Happy Christmas

xmasHappy Christmas to you all with so much love from me and my blog.

I hope that you all have a lovely day wherever you are – whether it be alone or with family and friends, and whether you celebrate Christmas or not. I hope that you can be as happy as little me in this picture, and that if you’re not feeling that way , then your day is peaceful at the very least.

Christmas can be a tricky time when coping with loss, it can highlight the fact that someone is missing, I know I miss Mum a lot, so be kind to yourselves if you can.

I’ve donated to our Martin House fund in Mum’s memory this year because I can’t exactly get her a present. You’re more than welcome to do the same which you can do here.

If you’re feeling lonely, Sarah Millican is running her #joinin hashtag on Twitter again this year. The Samaritans line is always open, Blurt’s peer support group is there, and Beat have kept their helpline open again this year if you need someone to talk to.

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This is to those of you for whom Christmas doesn’t feel like Christmas.

This is to those of you for whom Christmas doesn’t feel like Christmas.

I’m sorry that you are hurting.

I know that the ‘merry’ in ‘merry Christmas’ can feel as though it is mocking you.

When the whole world feels as though it is laughing, smiling, and celebrating, but those are the last things you feel like doing.

Crowded rooms can feel the emptiest.

Hugs can feel like they’re not quite tight enough, not quite long enough; never quite reaching you.

You smile but it doesn’t reach your eyes, and your own laugh seems distant and far away.

The pressure to be perfect can press down on your chest until you can no longer breathe and the number of people around can make your head spin. Occasionally you feel your mask slipping and you have to run to a bathroom and fix it before anybody sees.

Everybody wants to know what you’ve been doing all year and what your future plans are. That can be hard to answer when you’ve spent so much of the year in doctors appointments, hospital visits, and counselling sessions. It’s hard when your test results are medical rather than academic, when so many of your peers are patients or services users not students or colleagues.

It’s okay if your biggest achievement this year is survival. Fighting against the crap in your head, the illness that is determined to infiltrate your body, or the general difficulties that life insists on constantly throwing your way, is huge. It’s hard, brave, and courageous to continue to get up and dressed every day (or most days), when circumstances seem determined to destroy you.

Maybe you’ve lost someone this year. They might have died, or might have just exited your life. Maybe you lost someone last year, or the year before. Time doesn’t heal it, it just gives you longer to attempt to get used to it. Sometimes it makes it harder because the longer they’re gone, the more they’ve missed. Christmas can feel like it’s shining a light on the space that they’ve left behind.

It’s okay to miss them. It’s okay to grieve for them. The fact that they have exited your life doesn’t mean that you have to erase their existence entirely.

Be kind to yourself this Christmas. Let yourself have some time off. It’s absolutely okay to cry if you need to. If you want to laugh, then laugh – nothing in your life cancels out your right to feel happy. Let people in; if you can, and if you want to. Let them hug you. Let them be at the end of the phone. Let them text you. Let them listen. Let them be there.

Maybe you’re feeling just fine. If so, then please: try to be considerate this Christmas. Please understand that not everyone will be happy, not everyone will want to share copious amounts of food, not everyone will be able to manage being around large groups of people.

Christmas is only one day, but it can be incredibly stressful for those of us who don’t feel able to tackle it. Mental illness, physical illness, or other things, can all affect people’s ability to ‘Christmas’, and more often than not, we’re not trying to be difficult, we just can’t do it.

I hope that you all have a peaceful Christmas this year. I hope that it’s as stress-free as possible. I hope that you get a little time with your family or friends and that it’s as enjoyable as it can be.

I’ll leave you with some Winnie the Pooh wisdom:

“It’s snowing still,” said Eeyore gloomily.
“So it is.”
“And freezing.”
“Is it?”
“Yes,” said Eeyore. “However,” he said, brightening up a little, “we haven’t had an earthquake lately.”
― A.A. Milne

Spotting the Gap

Today I went to the Central Leeds Children and Young People’s Mental Health and Wellbeing Event. It’s a very long name but was essentially a day in a room with a bunch of lovely people from around Yorkshire discussing children and young people’s mental health and the barrier to them accessing care. It was interesting and there were some (hopefully!) useful discussions. There were a lot of commissioners there too who seemed to want to listen to what young people were saying, so that’s always positive.

Halfway through the day we were left to our own devices to network. I met some lovely ladies from the charity ‘Just B‘. Just B are based in Harrogate and part of St Michael’s Hospice. They work with children and young people both before and after bereavement, and with adults post-bereavement (whether the bereavement itself was linked to the hospice or not). I had heard of them before but didn’t know a lot about them and certainly didn’t know they were linked to the hospice.

