make them feel whole, but when they find them, more often than not they won’t accept them as such. 

Feeling unworthy when alone and caged when in a relationship should raise a red flag and prompt anyone to seek counselling, but because these emotions are often diluted over time, it is easy to dismiss them just as poor luck in love, blaming it on having hit a string of unsuitable relationships, ignoring, or not realising, that the issue lies with oneself.

There are a few tells that may ring alarm bells about this behaviour. Despite it not being strictly a mental condition that can be alleviated by medication, acknowledging them may push you to understand, rationalise and corral your conduct before it becomes compulsive and self-destructive.

If you answer yes to three or more questions below, you may want to discuss your relationship status with your emo-sexual therapist:

Are you afraid of being alone?

If you are single, are you exceedingly focused on meeting someone?

If you are in a relationship, do you feel compelled to add spice to it?

Have you ever stayed in an abusive relationship just because you felt the sex was great?

Have you ever wondered whether you are fully able to tell lust and love apart?

Do you fall in love, or believe you’ve fallen in love, with occasional flings?

Do you quickly lose interest in a fling?

Do you participate in activities that don’t suit or interest you in order to meet new partners or to please your newly acquired one?

Have you ever given up hobbies, sports, beliefs, friendships etc. to please your new partner or to look attractive to a potential one?

Are you missing out on career advancements or family and social experiences to hold on to a sexual relationship?

Do you use sex or romance to compensate for traumas or deal with problems or emotional dysfunction?

 Are you and your partner manipulating each other with the promise of sex or the threat of withdrawal?

Have you ever returned to previous failed relationships only because of FOMO?

Although most healthy relationships may occasionally display some of these signs, if they become the norm, you may want to reconsider it and break the pattern – or the relationship altogether.

Love addiction and sex addiction are two separate matters, although they may sometimes overlap. In both cases however, sufferers are searching for comfort outside themselves to provide them with the emotional stability and fulfilment they lack, and cannot reach on their own. 

Help can be sought with the 12-step program at SLAA, Sex & Love Addicted Anonymous (www.slaafws.org) 

Advisory Information:

This article aims at being informative only, with no medical or diagnostic pretenses. Consult your GP if you suspect you or a relative may be suffering from the condition here described.

Skin to Heart

in Health & Beauty

Percutaneous coronary interventions are minimally invasive surgical procedures aimed at treating coronary artery disease, either after a heart attack or to potentially prevent one, when the narrowing of a coronary artery is diagnosed, due to a number of factors, including genetic and behavioral, that medication and lifestyle changes alone cannot successfully reverse.

Angioplasty can be delivered with or without stents, although a stent is usually inserted in order to give the blood vessel or the aortic valve an extra boost to stay clear for longer and avoid narrowing again under the constriction of cholesterol or calcification (aortic valve stenosis).

The procedure is carried out under sedation, to help the patient relax, but seldom under general anesthetic because the patient’s alertness and cooperation are required involuntarily muscle contraction.

A catheter is inserted in a large artery, usually at the groin, wrist and arm, and then guided upwards to the heart, following its progress on the X-Ray video screen, thanks to the contrasting agent. 

Once it reaches the treatable area, there are different options:

Rotational atherectomy: this procedure is less common nowadays, since angioplasty tends to be more precise and less invasive, but it may prove necessary in some cases. Cardiologists insert a special mini-drill in the artery, and this blasts off hardened calcium deposits in the blood vessel.

Balloon angioplasty: the catheter contains a minute folded balloon, which the doctor inflates when it reaches the blocked artery, to expand it. Once it is stabilised, the balloon is deflated and removed. Since this is a temporary solution that may not succeed in keeping the passage clear for a long time, when possible it is preferable to proceed with

Stent angioplasty: a mesh tube wrapped around the folded balloon expands when the balloon is inflated, and it is left in place when the balloon is removed, so that it can prop the artery open for longer. Stents may be coated with slow-releasing drugs to decrease scar tissue texture and to act as blood thinners, and are often dissolvable so that metal isn’t lodged in the heart permanently. The downside is that, if the pathology recurs, the insertion of a new stent may be required later in life.

Laser angioplasty: if the catheter is equipped with a laser, the cardiologist can guide it to shoot and vaporise arterial blockages. This technique is indicated for extreme cases only, as absolute precision is required and it may cause cauterisation damage to surrounding tissue.


Being minimally invasive, angioplasty carries minor risks and enjoys speedy recovery, and complications only depend on the patient’s general health.

The procedure takes no longer than two hours and if there are no complications or previous co-morbidities, the patient can be discharged on the same day or overnight. 

The intervention can be either planned or emergency, for angina the first, and following a heart attack the latter. Longer hospitalisation may be advisable if the patient was admitted and treated for heart attack.

Of course emergency treatment is riskier because there is little time to prepare the patient for the procedure, evaluate co-morbidities and modify medication, especially if the patient was already on anticoagulants.

Routine angioplasty patients are usually able to return to work after one or two weeks, while emergency ones may require longer convalescence.

Strenuous physical activity must be avoided until the wound heals, and driving after angioplasty is discouraged.

