June: in review

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The last thing I wrote on the blog was that I had a feeling June was going to be a good month and, all in all, I think I was right. June has been a month of celebration, reflection, progress and planning. Slow, steady and quiet but all the while quite mighty.

Last month I opened my blog talking about the challenges of coping with heartbreak but this month is ending in total opposition – this month has ended with so much love. Here is a round up of what has been happening.

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This month I started a new piece of work, supporting the children and young people’s team with their youth involvement work over the summer months. I’m designing a new training programme for young campaigners to access over the next year, as well as supporting anti-stigma training for professionals and regional campaign meetings. The team’s base is in my old office at Rethink Mental Illness, so it’s nice to be back with so many familiar faces doing some great work.

I’ve also been kept busy by school sessions with Future First across London and the South East and mentoring my students at Skinners Academy for Inspire Education Business Partnership.

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The biggest life milestone this month was of course my 30th birthday! I thoroughly enjoyed celebrating with my friends – the recipe for my day was essentially booze, brunch and best mates. I would thoroughly recommend it.

 

I had a week off after my birthday so took myself away for a few days to the seaside, to write, rest and reflect. I stayed in the world’s cutest air b’n’b in Broadstairs down in Kent and did some necessary recharging of my batteries, set some goals for my thirties, as well as getting 4000 new words on the page.

 

That leads me on to another key feature of my month – I really found some momentum with my novel and somehow wrote 10,000 words. I’ve now surpassed the 60,000 word mark and am into writing the final section of the novel. All of a sudden finishing the first draft feels like a real, tangible thing and I’m incredibly excited about it. One of my (very generous) 30th birthday gifts was an Arvon retreat, which I’ll be doing in September and I would love to have a full draft ready to work on by then.

I also took myself back to Sketchy Bitches for the second time and got some brilliant new mini portraits of me. It’s such a wonderful, friendly space to relax and draw with likeminded women and I think I’ll be becoming a regular.

 

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July is another busy one for work, between Time to Change and a record number of Future First workshops to run ahead of the summer holidays. I’m also looking forward to heading down to Bath next week for a board away day with Action for M.E.

I’m hoping to continue the writing pace I set this month – now my novel’s ending feels like it’s within reach I feel more motivated than ever to keep going. I’m also heading down to Margate at the end of the month for Margate Bookie – a weekend of writing workshops beside the sea.

Other than that, I’m hoping to just enjoy July with friends and loved ones – with any luck the glorious weather that’s seen out June will continue into next month. I’ll see you on the other side.

May: in review

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For the first time, I approached this blog with a little trepidation this month. Usually I enjoy the reflective process, jotting down notes for each segment and browsing through my calendar for any key moments I might have forgotten. Giving myself some time to take stock, acknowledge progress and look forward has become a really helpful ritual. Today, though, that felt a little more challenging than usual – it hasn’t been the best month. This isn’t the place to go into depth about it, but May has involved a painful heartbreak and so much of the month felt blurry to me in many ways.

The positive of having this monthly reflective commitment to myself, however, is that by taking some time to look at the rest of the month, outside of those emotions, I was able to find some brighter spots too and to remind myself that all is not lost. Here is my round up of the rest.

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My main focus this month has been my youth engagement consultancy with Plan International UK, developing a concept note and processes for the youth element of a new international campaign. It has been really interesting to look at youth engagement in a global context and to step into the world of international development. My time with Plan has now come to an end, but I look forward to seeing what happens with my work once the campaign launches.

I also had the joy of working with Arts Emergency this month, designing and facilitating bespoke training for their team on youth mental health awareness and support. I really enjoy the process of creating training and working with teams to support their learning and development. I would love to do more of this work moving forward and hope this is a side to my business I can continue to grow. I also hope to keep my link with Arts Emergency going, as myself and Kerry (the powerhouse behind Write Like a Grrrl) begin the process of funding applications to expand our creative writing programme for young women.

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All of this month’s life updates come in the form of creative output and exploration which, if you read my blog regularly, probably comes as no surprise.

Writing has been a key feature for me, both in terms of publication and progress on my novel. Mid month I had a short piece of creative non-fiction published by the ever wonderful Dear Damsels, titled “I have been thinking a lot”. The submission theme which I wrote the piece for was ‘Escape’ and I was drawn to write about the time not long after my relapse where I became fixated on the idea that I needed to escape London, when what I really wanted to get away from was my body. It took a lot of work, developing my health and how I felt about my disability, before I could realise that distinction. Now I’m in a much better place and have made amends with poor old London, though I don’t think I’ll be here forever. Now though, I want to leave because it feels right – not because my body feels wrong. Writing honestly about personal subjects and putting it out for the world to see is scary but it’s worth it when I receive feedback from others who tell me they can relate. Those are the moments that remind me why I keep writing.

