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.

So Many Charities, So Little Money.

Every time I watch TV at the moment, I see an advert asking me to give money to save some animals. Listening to Spotify, I often hear someone asking me to give money to bring music to war-torn countries. Cycling down the road, I see billboards asking me to give money to feed starving children.

It’s the time of year where charities everywhere are ploughing their marketing budgets into as many adverts as they can muster, over as many different media platforms as possible. There’s an advert at every turn and you simply can’t escape them. They’re counting on your Christmas cheer, hoping that once you’ve had a little too much brandy and one too many mince pies, you might be feeling jovial enough to throw some pennies their way.

Donating is really important. Charities need money to run, and I don’t know how much of their annual income they generate at Christmas but I would guess it’s a fair sum. I really do think it’s great that people are giving to charities, and it is vital that they receive money to carry out their work.

However, what happens when you just don’t have the money to give? Life can be expensive at the best of times but Christmas is notoriously expensive. Whether you’re hosting a big family Christmas, travelling to see friends and relatives, or just having a quiet one at home – there’s no denying that it’s probably the most expensive time of year.

Like many people, I can relate to this. Our family are by no means deprived, but my bank account is definitely crying a little as a result of Christmas shopping. I hate seeing these adverts knowing that I can’t give them money. It can make me feel incredibly guilty and I know I’m not the only one in this position because others have mentioned it to me, too.

One thing you could give, if you don’t have spare cash floating about, is time. Time is so valuable and so precious. With Mum dying this year, I have learned to appreciate time in a way that I never have done before. I remember having a conversation with Mum around the start of uni when I was racking up the volunteering hours like nobody’s business. It started with a chat about how much I should donate to charity each month and we ended up chatting about other ways to help charities. We concluded that I might not give much money right now, and donate my time instead (I had spare time but not really any spare money at the time). Then when I’m older and employed in a more stable job, I’d be likely to have spare money but not so much spare time, so at that point I might give more money but not give as much time.

BBC Radio 1 are currently running a campaign called #1MillionHours. They’re trying to encourage young people to pledge their time to Cancer Research UK, Barnardos, Age UK and/or Oxfam. You can also pledge your time to another charity, then tweet them using the hashtag #1millionhours to make sure your hours are added to the campaign. They want to get 1 million hours of volunteering pledged which will then be carried out over the course of 2016.

Personally, I’ve pledged to Cancer Research UK. If volunteering for them means I can help them to raise money which supports their research, then I’m up for it. Their research could make sure that another 21 year old in 5 years time isn’t facing a Christmas without their Mum. (Side note: I’ve also started putting together a Race for Life team in Mum’s memory and you should absolutely do that if you’re able to – it’s so much fun, especially the Pretty Muddy ones!).

My challenge to you this Christmas is that if you’re like me and have the time but not much money, rather than seeing these adverts and feeling guilty that you can’t help, or just brushing them off: pledge some hours to them. Join #1millionhours, and give the gift of time to those that need it most.

Fixers Update

I am determined to start updating my various projects and endeavors more frequently on here rather than doing big updates all in one go!

So I’m working with ITV Fixers to further my work around raising awareness of living with a terminal illness in the family, especially as a young person.

I met with the youth project worker way back in June to discuss where I was, what my thoughts were, and whether they’d like to take it on as a project. They love the idea (wooo!), and last week we had a big meeting with three Fixers staff (who, by the way, were all so lovely and enthusiastic), to discuss my ideas and what sort of thing we could do. We’ve decided to create a video… but I don’t want to write too much more on that because ideas change and also it will be more exciting that way! Hopefully we’ll be filming mid-October, though.

Then this week, I had a meeting with someone from the broadcast team about doing a 3-minute broadcast which will be aired in Tyne and Wear and Yorkshire (I think!) at the beginning of October. We discussed how it would work and what sort of things I wanted to focus on and basically it’s super exciting and we’re booked to film in about 2 weeks.

So all in all it’s incredibly exciting, there’s all sorts of bits going and and I’m buzzing!

I also just want to say how fab Fixers have been. They have completely taken the time to understand what I want to focus on and to find the right people to be involved in the project. I’ve felt listened to the whole way through (and I can talk for hours, so that’s quite an achievement), and have had so much support from them. I haven’t felt pushed at all (as I have with other media outlets in the past), and they’ve made sure that my family have been aware of what I’m doing at every stage. They’ve taken the time to explain everything properly and to make sure that I understand everything at each stage and that I’m happy with it.

In short, they’re fab and if you’re a young person wanting to change something you’re unhappy with, or just anyone wanting to learn more about various issues, or even to donate to a project which really does make a difference to young people, then check out their site.

