October: in review

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For me the month of October felt a little bit patchwork, weaving together a multitude of pieces into a nice but jumbled whole. I guess that feels somewhat indicative of my year more broadly, which I suppose is no bad thing.

This month was mostly a slow plod into autumn and working a little bit harder than usual to manage my health. Here’s my round up of it all.

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The core of my work this month has been with Inspire! on the Headstart Action programme, running the programme in two of my local schools. We’ve been focusing on the so called soft skills and employability for the most part but this week kicked off the second phase of social action. I’m looking forward to supporting my cohorts to make a difference in their local communities. I’ve also been doing my usual dash across the South East with Future First to run careers workshops with secondary schools – it’s been a busy autumn term so far for delivery work.

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In addition to youth facing work, I’ve also been gearing up for a new role as a Training Associate with Mental Health UK. From November, I’ll be training up teachers to run resilience programmes for young people in schools as well as co-facilitating their first cohorts.

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This month has been a bit trying when it comes to my health conditions (I feel like I say this every month but we’ll gloss over that – basically it has been harder for the last 31 days!) I’m not sure what it is – I’ve not been doing especially more than I’ve been used to this year but something has been causing my symptoms to flare a little more strongly. Maybe it’s the change of seasons – the cold always hits me quite hard – but whatever caused it, I’ve been in the mood to hibernate significantly more.

One of the biggest days of my month, however, was health related but for all the best reasons. After a year of shadowing the board at Action for M.E, I was voted in officially as a Trustee at their October conference.

I’m sure it will come as no surprise that writing has formed a large part of my world outside of work this month. I’ve been filling up my sticker chart with gusto, kicking off my second draft and even writing some personal essays to submit to magazines.

I was also really thrilled to discover one of my pieces for Dear Damsels – “I have been thinking a lot” – was also featured on their podcast earlier this year. You can listen to a brief extract and discussion of my writing in their June episode. It was such a joy to hear my work spoken about so warmly and I’m so grateful for their ongoing support.

Finally, after months of putting most of my creative energy into my novel, I finally made some time for art again this month. This culminated in attending a full day with Sketch Appeal for their Inktober special. I had an amazing time co-creating artwork and drawing/painting portraits of the other attendees. I love taking home the portraits created of me – always so different – and the connections I make on the day. So much of my recent energy has gone into work and solo creative practice and it was good to remind myself that making time for fun and friendship is really important too if I can manage it.

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Looking ahead to November, my calendar is mostly more work, work, work. I’ve got plenty lined up with everyone I worked with this month, alongside some youth engagement work with YoungMinds and training for young champions at Time to Change. Expect a lethargic blog post in thirty days!

Otherwise, I plan to keep up the pace of my writing, continue making time for art and for my friends as well. Fingers crossed my body sorts its act out so I can manage to pack it all in! I’ll see you on the other side.

September: in review

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I think my most used phrase across September has been that I’ve been “a bit all over the place”. It felt like another run away month, so much so that the end of the month and beginning of the next escaped me when it came to writing my blog. Between a grumbling body, getting back into a new school year, family events and pushing on with my book, I’ve not quite felt on top of things so much as chasing after them. Still, what’s life without its challenges?!

Here’s a round up of what’s been going on.

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The six weeks of the summer seem to have passed in no time and September saw me back in schools each week. I’ve started a new project with Inspire Education Business Partnership, leading the delivery of the HeadStart Action programme, which aims to support young people at risk of becoming NEET to develop employability skills and lead a social action project in their communities. I”l be running the programme at two schools in Haringey for the next three months. Both of the schools I’m working with are a convenient 20 minute walk from where I live and it feels really nice to be making an impact on my doorstep, as well as introducing more young people to social action, which was the catalyst for my career.

Alongside HSA, I’ve been picking up workshops with Future First again, talking to young people across the South East about careers and life after school.

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September was a massive month in terms of my writing. I finished the first draft of my novel after a long old process of getting words on the page and I still have to pinch myself a little that I got there. I finished early in the month and spent the last week of September in Devon with Arvon, on a tutored retreat.

