Have ‘a year’

2016 is ending, which many will be delighted about. There’s a weird thing that we all do where on one day out of 365, we look back at the previous 365 days and judge ourselves. Lots of people are posting achievements, happy moments, sad moments, words of wisdom, and hopes, dreams, and goals for the next 365 days.

I read somewhere that:

‘it’s okay if the only thing you did today was breathe’.

I would like to extend that to this year.

It’s okay if this year you ‘just survived’. It’s okay if you didn’t achieve your goals or complete all of your plans. It’s okay if you didn’t graduate, if you didn’t change the world, if you didn’t get the promotion you wanted or finish a race you wanted to run. You have still achieved something this year – you have smiled, laughed, and loved. You have brightened someone’s day, made someone smile, and made a difference in the lives of those around you.

If this year you have been in hospital, had a family member in hospital, received a new diagnosis, lived with an old diagnosis, taken medication, had an operation, had tests done, or put up with a mind or body which seem less than impressed with being alive, then I’m proud of you.

If you have had a baby, got a new job, graduated, moved house, passed an exam, received a promotion, got married, got engaged, learned to drive or raised money for charity, then I’m proud of you.

If you have taken a picture of a sunset, felt the wind in your hair, cuddled a puppy, taken the bins out, watched TV, read a book, hugged, text a friend… done anything at all that involves being alive, then I’m proud of you because at the times it can feel like there is hatred stirring all over the world and things can feel very bleak, and if you can continue to enjoy and appreciate the little things, and remain kind in the face of all of that, then you’re doing well.

I hope that 2017 is kind to you all. I hope that it brings you the things that you want. I hope that it provides you with family times and time with friends. I hope that you receive love and laughter and that you treat yourself with all of the kindness and compassion you deserve. I’m not going to tell people to have ‘a good year’, because I think that can feel out of reach a lot of the time. Instead I’m going to say have ‘a year’.

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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.

You Can’t Change The World, But You Can Change Your World

This morning I woke up to the news that Trump is president of the US.

Now, I don’t really understand politics, especially American politics, and I must admit I haven’t followed the election very closely, but from my limited understanding, I believe that this is quite a Bad Thing (unless you’re a white, straight, able-bodied, middle-class, non-muslim, non-immigrant man).

It saddens me that there is so much hatred in the world. Such an unwillingness to accept others who are a little different to us. Trump is a strange man by all accounts. He comes out with some, quite frankly, bizarre statements, and seems to close his eyes, spin in a circle, point at a random group of people, and decide that they’re the group he’s going to hate on that particular day.

But what saddens me more than anything Trump says (because let’s be honest, whatever he’s saying we can still laugh a little because he looks kind of like an angry carrot with a fluffy gerbil plonked on top), is the fact that there are a substantial number of people who agree with him. I’m not actually convinced that Trump believes in everything he says, I think he just comes out with ludicrous statements to try and shock people (sort of like Katie Hopkins). I think that towards the end of the election, his team were playing a game of ‘what’s the most stupid thing we can come out with that people will still go for’. So it’s not Trump that scares, confuses and saddens me, as much as the huge number of people who believe, what are in my opinion, racist, sexist, homophobic policies.

I can’t change the election, and neither can you. I can’t change much in this world, to be honest, I don’t hold that power. I can’t fix countries, stop wars, or cure diseases. I’m just one little person attempting to work, study, eat, sleep, and not crash my bike.

I can’t change the world, we can’t change the world, but we can change our worlds.

We can treat people with dignity and respect. We can hold our judgements on people and try and understand where they’re coming from (yes, including Trump and his supporters). We can love deeply, use social media responsibly, and try to show compassion in all that we do. We can do our best to remain kind, caring, and humble in our day to day lives. We can open our arms to those in danger of persecution, take five minutes to talk to someone who’s hurting, ask those around us if they are okay, and genuinely want to hear an honest answer.

We can’t control the world, but we can control our response to it. If you’re angry about the politics of this world – that’s okay! But use that anger to do something. Channel it into something productive and positive. Don’t just sit on social media complaining about it because that won’t achieve anything.

Learning toAccept ‘Okay’

We live in a society of extremes. Our media constantly reports the best of humanity and, more often, the worst of humanity (they sort of have to, I don’t imagine anyone would read ‘man went to work and nothing happened’). The adverts that surround us tell his how to be ‘skinnier’, ‘more toned’, ‘more muscular’, ‘smarter’, basically ‘better’.

Well before we’re able to make decisions for ourselves, life is insidiously turned into a sort of Hunger Games, pitting young people against each other for the benefit of the wider world – and it works in stages. As toddlers, we are pitted against our peers to see who can walk first, talk first, count first. If you pass that stage well enough, then school becomes your new battleground, where we are told to be the ‘best’, to achieve the ‘best grades’, to win every sports match, basically to be at the top in everything we do. Do well enough there, and leaving school and moving into a job becomes the next battleground – targets and challenges are thrown at you from every angle, with competition manifesting itself in salary, houses, cars, anything tangible that people can use to compare themselves to one another.