My determination to keep writing this month means I’ve also made it past the 50,000 word mark on my novel. I’ve managed to build a sense of momentum for myself again and I’m feeling proud of myself for remaining focused on this project, even through some really challenging years. I’m hopeful I can keep this productivity going over the summer and continue to edge towards finishing my first draft.

I was lucky enough to go to see three different theatre productions in May. Hoard at The Arcola in Dalston, The Lehman Brothers Trilogy and Emilia in the West End. I was blown away by the performances and staging in The Lehman Trilogy, but the hilarious and moving all-female cast of Emilia won my heart.

 

This month I also attended a couple of wonderful workshops which helped me to develop new skills and try out new techniques. In the first workshop, I learned some basic embroidery skills with M.Y.O London, creating my own embroidered wall hanging. It’s not something I think I would do often but I did find it a relaxing and interesting way to create imagery. I took away some key tips and tricks which mean I could pick up a hoop again in the future should a new design idea take my fancy – watch this space.

The second workshop was ‘Sketchy Bitches’, organised and led by Dulcimer Draws. It was a lovely afternoon spent with brilliant, creative women where we created collaborative drawings and then drew mini portraits of each other. I was thrilled with some of mine (and also secretly delighted to learn that I’m apparently fun to draw). I have so enjoyed building a community of women who write and would love to do the same with art, so I definitely think I’ll be going to one of these workshops again.

 

 

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The biggest date in my diary for June is actually this coming Sunday, when I will be turning 30. Given it’s a “big birthday”, I thought I’d be met with more existential dread than I have been this last week but instead I’ve actually just been reminded of my Grandad. I remember when he turned 90 he said “I just want it to be over with so I can get on with my life”, which is sort of how I feel about this birthday! I’m looking forward to a day spent with those closest to me, of course, but I kind of just want to get stuck into being 30 too.

As for the rest of the month, I’m currently enjoying some time off, after a very busy start to the year. It’s nice to have a bit of clear headspace and some dedicated time to relax. Things will be picking up again soon, though, as I’m heading back into the world of Rethink Mental Illness in a couple of weeks time. I’m delighted to be joining the children and young people’s team at Time to Change over the summer, designing the training and development offer for young champions and supporting their youth engagement work in schools. I’ll also be popping into some schools with Future First and Brook along the way to lead some of their final education sessions before the end of term.

Finally, from June onwards I will be getting back into a more balanced schedule again, reducing the amount I’m working and creating more space to focus on fun, creativity and staying well. I haven’t gotten it right yet in 2019 but now is as good a time as any to start fresh. I have a good feeling about next month – I’ll let you know in my next round up if I was right.

April: in review

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Between the end of a regular contract, the Easter school break and associated bank holidays this month has felt a little more hodge podge than most. Somehow, though, I don’t seem to have slowed down. All the same, it has been nice to see some sunshine creeping back into the fray in April and to mix up my routine a bit. Here’s my round up of a mixed up month.

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The Easter holidays meant that half of the month was quieter than usual – I’m so used to hopping between schools to run workshops most weeks so it made for a more noticeable shift in pace than I’ve found with half terms and Christmas breaks in the past. I sneaked a workshop in at the end of April, though, and have lots of school work lined up between now and the summer.

Instead of facilitation, I’ve been kept busy by a new consultancy contract with Plan International UK, who I joined in early April and will be working with until late May. I’m working with them to develop the structure and details for the youth engagement component of an upcoming global campaign. It has been fascinating to look at how to engage, motivate and support young people from around the world and create a sense of teamwork, purpose and ownership despite the distance between them. I’m looking forward to developing the work further in May.

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This month has been heavily creative outside of my working life. I finished my illustration course at House of Illustration, learning about monoprinting, watercolour and 3D art in the process. I absolutely loved the experience and am trying to find more workshops and courses I can try out to further my skills. The course really fired me up to experiment and do more art work outside of the class. I’ve been playing with different techniques, buying new materials and even learning to use my scanner properly so I can create digital versions of my artwork.

I’ve also sneaked in a couple of trips to the theatre. First, I saw the stage adaptation of “Grief is the Thing with Feathers” at the Barbican. Cillian Murphy gave a masterclass in acting, although I found the overall production something of a sensory overload (which isn’t ideal for someone with a sensitive nervous system!) I also saw “Home, I’m Darling”, the new play from Laura Wade. It was another show I was unsure about – I wasn’t sure I understood what I was supposed to take away – but the set was brilliant and despite buying cheap tickets we got to pretend to be fancy in a box!

