Please Don’t Tell Me I’m A Sore Loser


Yesterday, millions of UK citizens voted for what they believed to be the best decision for the EU referendum. I wholehearted wanted to stay in the EU but woke up to discover the leave campaign won. I’m not going to be called a sore loser for stating how I feel about this dissappointment.

We’re not playing a playground game where someone has won and the other side have walked off in a huff. Passions have run high throughout the referendum because people truly care. I’m scared of the future and what might or might not happen if or when we now leave the EU and I don’t believe anyone can really predict the outcome. 

We live in a democracy and the greater majority (of people who voted) won, but it doesn’t mean I have to be ok with it. It doesn’t mean I need to silence the negative views and feelings I have today. If we all got to exercise our right to opinion, surely it’s ok to feel saddened that the view that most aligns with my own did not win overall. If the result had gone the other way, perhaps the tables would be turned; but I voted for a reason and realistic fears which are completely valid.

One thing this referendum has successfully achieved is a divided population. Campaigns on both sides have been filled with hateful claims and devisive comments. The last thing we need right now is to further that divide and cause more bad feeling.

I hope you will accept that a lot of the people who voted remain are disappointed (an understatement) today and need some time to process and come to terms with what has happened, almost through a time of mourning. But I would appreciate it if leave campaigners didn’t gloat or make comments about sore losers whilst we get over this challenging turn of events. Let’s not continue to spread hatred but find a way back to acceptance. 

For All Those Who Are Struggling

A Message For People Struggling With Mental Health Problems

Mental illnesses are horribly isolating at times, this is a message for all those who are struggling right now. Whether you are someone I know or a stranger far away, this applies to you. Heck, this isn’t purely for people who are finding their mental health a challenge right now, but includes all those who are struggling with life or situations being put their way. 

 

Dear wonderful person;

Yes you, if you’re reading this letter then the first thing I want to say… is that you are worthy to be doing so. The way you’re feeling right now, you probably don’t think you deserve any extra love, kindness or compassion. But the truth is you do. In fact right now you deserve it even more than usual, because the fact that you’re feeling back is reason enough. I can imagine right now, you’re wanting to give up at times, throw in the towel and stop trying to get through the day. A blanket fort probably feels like a safer alternative to life… and for now, perhaps it is and that’s totally ok.

You’d probably quite like someone to come along with a magic wand and make everything feel ok again. I really wish I could be that person, the one to take away the sadness or the struggles and make it all better. Unfortunately I can’t do it right now as much as I would like to. All I can say, is that it’s not going to feel exactly like this forever. Of course there might be days when you feel worse, but I believe and hope that better days will come too. They might not be the recovered all singing and dancing days you might anticipate or wish for, but they could be days where it hurts a tiny bit less or the sun just seems a little bit brighter. The thing is, even when everything seems completely hopeless, if you keep a look out you can find or spot the tiny bits of goodness in the world. It might be hard to find them at first, but I assure you, if you keep practicing and noticing… you’ll be amazed at what is out there for you to see.

Your problems are valid. Yes there are people in the world who are experiencing different struggles to you, but it doesn’t make what you’re feeling or they are more or less important. You problems are your own, it’s ok to identify them and take ownership of them. But at the same time, if you just want to put them aside for this moment and take your mind off them. That’s ok too!

Your moment will come. Right now might not be the time that you do the most exciting and groundbreaking moments of your life happen. But that’s ok. You will get through this challenging time and great things will come to you. Take this time to get through this moment, but try not to focus on needing to make it completely better and fixed immediately. It will come.

Life is like an amazing novel. If someone asks you to summarise a book you’ve just finished… I’m fairly certain you will remember the basic storyline and plot but not all of the intricacies that came together to form it. You won’t remember which chapters made you particularly happy or sad, but have a more general idea of the whole story. That novel is like your life. There may be chapters that are hard to get through, or feel like they will never end… but when you look back you will see them part of a rich story and not the crux of it.

I really hope you feel better soon, and if not totally better… just a little bit will do. You will get through this, it’s going to be ok. You can do this!

All my love,

Kate

What A Leadership Exchange Taught Me About Acceptance

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The country is at odds over the EU referendum as the campaigning draws to it’s conclusion. Social media is filled with either side of the campaign shouting the odds at each other, but there is an overwhelming sense of anger and hatred coming from a lot of the referendum posts. Driving home from York to Suffolk left me feeling quite frustrated, seeing what felt like hateful propaganda littering the countryside.

