“But it hasn’t happened to me yet. Will it ever?”

I have historically written an end of year review or roundup of some description, but this year for various complicated reasons, I didn’t feel up to writing one. For as long as I can handle, I’ve decided to have a break from social media, something that all of us should do for our mental health from time to time. Friends can still contact me by text – and I welcome this – I don’t think I could completely detach myself from conversation, but having some distance from “the best version of ourselves” isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

When I was growing up I made plans, and then when things didn’t go as I’d hoped, I would often negatively blame myself. Or more often in later years, was negatively blamed by other people because of how they see me. Most vivid example is a former manager questioning my abilities because I didn’t appear how he expected youth workers to be. I was quiet/thoughtful/reflective – he wanted a “loud, bubbly Butlins style rep” which I am not or will never be. At the time I ruminated for days about how I could be this better person, that everyone seemed to want. I was convinced that it was up to me to change. After a while this becomes a vicious cycle. We are intrinsically programmed to compare ourselves to others, where we go on holiday, the cars we drive, our education, what people eat and even our accents. If someone sounds a bit “southern” we immediately decide that they must be “posh” and if they have an accent, they’re definitely “common”. To fit in, one of the first things we do is try to alter the way we speak. If someone appears more quiet at school than others – they’re probably struggling or are not as capable as other people. Judging our capabilities on who we appear to be can lead to some pretty awkward and difficult situations. I was bullied for being the “posh girl” at school. My vegetarianism and dyspraxia probably didn’t help matters either.

Ten years ago I wondered where I’d be in a decade, I was 18, had just started university and “had my life ahead of me” or so everyone kept saying. We map out our future, moving away, relationships, driving, children, careers. We assume that all of these things will happen. An eleven year old in a youth club recently told me how old she wants to be when she has kids, it was younger than I am now – planning starts from such a young age – and working with young people, I see the comparisons they make and know all too well the damage it can do.

Now I am that decade on from when I first started university, I’m still living at home, yet to learn to drive, marriage and children are miles off and I haven’t found a full time job. I have often thought that all of these things, the plans we make as children, the “hopes and achievements” books we fill in during PSHE and the picture we paint of our future, are milestones that happen to other people, and not me. That my plans will never happen. That I have essentially failed at everything I set out to do. Anxiety you see is a bitch, and is probably the worst bully I have ever known. I wanted to write down how I am feeling, or have felt, not for pity or to moan, but to challenge the “perfect picture” we paint on social media and in person. And sometimes, the best thing we can do is step away from everything and really make plans that matter. My plan for today was to have a shower, and it felt brilliant to achieve that. It’s the small goals we need to instil in our young people, that will eventually, in time, feed into those big goals.

I regularly wonder what could have been but wasn’t. You know, “Well I could have lived there but didn’t” “That person might have been good for me if I’d given them the chance” “What would have happened if I’d got that job?” You know, we all do it. Now I’m in the last year of my 20’s and wondering if my 30’s will be “like” or very different to the last ten years. My dyspraxia means that naturally some things are going to be more difficult than others, so finding a job to “get by” until something else comes along isn’t an option. Although this knowledge didn’t stop me trawling through the internet recently thinking “well if there are no jobs in youth work, and I haven’t got the necessary experience required in most journalism job ads, what’s the worst that could happen if I apply for a job in retail, or a bar or a call centre? I mean, everyone else does it.” I’m beyond complaining or even attempting to explain this type of “barrier” or even these thoughts, that often come and go. We all want to change for other people, to fit the “essential and desireable” in a job spec or to simply impress our friends or colleagues. But sometimes, we just can’t. We can evolve but who we are is always going to stay the same. This is one of the most important things I’ve learned this year. Telling yourself that “you’re fine” is probably one of the hardest things to do.

A friend recently told me; “we are all on our own unique timeline”, and after a while I’ve began to see how this is more true and relevant to society today than ever. We will all get there, but some of us might choose the train, and others will prefer the bus.


