Guest Post: The Positive Effect of Music by Ruby Leigh-Smith

To understand the positive effects of music, we have to understand that music – the kind of music that defines who and what we are – is not usually found until we’re in our teens, or even later in life, because we are still growing into ourselves, defining and redefining who we will be.

Music is part of what defines us as we go through life, marking every stage.

That’s what I love so much about music. Everybody has an individual taste, and arguably, no two music fans playlists will be the same.

As soon as we discover our own music, we are free to become who we want to be. To me at least, music creates you, and moulds you.

When I was fourteen, I was going through some personal stuff, and I felt like nothing would ever be right in the world again. But it was actually my best friend at the time who got me into music properly. I owe her my love of it.

She told me about bands that would be classed by most people as ‘emo’, but to me, they were life saving – metaphorically, anyway.

From My Chemical Romance to Fall Out Boy, I managed to feel better than before when I listened to their music. I had found something that, to me at least, seemed exclusive.

I felt I was the only person in the world who listened to the music. It spoke to me, and loved it. Of course I wasn’t, but that didn’t matter to me in that moment when I discovered it.

As time went on, I found my second greatest love – concerts. Live music is something else entirely. The aura that is exuded at a concert lifts me up, and has continued to do since 2018 when I went to my first concert, Fall Out Boy at the O2 Arena in London.

Since then, I have been to over eighteen live shows, and one festival.

Over the years, a lot of research has been done into the positive effects of music.

A recent study found that 60% of children between the ages of 4 and 6 had increased vocabulary performance after taking just one month of weekly music lessons. A team of McGill scientists examined over 400 research papers, and they found that music decreases stress and anxiety and increases immune system functions.

This got me thinking about everything that music does that you might not even be aware of.

I have high functioning autism, so music often calms me down, and allows me to focus, or separate myself from the world when it all gets too much.

When you find artists or groups that you identify with so strongly that you can imagine they’re beside you in your darkest and lightest moments, then you have found friends for life.

You’re never alone as long as you have chords, rhythm, lyrics and a song that speaks to you.

Music is a form of escapism.

It has a positive impact on your brain, making you feel better when you feel that things couldn’t be worse, or lifting you up when you’re feeling a bit lost in the world.

Music has also been proven to help with studying. I used to change the lyrics to songs to fit with my school revision.

I changed Queen’s ‘Fat Bottomed Girls’ to ‘Fat Bottomed Physics’ and crammed GCSE physics equations in there – and let me tell you, humming that song under your breath in an exam room might look strange, but it works.

Many people find it beneficial listening to music at the same time as studying or reading.

Blocking out background noise with something that you listen to regularly can really help you concentrate on what you are reading or writing.

Additionally, and perhaps the most important point, is that music helps you find where you fit in. It helps you find people to identify with who listen to the same music as you or idolise the same musicians. Those friendships help you find new artists or genres of music that you might not have listened to before.

Making friends is hard for many people, but music makes it just that little bit easier to connect with those that understand you.

From making friends and helping you express yourself, to picking you up when you’re feeling down, music is like coming home to a hot cup of tea after a long day. It will leave you feeling so much happier when you’re feeling sad.

Music has done so much for me since the day I first listened to My Chemical Romance back in 2018. I’ve changed as a person because of it.

Over the last few years, I’ve started listening to other genres of music. I idolise the Lennon-McCartney songwriting partnership of The Beatles, and next year I will be seeing Queen + Adam Lambert in concert.

Music is a big part of my life. I have my own blog inspired by my love of music, and this have brought me a lot of opportunities.

I have even reviewed the books of people such as Sir Paul McCartney, and interviewed The Boomtown Rats bassist, Pete Briquette.

These names might not mean a lot to some, but these are people who have inspired so many musicians which we listen to today, like Kanye West (Kanye, Sir Paul McCartney and Rihanna released a song in 2015, link here).

Even musicians like Oasis, The Foo Fighters, and Bruce Springsteen have cited artists such as The Beatles as their inspirations. Without those who came before, we would not have artists like Cardi-B, Taylor Swift, or Porter Robinson. Music would not be what it is right now.