A few days ago I was fortunate to escape for a few days to the beautiful Paris for a leadership exchange in association with Erasmus+, an organisation that provides different opportunities across Europe. It was a bit of a jump into the dark as I wasn’t totally sure about the type of activities we would be involved in, but it was well worth the initial anxiety about a trip outside of my comfort zone! The focus of the training program was to hone in on our leadership skills and share cross-cultural experiences with youth leaders from the UK, France and Sweden.
Although the bulk of the course was delivered in English, the presence of other IMG_0103.jpglanguages meant that conversations switched between the different languages in attempts to overcome predictable barriers despite the impressive skills of of the bilingual young people who were there. Despite the barriers, as a group, we managed to find ways to bond together and create friendships despite not always totally understanding what was being said! We were a mixed group, coming from different backgrounds, religions, cultures and therefore sharing our own unique experiences within the group. Of course, the usual group-work non-judgemental and accepting approaches applied, but it was obvious from early on in the training that our views on discrimination were something that would bond the group together even further. As youth leaders, in various settings, many of us had witnessed or experienced discrimination towards ourselves or others based on being different. It was something a lot of people had worked hard to challenge, overcome or educate others about.

Of course, there was the potential for clashes to occur throughout the training due to the different language and other barriers we had to overcome frequently throughout the day. But I definitely learnt some more skills and practiced the ones I already knew to help make the situation more manageable. Here were a few bits I learnt:

  • Be patient with other people
  • Take time to make sure everyone has a shared level of understanding- it doesn’t matter if you have to repeat yourself… and maybe if you’re repeating the same thing and it’s still not working, perhaps you need to change tact and explain it in a different way
  • You can be united with others through your differences, differences do not have to be divisive and you can often learn a whole lot more from individuals who are different to you
  • There are other ways to communicate that aren’t just by utilising a shared language

IMG_0135.jpgThe EU referendum is making me really sad. I have my own beliefs that support voting to stay in, but I really take offence at making hateful and potentially dangerous comments or aspersions about groups of the population. The UK is a wonderfully diverse country and that’s something I’m really proud to be part of. If going on a cultural exchange last week reminded me of anything, it’s that I want to be able to have the opportunity to learn from people who are different to me, those who have experiences that aren’t exactly the same as my own. The more we can share, surely the more we can learn?!

I Don’t Have Time For Fun!!

After handing in my dissertation last week, I realised how little time I’d been setting aside for self care. It’s so easy when you have an upcoming deadline, an important project at work or even just other life stuff going on… to just set recovery to one side. You can do a ‘good enough’ job… and hey isn’t that what they always said to do! But you can really end up settling for a middle ground that can ultimately not be very enjoyable or helpful.

I’ve spent a few days recently, having FUN! That carrot on the stick I dangled ahead of myself as I was completing my final piece of Uni work; that THING I’d forgotten how to do. It was easy to finish my diss and get right back into exciting things at work. I’d had a bit of a debrief after my hand in, but it wasn’t much at all. As I dived straight into new projects and began picking up the slack again at work, I realised I’d really been neglecting my own self care for some time. Now the truth is, I am an A grade hypocrite at times! I work with amazing young people who inspire me so much and I frequently recommend different skills that they could utilise to help boost their mental health. They laugh at me for the number of times Mindfulness comes up in our chats, but the truth is, I know from experience that it can REALLY work! That being said, after finally stopping at the end of this week, I took stock of where I was at and all the self care things I’d neglected over the last few weeks. Self care is so easy to neglect and it can take some effort to manage to squish it back into a routine where it was so easily replaced by other ‘more important’ things to do. The number of times I tell myself or hear friends saying, they don’t have time to do the nice things they want to, is a bit ridiculous. If being in hospital for almost a year taught me anything (which of course there was lots), it was that you can take time out of life and somehow everything still happens without you giving it your full attention (thank you wise guru Gerry!).

In a sense, a little self care each day can be a sort of personal early intervention. If you top up your internal store of resilience and ‘ability to cope’, then you’ll have a good stock if something comes up in life that you need to deal with. I’m starting off slow and making sure I have at least one nice/fun thing in my day. It can be as simple as a nice bubble bath, reading a book or spending a bit of time pottering in the garden. The key is to help find my space for something good each day and firmly get it into my routine again; once it’s got a foothold and feels like the norm, perhaps I can let it blossom. I think it’s starting to help already.

