The Street Where I Live

British by birth, New Yorker by nature.

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Thought Pharmacy- I Hate My Face

Thought PharmacyAlexandra king2 Comments

Dear Thought Pharmacy, 

I'm a 21 year old student at a Uni in London. I struggle to go out because of my face. I'm ugly and people are disgusted by my face. After any social interaction I sift through my memories and attribute any negative comments or behaviour as being due to my ugliness. I avoid eye contact because I hate seeing my ugliness reflected in other people's behaviour towards me. I also avoid it because I hate seeing that they're seeing me, if that makes sense. I take hours getting ready, 1 hour to put on make-up, the rest is spent lolling around coming to terms with the fact that people are about to see my hideous face. 

People tell me that I am not ugly but let's be honest, those are just social niceties.When a laughably handsome guy from class was interested in me, I was so angry and sad and embarrassed. He was obviously taking the piss out of the ugly girl. I have been getting CBT therapy for my 'body dysmorphic' symptoms for a few months now but it's a slow process and it can't work miracles. I feel like nothing anyone can ever say will make me feel better. My mum has even taken to asking cashiers at the till in Sainsbury's if they think I'm pretty in an attempt to 'prove' that I'm not ugly. 

I really feel like this is holding me back from doing things I want to do. Things like volunteering and doing intern-ships and having guitar lessons and starting a society at uni. A friend, well actually more of a good acquaintance, said something that really hit me. He said 'You're the least shallow person I know because you like people for who they are and what they do, not what they look like.' I'm just struggling to understand why I can't extend that to myself.

I would really really appreciate your help, please. I don't want to be like this.

Ugly Girl. 

Hello there, you poor thing. I've thought long and hard about you since I got your message last week. I spent the weekend driving up mountains in Vermont and wondering if you were doing ok, and I hope maybe at some point during your days you've felt my energy whisking its way across the salty sea.  Of course I thought long and hard about your prescription, but what I was mainly worried about in making sure I wrote you a reply worthy of your bravery in sharing your story in the first place was avoiding cliche ( hackneyed platitudes like "it's what matters on the inside that counts" and others like it) which is why it's contrary of me to start with a big old cliche myself, but start with it I must- beauty is in the eye of the beholder. As I behold you, friend, I see nothing ugly at all. Though you have signed off as so, I cannot bear to address you as "Ugly" so I'm changing your name to one that actually befits you.

Dear Beautiful,

I can tell that you're very clever. The way that you use inverted commas- 'body dysmorphic', 'prove' shows you have that thirty-thousand feet ability, the gift of being able to fly very far above your physical body and observe yourself wryly from afar. While your heart is without doubt weighted down to utter exhaustion with self hatred and confusion, It's almost as if you're simultaneously observing yourself. This is a very rare gift, and one, once you've put it to proper use, that is going to help you no end.

 Clever girls often have an awful talent for self hatred, of course, it comes with the territory. And as you half-know, at worst it makes you desperately sad inside, at best it makes you rather fascinating at times to others. It sounds like you're working both sides of the coin. You're probably driving that guy at Uni (who by the way has a big crush on you based solely on first sight of that beautiful face, because that's how boys work) utterly wild with what he undoubtedly interprets as your lack of interest and general aloofness (though you know it as paralysing self loathing). You described him as "laughably handsome" which made me smile. You're so cynical and funny. I bet he loves that as well. But you're not seeing that of course. The great news is that once you do, that kind of interest from a guy like him could lead to an intense and raw and beautiful and physical relationship (read: someone to snuggle with, a person to leave the crappy party with, regular body-healing hot-as-hell sex, but this will come later, we have to fix you first).