If the patient suffers from kidney disease, the contrast chemicals used during the procedure to highlight the catheter progress on screen can put further strain on the renal system.

Chest tenderness is a common post-op effect and can be relieved with pain killers. Medical attention should be sought immediately if you experience severe chest pain, lumps, discolouration or numbness in the area where the incision was made, or insistent bleeding which doesn’t stop when applying pressure. In these instances, dial for an ambulance, never drive yourself to hospital.

It is important to dress the bruise under the skin where the catheter was inserted to make sure it doesn’t get infected.

The patient is offered cardiac rehabilitation which includes diet, physiotherapy and gentle exercise, tailored to the patient’s general state of health and fitness.

Angioplasty patients are advised to avoid climbing stairs and put their sex lives on hold. However, after the procedure, their sex lives will improve in the long run. The vox populi rule tends to be that, if you can negotiate a couple of flights of stairs without being short of breath, then you can also have great sex.

This article aims at being informative only, with no medical or diagnostic pretenses. Consult your GP if you suspect you or a relative may be suffering from angina or atherosclerosis.

February is Cardiac Awareness Month. 

The Gibraltar Cardiac Association is organising a public talk by consultant cardiologist Dr Roger Moore on Thursday 6th February at 6pm at the Charles Hunt room.

The Monster in the Mirror

in Health & Beauty

Taking care of one’s appearance is important for self-esteem and lifestyle, not just socially, but also when you’re lounging around home for a lazy day or popping down to the shops for milk, psychologists say.

So brush your hair and teeth, and slip on those yoga pants which just hug the curve of your buttocks so fine, and you’re ready to go! OK, perhaps another glance at the mirror, why not? Blow yourself a kiss, and, like Lizzo’s song advises, ‘do your hair toss and check your nails’. And off you go, to grab the day by the horns…

How long do you spend getting ready in the morning? And how long to dress up for a night out? If you feel that you tend to be hypercritical of the person looking back at you from the mirror, or you linger too long on concealing your – real or perceived – flaws, and you find it difficult to notice and value the strong points of your appearance, particularly if you are in your teenage years or in your twenties, you might be suffering from body dysmorphic disorder (BDD), a mental condition that makes sufferers worry unnecessarily about the perceived shortcomings in their looks, exaggerating them and believing them to dwarf and eclipse their (perceived) sparse strong points.

Consequently, BDD sufferers invest a lot of time and money in improving flaws that aren’t there in the first place, and often feel insecure and miserable to the point they minimise or avoid social contact, because they are afraid to be teased or bullied.

This is quite different from being self-obsessed or vain, because vanity makes you recognise your beauty for what it is or more, and enhance it accordingly, while BDD affects your self-image negatively. In severe cases, it may lead to poor performance in school or at work, social withdrawal, self-harm, depression and suicidal ideation.

Red flags for BDD are excess effort in concealing perceived flaws with make-up or baggy clothes for example, or having the hairdresser dramatically change your hairstyle at every visit, checking yourself in every mirror or shop window you encounter or, on the contrary, outright avoiding mirrors, constantly seeking feedback and approval from people you believe you trust. 

Excess self-consciousness may make you pull out facial hair, or compulsively wax arms, legs and torso (trichotillomania), or pick at your skin (dermatillomania) to rid it from flakes, blackheads and zits. This can become a serious health hazard if one picks out moles.

Acknowledging that you or a loved one suffers from BDD isn’t easy, nor is a positive diagnosis. The most difficult step is the acknowledgement that there is nothing to be ashamed or embarrassed about your appearance, and the acceptance of the concept of individual beauty. 

Sometimes, relatives and friends’ goodwill in pointing out your skin-deep and inner beauty with body pampering interventions can back-fire big time, and actually exacerbate your symptoms, that’s why it is important to seek medical advice, if you feel that your worry about your looks severely affects your day-to-day activities and your career.

It isn’t clear what causes BDD, although peer pressure, society expectations and social media may partly be blamed for it. If you believe that all your friends are more photogenic than you, or you spend way too much time trying to capture a killer duck-face selfie, or applying animal filters, you may want to consider a trip to your GP, to discuss your concerns and devise strategy plans to rationalise your self-perceived inadequacy or awkwardness.

The exact causes of BDD haven’t yet been unequivocally earmarked, but they’re likely to be both physiological and psychological. Identifying the main cause is fundamental to plan the administration of drugs or the prescription of cognitive behavioural therapy.

Causes can in fact be genetic, chemical imbalances in the brain, or childhood traumatic experiences. Sometimes BDD pairs up with OCD and eating disorders.

Cognitive behavioural therapy, as one-to-one with your counsellor or as group therapy, can be indeed beneficial, especially when comparing to other experiences, assessing and dismissing their purported flaws and hence projecting positive feedback on each other. 

This helps learn about triggers, and how to rationalise and neutralise them. Sometimes your family will be involved in your therapy sessions, because parents and close relatives are alas one of the main triggers of their children’s BDD, with their own behaviour, example, mixed messages, core beliefs and cognitive dissonance, so that the whole family dynamics often need to be reprogrammed.