We push ourselves, try to squeeze more than we can fit into each hour of every day, we run on empty and burn ourselves out. We lose ourselves, our very dreams, in the quest to ‘be the best’. And ultimately, what for? Someone will always be better, faster, smarter, stronger (unless you really are at the top, but so few people ever get there that most people will have to settle somewhere along the line). If we do achieve or succeed, the pressure only mounts. We have to look up and down at the same time, beating anyone who tries to take our place whilst simultaneously trying to reach higher and overtake the person in front. It’s exhausting, and it’s not healthy.

There’s something incredibly freeing about learning to accept ‘okay’. Following Mum’s death there have been lots of ups and downs. It can often feel like everything is crap and nothing is ever going to get better. There have been weeks when I have felt incredibly low, and at times like that, I don’t want to feel ‘good’ or ‘great’, I literally just want to feel ‘okay’. It’s not normal for anyone to feel ‘great’ all the time or even ‘good’ all the time (whatever adverts might tell us!). Sometimes feeling okay, and being at peace with that, can be such a relief.

When it comes to other aspects of life, as much as it is admirable to constantly strive to be better, sometimes it’s necessary to accept ‘okay’. You didn’t get all of your jobs for the day done, but it’s okay because there’s tomorrow. Your room is a little messier than you’d like, but it’s okay because you’ve had a busy week and you’re tired. You don’t feel like cooking tonight, but it’s okay because ready meals, takeaways and toast exist, and you’ve had a busy day. These are really basic examples, but it’s the start of a new ‘okay’ mindset.

Of course, in some aspects of your life you will want to strive for better than okay, and that’s okay too! If you have a big exam coming up, of course you will try to get the best grade you possibly can. When going for a promotion, of course you will want to put your all into it. When it’s your child’s birthday party, of course you will want to make it as memorable as possible (in a good way!). But equally, when you do put your all into everything and you don’t achieve what you’d hoped, it’s not the end of the world; it really isn’t.

Adding ‘okay’ to your vocabulary is so vital in today’s society when there is pressure from every angle. When you’re expected to do unpaid overtime, have a ‘perfect’ house, a ‘perfect’ body and a ‘perfect’ social life all at the same time (which, by the way, is entirely unrealistic). You are okay. You really are okay. And most of the time, so am I.

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Social Media is a Carefully Constructed Facade

Yesterday, I met up with a friend. After a couple of hours of window shopping (and a little too much actual shopping – sorry bank balance!), we sat down for a drink and the kind of chat I wish were more common: a proper conversation. None of this ‘how are you, I’m fine thanks, how are you’ crap which most of us seem to spend the majority of our time reeling off because that’s what we’re expected to do.

We spoke a lot about all that’s going on in our lives. Both of us have great stuff going on at the moment, but naturally we’re also both dealing with things which aren’t exactly ideal, and we’re managing them alongside jobs, university, and some sort of vague attempt at a social life.

I spoke a lot about Mum; how she is, how the rest of my family are, how our house is, basically lots of cancer related stuff. My friend responded with words I’ve heard so many times in recent weeks: ‘I’d never have known’.

From so many people, for so many reasons, I seem to be hearing this a lot more than normal lately. ‘I’d never have known your mum dying affects how well you’re sleeping’. ‘I’d never have known it affects your studies’. ‘I’d never have guessed that ‘x’ was going on’. Usually accompanied with ‘you’re coping so well with this, I don’t know how you do it’.

If you look at my Twitter and Facebook, they paint a fantastic picture. I look after two lovely boys for four days each week, and you’ll see pictures of their various baking endeavours, their glittery creations and their muddy wellies, usually accompanied with something amusing that one of them came out with. You’ll see photos of volunteering things I’m doing: whether it be a selfie on a train to London, a photo of somewhere pretty I’m sitting, or something else, you can be sure it’ll be as photogenic as I could make it in the moment. And that’s before we get to the various updates about the revision I’ve been tackling, culminating with a photo of all my notes last week before my exam. There will be some jokes on my immediate family’s Facebook walls, conversations with other family on Twitter and every now and then a link to a news article I found thought-provoking.

But the stuff I don’t post on social media are the things that keep me up at night. The discussions I’ve had with Dad about Mum’s health. Worries about whether Mum will make it up the stairs tonight. How exasperated I feel that my family seem to have stopped leaving the house. The crying that comes when it hits me that Mum really is dying. The questions I mull over each day: ‘what will it be like when…’, ‘what about if…’, ‘how do I cope with…’. I certainly never post my fears about whether I’m coping well, if I’m making the right decisions, and what’s going to happen in the future.