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“I hear you are not to do heavy work” – dyspraxia, mental health and an Indian anniversary

This week is Dyspraxia awareness week, alongside it also being World Mental Health Day – both are very relevant and important to each other. It is also 7 years on Thursday since I got on a plane to India. 12th October 2010 is a date I’ll never forget – so it all ties in nicely. I’m hoping that if you’ve read this blog before, you’re at least a little bit aware of what dyspraxia is, and you should be if you know me. If you’re not, google or reading back a few pieces is a good place to start. This time I wanted to write something a bit more specific to my life, right now.

People always knew something was ‘ up’ with me and I was diagnosed as dyspraxic at a relatively young age, but didn’t begin to understand it or even accept this diagnosis until well after university. I was just going into third year when I started to consider what being dyspraxic may mean to me. And it was only on a three month trip to India, when I really started to work out who I am. A programme that I wouldn’t have got a place on, had I not talked about being dyspraxic in the interview. For the first time in my life I had to be completely honest. Admitting to some things that I’d barely told my closest friends was hard. It was in India, in the middle of the Thar Desert where I started to keep a journal and to answer the many ‘why?’ questions that I had developed a catalogue of over the years. “Why am I worried about being lost in India forever?” “Why was the sleeper train so traumatic?” “Why was the uncertainty of India more difficult for me than the others?” “Why did I spend the first few days in constant tears?” “Why was the flying fox zip-wire more challenging?” “Why were some relationships with the Indian men who befriended us difficult?” AND “Why did I have an anxiety attack on top of a camel?” I haven’t written about this in any depth before, although if you’ve ever spent a bit of time with me I’m sure you’ll be aware of some of the stories from the above. When you’re living in the middle of nowhere, with only chai (a dog not the drink, although probably the drink too) to keep you occupied there is plenty of time to think.


Chai the dog…

In the summer before going to India I was going through a pretty bad mental health dip, to the extent of someone who was ‘looking after’ me at a music summer school, sitting me down and making me phone the Samaritans. Sufficient time has passed since, and World Mental Health Day seems an appropriate time to talk about it. I was broken, lost, waiting to hear about India (I later found out I’d got a place that week) and trying to process not a new diagnosis but a very new one in my head. Graduating from university with no guidance as to what my dyspraxia would mean beyond education was difficult too. I was used to always having someone to go to, teachers, youth workers and the pastoral staff at summer school who probably did more for me than they were paid to do. When I turned 21 it felt like this had all been taken away and I now I had to be an adult, which is hard for someone with so many unanswered questions.

In India, their understanding of mental health and any disability that you cannot see, is very different to what I was used to. We were being looked after by a local Indian company called IDEX and it became very clear that I would have to make my mental health as invisible as possible. The times of late night chats with pastoral teams were long gone. Although the support of the six girls in my room meant the world to me. When I found out that part of the work we’d be doing would be construction work in a local village and after realising that my dyspraxia may make this difficult, I approached one of the directors, who I assumed was in charge of the Indian side of the programme. “I’m dyspraxic, I’m worried about the construction work” I said. I was still learning how to verbalise what being dyspraxic meant. I continued to talk about difficulties with coordination. He reassured me that he would pass this onto the staff member in charge of my group. During the first afternoon of construction work, that actually entailed moving one pile of rubble from one side of a school yard to the other,  our group leader, who we all knew as “Uncle G” pulled me aside. He was seen as a wise man and an elder, being an ex school teacher. “I hear you are not to do heavy work,” he said. ‘That’s not quite it’ I thought, but didn’t feel like explaining in front of the others in my team. He then proceeded to tell me that my job was to pull weeds out of the ground, while the everyone else was set to work on tackling the rubble. I felt singled out and isolated. That what I was doing had no meaning. But I knew that any understanding of dyspraxia in India was non existent, Uncle G thought he was being helpful but had actually excluded me from the rest the group. I wished I hadn’t said a word.