You're half-right when you say that nothing anyone can say will make you feel better. Right now, nope, nothing can. You're too blocked. You're walking with your eyes to the ground so you don't see the furtive glances. A bit like last week's Thought Pharmacy patient, you're so so so tired, Beautiful. You need TLC. A weekend of garden sunbathing, cups of tea, slices of cake, a dirty Martini sipped extra slow with a loving girlfriend, whatever your poison (those are just a few of mine to get you started).  I'm really glad you're doing therapy, and I implore you to try and work at it earnestly and chastise your cynical nature when at times you feel uncomfortable about asking for help. I know enough about CBT to imagine that your therapist has already identified that you're concentrating and projecting externally on your 'ugly face' because of an experience or behaviour pattern in your past. We all have things like this, stitches we have to unpick and wounds we have to lick clean, and It takes hard work and dedication (we Brits tend to scoff a little at the idea of things like CBT as being work as opposed to some sort of namby-pamby alternative therapy- don't fall victim to that. It's bollocks). I also want you to subscribe a little to the (NEW AGE ALERT) Buddhist mantra- What you think you become/What you feel you attract/What you imagine you create. In your letter you used the word 'ugly' seven times. You called yourself 'hideous' and 'disgusting'. Darling girl, these words are knives to you. Your energy is ferocious-just think about what that power, that strength could do if you changed those words around.

All this stuff about it being somehow just "social niceties" whenever anyone says anything complimentary to you is total shit, Beautiful, and in your heart of hearts, I truly believe that you know that. You're just so tired that you can't really deal with attention from anyone right now, and so you make excuses for why people must like you or show you interest. You're stuck in that cycle of feeding your fear. In a strange way, I think that loathing the way your face looks has become an identifier to you, and though you desperately don't want to live in this way, and I believe you when you say that, I think you're also clinging to it a little bit. So often our negative thoughts or behaviours become strangely safe places for us, because we forget who we are without them holding us back. A world alone, without our demon, can suddenly seem almost as scary as the one with it. But you've got to get out and volunteer, do your internships, set up your society, play your guitar like the fierce Joplin-esque spirit that you are. Tell the demon to fuck off. 

 I found the whole of your letter, the yelp of pain that it was, incredibly moving, but no part touched me more than the description of your exasperated mum imploring Sainsburys cashiers to tell you how beautiful you are. Though I see how, for you, this story is symbolic of the degree to which your negative thinking and body dysmorphia has reached, I have to tell you that a reader, and as your Thought Pharmacist, I loved this story. Because you're right, your mother does think, without rhyme, reason, hope or agenda that you are beautiful, and no, it wouldn't matter if you had a face as nondescript and perfunctory as a thumb or one eye higher than the other or ears as mangled as an England prop forward (you don't mention what it is that specifically bothers you about your face-I guess you feel its just everything). When your mother, who carried you close for nine long months, and felt you wiggle and hiccup and swim around inside her body, was handed you- baby Beautiful, wrinkled and furious and red as a raspberry, she took one look at your perfect face and decided you were the most heavenly and gorgeous thing she'd ever seen. That's what beauty is, Beautiful. It's as simple and natural and mysterious and primal as that. The physical features of anyone's face are just a vehicle for expressing their universal beauty, and reflecting another's love. Your mother gifted you that lesson, and that knowledge, and clearly still gifts it to you everyday. But you've closed yourself off. The shades are down. You have the power to open the ties that bind you, and you must, because the world needs your beautiful, perfect, lovely, soulful and cynical face. All the things you are. All the things you will become. Your prescription is below.

YOUR SONG: I'll Be Your Mirror by Nico

In your letter you described being handed a wonderful compliment- someone described you as "the least shallow person I know". Wowzas, you authentic and soulful creature, you, what a nice thing for someone to say! What made me smile and feel a little sad though was that you first described him as a 'friend', then backtracked to saying he was 'more like a good acquaintance'. Let me tell you, Beautiful, someone who compliments you as he did is your friend. He's being your mirror. Let that person in- he's being Nico in that moment- "Put down your hands, because I see you." You put down your hands for me, Beautiful, someone you have never met outside this big digital space. You can do it for others, and you will. Let them reflect your beauty back at you. This journey you're on means you're going to need all the help you can get from your (many) admirers and friends. Let them help you. Reach out to them, and tell them your story as you did for me.