The positive effects of music are never ending.

It’s an expression of who we are and who we want to become, and I certainly wouldn’t be who I am without the soundtrack to my life.

Ruby Leigh-Smith is an aspiring journalist, writer, and a Gypsy, Roma and Traveller activist. She writes about music and books. You can read more of her work here: https://music-devotees6.webnode.com/

Living with OCD

I’m insecure about my hands.

It seems a strange thing to be insecure about, but it’s the only visible sign of my OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder), a condition I’ve struggled with since middle school.

I’ve never spoken about it before, mainly because I was in denial for a long time. I was ashamed to admit I was struggling with it. But seeing as it’s #WorldMentalHealthDay, it makes sense to share.

Part of the reason I’ve never spoken about this is because I never thought my OCD was ‘that bad’. I would often shrug off comments from family or friends about how sore my hands looked.

At one point, I thought it was completely normal to wash your hands over 40 times a day. I was functioning, so therefore it was all fine. 

OCD is a highly misunderstood condition. It is estimated 12 out of every 1,000 people in the U.K. will be diagnosed with it. And it’s often incorrectly used to describe someone who likes to organise or keep their house extra tidy.

Comments like “I need things to be organised so I guess I’m a bit OCD” probably haven’t helped when it comes to those misconceptions, especially when it’s said online for everyone to see. 

If you have OCD, you’ll usually experience frequent obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviours. The obsession is the thought, and the compulsion is the behaviour which often follows. 

The singer George Ezra recently spoke on a BBC podcast about being diagnosed with ‘Pure O’ which helped to raise awareness. It’s a type of OCD in which you struggle with the intrusive thoughts, but not the compulsive behaviours.

I remember first struggling with the obsessive thoughts when I was twelve-years-old.

My brain was like white noise on a broken television, constantly buzzing with irrational thoughts and theories. That’s one of the worst parts about OCD. You can’t really escape it.

Most of the time you know you’re being completely irrational, yet you still need to act on the compulsion, just in case it becomes a reality. 

I checked doors a certain amount of times to make sure they were definitely locked, or placed towels between clothes in the washing basket so they wouldn’t become contaminated.

I appeared to ‘grow out of it’ after a few years, but it’s come back under a different disguise during times of stress or uncertainty, sometimes noticeable and sometimes more covert.

However, over the last seven years it’s become all encompassing, tainting many memories or moments with a irrational thought or fear.

It showed up like a long lost relative at an awkward birthday party after I lost my younger brother Elliot in May 2013.

Looking back, it probably made sense. It was a way to maintain control during a point in my life I felt I didn’t have any control at all.

I felt like everything was no longer within my power. I couldn’t change what had just happened to my family, and the world seemed so fragile and unpredictable because of this. Metaphorically, I had lost control of the wheel and didn’t have a clue where I was going.

The compulsions have morphed over the years, but it’s main focus is the fear of contamination.

At first it was the thought of catching a disease from surfaces or public places, especially on public transport to and from work.

Then it became an obsession with touching chemicals or cleaning products. Could chemicals have contaminated my skin? Could they be sitting on my clothes? When I eat, could that chemical have got into my food poisoned me?

If I saw a stain on the street, I’d have to walk around it and get to the nearest toilet to wash my hands. This stain could have been left by a chemical, so I needed to disinfect myself immediately.

Despite the fact my hands were red raw, I’d still continue to scrub them like I was surgeon about to go into surgery. My hands were embarrassingly sore and cracked, but it was worth it to know I hadn’t harmed myself or anyone else I cared about.

I’ve wasted a lot of money over the years. I’d buy something in the shop but if I felt it had been contaminated, I’d have to replace it.

Clothes, bags and shoes were sent to the charity shop. Or worse, thrown away for no reason other than the fact they might have been touched by some unknown chemical or liquid. 

In 2018, I decided to get some counselling and asked for a referral with my GP. I was put on a dose of anti-depressants to help with my symptoms, and took these for a year before I started to feel better and less anxious.