The rest of my free time has been a mixed bag, from a glorious laid back Easter weekend painting and working on my novel to attending my first roller derby match to support a friend and cultured weekends at exhibitions. All in all, I feel like I’ve been more able to enjoy my free time lately and it’s been so wonderful to rediscover a little bit of balance.

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May has a lot in store for me and I’m really looking forward to it. Work wise, I’m continuing my project with Plan, as well as running bespoke youth mental health training for Arts Emergency, running workshops in schools and mentoring my students as part of the HeadStart Action programme.

Outside of work, I have a creative month of workshops lined up, including an embroidery class, a book binding class and a social sketching workshop. I’ll fill the gaps with writing, drawing, painting and social plans (and possibly a touch of existential dread as my 30th birthday begins to loom). I’ll see you on the other side.

 

March: in review

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Here we go again. March has passed me by in a flurry of activity and I feel a little bit dazed that it’s all over and done with now. I’ve been hopping between lots of different projects, clients and appointments and I’m not sure my brain has quite caught up with my feet.

All that said, it has been a really fun and rewarding month with a great deal to reflect on. What a relief after last month’s intro, eh?!

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The end of March marks the end of my time at Rethink Mental Illness which I’m genuinely pretty sad about. It has been a really special project to work on and I’ve finished my week doing an assembly to sixth formers about mental health awareness, catching up with champions and writing impact reports. It has really allowed me to see what I’ve achieved, to hear from champions what it has meant to them and to get a very satisfying sort of closure. This project has really reaffirmed my desire to do more work in the world of young people’s mental health.

I’ve also been out and about with both Future First and Brook this month, running their programmes in schools. Mid month I got to go back to the first school I ever taught in to deliver an employability session which felt very special indeed. It was so strange to find the environment so familiar again, even 7 years later, and yet to realise how much I’ve changed and grown since I left.

As the month drew to a close I began a new project with Inspire Education Business Partnership, who are leading the HeadStart Action programme in Hackney. Over the next few months I’ll be mentoring a caseload of students on the programme 1-1, supporting them to reflect on progress and set goals. My first sessions were a real joy and I can’t wait to get to know my students better and see them progress.

Finally, I spent two brilliant days this month doing Youth Mental Health First Aid training. It was good to cement my knowledge and recognise how well versed I already was in the field – I’m really pleased to have the qualification now and to feel confident I can support young people effectively.

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This month has seen a series of endings, including the pilot of the Write Like a Grrrl ROAR programme. It was such a joy to work with the girls across the workshops in March and to hear them speak so positively about it at the end. I’ve never been more excited to complete funding applications.

Once the project was over, I immediately switched my Thursday evenings from teaching to learning, starting a 4 week illustration course at House of Illustration. I’m really enjoying it so far – it has encouraged me to do more and worry less about perfection, trying new techniques and getting creative.

Slightly less sexy news is that I’ve finally made my way into the Royal Free for my GET appointments after an 8 month wait post-consultation. The honest feedback so far is that, despite trying to go in with an open mind, it’s very disappointing. I feel so relieved my GP has done a good job of getting me on helpful medications and that I’m fortunate enough to have found (and to be able to afford) my osteopath.

If these appointments were all I had to go on I think I’d feel worse than I would without them. Truly, there’s nothing like having the person treating you say “I know I don’t have chronic fatigue… thankfully. Touch wood I never get it!” to make you feel supported and good about yourself. Let’s not even go into when he told me how he prefers to talk about M.E as “a situation, not a condition”. If I’d known this was what was in store, I probably wouldn’t have expended the energy and NHS funding on fighting to get onto the service’s books. Oh well. You live, you learn.

I did get to share some of my story and experiences regarding M.E with a journalist from The Sunday Times this month, however, which was an empowering experience. After a flurry of ignorant and stigmatising pieces in the media about my condition (mostly focused on scientists claiming online abuse was driving them away from research – not that their research is based on a psychosocial model disproved by biomedical research…) it felt empowering to speak honestly about the reality of M.E A couple of my quotes were used to frame the article’s introduction and you can find it here.

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April so far is looking like a relatively open book, leaving this section rather clear. After an intense first few months of the year I’m intending on taking a little time off to rest, regroup and figure out what I want to do next. There are a few different opportunities on the horizon so I’m excited, if a little uncertain, about what might come next.

In the meantime I’ll be working on my novel, heading to the theatre and finishing my illustration course. Here’s to a creative month ahead.

 

February: in review

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Ok, I’m going to come out with it from the start… this month was a tough one. I can’t say I’m going to miss it – I’m looking forward to trading it in for March. This month has passed by in a flash of work, flavoured with a dash of burnout and overwhelm, and I’m happy to be looking forward with a clearer mind and schedule.

