‘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?

 

 

 

‘How do I become a journalist without a degree?’

I was fifteen when I decided I wanted to be a journalist. I bloody loved the news. I would wake up at 5:30 most mornings to watch it with my dad before school. I also had a fascination for documentaries. Louis Theroux was my icon and I longed to tell stories the way he did it, with empathy and curiosity for everyone he spoke to. It was my mum who taught me that everyone has a story. Since becoming a journalist, no truer word has been said. My passion is for story-telling and for people. 

I didn’t know if I was ever going to get here. I wasn’t traditionally academic in school and I don’t think many of my teachers thought I’d make anything of myself. I was the quiet and slightly strange girl at the back of the classroom who’d rather daydream whilst looking out of the window than read another chapter of ‘An Inspector Calls’.

The truth is, I didn’t really ‘fit in’. I wasn’t even one of those teenagers who’d say they were ‘misfits’ but were actually really cool and mysterious with their box-dyed hair and facial piercings. I was actually painfully uncool.

I wasn’t smart enough to hang out with the nerds and I wasn’t bad enough to hang out with the rebellious kids. I was a wallflower, and not of my own choosing. I’d learned it was better to keep quiet and be ‘undetectable’ as not to draw too much attention. Children can be cruel sometimes and I learned the hard way in middle school. 

I didn’t do well in my GCSEs. Unfortunately, my high school would often nurture highly gifted children. You know, the ones who were going to sail through their exams regardless of how many extra hours of tuition they received in after school club.

Children like me were encouraged less and so, we spent much of our school years wondering if we were actually any good at anything or if we had talents at all.

I scraped just enough passes to go to the sixth form, and although it was a bit more independent in comparison to school, it still felt like I was in the same system, my knowledge, and understanding of the world questioned in an exam hall, compared against hundreds of other young people who didn’t learn the same way I did. 

I was quite disruptive and argumentative during my first year of A levels. My teachers would often write home with words of warning, informing my parents that I had a bad attitude to learning or was too opinionated during classes. I was actually just finding my voice after years of feeling unconfident and awkward, blending into the background.

And surprise, I failed my A Levels. At that point, I’d written myself off as being awful at exams. Nobody has encouraged me to be better. I didn’t consider myself to be academic or ‘smart’. I just couldn’t do it, or so I thought.

Looking back, it was actually a blessing in disguise. I started searching for journalism courses in local colleges, still determined to get to where I wanted to be. I found a creative media course which offered journalism as a unit. For the first time in a long time, I was excited about education. This was probably the first time I remember a teacher seeing real potential in me (apart from my Maths teacher Mr. Coleman from middle school and my form tutor Mrs.Ewing who were both proper Gs). I felt like I’d finally found something I was really good at. I felt like I had a purpose. 

In those two years, I was inspired to learn about the industry and encouraged to achieve more than I’d thought myself capable of. I still remember the day my tutor turned to me and said; “Georgia, if anyone can do it, you can” (Big up Jonathan). I still think about that moment when I’m full of doubt and imposter syndrome creeps in like some shadowy menace hanging over my shoulder. I learned a lot from that place. I learned to film productions and take professional photos. I learned to write and script articles. I even became one of the editors for the college magazine. It wasn’t long before I was being encouraged to apply for universities and take the next step, an option I thought I’d never have when I looked at those A-Level exam results the previous year. 

Sadly, in my last few months of college, the worst thing happened. My younger brother Elliot died suddenly and unexpectedly. It tore my life apart in an instant. Everything took a back seat and I didn’t know if I’d survive the year, let alone go to university.

Although I’d passed my college course with the grades I needed to get into Salford, my chosen university, I wasn’t in the right mindset to live away from home. I could barely get on a bus without having a panic attack at this point.

In hindsight, I should have taken a year out but I felt a pressure to go, thinking it was what people expected of me. I had it in my head it was the only way I could become a journalist.

I pushed myself on to a course at a local university so I could still live at home and be near my family. The course hours were sporadic and the entire experience was lonely as most of the people on my course had met during freshers week or lived on campus, so had seen each other around. It felt like school all over again. I needed routine, support, and stability. I also needed to be around people, to talk to other human beings on a regular basis.

