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.

achievementsWork

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.

lessons

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).

September: in review

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Traditionally I would expect September to feel like a refresh button – it’s the start of a new academic year (even if it’s a long time since I adhered to one) and the start of autumn – and yet this one has felt more like I hit fast forward. I’ve been very busy over the past month with all sorts of bits and pieces which has left me feeling somewhat exhausted but I’m hoping that the chaos has been worth it. Here’s my month in review.

health

September has seen me getting back into the pattern of my health admin routines – I had a medication review with my GP and have been getting back into weekly sessions with my therapist and osteopath after their summer breaks. I was beginning to feel the effects of a hectic August without support so it has felt good to come back to the people who know me and my conditions best and to move forward again.

I’m beginning to get a little impatient waiting to hear about my next appointment at the Royal Free but I know it’s going to take time. I did have a nightmare that I missed the letter and had to go back through the entire referral/funding bid/assessment process again, though, so I can’t say my subconscious is doing too well with taking things in its stride!

At the moment I’m working hard on figuring out how to organise and manage my health without being too rigid or too hard on myself. It’s tricky to get it right all the time, even though I really want to and try my best. As September comes to a close, I’m testing out a few things the Royal Free clinic suggested to me to help me manage things better and hope they may help whilst I’m sitting on the waiting list.

work

This month I’ve had the joy of working on various different projects and events which has been really good fun. I’ve officially started as a programme facilitator with Future First and have absolutely loved getting out and about in Essex and Kent, leading workshops with year 12 students and corporate volunteers about networking and employability.

In early September I joined the lovely social enterprise Sisterhood, who use creative workshops to boost girls’ self confidence, for a one off event. I stepped in to help with the smooth running of an evening celebrating the achievements and project created by a brilliant group of students from School 21. The event involved a panel discussion, a “confidence catwalk” and several creative workshops. You can read more about the girls’ work here.

Continuing the creative theme of my month, on Saturday 15th I was at Hidden River Festival, running drop in zine making and gathering contributions from the community for the official Hidden River Festival Zine, which I am working on now – ready to be unveiled at the after party in October. We absolutely lucked out with beautiful sunshine and I so enjoyed chatting with engaged community members, sharing zine making joy and working with some super cute little ones who wanted to draw me pictures for the zine.

To round off my month, I secured a new part time contract taking me to at least the end of March which I’m incredibly excited about! I’m thrilled to be joining the health influencing team at Rethink Mental Illness, where I will be working on co-production, supporting young people to have their voices heard through commissioning and training. I cannot wait to start!

life

I started September with a trip to sunny Wales to visit my grandparents, which was a much needed breath of fresh air. It’s so good to get out of London sometimes and away from the day to day. My sister and I spent the weekend treating our grandparents and digitising their extensive photo collection to make sure we have every photo and know who is in them. It was so much fun listening to the stories behind the images.

I’ve also spent a good chunk of this month with Ministry of Stories, completing a CPD course on facilitating creative writing and story making workshops with young people. It has been really interesting to meet other practitioners and to share ideas. I’m looking forward to putting some of it to practice in a top secret project launching in 2019. Watch this space!

And that is my month in a nutshell. It looks like I have a busy October ahead so I’m hoping that a restful end to the month will prepare me for what’s coming next.

August: in review

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Well, I don’t know about you but for me August has felt like an incredibly long month. The heady heights of the summer heatwave feel like a lifetime ago now, especially with the grey skies and rain we’ve seen in recent days. It has certainly been an intense month for me, which is probably where this feeling is coming from, but all the same it has been a month with a lot of promise. Here’s my August in review.

health

August is probably the month where I’ve tested and pushed my body the most since way back in February and, if we set aside the huge amounts of rest and sacrifice to get myself through, I’m happy to say it passed. I’ll leave the explanation of what I was up to for the work section of the blog but it’s safe to say my body has served me better than I had imagined it might through an intensive contract. I’m feeling the strain a little now, though, so am giving myself some much needed down time before throwing myself into new projects.