Now, that’s not to say that February has gone without any successes or joy, it’s more that the uphill climb to get to and through them has been hard. Essentially, I’m saying get ready for a reflective kind of round up of my bruiser of a month.

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The absolute core of my work this month has been with Rethink Mental Illness, finally delivering the student mental health conference that I’ve been working so hard on for months. I have a love-hate relationship with organising large events – I absolutely love the buzz you get on the day and being able to see that tangible impact, but at the same time the planning and logistics are so intensely stressful. Given my body isn’t really built for high stress, that part can be even more challenging so I feel so fortunate I had some wonderful colleagues and my team of young champions there to support me. We have had some brilliant feedback from teachers and students and I’ve felt so proud to hear from champions how much they took from their leadership on the day. I felt totally exhausted once it was over but I think I can say now, looking back, that it was worth the energy it took.

February also saw me getting out and about with Brook in my role as a freelance Education and Wellbeing Specialist. I supported the delivery of sessions on consent with sixth formers mid month and just yesterday spent my morning teaching year 8s about healthy relationships. I’m absolutely loving working with new materials and content and having the chance to engage in conversations with young people about such important topics.

This month marked the end of my time volunteering with Yes Futures as a coach. I spent the first weekend of February with over 80 students, including mine, on a residential trip and had my final 1-1 sessions this week. It has been a really interesting journey over the last 6 months, developing my questioning and communication skills and supporting young people to achieve their goals. One of my coachees told me in our final session that she had been anxious about having 1-1 sessions with an adult but that her time with me has been like talking to a really helpful friend. Oh, my heart.

The shining light of my month, however, has been Write Like a Grrrl: ROAR. Each session spent with the girls exploring different aspects of writing fiction is a treat and a highlight in my week – nerding out over books, discussing how fiction makes us feel and scribbling down new words and ideas. Their enthusiasm and energy has been so inspiring and I can’t believe we only have two workshops left. I’m genuinely excited to start working on funding applications to try and ensure the programme can continue and expand.

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Life has taken a backseat a little bit this month as so much of my energy has been poured into work and I’ve not had much left to place elsewhere. A stark reminder of the necessity of self-care and pacing hit me last week in the form of a virus that kept me in bed for eight days solid. It has been a long time since I’ve felt so debilitated but I was feeling the impact emotionally as well as physically. There is something about being trapped in a cycle of working, resting, working (and repeat) that takes its toll after a while. January and February have just been too full on and I’ve begun to feel the lack of air that a lack of social plans and free time can produce.

I’m acutely aware that I haven’t managed to achieve the balance my body needs yet this year – falling back into bad habits of taking on too much. March will be a month to recalibrate and try to get back into the better habits I developed last year. I do have a fair bit planned already, so I know this might be a challenge at times, but I’m hoping I can look ahead to the rest of the spring with a bit more self compassion and restraint. I know that doing less to a higher standard and feeling better, whilst making time for myself as well, is ultimately a better plan.

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The end of March marks the end of my time at Rethink Mental Illness so I’ll have a much more open schedule again. I’m incredibly sad to be leaving but excited too for what the next opportunity might be. Whilst I figure that out, I have plenty of facilitation work coming up with Future First and Brook and hope to be beginning work as a mentor in Hackney with Inspire Education Business Partnership.

I’m also excited that a good chunk of next month will be spent learning. I’m beginning a short course at House of Illustration which I cannot wait for, as well as training to become a Youth Mental Health First Aider.

I’m ending February very tired but hopeful that the next month could be a great one. Come back at the end of March to find out if I’m right…

January: in review

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The distance between my review of last year and this first round up of 2019 feels way more than one month apart. January has felt like a very long month but we’ve made it, and that’s something to be grateful for!

To mark the new year, I’ve given my monthly reviews a little makeover with new headers – both aesthetically and in terms of themes. At the start of 2018, my health was the dominant feature of my day to day existence, which is why it was always the first section of the blog. However, I’ve decided I don’t feel like it deserves its own section this year. I’ve come a long way with my conditions over the last twelve months, to the point where health feels like an undercurrent instead of a core theme, for which I’m unspeakably thankful.

So, here’s the first new look round up of my January – I hope you enjoy it.

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This month is the busiest I’ve had in terms of work for a very long time – where usually I try to maintain a balance with my schedule, this month I’ve packed every moment. It’s been exhausting, so I’m definitely going to revisit my balance again, but I’ve really enjoyed working on a range of different projects.

The core of my work schedule has been with Rethink, where I’ve been delivering teacher training on youth mental health, recruiting and training Young Champions, and co-producing a youth mental health conference. I’ve taken over leadership of the project since the start of the new year, so it has been demanding but I’m feeling really thrilled with how the project has been going.