In the years since India I have learned that practical tasks aren’t my forte, I’ll never work in a bar and learning to drive this year is going to be challenging. No one explicitly told me this, (and if I had been pigeon holed in this way I’m sure I would have bitten the persons head off), I’ve had to work it out for myself. I’ve also learned that ‘trying hard’ is very rarely seen as ‘the best.’ And this upsets me. The idea that those who don’t get ‘the best’, don’t try hard, upsets me more. When I recently challenged someone who held this view I was told, “That’s just how things are and you can’t change it. Employers aren’t interested in how hard you work, they only care about your grades.” I missed out on a first at university because of mental health, and people often put several identifying factors together and assume the opposite to reality. I can hardly write ‘I was confused about who I was at the time but was nearly there’ on an application form. I went to the kind of school where everyone was expected to go to university and to do well. In general people with dyspraxia often have to justify themselves or offer explanations as to why they do things, have or haven’t achieved certain milestones. Moving out, driving, and a stable career spring to mind. I certainly see it in my relationships, and India is an example of when I had no option but to do the opposite and keep quiet. I wanted to get through three months alive and would spend my weekdays hoping that the following weekend would be okay. We’d all leave the safety of camp at the weekend to go into nearby towns, that can be dangerous for a white, young western woman, and being dyspraxic made me more vulnerable. Being genuinely pleased that I’d lived through another weekend seems odd to most people but was perfectly rational to my anxiety. I didn’t talk about these fears while I was there, I just got on with it and dealt with the dogs, cows and men as best I could. I wouldn’t change going to India at all, I generally had the best time, and have stories for times with friends at the pub that seem to never end.

When I was younger and started to apply for jobs for the first time, I tried a lot that made me feel vulnerable or extenuated my weaknesses. I trained as a teaching assistant shortly after India with a view to going into teaching. I quickly realised that the practical tasks and admin required in a primary school would cause me problems. I fell out with the photocopier most days and my difficulty making displays around Christmas prompted funny looks from the teachers. With this teaching assistant qualification, I signed up to an agency. After a short time with them I realised that someone ringing me up in the morning asking me to get to a school often in an area I was unfamiliar with in an hour, was making my anxiety worse. “Why can’t I just do it?” I asked, every time I turned down a job because I physically couldn’t get out of the door without an anxiety attack. I then failed getting onto a PGCE because of my poor performance in the Maths test. Shortly after realising that I needed to be out of the education system, I trained as youth worker. I’ve had to work around practical tasks and ensure that I put as much planning in as I need in my current job. This often means going to places the day before so that I can become familiar with a new area. Putting me on a football field at the beginning was a disaster, but I’ve slowly learned to verbalise my dyspraxia and to answer the ‘why’ questions, that seemed impossible to get my head around when I was younger.

Now I’ve found out (as of today) that I am due to graduate with a Masters in Magazine Journalism next month. I am beginning to look for media jobs, and this time I have more understanding than ever before. I’m also leaving university with very little knowledge of ‘how to find a job in journalism or writing.’  This lack of guidance hasn’t changed and like times before I’m going to have to work out ‘what’s next’ for myself. I am also realistic, and don’t expect anything quickly. Going through stages of trial and error, a trip to India and testing out disclosing different bits of information to different people has all helped me to accept myself. If there is one thing that you are going to take away from dyspraxia awareness week and World Mental Health Day, I’d hope that you understand that it’s just as important to prepare someone for what their difficulties may mean after education and away from any safety nets that they are familiar with, as it is to prepare them academically. It really can be quite difficult and confusing without that preparation…

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I’m in my 20’s and lonely

Last week I took myself out for a coffee. As I sat down to my cappuccino, I wondered, how many people close to my age feel lonely just as I do? And why do we never hear about it? So I decided to write about it…

One thing that is rarely talked about and should be discussed more is being young, with your life ahead of you, opportunities at your feet… and lonely. I have felt loneliness in varying degrees throughout my adolescence and 20’s, some times were more difficult than others. There has also been times when I haven’t felt lonely at all. No one wants to talk about it because it’s hard to say to a friend “I’m feeling a bit lonely today”, probably much harder than telling someone you’ve just had an anxiety attack or you’re having a bad mental health day. Loneliness seems to be such an alien concept.