Here's an odd but wonderful piece of reading for you, and a reminder that there is poetry and big human truths along with dull quantitive data to be found in hard scientific study (now we know why we as a society have somehow managed to fetishise the lab coat). You can read about the experiment in full by clicking the link above, but it essentially goes like this. Remember how when you were very little, and you played hide and seek, you would cover your eyes, because it made you feel invisible? This study set out to try and understand why children do that. What they found was what Nico already knew- that unless a child is being looked at by another, is conscious that someone is seeing them by their eyes locking, they earnestly think that cannot be seen. In short-if their faces are hidden, they believe themselves to be completely invisible. How heartbreaking and wonderful is that? That's what you've been doing, Beautiful. You've covered your face and in turn made yourself invisible. The child in you (and at 21, you are still pretty little) wants to be found. To do that, you have to be seen first. Put on your make up (nothing wrong with a super fun getting ready session and a great lipstick) and pull your sweet face to the sky.


power to overcome talisman necklace

I think you need something to wear that will remind you daily of the battle you are conquering, so I did a little research on trying to find a nice piece of jewellery for you. I settled on this pretty necklace, from ace Canadian company Phyrra (they ship internationally, I checked). It shows a wolf with a rose in its mouth which "signifies one who has the perseverance to overcome obstacles and find joy".I thought that sounded right up your alley, Beautiful. I'm rather partial to the bronze, but it also comes in silver, and I think the design is lovely. I know it's a little bit of a splurge cost-wise, but I think it will be worth it. You can hold on to the cool metal when you're feeling nervous, and be reminded of its message when you catch a glance of it reflected back in the bus windows.


gaz's rockin blues

 I'm going to go out on a limb here, Beautiful, and suggest that you might also be suffering from "Student in London" syndrome, a condition with which I am well acquainted. I went to UCL for undergrad, a place I felt so excited about, only to find I struggled painfully in my first year of Uni. I thought I was going to be Marianne Faithfull, but instead I was just an over-anxious fish out of water wearing dodgy gap year jewellery, a faded TopShop trench coat and with my Mick Jagger nowhere to be found. I struggled massively with student culture in London, a place that felt vast and cool while at the same time being solely sold 'student nights' which I tried desperately to like but never could. I  didn't want to do a "three legged pub crawl" with some still-pubescent slobbering weirdo desperate to go to fourth base. The idea of a jelly shot made my eyes roll to the heavens and my stomach lurch. I was pretty sure I wasn't going to find Mick Jagger at an event with a bouncy castle (the "vomitorium" as a dear friend of mine, at least four flaming sambucas in, so eloquently put it) or with special appearances by the cast of Made in Chelsea. It's kindof weird how British University events geared towards students embarking on hard academic study almost make a conscious decision to further infantilise the incoming cohort, however, like ham and pineapple pizza and people that like cruises, I accept there are certain things I will never understand. But the point I'm trying to make is that I found Uni in London at times unbearably lonely, and in my entire first term, while my pals at regional campuses joyfully notched up their bedposts, I was kissed precisely once, by a boy in a band whose girlfriend was out of town (I only learned this when she answered the door when I knocked on it the next day. FYI he's now an accountant.) Beautiful, I really and truly lost confidence during that term. I felt I was ugly and that no guys thought I was attractive. I hated my face too. All the booze I'd dutifully downed at the dreaded student nights while watching the rugby team smear each other in glitter paint (epically non-hilarious) made me feel swollen and chubby. I had stopped stretching and running and being as active as I like to be. I felt truly crappy and I cried a lot. But then I discovered Gaz's and though I continued to struggle and recover from that time, I felt like I'd found my place at last.

Gaz's Rockin Blues holds court every Thursday night from 9pm at the St Moritz Club on Wardour Street in Soho. It's dark, underground, has been going for years and literally anything goes, clothes wise. Though not in a "I'm just wearing my sweatpants to the bar" way. In a "I just bought this weird cut out dress from Oxfam and paired it with my Grandma's vintage Westwood" way. It's full of hot boys from Camden and there's always a band. The music (blues, ska, vintage girl groups, the night was founded by Gaz Mayall, the founder of Trojan Records) is literally and figuratively off the charts. It's an amazing place to find friends and lovers, but it's also an amazing place to hold fort on the dance floor and do a heart-swelling solo boogie to Desmond Dekker. It just brings that out of you. That's why you need to go.  And look, if you go and you don't like it and you feel awful and you just want to leave and watch Strictly Come Dancing with your cat that's FINE too. But I need you to have at least one drink, Beautiful. Just one. I highly recommend tequila (blanco, with ice) which for me at least has the three fold medicinal benefit of making me want to dance, flirt with strangers and being a nice clean hangover. It's also kindof a sexy drink to order and sip as you survey the crowd. Add your best girlfriends. Look around. Lock eyes.