The thing is, I’m not the only one. If I did start posting all of that stuff, kinder people would think it was quite odd, and less kind people would probably react with hostility – how would you react if this popped up on your feed: “crying because I just walked past people graduating and Mum probably won’t be around when/if I graduate”?

I have a number of friends going through a lot of tough situations at the moment. Physical health problems, mental health problems, family issues, you name it. I have friends in hospital, friends who’ve recently received difficult test results from their GP, and friends going through family break ups. If you looked at these people’s social media profiles and then they told you about these issues, you’d probably say ‘I’d never have guessed’.

More than any other area of our lives, social media lets us choose exactly how much or how little we say to the wider world about our lives. No-ones social media profile can fully represent that person – after all, how do you capture a human personality in 140 characters, or a well-filtered selfie? And that’s before you get to the unwritten social rules on what you can and can’t post – don’t cry for attention, don’t post anything that could upset or offend anyone, do your best to be funny – that actually restrict the freedoms we’d so dearly to love to have, and make the whole social media thing so much more difficult.

Assuming a friend is fine because they posted a happy Facebook status is like seeing someone wearing makeup and assuming they look the same without it. Facebook and Twitter and Instagram can so easily turn into makeup for your whole life: social mascara, if you like, personal concealer, maybe societal hair straightening. Please don’t ignore hints that they might not be so okay right now, if there are any. Reach out to your friends, drop them the occasional text, start some real conversations. Summer can be an incredibly lonely time, seeming to stretch on forever if things are difficult. Take out your makeup wipes, and find out if your friends really are as ‘okay’ as their internet presence suggests.

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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.

Packing Up My University Year

On Sunday, I moved out of the flat I’ve called home for the last ten months to the house I grew up in but no longer call home. A year ago, I would never have imagined I’d feel so at home in York, or so out of place in the village where I’ve spent most of my life so far.

As I was packing up my life, I noticed a few things – like all of the cards from my 21st birthday. Each card represents a person who loves me and cares about me, someone who knows that I have good times and crappy times, and who stands by me through all of it.

I took down all the letters I had stuck on my wall. I write to a few of my friends and they write to me. We support each other through the ups and downs of life, share quotes and ideas, teach each other skills and coping strategies we’ve learned. We sometimes send pictures or little items to help and guide each other through each day. These people have taken the time to sit down and pen me a letter, and those letters have been on my wall all year.

The four walls of that flat have seen so much over the last 10 months. Back in September, they saw me rush off before the first week of uni as Mum entered hospital again. They will have seen me crying late at night as I wondered if she was okay. They will have seen a repeat of that in November.

December, and they saw me getting excited for Winter Ball, trying on a new dress, learning to do my make-up. Eventually coming in far too late with a smile on my face because it had been such a good night. They will have seen a few times like this, times when I’ve been a ‘normal’ 20/21-year old – going out with my friends, coming in too late and sorting out the mess of make-up and shoes the next morning.

In February, they will have seen me disappear for a week as I went back to my parents’ house because Mum was deteriorating rapidly. They will have seen me curled up on my bed, sobbing into my teddies after that first night, because Mum was dying and there was nothing I could do. Sitting, staring at screens the following morning, jumping on every phone call. They will have seen me a week later, my world changed forever as Mum went into a coma and, for a few days, looked as if she might die. I am still so grateful for all that ensured she didn’t, but am still regularly plagued by flashbacks of those days.

In March, they will have seen me both surprised and delighted at the number of cards and messages I received for my birthday (once I’d got home from working on a residential!). They’ll have seen me read each one individually and arrange and rearrange them on my shelf. They’ll also have seen me become upset as I went to bed, realising that Mum would probably never see another birthday of mine.

In May, they will hardly have seen me. I spent most of my days working on my essays, determined to get the grades I knew I could achieve. Determined to prove wrong those people who suggested I should take a year out. Setting my heart on achieving good grades, partly for myself, and partly just in case they are the last grades of mine that Mum will ever see.

It’s now July and I’m moving out for two months. My rent is up and doesn’t re-start until September. The walls will see me take each card off my shelves with care. Prising each photograph off my noticeboard, releasing each letter from its place on my wall. Standing confused, staring at those five odd socks wondering quite where their partners have gone.

This year, York has become my home and I don’t want to leave. Mum may be ill, but while I’m in York, that fades from my mind slightly. This year I’ve made new friends, strengthened existing friendships and become distant from others. I have continued old volunteering projects and signed up to new ones, taking so many amazing opportunities which have come my way. I have grown in confidence in my job and been rewarded with increased responsibility. I have learned more about my degree subject, written assignments on interesting topics, and dragged myself through essays on not-so-interesting ones. I have chatted to my MP about getting young people voting, been part of BBC’s election coverage, brought a mental health awareness campaign to campus, raised over £400 for cancer research and started this blog.

All day as I pack up and contemplate returning to my parents’ house, one wonderful quote from my favourite wise bear, Winnie-The-Pooh, sticks in my mind: ‘How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard’.

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