When physiological causes are diagnosed, BDD patients will be prescribed a type of antidepressant from the ‘selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors’ family – the most commonly used being fluoxetine – for a maximum period of twelve weeks, during which patients, especially younger ones, are closely monitored for improvement and potentially life-threatening side effects.

Support groups, as always, work wonders to help and heal. Visit BDDfoundation.org for updates on research, and to join online forums, about BDD and associated disorders like OCD, hoarding, trichotillomania, and dermatillomania.

This article aims at being informative only, with no medical or diagnostic pretenses. Consult your GP if you suspect you or a relative are suffering from the condition above described

Michelle Harrison Wins the Audience’s Hearts

in Culture Insight/Features

There was a baffled buzz in the audience when the spotlights dimmed on the fifth edition of the Mrs Gibraltar beauty pageant at the Alameda Open Theatre, as delegate n.2 Michelle Harrison stood on stage sheathed in her starry-night sequinned gown, the only one of eight contestants not to be awarded any of the ten sashes in play.

Her composure on stage, while her peers were mobbed by relatives and friends for the customary selfies, didn’t go unperceived within the rest of the spectators who wished an extra Beauty Queen of Hearts crown was crafted for her blonde hairdo, and cheered her wholeheartedly.

The show opened on the empty stage dominated by a cinema screen that streamed a sepia montage of the eight delegates embroiled in a G.I. Jane-style rescue mission: we watched the reigning Mrs Gibraltar Kathleen Victory being parachuted over the Rock, and her two princesses diving from a police launch to swim across, shed their wetsuits, and free their successors from the dungeons, to finally have them strut up the Alameda Gardens George Don’s Gate steps in glam fatigues and stilettos.

As soon as the film, written and filmed by Ideal Productions’ crew, faded on screen, the contestants stormed the stage, sashayed all over the place in the very same boiler suits, with not one hair out of place after their mission impossible.

More cinematic prowess (with a purpose!) for the delegates to flaunt their acting skills followed. It raised awareness about domestic violence, the main aim of Mrs Gibraltar on the Rock, and Mrs Universe worldwide.

They re-enacted some of the true stories of domestic abuse that still plague our society, and advised to seek help through the local 8018 hotline: the short film was surely a chilling eye-opener that will hopefully inspire victims to break the code of silence.

After the high-impact prologue, the production was the usual pastiche of glitz and fizz that has become a household name for the Ressa ensemble, spread over two hours of catwalk and entertainment, sprinkled with the few hiccups and bloopers that, according to one of the presenters and former winner, is what makes live shows alive.

All previous winners were featured in the show, from the one who started it all, and is pretty much spearheading the beauty-with-purpose project, Serika Garcia, to her successors Rachel Martinez, Megan Danino and Kathleen Victory.

A couple of dance routines under their (tight) belt, the delegates faced the most dreaded moment for all aspiring beauty queens: the interview. This was replaced by individual presentations on historical women who, according to them, made the difference in the world, and why they inspired each delegate to pick them. So we heard about scientists, computer programmers, suffragettes and politicians, while their pictures scrolled on screen – and for many of them, and their discoveries or achievements, we wondered why we hadn’t heard of them before, in this all man’s world.

During the intervals, highlights were the vocal performances of Mrs Gibraltar 2017 Megan Danino and rising star Faith Scruton White. 

The first has proved in previous occasions how her understated, sophisticated, petite beauty can indeed go hand in hand with a powerful, warm, intense voice and innate performer’s qualities: and in fact she owned the stage with her harrowing melodies, flouncing about in black mock-leather pants, rock-star style.

Faith’s gig was poppy, dance-y, and freshly in-your-face, as is almost mandatory from a Millennial music graduate, and it broadcast cheeky energy vibes through the balmy night. Definitely a budding talent to watch out for.

A touch of eerie fairytale atmosphere was provided by Mexican violinist Cristina Ortiz who pranced around, gripped in her interpretation of some Hispapop classics, for the length of time that the jury was out.  

The jury was presided by local model and businessman Luisandro Moreno, and included a former beauty queen and an international male model, and other personalities of the world of showbiz and cosmetic industry.

An emotional Mrs Gibraltar 2018 Kathleen Victory, in silvery sequins and winey ruches, saluted the delegates before the prizes and their paraphernalia were handed by Rossanna Ressa, breath-taking in a Monarch butterfly-inspired outfit, and former minister Edwin Reyes in white tuxedo. 

Carla Fonseca’s emerald green frilled frock was draped with the Mrs Friendship sash; Christina Mendez, pixie-like in her powder-pink gown, received the ‘Ideal Productions award’; Chanel Walker, wearing an azure dress, the ‘Ana Lisa Ressa award’ for best achievement in her charity work; and Kathryne Borge got Miss Elegance in her shimmering forest-green garb. 

As widely expected, brunette Grace Baker, and her slashed ruby-red frock, stole the show. She was awarded Mrs Best Interview and Mrs Photogenic, and of course took the crown – and white cape – of Mrs Gibraltar 2019 and was invited to sit on the enchanted throne, with her first princess blonde Claire Rodgers in a white evening dress – also Mrs Catwalk – and second princess, brunette Karina Ortiz in her blush gown, at her sides.

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