 

 

But What If I Fail?

I’m staring at the screen, wishing the words would come easier. They’re there, wrapped up in some part of my head that feels a little unaccessible at the moment. The wrapping; layers of self doubt, perfectionism and pressure… winding around them tightly. Writing should come easily, I do it every day as part of my job; and yet when the pressure is on, it seems a much more difficult task.

I’m used to deadlines, it comes part and parcel of working in content and media. It’s strange that those kind of deadlines seem so run of the mill. Perhaps it’s the level of anonymity that I can hide behind when I write for the website where I can become the voice of the organisation. In reality it is still me! And of course, there are many people around me that know it’s me. The veil of anonymity a little shattered. Next explanation? Perhaps it’s because it’s expected of me, I want to do it as well; don’t get me wrong. But writing is my daily responsibility, it’s my role and job… so maybe it isn’t that!? The reality is perhaps a little more simple. This is the final piece of work I’m completing before my degree is done. There I said it. Last chance saloon, achieve now or never. This is the grade that could make all of the difference, it’s weighted more and could be the key to the degree classification I desire! The pressure is on, it’s the final countdown… you know the feeling!

It’s hard to keep reminding myself that all the work I’ve been doing has in fact led me to this place. I didn’t happen upon it by chance. I learnt the skills, practiced them and perfected them with everything that came before this stage of the course. The problem lies in being able to accept that I am capable of completing this final section and shelving the negative thoughts to enable this block to pass! It’s not a test, set to trip me up and prove that I was in fact never going to get a degree. My lecturers weren’t just being kind to me and telling me I was going to be ok for the fun of it. It is something that is completely in my power to complete and succeed in. And the reality is, even if it’s not the most amazing piece of work in the entire universe, it’s not a reflection on me as a person. And in all likelihood it’s going to be pretty alright judging on my other marks! I will pass my degree because I have worked hard to do so, of course a shiny classification at the end would be wonderful, but actually it would be a nice bonus. The past five years have, in many ways been a bit of an upward struggle with mental health problems trying to block the way every now and again. It has been a time of struggles but also achievements, the worst and the best parts of my life in a long while!

Of course, the stress I’m feeling is not uncommon. Just walking into the library, you can sense the culmination of pressure and tension radiating from a multitude of students, all doing what I am now. In the next few weeks, there are going to be plenty of blank screen moments. There’s going to be a lot of the time when perhaps it feels like we’re all on the track of an impossible task. But in a few weeks time we’ll be able to finish and look back on this time as the final push to complete Uni. It’s going to feel stressful because it matters, we all want to do well. The main thing I will be remembering is that I will probably do better if I try to look past some of the pressure and fear and just do what I’ve learnt to do!

Good luck my fellow finalists! We’re going to get there in the end!

‘What have you got to be depressed about?’

There are some days when I wish I had the type of depression you see in films and on tv. The kind of depression that makes you pale, interesting and oddly attractive. Of course, the upside of ‘film depression’ is that generally you can be cured by the love of your life making everything better again in the course of about an hour… I suppose that would be a much easier process. The reality of depression is perhaps a little more painful and a bit less beautiful.

Depression can also be a whole lot less exciting or dramatic. It can be functioning at a level where, on the outside, you seem pretty much fine. But on the inside, everything is coated in a bit of a sludgy fog. It’s an effort to keep up with appearances and quite exhausting at the same time. Depression can be a bit of an overused term, I remember the idea of people being ‘depressive’ being thrown about carelessly at school… almost as a bit of an insult. There was no understanding or caring of what might be making that person feel low and often it was used to describe a rubbish day rather than an ongoing feeling of hopelessness, loneliness and despair.

Like many mental health problems, there seems to be a stigma associated with depression that makes people think it’s something you can just fix and overcome. If only it were that simple. There’s often no specific reason for depression, it’s not like it can be quickly fixed with a dose of medication. The reality is a lot more complex and varies so much from person to person. The truth is, unless given the opportunity to talk about their feelings, people with depression can go largely unnoticed despite the debilitating nature of their struggles at times.