Alongside Rethink, I’ve continued my work with Future First and MyKindaFuture on employability workshop delivery and content design for secondary students. I’ve also been gearing up for future work with both Brook and Inspire! Education Business Partnership. Link all this in with volunteering with Yes Futures and Action for M.E and you can see why I’ve ended the month feeling a little weary.

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As you may have gathered, life has taken a bit of a backseat to work this month (must. do. better). Most of my time outside of work has been spent resting and recovering or at health appointments (the usual!) However, I have still been working on creative projects in the background.

I’ve finally tipped over the 40,000 word mark of my novel and am getting back into the swing of a more regular practice. I’m feeling good about my goal of finishing the first draft by my birthday in June which is an exciting (if also somehow nerve-wracking) prospect.

I’ve also been lucky enough to see a long talked about idea turn into a reality. You may have read me singing the praises of Write Like a Grrrl – writing courses that empower female writers – in previous blogs. In January we launched the pilot of the programme designed especially for 14-25s. We’ve partnered with the brilliant charity Arts Emergency, who have helped us to find some wonderful participants and connected us with Faber & Faber who have been kind enough to host. I feel like a very lucky grrrl. Over the coming weeks, we’ll be testing out the model in the hope we can roll it out wider as the year goes on. Watch this space!

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The largest blinking dot on my horizon in February is the mental health conference I’m organising for Rethink, in partnership with young champions. We have five schools attending, some incredible workshop options and a truly inspiring team of young people at the helm. Event planning is always stressful but I’m feeling incredibly excited too.

February will also mark the end of my time as a coach with Yes Futures. Next weekend I’m going with my school group, as well as several others on the programme, for a weekend residential before our final coaching session. It has gone incredibly quickly but it has been a brilliant experience. The team are currently looking for new coaches for their summer programme so be sure to look them up if you’re interested in taking part.

Finally, I’m excited to continue with my writing, Write Like a Grrrl: ROAR and I also have an embroidery workshop booked to try out some new skills.

Wish me luck and I’ll see you on the other side to tell you all about it.

2018: in review

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You could call 2018 many, many things but you certainly could never call it boring. This is not the time or the space to think about that on a national or global scale – I think starting a new year fresh with hope is probably a better idea – but I thought I would sum up what 2018 has meant for me personally.

I love writing my monthly round ups, so it seems only fitting to drum up an annual version too, albeit with slightly different categories (just to keep things interesting). Here is my year in review.

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This year I have grown my business significantly and I’m incredibly proud of the impact I’ve been able to make doing work I really love. It has felt very special that over the course of 2018 I’ve been able to really shape and focus my freelance work, setting myself on the course I had always intended when starting out in 2017. Looking back has really given me both professional pride and the warm and fuzzies – which is an ideal combination in my book.

This year I have:

  • Worked with over 300 young people, teaching them about mental health, increasing their employability skills and raising aspirations
  • Supported over 150 volunteers on projects from youth work to team challenges
  • Trained over 40 volunteers to deliver emotional support to young people in need
  • Worked with 10 charities and social enterprises as a facilitator, tutor, consultant, content developer and artist

This year has shown me what is truly possible when I set my mind to it and I cannot wait to see what next year has in store.

Volunteering

In 2018, I’ve reconnected with my love of volunteering through two different roles. Firstly, I’ve worked with the education charity Yes Futures as a Wellbeing Coach, supporting young people in Dagenham on a 1-1 basis. These students have been identified as struggling with low self-esteem, low confidence and resilience. The programme is continuing into the new year but it has been incredible to see the progress my students have made already. I totally identify with the students I’m working with – they’re modern day versions of who I was at school – and it feels so satisfying to give back in a way that is so close to my heart. So much of who I am and the way I work was shaped by the people who worked with me and supported me through the toughest years of my young life. I wanted to be one of those people for future generations, so the role has been entirely in sync with what I set out to achieve all those years ago.

Alongside coaching, I also joined Action for M.E as a Board Member this autumn. It’s still very early days but I have already learned so much and I am so grateful to have been given the chance to work with a cause that means so much to me. This role feels like a step up that will help my personal and professional development and I’m really proud to have the opportunity to make a difference to people living with and affected by M.E. I’ve also done some fundraising and media work for the charity this year, selling zines about living with M.E with part of the profits going to AfME and doing an interview for BBC Radio London on my experience of the condition.

Writing

This year I’ve been working hard on my novel, which has taken the bulk of my focus where writing is concerned. I’m now about halfway through the first draft and the process of getting there has been fascinating. Writing a book is bloody hard work and there has been a lot of frustration along the way, but those moments where the words flow and the ideas strike are pure magic. I’ve set myself a loose goal of finishing the first draft by my 30th birthday in June, but we’ll see whether that happens. I’m loathe to be too strict with myself as it appears a big part of my process is long spells of ruminating with interludes of flurried writing, so time limitations aren’t necessarily a natural partner for my way of working.