In short, it's the kind of true old London place that instantly makes a regular of you. And as time goes by, and you intermittently prop up the bar through the years in the way I have over the last decade (I still go on my trips home) and you find a safe space to relax and meet people and dance and be free, many people will find cause to tell you about your beautiful face. It might be a friend or a relative or a paralytically drunk hotty who's holding his pint like he would your heart (soft, strong, aloft). And one day, instead of batting away that compliment like Djocovic, you'll actually feel a little swell of happiness and satisfaction, a little heart jump. You'll take that compliment. You'll hold it close. Then you'll know you're there and you've come out the other side. The next day you will wake up, look at that lovely face in the mirror and feel lighter somehow. I hope and I know that sooner rather than later, you'll be feeling as light as air, Beautiful. See you at Gaz's. I'll teach you how to two step.

Would you like a prescription from the Thought Pharmacy? Simply email your problem to


Thought Pharmacy- Hell is your 20s

Thought PharmacyAlexandra king4 Comments

Dear Thought Pharmacy,

I'm having an existential crisis of sorts. With my 27th birthday quickly approaching its dawned on me that I'm not satisfied with where I am at all. 

Right now I'm bar tending. I have a few fantasies about what I want to be though- 1: being a fashion stylists for movies because I would get to travel and meet a bunch of new interesting people all the time, and the whole idea of immersing myself into a different world to create a statement for each film is extremely appealing to me. 2: Doing stand up or writing comedy...I dunno. 3: creating and owning my own business. But what business?

I don't even know where I want to be, which in turn causes anxiety/fear/anger in my everyday life. I fear I won't make something out of myself using my special talents (whatever those may be). I fear my longest standing relationship will be with my cat. Why can't I just be happy with my current situation and be proud of where I am instead of being my own worst enemy? Won't that put better energy out in the world which in turn would give me better results? I recently came out of a big relationship too, so I think that losing that big love in my life  has helped influence these thoughts. Sometimes in this city city I feel like I'm drowning. 

 I've been having panic attacks that are crippling- I've become lethargic and not excited about the day or upcoming parties/outings/etc. It's all too much and I can't think straight. I can't stop thinking about my career dissatisfaction, relationship longings, fear of unhappiness later in life/ not fufilling certain "goals."
I feel like I let others take advantage of my spirit. The smallest things hurt me so much. For instance, a bitchy look from a co worker or a rude stranger on the streets of New York. 
The world seems like an impossible place. What will I be? What do I want to be? What do I want to do/be remembered for? How will I get there? Will everything really be OK? Why am I so scared? 

Being in your 20s sucks. Please help.

Scared 20-something

Dear Scared 20-something,

Remember that show, Gladiators? Where a team of steroid-pumped athletes would battle slightly-more-muscled-than-average people in physical challenges on live TV? Remember that climactic bit, towards the end of each show, when some poor bugger who was simply a fairly buff plumber by day would have to run the "gauntlet", a padded corridor flanked by behemoth body building champions, wearing only a flimsy leotard and bicycle helmet and being pelted with pugel sticks wielded by psychopathic former mercenaries with names like "Wolf" and "Hunter"? That is your 20s, my love, that is your 20s.

Dearest Scared, you've gone through so so much, and right now, what can I say other than you simply need some good old fashioned bed rest. You say that you feel that you're being your own worst enemy and I concur- you're stuck in that cycle of reflection-blame-reflection. You feel awful, wonder why you feel so awful, blame yourself for not being able to stop feeling awful, and there you are, right back at the start again. Go gently, Scared. Of course you're confused. Birthdays always make us reflective, often not very helpfully so. You're working brutally long and physically demanding hours as a bar tender and you're doing this under the seemingly opaque and endless curtain that is pure and simple old fashioned heartbreak. You need an immense dose of tender loving care, and in many ways the most crucial lesson one must learn in one's 20s is how to give that to one's self.

