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!

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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.

 

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Semester two and Stand Up magazine

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I am now well over half way through this magazine journalism MA, and to accompany this piece about why I’ve spent most of this second semester writing about politics, I’ve made a video:

 

To sum up what I said there, we’re now in the final stages of writing a magazine – and with just a month to go, we really appreciate everyones kind donations towards our Crowd Funding campaign.

Not so long ago, I was confused with the world, unable to make sense of political events and like most people my age unsure what I could do to make ‘it’ and people feel better. I was lost. We all were. So following the EU referendum I wrote this in June last year.

As time went on, and people were literally wondering (including most politicians) ‘what the fuck do we do now?’ It became apparent that young people overwhelmingly voted to remain, and if 16 year olds were given the vote we could be looking at a very different outcome. This decision was going to affect our future, more than anyone’s in years to come. A year on we still don’t know what that future is going to look like, because no one has a clue. Now that we are heading towards a general election, the future for young people looks even more bleak.

In September, I came together with a group of journalists, who despite being incredibly different individuals, with diverse interests – we all share the same vision and values – to ultimately change the conversation around young people and politics. There is a campaign to ‘change the conversation around mental health’ in the media, that I absolutely support, but it’s also about time that we work together to change the conversation about young people. Lets make them feel valued and listened to. The amount of times I’ve heard young people being described as lazy, or uninterested and worse. There is certainly a stigma of young people, and if you are a young person with a mental health condition and other difficulties, this marginalisation compounds these feelings even more.

In February we became Stand Up Magazine (although we first considered the project back in November after the Trump election) and the campaign, support and conversation has gone from strength to strength. Stand Up aims to empower young people to get involved in politics and to provide a platform to have a voice.

As a team, we want to make a small difference, to change the discourse and discussions, and to make young people feel included. Stand Up is written entirely by young people for young people, we are all under 30, we are all from different backgrounds and we are all keen to produce journalism that listens to young people. The pieces include voices from all groups in society (LGBT, disabilities and refugees amongst others are represented) as well as lighter content about millennial life style, (everyone loves a bit of nostalgia!)

To make this happen, and for Stand Up magazine and the brand to be a success we have launched a Crowd Funding campaign to pay for printing and to distribute the magazine nationally. Anything that you can afford to support us would really be appreciated.

Thank you so much to all our friends, family and strangers who have donated so far. We’re so close to the end of this project, exhausted, tired of the ‘B’ word but deeply proud of what we have achieved so far.

 

Next time I write here, I will hopefully have a printed magazine to tell you all about…

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Semester two has begun…

As most people know,  I’m at uni (again) doing a Masters in Magazine Journalism. After various career attempts and working out what being an adult meant to me, I decided that more education and another MA would be an almost logical step. (Although I still don’t understand what being an adult means…)

I’m a third of the way through this MA and almost nine weeks into semester two now, and if I’m really honest, this absolutely terrifies me. Although graduating from any degree is scary – it doesn’t make it any less overwhelming third time around. Since I last wrote about Journalism here, I have given up shorthand – having realised that despite how much I tried (and I persevered for six weeks), Dyspraxia and shorthand just don’t go together. Almost like attempting to climb a mountain in flippers – you wouldn’t get very far.

Once I’d decided to drop shorthand, I finally completed semester one, with the arrival of exams towards the end of January. I hadn’t sat any exams in seven years. After managing to get through my youth work degree without exams, and with only a few at undergrad, the last formal exam I sat was when I was twenty one.  I was, as you can imagine just a little bit terrified. My first introduction to Journalism was media law, something that every journalist has to do. Learning what you can and can’t do, both ethically and so you don’t get arrested. With this comes learning lots of laws, acts, codes and numbers. I struggled, of course I did – and anyone who tells you they find media law exams a breeze, I’m almost certain they’d be lying. They really need to stop writing laws, otherwise journalists in twenty years are going to be there forever trying to remember them all and the McNaes textbook would equate to war and peace. Exams and exhaustion aside and with the knowledge that I’ve got through law and Public Affairs, we are well into semester two.

This year, the MA focusses on developing the skills to make us into an ‘all rounded journalist’- I’ve always been wary when people want allrounders because I know it is one thing I am not. I can probably write my way out of most things, but asking me to solve a simultaneous equation or to do anything practical, would have different results. Shorthand is a prime example of this. On top of being able to write, journalists are encouraged to understand at least the basics of photography, production, infographics and video.