This month also saw me take to the airwaves to discuss the impact of M.E, aiming to raise awareness as part of BBC Radio London’s focus on invisible disabilities. The drive time show dedicated an hour to M.E on 23rd August and Action for M.E kindly asked me to represent them alongside two young people, their parents and the charity’s Head of Youth Services. If you’re interested in giving the interview a listen you can find it here. The segment on M.E is from the top of the show and I come in at around 36 minutes.

If I’m honest, I had mixed feelings about the experience. It felt to me like the hour could have been better prepared for and given more of a focus around what needs to change to improve the lives of those with M.E. Instead, it felt a little directionless and I personally felt that the approach to me lacked sensitivity, leading me to spend the interview feeling like I was defending myself instead of being empowered to openly call for change and express how living with chronic illness has affected my life. That said, I’ve received some lovely feedback about the interview, so I do hope that what I did manage to say has made a difference, but it has certainly got me thinking too. What can I do to make sure that conversations around invisible illness are productive and positive? In particular, how is it possible to break down the idea that if you look well you are well? (If you listen, you’ll see why that question in particular has weighed on my mind.) It was an interesting experience and one I would take on again but perhaps with a little more determination to shape the narrative in a way that felt more comfortable and meaningful.

work

I spent the first three weeks of August working with FutureVersity as a programme tutor, supporting young people aged 14-16 through an intense series of challenges and workshops for their Vacation Education project. I absolutely loved the experience, watching and supporting young people to grow and develop significantly over even a short amount of time. The programme was designed to both support young people to gain new skills for the future and also to remain in a learning mindset so that they could return to school in September ready to get back into their studies from day one. Reading young people’s feedback and seeing how they had benefited reminded me why I love youth work so much and made the toll the work took on my body worth it.

I also had the absolute joy of spending the afternoon at Redmond Community Centre last week, running a drop in zine making workshop ahead of Hidden River Festival next month. It was so lovely to have the chance to share the ‘how to’ of making mini zines and it has made me so excited for the day itself. I’ll be co-producing a festival zine with the local community, as well as running the same drop in style workshop so that festival attendees can make their own mini zines to take away.

As the end of the month has approached, I’ve been looking ahead to plan my autumn schedule. My calendar is slowly filling up with workshops and projects but I still have space for new work and clients, so if you or anyone you know is looking for freelance support, do get in touch!

life

Now, you might have guessed that this section of the blog was going to be pretty sparse this month. All work means no play and makes Lucy a very dull woman. Chronic illness management is not the most fun of tasks.

That said, I’m delighted to have a new piece published by Dear Damsels today as the final story for their August letter, on the theme of “youth”. As soon as I saw the theme I knew exactly what I wanted to write. Over the years I’ve spent so much time sitting with “what if’s” about how my teenage years turned out – what would my life look like if my mum hadn’t died/I hadn’t developed M.E? I wanted to explore the what ifs and consider whether a “normal” youth would have been better – would I want to trade everything in? At the time of writing, I don’t have the direct link to the piece but you can rest assured it’ll be plastered all over my social media if you want to give it a read.

So, that’s it for August and I’m off to start September with a trip to Wales to see my grandparents. See you next month.

July: in review

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You might be able to tell by the post date that the end of July passed me by in a whirlwind. It has been an incredibly busy month all in all, mostly populated by work (and the requisite rest spells to balance things out). I can’t quite believe it’s August already and it feels a little like this second half of the year is running away but I suppose if time is flying that must mean I’m having fun? Here’s my round up of July.

health

July saw me back at the Royal Free for a fibromyalgia assessment. The hospital have been doing an audit of fibro diagnoses to check whether they think they’re accurate, using a fresh set of diagnostic criteria. Considering my diagnosis was made just a few weeks before the appointment at the very same hospital I didn’t feel too stressed about it, though.