The OCD, although not cured, was manageable. I didn’t feel the same level of panic at the idea someone might have touched bleach or cleaning fluid before shaking my hand or hugging me.

But then, COVID-19 hit.

Part of the treatment for OCD is accepting your thoughts are irrational, and therefore, don’t need to be acted on. Yet during the pandemic, those irrational fears were suddenly reality for many.

People with the condition went from being told washing your hands 50 times a day was unhealthy, to the Government encouraging us to regularly wash our hands to prevent the spread of a deadly and unknown virus.

The fear of bringing an unknown disease into your house and contaminating your family became a real prospect, and one you couldn’t just rationalise with a round of CBT and mindfulness.

The first few months of lockdown included daily de-contamination. The cupboards, kitchen surfaces, door handles, and TV remotes were regular dosed in Dettol spray (other anti-bacterial sprays are available), and my phone was so clean you could have literally eaten from it.

But after a while, the fear and worry began to fade. I won’t say it’s gone completely, I’m still a bit nervous on public transport and if someone gets too close to me in a queue I get a bit agitated like one of those grumpy chihuahuas when you put your hand in their face, but it doesn’t occupy my every thought like it did at the start of the year.

However, COVID did make me realise I couldn’t continue to allow OCD control over my life. It had become a toxic friend, feeding me lies and making me believe my compulsions were protecting me.

The fact is, a life with OCD isn’t really a life. 

It’s a prison in your own mind. It makes your life smaller and smaller until you feel you’re living in a sealed Tupperware box. You can see the outside world, but you’re not living in it, consumed by your own fear and irrational thoughts.

Slowly and surely, I’m now getting the help I need to tackle it. And feeling a lot better for it.

For a long time I’ve been ashamed of my OCD. I’d much rather tell someone I was feeling tired or just in a bad mood then admit I was battling with a constant stream of obsessive thoughts.

I’d rather cover my hands with gloves then let anyone see how sore they were by the constant hand washing I was putting them through.

It made sense to keep it to myself for as long as possible, but if talking about it helps one person who might be struggling, it’s worth it.

Thankfully, OCD has become a lot less of a taboo subject in the last few years.

I’ve seen lots of people sharing Tik Tok videos about their compulsive thoughts and how they’ve dealt with them. When you know you aren’t alone in how you feel, it makes it a lot easier to reach out and ask for professional support and help.

So if you’re struggling with OCD symptoms, please don’t wait so long to get help like I did. It can be debilitating if you aren’t getting help.

And don’t be ashamed to talk about it. You don’t know who else might be going through the same struggle right now 

Resources:

The UK’s Largest OCD Charity | OCD Action

OCD-UK | A national OCD charity, run by, and for people with lived experience of OCD

Self-care for OCD | Mind, the mental health charity – help for mental health problems | Mind, the mental health charity – help for mental health problems

‘Are you okay?’

When you’re grieving, people will often ask you the same question on a regular basis.

‘Are you okay?’

I get it. It’s a natural reflex, like saying bless you when someone sneezes or nodding politely when you’ve seen someone more than once on the same tour of the local Tesco.

It wasn’t until recently that I started thinking about the way I often answered this question after my brother died. And probably still do today, six years on.

When I’m struggling, I never really answer this question honestly. It’s mainly out of shame because I think I should have my shit together all the time and I expect other people to think the same (which they often don’t).

But it’s difficult to open up to people sometimes. When people ask if you’re okay, you don’t know if that person is just asking out of politeness. Then I worry I’ll only realise this when I’ve poured my heart out in an epic ten chapter novel about how bloody sad it is I’ll never get to see my brother again yet society expects me to be okay with that.

Nobody wants to read that book though. That’s a really sad book. I’m not even sure they’d have a section for that in Waterstones.

Most of the time, I’m just not really sure what to tell you, so the answer is usually always: ‘yeah, I’m alright’.