I have still managed to sneak a few bits of other writing in along the way, however, with a poem and a CNF piece being shared by the always excellent Dear Damsels and a CNF piece on diagnosis for Drawn Poorly Zine. Writing my monthly round ups has also been a good way of keeping words flowing, even if they aren’t doing so creatively.

In September, I completed a 4 week course with Ministry of Stories, which focused on facilitating creative writing workshops for young people. This will come in handy for an exciting new project I’m working on with the incredible Write Like a Grrrl, which launches at the end of January. Watch this space for more details.

Art

Beyond developing myself as a writer, this year has seen me developing myself as an artist (that still feels weird to say, in all honesty). It started with a doodle inspired by a conversation with a friend, which turned into a zine, which turned into multiple zines, selling zines for charity, running two zine workshops, creating a community led zine and designing a mural for a community centre. As I was working on the mural (image below) someone stopped and asked me if I was the resident artist; I laughed and hurriedly said no but when I stopped to think about it I realised it wasn’t a silly question and that on that day I suppose I was.

I’ve found so much joy from doing this work, which just sort of evolved instead of being planned, and I’m increasingly keen to improve and develop a foundation of skills and knowledge, as so far I’m entirely self taught. Experimenting with art has definitely been an unexpected highlight of my year.

Experiences

This year I treated myself to a trip to Amsterdam – I know it’s not everyone’s cup of tea but I absolutely love a solo city break. I find them so refreshing, discovering new cultures and exploring whilst taking time to myself to write. Several thousands of words of my novel were written in cafes across the city as I took a break from sightseeing (and too much vintage shopping).

I’ve also seen some brilliant theatre this year, highlights being The Inheritance, Hamilton and Wise Children. I’ve not seen as much as I would like but just enough to keep me happy. I definitely want to see more in the new year, though that shouldn’t be too hard given I have tickets for three shows already booked!

This year has also been peppered with events and talks, from seeing Matt Haig in conversation with Bryony Gordon at the Southbank Centre to a zine festival at Somerset House. This year I’ve learned about how zines can support activism, organising a feminist festival AND I got to be in the same rooms as Sadiq Khan and Allison Janney (aka CJ CREGG!). Not bad going, really.

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I’m stronger than I think

The beginning of this year was rough. My body felt like an empty battery that refused to charge back up and I spent most of my time stuck in bed, not helped by a cold that saw me pretty much bed bound for 10 days solid. I didn’t feel especially hopeful in January and I didn’t know how I was going to cope and keep going if things with my health didn’t improve. I was scrabbling for support, scrabbling for answers, trying to figure out how to handle returning to a debilitating place. I was worried things wouldn’t get better, that I wouldn’t be able to come out the other side again, but I should have had a little more faith.

I look back now and I honestly can’t believe where I am now and that I have come so far over the last twelve months. Fighting to be heard by a broken health system feels impossible at times but slowly I’ve managed to make some waves. I owe a lot to my osteopath, who has helped me to turn things around, and my therapist who has helped me to cope with the challenging emotions that come with chronic illness. However, I should probably take some of the credit too. A lot of my progress comes down to sheer grit and determination – not giving up on treatments that made me worse before I got better, not flaking on appointments that ate up hours each week, not backing down on demanding NHS support, taking it in my stride when receiving a new diagnosis, working hard on reframing my perspective to make the best of my situation.

I feel like a different person ending the year to the person who started it and I’m so grateful to be able to start a new year fresh with hope and optimism that things can, and will, continue to get better.

Practising self-belief

Beyond believing in my strength and resilience when it comes to my health, this year has also taught me to ‘feel the fear and do it anyway’. I never really liked that phrase before but some of the best moments of 2018 have come from putting myself out there and putting imposter syndrome to the side.

The best example is my collaboration with Hidden River Festival, which would never have happened if I hadn’t taken a punt and sent an email suggesting I could run a zine workshop. That small idea turned into co-creating a community zine, running two workshops and creating the mural mentioned earlier on. I had so much fun working on that project and it boosted my confidence so much but if I hadn’t sent that message none of it would have been possible.

I’ve spent far too long holding myself back over the years because of fear and self-doubt but this year has shown me how incredible and enriching taking chances can be.

aspirations

Going into 2019, I don’t want to set myself specific goals – I don’t think they always help – but I do want to go in with a few key words I want to build on.

Create

I want to finish my first draft in 2019 and work on crafting the story and making it better. My hope is to celebrate my 30th birthday with a writing retreat, to spend some real time with the full draft and begin the editing process with some inspiration and structure. Let’s see.