Firstly, stop thinking about what you might be 'remembered' for or what you want to 'be' or how impossible it all seems.  It's the malaise of the Millennial, and especially the New York City dweller, that there must be a solution or answer to every situation and that notoriety is something to be swiftly acquired rather than slowly and subtly and virtually imperceptibly earned. When you can have a dress dry cleaned in an hour, customise your morning latte to such an extent that the coffee shop names it after you and cheerfully order a slice of cheesecake to be delivered to your door at 4 in the morning it can really really feel that way, I know. But it's all an illusion, because all life really is is survival, and you, my belle, are knackered. You need to rest. Stretch. Breathe. Laugh. Think about our cave lady ancestors. This is how their day went: wake up as light hits cave, snack on wooly mammoth, allow self to be mounted by hirsute cave male, sweep cave, marvel dumbly at those sparkly orbs in the sky, feel a bit cold and wonder idly if there might be a solution for that, get a bit sleepy with all that thought, have a little nap. Repeat. Were they worried about being "happy" or how they would be "remembered"? No. They focused on surviving. They learned the skill of observation. They also had a great capacity for the quality that separates us god-forsaken homosapiens from the rest of the animal kingdom-a thing called wonder. You need to rediscover a little of that simplicity, and you will. But first you have to rest.

Do not lose your sense of indignation at other people's rudeness- the mean colleagues or inconsiderate subway riders on any given day. In fact, wear your upset with great and righteous pride, for as long as uncouth strangers are a shock to you it means that your gentle spirit is in tact and you remain a graceful and authentic soul. I really feel you here, I also HATE it when people are rude to me for no reason, it always upsets me terribly and takes me a long time to shake it off, even as I've learned to flip the finger and shout back. But brandish your sensitive heart and commitment to manners with great indignation and tremendous pride, my darling, because it is far more blessing that curse. Remember that in 99 per cent of cases when anyone aged 0-100 is mean, aggressive or unreasonable it is usually down to one or a combination of three simple things- they are tired, scared, or need a snack. Sometimes all three. Assess them accordingly. Don't take anything personally. Carry nuts. 

Above all, despite the undoubted anguish, remember that In ten years time all the statistics point to the fact that you'll have met or married or shacked up with someone you love or care for deeply, perhaps pushed a creature or two or three the weight of a good-sized sea bass out of your lady parts and in between leaky boobs and repeats of Dora the Explorer and the demands of a career and a thousand pounds of laundry you'll be reminiscing about the time you propped up the bar at Cafe Gitane, pretending to read Jean Paul Sartre while figuring out how to slip that hotty of a bar back your number via your citron presse. Yes, you'll actually feel nostalgic for the moments when you walked the streets of this amazing city, wondering who the hell you were and who the hell you might be. Because that's how all the best stories start.

I don't need to know exactly what's next to know already that your story's an absolute winner, Scared.  You have so much self awareness and sensitivity, and though the fact that you feel so much means life can be utterly miserable, and it is for you now, you poor thing, with that gigantic heart and expanse of thought and ambition of yours, you're a winner. By gosh will those qualities ever serve you well and guarantee you abundant joy so soon from now. The only thing you need to work on in the meantime is resting, mending your heart and quietening your mind. Work as mindfully and with as much focus on this as you have been doing on your worrying and you'll be good as new again, so soon. And the amazing thing? One day, once you've healed, you'll wake up and find that you suddenly know what you want. But you need to be well enough and calm enough to be spot the signs. Until then, my darling, know that my hands are concertina stacked upon your shoulder, willing you on. Happy birthday. Your prescription is below.

YOUR BOOK: Winter's Bone by Daniel Woodrell

You need a tough fucker of a girl heroine to be inspired by and hence I point you right in the direction of Winter's Bone, by sublime writer Daniel Woodrell, who is to the Ozarks what Dickens was to the East End (drawn to darkness, likes an underdog). The writing is sublime, and the protagonist, Ree Dolly (“Ree, brunette and sixteen, with milk skin and abrupt green eyes, stood bare-armed in a fluttering yellowed dress, face to the wind, her cheeks reddening as if smacked and smacked again.” That's how we FIRST meet her in the book) a fierce yet sensitive warrior, as all girls are born to be. Ree might me my favourite literary heroine of the last decade. Winters Bone is also a neat little 200 pager and therefore easily savoured in a day. It's such a tough, lyrical little beauty of a book, and I think it's just what you need.