As someone who struggles with spatial awareness and Visual perception, and who sees the world in words and not pictures, means that working out how far away the subject I’m taking a photo of is or if the box I’ve drawn on indesign is straight has caused lots of swearing at computers and led to confusion over design. Deciding how to frame something or understanding perspective, has been a challenge because most of the time I often can’t see it. The mechanics of a tripod even baffle me, and thats before I’ve even got a camera out. This all comes down to being able to process the visual information around you accurately to determine what is needed to take a good photo or having the coordination to make sure the tripod doesn’t fall over. Writing is what I love though, so if I don’t get all of these nice added extras it’s not the end of the world. That said, I am giving everything a go, and I’m certain I will get it all eventually. I’ll even make someone like me enough to want to take me on for a placement, that at the moment is a long list of rejections – something I’ve started to get used to.

The most exciting project this semester, is to design, print and distribute a group magazine. Back in November we awoke to the unthinkable happening in America, how could they be so stupid? We said. The same questions we asked as we woke up to the news that we were leaving the EU, although our generation, the under 30’s had overwhelmingly voted to remain. Then,  we didn’t know each other but individually felt that something must be done to ensure that young people are listened to. Now we do know each other, and nothing has changed – we are five different voices who have been brought together through journalism so that we can make that difference. The day after Trump was elected, we all turned up at uni – lacking sleep, but full of anger and a determination to make things better. Our lecturer saw that doing anything on the planned financing magazines session wouldn’t be productive – so he gave us the three hour session, to rant, be angry, debate and almost cry.

“As a group of Journalists, you can do something” he said.

And that is exactly what we resolved to do.

After Christmas we returned, with that same passion and determination to do something. And so our project generated from that angry conversation about Trump began. The magazine is now known as Stand Up magazine and has become something that we are all deeply proud of. Stand Up aims to empower young people to get involved in politics, and is a way to channel our anger towards recent political events and anything that affects young people disproportionately. We wanted to demonstrate that young people do have something to say, giving them the platform to have a voice. The magazine will cover the stories of young people and marginalised groups who are often silenced, from LGBT, disabilities, animal activists, women, Asylum seekers and refugees. We’re trying to be as representative of society as possible.

Of course there’s a lot to do, from crowdfunding, printing, advertising to launch parties, as well as the actual writing of articles and hunting down sources. We’re practically taking on and running a business alongside the MA. I’m working with one of the best groups of people I could ever ask to work with on this project, so I know that it’s going to be something really special. The support Stand Up has had on Twitter and through our other social media platforms has been overwhelming, we covered the Unite for Europe march on Saturday and couldn’t believe the responses. Our phones didn’t stop buzzing.

As a young person I always felt that I wasn’t listened to personally and more generally. I was fed up of having to explain and justify myself to others. I didn’t feel that my voice was valued and campaigned to make young people’s opinions count. One of the reasons I trained as a youth worker, was to make a difference to the lives of young people, and to give them the voice that I never had. So when the the magazine group agreed on a magazine addressing issues so close to my heart, I knew that the answer to: “Have I made the right decision to start this Masters?” was yes.

I went into journalism, because I know that writing has always been my strength but I also wanted to tell the stories of those who are forgotten about in the media. Words are important, and being able to convey others voices well is something that I am determined to do.

Journalism aside, and I really do know that I have made the right choice and career change. I’ve found a sense of belonging here, more than I have ever felt before. As cheesy as it sounds I almost feel ‘at home.’ I don’t have to justify myself to anyone, I can just be me. This alone is pretty special for someone who has never really fitted in. The magazine cohort are a great team, complimenting each others strengths and being supportive where necessary. Our group chat gets in the way of uni work most days but the gif wars are often worth it. I am really proud to be part of such a great group of people, and to be entering a profession of equally talented and brilliant people.

If you’d like a copy of our finished magazine, do get in touch and I’m sure we can arrange something. We have also booked our magazine launch party and ordered a group mascot – so the pressure really is on.

 

 

 

 

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I’m Vegetarian, not awkward

I don’t normally write response pieces to articles in national newspapers, but I felt that this vent had to go somewhere. I recently saw this Guardian piece posted on Facebook, that has since promoted some debate (and ignorant comments too.) As I’ve got older I’ve tried to avoid justifying myself or my decisions and choices to other people, because quite frankly it’s none of their business and I shouldn’t have to offer explanations of things they should just accept. But this article has prompted me to make that justification.