Young people feeling lonely is almost forgotten, like it shouldn’t exist, but it should be talked about more – on social media and in person. 18-35 year olds are more likely to experience depression due to loneliness than the over 55’s. Yet we feel ashamed to speak these statistics. I always remember going to a doctor worried about my mental health aged 16, to be told I’m “too young to be depressed.” It’s no surprise why it took me years to get help after this. We’re too young to experience depression and too young to feel lonely. So who are we meant to be? I recently read an article about a study revealing that one in four girls are diagnosed with depression before they turn 14, and sadly you can see why, given the mixed messages we receive about who we should be or become, and the overwhelming pressure put on young people.

I’m at the stage now, when I’ve finished a second masters, everyone I met at uni are a distant memory, most of my ‘local’ friends along with both siblings have now moved away and I’m still living at home with parents. There is so many stereotypes about young people, who we are, who we should be, what we should do and where we should be by a certain age. The list is endless. “So are you going out tonight?” a taxi driver recently asked me, (on a rare occasion when I wasn’t asked why I’m don’t drive – but that’s another blog for another day…) As if a 20 something is only defined by wild nights out on the town. I forget the last time I stayed out past 11. “No” I replied. “Just staying in tonight.” The conversation then moved on to an interrogation about my job, why taxi drivers choose this tactic to make conversation I will never understand. I’ve heard many similar stories to mine.

The majority of friends live two hours or more away from me, and like most things visiting takes planning. Even when I can visit, train tickets are expensive and unaffordable to many. The days of ringing someone up and popping out for a quick coffee are long gone. Going from seeing people everyday at uni, to this suddenly not being there is a transition we are rarely prepared for. This feels like a different kind of loneliness to before, now it feels more profound. As if the decisions I make in the next few months mean more.

Above all being in your 20’s can be utterly confusing. You have to decide on a career, that often takes a few go’s to get right. You can’t afford to move out, or to live where the well paid jobs are or at least jobs in your field. And if you’re like me you can’t get ‘filler in’ jobs to get by. You have friendship groups from different parts of your life and deal with the constant comparison this ensues. If you haven’t chosen the settle down and have babies route yet, you find yourself fending off a barrage of questions as to why. Of course there are some exciting things to being 20 something too – being in the position when you can still make decisions that can reflect the direction of your future. As scary as this also seems.

There are campaigns in the media to ‘end the stigma of mental health’ that I really do support but rarely conversation about the affect loneliness has on young people. Loneliness is silent. Rarely talked about or understood – but it should be. Having days when you feel particularly lonely should be something you feel able to share. Not feeling awkward that you’re not a typical young person or that you’re not living up to the expectations of society or random taxi drivers. When I was a student, I was asked if I go out every night or ‘just’ study. As if the latter is perceived as boring or dull. That you’re not a proper student if you don’t live the lifestyle everyone expects. The most I did was have a couple of glasses of wine at home in front of a film, the reality of the pressures of an intense Masters degree.

I have realised after feeling the most lost I’ve ever felt in the last couple of weeks, periods of adjustment are something we all deal with to varying degrees throughout our lives. The difficult times post university are sometimes clouded in the exciting, new opportunities and people that student life brings. You’re so engrossed in the student bubble, that when this time comes it’s more of a shock to the system. My time since university has been made easier with Twitter and friends being helpful several hundreds of miles away over the phone. I’m lucky, as I know so many people don’t have that. My loneliness and anyones loneliness would be made easier if more of us talk about it, that we’re prepared earlier for feeling lost and confused, and that most of all we understand that young people can feel lonely too. And probably more so than older generations because we are expected to always be out and about, enjoying what is said to be ‘the best time of our life.’ And we are often perceived as odd when we’re not.


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That feeling of “what now?” when you finish an MA

It is almost a week since I finished a Masters in Magazine Journalism with handing in my final project. A whole year of working, trying to be a journalist and creating, culminated in a few minutes discussing my final project with my tutor during a viva voce, and any problems I’d encountered along the way. I have, after a week reflecting realised that the only real problems have occurred after, and not during the MA.

Journalism is intense, you spend four days a week working closely with others on your course, learning new skills and swearing at computers. I’ve learned more this year, than during any other qualification I’ve done before, because this is so different. Journalism is very practical, yes you have to be a good writer but there is so much more to journalism than that, and it’s developing these new skills that will make you sink or swim. I always remember my tutor saying at the very beginning “you have to learn to read and think like a journalist.” It is also an incredibly network driven industry and this to most people can be a daunting and overwhelming prospect.