YOUR SONG: The Swimming Song by Loudon Wainwright

Let me tell you a story, Scared. About three years ago, a visa mix up meant I had to swiftly leave New York for my home country of England. When I say swiftly, I mean a lawyer called me and told me to get on the next plane home in case I got deported and then banned from entering the USA for ten years and no it did not matter that my entire home was here and no I could not pick up my furniture and no America did not care about my cat or the fact that I had just met a man who I had fallen hard in love with at first sight. I had to go home and wait for my visa. No, they didn't know how long it would take. No, they couldn't ensure it would even be granted at all. Waiting for that visa, with no money and zero hope in between volcanic rows with my mother in the middle of nowhere countryside during England's wettest summer in recorded history was not my idea of fun, oh no no no. I cried an awful lot. I may have made occasional use of a friend's Xanax prescription and consumed far too much whisky. I may have run up a 600 pound (POUND) international phone bill, which was mainly acquired by me imploring my (saintly) neighbours to hold the receiver to my recalcitrant cat's head so that I could speak to him "in case he forgot the sound of my voice"  I digress. The point I'm trying to make is that it was the worst summer of my life, I thought I had lost everything and I went bat shit fucking mental. And towards the end of that summer, when, 5 weeks in, the visa was issued and the return ticket was booked and it had turned out, as my darling girl tribe had prophesied from the start, that everything had actually turned out just fine, I somehow discovered this song. It made me cry with relief and recognition. It still does, actually.

" Last summer I went swimming, last summer I might have drowned, but I held my head and i kicked my feet and I moved my arms around". 

What he's saying, sweet one, I second. You've got to just keep going. You said in your letter that you felt like you were drowning. But you're not. It's as simple as swimming. It doesn't need to be artful, it doesn't need to have an end in sight. Keep going. There's also a great and joyful instrumental section towards the end where you can have a little dance. That's an order, not a suggestion.

YOUR WORDS: Noel Gallagher's Desert Island Discs

I've talked on TSWIL before about Desert Island Discs being the cure for all of life's ills and I stand by that statement. When I saw Noel was the latest castaway I did a little woop normally reserved solely for when my husband texts to say he's got the ingredients for breakfast tacos. Naturally, Gallagher didn't disappoint, instantly making it into my top five (despite choosing a U2 song, something I could never normally forgive). But it's the way he talks about love, Scared, that I want you to pay attention to, while you deal with the aftermath of your breakup. Because it turns out that this rough old Northerner, famous for chucking TVs out of expensive hotel rooms and doing enough ecstasy to fell an African Elephant is a complete and utter romantic. I'm not going to quote the whole thing here because I want you to listen to it, but when asked his philosophy on love, he said simply that his wife of 15 years, Sara, is his favourite person to have a boozy lunch or go out clubbing with. That simple. That sweet.  He also talks about how his life essentially began after his 20s. In many ways I think you're going to be a lot like Noel at his age-a still cynical but romantic old soul who's lived an utterly fantastic life.

YOUR ACTIVITY: 30 Minute Restorative Yoga and Mediation, Yoga with Candace. 

Those panic attacks are no good at all, Scared. I want them to end. I want to share this restorative yoga and meditation session with you, because I find it works a treat on days where things are just overwhelming me. This is an easy 30 minute stretch and breathing session, and I do it whenever I'm feeling particularly strung out (read:often). It's not in any way physically taxing and the stretches will feel heavenly on that bar tender body. I want you to do it first thing in the morning for a week, and then as often as you'd like afterwards.

YOUR EXCURSION: The Ganesh Temple, Flushing, Queens.

ganesh temple TSWIL

 It's clear that you desperately need some peaceful time away from the city, and in an ideal world I'd instruct you to dash  straight to some lovely rambling old inn upstate with a terrific black-bottomed swimming pool and a well-stacked bar, like you were one of those women that Conde Nast Traveler apparently thinks is a real person, but this is New York, and we don't have that money. Instead I'm sending you to one of the most magical places I've ever been to and which costs the price of a subway ride, the Ganesh Temple in Queens. Imagine, for a second. Incense. Flowers. Cool stone floors. Hindu priests from India, wearing bright orange robes and smiling beatifically by garlanded shrines. It has to be seen to be believed and see it you must. It will remind you of the immense wonder that I talked about us harried citizens forgetting, that intrinsic belief that the world, or something in it, is much bigger and more profound than us. To the disbelieving denizen of New York City, I suppose that's called "perspective". To the smiling sages of the Ganesh Temple, it's called "God". It's a beautiful, humbling, remarkable place. Take your pilgrim soul there and prepare to be amazed.


Would you like a prescription from Thought Pharmacy? Simply email your problem to