The author discusses accessibility, and how they feel that restaurants do not have to meet people’s needs. Opening with ‘You don’t like the menu, you know what to do.’ This immediately demonises vegetarians and anyone who has a diet that is not seen as ‘normal.’ This includes many of my friends who will get ill if they eat certain ingrediants. It also makes anyone who has specific needs feel difficult or that they have a problem, including those with disabilities or any access requirements. The truth is that anyone who holds views other than a need to be inclusive are the problem.

I’ve grown up as a vegetarian, and whilst I have never eaten meat or have any desire to, I have been met with some hostility, confusion and often bafflement around my diet choices. I found this most extreme, age 14 when I became vegan for a short time and my friends on a summer camp decided to hide my vegan chocolate I’d brought away with me.

Like the article, people’s reactions to me choosing not to eat a steak or have a bacon sandwich for breakfast, have made me feel awkward, as if I’m a problem or making a fuss. I’ve felt different most of my life, being a clumsy, slightly hippy, vegetarian certainly made me stand out at school. People’s amazement when I say I’m veggie is quite something. So you’ve never eaten meat? Not even a burger? What DO you eat? so you survive on vegetables then? As if they think vegetarians are some weird breed of rabbit, munching on lettuce all day. Just for the record – we don’t. And even if we did, why does it concern you so much?

Being able to go out for a meal and find at least one decent veggie option on a menu is a rarity, but it shouldn’t be such luxury. Vegetarians have as much right to choice as the next person. It is also significantly cheeper to buy veggie food than meat, so there shouldn’t be a financial implication. Menus that are clearly labelled also help, so you aren’t looked at as if you’re an alien from another planet when asking for alternatives. ‘How dare you ask for meat-free options?’ I imagine them thinking, as my request appears to be seen as awkward or a hindrance to their day. People who eat meat can and do eat vegetarian food, you only need to be at the back of the buffet queue to realise that the limited veggie options tend to go first, often leaving me and other vegetarians who can’t get to the front quick enough with little to eat.

People’s reaction towards me being veggie has made me come to the decision to avoid mentioning it to people unless I really have to. I was far more vocal about the reasons behind my vegetarianism when I was younger, but as the years have gone by and the teasing continued, I’ve become less talkative about why.

The article goes deeper into accessibility and what this means, saying that a peanut allergy affects 1% of the population and therefore they shouldn’t provide nut free deserts because they are a small part of the population. Is this saying that because minority groups – are well minorities,  we shouldn’t cater for them? Would it be okay to offer this same treatment to someone in a wheelchair? To say, well not many physically disabled people come here, so I’m not going to provide an accessible toilet? I think not.

The author mentions people ‘whinging’ about loud music, small print, lighting to name a few. A number of things that can affect people with hidden disabilities, and shouldn’t be snubbed at as if they are a small child having a tantrum.

I recently had a run in with a man on a spiral staircase.

“You’re meant to walk on the left” he said. As he came down the same side of the stairs as I was going up them.

‘But there’s no handrail on that side, and if I let go I’ll fall over” I shouted back.

I have Dyspraxia, affecting spacial awareness, so I will literally fall over if I don’t hold onto something  while I’m going up and down stairs. Spiral staircases are also a nightmare for dyspraxics. I shouldn’t have to explain or justify myself to a rude, ignorant man or anyone – there should be accessible facilities in place.

If we add all of the so called ‘minority’ groups together, they would make up the majority. A majority that have as much right for their needs to be met as everyone else. To be able to go out, feel comfortable and not feel awkward.

The article concludes ‘a restaurant does not have to give a damn about you and your needs’ Well I say that they do.

Its not hard to offer reasonable adjustments, accommodations or to provide alternatives on a menu, and we shouldn’t have to constantly explain ourselves to other people.

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I found Mental Health Mates!

In Journalism, and throughout this MA – I’ve been forced to meet and talk to new people all of the time. Networking  – something that I run away from, but is apparently necessary not only for journalism, but everyday life too.

Last weekend I did something different, and found a whole group of people who I wouldn’t have met if A) I hadn’t read a book B) I hadn’t told my anxiety to bugger off that morning. And C) Someone hadn’t had the idea in the first place.

Mental Health Mates is a group of people who have grown quite considerably over the last year from being a small group based in London, founded by  the  Journalist and writer Bryony Gordon, to a national (and international) movement. The idea was (and is) for people with mental illnesses to meet up in local parks, to walk, talk (or not talk) and drink coffee,  demonstrating that you are not alone. I’ve known about Mental Health Mates for a little while, from a friend elsewhere in the country being involved and I wished (although the thought terrified me equally) that there was something similar near me. And now there is.