On Friday I skipped into uni feeling elated, “it’s nearly over” I thought. “The next time I walk through these doors I will have done everything possible to get myself another freaking masters.” I’d of course been there before, four years earlier at Durham when I did the youth work MA. It really was a strange feeling. It was only when I walked out of the doors of the media centre half an hour later, armed with the words ‘good luck and keep in touch’ from my tutor, that I wondered “what am I supposed to do now?” I went across the road for a coffee to compose myself before going home. I’d asked myself this question several times before – but this time it felt different – like it really meant something. I’m 28 and as you get older appearing ‘sorted’ seems more relevant, I really should have worked my life out by now, in more ways than I will ever bring myself to write about.

As I sat there and pondered this further, I realised that universities are great at preparing you academically and for what is expected of you on the course, and I’ve never really struggled academically (unless you count maths), but no one ever prepares you for the “what now?” questions. No one talks about the feelings you will feel, the sense of numbness and confusion, when you walk out of that university campus for the final time. I felt very prepared with what to read, what books to buy, who to ask for advice and even how necessary shorthand really is – although I did go to outside the university for a few of those. I knew where I had to be and when, deadlines to work towards and was given support to improve my writing – basically everything you’d expect from a journalism degree. Although there was something missing – there is a transition period after university – ‘graduate depression’ is beginning to be recognised as an actual thing, so why wasn’t this ever mentioned? That after the final day, you’d feel more lost than you have ever felt before.

I am at a crossroads, having gone from such an intense year, that even included a Guardian interview in between two exams, to absolutely nothing. I’ve felt this on different levels before but now I’m at a stage in my life when whatever I decide to do seems more important. Applying for jobs is made more challenging when I know there are some jobs I just can’t do. If you’ve read this blog before you’ll have an idea why, but regardless of my strengths and weaknesses, that has made shorthand and some areas of youth work impossible, everyone leaving university has these feelings. The feelings that are in part the reason why I chose studying again, and the stress it brings, over some of the other options.

I’ve decided after a week of thinking about my future, to take some time (hopefully partly away) to work out what I want, where I want to be and to make a plan. I’m going to do things I enjoy, see people I care about and decide what it means to be me, so I can really answer the ‘what now?’ question. I loved my time at journalism school, training to do something that I enjoy and I know I am good at, but I wish someone had prepared me for having to do this. That the first few days will almost feel like a bereavement and that you’ll need time to adjust and come to terms with something even though you don’t quite know what that ‘thing’ is yet. I of course have to work some of this out for myself, and it’s important to do so, but having those conversations about the world beyond the course would have been beneficial to us all. Sometimes it’s worthwhile to remember that what goes on after university is just as important as what happens (or doesn’t) while you’re there.

But YES I have finished an MA and I am super proud to have got here! And I had wine to celebrate.


Hand in day was with everything considered, a good day…

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A Level results day – 10 years on…

I keep meaning to write something about results day in 2007, and now it’s 10 years on and my little sister is currently on her way to school to pick up her results as I type, now seems a more poignant time than ever.

Year 13, was a time when to put it bluntly I basically ‘lost the plot.’ I didn’t think that I’d get a place at uni, given how distracted I became in my final year of school – although complaining when I did get into my 1st choice of university seemed counterproductive. I did well in my A levels and I’m the sort of person who convinces my friends that I’m going to fail a degree and then do the opposite.

Results day in 2007 began with waking up at Folkworks Summer School, at Hild Bede in Durham. I left my friends for school – this was before smart phones (they might have just been invented, but I know I didn’t have one,) so unlike my sister and her friends today I couldn’t check Ucas first thing to be reassured that I’d got a place. I entered the school into what felt like the unknown. In the evening, I returned to Folkworks. The music felt like the best celebration ever, more so now when I realise with the benefit of hindsight how much playing fiddle did for me during those ‘make or break’ years.