I dropped out of the course a few months later and I felt like such a failure. I’d been placing all my hopes for the future on this one opportunity, and it had come crashing down on my head like a tonne of bricks. I felt my vision for the future slip from my grasp and felt I had to let it go. I was never going to become a journalist without a degree.

The next year or so, I got some odd jobs doing social media marketing for small, local businesses, but it wasn’t what I wanted to do in the long term. It was all about the money and the creativity was limited. During that time I decided I didn’t want to give up on becoming a journalist. I set up this small blog, writing a few articles on a weekly basis which focused on mental health, grief, and wellbeing. 

It wasn’t long before I was writing articles for Huffington Post and my blog posts were picked up by local newspapers and eventually, the local BBC radio station Three Counties. The lunchtime presenter, Nick Coffer, invited me for an interview on his show to talk about my writing as well as my experience with grief. Whilst I was there, he encouraged me to sign up for work experience. Nick could see I was knowledgable and passionate about the local community, so he put me in touch with the news editor who told me how to apply online. 

I spent two weeks at the radio station in 2016, getting to know the newsroom and the different teams on the shows and I loved it from the moment I stepped in the door. I knew this was where I belonged.

After my two weeks had come to an end, I was told I should sign up to the freelance pool as a Broadcast Assistant as it was nearing the summer holidays and lots of the staff needed cover. I freelanced for a few months, working as a BA on the afternoon and mid-morning shows.

Whilst I was there, the BBC’s Digital Journalist Apprenticeship was advertised. It meant I could get my journalism qualification and train with the BBC. I submitted my application knowing hundreds of people would be applying for the same opportunity, but I wanted it so badly I was willing to work my ass off to get there. I became a dog with a bone I wasn’t going to let go. I was going to do it all off my own back, no matter what.

I remember the day I got one of the seven places available. After the phone call, I asked myself ‘is this really happening? Am I really going to get a job working for the BBC?’. It was a real ‘pinch me’ moment and it seemed a long way from the memory of thinking I’d have to say goodbye to the career I’d always hoped for. I’d somehow overcome the obstacles.

I trained up for 22 months in local radio, studying for my NCTJ exams (the ones I thought I could never do) and got a gold standard certificate at the end of my course. During that time I made hours of digital and radio content, learning from some of the best journalists in the industry who taught me so much and supported me through my studies. My confidence grew. I went from someone who couldn’t leave the house to traveling around the country and interviewing strangers on the street about their lucky pants.

Since then, I’ve worked for Radio 4’s Today programme, getting a daily podcast commissioned as well as reporting and producing episodes for the award-nominated Beyond Today. I’m currently a producer on a BBC News podcast for youth audiences, and I work in London, a statement I never thought I’d say a few years ago.

I’m from a working-class background. I went to a mainstream comprehensive school. I wasn’t privately educated and none of my family were either. I didn’t know if journalism was for people like me, but it is. The industry needs people like us, people who can speak for working-class communities and shine a light on issues which are sometimes overlooked. It needs people who come from deprived areas or places with a bad press because we have the ability to change perceptions, to gain people’s trust and tell their stories. We grew up in those communities. 

So, if you’re reading this and you want to become a journalist, don’t give up because you think it ‘isn’t for you’. Don’t ever think you don’t deserve to be here or it’s too late to try. As long as you’re passionate and determined to get there, you’ll succeed. 

Don’t get me wrong, some days I still doubt myself and wonder if I’m good enough, but doesn’t everyone? I just have to remind myself how far I’ve come.

Just remember, you’ve got this!

This is England 90 Review

SPOILER ALERT!

Anyone who has followed this phenomenal series from beginning to end will understand why This is England fans across the country were left bawling their eyes out as the series came to an end the other week.

Yes, the last episode of the series had arrived, a series that had started as a gritty independent film set in 1983 and traveled right up through the years to the beloved era of the ’90s. I can honestly say, I’m going to miss those fictional characters on my TV.