It’s not that I don’t want to share myself with you. I’m sure you mean it when you say you’ll listen, but there’s still a lot of stigma around ‘struggling’ and opening up about your grief. Sometimes it’s easier to lie and say you’re coping. People react very differently and those reactions are not always helpful, even though they often mean well.

Last year I was struggling, but I kept it to myself. It’s very typical of me to keep running on a sprained ankle when I should have just taken a break from the race to restore my energy. But people who are grieving are often like birds with a broken wing, hiding our injuries to protect ourselves from predators. We won’t always let you see us struggling, just in case it’s seen as a sign of weakness or vulnerability.

When I’m in those moods and struggling to form a sentence, I start writing all my thoughts down on an iPhone note. Some of the words I write make sense. Some of them don’t. It’s often a flurry of emotions and ideas spat out on the screen like I’m throwing paint at a canvas until it makes a shape or tells a story.

The other day, I started scrolling through those notes. Between an array of to-do lists and strange dreams I’d decided to write down in case they had some alternative meaning, I found a poem I’d written a few months back and forgotten about. It was all the answers I wanted to give when someone asked me if I was okay.

As I read it, I felt like I was reading through my teenage diary. The words were full of angst and raw emotion, like a drunken conversation on a night out, and even though I was slightly embarrassed by its brutal honesty, something compelled me to share it.

I posted it to a Facebook group for bereaved siblings. I didn’t think it was very compelling or insightful, but it showed a side of my grief I often hid, even from the friends who understood my pain. A friend from the group texted me to tell me he’d read the poem to his mother and wife. They told him they’d related to my words in their own grief.

I realised how close I’d been to discarding those words, just like the real and honest answer to the question: ‘are you okay?’

It feels right to share it, so here it is. A poem about how grief really feels, but how we often answer people, mainly due to the fear of judgment. It doesn’t speak for everyone in their journey with grief, but I hope it makes sense to some.

 

I feel the despair in the centre of my chest, like my ribs are coated in lead or my lungs are made of weights. But yes, I’m okay.

My brain in running at 100 miles per hour, words and scenarios running through my head like an old reel of film with no order or sequence. I’m overwhelmed. But yes, I’m okay.

My stomach is tight, a ball of elastic bands all twisted and stretched, ready to break. I’m a piece of porcelain, fragile and balancing on the edge, ready to fall. But yes, I’m okay.

I’m exhausted from the routine of having to put a fake smile on my face when my grief is suffocating me, pulling me under the water like a wave that just keeps getting stronger and stronger. I’m swimming against the tide. But yes, I’m okay.

I feel nothing some days and everything all at once. My auto-pilot is switched on but sometimes the switch trips and I’m thrown off course, like a train that’s come off it’s rails. But yes, I’m okay.

How do I explain in words that make sense to you that some days I feel like I’m drowing? Yet I’m pulling myself up to the surface. I keep afloat somehow. But yes, I’m okay.

Somedays I’m hurting. Somedays I’m a bit broken. Somedays I’m a bit lost.

But yes, I’m okay… I guess?

 

 

 

MK marathon races to success

This year marked another successful run for the Milton Keynes marathon with thousands of people lacing up their trainers for the event.

The marathon was started in 2012 by race director Andy Hully and will be one of the biggest events to happen in the year the town turns 50.

Andy said: “A lot of planning goes into this and there were 10,000 entries over all the events.

“Everyone wants to get in.”

He said 600 people volunteered their time for the event on May 1st and next year he would have to make the event even bigger to accommodate the rise in people who apply every year.

The event was also attended by Olympian Gail Emms and BBC Radio Two’s Jo Whiley who took part in the half-marathon event.

Jo Whiley said: “I live in Milton Keynes and I really love it.

“I ran with my husband and it was so good to go over the finish line holding hands with him.”

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MK Marathon holds four separate races which include the full and half marathon as well as a relay race.

This year the event also hosted a superhero fun run which saw over 1,000 people, including children, dress up to run the course.

It currently ranks in the top 10 marathons held in the UK.