I remember one girl from my year being featured in the local paper (and on the news,) I also remember her being everything I know I am not – someone the teachers thought the world of and was popular with everyone she met. I remember seeing that news item and feeling physically sick. When I turned 18, the realisation that I was an adult scared me more than it should have, so my natural reaction was to almost mess up my A Levels. I got all four A Levels though, so who am I to complain? This was also the first year I finally went along to see a doctor about my mental health – someone medical telling a teenager that she’s “definitely not depressed and that it’s just a phase” isn’t helpful for anyone in the middle of exams. I always knew that I would struggle more than most in certain jobs, but hadn’t really worked out how yet, or had any conversations about how my Dyspraxia would translate in the world beyond school. The one thing I would change if I could go back now, is for people to have these discussions with me. it might have made a difference to my A Level music grade, there is of course more to academia and doing well in exams. Of course we say that, those of us who have been there and are doing alright several years later – but is telling an 18 year old not to worry about results because they don’t mean anything helpful? Of course not. Whenever I heard that at 18, I wanted to bite persons head off. They do matter and it would be wrong to suggest otherwise.

My ten years on advice is a long list of ‘don’t do what I did’ – so I won’t do that, but what I can say is that results are important, so celebrate them, make a plan if things aren’t as expected, have fun with your mates and enjoy your time at uni – you will never again have so many experiences, (unless you decide two masters is a wise move, but again I wouldn’t recommend that decision unless you’re absolutely certain.) University the third time around has taught me to do what you enjoy, and find what you’re good at. I’ve spent ten years getting here, and I’m still working it out. Today is stressful, tomorrow might be too but if you work on your strengths rather than who society expects you to be, you can’t go far wrong.

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Going through a career change when you don’t feel equipped or ready for it…

A year ago I sat down and thought about my future and where I wanted to be in a few years time. At 27 I’d entered the ‘late twenties’ bracket and this terrified me. I’ve always felt the pressure to be at a certain place by a certain age, prompting questions when I’ve always appeared miles away from where people expect me to be. Meeting societies expectations is a rubbish way to live your life, no one should have to justify themselves to others. But we do – all of the time. “Why do people always want to know why?” As I pondered during a recent phone conversation with a friend. A career change was certainly something I’d hoped I would have to think about a few years off yet, but there I was. Pondering. And watching the news. Advice: never watch the news when you are having these kind of thoughts.

Four years ago I trained as a youth worker, I loved my training, my time at Durham and I really do enjoy working with young people. However recent events made me reassess this decision. A year after I qualified I had to deal with the bereavement of a friend, which in hindsight contributed to my patchy start to youth work. No ones fault – just one of those life things we all have to deal with as best we can. There’s no manual telling us how to cope with the unexpected, and even if there was I doubt it would be much help. I’ve been a sessional worker ever since which has meant that work has been infrequent and often unreliable. When I took time off at the beginning there was no paid leave, I was only paid for the hours I worked, so it doesn’t take long to financially fall apart. It also means that there’s no certainty or predictability, routine is often non existent, hence my failure to actually eat lunch so often. I certainly can’t make any long term plans to move away or any other plans that require consistent sources of income (i.e. driving), something that I want to do sooner rather than later and has become more of a necessity as I’ve got older. I’ve lost count of the number of jobs that my lack of driving has prevented me from applying for. Since I qualified the job market has got worse, with services being cut, council youth services becoming non existent and youth centres closing. I grew up in a time when about ten youth workers worked in the same building but not anymore. You’re lucky now if you have one youth worker and several volunteers running a whole youth project. I really felt this austerity when I began looking for jobs.

I’ve always had to work with what I’m good at, and unlike my siblings and many of my friends have been unable to get ‘filler in’ jobs as a student until something ‘better’ comes along. I’m too Dyspraxic for retail or bar work and I’ve been very aware of this. When I tell people this I’m often met with phrases of ‘you’re putting yourself down’ and ‘you will be able to pull pints if you try’. (I always remember and giggle at that episode of the IT Crowd when Moss accidentally ends up behind a bar, and wonder if I’d be similar if I tried…)  I’m not snubbing these jobs by any means, in fact quite the opposite – I’d love to be able to have something with a consistent income and more routine. I’m also very aware that I’m lucky and possibly fortunate to be in the position when I don’t have to struggle in retail or similar, as I know there are many people with Dyspraxia who aren’t. In terms of youth work I am good at the most lucrative kind and the jobs that everyone wants and are applying for, so naturally there is more competition – delivering training, youth participation and issue based workshops. As services are being cut and managers are applying for lower level jobs, leaving newly qualified youth workers little chance of getting to the interview stage.