Lol, Woody, Milky, Shaun. We’ve seen these loveable characters grow up in front of the screen (literally as Thomas Surgoose was only 13 when he prised his role on the film as young Shuan). We’ve seen their ups and downs. We’ve witnessed them mature and change throughout the years and true fans will agree, many have become ‘attached’ to them.

Just like the film and previous two series, This is England 86 and 88, this series was NOT a disappointment and the last episode wrapped everything up in a gripping and nail-biting finale where most of our characters got a happy ending.

Lol and Woody finally tied the knot in a wedding, which, although traditional, was certainly as close to ‘them’ as they could get! The reception at the miner’s club was far from fancy but it was certainly true to the characters.

Kelly got kicked out of the flat by Harvey when he found out she was addicted to crack. She ran away and was pursued by poor Gadget. Sadly though, Gadget still doesn’t get the girl.

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I think Meadow’s was looking to portray Kelly as the lost soul, running from herself and blaming everyone else for her problems. But you couldn’t help but feel sorry for her when she turns up at Lol’s wedding with a card and finally admits she had a problem with her sister. I’m really glad Meadows allowed Kelly self-reflection as a character. I was starting to worry she’d gone completely off the rails. Her reunion with the gang was cleanly bringing down some walls that have been built between the characters in this series. Harvey appears to be making reconciliations with Kelly. Although Gadget’s fairy tale love story was not to materialize. Harvey appeared to have that corner covered though. But as they say, mates before dates YO!

Shaun, however, did find himself an eligible beau in the form of fellow photography student Charlotte. And Smell was left no more than a fart in the wind. Although she was sure to show her green-eyed monster before the episode was finished. I’m still a bit confused as to why Smell didn’t have more presence in this series, seeing as she was a more developed character previously. But I’m more than happy that Shaun found his vocation and ended the series as one of the most likable and developed of the characters.

So pretty much all our favourite characters were together again, happy in life and in love.

But that couldn’t account for the fact that this last episode left just a few people ‘upset’ by Combo’s exit from the series.

The café scene in which Milky drove Combo to a derelict café to ‘talk things over’ was possibly one of the most powerful scenes witnessed in the series.

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For the first time since the series was born way back in 2006, we see vulnerability in Combo we have never seen before. Even when we cast our minds right back to the end of the film, remembering the brutal assault inflicted on the much loved Milky and just how unprovoked and evil it was, we still can’t help but feel desperately upset when Combo meet’s he’s demise.

Throughout the series, Milky has been deemed a quiet and gentle character. I couldn’t help but feel some frustration and disappointment when he allowed he’s relatives to take Combo away, tears, and regret etched across his face. He didn’t even try to prevent the act from happening.

It’s quite easy to understand why he wanted revenge against Combo. After all, this was the man who left him so badly beaten, his family was unsure he was going to make it. Yet I think this series allowed the audience to reflect on what revenge really means and whether it truly makes us feel better in the long run.

We can understand the resentment Milky feels towards Combo, and his anger. But seeing that look of remorse on Milk’s face throughout Lol and Woody’s wedding celebration just showed how a quick decision acted upon in a moment of passionate anger, can leave you feeling nothing but guilt. As the old saying goes ‘an eye for an eye, makes the whole world blind’.

Stephen perfectly portrayed a man on the edge. I couldn’t have imagined Combo could feel fear. Throughout the series, he has been portrayed as the alpha male, the boss, and a guy who stared fear straight in the face and laughed. But I can guarantee that audiences across the country who watched Meadow’s final installment of This is England on Sunday, would have fought back tears as Combo cried and screamed for he’s own life as the hands of a vicious gang even bigger and stronger than him. I can honestly say that scene was one of Meadow’s most traumatic and emotional. The audience would have felt helpless. Nobody wanted Combo to suffer the way he did. The fans had grown attached to him. And to know he didn’t have such a happy ending will have left a lot of people still attached to their TV screens, hugging them tightly and asking Meadows ‘WHY?’

Meadows really is a creative genius. He captured the countries imagination with some of the most lovable and intriguing characters to ever appear on British television and a story with true realism.

It was British television at it’s finest and truly BAFTA award-winning if I do say so myself.

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