A bit of an update…

Hello! So much as been happening in my life recently and I feel like I’m long overdue writing an update. I don’t know how many of you are really interested so I’ll try and keep it short and sweet!

  • Team v has officially ended – I’m sure you’ve also seen my posts on this, but this week the staff left and it’s definitely now over…
  • …but vInspired Ambassadors are now a thing and I am one of these, so watch this space!
  • I’ve changed my Team v mentor Facebook to be Naomi Volunteering, so if anyone is desperate to befriend me on Facebook, here you go.
  • YoungMinds Vs campaign has ended so all their regional workers have now left…
  • … but the YoungMinds Youth Board has been created and I’m on this, so watch this space!
  • I’m still waiting to hear my exam grade (tomorrow I think!) but apart from that, I’ve finished 2nd year of uni!
  • I’m starting my dissertation which is on volunteering somethingsomething, I’m sure you’ll hear all about it this year!
  • Then I have to get a job in 9 months, all offers welcome…
  • I am still doing a lot with Shout Out Leeds (mental health stuff in Leeds – it’s fab!), we now have a Facebook page, a Twitter and a website.
  • I’m also doing lots and lots of planning for World Mental Health Day in York, through the University of York Mental Health Awareness Project which we founded last year – check out our Facebook and Twitter.
  • On top of that, I’m doing some work with Fixers on a video around the terminal cancer things I blog about in the hope of reaching more people and sharing our story further in the hope of supporting those who need it.
  • There’s also potentially going to be a broadcast…
  • I’m still HuffPost blogging, all of which I post on here
  • I’ve got the two boys I nanny for another week and then they go back to school Then I’m at frontrunner for a week, in London for a day and then move back to York!
  • So, over the next few months/year I’ll be doing all this, plus my degree, plus some part time work.

I’m hoping I haven’t forgotten anything! I don’t know if anyone will be interested but I just thought I’d pop it up

Mental Health Stigma

I’ve done a lot of work around mental health in the past few years. I sort of tripped and fell into volunteering with mental health charities back in 2012 and haven’t looked back since; I enjoy it and the people I work with are nothing but lovely.

We’ve been working on fighting stigma, education people, raising awareness etc. for a long time. As much as I’ve always participated and fully believed in the cause, I’m not sure I’ve always quite understood the battle we were fighting. In some ways, it’s felt like a battle that wasn’t really there.

Sure, I’ve seen mental health stigma and discrimination online. I’ve seen and heard people use mental health conditions as derogatory terms. I’ve seen people torment and abuse people with mental illnesses, openly, online. But I have never really had it smack me in the face – or seen much of it offline.

Today, we were asking people to fill in postcards with their ‘5-a-day for their mind’. The idea was to write 5 things on a postcards which cheered them up/made them happy, along with their address, and we would send these postcards to them in the winter months, so that when things got dark they had a pick me up.

It was fab! In total, we had over 100 conversations about a combination of mental health and mental illness, 100 postcards filled in and a lot of smoothies made (we had a smoothie bar with us). Considering there were only 4 of us running it all and only two of us doing the postcards, I’d say that’s pretty impressive.

However, there were two instances during the day where parents heard the words ‘mental health’, took their children and literally pulled them away.

It makes me so sad because not only did the children not get to take part in the activity, but the parents, by doing that, teach their children that ‘mental health’ and all things associated with it are bad. What if that child grows up and has a rubbish day and feels low? What if they experiences anxiety around a stressful time in their life? What if they develop a fill blown mental illness? Will they be able to speak to their parents about it? Will their parents support them or help them?

I hope they will. I hope they won’t deny them support because ‘mental illness doesn’t happen in families like ours’ or some crap like that. I hope they won’t tell their child that their feelings aren’t real or they don’t exist. I hope they will help them.

If you’re a parent and you’re reading this, in fact whoever you are, if you’ve got this far – please don’t turn mental health, mental illness and all associated words into swearwords. Please don’t make them taboo. Please allow your loved ones to be honest and open about how they feel. You never know, one day it could save a life.

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All of the postcards that were completed today.

Travelling To The Team v Finale

I’m currently travelling to London for the Team v graduation and alumni celebration. It’s the final
time we’ll all get together as part of Team v, and I feel slightly sick.

I’m anxious. Firstly, I’m going more than a mile out of my village for the first time in a while. There will be a lot of people in Leeds and a lot of people in London. Normally I manage quite well with this, but the longer I go without venturing into busy places, the more difficult I find it to go back to them. People make me anxious and it’s a challenge I face every day. That said, Team v has always pushed me and encouraged me to do things I did not think I could do. I know it will be okay and I know I’ll make it to London just fine, so I need to stop worrying.