The winner of the men’s full marathon was Gareth Cooke who crossed the finish lane in 2 hours 40 minutes and 8 seconds.

Asia Zmysolna was the first female to finish the course in 2 hours 57 minutes and 37 seconds.

Local charity Harry’s Rainbow were among the many local charities who took part in the full marathon.

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60 people ran for the charity to raise money for services which support bereaved children in Milton Keynes.

Odette Mould set up the charity after losing her son unexpectedly in 2009.

This year was her first time running a marathon.

Fun Exercises to Try at work

 

A Weekend in Brighton

I’m back!

I took a long break from blogging before Christmas, but not intentionally. I started a new marketing position last month and I’ve got some side projects on the go (But no side chicks sadly… which reminds me, what IS the male equivalent to a side chick?) so it’s been a bit hectic.

But I’m back to blogging again so it is all good!

The weekend just gone was pretty awesome, so I thought I’d write a post about it.

I’d decided last year that I’d go out and plan more trips in 2016.

I had a list of gigs I wanted to go to and places I wanted to visit that I hadn’t been to yet. Brighton was one of them. So when I saw that an artist I’d be listening to for a while (and was desperate to see live) had a gig in Brighton this month, I couldn’t not buy a ticket and plan a weekend away.

So my friend Grace and I went up on Sunday, ready to explore the seaside town where everyone is as cool as a cucumber (It must be difficult being that cool).

First up, I won’t lie to you. The weather was (insert emoji poo here)💩

I’ve always wanted to be swept off of my feet but the wind in Brighton was taking the mick. At one point my glasses were literally swept straight off my head. And then there was the rain. If rain were a person, it’d be the worse kind of person.

So I had planned to get some really inspiring and artistic photos of the pier and some really nice looking fish and chips but snap chat quality photography was the reality of the situation.

We did shop. Now, I’m not a massive shopper (unless it is online) but there is definitely a better selection of retail in Brighton then there is in my hometown, where you’d be lucky to find a shop that doesn’t sell either phones or anything that cost more than a pound. So the retail therapy did commence. Thankfully my bank account didn’t take too much of a beating.

Later that evening we then headed down to KO Media, an amazing little venue, to see Gavin James. First of all, this venue is so much like Luton’s Hat Factory it’s unreal. I’m willing to bet money that one’s design was based on the other. Just like Hat Factory, it looks like a little café but when you walk through to the back of the building, the stairs lead you down to a basement style room. I’m pretty sure these are my favourite type of venues for gigs.

You can’t beat the acoustics you get in a room of that size and it always feels so much more special. I literally felt like I was down the pub, having a pint.

Interesting story (disclaimer, I will not be held responsible if you don’t find this extract interesting), I found out about Gavin James purely by accident when I tried to Youtube Gavin Clark who featured on ‘This Is England’s’ soundtrack and forgot his last name! So thank you, Gavin Clark.

Gavin Jame’s was as amazing live as I’d hoped he’d be. I’d listened to ‘Live at Whelans’ on repeat so I knew he’d be fantastic anyway but it’s always great when an artist is as good live, if not better, then recorded.

The support acts were also super talented and were amazing warm-ups to the show.

Check them out.

Craig Gallagher Music

Orla Gartland

So yes, probably one of the best gigs I’ve been to! (The Cure is another!)

I got one picture of the venue itself.

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As you can see, it’s really clear and gives some great detail into what the hell is going on… 😳#sodarkyoucantflash

That was taken before the gig even started because, I will say this honestly, am I the only person in the entire world who thinks it EXTREMELY rude to be on your phone during shows?

I get recording a single song or even a segment of it, but if you are on your phone for the entirety of a show, it looks really rude.

Also, people who talk through people’s performances? Is that considered OK now? Maybe I’m just old fashion but last time I checked if you’ve paid to see an artist/performer live you should at least pay some attention to what’s going on around you. Especially when Gavin’s signing Nervous because that is literally my favourite song ever.

Rant over.

So yes, it was a pretty amazing weekend, bar the weather. I’m definitely thinking of revisiting Brighton in the summer. Actually, sod that, who wants’ to come to live there with me!?