After going through the criteria it was confirmed that fibro should definitely sit alongside my M.E diagnosis. The appointment was probably the first time I’ve had anyone take the time to sit down and really explain what is happening in my body. He explained the way my body works differently to other people’s whilst also remaining frank about the fact that there is so much they don’t know and that the support they can give is for management – not a cure. It was so clear and comprehensive that it gave me a great deal of reassurance and I have a slightly better idea of how to approach things now. The next step is to wait for my first proper appointment with the clinic but it seems unlikely that will be happening for a few months yet.

I was surprised, however, to find that the appointment came with a tinge of disappointment and frustration. Not for my current self – I finally feel like I’m getting the support I need – but for my younger self instead. I found myself angry that no such appointment had been made available when I was at my lowest point as a teenager. I was given no information or support back then and ended up spending more days than I would like to remember thinking over how maybe it would be better simply not to exist anymore. I sat in that appointment wondering how differently I might have felt about my body and how that might have led to a better quality of life over all of these years. I also felt frustrated that it had taken thirteen years since my initial diagnosis to get to the point where anyone has noticed that I have more than one condition. So much makes sense to me now that hadn’t done before. I have often worried that once you have an M.E diagnosis doctors stop listening and looking for anything else, instead just attributing everything to that condition and it niggled at me that maybe I was right. There are too many people like me living through these experiences and I wish there was a way to ensure that no one else has to wait so long or live through so much before they get help.

It was hard to let go of the idea of what could have been different if this had all happened sooner but I’m trying to focus on the fact that at least it has all happened now. I’m cautiously optimistic about working my way towards better health.

work

The bulk of my working month has been spent with the brilliant education charity FutureVersity, who I joined in July as a Programme Tutor and Consultant for their Vacation Education programme in Tower Hamlets. I spent several weeks working behind the scenes to help with preparation for the programme, amending and developing resources and attending tutor training. This week the programme launched and it has been totally exhausting but wonderful. I’m working as a tutor with a group of 14-16 year olds who will be completing activities and team challenges over 3 weeks, with the aim of increasing skills and confidence whilst keeping them engaged and in a learning mindset over the summer. Alongside this, I’ve also been thrilled to join Future First‘s pool of Freelance Facilitators to deliver their workshops in schools and spent a hot and sunny day with Brook doing outreach work in Lewisham.

Finally, this month marked one year since I went freelance which I still can’t quite believe. I wrote a blog to mark the occasion, which you can read here.

life

My work/life balance hasn’t been all too even over the last month but I did manage to squeeze in a couple of brilliant arts experiences.

First, I went to see The Jungle which has moved from the Young Vic to the West End. It was an incredible piece of theatre about the stories and experiences of refugees in Calais. From the set, which places you in the middle of the action, to the outstanding performances of the cast it’s a masterclass in effective storytelling and using the arts to inspire action. The work of the charity Help Refugees is promoted around the theatre and at the end of the show, so that the audience aren’t only moved by the stories but can act to change the future. I would love to see more of this sort of production.

Secondly, was PROCESS! Fest, a zine festival hosted at Somerset House and curated by OOMK zine. The event offered workshops, a zine fair, a pop up zine library, talks and a communal table to share zines. I took along two of my zines to add to the pile, bought a rather large collection of zines and attended a talk on using print publications in activism (a personal area of increasing interest). I found the event thoroughly enjoyable and it definitely helped to energise me in my own zine making (as well as increasing my TBR pile).

My own creative work has been quiet this month so I was glad to have the chance to take inspiration and motivation from others. Let’s see what August holds.