So last year I reevaluated everything I wanted to do, which is pretty scary for a 27 year old who had hoped it would all work out after qualifying. I’d hoped youth work would be something I could do for a few years yet. I wanted to give young people the same opportunities I had growing up and I felt (and still do) incredibly passionate about this. I also realised that I had always been good at writing, and that anything I do from now on had to include it.

Those who have been following this blog (or my life) for a while will know that I decided to go back to university, to pursue something that is probably more competitive and difficult to get into, but is something I could be good at. I chose to study another Masters in Magazine Journalism – I knew I would enjoy it, so in that sense the decision was made but I shouldn’t have had to feel forced into a career change that has left me feeling almost as ill-equiped as before. I certainly wasn’t ready three years on from qualifying in something that I thought was going to be my career. That said this course has been one of the best decisions of my life.

As a student I have encountered confusion but also assumptions as to what they consider students to be. People often think I’m younger than I am, and mistake me for an undergrad, so when I explain I’m doing an MA, they often don’t know how to respond. “You’re at university AGAIN?” They say. “You’re a student, you must spend all of your time partying?” They ask. Well no, I spend most of my time worrying about my future, that of my friends and where this country is heading. I’ve dealt with lots of awkward conversations in the past but the ones about being a student really do win at awkwardness. Mental health problems amongst students are a bigger concern than we are given credit for (or understanding), and it’s no wonder given how burnt out and exhausted we all feel. It’s rare to find someone who gets that deciding to become a student again was not an easy decision.

As this MA comes to an end, I face the prospect of looking for jobs again and the overwhelming feeling of not being good enough. Most writing jobs are scarce as it is that I appear seemingly under-qualified for (adverts often ask for X amount of experience) – volunteering is great but it’s not possible to live on fresh air, or the alternative to staff jobs being having to set up a business. I am definitely not in the right place for the latter and the former seems a repeat of a time I knew before. I don’t feel I can call myself a journalist yet, despite journalism being something I’ve spent all year doing, and haven’t worked out a name for what I am. Friends who are already freelance tell me that it is definitely not the easy option. For people in their 20’s and 30’s, finding where they ‘fit’ takes longer than it did years ago. Those whose skills are more ‘specialist’ like mine and many of my friends find it so much harder to secure that ‘break’ or to climb an increasingly unstable career ladder. Changing careers before I’d barely had my foot in the door of the first one is a very odd feeling. We really are living in uncertain times. My advice for anyone in a similar position as I was a year ago, is to go with what you’re good at, find something you enjoy and work the rest out from there. We’re all just working it out as we go along, aren’t we?

Posted in Dyspraxia, Education, Mental health, Writing, Youth Work | Leave a comment

We finally made a whole magazine!


Moderating a politics debate for young people (as you do…)

So where am I now? On Friday, something amazing happened – in amongst the election chaos and uncertainty, we sent our magazine to print. A magazine we’d been working on since February, having had the initial idea as early as November, following a three hour Trump rant. Who needs to learn about financing magazines when there’s politics to talk about?

It was either a stoke of genius or luck, or simply the timing was write, that we gelled so well as a group and chose politics – something that with 72% of young people turning out to vote, showing that young people are interested, want to talk about it and most importantly are determined to be listened to. This was clear when I attended the Corbyn rally in Gateshead, when over 5,000 people packed into the area outside the Sage, and he directly addressed young people. Everyone from all walks of life were there, young, old, from all faiths and with disabilities – uniting for change. Young people who I interviewed for a piece following the Corbyn rally (that features in the magazine), demonstrated that they feel empowered now more than ever to get involved. Our magazine has, since more political events have unfolded over recent months gone from strength to strength and become more relevant than ever. The election wasn’t on the cards back in February, we were going along the lines of a ‘ year on from Brexit special’ but since events have changed, as with all good journalism – so has our magazine. We now have a whole general election coverage section to reflect that. We’ve also written about disabilities, mental health, body positivity, super heroes, protest music and millennial nostalgia. Many of our sources have been politicians, lords or celebrities, but we’ve also interviewed activists and young people who have a story to tell and deserve to be in the magazine too.