Depression at University can be such a challenge, especially with deadline stress and the ease of becoming a bit invisible within a crowded student population. Six weeks ago I was involved in a minor car accident; I was fine but my Corsa ended up a little battered. It was a stressful situation that was made worse by difficulties with my insurance company. On a daily basis I was having to battle with unknown people in offices with no personal connection to me, my claim or my car. Day after day I was left feeling more and more hopeless and at times I wanted to just give up. My depression tried to take advantage of my vulnerability and I felt more demotivated to continue to battle as the days went on. When I added the stress of writing assignments and my dissertation; it all felt a little too much. It was far to easy to slip into thought patterns of it all being my fault for just being a generally rubbish human. Of course, that wasn’t really the case but it took a lot of perseverance to push through and get out the other side (thankfully I am almost there with a shiny fixed car as a reward!!).

I hate the misconception that depression has a predictable and easily solved cause. This theme is a major component of The Blurt Foundation’s #WhatYouDontSee campaign which is part of this years depression awareness week. The campaign highlights the unseen aspects of depression, the parts that are hidden behind the mask that people with the condition put on each day. I put together my own collage of pictures for the campaign and as part of #DepressionAwarenessWeek. For me… you often don’t see the moment of complete self doubt, the tears and panics, the time spent fighting to find the motivation to get on with the day or that horrible feeling of loneliness every when you’re surrounded by wonderful people. You definitely don’t see the moment where there’s no parking space at Uni, which results in tears and panic; resulting in the decision that in fact going to a lecture is just an impossible task because of all the stress.

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Depression isn’t something to be ashamed about, it’s something that should be talked about. Perhaps we could all take a moment to offer some support to a friend or family member who we know has struggles. Reminding them they’re loved and not broken or horrible can make such a huge difference!

 

Your Comments Aren’t Helping Anyone

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This week Joan Bakewell made a sweeping statement that anorexia was a result of society becoming more narcissistic; she later apologised for the distress caused by her ‘reported views’ and of course has been widely criticised; but I’m still left feeling quite angry and frustrated that this kind of information is still finding it’s way into the world. Of course people are entitled to their own views and opinions, but surely you have to be more careful if you’re in a position of power/influence.

Andrew Radford, chief executive of Beat explained the problem with these kind of comments perfectly:

“Eating disorders are something a lot of people have misunderstandings about and they make throw-away comments as if it’s something you choose to have. This sort of comment is not helpful.”

The problem with comments, such as those made by Baroness Bakewell, is that they have the power to reinforce the negative stereotypes that surround eating disorders, as well as other mental health problems. They suggest that these illnesses are the ‘fault’ of the individual rather, creating a bit of a blame culture that really doesn’t aid in recovery. I’ve seen mental health issues related to physical health issues in this way often enough; being told that if I had a broken leg, it would be ok to get it treated… I wouldn’t be expected to just keep running on it. In this way, the mental illness is just that, an illness that people deserve support and help to overcome or manage to live alongside.

For many years, my feelings of guilt and shame surrounding my eating problems completely paralysed me. I didn’t want people to know what was going on because I was embarrassed and felt that on some level, I wasn’t even ‘good enough’ at being unwell to deserve any support or treatment… I was still too big, too much but also never enough. Guilt and shame surrounding eating disorders is unfortunately a very common issue amongst sufferers. A driving factor of an eating disorder is secrecy… the illness doesn’t want anyone else involved, it’s easier to maintain what’s happening if that person isolates themselves and retreats from the world. And the feelings of shame, blame and guilt aren’t restricted to the sufferer alone, they can be experienced by carers, friends, family members and those around that individual. Perhaps society, rather than being solely responsible for the disorders, is in fact perpetuating the negative feelings around such illnesses. Ultimately… perhaps these unhelpful views and stereotypes can build on the idea that eating disorders should remain unseen, whereas really we should be talking about them more to help reduce the stigma and allow individuals the right environment to be able to feel empowered and seek the support they need to overcome these horrible illnesses.

Part of me feels sorry for Baroness Bakewell, whom I’m sure did not expect this reaction to what she probably thought was a fairly harmless comment. The trouble is, these types of comments represent a bigger problem within society of not tolerating others who have different struggles to those we have experienced. It can be hard to put yourself in someone else’s shoes if you don’t have their lived experiences… but it’s not that hard to find within yourself a little bit of empathy. We’ve all had a time of our lives where we’ve had moments of hopelessness or feelings that perhaps there’s even something wrong with us. Perhaps we could draw on those feelings before we start making sweeping judgemental and unhelpful comments that really have little basis in facts.