My First Year as a Freelancer

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It was precisely one year ago to the day that I launched this website and my business. At the time I didn’t know what to expect from freelancing – it had taken me a lot of time turning over the idea of taking the plunge before I got to that point. Would I find enough of the right work? Would the lifestyle suit me? Would I miss the consistency of the same team, the same days and hours, the same role? I was entering a world with a lot of uncertainty but also a lot of hope. One year into the gamble, I’m so glad I made the leap – this year has been a real learning curve and I’ve been so fortunate to work with some incredible charities and social enterprises along the way.

To mark the occasion, I thought I would write a little something about what I have loved most and what I’ve learned in my first year as my own boss.

Flexibility

I think this is probably one of the most notable bonuses of freelance life – getting to pick your own schedule and make your hours work for you. I have really enjoyed the ability to work from home more and break out of the 35 hour a week 9-5. On both a personal level – where it has allowed me more freedom to focus on writing and creativity – and from the perspective of my health, this has benefited me a lot. Given I probably spend the equivalent of one working day a week on health admin with my various appointments, it has been a blessing to be able to organise my time more freely.

At first, I thought of the freelance lifestyle being a short term option, something to suit my current circumstance, but now I’m not so sure I could turn back. I feel so much more relaxed, in spite of the lack of certainty month to month, and really enjoy working alongside so many brilliant people in the charity sector, which brings me to my next point.

Variety

I have always been someone who has craved variety in their work – I’ve been fortunate to work in organisations that have allowed me to explore wide ranging projects within one role. I think freelancing takes that to the next level, working on varied projects with several organisations at once keeps me on my toes, gives me lots to think about and challenges me intellectually and creatively. I also find working on discrete projects really rewarding – I like going in with a set timeframe and goals to aim for.

The way I’ve been working has also allowed me to meet so many fascinating people – from people I have worked alongside to volunteers I’ve trained and young people. I had been worried that freelance life could be quite isolating but I feel like I’ve managed to find a good balance between time spent working alone and time spent working with others.

Focus

Another of the benefits of working with several organisations in different roles is that it has really helped me to home in on what I most want to do and really begin to focus my approach and my business.

My passion for designing, developing and leading workshops and programmes has really come to the fore and I’ve been loving focusing more energy on working in this space. I’m so happy to be a facilitator for both Brook and Future First’s programmes in schools and can’t wait to spend my summer with FutureVersity as a Programme Tutor and Consultant in Tower Hamlets. Working with young people has always been my passion and I feel so energised to be doing what I love with so many amazing organisations.

Here’s to year two…

June: in review

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This has been the best month I’ve had in 2018 so far and, in all honesty, I’m quite sad that my birthday season is rolling away for another year. Between my birthday, a city break, a positive consultant appointment and general life goodness this month has felt like a great leap forward from where I was when this year started. I loved a lot of my 28th year but it already feels like 29 could be a game changer. Here’s a round up of my month.

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Anyone who follows my blog will know that this month held a long awaited consultancy appointment with the fatigue service at the Royal Free. I had approached the appointment with trepidation; I hate the name “fatigue service” as it feels like it diminishes my experience; I made the mistake of googling my consultant (trust me, never do this); I knew the clinic’s main approach is the GET/CBT methodology recommended by the widely criticised PACE trial. I get anxious in hospitals as it is so sitting in the corridor waiting to be called I was an absolute bag of nerves. After the appointment, however, I texted my best friends: I have to take it all back. She’s actually a bit of a legend.

It was probably the most thorough appointment I’ve ever had with a consultant. I felt fully listened to, understood and respected. She got where I was coming from, she empathised and, best of all, she had ideas. Next steps include an appointment to explore the extent to which fibromyalgia is affecting me (ah yes – I also picked up an additional diagnosis) and then moving forward to try to reduce my pain (and thus my need for buckets of medication). I left the appointment feeling so hopeful. I can’t promise to cure you, she said. Science isn’t there yet, but we can do our best to improve your symptoms. I have all my fingers and toes crossed that she’s right.