Oh yeah, and when we arrived at the train station after lunch, our train was delayed by a fallen tree but once I’d settled myself down for the most expensive hot chocolate I’d ever brought (even if it was the nicest), we realised the train to Bedford was, in fact, leaving in 10 seconds.

MAD RUN to the platform where once you’ve jumped on the train, you become very upset with just how un-fit you are and how much money you just wasted on half of a hot chocolate.

But sod it because the gig alone was worth it!

G

(P.S. I’ve got some really exciting projects coming up which I’ll keep you all updated on!)

Also, I’m on Twitter!

And here are some pictures from my weekend away. Not actually of Brighton but ah well.

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The Alone Sibling: Dealing with Sibling Loss

1000205_10201530543682559_863423124_nAs a child, I couldn’t have imagined what life as an only child would be like.

A number of my cousins are only children. And although they knew no different, I almost felt sympathy for them. How lonely they must feel? With no one to play with, no one to tell their secrets to or moan about their parents with.

My brother and I were very close as children right through to the teenage years. We were also arch enemies, like most siblings. But through all the beatings and vicious insults, there was always an unbreakable bound and enough love to create world peace 5 times over.

We were best friends, although we wouldn’t have wanted to admit it. There wasn’t much we didn’t speak about. I think my brother was the only person in the world who could make me laugh so much I wet myself (literally). We encouraged each other’s confidence. We bitched about rude people and we would be the first to stick up for one another in a fight (I specifically remember almost reducing a boy to tears when I charged up to him in the school playground after he stole my brothers football).

Yeah, we were pretty much partners in crime.

One of my fondest memories of my brother was him riding down on his bike to my college so that he could walk with me home. (I would often have to bribe him with a Pot Noodle, but still)

The day I found out my brother had gone was single handedly the worst day of my life.

It was like the world had fallen from it’s axis and the ground had crumbled beneath my feet.

It’s strange all the small details that you remember. Like the wheel chair in the family room that specifically read ‘departures lounge’ on the back or the criss crossed button on my cardigan that I repeatedly ran my nail up and down whilst trying not to look at my devastated parents in the corner of the room. And the doctors face when he came into the room with a large group of medical professionals and told us they couldn’t save my brother.

All I can remember after that is falling to the floor as though the ground had dropped, sick to my stomach and crying so uncontrollable I honestly didn’t recognise the noise of my own screams.

All I wanted to do in that moment was go back to being a five year old child. I wanted my parents to sweep me up and tell me it was all OK and just a bad dream like the ones I had when I was younger. I wanted someone to tell me it was all a mistake, that normal, average families didn’t go through this loss. My naivety was so over powering. I felt like the smallest, most vulnerable creature in the world.

The weeks after were just a blur. For any one who has lost a sibling, you’ll know the swarms of people, both old and new who appear at your door step with flowers in hand, cards with well wishes and messages of condolence. And you’ll know that after a week to two after, when those flowers have begun to wilt and the everyday life once again resumes, those visits are far and few between. And suddenly, the daunting realisation that you are now completely alone with your grief hits you like the biggest wave you’ve even faced.

And those waves keep on hitting you, like a Tsunami that ceases to relent.

As a sibling, our grief is often not as noticeable to others. People will continually ask you how your parents are. They don’t mean this in a rude way, as though the are ignorant to the over bearing black cloud of grief that engulfs your head and hangs over you. It’s just they don’t know what else to ask you.

Let’s be honest, sibling grief isn’t widely spoken about. We don’t speak about the effect on an individual, how it changes their life’s for ever. Maybe we are frightened to speak about it. No one wants to image life without their sibling.

But that doesn’t mean our voices shouldn’t be heard.

This is the story of an alone child. How life can change in an instant.

It gets a little easier everyday, but everyday has its challenges.

And the reality of an alone child will always be with you, like a black crow sitting beside you. And occasionally it will consume you, the grief too hard to bear. But you will get through it. Because that’s the only choice us alone siblings have.