After we’d been speaking a little while, I brought up Mum (she often comes up in conversation, it usually goes something along the lines of ‘oh you live in York, are you at uni?’ ‘no, I was though’, ‘oh right did you graduate? what did you study?’ at which point I promptly forget that cancer/death/mum might make people feel uncomfortable and proceed to either have a great conversation, or a mini counselling session, or a mini counselling-someone-else session, or a very awkward end to a conversation and we all move on). Today it resulted in a great conversation.

I spoke to them about the gap in bereavement and terminal illness support for ‘young adults’. When you’re under 18 and there is a terminal illness in the family, the school, or a local charity often steps in and offers support. When you’re a ‘proper adult’, there is normally a friend who has been through something similar and can offer a shoulder. You’re also more likely to be settled somewhere and possibly have a job. When you’re over 18 but not really an adult, your friends are stumped, if you’re at uni they feel a bit stuck because it’s not something they often have to deal with, services often feel ‘too old’ and don’t seem to understand the complexity of being in your twenties (where you still really need your parents and more often than not are not settled in a stable living place and/or stable job). Young Adult Carers are available in some areas and they are absolutely brilliant, but there’s definitely a difference between having a chronically ill relative and a terminally ill relative.

At some point during this conversation, a commissioner came over and shared her story about her Mum dying at a young age.

The two ladies I spoke to were lovely and commented that until I mentioned it, they’d never thought of/seen that gap. They did say that they could completely see it, though, and that they had services available for that age (as they deal with both children and adults), but it just wasn’t something that they’d ever really seen as being a gap.

I shared my details with them (they might even be reading this post, I don’t know!), but it just hit home to me again that this gap is there and that there isn’t an easy solution for plugging it. Services aren’t often there, and even when they are there they aren’t necessarily ‘marketed’ to 18-30s. Grief is a personal thing at any age, but it’s definitely different to grieve for a parent at 21 compared to at 51.

It’s something I really want to look at. I want to create a space for people in a similar situation to myself (and Jenny, and Laura if you haven’t checked out their blogs you should!) to share their stories. To rant, to moan, to smile, to laugh, to get angry, to breathe and to ask advice. I want to find other young people in this situation and let them know that they are not alone and that life without their parent (or other close relative) can still be a life, even if it looks a bit different to how they imagined it would be. I want to share hope. There are lots of days when I feel hopeless, useless, angry, scared, lonely, happy, pretty much every emotion under the sun (frequently all of these in the space of 30 seconds), and I need people to know that it’s okay for that to happen.

It can be so lonely having a parent who’s ill and it can be so lonely having a parent who’s died. It’s hard to know if you’re making the right decisions (something I’ve often written about in this blog), when no decision seems like the ‘right’ one. It’s so hard to build your life back up when the world as you know it has changed forever. I’m lucky that I have some really good friends, but the mean age of my friends has probably gone up about ten or twenty years since Mum was diagnosed, and I’ve lost a fair number of friends along the way – and it’s not their fault or my fault, it just is.

I’m rambling now (and my brother isn’t editing this blog so apologies in advance!), but I can just see this gap glaring at me, and I don’t know how to fill it. I don’t even know how to make people realise it exists. But I want to, and I suppose the first step of anything is wanting to do it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Your Grades Do Not Dictate Your Worth

Today I had an exam which means I am officially exam free for the first time in months, woohoo! I can finally get on with exciting new projects, volunteering things and all that jazz…

Anyway, moving on, what I really wanted to write about is tomorrow. For those of you who don’t know, tomorrow is A-Level results day, aka the worst/best day in many 18-year-olds lives.

I can clearly remember picking up my A-Level results. All of my friends were really bothered because their results determined whether they’d got into the uni they wanted. I wasn’t bothered about getting into the uni I’d applied to, because it was a deferred application and in all honesty, I didn’t really want to go anyway. I was bothered about my grades, though. I’d had a slightly rocky sixth form for one reason or another, but I’d worked incredibly hard for my exams and just wanted to know my grades.

I got my grades and they were good, really good by most people’s standards; but they were not good enough by my standards. I was disappointed, felt like a failure and basically just thought I was rubbish. I felt like I’d let my family and teachers down and that I was never going to get anywhere in life – you know the kind of thoughts ‘bad’ grades can lead to!

So, I started my gap year with no self-confidence, living in a tiny village, and feeling pretty hopeless.

Fast forward a year and I was happier, more confident and had some hope for the future. I was looking forward to starting uni, on a different course from the one I’d originally applied for. I had a vague idea of what I might like to do with my life and a whole load of volunteering experience under my belt; I actually had some self-belief.

My gap year taught me that I am not my grades, I am not a grade-producing factory and I am worth more than my grades. And you are too.