I also want to continue drawing and making zines, as well as branching out and doing more creative teaching and tutoring, supporting others to build confidence and skills.

Learn

Over recent years I’ve realised that if I’m not learning I’m not happy. Learning new things gives me a sense of momentum and growth – I like to challenge and stretch myself. I have a long list of ideas for what I’d like to learn and know more about, so I’m not strapped for ideas.

For Christmas I asked for a place on a short course on illustration which will start in the spring, which is a pretty good starting point to achieving this particular aspiration.

Be fearless

Moving forward with what I’ve learned this year, I want to go into 2019 with the mantra that it’s better to learn from failure than to spend time regretting inaction. So many amazing things have happened for me this year purely as a result of putting myself out there. I want to step boldly into the new year, embracing all the opportunities that come my way and going after what I want in the process.

If 2018 has taught me anything, it’s that you never know what is possible but you can find out if you try.

December: in review

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I’m writing this month’s round up a little earlier than usual, which I suppose could be seen as cheating but I thought that this time round, as I’ll be posting a review of the whole year on the 31st, it only made sense to space them out a little.

December is always a funny month for me with a myriad of emotions. It always begins with a touch of sadness, as early December was when my mum died. I’ve never been one to make a big deal of the anniversary but it has a tendency to take hold of my heart for a good few days even so. That aside, I don’t know about all of you but I also find it much harder to feel festive in general these days. There’s something about the lack of end of term feeling, the pressure of gift buying and trying to be ready for everything the holiday season holds (let’s be honest – it’s not a glossy, insta-perfect dream for most of us, is it?). This year I struggled to rouse the Christmas spirit, as I’ve been battling a little bit with burnout, but I’ve tried to make the most of festive plans all the same. Here are the contents of my mixed bag of a month.

health

After a couple of months of balance things slipped a little in December. I’ve definitely been feeling stretched and that has taken a toll on my health – both with my usual symptoms flaring and finally succumbing to a cold (the very evening I finished work for Christmas, no less).

That said, I managed to crawl over the finish line of my 2018 commitments and have been rewarded with a much needed fortnight off, so I’m pretty proud of how I’ve coped with not just this month but this year as a whole. I’m hoping that some rest and TLC over my time off will help me to bounce back into better form in 2019 because, I’m telling you now, I have a hell of a lot of plans.

work

December has been pretty jam packed with work, from my project with Rethink Mental Illness and facilitation work with Future First and The Mix, to securing a brand new client.

I spent my last working day of the year with MyKindaFuture, a social enterprise focused on designing and running employability programmes with companies and schools across the UK. My role with them is different to what you might expect, though –  I’m not the one running the workshops this time but the one designing the content. It felt really nice to get back into a workshop development headspace – I’ve always been a bit nerdy when it comes to creating resources and get a kick out of designing engaging learning experiences. It must be the former teacher in me, I suppose! I’m looking forward to spending more time with them in January, stretching my creative muscles to create interactive sessions for their corporate clients.

life

My social life has definitely taken a hit this month, as the combination of chronic illness, burnout and a heavy workload aren’t the best of friends. However, I’ve managed to enjoy some lovely moments with friends and loved ones. From festive film nights and lunches to a second trip to see part one of The Inheritance, the build up to Christmas had a good few magic moments.

Christmas itself was quiet overall, spent at my Dad’s house in Buckinghamshire. It was nice spending time with my sister and sharing some rather indulgent meals (including Christmas lunch which sent me off for a two hour nap!) This year I asked for gifts that would help me move forward into 2019 positively – arts supplies, places on creative workshops and some new reading material.

For the final few days of the year I’m dog sitting, resting, writing and spending time with some of my favourite people. I hope you all have a wonderful end of the year and I’ll see you on the other side.

November: in review

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This morning I had one of those niggling feelings, like I had forgotten something. It took a little while before I realised that it was this blog! Usually I get these done like clockwork, ready to post on the final day of the month, so I surprised myself with my absent mindedness! I can’t quite fathom it’s December already, I suppose.

November was a good month on the whole, though I suppose has given me less to report on than others. Here’s my month in review.

health

November was a relatively good month for my health. Following October’s trend, my body seems to be coping pretty well with the amount I’ve taken on recently.

The only health highlight to report is that my osteopath, after a year of weekly appointments, has decided I can take my appointments fortnightly. It’s a great encouragement that my body is doing better and she’s even suggested we might be able to space things out to every three weeks come February.

It’s such an indescribable feeling to look at where I was with my health this time last year and where I am now. It makes me hopeful for 2019.

work

The bulk of my month has been taken up by a focus on work, dividing my time between my contract at Rethink Mental Illness and freelance facilitation with the wonderful Future First and The Mix.