I decided early last week, that I was going to go to the next Mental Health Mates in my area, having seen it advertised on twitter. On Saturday morning I got up, and caught the bus into town – I’ve felt nervous about meeting new people before, but this definitely seemed like a different kind of meeting new people. I remembered the reasons why I was on the bus in the first place and the ‘find your we’ quote I’d read in Bryony Gordons Mad Girl,  continuing with my bus journey feeling slightly calmer.

I didn’t know what to expect and as I approached the gates of the park, considered going home. Will they like me? What will it be like? Will I fit in? Have I imagined it right? My brain argued with itself. I’m glad I stuck with it though, because within the first five minutes of being there I realised that this is one of the best things I’ve done since starting the Magazine Journalism MA. I’ve always talked about finding a belonging and this definitely is part of my belonging. I hovered around the gates of the park for a bit, collecting my thoughts and pretending to be on the phone (I’m sure most of you have an imaginary conversation when you’re a little bit terrified too right?) Anyways, imaginary conversation over, I made my way over to a group of people standing in a circle at the park entrance.

“Are you the Mental Health Mates?” I asked

“Yes, yes we are.”

I took my place of an awkward circle, that was only awkward for a couple of minutes. After a round of introductions, we were off for a walk around the park. There was no pressure to talk about mental health or the weather or what you planned to have for lunch that day – but if you wanted to talk about all of those things you could do too. Some walked in silence, some talked more. It’s difficult to put into words how it felt to be around people that bring up antidepressants without worrying about judgements, or talking about feeling anxious in the same way you would about the weather. (They are all normal things that can, and should be discussed.) I can’t articulate enough how uplifting simply being there and listening felt.

For the first part of the walk I was pretty quiet, taking in my new group of people and making sure I remembered the way out of the park once it ends. Then a girl approached me, who I later discovered is exactly my age AND is working at my old University in Durham, having moved here from the states in September. She also has a cat. There was lots to talk about.

‘Hey, I didn’t catch your name.’ She said

‘I’m Alice…’

And so the conversation flowed, and continued over coffee after the walk.

I left my first Mental Health Mates  meet up with energy that I haven’t felt in ages, knowing that there are another group of people who could be a welcome addition to my life (And I will go back.) Bringing people together with similar interests is always encouraged, but bringing people together who often feel marginalised and disconnected is bloody brilliant. This weekend has proved that sometimes, doing the thing you’re most terrified of, at that precise moment is probably the best thing you can possibly do. Mental Health Mates is just a group of friendly normal people, talking about everyday things that should be seen as normal everyday things and drinking coffee in parks.

I’d really recommend Mental Health Mates to anyone, go with a friend or go alone  (or come with me if you’re local enough) – and it’s probably best that you don’t go home when you get to the gates of the park. You can let your brain think you need to turn around by all means, just don’t listen to anything it says.There’s been a few occasions this year when I really have felt empowered, connected and valued – last Saturday is certainly on that list.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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2016 review – (and surviving semester 1 as a Journalism student)

Most years I have written a year review to some kind of fashion, but this year I didn’t feel like writing one. Social media is awful for anyone with even a hint of mental health problems, and with the world basically falling apart for much of 2016, I’ve spent most of the year hiding from social media and under many blankets. Although on the day after Trump, we did have a massive debate at uni instead of discussing the finance of magazines, this restored my faith in humanity a bit. Whoever wants to discuss finance anyways, regardless of whether there’s been a major election or not? I have also been reminded that there are positives to 2016 in amongst the political and worldwide grief, there are good things too. And on a more personal level, 2016 has not been as bad as 2014 was for me – so that’s something.

This year marked one of my biggest achievements – starting (and getting a place on) my second Masters degree, in magazine Journalism. I’ve met like minded people who love to write as much as me – I didn’t think that would ever be possible. I’ve written about journalism here and here if you’re interested in that part of my life.

‘You’re bonkers for doing another one’ as I was recently told. I am, but this time it’s a good kind of bonkers. As Semester 1 ends, and I’m buried under revision and assignment deadlines, I know more than anything that this was most definitely the right decision.