Whatever grades you get tomorrow, whether they’re what you want or not, whether they get you the uni place you want or not, they do not define you and they do not define your future. If you don’t get the uni spot you want, it is not the end of your career. If you don’t get the grades you want, it does not mean that you, as a person, are worth any less than you were before you picked those grades up.

I know it’s a stressful day and that some people will be elated and others will be gutted, but it doesn’t mean that your future is decided by those letters on a sheet of paper. There are ways and means of achieving your goal whatever your grades may be.

Additionally, some of you will have gone through some really difficult times during your sixth form years. I know a lot of people who went through some horrendous things during sixth form and of course it affected their grades. If you are one of those people, be proud of your achievements, because sticking with sixth form when facing adversity is pretty damn awesome. Yes, it might have affected your grades, but achieving anything when you’ve got stuff going on in the background is amazing, and you should be proud.

If you’re someone who is disappointed tomorrow and hasn’t got into uni, or hasn’t got into the uni they wanted, take a gap year (if you’re able to) and go and have fun. Volunteer, get work experience, get a job, go travelling. Do something that’s not books, exams and essays, because you will get to know yourself so much better and you might find a different course you’d like to apply to, or discover a different path altogether.

Tomorrow is not make or break. It does not define you and it does not define your future. It’s okay to be happy, it’s okay to be disappointed, but try to remember that your grades do not dictate your value as a person.

Little Things

As my life progresses I become more and more aware of the importance of appreciating the little things in life. Cliché as it might be, it improves my mood and helps me feel calm. Being someone who enjoys a bit of macro photography, I have a tendency to notice things that others sometimes miss, but lately I haven’t been finding the time to get out and about in the fresh air (blame essays…).

This week has been one of ups and downs. There have been some incredibly-exciting-squee-yay moments (like getting my first blog published on Huff Post) and some incredibly-not-so-great-meh-blergh-cry moments (like the other night). It’s been a weird one because for the past few weeks I’ve been a desk hermit; my life has revolved around waking up, essaying and sleeping. Then this week I’ve suddenly had some free time, no structure and a very long to-do list. I expected to be incredibly happy, very excited and seeing all the friends I hadn’t seen in far too long once essays were over but the reality has been different – having free time has given me chance to stop and think (never a good thing!), and I’ve felt really lost without having essays to focus on (not really complaining – I don’t particularly want any more right now but you know what I mean).

Today, after a week of a failed sleep routine, too much TV, weird food combinations and a bit too much sitting wondering what to do, I decided to sort it. Being like this doesn’t do anything but make me feel rubbish, I miss the best bits of the day, and all in all, it’s a bad plan.

After waking up too late (again), completing my morning run, writing a shopping list and doing all those other fun things, IDSC_7330edit decided to grab my camera and go on a walk. I don’t do this often enough. It feels self-indulgent and there are always others things I could (and arguably should) be doing.

I found my sunglasses (wahay, summer!), shoved on some dungarees and made it out of the door. I walked up through some fields, found some buttercups and started snapping away. It occurred to me that I wasn’t sneezing or wheezing and my legs hadn’t swelled up which was something to be majorly grateful about (modern medicine is wonderful). It was so amazing to have a gentle breeze, hear some birds, feel the grass moving in the wind and welcome a sense of peace.

A man walked past with four dogs – two spaniels and two black labs. We spent about half an hour chatting about photography and dogs. I stroked his dogs and they were so lovely, soft and affectionate. There was no agenda, no rush to be anywhere and I will probably never see this man again, but it was lovely to stop and chat for a bit.

We parted and went our separate ways, but it got me thinking; these are the things which make me happy and content. Being with people, the sunlight, dogs, my camera, the smell of a spring field. They fill me with a sense of peace and the knowledge that whatever happens in my life, these little things which will always remain. They will always welcome me back.

I don’t know what’s going to happen in my life in the next week, never mind the next few years and beyond. Hopefully I’ll graduate, I might be able to afford a house (probably not, but we can dream) and get my own dog. There’s a chance I’ll get a job (please be kind to me job market). I might meet someone who I want to spend my life with, or I might not. I’ll probably make some new friends and drift from others. Mum will probably pass away, hopefully nobody else will. The kids I’ve babysat will start taking their GCSEs and A-Levels and I’ll wonder how I got so old. There will be happy times and sad times. Times of distress, anger, joyfulness and excitement; lazy days and busy days; car trips and cycle rides. There are so many things to look forward to as well as the unavoidable difficult times.

I need to remember that though bad happens; there is also a lot of good. That even if I’ve neglected them for months on end, the fields will always welcome me back. Most importantly, if my life gets busy to the point that I don’t have time to stop and smell the seasons, it’s time to stop and revaluate things, because that is not a happy life and it’s not a life I want to live.