I’m nervous. This is the Team v send off and it should be awesome. I’ve got a surprise for the staff which I’ve made with leaders from all four years and I’m hoping there are no technical, difficulties, I’m also on a film which will be shown and haven’t seen the film yet, so that’s nerve wracking! Furthermore, I’ll be seeing people I’ve not seen in a long time including some I haven’t seen in two years. I’ve changed so much since then; physically, emotionally, cognitively, the lot. A lot has changed in my life and I’ve adapted with it. Will it be weird seeing them again? I imagine they’ve changed too…

I’m excited. I love my Team v family and I always look forward to seeing them. They have been there for all of the ups and downs of the last three years and have seen me at my best and my worst. We have supported each other, helped each other to grow and develop as people. I’m looking forward to seeing what surprises the staff have included in the graduation and the celebration because knowing Team v, there’s always something!

Team v has been part of my life since August 2012. It is the only thing in my life which has been there since before Mum was diagnosed the first time. My education has changed, as have my living arrangements, the majority of my friends, my job and my social life. But Team v has always been there.

I don’t feel ready to let it go. We’re not really losing it completely because we will all stay in touch and the friends I’ve made through it are stuck with me for life (sorry guys!), but the formal programme is coming to an end. It’s sad that it has to, because it’s changed our lives so much; but charities change, funding is tight, and things have to move on. Also the staff have been incredible, caring for and guiding each one of us individually, always helping us to challenge ourselves and reach our goals. 

Team v took me from a place where I had no hope for the future, part time job and no plans to go to university, and brought me back to life. It has filled me with confidence, hope, laughter, and so much more. That will never go away, and that is something I can never thank them enough for. Whatever happens and wherever we go, the impact that Team v has had will continue for a long long time. Team v is not ending, it’s just changing shape. Now it’s our job as leaders, to continue to change the world one campaign at a time.

How Accessible Is Your Volunteering Opportunity?

For most, the term ‘accessible’ refers to catering for those with disabilities, from having a ramp up to a building, to creating easy-read documents or monitoring noise levels. I was at a brilliant event yesterday; a discussion group involving 25 disabled people (and their personal assistants where necessary). We were talking about the issues currently being faced by disabled people and how we could start to tackle them. Everyone in the room brought something different; different skill sets, experiences and ideas.

One thing that came up a number of times was the fact that ‘access to work’ does not apply to voluntary placements. Access to work is provided by the governments and funds any reasonable adjustments a disabled person might need in the work place (for example, a desk that a wheelchair user can comfortably use). This makes workplaces much more accessible to disabled people, giving them increased opportunities to find employment. Without funding, voluntary organisations can struggle to afford reasonable adjustments needed by people, reducing the opportunities that are available to them within the third sector.

Disabled people lose out, that much is obvious. Their volunteering opportunities are reduced, preventing them from gaining certain experiences which could impact their future employment opportunities. It also means that their opportunities to meet others are reduced, increasing the potential that they become isolated, preventing them from feeling part of the community. It’s not just these people who lose out, though, organisations do too. They lose valuable volunteers. People with tenacity and drive; people who have overcome personal difficulties and have skill sets that able-bodied people may find harder to acquire.

As I began to think more about this, I realised that the accessibility to volunteering opportunities doesn’t just need considering for disabled people. How many opportunities are run 9-3:30 on a weekday, and therefore inaccessible to those under 18? How many are run somewhere that public transport doesn’t reach? How many are run during the day and don’t make arrangements for young children?

All of these things are worth considering. I can’t count the number of people I’ve heard say: ‘I would love to volunteer but…’. The ‘but’ is normally something relatively simple which could be easily fixed. I know that personally, I’ve stopped volunteering with people for a number of reasons. Often this is down to transport, I can’t drive so have to either be able to bike there, or be able to use public transport. Sometimes it’s due to the organisation not being able to refund travel costs, often I can fund it myself, but this has been a barrier in the past. Once I stopped working with an organisation because they expected me to read reams of paper weekly, and I couldn’t manage all of that on top of my uni work – splitting the paragraphs into bullet points would have made all the difference.

What I’m trying to say, is that there are many barriers to volunteering, but most of them are fixable and once they are fixed, your organisation is opened up to a whole host of new potential volunteers. When you’re setting things up, think of the type of people you want to engage. Think about those who are likely to have time, those who will be interested in your cause; what sort of barriers might they face? How can they be overcome? Work with people, speak to people, encourage open discussion and try to understand their needs. By making volunteering more accessible to all, we develop a richer pool of people with more experience, more skills and more networks.