This year I moved a step forward with finding out who I am –  a bit of an odd one because I always thought that I knew what I wanted and where I wanted to go, but turning my attention to writing came much later than it probably should have. I’ve always known that writing was one of my strengths, but I hadn’t considered pursuing it until a couple of years ago when I sat down and had a ‘what the fuck am I doing with my life?’ moment, after a major mental health slump. I’ve been qualified as a youth worker since 2013 and as much as I love my job, I know that I’m not as good at it as I am when I can create things with words. Short of proving someone right (not in the being complimentary about my writing kind of way) who is bad for my life and brain, this part of who I am has really come to the surface this year. But then again I’m still only 28. Plenty of time for working out the career that is right for me.

Another memorable moment this year, has been meeting people who are most definitely going to change my life forever. Not to be named here, but I hope that I’ve spoken to and thanked them all individually, or am about to. Towards the end of 2015 and the beginning of 2016, I was just starting to accept my Dyspraxia properly for the first time, whilst also writing this blog. Prior to this I’d be able to talk about mental health until the cows came home, but I couldn’t even utter the word ‘Dyspraxia’ to myself, alone in a room. That I tell you, is worse than the anxiety attacks, not being listened to by a doctor aged seventeen and feeling suicidal when I was eight years old. Being able to accept who I am is something, although I am still working on – I’m so much better at than I was a few years ago, or even a year ago.Image may contain: one or more people and people standing  I’ve attended as many Dyspraxia conferences as I could (which ended up being a Dyspraxic tour of the country), went for coffees and talked about this and unrelated stuff, got as involved in DF youth as I can and despite terrible wisdom tooth pain at the time sent in my contribution to the Dyspraxia Foundation youth video.

After spending years blogging about other things elsewhere, it hadn’t dawned on me that I should write about the most important part of me I could ever talk about – what makes me, me. Doing that has lead onto everything else. This year I’ve made friends, who have shaped who I am, and more importantly made me realise that I am most definitely  not alone – life is so much better now that they are part of it. This year, a group I set up so that others could have what I have has really blossomed. I decided that I am going to give Dyspraxic teenagers, what I have now in my 20’s – acceptance and understanding. So I founded a local Dyspraxia support group for young people and in doing so have been appreciated by their parents more than I would have ever imagined. In the summer I organised a trip to the beach, even making a cake but not expecting much – and somehow the whole world turned up.Image may contain: one or more people and outdoor We ate ice cream, played rounders, shared cake and it was wonderful. I then organised a meal before Christmas, with similar success and the feeling that I have done something small to make the lives better for those young people. We’re planning to get a train to Durham next, to help with their sense of direction and travelling on public transport – and Durham is clearly the place to take people who haven’t caught a train independently before…

 

 

If you follow me on twitter or instagram, you’ll know all about the addition of two kittens into my life this year (sorry for all the cat photos you’ve been subjected to.) I took on Biscuit and Amber in September after their mother had been abandoned and threatened with drowning, and they really have transformed mine and my families lives. If there was one positive thing I’ve done for my mental health this year, it’s to get cats. (Just don’t ask me about the extra anxiety I’ve developed about their safety – mental health lies to you, even if you have cats) I dread to think what I’d be like if I ever became a parent. But Biscuit and Amber have really settled in, and I couldn’t imagine my life without them.

Image may contain: cat and indoor

I spent one of the last days of 2016 with one of my favourite groups of people. When I was growing up Gateshead youth assembly became particularly important for my acceptance and the feeling that I could fit in. For the last couple of years, I’ve been one half of a duo who’ve organised a reunion for everyone whose left the youth assembly, and this years was just as successful as the last.

So, 2016 for me can be summed as the development of friendships (old and new) that really do outweigh all the crap ones.

Things I want in 2017?

  1. No-one to die or to get diagnosed with scary illnesses.
  2. To pass my Masters degree
  3. To get paid for writing WORDS
  4. For my little Dyspraxia group to grow, so that they are self run and lead, without me always being there or offering the lead.
  5. To see more of my friends, more often – simply because they are all wonderful and I don’t thank them enough. Get in touch to get in the diary.
  6. To learn to drive, I have a driving instructor, now I just need the motivation (and not to be terrified of anything on four wheels)
  7. Finish the book (yes, I’m writing a book and have been for a while – it will get finished soon, providing there are no more major life distractions, although a masters is probably one…)
  8. For MH to bugger off on holiday (not going to happen I know, but I can only dream…)
  9. Go to a friends wedding without anxiety coming too.
  10. Have enough money to be able to move out (given that all of my career attempts don’t tend to be well paid, this could be a few years off yet..)

Thank you to everyone who has been part of my 2016 and to those who haven’t ran away when it all seemed to fall apart, get in touch so I can make number five happen…

 

 

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