The retreat was formed of morning workshops, 1-1 tutorials, evening talks and a lot of fun and creative inspiration over six days (with no signal or wifi to distract us). After I overcame my initial imposter syndrome, the retreat was a bit of a game changer for me. Within a few days I had figured out what wasn’t working in my first draft and created a solid plan that I’m happy with for the second. I met some brilliant people and benefited so much from the time, space and focus to take my novel forward.

Aside from writing, my September saw an awful lot of resting (my body threw quite a few tantrums this month) as well as dog sitting a new favourite – the sweetest angel of a puppy, Finch – and another quick round trip to Wales to visit my Grandad in hospital and check in on my Grandma. I’ve probably done a lot more than I should have for my health and my body this month but some things deserve that extra push.

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October will see me launching into my second draft and trying to keep up the creative inspiration gained from the retreat by booking in some bookish events. I would like to keep building the sense of being part of a community of writers who understand, which I found so helpful at my retreat and have been lucky enough to find in my core group of Write Like a Grrrl grads these last few years. I’m hoping with focus and the foundations from my first draft in place, that this rewrite won’t take anywhere near as long. I’m really excited to get working.

I have an awful lot of work coming up, between Inspire and Future First (and perhaps some new projects too), and October is also the annual conference and AGM for Action for M.E, where I will hopefully be voted in and approved as an official Trustee. I’m looking forward to being able to make a continued difference on the board.

See you on the other side.

 

August: in review

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This month’s review post is coming a little later than usual, as the end of my month was dominated by trips away (and the resulting rest stretches required). The month as a whole was about as mixed as the weather was – busy with work, intermittent flare days with my conditions and moments of light and joy with friends, family and a solo mini break.

It feels like one of those months that lasted forever and yet was over before it begun. Here’s my round up of what I’ve been up to.

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I tried to have a slower August with work, focused just on my project with Time to Change (though of course that never quite works). This month saw me travel to Cambridge, Manchester and York to support regional meetings for young campaigners. It was such a tonic for the soul to meet with all of these creative and passionate young people, determined to challenge the stigma around mental illness. I’ve also been designing training for young campaigners and supporting the wider youth involvement team.

Around the edges of this work, I’ve been organising my autumn with other clients. I had an induction as a freelance Youth Engagement Worker at YoungMinds, chatted with Inspire Education Business Partnership about leading delivery of HeadStart Action – an employability and social action programme – in two schools in my borough and booked in workshop dates in schools with Future First. It’s looking like it’ll be a busy few months.

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This month I really knuckled down with my novel and hit the 80,000 word mark, which I still can’t quite believe. The process of finishing the first draft is taking longer than I expected but I’m getting there slowly. After three months of keeping a sticker chart, I’ve learned that motivational techniques used for primary school children are also highly effective on me… and I’m fine with it.

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I’ve also been out and about a lot this month, visiting a friend in Bristol, taking a few days off in Paris and finishing the month in Wales with family. Paris was precisely the break I needed (though I would have loved an additional few days), allowing me some time dedicated solely to art, vintage shopping and caffeine. It’s one of my absolute favourite cities to visit and I’m not sure I will ever tire of going there – it’s the perfect location to recharge and refresh.

This last weekend I was in Wales, as my grandparents have now both moved out of the family home and we need to get it ready for sale. It was a strange and intense weekend, sorting out their belongings, going through stacks and stacks of old photos, getting used to the idea of their magical home no longer being in the family. It may well be the last time I ever stay there. It feels especially sad to lose another link with my mum but it is also the right move for my grandparents, so I’m trying to focus on the positives and how lucky we were to have such a wonderful place to go to for so long.

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As a new school year starts, the pace with work will be picking up again and I’m due to be working with all of the clients mentioned in my work section at various points across September.