November saw my first delivery with Rethink, running three back to back sessions with young people on mental health awareness and support at a school in Westminster. It was great to get stuck in and to deliver such powerful content. It has made me even more excited for a busy spell of deliveries to teachers, parents and students in the new year.

life

Something I said to my therapist this month was that the best feeling I’ve had recently is realising that most of my worries have been “normal person worries” for the first time in what feels like years. It has been nice to feel like things have evened out in that way.

I think that’s reflected in this month’s life section, really – there’s nothing all that exciting to talk about, I’ve just been getting on with normal life. I’ve been resting a fair bit because I’ve been working so hard, interspersed with lovely catch ups with friends and the odd spot of dog sitting. Other than that I’ve been buckling down with my novel, finally finishing part two (of four) and surpassing the 35,000 word mark.

All in all it’s been a pretty normal month, which feels quite special really.

October: in review

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The spookiest thing about this month for me is how quickly it has gone – I’m not entirely sure where it went. It feels like it was just last week that I was sitting down to write my September round up so I’m somewhat dazed coming into this one. That said, despite its pace October has been a pretty great month for me – here’s my round up.

health

For once I don’t have much to say on this score. My body has been coping remarkably well with everything I’ve been throwing at it over the last few weeks and I’ve seen no significant changes. (Excuse me for a moment, I’m just going to cling on to some wood for an hour). Still no news about the Royal Free but things with my current ‘team’ and plan for managing my conditions all seem to be making a difference.

The cold weather has definitely been impacting on my symptoms a little more but for the most part that’s been manageable with layers and hot water bottles!

work

This month has been one of my favourite of the year so far from a work perspective. I’ve recently started my new contract with the Co-Production team at Rethink Mental Illness and I’m already loving it. I’m so excited to be working on a range of projects putting young people’s voices at the heart of mental health approaches in three London boroughs. Coming up is a lot of school outreach, with students, parents and teachers, as well as planning for a very exciting event in the new year.

Alongside Rethink, I’ve spent a good chunk of the month working on freelance facilitation in schools across the South East with Future First and dipping back into some volunteer training with The Mix. As this month comes to a close it feels like things are really coming together and I’m feeling very fortunate indeed.

life

For once I can say that a busy month of work hasn’t meant a month of no play – hurrah! My month outside of work and health routines has, for the most part, held a couple of themes: volunteering and the arts.

This month I began volunteering with Yes Futures as a Wellbeing Coach for young people with low self-esteem. I’m based at a school in Dagenham and will be supporting 4 young people across a structured goal-focused programme which runs for the next 5 months. So far I’ve had two coaching sessions with each student and I have absolutely loved it; it has been such a joy getting to know the young people I’m supporting and to see the progress they have already made between sessions one and two. I’m so excited to keep working with them and to hopefully see them blossoming by the spring. In addition to the impact on my students, I have really enjoyed working on my coaching skills and developing myself as well. I left my first session so energised and spent hours looking at ideas for developing self esteem in young people, which will help me not only as a coach but across my work as a whole. It’s a role I would recommend to anyone looking for a fun, meaningful opportunity with a manageable time commitment.

Moving on to the artistic side of my October, I was absolutely thrilled to be asked to create a mural for the Hidden River Festival celebration at the Redmond Community Centre. I was given a blank section of wall and total artistic freedom and I am so pleased that everyone loved the result – I hope it goes on to be enjoyed over the months to come. We also launched the zine at the event and it was incredible to see an idea that had been months in the making finally realised and put out for the community to enjoy.

I’ve also really enjoyed a couple of evenings of artistic inspiration this month. First off, I attended a book event at Pages of Hackney, where Sharlene Teo and Sophie Mackintosh discussed writing women’s stories. Given that my entire novel is focused around the female voice and experience it was a perfect evening for me. I also discovered a new writing hero in Sharlene Teo who was just so relatable whilst also giving great insight. Listening to first time authors can do you a wonder of good with their honesty when you’re battling through a first draft.

My second arty evening was just this week, when I went to see Emma Rice’s stage adaptation of Wise Children by Angela Carter. Words cannot describe my adoration for Carter and as a theatre nerd the combination held a lot of promise. I was slightly nervous it wouldn’t meet my expectations – especially as everyone I know who has seen it was raving about it – but it actually managed to exceed them. If you have the chance I would urge you to go (I may even go again myself) – it is a wonderful, joyous, bawdy and brilliant show that really captures the essence of Carter’s tone and voice. I bloody loved it.

And there you have it – that’s pretty much my month in a nutshell. Now I’m off to dog sit for the afternoon which is almost certainly the best way to end the day (and month).