June has felt like a good month overall too, with my body feeling significantly more resilient and able to keep up with a higher pace of life than I’ve managed in a while. It feels like the upward curve is continuing…  I’d probably best go touch wood again, hey?

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This month has been quiet work wise, especially with my break, but did include a brilliant day of induction training with Brook for my new position with them as an Education and Wellbeing Specialist. I’m really looking forward to getting started with events and workshops in the coming weeks.

I’ve also been using my down time to get out and meet with organisations to discuss possible collaborations. If you or your organisation would benefit from support with volunteer management, youth engagement or facilitation do give me a shout.

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The month kicked off with my birthday which I thoroughly enjoyed with friends and family. I always find birthdays send me into a slight existential spiral in the preceding week but on the day itself that tends to transition into a hopeful feeling. I’ve made myself a little list of things I want to do this year before the big 3-0 in 2019, set some intentions and so far things are looking bright.

The week after my birthday I went away for my annual solo city break. I know it’s not for everyone but travelling alone is one of the greatest acts of self-care I can practice. I love taking the time out of the day to day, giving myself some space and taking time to reflect. This year took me to Amsterdam and I really enjoyed wandering the canals, taking writing breaks in cafes, vintage shopping and soaking up some of the culture.

I came back from my trip with a fresh energy and a real feeling of momentum. It has been good to come back with focus and I’m certain I can make the second half of this year even better than the first.

See you next month.

May: in review

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Here we are again – the end of another month. The end of May tends to bring out a sense of existential dread in me, as an early June baby – another year ticked off and a new age to remember. In fairness, though, at least I can look back at 28 as a pretty successful and transformative year.

As for May, it has felt both lengthy and short but certainly full of life. Here’s my monthly round up

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All in all, May has been a very good month (touching wood seemed to work last time, so I’m going to type this one handed with the other palm flat on the table). I’ve been able to do more and my body has been much quicker to bounce back from bad days. I’m beginning to feel a little more lively and a lot more resilient which is great, although it does make the hard days feel harder in a way. I need to remember to stay mindful of pacing and resting as I go forward but I have my fingers crossed that this is the start of a steady upward curve.

This month was heavy on the health awareness weeks for me, as you can see reflected on the blog with my posts for M.E Awareness Week and Mental Health Awareness Week. I’m not sure who chose to put them back to back – it was a big fortnight for baring my soul – but I hope that anyone who read my posts, alongside all the pieces I shared on my social media feeds, found them helpful or, at the very least, interesting!

Next month I finally have my M.E clinic appointment, after a year of pushing and persisting to get there. I’m seeing a consultant who follows guidance heavily critiqued by many patients and other specialists so I’m interested, if increasingly anxious, to see what the appointment holds.

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This month brought my time with The Mix to an end after a brilliant 8 months. It was a mixed month of volunteer recruitment and training, finishing with a Saturday working with new volunteers in Nottingham. As one contract ends, however, another begins – I’m looking forward to joining Brook, the young people’s sexual health charity, as a Freelance Education and Wellbeing Specialist soon, supporting them to deliver their work in schools.

I also worked with Volume 48 this month on a brilliant event with over 100 employees from Cisco. The event aimed to raise awareness and understanding of hidden conditions – from mental health to sight impairment. Participants were guided through several interactive sessions to simulate different conditions and get people thinking and talking. As it was Mental Health Awareness Week, I also ran a mini listening skills masterclass.

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I am now open to new opportunities and would love to hear from anyone who is interested in receiving facilitation or consultancy support.

life

I was thrilled to be recognised by Action for M.E as a ‘Fundraiser of the Week’ during May, as a result of my awareness raising zines. It’s so nice to get positive feedback from others living with M.E and to feel like what I’m doing is really making a difference, even if only in a small way.

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Finally, I’ve actually felt well enough this month to just live my life and that has felt so good – meeting with friends, going to parties, watching the royal wedding with a gin or two… it has felt nice to be able to let go a little and just be me. Long may it continue.