It won’t be all work and no play, though, as at the end of the month I’ll be going on an Arvon writing retreat which I truly cannot wait for. I’m looking forward to some dedicated time to focus on my writing and, if I haven’t done so by then, hopefully finish the first draft. I can’t wait to tell you all about it next month.

July: in review

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I’ve been looking back at the last month and, in all honesty, I’ve struggled to come up with a cohesive narrative for it. For me, July felt very fragmented, separated into a multitude of shifting phases – good, bad, indifferent – marked by extreme weather, busy weeks and the impact that all of those things combined can have on a chronically ill body.

I think I  approached a lot of this month on survival mode – just trying to get through things and to come out the other side, rather than being able to stop and enjoy the better moments. It’s the sort of month I’m quite used to dealing with but not one I was expecting when this month started. Here’s my round up of a changeable July.

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Across the month, my work focus has been split between project work with Time to Change and a large number of workshop deliveries with Future First ahead of the end of term. This has seen me hopping between designing training for young campaigners, supporting staff to plan and hold regional campaign meetings, training professionals about breaking down stigma through conversation, all punctuated with popping into schools to talk to sixth formers about careers.

I also spent a day down in beautiful Bath early on in the month, for a board away day with Action for M.E. It was an intense day (who knew that talking about M.E for 6 hours when you have M.E would be exhausting?!) but also really inspiring. I loved getting to meet more of the staff team and hearing about all of the brilliant work they do to support people living with my condition. There are worse places to spend the day, too.

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I think perhaps part of the ongoing inconsistency I’ve felt with this last month has a lot to do with inconsistency with my health and wellbeing. It’s one of the most volatile months I’ve had with my health in a while. I think a combination of stress, a busy calendar (including quite a lot of travel around the country for work) and the extreme weather have probably all come together and formed the root of it. Stress has affected my ability to sleep – waking multiple times every night, my schedule has put strain on my body in addition to the extreme temperatures which has flared my fibromyalgia and fatigue leading to days of bed rest and a multitude of cancelled plans, all of which has lowered my resilience and seen my anxiety creep up into my chest. It seems to have been a perfect storm for feeling overwhelmed. I think I’ve felt a little more of the weight of loneliness this month (though it has been weighing on me for a while) and a little less able to keep my head above water and see the bright side. My natural reaction when feeling this way is to withdraw but that’s probably only making the way I feel worse. The isolation and otherness that comes with my range of conditions has been present in the back of my mind now for a while.

I was torn over whether to talk about the way I’ve been feeling here – to share some of my innermost feelings on a public platform on my freelance website – but it seemed disingenuous to talk about my month and not to say it; it’s remarkable how additionally tiring it is to keep pretending that you’re fine. I’m not quite sure what the answer to this feeling is yet but I’m hoping it will come to me in time. Hopefully August will treat me a little bit more gently and I can begin to work it out.

Outside of the sharper edges of my month, there have been a few shards of light. I celebrated a close friend’s 30th, dog sat one of my favourite pups and had a brief little trip down to Margate last weekend. I’ve been a little less consistent with my writing this month than I was in June, but I’ve still made a significant amount of progress. I’m now a mere 125 words away from 70,000 which still feels a little bit unreal to me. One of the most consistent things my parents would always say to me growing up was that they knew if I put my mind to something I’d make it happen. My dad will often say to me now that I inherited my mum’s willpower and it’s nice thinking I’ve put it to good use by committing to writing a story that, in part at least, honours her. I’m hoping in August I can keep the word count growing and maybe even see the finish line of the first draft.

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August is set to be a little bit more peaceful, as I’ve purposefully booked a maximum of 3 days’ work per week – all of which I’ll be spending with the team at Time to Change. I want to use some of the time I have freed up to write, as well as to rest, and at the end of the month I’ll be spending a few relaxed days in Paris.

Hopefully all of this combined will mean that I can come to my next round up a little bit more brightly. I’ll see you on the other side.

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 at Time to Change 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  weekend of writing 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.

life banner

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.

coming up banner

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…

2018: in review

2018 banner 3

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.