On Friday we (I wouldn’t say woke up) as we were up, the most one of us got was five hours sleep, closely followed by two hours and then the rest of us stayed up all night. I’ve certainly realised that I can’t deal with all nighters like I used to, how I managed to stay up playing tunes and then walk to breakfast at Folkworks Summer School, before a long day of playing fiddle is beyond me.

This week has been a long week, when we practically moved into the media hub, finishing articles, working on design and sourcing images. We’ve sacrificed food and sleep, and any social life we once knew for something that’s turned out to be quite special. On the night of the election three of the team were in the hub, working on design, following events and live tweeting to write an election night timeline, whilst Steph and I were out interviewing people. Steph went to the Sunderland count and I was tracking down MP’s. Off the cuff interviews, on one of the most intense election nights in years when you’re sleep deprived is quite something. Siarlot our designer was forced to go home at around 4am to get some sleep because we needed her genius skills in the morning. The rest of us soldiered on, following the live coverage and writing up interviews.

By morning we were all exhausted, but three of us arrived at uni early to get this magazine finished and to print. It was, if anything a good distraction from the terrifying possible DUP/Tory deal. As I headed in, and the taxi driver was telling me how sorry he felt for May and some equally appalling views that I must have blanked out, I knew that the day ahead would be the longest but probably the most important of this MA. It was intense, and tiredness only made things longer but more funny. It took three of us to work out where a comma should go in a sentence, and twice as long to sub edit. On one occasion I told everyone to shut up, because I kept reading the same sentence over and over again and getting nowhere. We got there though, and designer Siarlot was on top form.

Up until now journalism has been a fairly solitary experience, yes I’ve had to speak to people but it’s always been up to me to get the articles written and submitted. This magazine happened because a team of people came together who all have very different strengths and interests, that we’ve all learned so much from. Since I started this MA I’ve discovered more about spears and historical re-enactments and hip hop. Having a friend who owns a bow and arrow is possibly scary but brilliant at the same time. Lee’s journalism is based on hip hop, even managing a entire news module around it which is pretty impressive. Then there’s Steph who’s heavily involved in LGBTQ+ rights, has a wealth of political knowledge and constantly feeds us chocolate and finally Hannah who is basically a walking encyclopaedia of films. We’ve become a good team and stronger friends through this magazine, that wouldn’t have happened without any of us being part of it. Just after five on Friday the magazine went to print, with Steph and I on tenter hooks in case anything went wrong. Thankfully the hub didn’t collapse, the computer didn’t explode and after a last minute front cover panic, it all went to plan. In a week we will have a physical magazine to show for the months of hard work, being able to say “I made that” will be a great feeling.

I know that I haven’t shut up about Stand Up, since the project began. There’s a reason for that, that makes this magazine more than just a means to get through a university module. To pass semester two we certainly didn’t need to make a 68 page magazine, run a social media and crowdfunding campaign or facilitate a debate. We decided to go beyond what was expected of us because we felt so strongly that our project had to give young people a platform. I’m deeply proud by what we’ve achieved, and excited to see it in print. This MA has been one of the best decisions I’ve made that has been well worth sacrificing sleep and food for. I know people who have ran marathons, and this certainly feels like the marathon of journalism.

In the words of one of the young people I interviewed; “It’s about making sure that your views and your needs are being heard and being met. You cannot always rely on others to represent your interests – sometimes you have to be in the room making the points, or outside the room making the noise.”

We hope that Stand Up strikes a chord with young people, and that our journalism makes people think and listen to those who have often been forgotten or shut out from politics.

“For the many, not the few,” as Corbyn would say.

Next Friday we launch our magazine to the world.

We did it!

If you’d like to order a copy of Stand Up Magazine, you can do so here.


Posted in Occassions, Politics, Writing | Leave a comment